John Romero‘s Daikatana is one of the most infamous games of all time.
Back in 2000, when the game was first released, it was heavily hyped as “the next great shooter”. And – as Daikatana was being designed by one of the co-creators of the original Doom and Quake – everyone had high hopes for it.
First there were long delays in development, and then – when it eventually came out – there were cries of derision. Daikatana did not live up to expectations.
Now – some 18 years after its original release – Daikatana can still be bought via Steam and GOG.com. But is it really that bad?
Overall I would say no, but Daikatana definitely does have its problems.
Firstly, I don’t know why Romero and co. decided it, but the first set of enemies in the game are a joke. Flies and frogs… Not even particularly scary flies or frogs (although they are dangerous). For the first few levels it feels a bit pathetic, and then you’re suddenly confronted by rocket firing giant robots… I couldn’t help but feel that they didn’t think this through properly…
In terms of look and feel, Daikatana is reminiscent of Quake II, in my opinion, although it doesn’t have the same level of finesse. The level designs are pretty good, but the character modelling is primitive. The use of coloured light is an enhancement over Quake II, but the use of light and dark isn’t as good. Daikatana has good moments and bad moments in terms of levels, but the gameplay remains very simple throughout: find a way to open the next door/hatch/lift/whatever and continue on towards the exit.
In terms of weapons (a big feature in a game such as this), the loadout is okay – nothing really special or particularly fun to use. You have all the standard FPS tropes, such as rifles, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, lasers, and all that jazz, plus grenades and an annoying ‘chainsaw’ style knuckle-duster (annoying because it makes a constant chainsaw type engine noise).
Even more disappointing are the ‘sidekicks’ who follow you. Mostly they just get in the way, although you can give them orders. You’re supposed to keep them alive and escort them to the end of the level, but the process is frustrating to say the least, and they sometimes get stuck, making it impossible to complete a level. They are quite useful in a firefight though.
The first part of the game is a futuristic rescue mission. You’re rescuing your team mates and stealing the Daikatana sword from the vaults. The second part of the game – after you’ve gotten the actual Daikatana sword – takes place at different times in history, with the team split up, and trying to get back together again. You lose all your acquired weapons, have only the Daikatana sword, and must work your way back up again. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the sword action was any good… Unfortunately, swinging the sword feels all detached and wrong – it doesn’t feel like you’re slashing enemies. It looks more like a broken animation, than anything. And the enemies in this new area are just as laughable as the previous ones – except for the spiders, which are quite good. The skeletons look ridiculous though.
Daikatana is one of those games that is worth buying if it’s cheap and on sale, and worth playing if you’re interested in its history and infamy. It’s playable – just about – and has a fairly lengthy single-player campaign. Multiplayer it’s not too bad either. It’s just a pity the weapons aren’t anything special, because the speed and movement are spot on.