Not the worst car-wreck I've been in
My favorite thing about Whiplash (by Eidos for the Xbox and PS2) is the fact that you're fighting against cruelty to animals by smashing the offices of a bio-tech corporation with a rabbit attached to a chain. Indeed, to progress, (to save lives!) Richmond the immortal rabbit must be inserted into awful, grinding gears, super-saturated with chemicals, inflated with helium and just generally thrashed about to great but quickly diminishing comic effect. Did I mention Richmond was just a little sarcastic?
Richmond's partner in liberation, as well as his incessant tormentor, is a demented weasel named Sparx. Unlike Richmond, Sparks is mortal and crRrazy. Unfortunately, his insanity is never quite taken to the levels it should have been. For example, Sparx and Richmond take orders from Genron's rogue, autonomous computer system which communicates with them through the circuitry implanted in Sparx's brain. As I played, I was hopeful that perhaps there might not be any computer after all, and that Sparx was just nuts. I also hoped that Richmond might catch on to this which I hoped would lead to an interesting conflict: Is Richmond bearing all this pain for freedom, or for the insane delusions of the weasel he's chained to?
Unfortunately, I'm not sure Whiplash's developers were aware of the ironic gold they had on their hands. Or maybe they did, and just didn't have time to refine Whiplash's inherent comedic ore. Now that I think about it, I think the second possibility must be closer to the truth, as after the first hour or two Whiplash loses all momentum, gravity and direction: a common symptom of developers lacking time and funds.
The first hour or so is extremely refreshing and is also the best hour of the entire game. You're introduced to Sparx and Richmond; test-animals who fell off a conveyor belt right before it was going to deliver them into a genetic recombinator. As Richmond and Sparx, you'll wander the halls of Gen-ron destroying everything you come across. Glass, displays, computers, all are vulnerable to the duo's fury. Now, one might think that it would only take one large computer before Sparx had nothing on the end of his chain but some gnarled rabbit-burger. However, thanks to numerous strange experiments Richmond has become invulnerable, and hard as a little rock! Unfortunately for Richmond, who can never die, life is agony.
Even though Whiplash is mission based and eventually involves goals such as freedom and liberation, the game begins to suck long before such notions of an end-game enter the picture. Whiplash should, like several other novelty platformers, be reviewed in two parts: the first hour and the rest.
The first hour is great. The action is simple, violent and fun (you bash stuff), the zany antics of Gen-ron are at their most amusing (chimps are given afros, hamsters are launched out of cannons into brick walls while an impassive group of scientists look on), Richmond's cracks are fresh: everything is cool. However, you needn't travel far before you get your first taste of how empty Whiplash becomes.
Even though Richmond and Sparx can level up (Richmond hits harder and Sparx gains HP), and even though Sparx discovers new, exotic, beneficial applications for his friend and victim Richmond, and even though the whacking gets a smidgen more complex, the inspiration hits a brick wall about an hour in, like a 50 caliber hamster. For a game to try and survive on toilet humor and visual gags while suffering from a weird save scheme, repetitive platforming elements, and a generally bad layout, is like trying to survive on a pack of Skittles in the middle of the arctic tundra. This game just dies.
Whiplash's conundrum is tripartite [ I see Joe's been using that Thesaurus we bought him. ~Ed]. Mission Objectives, as relayed by the sinister computer, can be sketchy: it's easy to not quite know what you're supposed to do. This leads to lots of roaming around and trying to figure out what to do (which has sucked since the dawn of digital time). Finally, Whiplash isn't roam-friendly. The levels could stand to be a lot more circular and inter-connected in layout so that one could more easily transverse zones already explored. As the game stands, only the most desperate gamers will have the patience to actually finish Whiplash's insipid middle.
Whiplash looks decent on the Xbox in the beginning of the game, and sorta crummy throughout on the PS2. There are cool, glowing, laboratory lights. Sparx the weasel is well-animated and looks insane, and of course the manic visual violence that accompanies one of Richmond's destructive episodes (if he whacks enough stuff he goes nuts, leading one to wonder just how much Sparx is swinging the chain, and how much Richmond is ramming himself into things… victim or sado-masochist?) is entertaining. Unfortunately, the levels themselves all take place within the static Gen-ron facility. You'll never stop at any point in the game just to look at the scenery.
Aurally, Whiplash moves from quaint and cartoonish to repetitive and insipid. The bouncy pace of the goofy music creates an air of optimism at the beginning of the game when things are still fresh. However, when all cause for optimism has run dry and the game's music is still pluggin along one comes to feel more oppressed than hopeful.
Whiplash makes a decent rental and a horrible purchase for both systems. Renters will enjoy the first hour and then quickly become glad they weren't one of the poor fools who bought Whiplash. Then again, most places don't rent by the hour. As good funny and entertaining as Whiplash is off the bat, I don't feel I grew as a result of having played it, and might have even shrunk a little four hours in. Parents with small mammalian pets also might want to avoid purchasing Whiplash for their children, as even I, a respected member of the gaming-press, am barely resisting (this very instant!) the urge to wreak havoc with a rabbit wrecking-ball, or possibly my neighbor's little poodle.