Traditionally, video games based on movies are mediocre or even downright awful. But over the past year or so, we’ve watched as designers have put more effort into such productions, and as a direct result, titles like Kung-Fu Panda, The Bourne Conspiracy and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs have been well worth playing for fans. Strangely enough, these minor successes have altered our way of thinking and what we’ve come to expect from games based on films, so we went into our review of G-Force with relatively high hopes. Thankfully, we got what we were looking for, despite a definite camera issue and a few combat drawbacks that often hindered our progress. In the end, this is a game that does what it’s supposed to do: cater to those who enjoyed the movie, and who wish to virtually interact with Darwin, Mooch, Blaster, Juarez and the rest of the gang. The hang-ups are mostly obvious and you’ll notice them right from the start, but the production is both accessible and entertaining.
The graphics are mostly clean and they really shine when it comes to the “G-Force” team. Darwin and other technologically sophisticated members of this miniature-sized IMF group (Bond reference, baby) look nice, as the detail and polish is more than acceptable. Unfortunately, the backdrops, environments, and design for other characters – like humans – are lacking; they’re definitely lacking in the detail department and everything just appears a little bland. The cut-scenes are nicely choreographed, though, and the special effects are better than average, so at least we have a few highlights. And remember, considering the game’s target audience, we doubt too many youngsters will get all anal about some flat-looking backgrounds. Besides, it really will remind the fans of the movie and when the action kicks up a notch, you won’t have much time to examine the surrounding pixels, anyway. Disney Interactive has been a lot better about producing decent visuals for their games lately, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
The sound gets a boost due to solid voice-acting and effects, but takes a step backward when one realizes that the soundtrack is either generic or even non-existent during the quest. I can’t be sure if all the professional voices from the movie are included, but even if they’re not, the voiceovers are pretty darn good. This really adds to the “film feel” of the adventure and like I just mentioned, the cut-scenes are well done, which also includes top-notch sound. It’s just difficult to understand why they decided to sacrifice the possibility of an engaging and even rousing soundtrack; the music is okay during those non-interactive portions, but where are the appropriate tracks during the gameplay? Tough encounters and particularly tense situations should always be accompanied by fitting music that positively affects our enjoyment of the on-screen action. This just doesn’t happen very often in G-Force but thanks to the great voices and occasionally sparkling effects, the good tends to outweigh the bad. One of these days, we’re going to get the entire sound package for a game like this.
After working your way through a brief tutorial, you’ll embark on the first of many missions with Darwin, the capable and well-equipped guinea pig that can jump, double jump, use his booster pack to hover, boost, and dash forward, and access a variety of nifty weapons and gadgets. Equipping each is as easy as pressing the corresponding face button, and the controls are similar to those of most any third-person action/adventure title you’ve played in the past few years. This means it really is accessible to all ages, even though the player will face a variety of challenges. There’s a melee battle mechanic when Darwin lashes out with his electric whip, a shooting mechanic where you simply aim with the L1 button and fire with the R1 button, and when locked on to an enemy (L2), you can dodge and maneuver while still facing the foe. He can even access infrared vision and his tiny buddy, Mooch, a more-than-common housefly that can zip through tight areas and even slow down time and carry items around.
But the instant I gained control of Darwin, I knew the camera was sitting too close. Then, I realized I couldn’t really drag it away from that position, although I did have control over the camera (it’s not fixed). This isn’t really a problem…until you become engaged in battle against multiple enemies, when the too-close view has a negative impact on your vision and overall performance. Most times, you can’t even see the enemies that are only a few feet away, and while you can deal with this by constantly staying on the move, we shouldn’t have to suffer through a gameplay crutch. Furthermore, because there is no option to block, the player really doesn’t have any choice; he or she will have to stay on the move if they wish to survive the tougher encounters. The good news is that the solidity and responsiveness of the combat system (despite its lack of depth), combined with the good platforming aspects, allowed me to overlook the camera issues. Well, I could almost overlook the flaw.
The gameplay remains appealing because the pace is excellent and there’s plenty of diversity. It only starts getting a little repetitive late in the story; for the first few hours or so, you will always be doing something a little different, from acquiring new weapons and skills to facing down new foes and conquering fresh obstacles and puzzles. Mooch isn’t overused and he proves to be a fun and significant departure from the standard gameplay, and the developers continue to throw new situations in our path as we progress. One of the coolest aspects of the game is the ability to force everyday appliances into coming alive, thereby allowing you to utilize them as you see fit. Of course, you’re basically creating enemies by doing this – your enemies in this game are those appliances that have suddenly sprung to life and gone berserk – but you’ll need their unique help at certain times. For instance, there are ceiling fans that will snag you and mash you if you get to close, but you can use their vortex of air to climb to new heights (just hover out of harm’s way when you’re high enough).
You can also purchase all sorts of upgrades and new equipment from the vending kiosks, and although this is too much of a linear process (each item becomes available one at a time; you can’t just buy whatever you want right off the bat), it’s still a nice addition. Each of the new upgrades and abilities are mostly entertaining and easy to use, and with each newly conquered area comes a satisfactory sense of accomplishment. All in all, G-Force is a game that doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area, but also doesn’t fall drastically short of its goal. Fans of the movie should definitely have some fun (although the gameplay tends to get a little repetitive towards the end) and while the camera and somewhat lacking combat mechanic – we kinda wanted combos of some kind with that whip – are drawbacks, it’s still more than playable. It’s yet another example of the increasing quality of big-screen game adaptations.
9/28/2009 Ben Dutka