Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wanted: Weapons of Fate Review

Wanted: Weapons of Fate, developed by GRIN and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
The Good: Fun and intuitive cover system, neat special abilities, frequent checkpoints
The Not So Good: Very repetitive combat with linear levels and drone AI, porting issues, lacks multiplayer
What say you? Curving bullets, slowing time, and using cover is enjoyable…for an hour or two: 5/8

Ah, the computer game-movie tie-in: bastion of sucking every last penny out of a franchise. These tie-ins are usually craptacular (especially ones for the kiddies), hoping to cash in on the temporary obsession. It is strange, then, to find a game released so far after the movie, but that's the case with Wanted: Weapons of Fate. This action game hopes to take the good parts of the movie (curving bullets, slow motion battles) and remove all of the fluff (Angelina Jolie). Wanted: Weapons of Fate has obviously been targeted for the consoles (obvious evidence comes later in the review), but they were nice enough to put the game on the superior platform as well. How will the over-the-top action translate to the smaller screen?

Wanted: Weapons of Fate features good, but not great, graphics for a top-level action game. The character models are detailed (especially the main characters) but repeated far too often; apparently, all of the enemies are issued the same uniform and head. I don’t know why every console action game has to use a third-person view, but Wanted: Weapons of Fate certainly does. I find that the character model does not get in the way of your view too much (especially since shooting requires you to zoom in), a problem with almost every other third-person game. Each of the game's levels takes place in a different environment that provide some setting variety, but the components of each setting are used over and over again, making the next street or room look just like the last. The weapon and explosion effects are dramatic without being too overbearing, and I like the occasional (but not overused) follow-the-bullet camera when curving is utilized: it's still enjoyable the thirtieth time you see it. The sound features “M” rated dialogue (who knew violent assassins have potty mouths?) and pleasing combat effects. The music is fine enough, but it cues you too much on when the enemy onslaught has finished. There is nothing too notable in Wanted: Weapons of Fate that hasn't been seen before in terms of graphics and sound, but the presentation is still pretty solid.

Wanted: Weapons of Fate starts right after the events of the movie, and you alternate between the story of Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy's character from the movie) and his father (some French dude) as they shoot people in the face. The game only features the single player storyline that takes about six hours to complete (though you will most likely tire of it before then). The easiest difficulty level is a nickname for a cat, which is weird because I don’t see any connection between this game and felines whatsoever. The game difficulty is well-adjusted, except for the stationary sections of the game (more on those abominations later), providing just enough of a challenge to keep you from steamrolling over the drab AI enemies. This is nothing you need to play more than once, since the enemy locations are so heavily scripted and the linear level design offers little in the form of improvisation (there are usually a maximum of two cover paths you can follow). The levels feature plenty of available cover, though, with boxes and crates strewn all over the place (someone should really clean up). Wanted: Weapons of Fate features the annoying habit of not letting you save your progress at any point in the game. If you are not going to feature use-anywhere saving (screw you, consoles), then you had better employ a lot of checkpoints, and thankfully Wanted: Weapons of Fate does. On the flip side, quitting the game before finishing an entire level makes you start over from the beginning. Boo! After you are done with the game the first time around, Wanted: Weapons of Fate features some alternate game modes (like being timed) and unlocked characters; none of these features offer any variation in the game (other people perform exactly the same as Wesley) and are extraneous. Wanted: Weapons of Fate suffers from dreaded console porting issues beyond the saved games limitation. I had to unplug both my gamepad and my joystick while playing or the game would crash when I started it up; apparently, you are only allowed to own an XBOX 360 controller. In addition, setting up the screen resolution is a pain: the game doesn't know the difference between clicking on an arrow (to change the resolution) and clicking on “confirm.” I had to find the configuration file (cleverly hidden in C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\Local Settings\Application Data\wanted\data\settings) and change the resolution manually. Boo!

With all of those annoying features out of the way, it's time to talk about how the game actually plays. The bottom line is that Wanted: Weapons of Fate is fun to begin with, but wears on you after an extended period of play time. You use the famous WASD keys to move, left mouse button to shoot, and hold down right mouse button to aim. This isn't as annoying as it sounds, because almost the entire game you will be hidden behind cover. Pressing spacebar makes it so that you are essentially invincible, and you hold down the right mouse button to peak out to shoot some foes. Moving between areas of cover is easy: go to the edge of your current object and press the appropriate direction key. The game clearly shows which direction you will move, so there is really no instance where you will be exposed to enemy fire. If you fire without peeking while behind cover, enemy units will cower in fear (oh noes! random bullets!) and you can quickly move to a better location; quickly moving between several places of cover can let you flank the enemy and perform a melee kill, although it's almost always easier to just shoot them. The suppressed enemy unit indicator (a faint white border around the screen) is far too subtle. Wanted: Weapons of Fate uses clear icons for others actions, like cover and melee attacks, so I have no idea why this would not extend to this aspect of the game as well.

Killing people gives you adrenaline that you can use to do two special powers, a similar mechanic to what was used in The Club. The first is curving bullets: you hold down three buttons at once (left mouse, right mouse, and shift) and move the mouse to find a trajectory that will hit your enemy (shown by the enemy silhouette turning white). Releasing the left mouse button will unleash untimely death. It's a neat system that makes it very easy to engage cowardly enemy units that hide behind cover (as you do). Yeah, it’s a gimmick, but it’s an extremely fun gimmick. The other thing you can do is “enhanced” quick movement, which slows time down as you dodge between areas of cover, allowing you to pick off enemies in the process. This is much less useful than curving bullets, as it's only worth the adrenaline cost when you have a room full of baddies not using cover (a rare occasion).

Despite Wesley's special skills, he has some strange limitations. First, he cannot pick up any enemy guns to use. We know he can use something other than a pistol, because he does later in the game, but all he can do is gather ammunition. In addition, Wesley cannot jump. So he has all of these time-bending moves, but he can’t clear a two-foot-tall air duct? Wanted: Weapons of Fate features some variations in gameplay, none of which are very good. There are some timed sections where you must shoot down clearly-highlighted bullets and bad guys, and there is, of course, everybody's favorite: the QTE. You will also occasionally man a sniper rifle or a turret for some really annoying sections of the game, mainly because you can't see anything during these sections. Popping out of cover using the sniper rifle changes where your sight is, leading to seconds of disorientation while you are being shot at. Turret sections have you shooting at hard-to-see enemies over a wide area using a weapon that moves very slowly: not fun. The sniping and turret sequences are jarring and annoying, ruining the general fast pace of the game. The heavily scripted AI exhibits few advanced features, following predictable patterns and cowering behind cover most of the time. Wanted: Weapons of Fate doesn't have a health bar: all you have to do is wait behind cover for about ten seconds and you are good as new. Wanted: Weapons of Fate has a couple of unique elements, but it uses them over and over again, leading to gaming fatigue.

Unfortunately, Wanted: Weapons of Fate's linear level design, elementary AI, and repetitive use of cover makes Wanted: Weapons of Fate wear out its welcome far too quickly. I initially had this rated a point higher, but the repetition sank in starting in hour number two and never let up during the course of the game. The sameness of each enemy encounter and the lack of unexpected level design wears on you. That is not to say that Wanted: Weapons of Fate can't be fun: curving bullets, moving between cover, and slowing down time are all enjoyable in small amounts, but the game continues to use these same three mechanics throughout the entire experience. The turret, sniper, and timed sequences meant to vary the game don't work well and are actually hindrances to the overall experience. The linear levels and scripted AI means successive games will be exactly the same, and the lack of multiplayer capabilities means there is no reason to play Wanted: Weapons of Fate more than once. Add on to that typical issues with a PC port, and we have a game that doesn't fully deliver. It's fun for a while, but Wanted: Weapons of Fate is overpriced for a six-hour game with only two hours of fun.