If it’s a movie game, chances are its going to suck. Movie tie-ins typically exist just to cash in on co-release marketing, taking tired formulas and reskinning them. But occasionally something amazing comes out of the blue. (Star Wars Pod Racer comes to mind). The thing with Beowulf is however that it’s neither of the above. Beowulf is an entertaining romp that tries to add something a bit different, in some ways pulling it off and in other ways falling short.
Beowulf is a Third person action Hack n Slash, with prerequisite combos, platforming bits and regenerating health. It throws in a few other favourites to spice things up, Rhythm based mini-games, Squad mechanics, ‘Alignment’, mash-a-thons and *sigh* Quick time events. Visually Beowulf, while nothing truly amazing, isn’t bad. For one, it doesn’t look like a PS2 port, the characters are nicely detailed and reasonably animated and the environments feature plenty of lighting effects, bump mapped textures and overall adequate prettiness. The downside is firstly that the level design is still fundamentally linear. While I don’t expect Crackdown, I also don’t appreciate games that take place completely in canyons. Secondly, the age old favourite cookie cutter bad guy syndrome rears its head. In fact on any given level there are typically only two enemies, some form of Monster minion and humans, each only with about three variations. Audio wise, Beowulf is okay, Dramatic music and repetitive squad chatter make up the most of what you’ll be hearing.
One part of Beowulf that is a miss is the gore. Oh there’s oodles of it, bone breaking grab moves and blood everywhere. Sadly, it’s just lame. Gears of War knows gore. Splatter across the camera, detailed evisceration. Beowulf knows blurry red pixels. There’s no suitable context and total lack of realistic animation. I’m not one for gore in games in the first place, I find it just a cheap trick to make bad games appeal to a juvenile crowd, but if you’re going to do it, put some effort into it.
The combat in Beowulf is pretty bog standard stuff, weak attack, strong attack, grabs, dodges and combos. It’s quite serviceable, but like many hack and slash games, this is where Beowulf starts to wobble. Firstly the weapons are slow, this ties in with a predetermined animation system that just leads to frustration. By the time Beowulf has completed the combo you accidentally came up with while furiously mashing buttons, the enemies have dodged your attack, stuck you in the back, had a cup of tea and read a few pages of Harry Potter. Another minor annoyance playing on a CRT is that the game has obviously been tuned for LCD’s. The text is fine, but it’s evident in the latency in the Rhythm mini-game. But once you adapt (AND DON’T MASH), a good fight can be quite enjoyable.
The games squad mechanics see Beowulf escorted by a number of “Thanes”, basically your mobile meat shield. They’re quite handy in a fight, not really for fighting, but at least for holding enemies in check so you can have a good go. Unfortunately there isn’t much squad work for your Thanes to do, and for the kingdoms finest warriors they’re as dumb as doorstops. There are only 2 commands available to you. First there’s “move thing” which sees a number of Thanes try to perform item specific actions like open doors or roll boulders and is accompanied by the aforementioned moral boosting rhythm mini-game that accelerates their progress. Secondly there’s “guard me”. Yes well, how’s about getting those ears checked? Apparently in ancient Norse “Guard my back Thanes” translates to “Find bad guys and die.” Those plucky Danes, what a sense of humour. I’d be happy to leave them all to their miserable fate, but unfortunately that’s bad Karma and can cost you the game, which brings us to probably the most interesting part of the game the Carnal versus Heroic Alignment system.
Beowulf is a man torn. Brutal Monster Slayer or Heroic King? This is core to the game play and unlike abstract dialogue driven alignment found in most RPG’s either behaviour is integrated into the gameplay. Prance around pussyfoot sidestepping and wooing your men and slaughtering enemies and you build up your heroic meter, which is also your health meter. This has a knock on effect of boosting the men around you and enabling Heroic Storm which is a temporary super buff to you and your men. But that’s not enough, you’re Beowulf, Slayer of Monsters, and Trolls and bosses give rocks for your leadership. Enter your “carnal Rage” When you take damage, or generally just take the time to have a hissy fit, Beowulf goes into gorefest overdrive tearing any and everything apart – including his own men if you’re not careful. The game’s story is driven by this in turmoil and affects the outcome of the game. It’s also not as easy as choosing one and playing through the game as such. If you tend towards your carnal nature too much, you end up slaughtering your own men, and demotivating them and the whole kingdom. If you choose to play heroically you struggle a lot in boss and monster fights. Each path has its benefits but the impacts are further than just the immediate fight which was a nice dynamic.
My major frustration with the game is the save system. While the game checkpoints after every set piece, it only saves the game at the beginning of each chapter. Considering these are typically 40 minutes to an hour long, quitting the game means losing all that progress, which can be annoying if you’re stuck on a boss fight and need to redo the whole level each time you exit the game. The other frustration with the save system is that there is only one save. Once you complete the game, you can’t drop back in and try finish off the achievements, you have to start again.
So what to make of Beowulf? Well it’s not a bad game; it’s not a great game. It is a short game. Even with my rather sad hack and slash skills I took 8 game hours to finish it, there’s no multiplayer. Don’t pay R500+ for it, that’s for sure. It makes for a good rainy day rental. If you have a Hack and Slash itch to scratch and can get it for R250-R300, then it’s probably worth it.
GSW Footnote: It’s no Avatar, but if you keep an eye on the achievement targets you can probably do an easy 600 points on the first play through.
Last Updated: March 10, 2008