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Developer: Planet Moon Studios
Platform(s): Windows, Xbox
Shooters gained traction in the early 1990s, with id’s classic DOOM setting a standard that still influences today. As the decade progressed and titles innovated, the genre become even most popular, and one of the biggest money-makers in the industry. It found its way into all types of stories as well, from sci-fi to war to fantasy and role-playing. Games continued to push the boundaries, and while the formula was set, the environments, mechanics, graphics, and plots all evolved. It wasn’t long though before familiarity set in while with every release, many were looking to have a return to the more absurd gameplay of the defining games of a generation before.
By 2003, the entertainment industry was in a fantasy revival of sorts with the massive success of The Lord of the Rings films leading the way. The shooter genre was reaching a zenith with Halo and other squad-based action titles and because of these successes, things were ripe for a parody. In stepped Planet Moon Studios, who had joined the shooter community in 2000 with their own third-person role-playing adventure called Giants: Citizen Kabuto, a well-received title that had hints of what was coming with butt-stomping powers and other hidden humorous gems. Armed and Dangerous was another thing entirely though and pulled out all the stops in poking fun at the genre and current trends.
The setting is meant to be familiar. In a fictional kingdom called Milola, a despot named King Forge rules the land. A rebel group called the Lionhearts are trying to topple the monarchy and bring freedom to the people. They are led by a scandalous character named Roman, a petty criminal who grew up under the thumb of Forge and is now an overly-confident, slightly arrogant ex-con with tremendous military and thieving skills. Superficially a loner with a brash attitude, he actually is a nice guy who would give anything to take care of his team.
That team consists of three unlikely mates. The first is Q, once a member of Forge’s elite robotic guard, an unusual tea experiment had him become self-aware (and a lover of good tea). After he tried to encourage other robots to leave the guard, he was imprisoned and put in the scrap heap. He’s become quite fond of Roman, who treats him like a person.
Jonesy is a moleman and best friend to Roman, having grown up together. He has no love for anyone except Roman and Q, a little disillusioned by his lot in life. An pistol-packing explosives expert who gets great joy out of things that go boom, he would rather take the money and run but remains loyal to the cause.
Last is Rexus, an ancient ‘Seer’ who, due to a head injury decades before, has lost his memory. That might not be much of a problem except he is the one that lost the Book of Rule, a relic that offers the only way to defeat Forge. A festering, foul-smelling creature with no eyes (wearing an over-sized glass eye throughout), he cast a spell on the once powerful book, turning it into a how-to on basket weaving. Whoops. His only friends, other than Roman, are the swarm of flies that linger about him in a thick cloud.
The story follows the rebels wrecking havoc over the land, who travel almost exclusively on foot over a variety of maps, all with some limited environmental damage, such as falling trees, select buildings toppling, and tons of exploding barrels. The enemy A.I. aren’t exactly Mensa candidates, but they are aggressive, especially in the later levels. While the gameplay is almost entirely linear, the fun comes in the sheer lunacy of the combat. While there are plenty of stock weapons, including pistols, rifles and standard explosives, there’s a lot more waiting as players progress.
Let’s start with the Topsy-Turvy. When deployed, the device screws into the ground, with the user holding on for dear life, and then inverts gravity, flipping the world and sending people skyward before flipping it back and hurdling them to their doom. That alone is enough to make facing enemies a good time, but then there is the Guy Fawkes Bomb that isn’t a bomb at all but rather a chemical that when dispersed turns victims against each other. There’s the World’s Smallest Black Hole, which is kept in your back pocket. It swirls out like a tiny tornado and as the name suggests, sucks everything into it for all of eternity.
But really, there’s only one weapon that needs mentioning, the one that set the game’s ridiculous themes to eleven. That would be the Land Shark Gun, a weapon that in name only would make any gamer smack money down without asking another question. The rifle, which is a large, two-handed gun, fires a single shot at a time, an infant shark that burrows into the ground and reaches maturity within seconds. It then hunts the targeted enemy and devours them from below before slipping back beneath the soil in search of another. There can be more than one shark on patrol, erupting from the depths with great ferocity and, more than that, gut-busting hilarity. It’s one of the greatest guns in video games ever. Period.
Featuring a single-player campaign and both an online and at-home split-screen multiplayer component, Armed and Dangerous was released for the original Xbox and for Windows PC. Published by Lucas Arts, it earned high marks for its creative design and innovative gameplay, with excellent voice work to boot. While Planet Moon Studios would go on to make games exclusively for handhelds and the Wii before folding in 201o, it is Armed and Dangerous that remains their most celebrated title. Head over to Steam to give this game a try for some great chaotic fun.