Reviewed: November 21, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
I am having a hard time comprehending how a full fourteen years has flown by me since Reservoir Dogs debuted on the big screen. As the first feature film for the then relatively unknown Video Clerk-cum-Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino, the combination of ensemble cast and slick mobster ultra-violent action quickly became classic amongst the independent cinema crowd. Stuff like this just hadn’t been seen on the screen before.
Then again, when you think about how much commercial entertainment has been influenced by the mainstream release Reservoir Dogs; movies like Natural Born Killers and Fargo, video games like the Grand Theft Auto series, and television shows like The Sopranos – well, yeah it has been a good fourteen years. Fourteen years – man am I getting old.
So, other than officially initiating my mid-life crisis as I round my 35th year this planet, Eidos’ latest gaming release, Reservoir Dogs, still came at me as a big surprise. While the movie definitely has all the trappings that make up a good game – a great script, a solid story, and over-the-top action – the fact that Eidos and Lionsgate decided to release a budget-priced console title based on a fourteen year old movie that most gamers won’t even know seems a bit strange.
Regardless of their intent, Reservoir Dogs is a fairly solid action title that delivers a few hours of honest-to-goodness fun before ultimately falling victim to its own repetitive mission structure.
Third person action is the name of the game in Reservoir Dogs – which places the gamer in the shoes of each of the colorfully-named crooks, following each character’s off-screen events following the botched heist and leading up to the definitive and deadly warehouse reunion where a majority of the movie takes place.
The game features approximately 80% Max Payne-esque third person on-foot shooting, with the remainder consisting of point-to-point driving missions. While the on-foot missions sport surprisingly solid control and weapons targeting (to be discussed later), the sloppy driving controls fall just short of embarrassing, and are hardly worth including other than they give some continuity to the storyline of the game.
As mentioned earlier, the on-foot controls are surprisingly solid, and even feature a few unique and/or innovative elements that gamers generally don’t find in a budget-priced title. Some elements – like taking cover behind objects, and using non-playable characters (NPC’s) as human shields – have been seen before in other titles, but are rarely implemented as nicely as they are in Reservoir Dogs.
Targeting enemies from a cover position is quite natural due to the raised camera perspective, and the overly accurate weapons and affable targeting system makes dispatching enemies a breeze.
But where Reservoir Dogs really shows its inventive side is in its human shield system; which allows the gamer to take NPC characters (innocent bystanders included) under arm, and then use the shield to manipulate the armed guards, policemen, and SWAT teams to drop their weapons and even to open safes or unlock doors. To be honest, the entire human shield mechanic is a bit awkward to control, but when executed correctly, disarming a host of SWAT members by gently pistol whipping a hostage is one of the more rewarding elements found in gaming. For those of you who pride yourselves on completing Splinter Cell missions without killing a single NPC, this is right up your alley.
But innovative gameplay elements and solid controls aside, the repetitive mission structure of Reservoir Dogs is nothing to write home about. And when I mean repetitive, I don’t mean that you are simply doing the same sorts of actions over and over with different background scenery – no, I mean that there are instances where two consecutive character stories will follow an identical pathway from the scene of the flubbed heist to the getaway car. Same locations, same NPC’s, same everything. While some might argue continuity, it just begins to feel like a low budget method to save on development costs by recycling previously used level design.
Once this repetitive level design begins to flesh itself out, any flickers of greatness are quickly suppressed and the game becomes more of a trudge than the action-filled romp that was alluded to early on in the game.
Reservoir Dogs does a decent job in terms of visuals; it delivers an acceptable level of visual detail, but definitely won’t make an impact on most gamers. Most areas look fairly identical (and as I mentioned earlier, many really are identical), and don’t really get much punch until the action changes location later on in the game.
The characters don’t try too hard to look like their onscreen counterparts (most likely a result of licensing issues), and the expressionless facial features and stiff animations leave a bit to be desired – especially in the in-game cutscenes, which are especially creepy in that wax museum sort of way.
Only one of the original characters signed on for the voice acting duty – no surprise game vet Michael Madsen revives his original movie role as Mr. Blonde. Sadly missing is the trademark whine of Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel’s solid leadership, and (of course) the recently deceased Chris Penn.
The real star of the show is the soundtrack – which is stripped directly from the movie and features a number of kick ass 70’s tunes including the trademark “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. There really are not enough songs available to not have them loop a time or two in a single sitting, but the music provides great atmosphere.
The game can easily be knocked out in the course of a weekend rental given the linear design and forgiving targeting system. Truthfully though, most gamers will begin to feel a bit disinterested about halfway through the game. If I can give one piece of advice to those gamers; keep plodding along, because the end contains some of the best parts of the game. It just takes a lot of unrewarding repetition to get there.
All-in-all Reservoir Dogs does have its moments, I just am not sure I feel comfortable recommending full-price (even at the budget level) purchase to experienced gamers.