As we’ve said many times before, the FPS genre is one of the most competitive in the current video game industry, and unless you bring your “A” game, you’re likely to be ignored and cast aside. Sadly, this will be the fate of Legendary, a game that looked good when we first saw it earlier this year, but ends up being a sub-par, frustrating experience that pales in comparison to the shooters that just recently hit store shelves. Most of you out there, even the most die-hard FPS fans, don’t have the money to buy every shooter out there. You’ve got titles like Resistance 2, Call of Duty: World at War, and even more unfortunately for Spark Unlimited and Gamecock, many avid gamers are getting a chance to test out Killzone 2 already. This being the case, you can’t expect a technically deficient game like Legendary to hold its own, and that’s disheartening. The concept is a great one, but the implementation leaves a whole lot to be desired, and ultimately, we were extremely disappointed.
In some ways, the graphics are the highlight of this particular presentation, because it’s clear that Spark Unlimited wanted to create an intense, terrifying atmosphere that would keep the player on the edge of his seat. The particle effects are impressive and although we weren’t big fans of every mythological creature, they’re all designed nicely enough and many are appropriately intimidating. But on the down side, there are more than a few technical glitches, like aliasing and texture tearing, along with hitches in cut-scenes and even full-on freezes for a second or two during gameplay transitions. It also seems painfully obvious that more emphasis was placed on the creatures than on the environment, as you’ll see many of the same cut-and-pasted backdrop objects throughout your adventure. These are often quite bland and devoid of the meticulous detail we’re so used to seeing these days. Without a solid visual foundation, a game like this immediately lags behind the competition, even though we’re not about to say that graphics are of the utmost importance. Still, the lack of refinement and polish in this category overrides the good.
The sound is a little better thanks to a constant barrage of in-your-face combat effects, average voice acting, and a variety of ambient sounds that seek to add to the level of virtual immersion. The weapon effects were nowhere distinct enough, though – far too generic – and it always seemed as if the background effects, loaded with explosions and screams of terror, took top priority. In other words, it’s like our existence out there was more of an afterthought. It’s tough to describe, but let’s just say that nothing you’ll ever do will be as tremendously powerful as the piercing cry of the Griffin or the crushing of buildings and other environmental objects. The soundtrack, which initially started out promising, ended up like the “changing” levels…in other words, neither really changes very much at all. Finally, as we’ve usually found in many games so far this generation, there’s a decided lack of balance between the soundtrack and effects; at times, you have to stop and listen just to remind yourself that the music is actually there. But thanks to the frantic pace and continued resonating effects, the sound is passable.
It’s the only category that can be considered “passable,” though. The first thing we noticed in Legendary was the disappointing graphics, but the very next letdown wasn’t far behind: the gameplay centers on loose and erratic control, and despite your supposed power, you almost always feel outmatched. The movement was actually quite smooth and fluid, but it always felt somewhat inconsistent. Your character could barely get off the ground when jumping, but could long jump a 10-foot gap, and what exactly is the purpose of that tiny upward jump when you can’t even climb over a small pile of rubble? Furthermore, even the long-range weapons failed to hit their mark over moderate distances, and the only reason this wasn’t a disastrous flaw is because there was always plenty of ammunition laying around. Sure, the various creatures, ranging from small fire-breathing lizards to gigantic Golems comprised of city objects (its construction early in the game was one of the lone highlights of our experience) were eye-opening. They gave our adventure a sense of urgency and there were a few “wow” moments.
But first, let’s just get the storyline out of the way: you play as Charles Deckard, who finds Pandora’s Box in the introductory sequence. He’s supposed to be stealing it for a rich client of his, LeFey, but immediately after getting his hand trapped in the box, he knows why LeFey didn’t want to handle the thing himself. Deckard is helped along by LeFey’s assistant, Vivian, who is just as freaked as everyone else when Pandora’s Box unleashes it’s hell-like fury on the world. We’re not talking about pestilence, disease, or plague; we’re talking about many of the mythological creatures in folklore that are no longer “myth.” So when the Griffin and the Werewolf are wreaking havoc in New York and London, it’s your fault, and now it falls to you to clean up the mess you created. Thankfully, you have the benefit of a mysterious power bequeathed to you by the box, which allows you to unleash an invisible force to throw back enemies. Not surprisingly, LeFey wants no part of this, so pretty soon, it’s just you and Vivian versus the creatures that seek to end civilization.
See? It’s not a bad concept at all; in fact, if they had followed through with the actual gameplay, it should’ve worked out extremely well. But after the first hour or so, everything just continues to slide downwards. Nothing feels as if there’s any weight to it; while the movement is indeed smooth, it feels more like you’re moving on a sheet of glass, as if you’re controlling a disembodied hand. Deckard’s abilities, like jump and crouch, aren’t human-like at all, and we weren’t impressed with the weapon design. Granted, there were plenty of them to find, but none of them really seemed to be especially effective, and sometimes, finding the appropriate path could be irritating. You could press R3 to bring up a directional marker but it didn’t really help much, especially in the chaotic, rubble-infested areas. You can absorb what is known as the Animus of defeated creatures, and this acts as your health, but we hated that we could still be attacked when trying to absorb the Animus. If you were in the midst of battle, you couldn’t very well stand there and take the time to absorb health. We lost count how many times we died trying to get health in tricky situations.
The difficulty spikes at strange intervals and everything is tougher when your bullets seem to dissipate into thin air over a certain distance span. Then there’s that force attack you can use by double-tapping the Triangle button, but many of the more challenging creatures just shrug it off, anyway. At no point did it feel as if we were controlling a living, breathing human who has supernatural abilities, and even with the best weapons, we still felt exposed and vulnerable. We understand instituting some of this sensation in a game where a human must attempt to do battle with a slew of horrific creatures, but they went overboard. For the most part, we were frustrated and annoyed, and only occasionally did we feel thoroughly entertained. Even interacting with the environment, which could’ve been fun, was mostly just a hand-holding or common-sense process, like when you have to shoot fire hydrants to dispose of those meddlesome fire-breathers. All in all, this felt more like a last-generation title from front to back, with the possible exception of some of the more accomplished visuals. But they were few and far between and the experience felt flat and forced…in other words, not so much fun.
Legendary is an example of a title that could’ve been both exceptional and memorable, but ends up being neither due to a variety of major flaws in the glaring inconsistencies, unrefined technicals, and overall gameplay. If you’re looking for an example of how to do a next-gen FPS correctly, you’ll want to check out the other one that came out on November 4: Resistance 2. While we were hoping both would be worthwhile, Spark Unlimited’s effort isn’t even worth comparing to Insomniac’s, as the two titles are in completely different universes, quality-wise. Those creatures are cool, the pacing is quite good despite the poorly constructed story, and the vibe and atmosphere won’t let you down. …however, most everything else will. We didn’t mention the online play, but that’s because it’s not worth mentioning. Sorry, but if you were hoping Legendary would live up to its title, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s a no-go, fellow shooter fans.
11/13/2008 Ben Dutka