Review: Raze’s Hell (XB)

Raze’s Hell
Developer: Artech Studios
Publisher: Majesco
Genre: 3-D Action Adventure
Release Date: 4/22/05

Every so often a trend comes up that makes me ashamed to be a gamer. The graphics over gameplay trend. The “OMG! LARA CROFT NUDE CHEAT CODE! I WANT ONE!” trend, the “let’s release 12 version of the same game with slight tinkering and occasionally a new character and sell it for full price” trend. You know what I’m talking about people. And for a while now, the trend has been “Holy shit! It’s something cute! I can’t play a game with that in it!”

And that amazingly retarded attitude keeps gamers from playing some of the best games out there. Pokemon Puzzle Challenge, Super Monkey Ball 1, and Animal Crossing are just a few wonderful titles missed just because something happens to be adorable.

And of course, the offshoot of this is “What if we make gamers for those guys totally insecure in their masculinity that feature adorable things they can frag the hell out of?” Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Fur Fighters, and a few others started that trend. And generally, those games have been considered pretty good. I know, I can’t believe an Acclaim game made in the past 5 years was considered good, but Fur Fighter has an average rating of 78.3 on Gamerankings.

The newest in this line is Raze’s Hell, being released by publisher Majesco, the company that gave us BloodRayne, David Beckham Soccer, and Drake of the 99 Dragons. Man o’ Man, was I ready for another all time memorable classic for the making!

Now being a HUGE fan of anything that goes, “Pikachu,” I didn’t know if I could manage to kill anything that looked even remotely as cute as my favorite electric diurnal canadian rodent (Yes people, the Pika is a REAL animal. Drop your mouths in shock now), but after seeing the creatures, I realized “Hey, they’re not THAT cute.”

And the slaughter began.

Let’s Review

1. Story.

Usually in a Platformer or 3D action game involving something cute or were-animalish with a sarcastic personality that screams “I’m a hip mascot, not a creepy furrie. I promise.” And said mascot then goes around stomping on evil dinosaurs, robot ninjas, or Dr. Robotnik. However in Raze’s Hell, the tables are turned. Here we have a civilization of cute fluffy adorable creatures who spend all day frolicking with rainbows and hugging butterflies deciding that they must give peace and love to the universe, even if it means crushing world after world with a despotic grip of tyranny and genocide to do so. Because at least it would just be ugly monsters dying.

And world after world is destroyed by the Kewletts (The name of the race of cute things, that truthfully aren’t very cute and look a monkey mated with a TV) is crushed until they get to the world Raze lives on. Raze is just an average freaky looking guy with one arm bigger than the other on his world before the Kewletts attack. He runs away from his village’s slaughter and encounters a cave with a mystical power source guarded by a fat imp with a terrible British accent. He absorbs the power and becomes a killing machine of doom who makes an angry Bruce Banner look articulate. Raze then sets out to kill Kewletts and free his world.

That’s really a quick synopsis of the plot, but in fact the game makes a lot of veiled commentary to real life geopolitical events shrouded in background posters and comments made by the Kewletts. There are nods to Orwell’s 1984, and even some knocks towards Bush’s neo-con regime. “Why do you hate cuteness?” and other comments like that. I really enjoyed all the little things I caught and it made the story a lot more enjoyable that “generic action game with good guy and bad guy appearances reversed.”

The written dialogue is wonderful too. Well, at least for the bad guys. Raze is just grunts and screams, and the imp is boring and poorly written, acting as a narrator but serving only to bore and irritate. But man those Kewletts! When you’re sneaking around, just listen to what they are programmed to say. When they kill you, when they’re searching for you, when they have no idea you are around, everything that comes out of those helium enhanced voices is amusing and sometimes poignant. And every so often you get a cut scene of newscasters that makes you smile for the sheer surrealism of it all.

I wish I could remember where (Gamespot?) but I read a preview a few weeks ago where the design team said the story came first and the game came second, and it really shows. Raze’s Hell is intelligent, articulate, and amusing; all qualities that are exceedingly rare in an Action Adventure game,

Very good job here in terms or hiding in jokes and using the game as a metaphor for actual political events. You don’t see that very often in gaming and so I have to give them a few extra points here for that.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Not very impressed with the visuals here though. Even with the newscaster cut scenes, the graphics are just a shade above mediocre. I swear I’ve seen a game that has TV/Monkey type guys in them before, but I just can’t place it. Raze is dreadful looking (ESPECIALLY from the front) and at times when you see him and the other playable characters, you wonder if you’re playing on a PSX, not a PS2.

The backgrounds of the worlds are okay, but a few levels are too bloody dreary and dark to really judge objectively how good the graphics are. Level 4 is probably my favorite, if only for the looking up at the sky and seeing Kewllets floating down with heart shaped balloons instead of parachutes. Really nice sky and foliage models.

The best visuals are the in-jokes. The are lollipop weapons, cyber monkey ninjas, bunny powered rocket launchers, and so on. And of course there’s a lot of different ways the enemy can show up on the screen dead, including my favorite where you run over them, and their carcass flies into and slides down your television screen. Funny stuff.

But yes, there’s really nothing to see here that’s going to impress you. Decent world backgrounds and level designs mixed with mediocre and sometimes below average character models. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this game based on visuals, but then hopefully no one reading this actually buys a game with that as their main point.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

I can break this down pretty easily: all the good guy voice actors are horrid. All the bad guy ones are amusing, but there’s nothing great. It’s the lines they speak for than anything that gets them over. The best voice acting is in the newscasters for saying their lines exactly like someone at Fox News or CNN would. Really good job by those two.

Other characters? Well, the Kewletts sound so much alike it’s hard to really judge. Again, this where the script is better than the voice acting. I realize they’re trying to be “Cute”, but it comes off grating more than anything else.

Sound effects are nice, which each of Raze’s attacks featuring a different noise to go with it. But there’s not much more I can say to that, as none of it truly stood out save more the Jack in the Box song that song guns played while the Kewletts shot at me repeatedly and without mercy.

The music is okay but like the sound effects, is easily forgettable. Nothing horrible, but nothing great either.

Pretty much just average across the board here.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Wow, did I get frustrated and hate the controls from time to time. Trying to aim the camera stick while rolling around in your Samus Aran-ripoff ball mode is nigh impossible, and because you can’t see where you are going, often times, you get shot repeatedly and die rather than actual crush the target you were aiming for.

There’s also the fact that if you press in your Left Thumbstick at all, your character will try and absorb whatever is around him, and while doing this, you slow down in pace, and can’t do anything else. The problem here being is that the quite often, when you’re trying to run and then do something else, the game will react to the slightest pressure on you thumbstick, and bam, you’re a sitting duck trying to absorb what is not there. This gets both old and annoying VERY quickly. Yuck, just yuck.

Aiming is terrible as well, even if you have an enemy in your sight, unless it turns red, you won’t hit them. This is even if you are in stealth, and have your crosshairs aimed directly as their fat little heads. Again, frustrating and annoying, and as the enemies get tougher, this gets worse and worse. Often times, you just have to take damage to do damage. And considering the enemies, even the first level ones, do a LOT of damage where you see to do very little at all, the annoyance fact of the gameplay and controls in this game goes out the window.

There’s about a dozen special attacks you can use, even though the yellow one is the best overall one from my experiences. You gain these special attacks by destroying squibb plants and absorbing the remains. This is also how you gain life back, by absorbing the butcher remains of the Kewletts you massacred. Again, this goes back to the “take damage to do damage” comment, only now it is take damage to get healed. Anyone see a paradox in that?

My biggest gripes come with the fact that every time Raze dies (And he will die. A LOT.), you have to go through this dramatic death pose complete with shaking fist that seems to last forever before you can restart from the last checkpoint. And god help you if there is a cut-scene or cinematic in the area you died in, because every single time you die, you have to see it again. There’s no skipping. There’s no fast forward. You have to watch it over and over again until you beat the level or have it memorized. The fact someone forgot to include the ability to skip through this boggles my mind. And it also irritated the hell out of me.

Aside from these control gripes, there are one or two aspects that are actually good. When NOT in ball mode, the camera stick is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a 3d Action game. Attacking is simple, although considering the enemy can dodge and block, it’d be nice if Raze could have too. However, attacking with the melee trigger can be slow whereas the computer is very fast indeed. The game auto-saves without you having to tell it too, and that made me happy. The levels are well designed for stealth action, but not much else, and it is nice to a well made walkthrough, even if it does take up the first three levels. Yeesh. Finally, the mini games controls are a little better, but not by much.

Overall I really was not a fan of the controls and have to say they were poor, not precise and a lot of little things really dropped the gameplay value down in my opinion. You see me talk about this in balance as well about there being a fine line between challenging and frustrating/annoying due to bad design, and Raze’s hell crosses that line. Definitely not a game I enjoyed playing AT ALL. Stay for the intro, run away after that.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability

There’s no reason to play the main game by yourself after the first run-through, unless you want to try it on another difficulty. There is two player simultaneous offline play though, and that can be fun for a bit, and also changes how you play the game (You’re more likely to go kamikaze than stealth and sneaky fighting). There’s one mini game available from the start, which is a tedious golf game with way too much imp narration and lackadaisical gameplay. You unlock more mini-games as you go through more levels, although I didn’t enjoy any of them (deathmatch, survival, stealth, and soccer).

I will admit that Xbox Live is going to probably give you the most fun you can get out of this game (Like Phantom Dust, another game that was dreadful offline, but more fun online). Deathmatch mode gives you King of the Hill, Capture the Flag and Soccer, in addition to normal single player and team modes. I have a feeling one this game goes live and there’s a lot more people possessing this (I’m reviewing this before it’s available in stores), people will be avoiding the story mode and all the other mini-games, and just having fun taking each other down.

Replayability rating: 5/10

6. Balance

Raze’s Hell is a very hard game. It’s brutal and unforgiving. The enemies can take a lot of damage and cause even more to you. They are faster than you, and they can dodge. It’s some good AI. But almost TOO good thanks to the awful controls contained in this game. Like I said earlier, you will die a lot.

It also doesn’t help that to get the most entertainment out of the game you have to basically be up close and personal with the slaughtering of the Kewletts, but playing that way gets you killed very quickly. Instead, to really advance in the game you have to be stealthy and sneaky and I can’t tell you HOW boring that is when you want to see a funny death instead of having to pick off every enemy from level 3 on from far away ducking behind cover and coming out only to take a shot that you hope will actually hit this time even though you have the sight lined up.

I like a challenge though, and even on easy this gives it to you. Only hard? Oh my god, the game is not lying when it says “Prepare to die.” At least Raze’s Hell is honest in its cruelty.

If the controls were better, such as a static camera in ball mode or the left thumbstick didn’t control both movement and absorption of power-ups, the game would be okay, but these enemies play like a Gygaxian creation and even the intro enemies seem to be a better warrior than your mystically charged saviour of the planet you are playing as. It went from being a fun challenge the first third of the game, to highly annoying for the second leg of it, to the “Insert profanity here and if I wasn’t reviewing this game I would not be insane enough to put up with this but instead I’m stuck having to sit through this drek that’s actually making me look forward to reviewing Wrestlemania XXI. God help me.” Aspects of the final leg. The game’s beatable, but I can’t imagine anyone nor preferring a lobotomy or scrotum cancer to finishing this.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality:

Standard Action game with an above average plot. Cute dialogue and a nice idea wrapped up with some terrible gameplay. I’m glad to see a developer taking a really strong interest in plot and dialogue in a genre not necessarily known for it, but the focus was taken off the actual playing of the game and it shows.

It’d have been nice to really see a lot more done with the concepts and ideas here instead of falling back to a stereotypical game with just a different look for all the characters.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Cute at first but it gets stale quickly. However each time you get a little closer to completing a level, that masochistic streak makes you want to keep going until you’ve finally beaten the level that was causing you to curse like a drunken sailor on shore leave who can’t get any of the local hookers to give him the time of day, or at least gotten to the next checkpoint so you don’t have to see the same cinematic over and over again.

Where the plot draws you in, the gameplay makes you cringe and run away. It really comes down to whether you’re willing to deal with the control problems and get more of the story. Me? No, I was just happy for it to be done. I found Raze’s Hell to be an ordeal, not enjoyment.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

I can see people really having fun with the multiplayer game online, but I can’t imagine anyone other than 3-D action junkie zealots or people who just want to kill cute things willingly sitting through this game for more than a few levels. And even then, as the enemies really aren’t cute or jigglypuff-esque, the latter group will be disappointed. If you like to shoot things, there’s a lot of rail shoots and FPS games out there for you. If you like stealth games, there’s many that do it better. And action games? Well Adam Whistant seems to wet himself of the latest Devil May Cry game, so try that instead.

Unless you’re looking for a good deathmatch game (and I sure wasn’t) for really cheap, look elsewhere.

Appeal Factor: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

Raze’s Hell is a twenty dollar budget game. For your money you get a good story for an action game, some crappy controls in a poor story mode, some okay mini games, and a deathmatch that has the potential of being a lot of fun for those gamers into that sort of thing. It’s not a bad deal in the end, and I’d strongly considering renting it first to see if your opinion jibes with mine. I mean after all, this is one person’s review, not gospel, and I really have to say I thought the game was forgettable and mediocre. It had one good aspect, some bad aspects and a lot of middle of the road qualities. I can’t see anyone raving about this game or proclaiming it to be the best thing they’ve ever encountered, but it does do what a lot of games rarely do anymore, and that’s give you a challenge. I just wish the controls let you actually meet that challenge, as the levels and AI are designed very well.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores

Story: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 5/10
Control and Gameplay: 3/10
Replaybility: 5/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Overall Score: 4.7

Short Attention Span Summary
Raze’s Hell had a lot of potential, but it fell through for me where it counted the most: Control, Gameplay & Balance. Maybe it’ll appeal to people whose favorite genre is 3D action, but the game left me cold. I can’t recommend it, but there are some strong positives about the game, such as a good story, and the potential for a strong multiplayer online community. Rent it first though.



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