A critical review by Remi Olsen
It's not exactly a secret that LucasArts hasn't had a good run of original titles over the past few years. Grim Fandango, their last original gem, was released in 1998, and it wasn't until last summer that we saw a new, non-franchise title with the critical and commercial flop RTX: Red Rock.
Lately though, things have started looking up again with the recently released Gladius (was Mojo actually wrong about it?!) and now Armed & Dangerous. Developed by Planet Moon, known for the critically acclaimed Giants: Citizen Kabuto and MDK (as part of Shiny Entertainment), it might very well have been former LucasArts president Simon Jeffrey's best decision to pick up the publishing rights for their latest title.
So what's the game all about? Apparently the rather insane King Forge is trying to uncover the secrets of "The Book of Rule", an ancient tome which holds unspeakable power. Heavy stuff! As luck has it, a band of thieves called the Lionhearts are on a quest to recover the book from the king and quite possibly save the world while they're at it. The Lionhearts consist of the gun-touting Roman, Jonesy the Scottish mole, Q, the British tea drinking robot, and the blind, ex-guardian of "The Book of Rule", Rexus. Does all of this sound oddly familiar? There could be a good reason for this; it's based on a true story. No, really! It says so right at the beginning of the game! Okay, so that may or may not be a lie, and is more likely a reference to the Coen brothers movie Fargo, which had a similar fake statement in the credits, so a nice nod from Planet Moon there.
Game-play wise Armed & Dangerous is a pure action game and no excuses. This means that there are none of the half-assed attempts at puzzles seen in games like RTX: Red Rock, just pure, over-the-top shoot 'em up. I was initially afraid that the game would end up being too repetitive, but with three main types of gameplay scattered throughout, there's enough variety to keep your interest throughout the 21 levels (plus un-lockable bonus levels).
The biggest part of the game is the third person shooter action (which you most likely already have seen in screenshots and videos), but there are also the odd save-the-prisoners type levels, as well as some intense, turret-based missions which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Usually I'm not a big fan of sitting in one spot, shooting everything within range, but it's a major adrenaline kick when you have literally thousands of enemies of all sizes attacking.
One of Armed & Dangerous' key features is that pretty much everything you see on screen is interactive. I already mentioned that there aren't any real puzzles in the games, but the environments leave plenty of opportunity to come up with clever solutions to solve action based problems. Don't want to get to close to your enemies? Attach a bomb to a sheep and watch it sprint over to them and blow them up. Can't quite see through those trees? Blast them down. Houses, bridges, buildings, structures, pipes, towers, animals... If you can see it, you can most likely destroy it and use the effect of it to your advantage. The only downfall to this kind of interactivity is that some sacrifices were made to the graphics quality. Some of the NPCs are rather low on details, and various animations are so-so, but in the end it doesn't matter too much, as the game moves fast and smooth even when you have dozens of things going on screen at the same time.
A special mention should go to the weapons, which are some of the most imaginative ones I've ever seen in a game. With more than fourteen to be picked up, one of the cooler ones is the "Topsy Turvy" which turns the screen on the head, sends your enemies flying up (or down as it is), flips the screen back and have them come crashing back to the ground. Or how about the "Land Shark", which "swims" underground for only to jump out of the dirt and eat whoever is attacking you. It's all good stuff and should really be experienced if you want the full satisfaction of seeing the effects.
Humor is also a big part of the game, ranging from some great dialogue (and Star Wars spoofing) in the cut-scenes, to one liners during game-play. If you're expecting family friendly humor though, you might want to look somewhere else. As an example, one joke involves Rexus mixing up "incision" with "circumcision" which results in a painful outcome. This is obviously not as tame as LucasArts' typical humor, but is still very, very funny. It's all also elevated by some top-notch, over-the-top voice acting, which fulfills every stereotype you ever had of Scottish accents. The music is right up there too, with some low-beat drums accompanying bagpipes. This might sound like a strange style for an action game, but I found it to be more effective than the stereo-typical, hardcore techno-beats that seem to go with most action games these days.
So yeah, a lot of praise there, but is there anything wrong with the game? The AI of your two partners in crime is kind of spotty at times and even caused one annoying death for me early on in the game. Even worse is the choppy animation in the cut-scenes, with some horrible "lip syncing" (I use the term lightly here) which will leave you weeping. Well, ok, maybe not, but it's not very good. Lastly, you can only save games in pubs scattered around the levels. This isn't a huge problem, as they're located in common sense places, but it's still a minor annoyance. These aren't huge complaints of course, and won't detract too much from the game-play, but when a game is so close to being perfect I can't help but wish that they would have gone the extra mile and fixed these problems.
While there have been a lot of good games released over the past few years, there hasn't been an abundance of truly fun games. This is where Armed & Dangerous scores higher than most games - it's more fun than anything I've played in a long time. If you are familiar with The Chaos Engine on the Amiga (not the sub-standard PC version) you should know what kind of game this is. Armed & Dangerous is one of the best games I've played in years and shouldn't be missed by anyone.
Downloadable content for the game will be made available for both PC and Xbox Live shortly. The Xbox version also has HDTV support, which probably is good news for all three of you who have that option.
Pros: Pure fun. Hilarious dialogue. Intense, fast moving shooting action. Great sound.
Cons: Cut-scenes look rushed. Computer controlled helpers aren't overly helpful.