Deceit and Thrones and Hearts, Oh My!
Developed by COLTRAN Studios, and released onto Xbox LIVE Indie Marketplace March 19, Hearts of Men: Throne of Deceit is a twin-stick shooter with a classic fantasy twist. It’s kind of like if Gauntlet and Robotron 2084 were to get hitched and have a baby. Myself and your lovely Editor-in-Chief, Martin Watts, sat down to put this game through its paces recently, and came up with what can only be described as a feeling of having been cheated out of an experience that could have been something much more.
On paper, Hearts of Men sounds like something you want to play: Choose from one of four classic fantasy archetypes (Elf, Mage, Viking, Warrior – or something similar), and participate in a twin-stick shooter adventure through forests, castle dungeons, and more. When you’re tired of that, hop online and participate in three multiplayer modes to round out your experience.
Sadly, in execution, Hearts of Men: came up very lacking.
For starters, if your aim is to play cooperatively with friends over Xbox Live, this game is not for you. The online multiplayer modes are exclusively head-to-head deathmatch modes, with one being a variation of a capture the flag mode. On the plus side, we experienced absolutely no trouble getting a multiplayer match started immediately. On the bad side, the reason for this was because – even though the game had been out for several weeks already – we were literally the only ones playing it. Being matched with one specific player is a cinch when he’s the only one looking for a match-up.
It didn’t take long to find the source of the deserted multiplayer lobby: there simply was no fun to be had going head-to-head to try to bash each other’s skulls in. The maps we saw were all variants on the same open, top-down theme: an empty open hall, a circular cave system with perhaps two branching paths, a clearing in the woods. Apart from the no-frills design ethic of the backgrounds and environments themselves (in some cases nothing more than blank wall space surrounding a different-colored blank floor space), the design and layout simply didn’t engage any tactical deathmatch strategy. Add to that the fact that we could often hear the other player’s weapons being thrown way before they even appeared on our screens, and the fact that there is no map system (not that one would be necessary with these bare locations), and you’ve got an experience that’s got all the fun sucked right out of it.
So we decided there was nothing for it – it was time to delve into the campaign. Sadly, we found that the one thing we actually wanted to do – take on the game’s actual story mode side-by-side – was not allowed to us. No co-op of any kind, is possible online, although local co-op has been incorporated into the game. Unfortunately, the experience isn’t much better with additional players.
Going it solo then, we found that the campaign offered a bit more enjoyment than the lackluster multiplayer had. After choosing our hero’s class (all four of which work identically, only offering a differently skinned sprite as your avatar, shooting a different weapon), we were set loose to wreak some low-budget havoc. As there were actually places to go and monsters to kill in this mode, it held our attention for a few minutes longer than its cousin had. Sadly, the cut-rate graphics and complete absence of any gameplay variety could not warrant destroying constantly respawning ghosts and spawn points to collect a key and advance for very long. (Though I am proud to say that I hung in there for much longer than our Fearless Leader, making it well into the castle keep before exceeding my fill!)
The one thing worth mentioning, and the one redeeming quality that has to be credited here, are the original graphic novel pages that the developers have created; each character starts with their own unique backstory, told comic-style before the adventure begins, with several more pages unlockable later in the game. The art of the graphic novel is well done, and, tragically, far exceeds what the game proper actually showcases.
Hearts of Men: Throne of Deceit is going for 80 MS Points, so for a buck you’ll get the chance to experience this curiosity for yourself, and check out some nicely done pages of comic book art along the way.