War of the rodents.
When Conker's Bad Fur Day was announced for the Nintendo 64 years ago, we couldn't believe our ears. The thought of a raunchy adventure starring a surly squirrel on Nintendo's typically sanitary system was almost impossible to wrap our heads around.
But such absurd irony almost seems coldly rational when compared to the weird beast that is Conker: Live and Reloaded for the Xbox. Half port, half something completely new, Live and Reloaded is at once a letdown for Conker fans anticipating an all-new single-player adventure and a pleasant surprise for those unsuspecting of its deep multiplayer fun.
Live and Reloaded's single-player content is unusual (to say the least), varied (to say a bit more), and really confusing (to say it all). What you get is an updated port of Conker's Bad Fur Day, a four year-old game. If you've never played it, you'll find a good, solid adventure here with a delightfully disgusting sense of humor and a great sense of fun. You can read our Bad Fur Day review for a more in-depth look at this aspect of Live and Reloaded, because the content is almost identical.
But if you're fine with the abridged version, stay right here. Bad Fur Day lets you play a day in the life of a squirrel named Conker. After a night of heavy drinking, Conker wakes up with a terrible hangover and somehow gets tangled in a plot involving psychotic weasels, a capricious panther king, and a giant, talking poop. The first two-thirds are a platforming, puzzle-solving adventure in which you meet interesting characters, get in some really ugly fights, and generally enjoy the debauched world and its off-color inhabitants. The last third of the game changes the tempo completely by ditching the adventure routine and picking up a machine-gun for some action-packed, third-person mayhem.
Four years ago, we enjoyed Bad Fur Day. Its sense of humor and overall gameplay made it an N64 hit, although it still suffered from some pacing and combat issues. Now it has a couple others, the most obvious of which is the fact that it's, well, old. Though the folks at Rare threw in some new gags for Bad Fur Day veterans and gussied up the graphics, this is still little more than a direct port of a game you might have already played. If you did, it isn't worth much more than nostalgia value.
Your other offline option is the ability to play bot matches that take place in the game's multiplayer universe. I make the distinction because the apparent plot of the multiplayer game has nothing to do with Bad Fur Day. The Squirrel High Command, a militant group of squirrels, and the Tediz, a band of teddy bears, are at war. Before and after each match begins, cut-scenes explain the stakes and point of each battle.
Multiplayer matches in Live and Reloaded, whether played online or against bots, feature objective-oriented battles between the Tediz and the SHC. Some maps require one side to defend an objective, others require each side to vie for victory points, and a few offer variations on Capture The Flag. Any given map can also be played Team Deathmatch style.
Live and Reloaded lets you play as one of six classes: Grunt (machine-gunner), Demolisher (rocket-launcher), Sneeker (ninja), Long Ranger (sniper), Thermophile (flame-thrower), and Sky Jockey (pilot). Each class gets one signature weapon, a couple grenades, and one or two special abilities. Upgrade icons found in the field add extra abilities as well.
The Sneeker, for example, gets a sword, grenades, and abilities like invisibility and feigning death. While this may sound a little shallow, every weapon has at least one alternate function, so the Sneeker can either run around and lop off heads or assume a defensive stance and become immune to standard weapons fire as well as gain a lethal charge-attack. If the Sneeker manages to snag an Upgrade icon, he'll gain a new weapon and the ability to assume the guise of the enemy.
Even more weapons and items can be accessed at Special Ordnance stations, such as land mines, sentry drones that can be placed anywhere in a level, hacking devices and tools to repair vehicles or heal troops. Mobile Unit stations supply class-specific vehicles, from the Sneeker's jeep to the Demolisher's tank. Pilots are the only class that can fly the game's two planes, giving them a special sense of purpose.
So the multiplayer element of Live and Reloaded seems fairly deep, but most of the depth is not visible from the surface – that is, the extent of your abilities is not obvious or intuitive.
This is why the bot matches are so handy. You can run around and try new things without anyone laughing or making fun of your sexuality when you crash a plane into your own base. For any given map, you can set the number of bots, their basic AI difficulty and which classes spawn on each side. It would have been nice if you could set the toughness for each individual bot, but then again, it's pretty nice that there are such decent bot options, period.
Once you get sick of kicking artificially intelligent butt alone, you can either play bot matches co-operatively with a friend or head online to frag other players. The online option features Friends Lists, Messaging, Quick Matches, Opti-Matches and the ability to create your own. You can also check out a running tally of your battle stats in the Battle Career area, as well as online leader boards.
As you play and hopefully rack up kills and capture objectives, you'll accumulate Command Points, which increase your overall rank. This helps keep you in Opti-Matches suitable for your skill level, and keeps people too weak or inexperienced out of games with pros. This is extremely important, because Live and Reloaded's team play runs deep; a squad of noobs will have their asses handed to them by a moderately experienced platoon.
The simple, straightforward class system makes it easy to jump into the game and run around, but Live and Reloaded was a prohibitive game to play the day it came out, and will only become more so. For example, if you don't know about Sky-Guards (automated rocket launchers that can be placed in key locations) and you aren't aware that Demolition units have a lock-on option on their rocket launchers, you may find your entire team paralyzed by one guy in an air vehicle, while the rest of his team captures all the objectives.
Live and Reloaded's cutesy graphics and silly tale of a war between squirrels and bears belies its hardcore center. There is a complex balancing act between classes, vehicles and items; learning to use each class to its fullest takes a lot of time. It doesn't help that most maps are based around the completion of objectives, and the means to completing these is not always obvious. While the bot-matches help, Live and Reloaded's online option could use its own full-blown tutorial.
For all its depth and difficulty, the online game features a surprisingly sparse collection of maps with only eight in all. Some of these are very cool (Fortress is just a great map), but one in particular, known as Beach Dead, is so imbalanced in favor of the Tediz that it's pointless to even try as a squirrel.
Still, Live and Reloaded's online component feels entirely complete, has most of the features you'd want from an Xbox Live game and packs an incredible amount of depth and difficulty within its adorably harsh framework. It's just a fun shooter, plain and simple.
And online or off, the game looks marvelous. Bad Fur Day looks a little dated due to the limited, linear environments, but it has received a very nice Xbox upgrade with sharper textures, a steady framerate and some much better character models. The multiplayer game, however, looks incredible. Realistic flames spew from the barrels of flame-throwers, heat-waves emanate from jet-engines and everything runs absurdly smoothly. It gets quite chaotic and never even hiccups.
It sounds great, too, thanks to excellent voice-acting, jarring sound effects, and a surprisingly moody score. You want raunchy, you got it.
Conker: Live and Reloaded is a schizophrenic game. On one hand, you have a satisfying, complex online shooter, but on the other a port of a four year-old N64 platformer. Why Rare decided to update this port when they should have made a sequel is beyond us, but you can't argue with the breadth of the package. If you lack Xbox Live! and have already played Bad Fur Day for the 64, this might only warrant a rental, otherwise it's a pretty easy purchase. Go nuts.