We’re gonna need a better game…
Bears might prefer bipolars and tigers may have a taste for magicians, but Great White sharks will pretty much eat anything. Though there has been plenty of research indicating that the mammoth predators don’t attack indiscriminately, such science isn’t taking into account the fact that science is meaningless when faced with a 20 foot-long eating machine. And I don’t mean this.
But while Great Whites dominate our collective fears more thoroughly than just about any other creature in the world, Jaws: Unleashed marks the first time in recent memory that a video game has actually let you play as one. Couple that with the fact that it was developed by Appaloosa, the folks behind the groovy (if maddeningly hard) Ecco the Dolphin games, and you have the makings of a surefire hit.
[image1]Except like the film on which the game is loosely based, the damn fish just doesn’t work. Crummy design, a terrible engine and A.I. routines that make your dead goldfish look like Garry Kasparov doom this money-eater to the bottom of the sea.
It’s commonly accepted that the only great Jaws film is the first one, so it’s fitting that the game would take you back to the bloody shores of Amity Island. It’s also fitting that it would try to clone the premise of the Oscar winner by continuing the saga of the shortsighted mayor, the frustrated member of the Brody clan and, of course, the big ass predator lurking about in the water. But instead of shooting, electrocuting, grenading or spearing the beast, you finally get to swim in its fins.
This retarded, redundant tale of shark versus man versus dumber man versus town (really, it’s impossible to follow) is told in the game’s one mode, an open-ended sort of affair set in the sea surrounding Amity. You roam about as Jaws, either triggering missions or, more likely, wreaking havoc on anything near your giant mouth. There are a few moves to learn, but they’re pretty much useless compared to just biting, shredding, and eating things.
Which, incidentally, is where the game works best. You literally tear things to pieces, ferociously ripping person and porpoise alike limb from limb. As the seas roil with blood, you can grab a body part and hurl yourself out of the water like a giant white devil. Suffice to say, you kill lots of stuff in this game, and for about twenty minutes it’s pretty damn fun.
By that time, you’ll also want to kill the awkward camera. Jaws moves fluidly enough, but the camera lolls about while you try to turn the big fish around. It’s also hard to control exactly where you bite; you’ll frequently get a mouth full of water as you fruitlessly chomp away at a school of angelfish. A lock-on tries to fix this, but it’s not very effective.
[image2]Jaws starts to lose his teeth pretty quickly. Though you can freely roam about the sea biting into everything, none of it puts up a fight. You’ll sink more boats than the Bermuda Triangle by simply swimming next to them while hammering on the bite button, and aside from the occasional Quint wannabe trying to shoot you with a pop gun, you’ll rarely suffer a scratch. The ocean is filled with various kinds of sea life, but be it tuna fish or Tiger shark, you’ll chew it up without batting a dead, lifeless eye. This makes managing your health and hunger meters a joke. GTA solved this sandbox dilemma with its Wanted meter and scores of angry cops, but here, no one seems to mind that you’re single-handedly obliterating the ecosystem, one defenseless otter at a time.
That’s because the A.I. is vacationing in the Bahamas. Bump into a boat from below and the fisherman sitting in it won’t budge. Slam into it like a train and he’ll continue squatting, seemingly convinced it was just a giant, shark-shaped wave. The only semblance of intellect exhibited by anything in the game occurs when you Marco Polo your fat ass out of the water and onto a beach, prompting the sunbathers to scatter and roll out of harms way even if they’re hundreds of yards from the shore. I tried everything I could to terrify people in the water, but the poor saps weren’t blessed with any programming. No really, I tried everything.
In an attempt to add some meaning to the mindless slaughter, the game includes about 30 side missions, ranging from the redundant (“kill 5 swimmers before they reach the shore!”) to the ridiculous (“pull the fishing boat to the buoy in 30 seconds!”) to the downright retarded (“hurl barrels at houses, then kill the people running along the beach!”) These don’t take place in the natural flow of the game, either, instead sort of warping you to safe, instanced zones.
Since you won’t want to do that, the only recourse is to push the incomprehensible narrative along by engaging the story missions. Unsurprisingly, these follow the same pattern as the side-missions by making nary a lick of sense. Often you’ll have no idea what to do, and when you finally figure it out, it’s obtuse and stupid. Take, for example, the part where you have to blow up an oil refinery by throwing barrels of oil at it. WITH YOUR MOUTH. Don’t remember that part from the movies? Or the Discovery Channel? Who cares! You’re a giant shark! Isn’t that enough?
[image3]No, voice inside my head, that’s not enough. Apparently the developers didn’t learn anything from the overwhelming failure of Jaws: The Revenge, allowing the shark to do all kinds of things sharks can’t actually do. Most prominent among these is Jaws’ uncanny ability to shoot more crap out his mouth than a drunk John Rocker, but that’s just the tip of this bloody iceberg. Behold Jaws, the Great White dolphin! You can also upgrade a few of his abilities, though I don’t think that includes laser beams attached to his head. Because that would be silly.
Biting this rotten fish in half is its lousy graphics engine. Though Jaws himself looks and moves fine (when he isn’t acting like Flipper) and it all gets pleasantly gory, the environments are ugly, lifeless and bland. The humans look like they were built out of ten polygons in 1997. The same bizarre physics that let a shark fire things out of its mouth mar the rest of the world with all sorts of broken bits. Even if you love Great Whites, you will immediately dislike this one.
With a mere two notes, John Williams created of the most lasting, potent scores in the history of cinema. That’s sort of crammed in here, but only at the initial menu screen. Otherwise, the audio is filled with plenty of over-the-top horror movie garbage and a repetitive loop of scared human sound bites. Oh, and the shark sometimes roars. *sigh* That settles it, the developers definitely missed Jaws: The Revenge.
And even though that film might be the worst underwater wreck since the Titanic, Jaws: Unleashed swims right beside it. It provides roughly fifteen minutes of absolutely gruesome, chaotic pleasure, then promptly nosedives into the Mariana Trench of bad design, bad graphics and bad control. Show me the way to go home.