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Spawn: Armageddon (PlayStation 2) artwork

Spawn: Armageddon (PlayStation 2) review

"On the one hand, it's good that Spawn can mostly focus on shooting when the situation calls for it. There's hardly a pause as he empties one weapon's chamber and switches to the next, which is good if you've got a giant crab or whatever bearing down on you. However, some of the weapons understandably affect Spawn's agility."

If you like super heroes and you also like video games, odds are you're already aware of one very sad truth: video games based on favorite super heroes suck. This is true almost without exception. From time to time, some ambitious studio will secure a beloved license, and it's at that point that every gamer must again ask himself whether risking money on a super hero game is worth it, or if it's best just to stick to the next entry in one trusted franchise or another.

One of the most recent titles to force this dilemma upon gamers is Spawn: Armageddon, the Namco-published title developed by Point of View, a company best known for its shoddy ports. Aside from the really cool cover art, all signs point to another disappointment. However, there's good news this time around: while Spawn: Armageddon certainly isn't the best action title on the system, it does a good job at what it attempts and ultimately treats the mythos with enough style and class that all but the most diehard of Spawn's fans should be mostly satisfied.

If you've played Devil May Cry or its sequel--mostly the latter--you should have a decent idea of what to expect. The play mechanics in Spawn: Armageddon feel as if they were ripped directly from Capcom's hands. Spawn moves around with exceptional fluidity. A touch of the analog stick moves him exactly where you wish, while he can jump or double jump with a tap of the appropriate button. Once airborne, he can also use his stylish cape to glide if you so choose, which is good for reaching distant ledges. Though he can't really run along walls like Dante could, Spawn can wall hop like many such characters before him, a trick that isn't used terribly frequently throughout the course of the game, but which is cool just the same.

Of course, Spawn's controls aren't limited merely to aerobics; he can also use a wide variety of weapons for his cause. Pressing the 'O' button will cause him to unleash his chains, which are a mid-range weapon you'll find useful in many situations. As you progress through the game and our freakish hero collects guns, you can assign a different weapon to that button in place of the chain. Cycling through your arsenal is simple except in the most heated of battles, as you merely press 'left' or 'right' on the d-pad to make the choice. Each weapon has limited ammunition, and you'll go through the available stock quite quickly. Finish with one gun and the game will choose the next in line for you automatically.

If this sounds intuitive, well, it is and it isn't. On the one hand, it's good that Spawn can mostly focus on shooting when the situation calls for it. There's hardly a pause as he empties one weapon's chamber and switches to the next, which is good if you've got a giant crab or whatever bearing down on you. However, some of the weapons understandably affect Spawn's agility. There are a few that prevent him even from jumping. If weapons change at just the right moment, he may fall into a pit or he could find himself unable to dodge an assailant's projectiles.

Fortunately, aside from moments where he's carrying a rocket launcher or some such weapon, Spawn can avoid said attacks. This is due at least partially to the lock-on system, which works as well here as it did in Zelda and Castlevania titles. One enemy can be in your sights at a time, though, so you need to keep a good idea of where the others are. Spawn is almost always outnumbered. Because of this fact, it's almost always best to keep moving. Spawn can dash about to his hearts content without losing track of the opponent, or he can even hop quickly to the side from time to time. This will enable him to dodge most threats. Once an enemy is dead, the lock will switch to the next opponent. Most of the time, this works. There are times that he'll choose to target someone you didn't really care about, though, and at such moments you'll likely find yourself tempted to curse your misfortune.

The whole time Spawn is fighting, you have full control over the camera. For the most part, Point of View did an admirable job in this regard. The camera is almost always where it should be, and if it isn't, you can usually swing it right into position. Battles are therefore a breeze. When the game switches to platform elements, though, the trouble starts. There are some areas where he must hop back and forth over a lava flow, using the shell of abandoned buildings to reach the lofty heights where the level ends. It's far too easy to get stuck behind a wall and have to battle the perspective for a moment. Fortunately, even at its worse, Spawn: Armageddon employs good sense and manages to avoid common pitfalls that could have led to increased frustration.

Another area where the game shines is the visual department. The world Spawn inhabits is a dark one that should be quite familiar to fans of the comics. Gothic statues in gruesome poses line lava flows, crumbling ruins, and jagged skylines. There are both high-tech areas (mostly at the beginning) and fantastic arenas that range from Central Park to the depths of hell. Though the first areas are mostly colored in dull grays that do little to distinguish one level from the next, this changes early on. Around seven or eight stages in, things start to look a lot more unique, meaning about two thirds of the game really feels quite refreshing. Of particular note are the park and the subway, both of which feel better to me than similar efforts by other companies for other games.

Spawn himself is also rendered with surprising care. While he doesn't look quite as good as Dante, he does animate well. It's particularly fun to leap out from a building and use his cape to glide, or to jump from one ledge and grapple up to another. There's never a pause where the artists missed a vital bit of animation. Even the enemies move with relative grace. In fact, you'll often have to watch for changes in movement that indicate they're about to pounce, or slam a mallet, or shoot you with bolts of lightning. One boss around ten stages in takes this to the next level, as you have to avoid walls of demonic light, slabs of stone he tears away from the buildings to either side, and his claws. It's a visually rewarding fight, though quite a difficult one.

Speaking of difficulty, Spawn: Armageddon allows you to choose your medicine. For people like me who suck at this type of game, there's an 'Easy' difficulty level, while you can also choose to go with a more normal level of difficulty, or even the self explanatory 'Difficult' mode. Even the simplest of these will challenge many players well before the game reaches its conclusion.

One other thing that affects difficulty is the way in which the game forces you to make decisions about how you want to upgrade Spawn. Borrowing another page from the Devil May Cry book of gameplay, Point of View implemented a system through which you spend soul points to modify Spawn as you see fit. You can extend his life meter in this fashion, or his special attack meter, or you may choose to upgrade the weapons he has obtained or even supply them with more ammunition. Because soul points are obtained by kicking much butt in the missions themselves (and also by alternating methods and killing enemies with style), there never seem to be quite enough soul points to purchase everything you might like. Choose poorly and you'll likely die before the end of the game. Once you save at the end of one mission, you will not be able to repeat.

This will only matter to those who aren't sure what power-ups to choose, though. Most others will welcome the progression, because it means more of the plot will be revealed. To be honest, I'm not Spawn's hugest fan. I also suspect that even if I were, the rather generic nature of the plot would likely disappoint me. Plot devices are for the most part transparent, and even though I've only seen the movie once and glanced at the comics, there is an overwhelming sense of 'been there, done that' throughout. For McFarlane fans, though, this should do just fine. For the rest of us, well, at least it's more original than some plotlines. It also happens to be very dark and oozes malevolence.

Speaking of that, the soundtrack gets redundant fast. Whenever enemies attack, the music changes to some rocking track to let you know things are going to be hectic. It's not a bad tune by any means, but since most of the game is spent fighting one monster or another, I would have liked to see a little more variety. The same grinding guitars one stage after another do grow tiresome. If not for the outstanding sound effects--from bubbling lava to tables breaking, all in beautiful surround sound--I might well have turned off the sound. Even the voice acting is no reason to listen. For one thing, it's infrequent, and for another, the actors don't really seem to care for the license.

Sound is a minor complaint, though, and the game really is a lot better than we may have reason to expect. It's got quite a bit of challenge and style to spare in some ways, and I even found myself enjoying some parts of this title more than I did similar portions of Devil May Cry 2, the game's obvious inspiration. If you're prepared for the occasionally uneven difficulty and the dark themes, Spawn: Armageddon makes a highly recommended weekend rental. And if you're a fan of the comics and the character, there's a good chance you'd also be quite happy with a purchase. There is a chance for super hero games, after all. Point of View and Namco have proven it.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 27, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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