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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Incognito Studios
GENRE: Fighting
PLAYERS:   1-2
January 15, 2003
 Written by Alex Fitzgerald  on March 05, 2003

Full Review: Wow, big monsters beating the crap out of each other. This is some inventive s*** right here.

There are some movies that pride themselves on being stupid, like kung fu movies, spoofs, and slasher flicks, but no genre is quite as stupid as the 50's monster movie genre. Anyone whose ever watched the original King Kong or an old-school Godzilla show knows what I'm talking about here, as the combination of guys running around in rubber suits, burning cardboard boxes, and special effects that would make a six-year-old laugh just make many and all old-school monster movies seem more stupid than a fifth Rocky movie. Wait a minute...

Fortunately for us though, the gigantic-monsters-fighting-each-other idea does translate well into a video game. This was proven a long time ago when games like King of the Monsters, Primal Rage, and Rampage: World Tour entered the fighting game scene. Now, developer Incognito has attempted to convert the big monsters game idea into a complex strategic fighting game known as War of the Monsters for the PS2. Though Incognito got many things right with WOTM, a few key flaws keep the game from being a true monster of a title.

The game's storyline is pretty simplistic, as the game's brief intro basically tells you in so few words "there are monsters on Earth, and they feel like beating the s*** out of each other." Using this concept, WOTM then throws you into several super-interactive levels to duke it out with other gigantic monsters.

The game's fighting engine is very precise in it's design, but at the same time it's very simplistic. When you fight close-up, you can use one of two simple hitting attacks, or you can throw your enemies. This works well most of the time, although it does get annoying that once an enemy starts a flurry of punches, its hard to stop him until his flurry of punches is done.

The long-range fighting isn't very complex either. Each monster has an attack that will allow you to throw some randomly generated thing at your opponent. Unfortunately, these attacks don't do much damage or stun your enemy, so if you were planning on stunning your foe and running up to battle him then forget it.

One of the biggest elements to WOTM fighting engine, and also the game's biggest draw, is how pretty much everything in the levels can be destroyed and used as a weapon. The interactivity with the levels though doesn't go as far as Incognito led us to believe prior to the game's release. True, you can pick up stuff and throw it, use at as a club, or a spear, but that's about where the interactivity ends. Plus, a lot of the stuff that is possible to do within the game you probably wouldn't want to do anyway (what's the point of grabbing a helicopter out of the air when it's so hard?). This is a serious letdown for WOTM, as it seems like Incognito could have done a lot more.

Special attacks within the game are useful in the midst of a fight, but they aren't that many of them (one short-range special attack and one long-range). That, and there isn't much variety in between each monster's attacks. For example, almost every monster's short-range attack is some variation of the "crowd control" attack (a force-field like thing emits from the monster, pushing all the other opponents away).

In between the special attacks and normal attacks, there are the game's advanced attacks, including Dashs, Stun Hits, Uppercuts, Shovers, Juggles, Dive Attacks, Air recoveries, and Counters. The advanced attacks do well in making the fights more interesting, and through continued gameplay players will find good and bad times to activate certain moves, adding depth to the game.

All of these fighting game elements don't mesh together as good as you would hope for unfortunately. The rather simplistic design of many of the moves and such really rob WOTM of some of its strategy. Also the fighting sometimes feels a little clunky, as if things don't flow right like they would in a good fighting game.

The fighting game is also very complex, which is good for gamers who are in for a real deep experience, but the lack of a proper tutorial coupled with the game's viciously steep learning curve is sure to piss off a good deal of people to the point that they'll give up on the game before they get to some of the better parts of the game. Part of the reason the game is so hard on you lies in how tough the AI is on you. Come at a computer opponent with one attack, they'll come back at you with three. Chuck a spear through your enemies chest, he'll pull it out and return the favor. Get their health down to next to nothing, they sprint off and collect enough health to get them back in safe zone. The AI is infuriating, and is definitely not of the game's stronger points.

The other part of the game's steep learning curve has to deal with the controls. Once you've played the game for a long time the controls will become second nature, but you travel down a long and rough road before you get to that point. The game doesn't give you a tutorial, so you have to look in the instruction book constantly to find proper commands, and even then it's hard to remember them.

The controls are a bit clunky too. Because there are so many niche attacks in WOTM (that need to be mastered in order to beat the game) activating them usually requires pressing multiple buttons. Not only are these attacks hard to remember, but they also are very hard to activate at times, which really stinks when you're facing an enemy so hard that you have to activate every advanced attack you can in order to win.

The really stinker in the controls though is the lock on system. Requiring you to tap both the L1 and R1 buttons at once to activate, the lock on system is crucial if you to winning in WOTM. How crucial the lock-on is only makes it worse that it's so mistake-happy. This is especially evident when you're fighting multiple enemies, as the lock-on will constantly lock on to a distant foe as opposed to one that's, say, bashing you over the head with a radio tower.

The game's arsenal of game modes isn't anything amazing either, as nothing is really offered that hasn't been offered before. First, you have your traditional Adventure mode, complete with trite cinemas before every fight (never been a strong point in fighting games though, so WOTM really shouldn't be graded down for it). There's also your standard elimination mode and exhibition mode, both single-player and multiplayer. There are also three mini-games you can earn through playing the adventure mode that are fun, but nothing spectacular.

All these modes and pretty much everything else in the game have been given a thick layer of 50's movie style in order to pepper things up. This is one of the finer points of the game's graphics, as everything from the drive-in theater starting screen to the old-school movie posters you see before every fight do their job in making you feel like your stuck in a sci-fi channel movie marathon.

Luckily, WOTM doesn't have so much style to make up for a lack of graphical substance. There's no other way to say it, WOTM graphics are nothing short of fabulous. When Incognito told us that everything in the levels would be destructible, they weren't joking. Watching the cities waste to nothing before your very eyes is quite possibly one of the coolest looking graphical displays ever seen on the PS2. Buildings will crumble, cars will crash, and just about a million other things will take place while you're fighting that are sure to put you in a state of awe. There are about a thousand other small effects and details that are cool looking as well. For example, as you're fighting crowds of pedestrians will flock away from you in hopes of staying alive.

The game's eight or so monsters also feature very wonderful character models that are as detailed as they are varied. Also, purists of monster movies will be pleased with Incognito's character designs that perfectly replicate several monster movie stars including King Kong (called Congar here), Godzilla (Togera), and a monster that looks very similar to many robot monsters seen in cheap Japanese movies (Ultra V?ooh, technical). All of these monster replicas look fantastic while moving thanks to some stellar character animation. Courtesy of Incognito's fine development teams, all of the monster's movements look realistic, fluent, and very appropriate for the character they are trying to depict (i.e. big monsters will look more sluggish than smaller more agile ones).

The game also does a good job with the in-game camera work. While you're playing, the game will flawlessly shift between behind-the-character views (for when you're just running around), more diagonal angles (for when you're fighting), and very broad outlooks (for when your foe throws your big monster ass across the virtual city). The game also features a very unique camera angle used when you play multiplayer that will shift between a whole screen view when you and your buddy are getting in each others faces, and a split screen that comes into play when you and your cohort are a ways off from each other. The idea works thankfully, and does a good job at amplifying the fun factor in the multiplayer modes.

Like the inventive camera technique described above, the game's music is also very appropriate for the game. Featuring very dramatic orchestra scores, WOTM's music sounds very fitting for the general theme portrayed in the game. The music also does its job in adding a layer of intensity to the game, which is good, since that's the main reason we have music in video games to begin with.

In addition to excellent music, WOTM also contains some very well recorded sound effects. Given the broad scale of the game, its quite amazing to hear realistic and convincing samples that sound exactly like a building falling down, a monster falling down, a helicopter flying, crowds screaming, etc.

Bottom Line
If I had to sum up War of the Monsters in one word it would probably have to be - disappointing. Though the game features drool-worthy graphics, the steep learning curve and somewhat clunky gameplay are just enough to bring the game down from the greatness it could of achieved. Rent before you buy, so you can see if this game deserves a spot on your shelf.

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