Review: Fantastic Four (XB)

Review: Fantastic Four (XB)
Developer: 7 Studios
Distributor: Activision
Genre: Action
Release Date: 6/27/05

The Fantastic Four have long been a staple of the Marvel comic universe. I suppose it was only a matter of time before they were given their own big screen treatment in the barrage of comic book based movies that have been coming out over the past few years. It also seems that for every good movie (Spider-Man, X-Men) we’re treated to a less than stellar one (Electra, The Punisher). And while I can’t speak for the film (as of my writing this it isn’t out in theaters yet), I can tell you that the game is less than fantastic.

Video games based on movies have always been something of a hit or miss deal, although recently they have been of fairly good quality. I still enjoy popping Spider-Man 2 into my PlayStation and swinging around the streets of New York, and two weeks ago I reviewed Batman Begins which was a pretty decent game despite being incredibly linear. Unfortunately Fantastic Four falls more into the “miss” category rather than being a “hit”.

I just hope that the quality of the game isn’t an indication of the quality of the film. I’m not going to keep my fingers crossed though. But anyway, on with the review…


1. STORY

I’m guessing that most of you, especially if you are familiar with the comics at all, all ready know the origins of the Fantastic Four. They were up in a space ship, cosmic rays hit them, followed by genetic mutation, yadda yadda yadda, and so on and so forth. The movie seems to be following this same general storyline, and as such the game starts off with you floating around in space only to be transformed into the superhero foursome.

At this point all hell breaks loose. You begin to play as each of the four characters waking up in Von Doom’s laboratory/hospital with the security system going haywire due to it not recognizing your DNA. After fighting your way through the building, all four team members eventually meet up. However, while the others seem to be adjusting rather well to their new powers, The Thing completely loses it and goes on a rampage through the city (how would you feel if you woke up looking like a giant rock anyway?).

From this point on it’s one thing after another, as you need to calm down The Thing, stop an invasion by the Mole Man, go globetrotting in search of some cosmic asteroids, and finally take on the big bad, Dr. Doom and his legions of minions. Just another day in the life of a super hero I suppose.

The story itself is okay, although told in a rather hurried fashion. In the end it all boils down to the superheroes having to save the world, as in any number of other games. There really isn’t anything unique here, although I don’t seem to recall the Fantastic Four ever getting their own game before.

Story Rating: 5/10


2. GRAPHICS

We follow up a fairly average storyline with some pretty average graphics…

To start with, the character models are all fairly generic and have low polygon counts and pretty basic textures. I’m sure that part of the reason for this is the sheer numbers of characters that start to show up on screen at once, but even still, the Fantastic Four themselves don’t look much better than any other character in the game. I will give the developers credit for the sheer number of enemy types that you will encounter over the course of the game, however. Every chapter has it’s own unique group of bad guys with some pretty unique looking bosses. Although even these don’t look as good as they could.

Backgrounds and level designs are probably the worst aspect of the graphics in general. Many rooms and areas within the same chapter (each chapter is made up of several levels) look the same, and it’s not hard to get turned around after a big battle and forget which way you came in and which way you need to go. Again, textures and ploy counts are pretty basic and nothing overly interesting. There are even a number of areas where you’ll run into backgrounds that have no thickness to them at all and look like they belong on a PlayStation or Nintendo 64. On the bright side, each chapter has its own unique look, and there isn’t a lot of repetition between them.

There are numerous graphical effects used throughout the game, from fog and smoke to fire and blasts of energy. These vary in quality from very good (the Invisible Woman’s energy shields) to pretty poor (various fire “walls” that you can’t pass). Pixelation is also pretty rampant in a number of areas. On the whole, things tend to move so fast on screen that you won’t notice it too much, but it’s there and can be especially annoying in some levels.

Overall the graphics are certainly nothing to write home about, and will barely make your system break a sweat. Again, I assume this is due to the amount of action that can take place on the screen, but I really was expecting more here.

Graphics Rating: 5/10


3. SOUND

Once again, the sound is well below par for what this generation of systems is capable of. Punches, kicks, and even special abilities all sound generic, not to mention almost identical. And considering the sheer amount of destruction that you can inflict on most levels, I would have expected to give my speakers much more of a workout than they got. But in the end the sound effects just sound flat, and have very little variety.

Music is decent, if uninspired. I have no idea if it’s the same score that we will be hearing in the movie, but I really hope that it isn’t. The same few pieces tend to be used over and over again, and even the main theme is pretty weak. Fortunately there is nothing overly offensive here, but there is nothing catchy that will get stuck in your head either.

As with Batman Begins, Fantastic Four has the benefit of having the original movie cast to come in and do all the voices for the characters. However, where this was a benefit for Batman, the cast here seems pretty disinterested in the goings on of the game. Almost everyone says their lines in a flat, bored, monotone voice, barely allowing any emotion to break through. For all I could tell, they were just fulfilling a contract obligation by showing up and getting paid.

So, we’ve got average story, average graphics, and now average sound. Hell, not even average… below average. When exactly is the “Fantastic” in Fantastic Four going to kick in?

Sound Rating: 4/10


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

Fantastic Four is basically just a glorified beat-’em-up. And as such the controls are pretty straight forward. You’ve got your light attacks, heavy attacks, jump, grab, and block. Although for some reason they assigned block to the black button, which is sort of out of the way and incredibly annoying to use. You’ve also got your cosmic powers assigned to the right trigger, and targeting assigned to the left trigger. Movement is performed with the left analog and you can rotate the camera with the right analog. Finally, the control pad allows you to quickly switch characters whenever more than one is on the screen at a time, so you can control whichever you chose while the computer takes care of the rest.

Various cosmic powers can be pulled off by holding down the right trigger and using one of the main four buttons. For the most part, each character has their own unique set of cosmic attacks, but they all tend to do the same things. Each character has an area attack that hits all nearby enemies and a single target long distance attack. When given the option of using all four characters, it really doesn’t matter which one you use, as they are all equally powerful for the most part. The only real advantage goes to The Thing or Mr. Fantastic who do the most damage per hit. Each use of a cosmic power depletes a slowly regenerating energy bar. However, enemies and objects tend to drop energy powerups, so when fighting in large groups you’ll almost never need to worry about running out.

I’m not entirely sure why there is even an option for targeting, as it almost never seems to work. When surrounded by a group of enemies you are just as likely to hit the one behind you as you are the one you have targeted. Because of this you’ll find yourself barely even using the left trigger and instead just flailing around mashing buttons most of the time.

Speaking of button mashing, guess what you’ll be spending most of your time doing? That’s right kids… mashing buttons! While the game does include a number of combos that you can pull off, these are almost useless in mass combat. When the screen is filled with five or ten enemies, strategy tends to go out the window. Sure, there are a few enemies, especially the various bosses, that require some thinking to beat, but these rarely offer any real challenge, even at the end of the game.

As you defeat enemies you earn points. These points, which are shared by all four members of the team, can then be used to upgrade your various cosmic powers or combos. As mentioned, combos are almost pointless in most cases, so you’re better off tossing your earnings into the cosmic powers.

As you progress through the various chapters and levels, you’ll see little colored circles pop up occasionally that indicate an action to be taken by a specified character. These range from hacking a computer to welding a door shut to busting through a wall. Each of these tasks is performed by completing a short minigame. This can be anything from pushing a certain button sequence to solving a miniature maze-like connection puzzle. They help to break up some of the monotonousness of the general beat-’em-up gameplay, but they don’t serve any real purpose. While these action circles are nice, they tend to make the game more linear and take away from any doubt you might have as to how to proceed through the levels. Instead of exploring and figuring out puzzles, you’re told exactly where to go and what to do.

The remainder of the game is devoted to beating up scores of enemies, who aren’t all that difficult for the most part. There are a number of little glitches and bugs in the game that affect them as well. Enemies have a tendency to get stuck on corners or other objects, effectively taking them out of the action.

While you do have the opportunity to play as all four members of the Fantastic Four, most of the time you will only get to control one or two of them, as they tend to split up throughout the chapters. The few times you do get to play as all four simultaneously normally occur during a boss fight, which tend to be sprinkled with the little action circles dictating what character you need to use.

Overall, the controls could have been much more intuitive, and the gameplay is pretty shallow. Targeting is terrible and blocking is inconvenient, and the game boils down into just another linear beat-’em-up with some small minigames interspersed throughout the action. And while I have nothing wrong with these types of action games, they really could have done so much better.

Control and Gameplay Score: 4/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

While the control and gameplay may not be anything special, they did make sure that you would have plenty to do. For starters, in each level is a Fantastic Four icon that you can pick up. Acquiring certain numbers of these will unlock various arenas, interviews, and bonus levels. Finding these F4 icons can be as simple as wandering around a corner, or as tricky as solving an entire puzzle. However, once you’ve beaten a level you can go back and try it again as many times as you like until you’ve found all of the icons.

Additionally, each level has a set of goals to complete. These range from losing no lives to defeating a certain number of foes or breaking a certain number of objects. Completion of these objectives yields bonus points, which go towards your overall point total. In addition to spending points in game to upgrade your characters, you can use points to unlock artwork, comic book covers, and various developer interviews. While it isn’t necessary to complete the level objectives since you earn points just from defeating enemies, it will give completionists another reason to run through the game.

Outside of the main game is the Practice Room and the Arena. The Practice Room is just that, an area where you will face multiple foes and can hone your skills. The Arena is similar to this, except you will be required to defeat a certain number of enemies. Once you have defeated the easy setting you will have the option to play on medium, and then on hard.

Finally, beating the game on medium and hard unlock two bonus levels that you can play through.

It’s unfortunate that this isn’t a better game, because there is plenty here to keep you coming back for more.

Replayability Score: 8/10


6. BALANCE

Between easy and medium, don’t expect too much of a challenge. Hell, even on hard you won’t run into anything all that difficult. The majority of the game is spent plowing your way through droves of mindless minions with very little strategy and plenty of button mashing. A 4 year old could probably sit down with this game and make it half way through the game before even losing a life.

The only real challenge is offered up by the boss fights. And the difficulty with these is lessened quite a bit due to the action circles that pop up, immediately cluing you in on what you need to do, and who you need to do it with.

In level where you are working with more than one team member, the computer takes control of whichever characters you are not using. And while in most games the computer tends to act stupidly and die a ton, the AI here is actually fairly good. This is both a boon and a failing, as it is nice to not have to worry about your teammates, but at the same time it only makes completing the game that much easier.

Balance Score: 4/10


7. ORIGINALITY

It’s another superhero game. It’s another beat-’em-up. And even with the special powers and ability to switch through characters, there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done before. And for that matter, done better.

The only areas where I can really give this game points for being original is in part with the character swapping (even though it is reminiscent of X-Men Legends) and with the use of the Fantastic Four, which as mentioned above, I don’t believe have ever had their own game before.

But really now, those are barely legs to stand on.

Originality Score: 2/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

I’ll give the game some credit… when I first popped the disc in the tray and started playing, I quickly found myself more than halfway through the game. But once the initial enjoyment started to wear off, I quickly realized that the game really isn’t anything special. After a while, I really didn’t feel like playing it anymore.

In a way, if you’ve played one beat-’em-up, you’ve played them all. And this is no different. Fantastic Four may have plenty of replayability, but it’s still not all that much fun. Average graphics and sound, spotty controls, and very little originality will quickly turn off most who play this game.

Addictiveness: 3/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

For starters, it’s based on a movie which is getting plenty of hype right now, so that’s sure to appeal to a number of gamers. Fans of the comic book, or comics in general, will probably relish the idea of getting to play the Fantastic Four and use their incredible powers. And those who are just looking for a down and dirty beat-’em-up will certainly be interested in giving this one a look.

It really is a pity that this isn’t a better game, because there is enough interest here for it to sell well. But I can only recommend a rental at best, and even then, there are plenty of other games that I would look at before this one.

Appeal Factor Score: 7/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

The various interviews with the developers and Stan Lee are certainly interesting and sure to please any comic book fan. They are chalk full of little tid bits that you may or may not have all ready known, and you can tell that there is a real interest in making a good game.

Unfortunately the developers missed the mark on this one, and in the end you have just another average beat-’em-up to join the legions of other games in the genre. Good replayability and appeal will not make up for poor graphics and sound, and spotty control and gameplay. I’m almost forced to wonder if the game wasn’t rushed through development in order to get out before the movie hit. And if that’s the case, it’s really too bad, as there is a lot of undelivered promise here that, with a little more time and work, could have really made this a better than average, if not good, game.

Miscellaneous Score: 4/10


THE SCORES:

Story: 5
Graphics: 5
Sound: 4
Gameplay/Control: 4
Replayability: 8
Balance: 4
Originality: 2
Addictiveness: 3
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 4
Overall: 46
Final Score: 4.5 (Poor)