Classic Mondays makes its long overdue return with a look at this dismemberment-happy PC legend from the late 90′s.
The year was 1998. 3D graphics were still in their relative infancy, and targeted destruction of character models was still fairly primitive. Enter Die By the Sword, a third-person action game built around the premise of aiming for (and the removal of) limbs and heads. Named the “VSIM” control system, Die By the Sword gave gamers unprecedented control over their sword arm, doing away with standard “light” and “medium” attacks. There were two ways of approaching VSIM: you could either use the numpad on your keyboard (for example, pressing “1″ and then “9″ would make you do a low-to-diagonally-high swipe), or you could have complete free control by using your mouse. You’d think the mouse method would be the best, since you wouldn’t be stuck with only nine directions with which to swing your sword, but it felt a little too loose. There was also a standard arcade-style control scheme that had low, medium, and high attacks/blocks, but the game clearly wasn’t designed with that control scheme in mind. After a bit of practice, using the numpad to control your sword became second nature, allowing you to target specific limbs with ease.
A unique control scheme is all fine and well, but how was the actual game? Well, it was…ok. Granted, this was Treyarch’s first game (if that name sounds familiar, it should…Treyarch is now best known for its role in the Call of Duty series), but things could have definitely used some tightening up. The VSIM control scheme made your sword arm feel like it was weightless, and your character seemed to float a half an inch above the ground. The ho-hum graphics and forgettable music added to the mediocrity, but neither of those things contributed to Die By the Sword’s status as a classic; that special honor is given to its brutal depiction of comically violent dismemberment.
In order to succeed, you couldn’t just attack enemies at random; you’d have to strategically dismember them. I don’t mean in the same way that Dead Space requires you to take off limbs to kill your enemies, I mean employing actual strategy (in addition to good ol’ fashioned practice, that is. The VSIM was a unique and powerful control scheme, but definitely took some time to get used to.) Do you try to lop off that Kobold’s weapon-swinging arm, or do you just take out his legs so he can’t move around the battlefield? Do you try to go for the quick but dangerous kill on that Ogre by going straight for his head, or do you chop off his arms first? In the time it takes you to hack through his beefy arms, will one of his skeletons take you out? These are the kinds of decisions you had to make, with very little time to make them.
The Wikipedia page for Die By the Sword has zero mention of the plot, which should give you a hint about its depth (or lack thereof.) It was the typical “save your lady from the bad guys” that you would expect in a cheesy action game…all it would take is having a weird dream one night, and the storyline would be forgotten. But that’s OK! Despite the existence of a “story” mode, Die By the Sword was without question made to facilitate hacking limbs off your enemies. Specifically, hacking the limbs off your friends. That’s right, Die By the Sword had glorious multiplayer! Like this:
You could even play in the multiplayer arenas by yourself, which was far more fun than the actual story mode:
Despite the dated graphics, cheesy voice acting, and steep learning curve, Die By the Sword still holds up very well today. If nothing else, it’s proof that a game can have low polygon counts, yet still elicit howls of consternation and rapid strings of obscenities at LAN parties. You can legally purchase the original game and its expansion, Limb from Limb, for the same price as a cheeseburger combo. The “Xtended” patch, which fixes a bunch of bugs, loads higher resolution textures, unlocks a bunch of extra options, and provides an assortment of other goodies is also available, making this classic easier than ever to get up and running on a modern computer. If you want to have a fantastic time with a couple of friends, you can’t go wrong with Die By the Sword.