Reviewed: February 12, 2004
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Spawn has been around for more then ten years but somehow I have managed to resist the urge to see the movie, read the comics, or partake in any of the previous games inspired by the dark franchise. In fact, until this demonic superhero made his guest appearance in the Xbox version of Soul Calibur II I couldn’t even tell you what he looked like. It only took a few battles and swipes of his double-edged axe, Agony, to quickly fall in love with this twisted and bitter character.
Spawn: Armageddon is the latest effort to make Spawn a viable gaming commodity and even though I never played the other games that have come before this, I can’t imagine they could come close to the horrific and downright evil fun that Armageddon offers. With gallons of blood, flying body parts, twisted monster designs, and violent combat action, this could be the sickest fun you can have on a console.
To its credit, Spawn borrows heavily from other games to create a unique hybrid of action-combat and platform gaming. For PS2 gamers, you will find plenty of similarities to Devil May Cry while Xbox fans will see gameplay elements found in Otogi: Myth of Demons only everything has a very distinct Todd McFarlane “look”. Todd has an artistic style that is as original and disturbing as H.R. Geiger, only not as subtle. Geiger makes you feel uneasy; Todd makes you soil yourself.
Spawn never pretends to be anything more than the mindless hack and slash bloodletting that it is. Once you come to terms with this concept you are in for a real treat, at least for as long as the ride lasts. As Spawn, you will face off against countless horrors, demons, robots, imps, corrupt angels, and plenty of good old-fashioned boss fights.
Spawn fans will already know what I learned. Spawn’s weapon of choice is his trusty axe that he can use to slice and dice his way through nearby targets. For long-range attacks he can summon chains to strike out at his opponents (anyone see Hellraiser) and rip them to shreds. Bodies will literally explode into body parts and a cloud of blood. Queasy mothers and uptight Senators should avoid this game like…well…Armageddon.
When these two staples lose their charm you can equip a missile launcher or a shotgun or tap into an arsenal of magical abilities. Spawn can also glide, thanks to his crimson cape, and use his chains to scale walls and reach new heights. Naturally, this all leads to some obligatory jumping puzzles later in the game.
An RPG-like upgrade system allows you to not only upgrade our hero’s weapons but also his personal stats, making him much more formidable as you progress through the game and encounter tougher opponents and bosses later on.
Even when the going gets tough it’s never really that difficult and that is probably my biggest complaint. Even on the hardest skill level, Spawn is only as challenging as other similar games on their normal difficulty. This means that any seasoned action gamer is going to rip this title to shreds in 6-8 hours, probably less.
Part of this is due to the choice of overwhelming you with lots of dumb enemies rather than a few smart ones. Aside from the boss battles, you won’t have to think much to fight your way through any encounter. The combat system is simplistic and the combo system is hardly advanced. You can button-mash your way through the entire game without ever learning any of the “advanced” moves or exploring the potentially rich magic system.
Spawn is a guilty pleasure of repetitive gameplay and bloody violence that becomes strangely addictive the longer you play. Thanks to some creative level design and exploratory collection quests, you won’t mind roaming the rather linear levels wasting everything in sight and picking up everything that isn’t nailed down.
Spawn is a badass character. I didn’t realize how cool he was until I played him in Soul Calibur II and now I can’t get enough of his sinister look, his bad attitude, and his vicious attacks. The designers have done an amazing job of capturing the total look and feel of Spawn from McFarlane’s original designs, both for our leading…err...man, and everyone else in the game.
Spawn is built like a superhero and moves with the grace of an Olympic athlete. His movement is fluid and his attacks are vicious and fun to watch whether he is doing a triple-slash axe combo or launching a coil of chains into a nearby demon. The action is fast and furious and very intense.
With more than 30 environments each new level should offer something new and exciting to look at. Seeing what was next was one of the huge motivating factors that kept me playing what is otherwise a rather repetitive hack-n-slash. Most of the levels are dark which only showcase the brilliant colors and intense lighting effects. Spawn is a visual feast of colors and special effects and is further enhanced with HDTV support for both progressive scan and 16:9 widescreen.
There are some camera issues worth mentioning. The camera tries to follow Spawn but you will frequently have to tweak the view when it hangs on objects obscuring your view. I never died because of the camera but I sure took a lot of unnecessary damage. The Xbox version manages to clean up a lot of the visual glitches like tearing and clipping that are present in the other versions and manages a slightly improved framerate.
You’re either going to love or hate the soundtrack and since there is no custom soundtrack option you are stuck with some overbearing acid rock that certainly fits the demonic themes of the game, but probably aren’t the best tunes to be listening to for hours on end. Marilyn Manson fans will cream over the soundtrack while everyone else will be scrambling for the mixing controls.
Sound effects are delightfully grotesque and include plenty of juicy slashes, squishes, dismemberments, and other gory sounds that words can’t reproduce. The weapons all have excellent effects and the Xbox makes use of a fantastic Dolby Digital surround mix.
Spawn is light on the story so there isn’t a lot of exposition or movies. When there is somebody talking the voice acting is topnotch. Spawn is suitably “pissed off” most of the game and the other creatures and rest of the cast lend credible voices or voice-like effects.
You can pick from three skill levels when you start the game but anyone who has ever held a game controller should probably head for the hardest of the three. Even the normal skill setting is a walk in the proverbial park. At it’s most challenging, Spawn will offer up 6-8 hours of violent bloodletting.
Normally, I would recommend renting this game but at only $29 you may as well bite the bullet and make this a permanent addition to your collection, especially if you are a Spawn fan, and chances are that you are if you are even remotely interested in this game. There is plenty of bonus artwork and other media assets to unlock if you are diligent enough to earn it.
Spawn: Armageddon is a great action game, especially for the Xbox since we didn’t get Devil May Cry, and Otogi: Myth of Demons is about as close as you can get to this style of carnal gameplay. For fans of the Spawn franchise, Manson fans, or fans of Goth-horror in general, this is a no-brainer. Everyone else might want to pass or perhaps take for a rental test-drive before committing to Armageddon.