Armed and Dangerous
Ah, Summer. Those halcyon days when fields and meadows beckon, and the sweet perfume of future memories are borne on gentle zephyrs. A time for blockbuster movies to transport their wide-eyed audience into another world of action and intrigue. What better time, then, to receive news of Armed & Dangerous, a bullet-riddled original title from the franchise-prone chaps at LucasArts.
Story, Bloody Story
Taking third-person action to a ridiculous extreme, Armed & Dangerous casts intrepid players at the command of a group of thieving, unlikely heroes. Led by criminal mastermind Roman, the diverse roster features such unsavoury types as a seer-cum-madman, a Scottish demolitions expert, and just to round things off, a robot who's attained inner peace through a studied love of tea. No, we haven't confused the fact sheet with that of a posthumous Douglas Adams novel or the new Futurama DVD release - this is spot on the level. Just to prove it, there's not an ounce of interstellar shipping involved.
The motley crew, known as the Lionhearts, has lined up a serious score: pulling the biggest heist ever, and right in the gullet of a war to boot. Fortunately, they're armed with enough firepower to blow the cooling unit off your new GeForce Ultra. Oh, and there's a bit about rebellion and a tyrant king in there, too. Now it's beginning to sound more like Martin Bashir's turned his cameras on the Hussein family.
But never mind that - think of the glory! Why, the redemption value on all those spent shells alone could finance an army. Rumour has it that Roman is an EastEnder, and in the hands of anyone but LucasArts that might be cause for fear. But knowing what those capable hands did with the accents in Grim Fandango, here's hoping that this antihero won't emerge sounding like Johnny Depp in From Hell. Even better, the development chores are being handled by Planet Moon Studios, who, in the early days of GeForce powered enlightenment, produced the entertaining and slightly twisted Giants: Citizen Kabuto.
The Drawing Board
While the publisher is certainly putting the emphasis on armament, anyone who played Giants should remember the skewed humour behind the game just as well as its insane weaponry and multi-faceted characters, and that's what's really got us salivating about this one. While the carnage is all very well and good, putting the comic sensibilities of the house that published Sam & Max Hit The Road and Grim Fandango alongside the demonstrably bawdy humour of Planet Moon seems like a great idea.
The first batch of screens we've managed to bring you here demonstrate that Armed & Dangerous will take advantage of up-to-the minute polygonal prowess, with detailed multi-level environments in which to make things go boom. Concept art reveals a world lying somewhere between that of Lucas and anime legend Miyazaki, with retro-styled robotic drones and majestic airships decorated with vanes and spires. Five types of environment will be in the final game, including lush forests, rain slicked mountains and snowy expanses.
And then there are the guns. Lots of guns. One has a forebarrel like the gaping maw of a shark, another, the Vindaloo Rocket Launcher, fires four projectiles guaranteed to make recipients feel incredibly uncomfortable. Regardless, all can be relied upon to deal out massive amounts of carnage. Of great interest is the Topsy-Turvy Bomb, which actually turns targeted areas upside down, reverting back to normal in time for affected enemies to experience a sickening fall. Turreted vehicles will also play into the lunacy, with an interface that will immediately be familiar to Giants veterans.
In fact, from the available evidence, A&D appears to be a big brother to Giants in more ways than one. The level designs, weapons and design sensibilities all bear the stamp of the highly creative Planet Moon team. The biggest change is that A&D sets adrift the notions of resource management in favour of full-bore action, though clever manipulation of your team mates will certainly be a prerequisite to success. The oddball characters all promise to be memorable too, as attention to detail is here in spades, with high-poly models seemingly designed to make you care... at least about how you blow them away. But first, please, take the time to look into the eyes of the Dr Moreau-reject Grunts, insane droids and, erm, Twiglets. Marvel at the unparalleled array of missions! (Well, there are 21.) Cower before the limitless arsenal! (OK, 17 weapons really, but who's counting?)
Thank the powers that be, also, for the fact Armed & Dangerous seems to be heralding a new age for the house that Lucas built. While all those Star Wars games keep the lightsaber-builders happy, it's been a long wait for those of us who were enamoured with the company's less glamorous, yet more satisfying titles. While there's no shortage of average, undergraduate humour in games today, really well-crafted undergraduate jokes are to be treasured, and this combination of talent looks like a shimmering well of unsavoury entertainment. Great action and great jokes? We can't wait.
Download Armed and Dangerous
Hell, I like blowing #$%@ up as much as the next guy, but these days, mindless gunplay gets you only so far. Sure, Armed and Dangerous has some inventive weapons, but it's still a pretty basic third-person shooter--and one with dated graphics and a dopey sense of humor, at that. ("Oooh! Look at me! I'm Scottish! Isn't that quirky?!
Maybe this is another "love it or hate it" LucasArts game like Gladius, but I'd rather Armed and Dangerous had fewer missions and a lot more polish."]
It's one of the ugliest Xbox games you'll ever play (it's so...brown), and shooters don't come much stranger (fans of Giants: Citizen Kabuto (PS2) can expect similar har-hars). But fugly duckling Armed and Dangerous has a great personality that keeps you hooked longer than similar yet more blase blasters like Brute Force. Sure, I got tired of too many rescue-the-peasants missions, and the game needs a larger arsenal (plus more levels with the superfun jetpack). But the open-ended level design--and especially the nifty fortress-defense stages--made for many moments of shooter Zen.
Armed and Dangerous holds some of the greatest videogame weapons ever--the Black Hole bomb sucks, while the Shark Gun bites. These armaments complement delightfully frenetic gameplay that has enemies jumping out of windows to attack, buildings exploding with their roofs rocketing into space, and huge zeppelins falling to the ground in a twisted mass of metal. It's excessive carnage done wonderfully, broken up with great laugh-out-loud humor. Sadly, the game loses its punch as it wears on, presenting players with repetitive rail-gun shooting and mundane peasant-rescuing challenges.
Humor doesn't always work in computer games, but the laughs blend well with the non-stop action in this third person shooter set in an alternate Scotland filled with robots, projectile land sharks and portable black holes. Armed and Dangerous sends you through wave after wave of smart-cracking bad guys, blasting your way to the end of a stream of missions that will eventually have you take on the King Forge.
Most of the game is pretty straight forward, with the exception of the weapons and power-ups. There are a few levels that will have you soaring over the action with a jumper pack and other levels are completed with the assistance of two sidekicks, which can be directed to guard you or attack a specific area.
What really sets this game apart though is the humor. Besides the constant stream of jokes and one-liners coming from Roman, the lead in the game, the weapons and their effects are truly spectacular in a very humorous way. Take for instance the topsy turvy bomb. This device basically looks like a giant corkscrew, when you activate it, Roman screws it into the ground and then gravity is reversed flipping your screen over and sending all of the bad guys screaming into space. A few seconds later the screen reverts and you can walk around, but watch out for the bodies of falling bad guys. It's a great effect.
Another favorite of mine is the land shark gun. Just aim the gun at an enemy and pull the trigger, a full sized land shark jets across the ground leaps up and grabs the baddie, thrashing him back and forth until he is dead. It's a great homage to one of the best Saturday Night Live skits of all time.
Although many of the weapons have built in punch lines, the one you'll use most often is the machine gun. The game offers slight Xbox Live support with the promise of downloadable weapons and levels, something that could be hit or miss depending on how humorous it is.
Armed and Dangerous is a sold third-person shooter but gets a little old after awhile, the game's saving grace is its well-written plot and myriad of dialogue jokes. It's almost like playing a Monty Python script.