Originally Published: Sunday, 22 April 2001 Author: Jeff Mrochuk
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Rune: A Look at the Linux Beta

Jeff Mrochuk gives us a sneak peak at the latest in Linux game entertainment. Note: All of the following information is based on the closed beta of Rune provided by Loki Entertainment. Because the product is beta, no bugs have been considered, and any of the following could be changed in the final version.

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Every once in awhile, a 3D action game comes out that you can call original. As Linux users, close to all of the games available on our platform are 3D action games. This is wonderful, as far as I'm concerned, but there's no doubt that a lot of these games are pretty similar.

Rune is the latest game ported by Loki Entertainment. It's an original title by Human Head Software, and uses the Unreal Tournament engine.

The Ingredients for Rune are pretty simple, take a first person shooter, get rid of all the guns, switch the view to 3rd person, pull out all the sci-fi and replace it with Norse mythology, then add a lineup of deadly swords, axes and maces. Although Rune is not the first 3rd person action game to hit Linux (There's Heretic 2) it is the first to have combat entirely in the hand-to-hand range.

rune screenshotrune screenshot

The Basics

So you're a Viking. An evil Viking named Conrack is the thorn in your side when it comes to defending your village. You've got Odin on your side and Conrack has Loki. I don't want to give away any plot, so I'll leave it at that. Essentially you're a young Viking named Ragnar who travels through several areas of a huge mythological world.

If There's No Guns, What Do I Shoot Them With?

The weapons in Rune are divided into three categories, swords, axes and hammers. The swords are sharp and fast, but don't fare well against heavy armor, while the hammers can crush armor, but are slow, and don't do much in the way of cutting. Axes fall somewhere in between. There's five of each, making for fifteen weapons in total. Generally, each time you find a newer sword, axe or hammer it's a little stronger but a little slower than the last one.

There's no armor in Rune, but there are shields. The shields vary in size and strength, but they all do pretty much the same thing. There is a specific control that causes your character to place his shield in front and defend, which is useful for tougher enemies. With this feature you end up having some cool duels, circling, slashing and blocking.

Unfortunately, when you get the better weapons they are mostly two handed, which means no shield. Also, when your character switches to a two handed weapon, he throws the shield away, meaning when you switch back, you have to pick up another shield. It'd be much nicer if you could just hold the shield on your back. In the end, you'll end up using better weapons over shields anyway.

There's a little more to the weapons than previously mentioned, each of them has a special ability, much like a magic spell. To use these abilities, you need Rune power, which you pick up throughout your journeys. Fifteen weapons means fifteen spells, most of which you probably won't use. At least I didn't, because either I wasn't sure if I should be saving my special attacks, or there just weren't any runes around. There are some very cool spells though; the rock avalanche comes to mind, or the chain-lighting attack on your sword. Some spells allow you to freeze your enemies and shatter them. Overall, there's a nice variety, and you'll probably find some you like and stick to them.

The spells are nearly the only time you will have a long distance attack during Rune, with the exception of throwing your weapons or severed limbs at your enemies, which is usually pretty ineffective. Although once or twice I've had enemies run, and then thrown a sword into their back, satisfying, however graphic. The body parts you can pick up are for novelty mostly, they're not very good, but you might throw them at an item or weapon to knock it to the ground.

So your whole lineup of equipment consists of swords, hammers, axes, shields and runes for spells. All in all, they will serve you quite well as you journey through this Viking world.

rune screenshotrune screenshot

Flying Solo

The single player portion is the real deal in this game. It has a good plot, great single player levels, and a fair amount of variety.

Essentially, you travel through four major areas: the Viking underworld, an enemy Viking town, the Dwarven cities and Loki's castle, with several smaller areas in between. This game is huge, and it won't be one of those one-night games. That's all I'd really like to say, without giving a way too much. You can expect a fairly standard single player adventure, full of enemies, bosses, movement puzzles, and other single player fare.

My only complaint is that a very few of the levels get tedious, and I found myself just running through them, bored by the enemies and area challenges. However, when the game is taken as a whole, this was very rare. Most of the areas are quite compelling, well designed and fun.


Rune ships with multiplayer modes. With the game comes your standard death-match and team death-match.

The combat style of Rune can make for some interesting online matches, specifically one-on-one duels. Ducking and weaving around another person's attacks can be very cool.

Other than that, I don't have much to say for Rune multiplayer. The fact that all the weapons are essentially good for the same thing makes for little strategy in a free for all.

Noticeably absent are a variety of game modes; it is quite rare to see a game these days without capture the flag, for example. My guess is that without long distance attacks, it was too easy to escape a pursuer, hence capture the flag and other such games didn't work well.

Although Rune multiplayer is not without its charm, and it does have something of a fan base in the dueling games, I feel it was added to the game for completeness. Most aspects of this game are designed for single player, and that is where the game shines.

rune screenshotrune screenshotrune screenshot


Rune does a good job of pulling you into its environment. Although I'm not a huge fan of the Unreal engine, I do have to admit it is visually very nice. Rune harnesses it well, and builds on it. The Hell portion of the game features the glowing orange of the lava below, as well as great underground fortresses, well modeled and textured. When you're climbing around in mountains and ice, it looks like you're climbing in mountains and ice. You'll marvel at the spectacle of some of the castles you'll enter.

The level design is one of the stronger points here. For instance the Dwarven area contains huge steam machines, and water tunnels all mechanical and rusty. Human Head took a lot of time to make sure things looked good. This kind of attention to detail is a rare thing.

The enemies are well skinned and animated, but perhaps a little bland. Of course, this is the Viking time, but does everything have to be wearing brown? The dwarves are a little blocky, but that suits them fine. There are some cool effects on some of the models, though. For example, the zombies come back to life in a blast of green light and smoke. Overall the characters are well done, but slightly bland, and there just isn't enough variety.

rune screenshotrune screenshot

Sound, There's Nothing To See Here

The sounds in Rune hit the nail on the head. Bad sound is becoming less of an issue in games lately. The sword crashes and armor crushing sounds are all there. There's a bit of voice acting that is done well, and the ambient sounds set up a suitable atmosphere. Good sound is pretty standard nowadays, you'll be glad to know Rune is no exception.


Will Rune run well on your machine? Very likely, if Unreal Tournament runs well, so will Rune. It supports any 3D card that supports OpenGL or Glide. There's also a Software renderer that you'd use if you don't have a 3D card, but your performance may take a hit. Like Unreal Tournament, Rune is also very scalable, which means you should be able to turn down a lot of detail for decent performance.

As its stands in the beta, these are the minimum requirements:

  • Linux kernel version 2.2.X
  • Pentium II
  • 64 MB RAM required (128 MB recommended)
  • Video card capable of 640x480 resolution
  • XFree86 3.3.5 or newer at least 16bpp
  • OSS compatible sound card
  • Hard disk with at least 700 MB of space

I'd recommend more RAM than it says, some of the levels are huge, and may take up a lot of memory. You may need to create a temporary swap file so everything can fit, but if your swap partition is large enough, you shouldn't worry.

Because the focus is largely on single player play, you don't need much of an Internet connection, however, if you do plan to play online, lag can really cause problems. All the combat is close range, so even just a bit of lag can really screw things up, as you can't predict where the enemy will be when you swing. Games with distance weapons allow you to compensate by aiming ahead. Of course, I wouldn't recommend that stop you from trying.

Rune is a pretty solid contender that performs on a wide variety of machines; my Pentium II handles it quite well.


Rune has two great things going for it, originality and a great single player campaign. If you're interested in hand-to-hand combat, or you were a fan of Heretic 2's 3rd person style, add this game to your collection. If you're heavy into the guns and action of Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament, you might want to wait around for the demo. You never know, you just might like it.

Graphics 4.5/5
Gameplay 4/5
Singleplayer 4.5/5
Multiplayer 2/5
Sound 4/5
Accessibility 4/5

Jeff Mrochuk

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