Review: Armed & Dangerous (XB)

Game: Armed and Dangerous
Genre: Tactical Shooter
Platform: Xbox
Distributor: Lucasarts

STORY

I hate to say this. I really, really hate to say this. The story is funny. I mean, it was meant to be intentionally funny, and it works!

You are Roman, a bit of a mercenary and thief but a good-hearted one (and they don’t over emphasize this, thank goodness). You, little old man Rexus, your mole/miner friend Jones (with one of the best Scottish accents I’ve had the joy to hear), and your robot companion Q are the Lionhearts.

Here’s the short version. Your buddy Rexus; a small, codgity, nearly blind, jewish-voiced magic user is being hunted by the King’s forces because he’s the only person who knows how to access the Book of Rule, your obligatory supreme weapon of power and/or destruction. King Forge is trying to stop you, and simultaneously prove that his dimwitted son is worthy to take his place on the throne.

You do the obligatory rescue the innocent villagers thing, the destroy the King’s weapon-of-choice thing, and even the defend the city from the enemy onslaught thing (which was a nice change up for me); the difference being that all of it is done with a concurrently pervasive and perverse sense of humor. There’s even a bizarre subplot (yes, a game with not just a plot, but a SUBplot) involving some gardening robots converted by Rexus to help fight the King’s forces. Folks, ANY game that can intelligently work in the line, “Death to the salad eaters!” is going to get a high score from me.

The cutscenes were very well done, even though the mouth movement was taken from the Muppet school of modeling. If you can forgive that, you won’t be disappointed. Very few games elicit any sort of emotional reaction from me, but when the King’s son (and, of course, a moron) was tripping on his medication’ and seeing his father as one of the penguin-esque birds during his big speech on the prophecy of the Book of Rule, I actually laughed out loud. As I did when Rexus had two of the King’s guard under a thinly-veiled Jedi mind trick and told them, for a lack of anything else, that they were French and they dropped their weapons and surrendered. Lowbrow, maybe, but well done lowbrow is just as funny as well done highbrow. I laugh at both the same.

Add to this the fact that the gameplay isn’t terribly boring, even to somebody with a less-than-stellar talent at tactical shooters. The variety of weapons is nice (if a bit cliché since “¦ oh “¦ about the time Doom came out) and the missions are actually more than just “kill everything that moves.” The ability to use enemy gun placements was a really nice little feature for me. The presence of the pub-as-powerup-shop was a bit unrealistic, but then this game isn’t about realism, it’s about fun, and within this story world, the omnipresence of the pub’ fits in nicely.

I especially got a kick out of the defend the city’ missions, where you’re put in a mounted gun pod with unlimited machine ammo and mortars at your disposal, and your goal is to keep the enemy foot soldiers from entering the base. I nice change of pace that was really done well, in both gameplay and graphics.

In summary, the gameplay, which may be just slightly above average, is really accented by a witty, smart script. The humor shifts between classic Python to more mainstream gags, but always with a self-deprecating twist.

Story Rating:7.5/10

GRAPHICS

One thing you have to say about Lucasarts games, they’re beautiful to look at “¦ most of the time. The cutscene graphics were good, if a bit jumpy sometimes, and the mouth/speech dynamics reminded me of some of Terry Gilliam’s best work on Monty Python, but never cheap enough looking to take away from the script. In fact, I’ll wager that the style and the jumpiness of the characters was designed to further the spoof that it is, and if you think about it that way, it works.

Ah, but the in-game graphics are NOT jumpy at all. In fact they’re about as smooth as I’ve ever seen in a tac shooter. Enemy troop movements are smooth, as are your own characters motions, and there are lots of special’ graphics for the enemies, such as climbing up drainpipes, falling out of windows, kneeling, taking up gun placements, and so on. Tracking the enemies (insofar as you could get good control fidelity with the sticks) was no problem; they didn’t warp around or do the Buckaroo Banzai thing through structures and such. Collision detection was pretty darn good on this game. There were also a wide variety of weapons by both sides that were all very well modeled. I especially liked the rocket towers and the volleys of rockets they’d send out screaming toward you. If this were a serious game they would’ve scared me considerably. As it was, I was just having a ton of fun.

And all of this was done with some wonderful environmentals. I have to give mad phat props to the development teams just for their use of fog as a way of modeling depth. Beautiful. Mountains, trenches, houses, all of it looked great at distance and right up next to it, which is an accomplishment by itself. And nary a frame drop was seen, even with literally dozens of enemies onscreen.

The slightly over-silliness of the cutscene graphics costs a little, but still one of the best graphical efforts I’ve seen in my reviewing tenure.

Graphics Rating:8.0/10

SOUND

I could spout another two paragraphs of hyperbole just on the voice acting during the cutscenes. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Maybe it’s my fascination with the variety of British accents (Scottish versus Cockney versus Cambridge versus Wales) but mere infatuation with an accent won’t cover up bad acting, and everybody hit their lines spot on in this game.

In-game, my only real complaint is that I would’ve appreciated a strong (or maybe just present) directional sound engine. Everything sounded pretty mono when I was playing, which was frustrating when trying to find which direction a sniper is shooting from or trying to find and destroy one of those blasted sirens which seemingly double the number of grunts spawned.

Other than that, the sound was crafted beautifully. Each weapon had their own distinctive report, making knowing what to stay the hell away from easy, even when you couldn’t see it yet. Also, they were able to insert character one-liners without feeling contrived or corny. In fact, this game shares a lot of the same good qualities with my first review for 411: Evil Dead: Fistful of Boomstick. Hey, I’m not saying these guys are in the same league as Ash, but they’ve got potential.

Sound Rating:7.0/10

CONTROL

Controls started a little confusing, but cleared up quickly. Left stick translates, Right stick rotates. Left trigger zooms, right trigger fires the primary weapon. The button complex handles things like jumping, setting Ticker Bombs’ (which gets it’s own dedicated button for some strange reason) and firing the secondary weapon (which can be done by clicking the right thumbstick too). Black and White buttons give orders to Jones and Q during the missions that they back you up (don’t worry if they die during a mission. They’re not really dead. It’s just a flesh wound).

The hardest thing to get used to was that the only way to switch weapons was the left pad. Left and Right pad changes primary weapons (you can carry up to three) and Up and Down pad changes secondary weapons. The obvious problem being that it’s hard to change weapons while running and trying to not get your ass shot off.

Targeting was a bit touchy. On Easy setting it’s okay because enemy weapons don’t do that much damage anyway; but on even Normal setting, it got to be frustrating. Of course, that probably supposed to be counterbalanced by some of the cool-ass auto-target weapons you have at your disposal, such as the dual-rocket launcher or my personal favorite, the Land Shark gun. Really, it must be seen to be fully appreciated.

Otherwise, controls were smooth in maneuvering and I found no hiccups in weapons switching or firing.

Control Rating:6.5/10

REPLAYABILITY

While I am loathe to give high Replayability scores to tac shooters, this game has three things going for it: Xbox Live (of course), hidden Tokens’ which unlock game features, and the unlockable difficulty settings.

I don’t need to go into what a good online mode does to increase the draw of a tac shooter, but I will say that this game probably illicits more friendly’ games than some of the more serious shooters just by it’s very nature. Really, how can you keep a straight face when you’ve just been eaten by a land shark?

The Tokens are a tried-and-true idea, and just like any well-implemented Tokens system it takes some looking to find more than a couple of these buggers. The trick with this particular system is that collecting more tokens almost instantly gives you more game modes. Collecting 2 tokens unlocks the Play Cutscene’ feature. Collecting a third token unlocks Big Head’ mode (high comedy itself). There’s only 21 tokens in this game, compared to a hundred in certain games I could mention. Because of that, each token is a special find and adds a little replayability value.

The most interesting feature to me, however, is the fact that the highest difficulty setting the game will allow you to play out of the box is Normal. There are two higher settings which need to be unlocked before you can play them. Having played Normal, I can tell you that it’s no walk in the park (although Easy is), so I cringe to think how difficult the HIGHEST setting would be. Maybe it’s too hard, but I can’t say that definitively because I suck at tac shooters.

Replayability Rating:7.0/10

BALANCE

It needs to be said that there’s a bit of a jump between the Easy and Normal settings. This may be a small understatement. Let’s put it this way. I breezed through the Easy setting. It was pulling teeth to get through the SECOND mission on Normal. Like I said above, I’m scared to think how hard that FOURTH difficulty setting is. You probably have to do the whole level while on fire or something.

Balance Rating:6.5/10

ORIGINALITY

The only thing that saves this from being your run-of-the-mill tactical shooter is the story (and the Land Shark gun). Otherwise, it’s somewhere between Rainbow Six and Ratchet and Clank.

But, sense of humor should be worth at least a full point.

Originality Rating:6.0/10

ADDICTIVENESS

I gotta say, this game drew me in. On Easy it drew me in because I wasn’t cussing at the TV, but it drew me in nonetheless. It even passed the OSIL test with a better than average score (12:45 a.m. on a Wednesday), so I have no choice but to give it better than average addictiveness.

On Easy it was fun because you could learn the controls and be successful but still be challenged a little bit. Normal is quite a bit easier now than the first time I ran through it, but you can’t run berserker-style through the levels like you could before. It’s becoming a nice challenge in and of itself, and a little challenge (the enemies actually behave in a not-terribly-stupid manner) is as good a reason to stay up all night playing as anything else.

It’s not the crack that some other games are, but if you appreciate the humor (there’s that story again) you’ll find yourself going back just to see what they do in the next cutscene.

Addictiveness Rating:6.5/10

APPEAL FACTOR

Say it with me, kids. The thing that distinguishes this game from others in its genre is “¦ its humor. Very good. You get a gold star.

This is a hard niche to judge. A lot of testosterone-driven kids probably won’t like this game at first glance because it’s too damn silly (and they already r0x0r at Counter Strike!) but it’s a perfectly serviceable tac shooter even if you just judge the gameplay. Include the appeal of the script and I’m betting that it would become a cult favorite. I could totally see myself reciting lines from this game in the halls at high school.

Appeal Rating:6.0/10

MISCELLANEOUS

“Death to the salad eaters!” Really, what else can I say?

Moreso than any other game that I’ve played, I kept playing this game just to see what was in the next cutscene. The gameplay itself was good, but the characters are so well written that it actually motivates you to play more. That’s an official Good Thing.

And there’s one other cutscene I’d like to mention, but I’m not going to because I couldn’t do it justice here. Let’s just say that the phrase, “They’ll be lost for days,” has now entered heavy rotation in my life, as has “Death to the salad eaters!”

Miscellaneous Rating:7.0/10

Story: 7.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Sound: 7.0/10
Control: 6.5/10
Replayability: 7.0/10
Balance: 6.5/10
Originality: 6.0/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 6.0/10
Miscellaneous: 7.0/10
Average Rating: 6.8/10