It's dark night! You are driving in your car on a lonely highway when suddenly an oncoming truck moves to your lane and crashes into your car. The next thing you remember is that a monk is waking you up and leads you to his master. The surrounding looks strangely unfamiliar and the monk tells you of a prophecy you have to fulfill...
This is how ArchAngel, Metropolis' (Gorky Park) new 3D Action-RPG is introducing the player to the story. These monks seem to know more about you than you yourself. The biggest surprise is, that you are now in a medieval like area in dark ages.
Old prophecies tell of a saviour, and the monks are convinced, that this is you, Michael. ArchAngel will take you through several time epoches, similar to Nihilistic's Vampire The Masquerade game. The epoches revealed so far are the already mentioned medieval setting, then Berlin in the near future and Kramath, a place that resembles hell.
ArchAngel offers no character generation, but as soon as you have fulfilled the tutorial in the monastery and explore the outside, you meet an angel called Ivy Rose, which leads you to her master, the Lord of Light. Here you can choose between two forms of appearance, which you can activate at any time, as long as your energy lasts: one is the form of a strong warrior, the other of a ghost, which is good in the magical arts. So this is some kind of character creation.
Continuing the medieval areas, which are being loaded into memory when yu reach an area border you will find the levels are very dark and dense, actually, ArchAngel is the darkest game I have ever played. From this darkness emerges a very unconfortable atmosphere. At any place you expect monsters or other traps and indeed ArchAngel is full of monsters. Visually the levels are not too outstanding but still looking good. What really needs more finetuning are the NPCs. In the village, you have to fight zombie-like humans and the NPCs walk straight through the combat areas. Also conversations are not very fluent where the english voices are quite good for most NPCs.
Combat is very action orientated taking place in real time and against 5 or more enemies at the same time where the enemies AI is quite good as they try to surround you immediately and run away if strongly inhured. The best weapon, the Sword of Light, which only you can wield, is given to you at the very beginning of the game - but don't think it is easy to use, as it takes a large amount of your spiritual energy, so in the beginning you can't swing it for more than 2 hits, before you are spiritually exhausted - it is a wiser choice to use a regular sword or axe in the beginning; later on you will also find modern weapons as guns or shotguns. It is but somehow difficult to use the inventory items during combat as the whole interface is only consisting of the inventory, which holds your weapons, spells, items and journal, which keeps a bestiary and a quest book.
Each quest is written down with its essence earned for fulfilling it and also marked as solved then. Essence is an important part in the RPG System of Archangel, as it is somehow similar to the experience points. When you have enough essence accumulated you can activate new spells or power them up, for example the regenerate spell has proven very useful - others are night vision, the form you chose at the Lord of Light's or Shield. Occasionally you find more spells.
I have to admit, I had to force myself to play ArchAngel at first and over the first hour, but couldn't stop playing afterwards. An interesting story is developing, even though one doesn't expect that after the standard-world-needs-hero beginning. I found combat a little to hard and there is a lot of combat in the game, which makes Archangel more an action game with some RPG elements than an Action-RPG, but is is interesting and quite fun to play. The music is very nice, somewhat esoterical, similar to the music in Westwood's Lands of Lore 2 and 3.
On the down side, I would like to see improved controls and more hotkeys, for example for healing potions, and also an automap, since some levels as the cave are quite large and you get lost too easy. But since the game is already gold in Germany, I fear, the preview code will more or less represent the game as it will hot stores in october. Still, ArchAngel is very well worth a look.