Not in the face!
GR reviewers are tasked to come up with some uncommonly clever introductions to our pieces. No doubt, our reviews are the best in the universe because of their intelligent humor, snarky peanut-gallery wit, and glib turns of phrase. More often than not, inventing such prose is as easy to us as it is for most game reviewers to turn on their computers. We begin typing and awesome things happen.
However, something has gone horribly wrong with today's review. I began typing, but all that came out were apologies: apologies for lack of humor, apologies for my appearance (wrinkled and bedraggled), and apologies for having to even comment on the shameful Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance. This Final Fight disaster is not just violent in its content - it flings its violence right off the screen and into your living room. It also deserves to be flung out the window.
Bludgeoning gamers with undeserved pomposity, mind-numbingly dull visuals, screeching, repetitive audio and an incredible lack of gameplay depth or A.I., this is not so much a game as it is infernal punishment for reviewers who, unlike consumers, do indeed actually have to play the whole cursed thing. This job sucks.
The game begins with you controlling one of five members of a mafia gang set up for a fall by the head Mafioso. All survive and all become hell bent on revenge. The motivations are categorically off-base and delivered with all the logic and persuasiveness of a three year-old's Ritalin-aided tantrum.
You can choose to play as the Tourette's-afflicted Irishman named Raven or any of his crew, all of whom are similarly afflicted with a constant stream of profanity, only with less annoying accents. Each character has a specific story, although your choice affects little more than the ending and the kinds of moves you can perform. None of the five ever run into each other during the course of the game, so the whole "branching" storyline is more like five separate trees growing in five distant parts of the urban jungle.
Once the game gets underway, your character is released onto the streets of Los Sombras, which my broken Spanish translates as the "city of shade." How relaxing. Indeed, it is very shady. In fact, the city is downright dim. The environments are all dull urban backdrops, and no matter how many hours you wander around, it is always night-time in Los Sombras, the city that always sleeps.
Your character can pick fights with anyone he meets. Many characters, like "man" and "kid" and "punk," are just waiting to get mugged. Others are tougher, have actual names like "Scorpion," and will join your gang if you defeat them. There are two kinds of fights: all-out brawls with waves of numbskulls and one-on-one battles with the playable characters.
The brawling is straight out of 1985. One button punches, one kicks, and one blocks. Mashing either of the first two incessantly usually leads to victory. If that's not thrilling enough, you can pick up various melee weapons, such as a bottle, crowbar, or the ridiculous I-beam, and then hit people with them. You can recruit two other members from your crew to fight by your side, and they rarely finish off even the easiest of opponents. It's nice to be in a gang, but your band of wussies seems yanked straight out of a Michael Jackson video.
But don't expect the one-on-one fighting to be as cool as the end of Beat It. These employ the standard fighting game health bars and feel like the mangled cousin of Tekken. The moves are limited and the strategy is bare.
The big twist comes at the end of the fights, where you can either "interrogate," "recruit," "rob," or "beat down" the opponent. Each of these is self-explanatory, though the "beat down" option treats you to an ultra-violent death scene and takes the opponent character out of the game entirely. The idea, I suppose, was to combine the fighting game content of Tekken with the open structure of Grand Theft Auto. Did I call that an idea? It should be called a dream, a wishful, pregnant fantasy that birthed this horribly flawed monstrosity.
For one, the environments are unconnected city blocks; moving from one area (like the gas station) to another (like the police station) requires a load time that gets into the brutal twenty-second range on the PS2 and only marginally less on the Xbox. You'll have to run through several of these to get to your destination as you carry out various missions to gain money and information. If it weren't for the frustrating load times, you might wish the city bigger, as it only consists of seven or eight areas. Frankly, I couldn't imagine wanting a longer walk.
During your boring travels, two meters show your "Wanted" and "Identification" levels. These rise and fall to indicate the likelihood you'll be recognized by either cops or evil mafia. To reduce both levels, you must buy clothes and even have cosmetic surgery. Luckily, this is more of a useless addition than an inexcusable flaw. Most battles can be avoided the same way I avoid panhandlers: by crossing the street. And even if you are recognized, dispatching the unlucky whistleblowers is always easy.
And wouldn't you know it - cross-dressing is a good way to reduce both meters. Making your beefy fighter wear a bra and slit skirt to somehow make him unrecognizable is almost as stupid as it is unsettling. It's hard to make any of the characters look good, but it's easy to make them look like creepy sexual deviants.
While half the game tries to be absurdly serious - especially in the abysmal script and pretentious art direction - the other half of the game is completely cuckoo. One example: no matter which character you play, your scripted pre-fight comment is always a short clip of your character beckoning your opponent with his or her tongue. It's the kind of thing a construction worker might do in the direction of a prostitute, only appropriate in the seediest nightclub in Tijuana, and never at all appropriate before a fight…unless what you're fighting are your own growing homosexual urges.
Incredibly, some of this mess could actually have been done worse. The character models take damage, and when you're near death, you look near death. Light RPG elements allow you to level up three basic attributes, and unlockable content such as new fighting moves and new costume upgrades can be attained though interrogation. Very infrequently, the possibility of finding a good recruit hiding in some nook actually compels a little exploration.
For every good idea, however, there are a host of bad ones. One is a "pride" gauge. If your pride is depleted and you run out of health, you must beg for your life. This requires that you go to the hospital and suffer psychological trauma, which is the same effect as getting drunk in the game (another bad idea) and consists of being perpetually in out-of-focus slow motion. To recover, you can either pay the clinic an extra $50 or find the guy who beat you and exact revenge. If $50 could save you psychological trauma, imagine if you didn't pay $50 for the game at all, incurred no trauma, and lived a long, healthy, beat-down-free life.
There is also an odd "Custom Vs." mode that allows you to fight with only the characters you have recruited against someone else's gang. That might be a curious item if you could get someone else to play the game. Instead, you will probably be playing the familiar plain "Vs." mode, in which you select three fighters to go against three other fighters. Because some of the fighters have much less health, there are obvious mismatches all the time, although the crummy fighting is a mismatch in and of itself.
Other underachieving facets of the game, such as the awful, wildly repetitive music and the atrocious voice-acting, probably deserve comment, but I'm all out of apologies. Be warned: there is a tremendous amount of cursing in the game, but none of it sounds sincere. I cursed plenty while playing, and it came straight from my own beat down heart. Get your revenge on bad games and leave this stinker in the shadows of the bargain bin.