"Here's the set-up. You're an American soldier in Vietnam. You ain't never been so scared in your life, the title screen informs you. And then, suddenly, you're in a building filled with smoke, and some dispicable army veteran starts being racist about the Vietnamese, mumbles something about a chemical called Whiteknight turning everyone into zombies, and then your infected friend grabs you and pleads for his life. And then you flash back to another point in time, in a near-identical building filled with smoke, an arbitrary objective appears on-screen, and I wish it had stopped there because I might have looked upon ShellShock 2 more favourably if it had done."
It went a little something like this.
I'm not exactly sure what happened here. It's a game released by one of the most prolific publishers in the world, and developed by the company that did the excellent Alien vs Predator franchise. Not the same studio of that company, granted, and if we learnt anything from the internal combustion of Ion Storm it's that developers aren't necessarily consistent across studios - isn't that right, John Romero? But this is still slightly strange. ShellShock 2 isn't just a disappointing, aged failure of Daikatana proportions. This is something far beyond. I'm really confused as to how it was deemed worthy of release at all.
Here's the set-up. You're an American soldier in Vietnam. You ain't never been so scared in your life, the title screen informs you. And then, suddenly, you're in a building filled with smoke, and some dispicable army veteran starts being racist about the Vietnamese, mumbles something about a chemical called Whiteknight turning everyone into zombies, and then your infected friend grabs you and pleads for his life. And then you flash back to another point in time, in a near-identical building filled with smoke, an arbitrary objective appears on-screen, and I wish it had stopped there because I might have looked upon ShellShock 2 more favourably if it had done.
As ordered, I'd set the brightness settings to the level where the text was barely readable. This, apparently, was a ploy to ensure I couldn't see a single thing that was happening on-screen. Everything was just black, apart from the smoke, which was charcoal grey. Right, then. Tabbing to the options menu, I upped the slider to the top. Back in the game, everything was still slightly difficult to make out, but it was playable. Sort of. The level design was immediately so awful that I ended up lost within seconds. The initial building appeared to be a collection of copy-and-pasted rooms and corridors, with absolutely no distinguishing features, and seemingly no way out. There were doors everywhere. Only they weren't doors, they were door textures, ludicrously painted onto the walls. Apparently, Rebellion couldn't even be bothered to create real doors and just lock them. Eventually, I found the one exit that I was actually allowed to go through, and a Vietnamese soldier launched himself at me. "Press the buttons in the order they appear on-screen," a helpful pop-up told me. By the time I'd read it, the buttons had been and gone, the enemy had beaten me to death with the butt of his gun, and I was dead.
Back to the last checkpoint, I negotiated the puzzling maze once more, beat the abominable quick-time event, and rendezvous-ed with the racist bloke. Then he ran off again and told me to meet him somewhere else. No explanation required, apparently. Quickly, I found myself in a courtyard, where one of my pals held an unarmed Vietnamese soldier to the ground, laughing at him and taunting him, before shooting him in the head. Fortunately, the awful prick was quickly picked off himself, by an abundance of enemy troops that had seemingly materialised through the walls. I ran over and collected my fallen comrade's weapon, took aim, and... the game locked up. And then it started moving again, but at a framerate so sluggish that it became uncontrollable. And then my screen turned red, and I died.
Back again, then. This time, the game continued to chug along at a reasonable pace, and I was able to test out my flimsy pistol against the hordes of run-and-gun enemies. Confession time: I've never been that fond of controlling first-person shooters on the consoles. I struggle to aim, and I miss the precision of the mouse and keyboard. Knowing this, I'd fixed the assisted-aiming options at their maximum, but when I found myself firing repeatedly into the air, I assumed I hadn't saved my settings. Back to the options menu again. Assisted-aiming was set to 'on', and the slider was at the top. Seems Rebellion forgot to code the results into the fucking game.
After wasting all my ammunition through embarrassingly off-target shooting, and having already soaked up a fair deal of damage each time I had to wait about half an hour for my gun to reload, I switched to the knife and went on a bit of a twisted splat-athon. This proved more effective, as I downed the helpless enemies quickly and effortlessly. But then, another problem. Each time I wasted a foe, a satisfying gloop of blood splattered over my field of vision. Satisfying, until the sheer amount of it actually prevented me from seeing what was going on. And, in a frenzy of red liquid and blind button-bashing, I died again.
At this point, children may want to leave the room for a minute.
WHY WON'T YOU FUCKING WORK IN ANY CONCEIVABLE WAY, YOU HORRIBLE COCK OF A GAME?!
ShellShock 2 is literally the most unfair and frustrating game I've ever played. But there's a problem even bigger than this lack of playablity rearing its ugly head here. ShellShock 2 made me feel uncomfortable and dirty. It's almost exploitive...
Because all the swearing, racial slurs and abominable behaviour depicted in ShellShock 2 lack any credibility whatsoever, you end up wondering whether you're supposed to be in on some sort of joke. I would never suggest that this was Rebellion's intention; I might be kicking their game from here to the Far East, but I'm not in a position to question their ethical standards. But it's extremely poorly judged. We've had discussions here at Honest Gamers about whether the latest Call of Duty was perhaps insensitive in its depiction of horrific warzones, but it pales in comparison to this. Everything feels trivialised: entertainment for entertainment's purposes, without a single meaningful thing to say to its audience. When the first character you meet utters some genuinely shocking remarks, but the game never has the guts to tell you that behaving like that is wrong, the result is always going to be a rather awkward. I didn't like it at all.
"I'm in a country that doesn't want me here," moans our wretched protagnost. Ever stop to think why?
Maybe there's some sort of revelation towards the end of the game. I don't know, because - I'll be honest here - I couldn't be bothered to finish it. I plodded on for a while, wandering around badly organised levels, juggling insubstantial firearms, shooting implausibly stupid enemies, listening to abusive comments, tackling horrendous quick-time events and getting stuck on the scenery. I carried on until the zombies arrived: ridiculously animated, bloodied versions of the previous foes that were even more willing to run into instant-death traps. And then I had an epiphany.
I don't have to put up with this.
Sod finishing the game. I'll put about as much effort into playing the thing as Rebellion evidently put into making it. The disk permamently left the 360 after just a couple of hours. To be quite honest, I doubt many would even last that long.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (February 17, 2009)
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