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Released alongside Gears of War 3 it’s ironic that some gamers would proclaim it a rip off, despite both games coming from Epic Productions who here teamed up with the Polish developer People Can Fly to essentially reimagine Gears of War as a first person shooter. Greeted with praise though from the critics on its release, something clearly didn’t sit with gamers as it failed to find an audience before becoming all but forgotten, though picking it up now it’s hard to understand what exactly didn’t appeal.
Scripted by Rick Remender who’d previously worked on Dead Space as well as various titles for Marvel titles including Uncanny Avengers, Venom and perhaps more fittingly for the design of this game especially Punisher War Journal. Here though he crafts a story reminiscent of Duke Nukem 3D as he gives us here Grayson Hunt the grizzled foul mouthed leader of the black ops team “Dead Echo” who became space pirates when they were double-crossed by their former commander Star General Sarrano. Now while attempting to kill Sarrano in a drunken rage he finds himself crash landing on the planet of Stygia whose population largely consists of psychotic tribes mutated by the planets radiation and who Grayson and his cyborg companion Ishi have to battle through in order to find a way off the planet.
Picked up by myself as an impulse buy at my local Blockbuster (you remember those right) this game had been sitting in my gaming pile until I recently decided to actually play it. However, starting off the game I have to say it didn’t exactly grab me as it played like a chunkier first person shooter similar to the aforementioned Gears of War or Rage, and I half considered switching it off and tossing it into the archive as it wasn’t exactly giving me anything that I hadn’t seen before from this type of game. However it was at this point that something strange happened. As Grayson got his electric whip the game suddenly got a whole lot better, as if they had finally figured out what they actually wanted to do with the thing.
Using a largely traditional FPS mechanic while powered with the Unreal Engine 3, the game is stunning to look at while the combination of frequently crude humour, foul language and heavy splatter makes it one of the more cartoonish FPS since Duke Nukem 3D which honestly might be the closest comparison that can be drawn to any other game. More so when it appears to be aggressively fighting against being yet another Call of Duty style shooter as realism here essentially an afterthought as the focus is instead set purely on carnage and generally having fun blasting things into small bloody chunks.
Unlike his FPS counterparts the armoury is surprisingly limited here though still tweaked enough to keep things interesting as Grayson’s main weapon is an energy whip, which can be used to pull down obstacles as well as fling enemies into the air in slow-motion in much the same way that he can also kick close combat enemies into the air. Grayson’s other main weapon of choice is the Peacemaker Carbine which is essentially the Lancer from Gears of War without the chainsaw attachment. As you progress though, more weapons become available such as the quad shotgun called “The Bone Duster”, a handgun to rival Halo’s in “The Screamer” as well as an exploding bola launcher called the “The Flailgun.” While Grayson can only carry two of these weapons, with his Carbine there are regular drop pods which enable him to change out his load as well as the usual option to pick up dropped weapons as well. All the weapons can be upgraded to unlock their specials which usually centre on taking out multiple targets.
While all this might sound pretty standard, the real charm of this game is with its “Skillshots” in which the player is rewarded for killing opponents in creative and destructive ways either through the use of the weapons or the surrounding environment. Each of these skillshots come with their own creative names. For example, kick an enemy into electric wires and “Shocker” flashes on the screen or shoot an enemy in the throat to earn “Gag Reflex.” My personal favourite though is to kick a hot dog cart into a group of enemies before blowing them up in a shower of hotdogs for “Sausage Party.” These skillshots really help the game to stand out from its competition which certainly keeps things interesting for the player as they hunt down those more elusive deaths while each environment soon becomes as much about killing the enemies as it does maximising its gruesome potential.
Once the game gets going the focus really is on the action and its certainly something this game delivers in spades as playing the game can at times feel like being in a Michael Bay movie, especially when there constantly seems to be something exploding or collapsing. The shootouts can at times feel like you’re taking on a small army with each firefight you enter and this is without even mentioning the set-piece which sees you controlling a mecha-Godzilla armed with lasers! Still, with Grayson being so sarcastic, you can usually hear him yelling out some foul-mouthed insult which stops the action from feeling repetitive, and what game can you think off which allows you to get drunk during a firefight as seen by the ability to drink from bottles scattered throughout some levels with suitably detrimental results much like drinking in GTA.
Playing the game now, it’s still hard to believe that this game doesn’t have more of a following, especially with the popularity of the Gears of War Series, which this certainly provides a fun stop gap between installments as well as a refreshingly original approach to the FPS genre. With a sequel currently being rumoured, I’m certainly excited to see what a follow-up could bring to this already exhaustive first entry.
Developer(s): People Can Fly, Epic Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC