A lot, apparently. I was expecting a fun ride with MediEvil, and 'a fun ride' would be a pretty accurate description of what I got, but I would be doing the developers a disservice, not to mention writing a very concise review, to leave it at that.
In MediEvil you are introduced to the officially mystical realm of Gallowmere, which reminds me quite a bit of Westwood's Kyrandia graphic adventure series, complete with cool, twisty CG characters, funny dialogue that never gets TOO cute, and well-accented voice acting. You assume the role of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a handsome, heroic-looking knight and compulsive liar with no actual battle experience, who lead Gallowmere's army against the exiled mage Zarok, fighting bravely from the moment the battle begins to the moment, several seconds later, when an arrow enters his brain via his left eye. To placate the people, the king makes up a more heroic death for him, saying he fought bravely, killing Zarok but succumbing to wounds inflicted earlier.
Well, Zarok wasn't dead, and 100 years later he's trying again, raising an army of the undead against Gallowmere. Intentionally or not, he also ressurects the no-longer-handsome Fortesque, who takes this opportunity to become a real hero, which is where the game begins. MediEvil has been called a 3D Ghouls 'N Ghosts, which is a fair description strictly in terms of gameplay, but there's so much more...I'll get to that in a minute. You spend most of your time running around whacking at things with a sword (or a variety of throwing weapons, for true G&G purists); it's fun and intuitive, and the level design keeps it from ever becoming overly repetitive. Although there are are a few rather pedestrian ones (specifically, the cemetary levels and Zarok's lobby), most of the levels are visually pleasing in a Nightmare Before Christmas sort of way, and the play mechanics never seem to get bogged down by the poor collision and/or excessive pop-up that plague most 3D adventure games. MediEvil is the first PS game I've played that really seems designed with analog control in mind (don't worry, Stephen, the digital control is equally well-implemented), auto-aim is included in a style more reminiscent of Air Combat than Tomb Raider, and the camera is neither poorly positioned nor too complicated to change (it annoys me when the camera controls take up 2/3 of the buttons).
The juiciest bit, though, comes at the end of every successful stage: upon collecting the blood chalice (which only becomes accessible after you fill it with the souls of Zarok's minions), you are granted entrance to the Hall of Heroes, a Valhalla kinda place where true heroes meet in the afterlife to drink, brag and arm wrestle. During the game you travel there, where the residents give you new weapons to help you out; a fairly common device in the genre, but the ensuing conversations range from amusing to hilarious, and this time you're laughing because it's funny, not because the writing is so bad.
I'll probably be burned at the stake if I compare MediEvil to Metal Gear Solid (make no mistake, it isn't THAT good), but the level design and funky cinematics keep everything moving at a very fast pace; the simple desire to see what happens next keeps you playing constantly, the result being that you'll probably finish it in a couple days, just like another game I won't mention. The difference is that, unlike MGS, you'll find all the secrets the first time through; the only motive to replay the levels is the blood chalice, and none of them are terribly difficult to find. This is the game's most obvious flaw, and it's a big one: other than cinematic value, there's basically no replay value. Then again, I've gone through Legacy of Kain three times, and the secrets certainly aren't the reason; I never got more than half.
At the very least, MediEvil is deserving of a rental; you'll enjoy it while it lasts. On a more personal note, MediEvil fails in another aspect, in that it fails to provide me an opportunity to give a scathing review and establish some form of credibility in the asshole school of writing that seems to be dominating professional reviews of late. This is the fifth consecutive game I've reviewed favorably, and I'm going to be very upset if I find myself enjoying my next assignment. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver is coming in Spring...how 'bout it, Andrew?
Peter the Malcontent