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The Ring: Terror's Realm
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Asmik Ace
Publisher:  Infogrames
Features:  Standard Controller, Jump Pack
Ratings:  Mature
Memory Req.:  VMU 12 blocks
At this stage of the game, as far as game development goes, one thing is certain: no matter how good a system is, bad games will always be with us. There's no doubt about it, folks: somewhere out there, someone is coding a game that will end up in bargain bins all over the world. The latest one for the bucket is The Ring: Terror's Realm, by Asmik Ace. Based somewhat on a Japanese video series, this is one of those games that will make you wonder what sort of legal or illegal substances the developers were taking while they were making this one. The game is a combination of bad and weird, mostly leaning toward the bad. If you poke around in the DC reviews, you'll find one I wrote for an import game called Undercover 2025: Kei- Go back and read it for a sec (I'll wait…). This game is much worse simply because it tries too hard to do too many things at once, and falls on it's face time and again.

The premise is interesting enough- a strange series of deaths occur which may or may not be due to a computer game called The Ring, and your character Meg, gets drawn into the deadly game after her boyfriend drops dead during the unintentionally hilarious intro movie. What follows is hour upon hour of slow, stiff movement through some bland 3D environments with odd camerawork, clumsy action scenes, and loads of really awful, poorly scripted (and translated) dialogue. Again, it's interesting- but interesting doesn't mean it's going to be anything other than that. It's amateur hour on the Dreamcast, and this is in no way, shape or form anything even resembling a Resident Evil game, if you're thinking of picking it up for that reason. If anything, it shows just what happens when you try to make a game based on one that's flawed somewhat to begin with. It's definitely worth a rental, if Blockbuster is out of comedies. Don't play this game if you have a heart condition- it's not that the game is scary, you'll probably just die laughing after the first ten minutes.

The best thing I can say about the game is that it's definitely different than Resident Evil, even though it borrows a bit too much from it, as far as the item menu and such. Soon after Meg's beau Robert croaks she takes over his place at work and stumbles upon his laptop, which still has The Ring installed on it. She boots the game up, and gets zapped into the game world, which is just as bland looking as where she came from, only a lot darker, and with more crates. It's here where most of the game's action scenes take place, and they're actually pretty cool, once you deal with the odd control. In the alternate world, Meg is decked out in a tight black outfit (good thing she hits the gym on a regular basis), and is armed with a gun and a flashlight. The game borrows heavily from Silent Hill here, but since there's no way to turn around quickly, anytime a monster comes up behind you you'll get munched on. In theory, you should be able to see the shadow of the beast (heh) sneaking up on you, but all the shadows cast in the game are these weird oblong tetrahedrons. In true survival horror fashion, you clunk around in the dark killing off monsters, acquire a few new weapons and health pickups ("a little healing jelly on that toast, ma'am?"), and try to stay alive for the next scene. Meg gets zapped back to the real world, only to find out she's infected by The Ring virus as well, and only has a week to live. She has to find herself a cure, and solve the mystery of the other deaths as well before time runs out (next time, I bet she'll use a little alcohol on the keyboard before she pokes around on someone else's computer).

The graphics are decent, if a bit plain: solid-looking 3D environments that suffer from some weird quirks, like coat hooks and cabinets that are about nine feet off the ground, with not a ladder in sight. At least when you open doors in the game, you can see what the room looks like, which is a lot better that the simple blackness in the RE games. There are also a few interactive items in some rooms, such as curtains, closets, and drawers that open, a neat touch. The character models are really stiff and odd-looking, and everyone seems to have these character specific tics that make you want to not speak to them at all. Meg's elfish grin in particular will burn its way into your brain long after you shut your DC off. Hey, at least she's cool under pressure and always has a smile for any occasion, right? Every human in the game moves as if they're motion-captured from arthritic sloths, and you'll probably get a cramp in your finger from holding down the run button when you need to slog Meg from place to place. More oddities include an auto map feature that's practically useless, as the game often gives you no idea of what to do next, which makes for a lot of loping around hallways and rooms looking for stuff to do. Finally, the music in the game must set some sort of world record for looping. There are a couple of eerie themes here and there, but the music you'll hear the most is pure Casio hell. It'll also stick in your head, along with Meg's mug, and you'll be walking down the street hearing that maddening tune looping endlessly in your head, driving you batty. Finally, the voice acting ranges from adequate to damn awful. When you hear the guy voicing Meg's ex, you'll know just why they broke up- yeesh.

I managed to track down one of the videos from the series, and it's a hell of a lot scarier that what's here. But then again, the folks in the film didn't have any weapons to fight monsters with- the movie was more like an extended Twilight Zone episode with a fair amount of gore and a no way out dead ending. By the time you're done with The Ring, you'll want to go after some of the people who made this game yourself. Asmik Ace has produced some of my favorite "B" games, such as Astro Trooper Vanark and the Sidewinder flight combat games, so I'll chalk up this game to too many late nights and a few too many cases of beer.
Anyway, I'm crazy enough to buy this game if it's cheap and actually finish it someday- if anyone else out there actually does, let me know. That is, if after seven days we don't drop dead first.

Greg Wilcox

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