Beowulf: The Game
Name: Beowulf the Game
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and PSP (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Robert Zemeckis’s reimagining of Beowulf didn’t floor every moviegoer. I personally loved the movie and thought it looked great, retelling the Old English poem I have read several times in an original way. Making the game must have seemed like a good idea for Ubisoft because the movie looked enough like a video game for the transition to be an easy one. Their plans didn’t pan out, and instead of the epic story being told through a different medium, Beowulf the Game ends up being an utter disaster. I would say that no one should go subject themselves to the experience (or lack there of) of playing through it, but it would serve as a fantastic training tool of “what not to do when designing a game” for any new game developers.
Beowulf the Game has next to nothing to call its own that actually works. Any gameplay that works at all was stolen from other games and usually Beowulf screws it up. It has squad mechanics that work like Pikmin, except instead of little flower creatures Beowulf controls Thanes. The only real gameplay innovation comes from the ability to inspire your Thanes by rhythm-based button mashing games. It is actually funny, because while this addition is a nice invention of theirs to set their game apart, another similar feature bogs down the title tremendously.
Apparently at a point in the past the B button on the Xbox 360 controller wronged Ubisoft, because for some cruel reason they decided to make every action in the game require pounding it relentlessly. Picking up items, grabbing enemies, and just about every other movement more intense then moving is achieved by mashing the B button like it, well, convinced you to buy the game. Beowulf is strong enough to fight giants, but needs to strain over pulling a sword out of a mound of dirt? It doesn’t make sense and looks goofy.
It also tries to throw its name onto the list of games that use timed button-pressing sequences a la Resident Evil 4. Trying to make it its own, however, ruins the idea entirely. Instead of showing the button that needs to be pressed it shows all of them and lights up the one you need to press (unless it is the B button, in which case you need to mash it). The wandering diamond of buttons moves in a fashion that can only be described as “willy-nilly,” making what should be a simple command input game quite difficult. The entire encounter with Grendel is a mixture of this broken mechanic and hitting him with pillars. It is frustrating, uncinematic, and dull beyond belief.
The confrontation with Grendel’s mother manages to be more embarrassing than the fight with her son. A counter to see how long you can avoid her seduction shows up at the top of the screen and you need to fight off her advances. Let me explain this in case it ever comes up in game development again, and there is a really good chance it will: in a game where the goal is to not have sex with Angelina Jolie there is no winner. To make matters worse there is only one outcome: she seduces you. Give in too early, however, and you lose and need to start it over. Apparently Grendel’s mother wants to take you forcefully – which doesn’t make any sense either.
Another gaming folly the developers fell into was the decision to have weapons deteriorate during use. While the idea isn’t a complete misstep in concept it does end up being one of the most frustrating features in the game. Killing four or five enemies (of the dozens of faceless Barbarians the game sends at you at any given time) breaks your weapon and you need to wander the battlefield to find a new one. I don’t know how this could have slipped through the playtesting cracks, as it lowers the games fun value considerably.
It isn’t unplayable in terms of broken gameplay or a buggy engine, it is just a terrible game. The graphics are inconsistent, moving from acceptable in one level to awful in others. Controls for it are also crappy to a point where they get in the way of the rest of the game by having an unnecessary number of buttons mapped to fighting and none mapped to, say, jumping. The one thing to fall back on for games based on movies is the quote “If you loved the movie you may enjoy the game.” This held true for Transformers, Avatar, and Pirates of the Caribbean to name a few. In the case of Beowulf I actually believe the opposite. If you hated the movie with a passion there is a chance the game might be enjoyable just to see how mutilated it is.