After years of being the butt of over two thousand documented tasteless jokes, it's finally good to be Polish. For untold reasons, Polanders can now sit back and relax as bad comics, drunk uncles and lonely cab drivers the world over focus their efforts on figuring out how many blonde Iraqi terrorists it takes to screw in a light bulb. (the answer, by the way, is four).
But while those hailing from Krakow have miraculously been let off the hook, those hailing from the sticks of Alabama have suddenly found their sketchy reputations bruised and oddly bolstered by the outpouring of public interest in that sometime friend of modern man, the Redneck. What we all hoped ended with Jeff Foxworthy's one-trick pony of a stand-up routine in the late 90's has blossomed into a fairly popular comic tour, complete with its own show, Blue Collar TV, that celebrates the joy of being an ignorant, backroads dummy.
Maybe that explains the new interest in The Dukes of Hazzard. Satan knows nothing else does.
For the record, I grew up with the show and thought it was plenty of fun as a kid, what with all the goofy accents, tight jean shorts and fast cars, but it doesn't exactly stand the test of time. Hot on the heels of the recently released DVD of the original TV series comes The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee, amazingly the third Dukes game to hit shelves since 2000. And if you like this terribly designed, painfully dull wallet drainer, then you, my friend, might well be a redneck.
The main game is set up like one long episode of the show, which makes sense as it's actually written by folks who wrote for the original series. It seems that once again them pesky Duke boys have managed to get under the skin of Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane who are, astonishingly, engaged in various dubious activities. Over the course of 15 missions, you'll play as the feather haired cousins Bo and Luke, grumpy Uncle Jesse, the impossibly hot Daisy and the horribly named Cooter as they drive cars and thwart the stupid plans of the Boss.
To its credit, Return of the General Lee actually feels and sounds a lot like the TV show. Several actors from the series have taken time out of their busy schedules of waiting for the phone to ring to lend their voices, including John Scheider (Bo), Tom Wopat (Luke), Catherine Bach (Daisy) and James Best (Roscoe). Waylon Jennings supplies that classic theme song and voiceover work, leading to an authentic Dukes experience.
But don't confuse authenticity with fun, because Return of the General Lee is about as exciting as watching a redneck drink a Pabst. The various missions have you driving around Hazzard County in very bland fashion: get to the coal mine in 2 minutes, beat Cooter to the garage, tail Deputy Enos for a while, etc. If you've played any driving game since about 1996, you know the drill.
The missions themselves are gratingly repetitive and mostly boring. Tailing a guy is annoying enough, but in Return of the General Lee, you'll do it three times within the first eight missions or so. There is no meter or anything to know if you're too close or too far, so expect to lose randomly. Timed missions fare no better. They start off too easy but wind up insanely hard. Miss one turn or skid out once and you'll have to start it over, which can be a real nightmare when you're on the third section of a three-pronged mission. Get used to replaying this game, even if you don't want to.
The game claims to allow you to roam freely through Hazzard, which isn't even remotely true. You can meander around aimlessly if you want, but in order to make anything at all happen, you have to follow the linear story. Apparently, Hazzard has a population of about 10, as there are almost no other cars on any of the roads at any time aside from scripted cop cars or the rarely seen tractor. No pedestrians, no traffic, no cows, just nothing. Even rednecks have to go to the store sometimes, right?
Perhaps, but they clearly don't spend much time rotating their tires. You'll drive five different cars over the course of the story, including the General Lee, Jesse's truck and Enos' cop car, but all handle identically, which is to say, bad. Really bad. The horribly sluggish control is like trying to drive a boat on ice. You skid out all the time and fishtail constantly, usually resulting in slamming into guard rails or invisible walls.
Don't worry about that much, though, because there's no damage modeling whatsoever. The physics model is floaty and broken. You can go top speed towards a parked car, but if that car is deemed part of the environment, you'll bounce off it like a rubber ball. Though cars show minor scratches and dings, they never stop running, blow up, or even fall apart. It's cheesy arcade all the way.
You would think, then, that at least you'd be jumping all over the place and terrorizing the county. Nope. Though you'll occasionally find some very obvious jumps, most of the time you're stuck driving across the flatlands of Hazzard County just trying to trigger a new mission or complete the one you're on.
And it's all really hard to follow, too, thanks in no small part to the worst in-game map ever. Pressing Select brings up a transparent map that covers the whole screen, making it impossible to drive and navigate at the same time. Since so many missions are time-based, slowing down to study the map usually results in having to choose 'Retry'.
Unsurprisingly, the graphics for both the PS2 and Xbox versions are weaker than a redneck at a spelling bee. The General Lee, the pride and joy of the series, isn't really the right color orange. Despite no other cars on the road, the load times are heinous and pop-up is common. The framerate is smooth, but with so little going on, it sure as hell should be. The best part is the FMV work, and the only thing even vaguely interesting there is Daisy Duke, provided you're lonely enough to be wowed by digital hotties.
When you beat or grow tired of the linear story, you can try your hand at a few lame multiplayer racing games. Instead, I'd recommend driving your real car over the game CD.
How many rednecks does it take to enjoy The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee? Three! One to play it, one to drink his beer and one to shoot the player when he asks to be put out of his misery. Unless you're a die-hard fan, look elsewhere. This joke is played out.