In a year that has played host to some of the best games to ever be released you really have to have something special to stand out among the pack. Spark Unlimited’s (Turning Point: Fall of Liberty) latest shooter attempts to do that with an epic scale single-player focused on a well-known myth. Combine this with massive scale environments and it sounds like you have a game that lives up to its supercilious namesake. Unfortunately a few things crop up early on that haunt the game throughout its course that keeps it from truly becoming epic. What we end up getting once all is said and done is a solid first-person shooter that does a lot of interesting new things while making a few design choices that will frustrate more than innovate.
You assume the role of Charles Deckard, a thief hired to break into the New York museum and place a key into an otherwise ordinary artifact. Little to your knowledge this box actually contains massive amounts of death and destruction as it is in fact the fabled Pandora’s Box. Deckard of course does what is asked of him and in the process unleashes all of the world’s evil upon New York City. You quickly realize that the man who hired you, LeFey, and his partner Vivian have double-crossed you. When the box opens Deckard is also branded with a symbol on his hand that allows him to suck in the souls of the dead, heal himself and even attack. Unfortunately this is also one of the game’s biggest problems.
The first thing that stood out as an issue to me was the healing system. As you progress through the game you come across these glowing purple orbs either dropped by enemies or simply lying around. With the symbol on your hand you have the ability to absorb these and use them to heal yourself. The problem lies in the fact that absorbing them and healing is done with the same button. You hold down the Y button (triangle on PS3) to draw them in and then hold it again to heal. The problem here is that this is the only way to obtain health. You cannot run over the orbs and you can’t pause the action to heal so if you get drained in a fight prepare to find a safe spot, bunker down and try to heal. Healing during combat is pointless and you end up losing more health than you recover.
When you begin the game and trudge through the customary tutorial a sense of linearity looms in the air. Pathways are created perfectly by falling debris and explosions are triggered just as you walk by. Scripted events still work, but when they create just the right scenario for the occasion it takes you out of the experience. Unfortunately this is not limited to the tutorial; upon exiting the museum and entering the city streets everything seems to part in front of you like a giant, subtle arrow holding your hand along the way. I have to confess though the opening chapter of Legendary is one of the most intense to date. Giant griffons are drifting above the city, lifting cars only to drop them on helpless civilians. Explosions and great use of slow-motion are everywhere, but as soon as the Earth crumbles below you to create a perfect path for you to walk upon, a lot of the wow factor is lost.
At its core Legendary is a first-person shooter, but it also mixes in some puzzle solving elements to mix up the action. Unfortunately these areas also suffer from the problem of holding your hand. The solution is always right in front of you and even when it comes to figuring out how to kill each enemy (as a lot of them require a unique technique) it consistently blares the direction at you like a scolding parent. The game rarely allows you multiple paths to a solution taking away the fun of approaching different tasks from different angles.
The enemies in Legendary are definitely the highlight of the game, and for the most part all have unique ways of being dispersed. My biggest gripe is that the developers have seemed to focus on werewolves as they the most present enemy. As I mentioned each foe requires a special technique to kill them and for werewolves that involves decapitating them after they are down. This was cool the first ten times I did…then after I had chopped off my five-hundredth werewolf head I was ready to remove my own. I really love how these creatures add tension to the game, the idea that they will continue attacking until you remove their head is incredibly creative, but for the love of mercy do not throw so many enemies at the player that require special treatment at once. It just turns into an exercise in aggravation and tedium.
The weapons in the game are your standard fare and will suffice in mowing down legions of enemies. One of the first items you will pick up from the outset is an axe and it quickly became my weapon of choice because of just how powerful it really is. As a shooter everything works competently enough with the standard controls, and ammo is plentiful so you can spray bullets regularly without fear of running out. One disappointing aspect though is that early on in the game you encounter human soldiers working to take you down and they quickly become your focus enemy taking away from some of the more interesting creatures. It is also worth noting that they are the best shots I have ever seen being able to hit my pinky finger while being completely entrenched behind a car.
The single-player game is around standard run time for a shooter of this nature and once you are done there is a multi-player mode, but it is also riddled with issues, the biggest being that absolutely no one is online playing it. Online consists mostly of two sides and one group of werewolves in what feels like a mix between deathmatch and capture the flag. The introduction of a third party is a cool concept, but if no one is online playing finding enough players to actually enjoy these modes will be hard. When we did get a match going the lag was minimal, but with only four maps shipped with the game things will grow tired quickly.
The one area the game stands out though is the visuals. The scale of things in this game is beyond awesome. The opening sequence alone where cars are flying through the air and civilians are running around in panic is one of the coolest I have ever witnessed. Enemies are look and feel different, including the different varieties of werewolves, and the variety of environments really keeps the game fresh from beginning to end. There are some technical flaws such as slowdown when a lot is going on at once and some general poor textures, but overall the game really does give off a great aesthetic vibe. The sounds are passable mixing some heavy guitar riffs for the soundtrack and stable voice acting to create a proficient audio experience. Sound effects range from alright to outstanding and as always everything sounds better when experienced on a proper setup.
Everything about Legendary from the story to the set pieces screams epic proportions and honestly I really wanted to like the game a lot more. However, the small setbacks really take away from the experience and cause the game to go from legendary (pun highly intended) to just plain decent. The concepts, enemies and story make me hope for a sequel as long as the developers can fine tune all of the problems with the first game. There is a lot of hope buried under the surface and if they can manage to unleash it, the game could truly live up to its namesake.