The Knights Templar are no stranger to films and books (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Da Vinci Code) and it’s not hard to see why. They were a mysterious and powerful order of thirteenth century knights who were heavily associated with the Holy Grail, no less.
The Templars have popped up in video games before in the Broken Sword series, and most recently in the Assassin’s Creed series as the bad guys. So does The First Templar make good use of these warrior monks?
The First Templar is third person actioner with a few very light role play elements thrown in. There are two player characters, one unsurprisingly a Templar, Celian d’Arestide, and the other is the rogue like Marie d’Ibelin (though is initially another Templar). This allows for co-op play but in single player the AI takes control of one, allowing you to switch between them. Celian is from the Christan Bale school of gruff voiced acting, whilst Marie is your sassy action heroine type.
The main gameplay mechanism is fighting and yet more fighting. Defending is either done by blocking or rolling but there are are plenty of attacking options which are upgradeable with experience points as the game progresses. These special attacks are unleashed by expending zeal, basically a chargeable power bar. Lots of enemies can be fitted on screen which makes it nicely chaotic, whilst archers and shielded enemies heap on the pressure. It can descend into a button mash fest but careful use of special attacks and targeting enemies (especially the archers) is rewarding.
However just the fighting on its own can get fairly monotonous. Fortunately other mechanisms – albeit basic ones – have been added to break the game up. This includes some stealth, done by simple crouching and line of sight detection, lurking in the shadows does little to help. There are also puzzles and traps to spot (some whole levels are devoted to them), trails to be followed and the odd trebuchet firing section. There are also bonus side missions like searching for collectables and these can extend your stay in a level by quite a bit.
There is good variety in the levels in design and look, switching between Europe, the Holy Land and lost temples. The levels are all generously sized, though they can feel like slogs sometimes. The graphics are crisp but feel last generation, lacking polish or the rich effects of other recent games. It’s a shame, as some levels - like one set in a burning forest – are well conceived, but the engine cannot do them justice. Character models and movement are fairly basic and the lip syncing is poor and the voices can get lost under sound effects or music.
The overall plot feels pretty B-movie, but gives you enough reason to keep going with a few twists thrown in. Overall, The First Templar feels under par in key areas in relation to its contemporaries, and Ezio Auditore da Firenze would certainly eat these guys for lunch. However it should not be dismissed for this, and for the more forgiving gamer there is well balanced game of decent length to be enjoyed.