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Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance (PlayStation 2) artwork

Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance (PlayStation 2) review

"Start with a free-roaming world like Grand Theft Auto 3. Add in all the greatness of the Streets of Rage and the Golden Axes and the Maximum Carnages. Mix the blazing gameplay that Capcom’s known for, the kind of intensity that’s introduced countless gamers to carpal-tunnel syndrome. "

Start with a free-roaming world like Grand Theft Auto 3. Add in all the greatness of the Streets of Rage and the Golden Axes and the Maximum Carnages. Mix the blazing gameplay that Capcom’s known for, the kind of intensity that’s introduced countless gamers to carpal-tunnel syndrome.

Now imagine how all that could bomb. And toss a Russell Crowe-lookalike cop in the mix. You’ve got Beat Down.

It all takes place in a quaint little shithole called Las Sombras, Capcom’s excuse for San Andreas. You’d think it was a huge landscape to look at it from the map; the kind that’d take a good while to fully explore. It will. You'd need a solid hour to see everything there is to see, and that’s assuming nobody tries to kick your ass along the way.

The map’s lying, though. Las Sombras isn't one big environment, it’s a bunch of little environments mish-mashed together, and you can’t get one from zone to zone without the game switching to load mode, a ten-second transition. A minor irritation.

What the game's taking so long to load I haven’t a clue; Las Sombras is a drab deal, lifeless and washed out. The buildings literally look like shit from far off, and it doesn’t get much better when you close in. The NPCs lack the finer details; they can stroll, they can fight, but ask them to move their face-mapped faces and it’s too much for them. But I can take it, I’ve withstood worse. Not much worse, but I’ve withstood it. Again, minor.

But Beat Down doesn’t settle for being a normal beat-em-up; it’s just got to have RPG elements. Each chapter has you going around to specific places, meeting or beating specific people, doing specific things. A lot of footwork, but nothing too frustrating. Minor.

Piss-poor level design + Ten-second load times + Trek-heavy missions = A pain in the ass

Three minor irritations make one major annoyance.

Missions that would only take five minutes for most games drain off hours, and that’s assuming you have an idea where you’re supposed to be going. You probably won’t. Most of the time the game just sets you loose to play hide-and-seek with the underworld, hoping that you’ll randomly run into the one punk who knows what you need to know. One punk who could be wandering around in any of the zones, who you could walk by and never notice if the camera’s in a bad mood. You’ll be backtracking, retracing steps, hoping you didn’t miss anything and then finding out you did.

And the music? Does the game give you some rap to listen to while you're wandering the streets, something that might fit the setting? No. You get to listen to techno. And not even good techno at that.

I've been to comic conventions that felt more gangster.

But as bad as all that is, I could've forgiven. Capcom’s never been perfect, but they make some damn fine fighting games. That's all I asked for.

With Beat Down, though, Capcom tried a new direction… and got lost. The problem here, the main problem, is that it’s trying too hard to be revolutionary.

It starts out well. You pick from five brawlers; a ragtag group with a stripper assassin and a trash-talking spikey-haired Irish brawler. Cliché, but expected. You can even taste some old-school flavor for the first few minutes; each character has the standard attacks plus the obligatory clear out move that saps a little health. You gulp down abnormally sized pieces of chicken to get your strength back… mashed buttons and mindless fun abound.

But the good times only roll for about five minutes. After that, the game tries to mix innovation with enjoyment. It fails.

Dig the scenario: You’re moving down the street at a slow pace. You see a random thug heading your way. Unlike the normal citizens in the game, his character model’s got a speck of detail to it, which means he’s worth more than just walking laps around the street. When you talk to him, you can do a little more than just talk. You can fight.

So things go into fight mode and you start a brawl right in the middle of the street; no good reasons needed. You smack him around a bit, kick him while’s he down. Do it enough and you won’t just drain out his health, you’ll take away his respect, lower his 'pride meter'. Take away enough of it and you’ll be given a choice: Fight on and finish him off the old-fashioned way, or negotiate. And when I say ‘negotiate’, I mean in the same way my boot ‘negotiates’ with a cockroach.

Let’s say you negotiate; take advantage of Capcom’s new addition to the genre. You’ve got four ways to go about it.

You can interrogate the guy, grill him for questions. Should you do this, he will bestow upon you the latest wisdom around Las Sombras’ seedy underworld... like telling you that new clothes are on sale or that busting out of jail through the front door is considered by many to be a bad idea.

You can rob him; get some quick cash. Problem is, even something as simple as t-shirt costs $200 in Las Sombras. Not much help.

You can give him a Beat Down, which is a misnomer. Giving someone a ‘beat down’ just means you knock them shitless. What your character does is use whatever weapon he’s holding to slash or bash or maim the enemy to death in a short cutscene that would be sickening if the graphics weren’t so bad. That’s more like murder. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred it’s going to be the same kill animation for each weapon, too.

Finally, you can recruit him, and this is where Capcom tries to get the edge in. By intimidating everyone you come across, you can create your own gang of sniveling cronies that come at your beck and call. Any two of them can be serve as your bodyguards, and they’ll take your place if you lose a one-on-one fight and watch your back for the big brawls. You can switch your partners around whenever you want, call them up, have them meet you at places, make your own teams.

But as nice as having a couple of mindless flunkies at your back is, you don’t really need them; your character is a one-stereotype army. Size and number don’t matter; you can always beat the black-hats back with your unparalleled, unmatched, uncanny fighting skills. And if that’s not enough to get you by, just bring out a weapon and swing away; the AI’s too stupid to dodge a pipe coming for its head. Even if you do, by some odd twist of fate, get your health knocked down to those uncomfortable levels, it’s just a simple matter of chomping down a drumstick or gulping down whatever illegal substances you’ve brought along. All will fall before your onslaught of repetitious combos and your endless supply of enormous chicken legs.

Actually, given Las Sombras' death-orientated social climate, the low difficulty's a hidden blessing. The gangs are fighting for turf, the police are fighting for control, the mafia’s fighting for the whole thing, and they’re all fighting to kill you in the process. So it’s a good thing that none of them have the sense to bring a gun to a knife fight.

If you kill someone, anyone, and there are witnesses, the police automatically find out and put an APB on you, letting them jump you on sight and haul you straight to jail. The mafia hates you no matter what. And the gangs…well, the gangs are just dumbasses. Annoying dumbasses who ambush you in the middle of a time-critical mission.

It all adds up to you being unable to take five steps without someone trying to mess you up. Getting the monkeys off your back’s easy enough; just switch up your wardrobe a bit, maybe go by the hospital and get a nip-tuck. But in the end you’re just buying time. You’ll piss them off…again. And they’ll hate you…again.

That’s the thing with Beat Down, it’s a perfect example of how a bunch of small things can wear you out. The music annoys, the gameplay's a chore, the graphics are generic and the time it takes to load them is ridiculous. You can see it's trying hard, it wants to be a good game. But it just can't pull together.

I'd expect crap like this out of some no-name company, the kind that makes one flop and then goes belly-up. Hell, Squaresoft made the Bouncer, so it's not like they're perfect. But Capcom...they should know better.

lasthero's avatar
Community review by lasthero (September 07, 2005)

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