God of boring.
Traditions are a wonderful thing. Whether it’s gathering the family to decorate the Christmas tree or serving the Thanksgiving turkey, the predictability of traditions brings order and comfort to the frazzled chaos of today’s crazy times. The world of video games is no exception, and has its fair share of traditions, as well. Lowly zeroes will rise to become heroes every time. The most challenging bosses will always have a weakness you can exploit. The guy will always get the girl.
And movie tie-in games will always suck.
By now, everyone has heard of 300
, the year’s first gigantic blockbuster action movie featuring more battle scenes than you can shake a spear at, more blood than a Quentin Tarantino outtakes reel, and the most leather loincloths in one place since they stopped making Conan the Barbarian
movies. Now, through the magic of movie merchandising, you can bring the action-packed goodness of this big-screen hit home with you to the small screen of your PSP.
In 300: March to Glory, you play as Leonidas, the constantly shouting leader of the ancient world’s toughest bunch of bad-asses – the Spartans. As the massive Persian army threatens tiny Sparta and demands its submission to the empire, the proud (and quite possibly dim-witted) Leonidas refuses, instead choosing to fight the united military of the entire known world with his personal band of three hundred guard. It’s a great story, and it would make a great video game. Sadly, 300: March to Glory is not that game.
Well, let me be fair. 300 is a straightforward action adventure, with plenty of enemy throats to slash and intricate button combinations to master. The basic gameplay is standard for the genre, and works just fine: there are enough cool-looking combos to learn to keep it interesting, yet not so many that you get totally overwhelmed. But while the basics are all there, the execution is sloppy, as if it was finished in a hurry. It’s almost like it was rushed to completion to coincide with the movie’s release. Hmmmm.
For instance, you purchase complex moves with the “kleos” points you earn defeating enemies, and you can refer back to the purchase menu at any time to remind yourself of these complex button combinations. Irritatingly, though, the menu doesn’t list any of the more basic moves. So if you come back to the game after lunch, say, and can’t remember which command will shield you from the rain of Persian arrows blotting out the sun, you’ll quickly find yourself holier than a mesh leather tunic as you frantically search for the right combo. Fun! Or, here’s another one: You can switch quickly and fluidly between your two basic weapons, the sword and the spear. The spear can be used to throw at approaching enemies or to punch through shields, while the sword…can’t. There’s literally nothing the sword can do that the spear can’t, which makes using it purely a stylistic choice. It’s just sloppy game design.
As befits any blockbuster, the visuals in the movie of 300
are stunning. And whether or not you agree with the filmmakers’ artistic interpretation of Frank Miller’s
original graphic novel, it’s hard to deny that it looks pretty darn cool. The game… eh, not so much. While the stylized cut scenes do a decent job of re-imagining the original comic artwork, the in-game graphics are blocky. Worse yet, they’re simply generic, evoking none of the turbo-charged, blood-soaked style of either the comic or the movie.
Tweak a few details, and 300 could be set in 19th Century Japan, West Texas, Darkest Peru, or the Planet Zog. Even the weapons are plain and boring. Half of the excitement of upgrading your sword is seeing it transform from a glorified letter opener to a glowing harbinger of death. In 300, your sword transforms from a gray stick to a slightly less gray stick. Whoopee.
The music and sound are just about the only aspect of the game that live up to the adrenaline-filled soundtrack of the movie. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing. When you’re really involved in a game, fever-pitched battle music and heightened dialogue can really add to your immersion in the game world. When you’re not that into it, though, it’s pathetic. Heart-thumping battle drums just sound ridiculous when all you’re doing is hitting the X button 9,234 times in a row, and weird voiced lines like, “What are you, Athenians?!” sound laughable instead of inspiring.
With a few more months (or years) in development, 300: March to Glory could have been a good game. Unfortunately for us, while Leonidas’ handful of warriors can fight off wave after endless wave of Persian mercenaries, they’re clearly no match for the impossible deadlines of movie merchandising. Sadly, 300 is destined to forever gather dust in bargain bins around the world.