Reviewed: July 18, 2004
Released: June 15, 2004
Todd McFarlane is one of the few comic book artists who has had some relative success in making the transition from print to video games. Spawn made his triumphant debut in Soul Calibur II (the Xbox version) and managed a modest showing in his own game, Spawn: Armageddon. Todd has also branched off into a popular line of action figures inspired by classic monsters as well as some twisted new ghouls.
McFarlane’s Monsters may be flying off the shelves of toy stores everywhere but his new game, McFarlane’s Evil Prophecy, inspired by those very monsters is likely doomed to a dismal eternity in a special level of Hades known as the budget bin. Perhaps this game followed too closely on the lackluster footsteps of Van Helsing, another monster masher, or perhaps gamers are just tired of repetitious fighters that seem to rely more on the franchise than solid gameplay.
At first glance the game is deceptively fun and I admit to enjoying myself for the first hour, but then the limitations of the game and the repetition starts to set in and I find myself squirming in my seat and glancing at the other games on my shelf waiting to be played.
Evil Prophecy offers a generic storyline to tie the many levels of monster bashing together. Set in the 19th century you get a bit of gothic flair as you control any of four unique warriors in a quest to defeat the ultimate evil. This evil comes in the form of classic monsters of lore like the Werewolf, Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula, and some other unique creations like a Sea Monster and the Voodoo Queen. Naturally, all of these have been artistically redesigned with McFarlane-flair.
The first order of business it to pick your game mode. Evil Prophecy is one of those games that is designed and best played by 2-4 players. While you can go at it alone in the Story Mode, it’s about as much fun as playing Gauntlet, D&D Heroes, Hunter The Reckoning or any of those other party-inspired games by yourself.
The Story Mode which ties the six world and 30 levels into a linear storyline. Defeat all the monsters and bosses to save the world. Dungeon Mode is basically a level-by-level dungeon crawl where you and your party battle an endless horde of monsters until you run out of hit points. Battle Mode is basically the same as Dungeon Mode only cooperation is thrown out the window. Point Battle has everyone in a race to clear out the most monsters in each room earning the most points, and Arena Battle removes the monsters and has our heroes fighting each other.
There is also a Time Attack mode that allows you to pick from any of the levels previously unlocked in the story mode. You race to clear the level in the shortest time possible and times are recorded for posterity. As you might guess from these brief descriptions, Evil Prophecy is a game that is heavily geared toward multiplayer.
Since you are forced to tackle the Story Mode alone you do have some limited ability to control the rest of your team through a unique setup screen that allows you to “program” your heroes to prioritize targets, choose a favorite fighting style, and set their position in the team formation. It’s a surprisingly functional system and if you have an ounce of strategy you can create some impressive tactics.
There is a bit of RPG leveling up in Evil Prophecy with your characters growing in experience and fighting skills in each of four disciplines; Normal, Upper, Smash, and Wide. Another impressive programming feature is the Compatibility factor. Each of the four characters maintains an ongoing “relationship” with the rest of the team. As you help other players during combat or perform multi-character combos your compatibility grows stronger. If you ignore the other members of your team they will do the same over time.
Each of the four characters is quite diverse in their combat style, combos, and other elemental abilities like fire, light, magic, etc. Much like Gauntlet you have the melee fighter, the ranged attacker, and a magic user, or in this case a scientist. They all start off with an modest list of moves and combos and their library expands as you progress through the game and level up.
The powerful multi-character combos are perhaps the most unique aspect of the game where one player starts a move and another character finishes it for some devastating results. They are tricky to pull-off when playing with the computer but when you team up with other human players it can dominate the gameplay.
The controls are simple and effective. You can switch to any character in the team during combat with a tap of the D-pad, so if Dr. Jaeger isn’t using that lightning gun enough you can take over and zap away. The computer will take over the remaining three characters and play them according to the style you have defined in the party setup.
Combat is fast and furious with simple attacks that can be turned into elaborate combos plus a special attack that drains from a group meter. You can refill it by doing damage on the hundreds of monsters you will be fighting, and it’s an interesting balancing act that keeps you from obliterating the enemy with powerful attacks.
While all of this sounds great in writing for some reason it just never comes together to make a compelling game. You’ll find yourself wandering around small and rather boring levels beating gallons of blood from hapless monsters until you finally reach the boss. If you are lucky there may be a few environmental obstacles to overcome but the game is primarily a button and monster masher. Sure, you can finesse some killer combos, but aside from the bosses none of the encounters really demand any expertise.
Despite any setup you may have done the computer still suffers from some twitchy AI. Characters will fight strongly by your side and if they get in a bind they will call for help. Responding to this call will tighten your compatibility bond. If a character gets too damaged they will go into a defensive posture and become virtually worthless in the battle. The AI also seems to have a tendency to get hung up on basic pathfinding or get stuck in a certain loop of animation. I frequently had to manually take over a character that was stuck behind a tree or a rock and get them to rejoin the party.
I guess my biggest complaint is that the multiplayer game modes are fairly shallow and get repetitive way too fast. The only mode with any potential to entertain for more than a single night of play would be the Story mode, and while that mode would have benefited greatly from cooperative gameplay, you are forced to play alone with some twitchy AI.
The visual style of the monsters has a signature McFarlane look about it. At their core, the bosses all have a familiar classic look that is then twisted into a slightly more horrific design. The heroes are interesting but not nearly as creative as the monsters, and their animations aren’t a smooth or as nice as I would have expected from a next-gen fighting game.
There are six “worlds” that are home to about five levels each. While they all have a unique look as far as textures go, their basic design is quite similar, and since the game consists of nothing more than one encounter after another, you really lose interest in the scenery which never becomes a part of the gameplay. The use of a dark and boring color palette to create these levels might showcase colorful special effects and geysers of crimson blood, but it’s just not interesting to look at.
The game delivers a solid framerate most of the time with only a few instances of stuttering in a few of the more complicated battles in some of the more architecturally complex areas in the game. While I didn’t mention it in the gameplay section, Evil Prophecy has a troublesome camera than can never seem to keep you or the current battle properly framed. You can try to manually adjust the view but the computer is quick to take over and screw you out of a decent gameplay experience.
Put on your reading glasses cause there isn’t any verbal dialogue in this game other than the grunts and groans of combat. Even the calls for HELP are noted with the word above the player requiring assistance. There isn’t that much conversation outside of the occasional NPC encounter who will give you a hint or a quest, but it’s still annoying to read and the font isn’t that pleasant.
The music fits with the horror-inspired genre and while it has that level of impending doom it never gets frightening or even creepy. I would have traded the music for sinister sound effects but even those are the straightforward combat sounds followed by the squish of flesh and spurting blood. Nothing is really bad; it’s just forgettably average.
Gamers of modest skill can make their way through the story mode in 8-12 hours. The multiplayer modes will offer about that much additional time assuming you don’t get bored with the repetitive nature of the gameplay. Keep in mind that many of the multiplayer stages must first be unlocked in the solo adventure.
There is also a multitude of monster cards that can be unlocked and viewed in the gallery. These offer some interesting information about the various creatures you are fighting and perfectionists might find the urge to unlock them all before they retire this title. The interviews with McFarlane are another tantalizing tidbit, especially for fans.
It’s a hard sell at full price unless you are a dedicated McFarlane fan who must own everything with the man’s name on it. Otherwise, if you are craving a monster-bashing title and you’ve already conquered Hunter the Reckoning: Wayward then give this a rental.
McFarlane’s Evil Prophecy isn’t as evil as it could have been considering the M rating and the legacy of the game’s creator, but it’s also not a terrible game. It offers some original concepts like the programmed AI and the compatibility feature. Apparently the designers felt so strongly about these concepts that they force you to use them by not allowing you to play cooperatively in what would otherwise be a great co-op experience.
Todd probably has enough money that he won’t mind if you skip this title. Rent if you must sample his gothic goodness, but be warned that the gameplay neither lives up to the legacy of the man or any other game in the genre.