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Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse (PC) artwork

Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse (PC) review

"In an age long lost, the standard appearance of a main character vastly differed then that of today. Today, we have protaganists that look more like they belong in a gothic fashion magazine then as a serious combatant, complete with girly long-haired and sunbed tans. But in 1994 the exact opposite applied: manly men with bronze-skinned bodies and muscles that would make Arnold in his prime weep, wearing naught more than a turban and loose-fitting silk trousers. "

In an age long lost, the standard appearance of a main character vastly differed then that of today. Today, we have protaganists that look more like they belong in a gothic fashion magazine then as a serious combatant, complete with girly long-haired and sunbed tans. But in 1994 the exact opposite applied: manly men with bronze-skinned bodies and muscles that would make Arnold in his prime weep, wearing naught more than a turban and loose-fitting silk trousers.

Okay, that description indicates these fine gentlemen belong to a certain kind of magazine as well, but I digress.

In Al-Qadim you play the role of a young man that you name yourself (he will henceforth be known as Bob) that just finished his Corsair training, making him an acknowledged warrior in his homeland.

The moment you get control of Bob, you'll be placed inside of a dungeon, a labyrinth of sorts, as you are approached by a floating fakir. He turns out to be your master who tells you to finish the training, there is one last exam. Get out alive from the Labyrinth. Then he promptly buggers off.

A bit harsh, but that is the way they roll in Al-Qadim.

This is where you'll get the first opportunity to see what Bob is really capable of. Your path through the dungeon will be littered with gigantic vases begging to be broken as well as hidden spikes, and walls not afraid to burp up fireballs out of spite. Rotary buzzsaws spin unexpectedly through stretches of earth and ancient shape-shifting magic needs to be unlocked to pass obscured corridors. Golden spirits summoned by your master need to be sliced down, and all to a strict time limit. Take too long to overcome the obstacles, and the magical swarm that chases you throughout will catch up and end your quest early. Should he survive all that, Bob proves himself a worthy pupil and he's allowed to set foot back outside. Towards freedom.... or graduation if you will.

After seeing off the deadly Labyrinth, Bob makes his way to the surface where his mentor greets and congratulates him for passing the final challenge.

With smug glee, Bob makes his way back to his home town, Zaratan. As soon as he lands on the beaches outside his home town, you take control and find out one curious fact. The scimitar that Bob wielded so elegantly moments ago during his test can't leave its sheath when you’re in civilised company. It’s explained that because your weapon is a special blade known as the "Sword of Honour", it can only be wielded in the presence of stab-hungry evil. With this knowledge fully implanted, you investigate the town and chat to its friendly denizens who all pucker up to your noble arse, then make your way back home.

It's here that you learn that Bob is not just your run-of-the-mill buff fighter, but rather the son and heir to the Al-Hazrad family, one of the two main families within the city. The main reason you had to return was because the other family, the Wasabis, have an age old feud with the Hazrads. To solve this, it was decided that Bob would marry the daughter from the Wasabi family, and thus forge a seal that could not be broken, effectively ending the feud. However, it seems that the fates have a different path for you.

Not more then a day passes when you and your family are cornered. Within your own home, by the royal guard of the Sultan himself, charging you with murder of your bride-to-be and her father. The witness of this crime? The family genie (every Arabic family worth its salt has a genie or two in their lamps) who confesses that your family ordered him to destroy the ship that was supposed to bring the two to your home, where the wedding would take place.

The result is the entire family is incarcerated, all except Bob, who was going through his warrior trials when the supposed arrangement was taking place, leaving you now able to travel across the sands to prove your family's innocence and unravel the much more complicated ball of yarn that lies beneath the murder charges.

Bob will have his share of locales, that much is certain, from the capital of Zakhara, to scant villages where only a few people live doing unspeakable things with camels, all the way to the ancient ruins where unknown horrors lurk. Their favourite feast is that of smug heroes.

Like in every role-playing game, in Al-Qadim, you too can ascend to higher levels, and you will need to do this, lest your journey ends sooner then you think. You can build your usual attributes, making Bob smarter, faster, or better in the ways of magic -- all skills that you will need. When you grow in levels, so do your skills. What was a basic sword slash could now become a whirlwind of choppy death; what was a miniscule ball of fire tossed by a barely adept spell-caster will now become an inferno, engulfing all around you. You can buy different magic abilities, as well as potions, be it those that heal your wounds or offer immunity to elements by collecting gem shards out of treasure boxes or, in the old fashioned Legend of Zelda way, by smashing everything and everyone and hoping they're filled with monetary goodness.

As Bob, you will have to learn how to talk to people as well. In the world of Al-Quadim, humans are not the only obstacle that you will have to curry favour with. There are other much more powerful creatures that you’ll have to either sweet talk or swindle into helping you, for brute force will, in this scenario, lead only to a shallow grave.

Take, for example, a powerful efreet, a genie-like creature made entirely out of flame who guards the path into the dungeon you’re sent to find an incriminating piece of evidence from. There's no way through the creature, for its fires are powerful, and no human being can pass through them without becoming a pile of ashes afterwards. If you manage to sweet talk it, however, you might win its favour, making it step aside and turn a blind eye towards your actions. Or perhaps, you investigated enough to know efreets are greedy gits always out for items of legendary value. If you agree to go on a quest, and find said items, you might manage to persuade the fire elemental into letting you in.

Whatever choice you make, the end result will be the same, for the game has a set path that you need to walk in order to finish it. However, the methods differ, and it is this concept that manages to sell the product.

Settled in an AD&D universe, Al-Qadim plays well into the entire "Arabic Nights" scenario, with both the atmosphere and the "feel" of the vast sand-covered locales and the mythological creatures that reside in it. Action, intrigue, and over-all fun awaits those willing to give in to the charm of the desert.

Rating: 9/10

darketernal's avatar
Community review by darketernal (October 01, 2010)

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