Codemaster's published this 3d third person hack and slash romp and I think they made a wise choice in backing this game. Severance breathes some interesting new life into the third person gore-fest that games like Die by the Sword and Drakan: Order of the Flame did in the past.

Fans of Drakan should be right at home with this ultra gory and gut-wrenchingly hard game. There are a few problems with the control system and a couple of things that should really have been taken into consideration. The save times are not too bad and you can save at any point in the game, but it keeps track of the amount of times you save and displays them next to your save, along with a tag such as Heroic or Bold. Don't save too often and you're rewarded with the awesome tag.

What function this serves apart from to keep track of how many times you've saved your progress in the game I can't say. However there's no quicksave or quickload. Which means load times can be a little long for some people.

In the later stages of the game this becomes quite frustrating and quite irritating as you reload a particularly hard monster fight or a jump for the umpteenth time. Putting these faults aside as you play Severance however it's obvious that this game is a little special. I'll tell you now if I were to put a difficulty onto Severance I would label it nails, from the outset it doesn't reward mistakes with kindness. It's hard and bloody, make a mistake during a combat with the lowliest of guards and your head'll be handed you on a platter.

As you hack through the hordes of evil creatures that oppose you your character gains in power, monster deaths reward the player with experience points like in an RPG when you get enough you advance a new level, all your wounds healed. You also gain in defence and attack power, allowing you to pull off more and more damaging combos with the various weapons at your disposal.

You also have the choice of which four characters to start out with, each one begins the story in a different place and from then on the plot unfolds through some breathtaking levels and some down right evil monsters and traps. It's certainly not a game for the beginner. The characters that you can play are:

A Barbarian Warrior who is strong but not very fast in combat, armed with a staggering array of two-handed weapons of death, though not from the outset. From the beginning you get a reasonable two-handed sword but that won't be in your inventory for long as you find bigger and better weapons.

A Knight who begins the story as a prisoner of an evil warlord, he's the best all round character in the game and as the story progresses probably the favourite of the heroes. His vast array of one handed weapons and heavy armour make him very good in combat and defence.

The Dwarf. What game would be without the dour but honourable red-bearded dwarves? Fond of hammers and axes, with medium strength and speed this little fellow can plough through the games earlier foes with very little trouble. Voiced by a very calm and well-spoken fellow this character is another of my favourites.

The Amazon. She's possessed of low strength but high speed, good range as her weapons are usually staves and naginatas. She's also one of the better characters with the bow, a weapon that it's vital to master since some of the games puzzles require a quick trigger finger or at least a reasonable shot. Sensibly attired in leather armour she starts out fairly weak in combat but as you gain levels and learn the combat system her speed and range will definitely move things in your favour.

The graphics in Severance are some of the best seen yet in a third person hack and slash game, with light and shadow playing a very important part. Torches can be lit and used to burn wooden objects down and light some sconces, providing light to an otherwise dark and dangerous area. They can even be used as a weapon but they don't burn for long when swung in combat.

Everything in Severance casts a shadow and uses light; monsters can be seen around dark corners by the flickering shadows cast by a well-thrown torch. Your own character casts shadows on the walls and floor as you move through the various indoor and outdoor locales in search of the next part of your quest or a monster to face. Severance also has a pretty nifty physics engine too that gives weight and substance to all things in the game world, you can pick up and hurl stools and chairs, the severed head of an enemy might be useful to disarm a pressure sensitive trap and so on.

Combat in the game is usually swift and bloody with limbs being hacked off left right and centre, get a good shot in and the head of your enemy sails off nicely into the darkness, coating the floor and the walls in red stuff. Those parents among you worrying about the gore factor, Severance has the option to switch down or off the gore in the game. Wounds appear on the bodies of your foes and your character as blades clash and bounce off shields or cut into flesh. The sounds in the game are some of the best realised as well, torches flicker and monsters often give voice to taunts and cries in battle. Grunts and screams of pain echo through the caverns and dungeons as combat rages on.

Your own footsteps clunk or clatter over various surfaces giving a different sound for each one, stone and wood. Often looking and listening can provide a vital clue to the location of a trap or enemy, allowing you to sneak up as close as possible and get the first possibly crippling blow in.

Combat is handled with the keys and the mouse, blocking and hacking with a few key presses and mouse clicks can launch some devastating special attacks on an opponent, possibly killing weaker ones in a single blow and crippling others. There's no strafe key which was a little of an annoyance to say the least but there is a dodge button, however if you dodge in combat at the wrong time you might end up over the edge of a cliff or something. Only a minor niggle though.

The game levels are large and somewhat confusing at times requiring a good sense of spatial direction to find your way on, there's no in game map and sometimes it's not too clear on what you have to do to proceed. Although some linear thinking and a good exploration of your surroundings can often lead you to the right path, some levels have multiple ways to proceed so the key to success is exploration, think you can make that jump? Then try it, you might find a secret place, some new armour or a kick ass weapon.

Severance is packed full of little hidden things to find in most of the levels, usually beyond a perilous jump or behind a weak looking wooden door. If you think it can be broken down then give it a bash a few times with a good weapon. Can't see the switch, but a block above you looks ripe for an arrow? Then shoot it, you can always get more arrows...because my advice is to get a bow and keep it, if you really want to delve into Severance's secrets and gain the hidden power in the game.

To conclude; Severance is a hard enjoyable romp through the glories of hard fantasy, gore and flashing blades. It starts difficult and doesn't let up even till the end of the game, it's packed full of nice touches and atmospheric cut-scenes using the in game engine, puzzles and traps. It has big mean monsters and some of the hardest bosses I've seen in one of these games ever, it will take months and months to master unless you're a god at these kinds of games. It has a fairly interesting storyline and will keep your interest to see what lies on the next level and what secrets are yet to be uncovered. And to add to all of this, you can go online in Severance Multiplayer and beat the gore out of your friends/enemies and family in a deathmatch. With the level editor and the tools just released over at the official site, things can only be looking up for one of the meanest and most enjoyable if frustrating at times hack/slash third person swords and sorcery games this year.

Now I'm off to see if I can't rack up a few more Xp's to help me challenge a really mean boss in the later levels.