Legendary (PlayStation 3) review
"The story of Legendary is undeniably shoddy, a fact that becomes all the more apparent when Spark Unlimited insists on shoving it in your face with boring cut-scenes before each mission, done in the still frame style of Resistance: Fall of Man, as if insisting that they are clever and modern. To further rip off that game, the cut-scenes are narrated by a woman with a gimmicky British accent. It doesn't help that Spark Unlimited managed to do the impossible and have graphical glitches in its still-shots. Each of these slideshows is riddled with lag and choppiness. I'm not sure how they accomplished that."
This glorious year of 2008 has seen quite the string of great titles. In a one month period we've been treated to the likes of Fallout 3, Dead Space,and Little Big Planet. The concept of universal balance would demand that something come along to tip the scales back towards the dark side of mediocrity, and that something is Legendary by Spark Unlimited. And since my life was going pretty well, balance decried that I would be the one to suffer through it
The first thing the game eagerly treated me to was a giant helping of terrible graphics. I was shocked to learn that Legendary was made with Unreal Engine 3. I mean, this is the engine that brought us Bioshock, Mirror's Edge, and Mass Effect. Compared to these titles, Legendary looks more like a mod for the original Half-Life. I'm usually not so hard on graphics, but with its reliance on grandiose encounters involving the likes of Griffons and Minotaurs, Legendary begs for polish, and it really shows when it doesn't get it. Not to mention the numerous clipping glitches and the invisible walls. Invisible walls! I haven't seen these in ages! Well, I've never "seen" them, period, but you get the point. Also, the sound is awful, with monster cries sounding weak and undernourished, and the music so annoyingly and obviously overbearing that the game includes an option to turn it off.
Legendary puts you in the poorly rendered shoes of stock-thief Deckard, who has been hired by stock-villain LeFey to open stock-relic Pandora's Box (which he does without a second thought, apparently never having seen Tomb Raider II), unleashing mythical creatures and a terrible shooter upon the world. The supporting cast isn't mentionable. The story of Legendary is undeniably shoddy, a fact that becomes all the more apparent when Spark Unlimited insists on shoving it in your face with boring cut-scenes before each mission, done in the still frame style of Resistance: Fall of Man, as if insisting that they are clever and modern. To further rip off that game, the cut-scenes are narrated by a woman with a gimmicky British accent. It doesn't help that Spark Unlimited managed to do the impossible and have graphical glitches in its still-shots. Each of these slideshows is riddled with lag and choppiness. I'm not sure how they accomplished that.
I'm also not sure if things get worse or better in the actual game. Here, for the most part, Spark Unlimited drops all pretense of story and just pushes you from one objective to the other as succinctly as possible. This, at least, is done with a certain degree of experience. I'm not kidding when I say that your objective pointer, which shows you where you're going next, is the best and most helpful I've ever seen in a game. Whoever designed it deserves a cookie, because this is a slim ray of sunshine in a barren wasteland. It makes running from point A to B a lot easier, if not more immersive. The few attempts to drag the player into the setting remain so half-hearted it's pitiful. Dead bodies look like rag dolls covered in mud, the areas, while not repetitive, aren't interesting, and even though you're playing during the onset of apocalypse, the experience is so disconnected that you simply don't care. You'll find story notes scattered around, but rather than them detailing the last hideous moments of someone's life, they say things like "Wow, something bad is happening here!" or contain helpful hints like "Hey, I found out that bullets kill things. We should get some of those."
Indeed, killing things becomes the point of Legendary. Specifically: killing mythical creatures. Here, at least, the potential isn't completely squandered. In general, the monsters look and move like you would expect them to and are satisfyingly intimidating in combat. The werewolves in particular are well designed, speedily climbing sideways across walls and jumping across twenty foot gaps to engage you in close quarters. This is good, because approximately 76% of the enemies you face will be werewolves. The next most common enemies are humans, which seems like a strange choice in a game that so wants to highlight its legendary monsters. While initially this leads to some interesting free-for-all encounters, LeFey's troops quickly learn to bring the monsters under their control, leaving things in the usual shooter territory of "shoot everything that moves."
Only, this is harder than it should be, and for all the wrong reasons. The combat is very disjointed. Monsters all fight you in close quarters, and here the guns become mighty objects of extreme recoil that leave you shooting randomly into the furry mass in front of you until someone gives. The humans, on the other hand, fight at long distance. You'll find that the moment you use your aim function, your machine gun (which was a moment before spewing bullets randomly to all four corners of the earth) has gained the steadiness and accuracy of a sniper rifle. Because you usually encounter both humans and monsters in a single battlefield, combat becomes a chaotic mess of constant switching between the extreme styles. This could actually be tactically exciting, except that Deckard is built like a wafer and dies at the slightest provocation. The enemies revel in taking advantage of this. Every time a monster hits you, your vision is obscured and the screen bounces, throwing off your aim. Human enemies present small targets, they use cover, they aim better than you, and they can kill you in three hits (approximately two seconds of game time, since they mostly use burst-fire weaponry). You're given no time to assess your surroundings in a situation that is constantly asking you to adjust your strategy. Add to this the fact that the controls are unresponsive (you may have to squeeze the trigger for a while before you actually shoot anything), and the HUDS like to randomly disappear, and you have a recipe for success.
Things are made worse by the inclusion of pre-ordained checkpoints to record your progress. These checkpoints are the true heart of evil beating in the bowels of the game. The developers seem to take an evil pride in placing checkpoints before long, unskippable cut-scenes. What's more, whenever you restart at a checkpoint, the game likes to reorganize your inventory. You can carry two guns in Legendary, accessed by pushing left or right on the D-pad. Only, when you restart, you may find that the shotgun is no longer tuned to the left button. That means that when you run into combat and reach for your shotgun, you instead pull out your pistol. Whack, whack, you're dead, and it's back to the last checkpoint to watch the cut-scene again. Did I mention that it takes about 10-12 seconds to load up each time you die?
The gimmick that Legendary employs to try and spice all this up is a little symbol on your hand that you use to suck up the life force of dead monsters, called "animus." This animus is then used for a limited variety of purposes, such as pushing monsters back (also known as "a waste of animus") and healing yourself. I like the concept here. There are no health packs in the game, so the idea of having to use a single resource for both healing and offensive purposes has a lot of potential. But like everything else in Legendary, here we see good ideas executed in an extremely stodgy and lazy fashion. There really is no offensive use for animus, so you end up just hoarding it for its restorative functions. Even this is broken, since the same button that heals you is also used to suck up more animus. This means that immediately after killing a swarm of monsters you'll try to heal only to find yourself sucking up their energy instead. Meanwhile, another swarm is headed your way, and you're still at low life.
Another way that Legendary tries to keep things moving is with scripted events. At their best, these nicely approximate the chaos of apocalypse with three forces (monsters, human allies, human enemies) clashing on the battlefield. The highlight of the game comes early on, when a giant golem made out of cars and rubble is randomly stalking the battlefield while you run around trying to fight off werewolves and LeFey's minions. At one point, the truck that makes up one of the golem's fingers crashes into the ground in front of you, and you see a screaming human still trapped inside. Of course, it all still looks like crap, and you'll get tired of it after the tenth time you die during this section.
At their worst, the scripted events are a one-way ticket out of immersion. During the initial chaos of the game, you'll be treated to a Griffon attack on New York. The giant avians will pick up cars and people and eat them or drop them from huge heights. But try to interact with any of these stage props and nothing happens. The game even has the audacity to have these set pieces roar and charge you, only to do no damage because they aren't really there. They're just graphics operating in the environment, like the hired help at a carnival's haunted house. That this is your introduction to the game is fitting, preparing you properly for the kind of disappointment that will pervade your experience.
Legendary is short (there's a total of four chapters), but the constant dying and rewatching of cutscenes should beef this up to a decent length. Trust me, you'll be ready for it to end long before it does. When it does end, it's obviously setting up for a sequel, a concept that's frankly more terrifying than any werewolf. After beating the game I was ready to put it back in its box and ship it to some foreign country as fast as I could, but my reviewer's code held that I had to at least try the multiplayer. With a groan, I logged on... only to find out that the user base for this game is non-existent. There is literally no one playing this game. This is one time when it's okay to be part of the majority.
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (November 30, 2008)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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