Reviewed: January 23, 2004
Released: December 2, 2003
Y2K might not have brought about the computer-induced apocalypse like so many predicted but computers were responsible for one of the most original titles in gaming history, well computers and a little-known developer called Planet Moon Studios. Of course the game I speak of is the amazing sleeper hit, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, heralded by critiques and the few savvy gamers that played it as the Game of the Year.
As quickly as they appeared, Planet Moon vanished for nearly three years, tucked away in their mountain fortress creating their next masterpiece. The wait is over and Armed & Dangerous has arrived to dazzle Xbox and PC gamers with hilarious characters and innovative gameplay that we havenít experienced since the original Giants.
Armed & Dangerous shares a lot of similar aspects as their debut title but in no way attempts to cash in on a standardized formula. Graphics, sound, and humor are all here in spades, but this third-person action shooter is an experience like no other.
The story is simple and unfolds in what is perhaps one of the best and funniest opening movies of recent history. You play as Roman, the leader of a trio known as the Lionhearts, in search of the legendary Book of Rule. The two members of your team are Jonesy, an unlikely mole with a thick Scottish accent, and Q, a brooding robot on an endless quest for a good cup of tea. Also introduced in the opening movie is Rexus, Romanís blind foster father who lives in an igloo and continues to feed his pair of dead frozen dogs.
With such an eclectic cast of characters and the witty writing and game design you have all the ingredients of another epic adventure and A&D delivers. Even the most serious gamer will find themselves laughing aloud during the movies and especially the witty banter during the actual gameplay.
Armed & Dangerous is a shooter at heart with some limited squad-based tactical strategy that tries to invade the gameplay and fails miserably. You can only control one character at a time leaving your two comrades at the mercy of some less-than-stellar AI. You have limited ability to control your team with a command system not unlike the one found in the Star Wars: Starfighter games. You can order them to defend you, patrol an area, or just attack. The only problem is they arenít that smart during combat.
Left unattended or even after you have carefully positioned and ordered them around, they will often die quickly, simply by blazing headlong into combat with little or no thought for their own safety. Ultimately, you will probably be better off to have your team wait behind while you clear out an area by yourself, and oddly enough the level and enemy placement makes this surprisingly easy to do. Itís almost as if the designers realized their AI shortcomings and made the game accessible to a lone character.
Enemy AI isnít as good as it should be, actually it pales to just about everything in the genre. Enemies will either stand there as their comrades get shot or even worse they will have unrealistic knowledge of your existence and your exact location even before you can see them. Enemy locations and actions are highly scripted so you can eventually learn when and where they will appear. That sniper in the second-story window isnít as lethal your third trip through the level.
The dumb AI and predictable scripting actually make the game enjoyable. Without these ďweaknessesĒ A&D would be frustrating to play and impossible to win. Even on the normal skill level the gameplay is quite challenging, and only true thrill-seekers need attempt the difficult setting.
The levels are large and complicated enough to encourage some forethought and even a bit of strategizing, and it would have been nice to have a team to rely on to flesh out this aspect to its fullest potential. Youíll often wander into an area and trigger a swarm of enemies. You can then retreat, hopefully leading a few in chase that you can take out with better odds, or you can run around like a mercenary with his head chopped off and fire blindly in all directions and hope for the best.
Weapons are plentiful and varied and ammo is readily available and even FREE whenever you visit one of the many scattered checkpoints. There are also turrets, both stationary and moving, that can deliver the big firepower and plenty of explosive containers lying around. Everything in the game is destructible including buildings, walls, and even trees. They will smoke, burn, and blow-up sending nearby enemies flying through the air. Itís all very satisfying.
Even though you start of with some traditional weapons the new guns you will acquire later in the game really add to the gameplay and the humor. A black hole in a box is just a hint at the originality but by far the most fun and hilarious weapon is the shark gun. Imagine launching a shark into the ground then watching as the fin patrols the nearby area looking for an unsuspecting enemy. With the fury and visual appeal of the original Jaws poster, the beast launches up from the ground and grabs your foe, flails them around as they scream then devours them before sinking below the surface to look for more prey. Itís as much fun to watch the 50th time as it was the first.
There are numerous missions that vary in their objectives and your tactical approach. You might have to defend a city on one mission then rescue captured peasants on the next. You will fight enemies on the ground and in the air and a cool jetpack gives aerial combat a whole new flavor.
Armed & Dangerous features a color palette that is in direct contrast to the cheery and often comical nature of the gameplay. Donít get me wrong Ė the game looks fantastic and the first time I fired it up there were several approving explicatives heard throughout the room. I guess what took me by surprise was how ďrealisticĒ the game looked compared to the fanciful story and exaggerated gameplay. In some ways I almost wish the game shared the same cartoon visual style that Giants used to perfection.
The first thing youíll notice is the extreme use of bump-mapping that will make every snowdrift leap off the screen, and thatís just the first few snowy levels. Things only get better when you head into the wonderfully rendered forest, or explore the stunning cliffs overlooking the ocean. There is plenty of lighting, volumetric, and particle effects. The falling snow in the opening level is ultra-realistic, and the environmental weather, lens flares, etc. all create a very surreal playing environment.
As good as this game looks on the Xbox it does run at a lower resolution than its PC cousin and the framerate will often dip below the standard 30fps you get for most of the game. Even when you do take a hit in the framerate itís never severe enough to hurt the gameplay. Only the most critical of gamers (or game reviewers) will likely notice, and if it is a big deal then get the PC version.
I could talk about the dialogue and witty banter for days. The speech component of A&D really steals the show from the opening movie to the clever exchanges and jibes during heated combat. Accents are authentic if not over-the-top in a comical way, and there is plenty of biting sarcasm and humor injected into just about every line of dialogue. The voice actors deliver their lines with flawless perfection.
Music is on par with a theatrical score. There are plenty of cheery tunes that will make you feel right at home, assuming home is a pub in Scotland. The music blends seamlessly with the gameplay and changes on cue to the events onscreen to complement both visuals and gameplay. Itís dynamic and just as delightful as the dialogue.
Sound effects range from various weapons to their resulting explosions. When you arenít engaged in combat there are also plenty of ambient environmental sounds like wind, birds, etc. that really bring the levels to life.
On the normal difficulty you can finish Armed & Dangerous in about 8-12 hours. If you crank up the difficulty you can milk a few more hours from the game, but since the story and gameplay unfold pretty much the same way each time through the challenge is the only thing that will be changing.
There is no multiplayer component, which is a shame. This game screams for a three-player cooperative mode, either split-screen or online. It would certainly add to the longevity of the title and make up for the lack of intelligent team AI. LucasArts promises some new content coming down the Xbox Live pipe, and the first mission has recently become available.
For bloodhound gamers, there are plenty of hidden tokens on each level that you can spend extra hours hunting down. There is also a nice and humorous batch of cheat codes to discover and experiment with. A&D is a substantial package worthy of a retail purchase.
Armed & Dangerous was a pleasant surprise. Despite the lack of intelligent AI that ruined any team-tactical strategy, the game is redeemed by its original gameplay and ongoing humor that is interwoven into every aspect of the game whether it be movies, gameplay, or even the weapons.
Check your brain at the door, polish your reflexes, and prepare for the wildest, and most entertaining action shooter you can currently play on the Xbox.