Reviewed: October 5, 2002
Released: September 10, 2002
Okay, I admit it. I liked the movie, The Scorpion King. I went into it with low expectations, expecting nothing more intellectual or thought provoking that Arnold’s portrayal of Conan the Barbarian back in the 80’s. Actually, comparing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s debut performance to that of Arnold’s I would have to say that The Rock (and no, I’m not putting that trademark symbol after his name every time I use it – so sue me) is a much better actor.
Universal Interactive teams up with Point of View to bring us The Scorpion King: Rise of the Akkadian. This new game doesn’t attempt to recreate the events we have already seen on the silver screen, which is always a smart decision when translating a movie into a game. Instead, Rise of the Akkadian follows events prior to the film; more specifically, the first true adventure of Mathayus.
We begin the story in the humble hometown of Mathayus where is seems to be getting bullied around by some of his friends. After a series of training missions he returns to kick their asses, earn some respect, and get his main quest mission – to thwart an evil lord’s diabolical plan to raise a supernatural army of beast-warriors to conquer the world. Hmm…world domination, now there’s an original concept.
Rise of the Akkadian features:
The Scorpion King starts off like most other action games. You get a bit of a story background then it’s off to combat training in a series of mini-missions that allow you to perfect your fighting techniques. Once your training is complete you need to fight a semi-difficult match with your two “buddies” before embarking on the first leg of the main quest.
You need to know right up front that this game is all about the fighting. In fact, this game reminded me totally of the old Fighting Force games where you walked around kicking ass, smashing up the levels, and moving on to repeat in the next environment. While this entertained me for about the first two levels, it quickly became repetitive and boring.
Fighting game fans will scoff at the simplistic combat and combo system that in all honesty can be broken down into three basic elements. Since this game is 99% combat I was hoping for something a bit more robust. Instead, I got something that could be easily played on a 2-button Game Boy. Basically, it takes no skill to play or win this game. You can just run around like a crazed Akkadian mashing the kick and punch buttons and win the game.
There is no reward even in death, as there is no blood and no fancy death animations. You basically punch and kick an enemy until they don’t get back up at which point they magically fade away – no mess, no clean up.
The game quickly settles into an almost nauseous pattern of arena style combat. Even though there is a pretense of a linear level design you find yourself simply advancing from one room, courtyard, or other large area to the next. Once there, your way is magically blocked until you kill a few dozen bad guys, at which point the door opens and you can move on and repeat the process all over again.
In an attempt to beef up the challenge of this game, the designers have scattered hundreds of red rubies all over the game. Collecting these items means you will need to explore every nook and cranny of every level and smash every urn, vase, and crate you find. Yawn! If I wanted a “collection game” there are hundreds of platform games already available. In its defense, collecting rubies does affect your Bonus section in the main menu and the more you collect the more secret goodies you can unlock including artwork, movies, etc. You’ll need to be a big Rock fan to care enough to spend the extra time required to seek out these gems.
Overall, the game is simply too shallow. When you strip away the quest for rubies you are left with a game that is nothing more than a button masher that you can mindlessly walk through in a few hours. Combat is ridiculously easy whether you are using fists, weapons, or a shield block combo.
The graphics for Scorpion King ranged from good to below average. The opening training levels looked fantastic with great outdoor scenery and an excellent draw distance that went clear to the mountain ranges on the misty horizon. Character models were above average but the textures mapped onto those models were rather poor.
Level design was descent enough, but the aforementioned locked down arena gameplay model pretty much negates any exploration or backtracking outside the confines of the mission. Textures are limited for each mission and will repeat often, as do environment objects such as plants, crates, urns, etc.
The animation for the most part just didn’t seem right. It was kind of stiff and unnatural. I know how the Rock moves and it doesn’t look anything like his character. I’m betting there was no motion capturing used in this game. It all looks very computerized like some character animation plug-in from 3D Studio Max.
There are some horrible camera issues that rear their ugly head as early as the training levels. I still remember the training where I am learning to throw urns at my opponent. I’m running around the screen with the camera following me and the enemy is off-camera behind me. I pick-up an urn and have to throw it blindly, hoping I hit my target. I could take the time to manually adjust the view but by then he is too close and I get my butt stomped.
There are also plenty of collision problems and other minor graphical glitches that make me wonder how this thing ever got out of QA. You can smash an urn by stomping the ground three feet away, but if you try to pick-up that urn you have to be in the exact right spot to do so. Otherwise you can often walk right through solid objects or even enemies. Perhaps one of the most annoying glitches is when you are sneaking up on a guard and it appears he is looking the other way. As you make your move he instantly is facing you and blocks your attack, or worse, counters with his own.
The music in Scorpion King is surprisingly good but there simply isn’t enough of it to go the distance. You will start hearing the same music over and over. Thankfully, it blends pleasantly into the background so you can easily tune it out with little effort.
The sound effects are minimal, restricted by the limited scope of the game. You have the obligatory sounds of combat ranging from steel sword clashing against shield or the unmistakable sounds of fisticuffs, body slams, and sweep kicks.
The voice acting is perhaps the best part of the entire experience, but again, there just isn’t enough. The Rock voices his character, Mathayus, and Mark Hamill lends his voice to the project as well as Billy West (Futurama). This all makes for great cutscenes, but there is nothing going on during actual gameplay like witty one-liners. Of course those would probably become as repetitive as the gameplay, so it’s probably a good thing they were left out.
There is barely enough game here to warrant a rental and even then you can probably finish it in a night or two. The combat quickly becomes an annoying distraction in what is otherwise a 6-10 hour scavenger hunt for rubies. Even this quest is tempered by your desire to see obscure artwork and movie clips you can probably find on the Internet if you look hard enough.
I approached this game just like the movie, with low expectations. Unfortunately and unlike the movie, this game didn’t surprise me and rise above those expectations. The Scorpion King may appeal to a certain demographic, the 12-15 year old boy, and for that audience Rise of the Akkadian may just be the ticket.
The combat is relatively harmless with no blood and probably less violence than you might see on WWF. There is a decent story to be told even if you do have to engage in lots of mindless combat to see it played out.
In the end we are left with another movie license that was either ill conceived from the start or simply rushed out the door to get caught up in the hype of the DVD release of the film. If you like the Rock then buy the movie and rent the game.