First posted on 04 December 1997. Last updated on 07 August 2009.
Ecstatica is an action adventure game set in an unusual ellipsoid 3D world drawn with an unique graphic engine. It uses multiple camera angles in real time to sport a movie like quality in both gameplay and animations. This is not a game for the faint of hearts, for the game brings violence and vulgarity to an adventure game to the next level.
You are a solitary traveler seeking shelter in the village of Tirich, a small community set in Northern Europe in the tenth century. Once a peaceful place, Tirich is now deserted and the entire population has been decimated. These horrific doings are the works of evil demons summoned by the young Ecstatica, the maid of a local alchemist. Unfortunately, Ecstatica is also possessed and now lays in a trancelike coma deep in the twisted bowels of a dungeon. Danger lurks in every corner of this nightmarish place. Your sole chance of survival now lies on saving Ecstatica from the demonic spell while battling against the monsters and uncovering the secret behind an ancient ritual. At the end, you must make a moral decision by either accepting an offer of eternal bliss from the demon or continuing your mere mortal existence in order to save Tirich.
The world of Ecstatica is drawn on screen using an unique graphic engine based on Ellipsoid Technology. This engine allows the creation of lifelike creatures in a 3D environment. Each character, be it human or monster, is made of strings of ellipsoids that are interconnected in an anatomically correct fashion. Aside from the somewhat exaggerated rendering of the female upper body (the breasts), all the creatures are remarkably accurate in both their static and animated displays. The environments, such as the trees and the shrubs, are also constructed in ellipsoids. This not only brings an uniform look to the game, but sports an overall appearance that is far superior to that based on 2D polygons.
The player can choose to play either a male or female character. Full control of the protagonist is available in real time, with the ability to run, walk, creep, turn, fight, duck, and use objects in a supposedly smooth and fluid motion. Over 200 animated sequences, 3D backgrounds, and cinematic cuts are drawn in 256-color VGA. The list of monsters, all rendered in detail using ellipsoids, include the werewolf, dragons, piglets, spider, skeletons, fat pig, and minotaur. Pre-selected but ever-changing camera angles provide different perspective during gameplay as well as a movie like quality to the game.
Simple keystrokes provide control of all the character's actions. There is no inventory screen, no action icon, or even a cursor. Function keys alter the speed of the character's movement, from Stealth to Run. At any one time, the character can carry up to two items in inventory. These items can include weapons, such as swords which can be used in combat. Most of the puzzles involve overcoming obstacles which prevent the player's exploration, or quests for ingredients that make up magic potions. This game also boasts a hefty dose of action, whereby the player can suddenly be ambushed by a group of monsters. Survival often means choosing the right time to fight or fright for your life. Two endings are possible based on a moral decision the player will make near the end of the game. Subtitles are available to supplement the voiceovers. A representative thumbnail image is displayed for each saved game. Compared to typed words, it provides a better reminder to the player about the description of the saved game.
The puzzles progress in both the level of difficulty and complexity. All are well integrated into the game. Action fans will be delighted with the incorporation of real-time combat into gameplay. In fact, the constant threat of attack from monsters lurking around every corner will keep even the most diligent gamers on their toes. The atmosphere is simply intense. Cut scenes are non-intrusive and add to the storytelling. Various camera angles and film style cuts enhance the cinematic feel of the game. The gruesome graphics and the macabre music and sound effects further reinforce the eerie ambience.
The value of real-time arcade combat in an adventure game has always been dubious. This title will certainly only further this debate. The endless number of tough combat sequences severely detracts the adventure spirit of this game. There are many times whereby the player is simply outnumbered and underpowered to fight the enemies. Knowing when to run away is half of the battle! Even with a cautious attitude, death is not an uncommon outcome. The constant threat of painful death can get very trying. In fact, it is annoying to have to repeatedly reload a saved game after one's demise during a surprise attack. Frequent saving is a must!
The use of ellipsoids makes for the construction of colorful characters that are not only lifelike but are also correct in their anatomy, complete with movable joints and accentuated body parts such as the breasts or the buttocks. Even the monsters sport a strange combination of cuteness and menace. The biophysics modeling the characters' animations are decent. All the creatures move and act in a very lifelike fashion. If the player is injured, the character will walk with a limp. While the use of ellipsoids provides better lifelike animations than 2D polygons, the animations are often choppy. This can be a big problem during combat. Furthermore, the constantly changing camera angles, of which the player has no control, can be disorientating. Simply walking in a straight line in this 3D environment is a challenge. Having the camera angles suddenly change during a combat sequence can temporarily stunt the player's reflex, resulting in instant death.
The violence and vulgarity in this game is quite explicit. Dismembered corpses and naked female bodies are not uncommonly found among the ruins of Ecstatica. Female gamers may be offended by the buxom female body figures portrayed by the ellipsoids. The ability to play a female character is strange. Certain scenes simply do not make sense if the protagonist is female rather than male. For example, a scene exists whereby certain sexual connotation is suggested when a naked female nymph is chasing down the player. In the context of medieval times, to have the protagonist be a female rather than male in this scene is indeed awkward.
An unique 3D graphic engine brings life into the lifeless eerie world of Ecstatica in this unusual action adventure. Despite its attractive and cutesy look, the gameplay in Ecstatica is far too short. The puzzles are limited in their variety, the arcade combat is execessive, and the game is fairly linear. Some gamers may also be turned off by the explicit violence and vulgarity depicted in thr game. This game is definitely not one to play with the entire family!