Reservoir Dogs Review
Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs is a cult classic of epic proportions...if that's not a contradiction in terms. Over the years, it has obtained an almost mythic status as being one of the grittiest and most disturbing glimpses into the dark side of humanity; something Tarantino is quite familiar with. Now, on the surface, it seems this would be a difficult movie to turn into a video game. It lacks the sweeping size and panache of Scarface and doesn't overload with non-stop action, but if done correctly, Reservoir Dogs the game could be quite the experience. After all, it's designed specifically for fans of the film in the first place, and Scarface: The World is Yours catered to its legion of fans extremely well.
While the game is certainly different from Scarface, both developers clearly used the same GTA-style visual model. There's a bit more refined character definition in Reservoir Dogs, and a subtle cinematic upgrade in comparison to either GTA or Scarface, but it's all really quite similar. There isn't anything too special about the environment, the color palette remains somewhat washed out and bland, and there are several graphical imperfections (clipping, overly-angled lines, etc.). But it's a consistent display, and works well for the presentation, even though we would've liked to see something that better captures the grittiness of the film. Not bad, but we've certainly seen it all before.
Some solid voice acting highlight the sound in this game, even though they couldn't secure all the film's actors to do the voiceovers. Steve Buscemi's stand-in for Mr. Pink, for example, is very good, and the rest of the cast is quite talented. The soundtrack revolved around the actual film track - again, much like Scarface - although there isn't anywhere near as much diversity. As for the sound effects, they're mostly average, with a basic sampling of ho-hum gunfire retorts and relatively clear orders shouted over the fracas. Overall, the soundtrack fits nicely (despite some odd tracks selected for hectic action sequences), the voice acting excels, and the effects aren't anything to write home about.
Rather than go beyond the film and create a new adventure and storyline like Scarface, you play through the movie in Reservoir Dogs. It's mostly straightforward, but you do experience each character's storyline with a little more detail (it answers some cliffhanger questions posed in the movie), and the developers took some creative licenses to include a lot more action than was actually evident in the movie. That's not something we have a problem with, nor do we have a problem with the way this game plays out. In other words, the foundation is well-constructed and the concept is well-designed, so no problems there. However, we do have a problem with the game's execution.
Our first issue centers on the control, which is a little sluggish and unrefined. You can crouch, roll, zoom in, take cover, take hostages, and even issue commands to police when holding a hostage. So you do have the requisite options for a third-person shooter, but pulling them off feels clunky and forced, oftentimes resulting in a delayed action. There also seems to be an issue concerning damage dealt with your weapons; why we needed to unload a full clip at a rent-a-cop to take him down confused us, and that door swung both ways. When getting hit, the health bar could drop a teensy bit or literally drop 75%, and it almost didn't seem to matter if it were a pistol or shotgun bullet.
Now, if we were to examine this idiosyncrasy in a positive light, we could say this erratic damage model was actually quite realistic, but on the other hand, it could also be nothing more than shoddy development. However, the game is designed so the "smart criminal" wouldn't have to fire a single shot, and this is where things get entirely unrealistic, thus derailing the previous theory regarding the damage. As we mentioned before, you can take a hostage during gameplay, but you can also cause entire police forces and SWAT teams to lay down their arms simply because you have one hostage. Snipers must not exist in the world of Reservoir Dogs.
And what's worse, we find we can order cops around with that hostage, and even cause the entire room to surrender if we beat on the hostage a bit. How this factors into reality, we fail to understand. It's great that you do have the option of being smart or "psychotic," but if you go the "smart" route, everything just ceases to be entertaining, due entirely to the mediocre control and slow speed of the game. You go from room to room or alley to alley, encountering sets of resistance that is either easily dispatched with some gun play or hostage-taking. Your other option is driving like a maniac from one location to another, hoping you get there before the vehicle sustains enough damage to explode.
This process is repeated over and over throughout the game, and if you don't take the opportunity to go all bullet-crazy, you'll get intensely bored with the "smart" route before the first few chapters are over. Oh, and we honestly wish someone could explain the Adrenaline feature to us: apparently, when that meter is full, you can slow down time and go on a killing spree. Great idea in concept, but is there any particular reason we can barely move during this phase? You can't go more than a few feet because you're slowed to an interminable crawl, and the same goes for your aiming sight, so that's just another confusing aspect of the game. See, it should be uber-effective, but it's just plain useless.
There are a few good things, though. The freedom to choose, even though it's not much fun one way, is a definite plus, and the atmosphere of the film is captured nicely in the game. Fans will enjoy being able to see what happened to each character during the heist, and fill in the gaps the movie left behind. Being able to use cover, lock on, and switch weapons with downed foes adds a great deal to the combat (sluggish as it may be), and those high-quality voiceovers makes us almost believe we're listening to the real actors. And although the game is repetitive, at least the player experiences more than gun combat. The driving mechanic is just too loose, though.
We'd like to be able to at least recommend this game to ardent fans of the film, but there may be too many glaring problems. Scarface: The World Is Yours, while not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, is still something that most any fan of the movie would enjoy. Reservoir Dogs has more major flaws regarding the core gameplay, and because it takes a more direct and linear approach, can't cover up the minor problems with open-ended adventure. This title has its moments, but unfortunately, they're usually highlighted by the fairly well-conceived cut-scenes, and in the end, the game is barely better than average.
1/10/2007 Ben Dutka