F4: Rise of the Silver Surfer Review
Oh, look. Another video game based on a movie. Of course, whenever it's a superhero movie, we always hold out hope that the game will actually be playable. With a concept like the Fantastic Four, we had even hoped for something beyond playable; we were looking for something good. After all, we've got four great characters with a myriad of skills and abilities, plus a solid premise to go along with it. But unfortunately, the first Fantastic Four game missed the mark, and The Silver Surfer misses it again...by a large margin. Why can't they ever get this right? Is it really that difficult? Mr. Fantastic, The Human Torch, The Invisible Woman, and The Thing; all loaded with great possibilities, and if the developers had simply adopted a structure similar to X-Men Legends, they would've had a winner. But apparently, that was too much to ask for.
As you'll see, just about every facet of this game is pretty bland and/or boring. That goes double for the visuals, which lack any real detail or vibrancy, and you'll find yourself exploring a bazillion rooms that all look nearly identical. Furthermore, character design, in both the Fantastic Four and the enemies, isn't worth much of anything; even Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman looks a bit understated and silly. Too much of your background environment repeats itself time and time again, and without any real semblance of innovation or originality, the graphics fall well shy of their intended goal. We weren't expecting anything too spectacular, but these visuals just take you right out of the game from the start. The theory behind this production must've been simple- cut this, paste that, make everything appear the same as the area before, and bingo: you've got a game. The graphics are quite clean and mostly clear of any major flaws, but the lack of any added effort is annoying.
The sound isn't much better. Much of the voice acting is okay, but for some reason, it tends to get worse the longer you play. The soundtrack doesn't do much to get us involved in the action on screen, either, as we're greeted with a modest variety of tracks ranging from quiet and suspenseful to aggressive. But while the variety isn't terrible, the implementation isn't up to snuff. Furthermore, the sound effects aren't brought out enough, and this is a critical error, especially considering just how important effects are in a game like this. We should be hearing the crisp crackling of the Human Torch and the bone-crushing crunching of rock when The Thing busts out his hammer fists. But we just don't get that superhero sensation due to the strangely muted effects, and the experience suffers. All in all, the sound is very similar to the graphics. None of it is poorly constructed, but the effort of creation is lacking.
As you might've guessed, F4: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a beat-Ďem-up at its core, with some role-playing elements mixed in. You can switch between any one of your four party members with a simple press of the D-pad, and by holding down the R2 button, you gain access to one of four special abilities, which are unique to each character. You could probably guess what these skills are; a lot of flame for the Torch, a lot of bashing for The Thing, a lot of tricky mind stuff for The Invisible Woman, and a lot of stretching for Mr. Fantastic. Any character you aren't controlling will fight on his or her own, and in this way, you will progress through the game. Collecting certain pick-ups will allow each character to power up, and for the most part, advancement is of your standard, run-of-the-mill variety.
The story kinda follows the plot of the movie, but not too closely. You start off with Mr. Reed (Mr. Fantastic) and Sue (Invisible Woman) all ready to be married, but duty calls and you're forced to go to work. There isn't much in the way of long, drawn-out cut-scenes (which can be good or bad, depending on who you ask), and the storyline isn't terrible. It's a basic foundation for what could've been a highly entertaining game, but the gameplay itself is even more lame and repetitive than the technicals. You might find yourself fighting in some pretty cool locations - like outer space, for example - but the goals and objectives in each level are just plain boring. Okay, hit that switch with Mr. Fantastic, break through this wall with The Thing, etc, etc, etc. There are far too many unfulfilling puzzle-esque parts of the game, and not enough emphasis on the combat. ...but then again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the battle's aren't exactly addictive.
It's up to you whom you wish to use, but you have to remember that controlling the same character and ignoring the others will result in an unbalanced party. At least, that was the point of the game's structure, but due to the inherent lack of balance, this seems almost irrelevant. Both The Thing and The Human Torch are far more effective throughout most areas of the game; it almost seems like Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman are slapped-on gimmicks to get around some random obstacles. They're not bad to fight with, and their skills are fine, but they tend to pale in comparison to the fireballs of the Torch or the ground smash of the The Thing. After experimenting with each character, any player will discover this lack of balance within the first half-hour, which completely defeats the purpose of switching between characters. Why bother powering up party members who simply aren't as useful, except in some non-encounter situations?
But at least there are some nifty moves at your disposal, and while you might not use them all equally, you'll certainly want to see all of them eventually. The Invisible Woman's Telekinesis is sweet, and Mr. Fantastic's stretching abilities can be surprisingly useful against groups of bothersome foes. The Thing may not be able to smash everything, but he can lift up a great many giant objects and heave them at your enemies, while The Human Torch's fire is great for widespread damage. However, due to the aforementioned lack of technical intensity from both the graphics and sound, the player never feels as if he's doing anything all that "fantastic." Just about everything, from front to back, feels so generic, it's painful. The controls aren't too bad, the upgrading system works okay, the story is passable, and the abilities are generally important and productive. But all of those decent pluses just aren't enough.
The camera is another drawback, and one that rears its ugly head at the worst possible times. You can learn to deal with it, but it's just another negative that piles atop the others and tends to distract you from the job at hand. The last point we'd like to make centers on the AI, which isn't very good at all. You'll often find party members half-heartedly slapping at enemies without accessing their special skills, and you're forced to either step in yourself or switch to that character. It's like you're running around kicking ass while everyone else is having one big tickle fight, and while this isn't always the case, it happens enough to be comical. You very rarely see all four characters accessing their super power all at once, and that's very disheartening.
The entire quest won't take you much longer than 5-7 hours, even if you go out of your way to find the extra unlockables (artwork, movie trailers, costumes, hidden tokens, etc.), but that doesn't help matters. The whole thing is just completely unexciting and even laborious at times, so F4: Rise of the Silver Surfer probably won't grab your attention for longer than a few hours. It's another shot at quality that ends up being just another boring, repetitive, uninspired game based on a movie. Yippee.
8/1/2007 Ben Dutka