Thursday, January 6, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a PS2: December

Reign of Fire

I wanted to go out on a high note.  I really did and I want you to know that before we start.  And you cannot blame me, from all appearances this game promised a fantastic finish to this awesome project.  I mean, come on, its dragons vs. tanks, that can't possibly go wrong. Right?

Oh boy.

Turns out Reign of Fire, the game, is based on Reign of Fire, the movie.  Reign of Fire, the movie, was apparently a film from 2002 starring none other than Christian Bale, that's right, freakin' Batman, Matthew McConaughey (Time to Kill), and Gerard Butler from your silly Spartan movie.  It had to be a hit, right?  Well, if you've heard of it, then yeah, I guess it was, otherwise, this bad boy was direct to DVD.  The movie told the tale of hold-out humans struggling to survive against newly revived dragons that have scorched the Earth.  Why, why I ask you was this not a hit.  Move over Godfather!  Get out of town Rocky.  Back of the bus, Air Bud.  Reign of Fire is here!

So if the movie was that good, the game had to be a equally awesome, right?  Right.  It's dragons vs. tanks!  What better premise for a video game?  The back of the case clearly shows a dragon running down a tank, this is the game for us.  Only it's not.

Reign of Fire is basically a tactical simulator along the lines of Rogue Leader only you trade the Galactic Empire and TIE Fighters for dragons and velociraptors, oh and toss out the fun while you are at it.  The game starts with you as a human resistance fighter recruited to help in the defense of the human stronghold.  You begin by commanding a souped up jeep mounted with a machine gun and missile launcher.  It is my understanding that from there you will upgrade to tanks and other awesome killing machines.  It is also my understanding that eventually you can unlock dragon missions where you get to turn the tables on the insipid humans.  I say "it is my understanding" because I never got past level 3.

I won't say it is because the game is hard.  Sure, there are some difficult parts and the game requires some skill to succeed, but the main roadblock is that Reign of Fire just isn't very fun.  I managed the first two levels pretty well, but when it came to taking on the dragons themselves, I was toast.   First of all, the game controls are miserable.  There are two control schemes, one simple and one advanced, but neither one makes the game terribly engaging to play.  I stuck with the simpler scheme just to keep the frustration low, however it also makes tracking the dragons next to impossible and you pretty much end up getting fried when the heat is on.  The alternate controls are no better, since you are so busy trying to take down the mighty beasts that you fail to pay attention to where you are driving and you end up stuck somewhere or running into enemy fire.  The control scheme is strike one against this game.

The second strike comes from the uninspired level design.  If you have played either Rogue Leader or Rogue Squadron, you have already played these missions and they were more fun.  There are only so many "escort the convoy" missions you can play before it becomes a snore-fest.  Move to checkpoint A, defend convoy, move to checkpoint B, defend convoy, and so on. Ugh.

The final nail in the coffin is the clunky playfields.  I got stuck behind a barricade in the very first level and could not get unstuck and thus had to restart the level.  Mind you this happened during the tutorial, before I left the home base.  The other levels I played featured similar problems including hills that you could climb in your jeep, but you could only climb them at snail's pace and once you started up, turning around and going back down was hopeless.  Every level seemed to have "stuck" points that resulted in mission restarts.

Reign of Fire fails to execute on every level and ultimately provides a watered-down version of many similar games in the genre that are done much better.  The game came and went as quietly as the movie it was based on, and that is, perhaps, for the best.

I'll be back mid-month for a Final Look at this fantastic PS2 project and I'll also let you in on this year's new project!  See you then!

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