Reviewed: October 16, 2004
Released: September 28, 2004
Long before John Schneider was giving fatherly advice to Clark Kent on Smallville and long before Tom Wopat was starring in cheesy low-budget sci-fi flicks, and long before Catherine Bach was…err…what is she doing these days? Anyway, a long time ago in a primetime not so far away, The Dukes of Hazzard invaded our living rooms bringing a southerly mix of country music, exciting car chases, and a general disrespect for corrupt law enforcement.
The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee is the second attempt to bring these rebellious cousins to the console market and while this release is marginally better than their original PS1 title, it still runs out of gas long before the finish line. Frankly I’m surprised they are trying to milk a franchise that hasn’t seen an original episode for 20 years. I guess they are trying to ride the wave of Duke Fever brought on by the recent DVD release and the TNN syndication. Then again, the developers, Ratbag, are from Australia, so maybe this is all “new TV” for the folks down under.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the release, Return of the General Lee is nothing more than a budget racer with some nostalgic cutscenes and a flimsy story weaved between the unimaginative events and car chases.
Ratbag is known for their racing game engines. Powerslide, their first title and one of my favorites, redefined off-road racing back in 1998. Since that time we’ve seen countless racing titles, both on and off the pavement. Regardless of the type of racing, the core of any racing game is the control and physics. Return of the General Lee has neither.
Racing around Hazzard County in your custom Dodge Charger is a wild uncontrollable ride that is more akin to ice racing with bald tires than anything else. After coming off a solid week of Test Drive: Eve of Destruction I have a pretty good idea how heavy cars handle on dirt, or at least how video games perceive them to handle. The General Lee doesn’t pretend to obey any laws of real or videogame physics or even common sense.
The car handles loosely and slips and slides around even the widest turns. Pull the gas trigger just a bit too much and you will initiate a 360 or spinout into a fence or oncoming truck. When you find and use the numerous ramps scattered about the game the General will majestically float across the scenery only to crash land, tumble, slide, and if overturned, will magically right itself with a slight rocking of your right analog stick.
But even with bad controls and physics, you can eventually get used to the game and manage to drive the General well enough to lose the cops, win races, toot your horn, and shout out the occasional “Yeehaw” to unlock some nifty costumes for Daisy. But driving is only fun if you have somewhere to go and a good reason to go there.
The missions are tied together with an ongoing story that brings the original cast together in a not-so-original story that has you racing to save a farm, rescuing Uncle Jesse, making a fool out of Roscoe, teasing Enos with the seductive Daisy, and thwarting the evil plots of Boss Hogg. Hazzard County is busted wide open to give you unparalleled freedom to explore the world we all came to know in the TV show. You can drive from your farm to the Boars Nest, or jump that dry riverbed, or head over to Cooter’s garage, or drive into the city and burn some rubber in town square.
And therein lies the main problem with the game. Hazzard County is rather large and the missions are very vague in telling you where to go, if they bother to tell you at all. Sometimes you are given a courtesy road sign with an arrow pointing the way, or Luke might tell you to “take that shortcut to the left”, but most of the time you are left to pop-up the transparent map and plot your path to the designated area. Eventually, if you play the game long enough, you will come to learn the game world, much like you learned the layout of Vice City.
There are also some other annoying quirks. One mission has you tailing Enos in the General Lee. Assuming tailing anyone in a bright orange muscle car is possible, most games offer you a proximity meter to warn you if you get too far or too close to your target. Not this game. You get the occasional verbal warning from Luke, usually a few seconds before the mission fails and you get to try again.
Another mission has you driving Enos’ “borrowed” patrol car. You cannot put any damage on the car but just exactly what causes damage? I can hit a fence doing 80mph, I can sideswipe a truck, or jump 200’ through the air, but if I drive over that rock just wrong I damage the car beyond concealment.
Despite all my negative rants, I am forced to admit I spent more time playing this game than I would have imagined. There is a bit of addictive fun to be had here. The missions are short and the load times are even shorter, so when you fail a mission you are only seconds from getting to retry it. I’ve always been a sucker for this kind of “quick fix” game design, especially when success if rewarded with a fun, albeit cheesy, cutscene.
Return of the General Lee is hardly a next-gen game when it comes to graphics. I popped in my old PS1 Dukes’ game just to compare and not much has changed. The cars are marginally better but certainly not the caliber we’ve come to expect with recent racing titles.
Where the game does shine is the movies. The CG characters and animation is really great and the likenesses of all the main characters is uncanny. Hazzard County is also brought to life with a variety of textures and locales even though all those back roads start to look alike after about an hour.
All of the major players and even some of the minors are back to reprise their original roles. This gives the game (or at least the cutscenes) a lot more credibility, but given the recent success of John Schneider, I can’t help but picture him in a recording studio wincing as he reads off hackneyed dialogue to be inserted as one-liners later.
The music is the same country banjo twang that we grew to love (or at least accept) for the show. It even comes complete with narration, although Waylon Jennings didn’t see fit to reprise his role as the Balladeer. They did manage to find a suitable replacement, and his narration give the entire game a TV-show feel.
Sound effects are solid and the General Lee sounds like a powerful muscle car. The only problem is that the police car shares the same engine noise. There’s not a huge selection of sounds other than crashing through wood fences, crunching into other cars, or skidding on dirt or pavement. It’s minimal but what is there is good stuff.
You can finish the story mode for Duke of Hazzard in 6-8 hours. The free roam mode allows you to seek out jump locations and earn stunt points (don’t forget to honk and yell) to unlock new costumes for Daisy. There is also some DVD bonus content like cast interviews and such. If you are a hardcore fan of the show then this is right up your alley.
There is two-player support for some split-screen action using any of the ten vehicles you can unlock in the story mode. You can race around the coal mine, enter the demolition derby at the racetrack, or hop in a cop car and chase the Dukes around the junkyard. None of it is terribly original or even that much fun. It’s all been done before and better in other racing titles, but at least it’s available if you really love the Dukes and have a friend who does too.
I really didn’t expect much from The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee, so I wasn’t disappointed. The game is just as dated as the show and it fares just as well with its console competition as the original series would if it debuted on prime time next week.
Some things are better left to nostalgic memories and DVD collections, but if you need one last fix of southern hospitality and Duke charm, take the General for one last ride. Just make it a rental so you don’t have to park that big orange car on your game shelf permanently.