Sunday, December 21, 2008

Legendary Review

Legendary, developed by Spark Unlimited and published by Gamecock Media Group.
The Good: Killing crazy animals is fun for about ten minutes, cooperative competitive multiplayer
The Not So Good: Terribly linear and repetitive, clearly not a PC game with constant XBOX controller references, does not play well with alternative gamepads, can’t skip cutscenes, iffy aiming, no manual saves
What say you? A cool idea that doesn’t offer variety or innovation: 3/8

You could roughly divide the first person shooter genre into two subclasses: military realism and outright fantasy. We’ve had quality representatives from both ends of the spectrum, from Call of Duty 4 to Half-Life. Legendary falls into that second classification, putting you in New York and London, fighting not conventional troops but rather creatures of fantasy. It seems that the main protagonist has opened Pandora’s Box and unleashed hordes of fantastic creatures: oopsy! No doubt this will be a legendary review of Legendary, but is Legendary legendary in its own right?

The graphics of Legendary range from nice to poor. The game utilizes the Unreal engine, but there is nothing that really blows you away like some tech demo would. The character and animal models are very well done and are quite detailed up close; it’s obvious that this aspect of the game got the most work. Unfortunately, the animations are quite poor and almost laughable: an early cut scene has people flying through the air and it just looks very poor, like an early CG movie. Speaking of cut scenes, you can’t skip them: one of my pet peeves. The level design would be a lot better if it weren’t so horribly linear. The auxiliary effects like fire and “magic” (I guess you would call it) are a step below Bioshock. As for the sound design, we have some basic voice acting, some plausible creature effects, and a generic hard rock soundtrack that spoils impending action a bit too often.

Legendary follows the story of the main character, who inadvertently opened Pandora’s Box and unleashed a cavalcade of creatures, as he puts things right that once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home. The single player campaign is almost lengthy compared to contemporary first person shooters that usually clock in at less than ten hours in length. You can start to feel the console roots of Legendary in the saved game restrictions: you can only have progress saved at checkpoints, rather than doing it manually. Bah! After you are done with the campaign, you can try out some multiplayer. There is only one game mode, but it’s almost interesting: there are two teams trying to kill enough neutral werewolves to fill up a cache. It’s a remarkable combination of cooperative and competitive gameplay that’s fairly unique, so it’s too pad that nobody is playing. Normally when a review says “there’s nobody playing,” they really mean only a handful of games, but with Legendary, there is literally nobody playing online. You can customize your weapons, but there are only four levels to play on and the lack of true variety makes the multiplayer of Legendary initially attractive but increasingly more wearisome.

More console annoyances crop up when you deal with the controls. If you have a gamepad plugged in and it’s not the precious XBOX controller, then you might as well unplug it: Legendary exhibited the dreaded always-spinning bug from having another gamepad active. Bah! I should not have to unplug things to get a game to work, period. The game assumes you will be using a gamepad, as the tutorial directions will always reference the XBOX gamepad even if you are using the keyboard. Bah! We all know the mouse-and-keyboard combination is superior! Well, maybe not in Legendary: aiming is poor, as you routinely hit nothing with the reticule smack dab in the middle of the enemy. The game comes with the conventional roster of weapons: rifles, shotguns, machine guns, flamethrowers, pistols, et cetera. About the only semi-innovative weapon is the axe that is required to decapitate werewolves. In a “nod” (meaning “rip-off”) to Bioshock, Legendary features some “animus” powers: defeated enemies will drop “animus” you can collect for one of three purposes: healing, a weapon, or to complete the occasional objective. The animus powers are cool, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen better in the aforementioned Bioshock, and the amount is plentiful enough (since every dead creature drops it) that conserving animus never becomes an issue.

Legendary is one of the most linear first person shooters ever. There are scores of conveniently-placed rubble to place you on a set path throughout a game. This is accomplished by allowing the main character to have a vertical jump of approximately two inches (be careful of that brick!). This goes hand-in-hand with some very heavy scripting that is also quite obvious. You are put in these large environments that should allow you to scramble for cover and use varied tactics, but there are too many deliberate piles of rubble or cars or both that put you on a very set path; this makes Legendary far less interesting, as massive battles against the crazy animals should be fun. The scripting is frequently laughably bad, as you can’t harm creatures or humans that aren’t meant to be shot at: if you aim at them and the reticule doesn’t turn red, then consider them window dressing. The relatively simplistic AI is OK, since they are, after all, monsters. It does make for some extremely repetitive combat, however, as each animal type will attack in the same fashion every time. Add in the fact that the monsters have a lot of health (an entire clip is usually required) and they spawn constantly and we have a very unsatisfying shooter. Very typical puzzles (ooo…turning a valve!) round out the completely unimpressive package.

Legendary could (should) have been more interesting, with a wide variety of animals (kraken, werewolves, golems, spiders, griffons) bent on your destruction. However, the repetitive AI, unabashedly linear level design, and other gameplay quirks add up to a very disappointing experience. Legendary rips off pretty much every recent (and not-so-recent) shooter, from Bioshock to Half-Life and does a poor job in doing so. The linear design is so disgustingly horrible that it takes you right out of potentially interesting battles. This is a console game, from the checkpoint-only saves to the constant XBOX gamepad references. A graphical mixed bag is accentuated with cut-scenes you can’t skip. Aiming is questionable at best and the AI monsters offer up repetitive behaviors and far-beyond-fantasy levels of health. The best part of the game, the multiplayer, is unpopulated so it renders it useless. Another decent idea wasted. Bah!