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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Nintendo Switch
PlayStation 4

Game Profile
Game Boy
BAM! Entertainment
Crawfish Interactive
GENRE: First Person Shooter
PLAYERS:   1-4
November 01, 2001
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on April 11, 2002

Review: Here we have a game inspired by a movie that has yet to come out, and does not suffer for it. How often does that happen?

Ecks vs. Sever (EvS) is an odd little title in many ways as the story behind the game's development is rather a unique one. Franchise Pictures developed a script for a movie, and shopped it around, seeking for a simultaneous release of a video game version of the film. While the status of the film project is unknown, November saw the release a Gameboy Advance Ecks vs. Sever game, the third FPS for the system then (fourth by now). While the media highlighted games like Doom and Dark Arena, UK-based Crawfish continued developing their own FPS handheld game for BAM! Entertainment. The result was the release of an extremely professional shooter experience on the Gameboy Advance, easily outstripping the much-hyped Dark Arena and even the competent (yet stripped down) port of Doom.

As a game that has been based off a movie, you would imagine that the story behind EvS would be satisfactory. Well, we have been given much more. While the layout of the inter-mission story sequences need work you are stil treated to a relevant, entertaining, and even logical story detailing the intrigues and interactions of Ecks and Sever, an FBI agent and rogue NSA assassin. The game features twenty-four single player missions, twelve for each character, with both characters immediately selectable from the beginning. Ecks' missions are probably the easier of the two, at least initially. The story progresses from a post-event perspective. Each organization's pertinent investigative committee is questioning your character of choice concerning the events of four weeks ago, the events chronicled by the game. Since both characters are so obviously intertwined, one character's set of twelve missions is a variation of the other's. If the missions were not so varied and interesting to begin with, this little feature could have come off as a gimmick, but as it stands, playing through a stage once as the hunted, and then later as the sniper, makes for some memorable gameplay. The storyline involves adult themes, such as betrayal, terrorism, and murder, though it progresses somewhat anticlimactically as text based court testimony instead of cinematically.

The missions progress from a clean, steady first person 3D perspective, thanks to the Gameboy Advance's hardware and Crawfish's skill in developing a solid raycasting 3D engine, similar to that pioneered by ID's Doom and Wolfenstein 3D on the PC years ago. The artists did a magnificent job on the weapons and effects graphics, giving the game a very gritty, realistic slant. The weapons especially, look and sound extremely realistic. The character sprites are easily recognizable, even from a distance, though there is an unfortunate (and inevitable) amount of pixilation at close range. The game even features a surprising amount of animation for enemy deaths, even some environmental interaction. The police, bodyguards, agents, and SWAT teams that you'll be forced to take out all slump to the floor with a level of detail and animation rarely seen in this type of FPS, while bottles crash, chairs spin, and fire hydrants explode, when shot. EvS' engine may not be quite as sophisticated as those employed in later GBA FPS games, as it lacks floor and ceiling textures, but this allowed Crawfish to implement higher resolution wall textures, a consistently high framerate, and a large amount of enemies (and bodies) on screen at a pass. Sadly, the music did not fare such professional treatment as there is none in game. You will hear some music playing through the title screen and story sequences, and the successful missions terminate with a triumphant fanfare, but music is entirely missing from the levels themselves. While this does allow you to concentrate on the excellent sound effects and voices, it ultimately detracts from the experience.

As far as level design goes, the developers seem to have taken some cues from Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. Gone are the traditional mazes and endless hordes of generic FPS games. Instead, you will be running and gunning through complex warehouses, exploring multi-storied buildings, and even sprinting from building to building using fire escapes and balconies! There is even a street level hunt that spills into a bar club, not unlike Perfect Dark's famous Chicago stage. The missions themselves are pleasantly varied, and rapidly increase in difficulty. They have you running, crouching, shooting, exploding, and sniping (yes, the sniper rifle is excellent) through a variety of environments, constantly seeking out much-needed weapons, armor, health packs, and ammunition. Like Perfect Dark, weapons you collect are good for that mission only, which allowed the developers to custom tailor the missions and combat around only certain weapons. The first two or three stages adequately introduce you to the game's mechanics and weapons, but the difficulty and enemy A.I. are both lacking at that point. Missions have you chasing your nemesis, trying to beat him/her to a goal, escaping a level within a certain time limit, or otherwise trying to deny them certain opportunities. It all makes sense with the story, but more importantly, it all just comes together for a very fun experience.

The game features a password save, one password for each of the main stages. Since no actual data is transferred from mission to mission, the passwords themselves are easy to remember, especially since each password is a play-on-words of the names of Ecks and Sever. As you progress in the story mode, you are given optional, multiplayer passwords, which can be used to unlock new modes and features in the 2-4-player mode. Unfortunately, these new features can only be accessed if you link up at least 2 GBA systems, each with its own EvS cart. It would have been decent of Crawfish to include a single player mode (with CPU controlled bots) so that those without ready access to EvS-owning friends could experience the new features as well. All in all, the multiplayer mode is among the best you will find on the GBA. It is varied, engaging, and manages to run with only the occasional hitch in the framerate. Additionally, the game controls well enough. Gunning and manipulating objects are mapped to the face buttons, switching weapons to select, and strafing and crouching to the shoulder triggers. The strafing is perhaps too sensitive, but not difficult to get accustomed too. For those that suffer from the GBA's darkness curse, a very handy gamma correction tool is easily accessed from the in-game options. In the end, Ecks vs. Sever is a fun, elegant, and complete package.

Bottom Line
I generally dislike First Person Shooter games. That is, until I purchased the miracle that is Perfect Dark. Perfect Dark dropped the seemingly endless maze crawling and mind-numbing massacres of generic FPS games and elevated the genre into a new and unique level of gameplay. Unlike other GBA FPS games before and since, Ecks vs. Sever manages to emulate that new style of shooter action in a satisfying manner. The game shines in graphics and level design, and that actually translates into a unique and enjoyable experience.

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