Not bad enough to be good, or good enough to be bad
We're staring into the cold, dead eyes of a French noble lady. As her fish-lips flap, her phoned-in speech flows from the TV speakers, and she stares disinterestedly over the right shoulder of our hero. We forget his name. Were we ever told?
The First Templar: Fish lips
As she stares and spouts we can't help but be acutely aware of the vast gulf between big and small budget games. The First Templar is desperate to ape the success of a Castlevania: Lord Of Shadows or - obviously - an Assassin's Creed, but on a fraction of the budget. And it's an impossible task. We can't deny that the set-up is interesting and ambitious - a pair of Knights Templar set out on a quest to discover the elusive item of crockery known as the Holy Grail. Along the way they trek through creepy forests, war-torn cities on the Crusade trail, and sun-baked hills.
The First Templar: Limited combo
Nice idea. It all falls apart in the execution though, as our hero and his buddy (really, we're struggling to remember anyone ever mentioning their names) scrap with horribly clichéd Middle-Eastern enemies, using a limited combo system, and earn points to level up skills in the most perfunctory way. It's a mess. Sadly, the combat is actually the best bit. Although it feels lightweight and repetitive, it pales in comparison to the ridiculous stealth system. One stage asks you to follow a monk through a monastery without being seen. It's a bit like the car-tailing in GTA, except you thud along behind your quarry in full view, and in most cases you're the only people in the whole room. But, hey, providing you don't actually tread on his cloak, you're okay.
The First Templar: The worst Templar
It's a farce, made more ridiculous by the hammy dialogue your target has with people along the way which stops just short of saying "I'm on my way to a sinister, secret meeting. I'm evil. I hope the good guys aren't following me!" To make matters worse, even the semi-compelling plot tails off early on (er, around the second level). All of a sudden the noble quest for the Holy Grail becomes a tangle of clichés and undeveloped sub-plots, featuring ridiculous (fish-lipped) characters and scenarios.
You can add a modicum of variety by switching between characters using LB or inviting a friend to share the drudgery via Xbox Live, but it makes very little difference to the gameplay. Long before the end, you will find yourself robotically trudging through levels to unlock Achievements (hey, redeeming feature - this game spits Achievements at you thick and fast), stabbing X, staring into the empty eyes of French noblewomen wishing you were with someone else. Like Gabriel Belmont, or any incarnation of Assassin's Creed's Desmond...