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Beowulf Review

Jesse_Costantino By:
Jesse_Costantino
11/16/07
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Adventure 
PLAYERS 1- 1 
PUBLISHER Ubisoft 
DEVELOPER Ubisoft 
RELEASE DATE  
M Contains Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes

What do these ratings mean?

Lo, praise unto the lameness of another God of War clone!


The original Beowulf, the oldest poem in the English language, tells the tale of the hero Beowulf as he tears a giant’s arm off, decapitates the giant’s mother, and robs an ancient dragon of its treasure horde. Back in the good old days, heroes were praised for being able to maim the physically disabled, kill their mothers, and steal valuables from the elderly. Ah, those were the days!

click to enlargeThe game (based on the Hollywood update of the poem) follows the same politically incorrect storyline as the poem. There’s plenty of blood and even some nudity to keep your medieval desire for battle and women satiated. But the already skeletal story of the movie is made even harder to follow by the game’s piecemeal presentation. Yes, you get to tear Grendel’s arm off, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as you might hope.

The game plays much like the God of War games: you progress through levels, killing everything in sight. Eventually this builds toward oversized boss fights, punctuated with the occasional block puzzle. God of War has been so often ripped off in the past few years, that it’s practically become its own genre, and ven Beowulf's control-scheme is nearly identical to those games. One button is mapped to a less powerful attack, one button to a more powerful attack, one button to a grab, another to a roll, and another to a defensive stance. There are even those ubiquitous button sequences when you fight certain enemies and bosses. It’s all very familiar.

Or, better said, it should be familiar, yet it all feels a bit off. It’s the gaming equivalent of buying generic brand Chinese cough syrup with slightly altered packaging  - "Now with bonus antifreeze!". Maybe Beowulf should have been called “Gad of Wer”; it might even dupe a few more gamers into buying it. You’ll find pretty much everything that’s in a God of War game, except that everything’s been maimed as badly as Grendel in the great hall Heorot.

There are substantially fewer combat combinations than in the God of War games or in just about any of the subsequent clones. You also won’t be able to learn or unlock more moves - you simply power up your existing ones- and overall, your character’s movements are slightly stiff.

click to enlargeThe single gameplay innovation is the ability to control and rally your followers called “Thanes.” Though not quite like a squad-based game, your Thanes will do a number of things for you: fight, move stuff, and… Okay, maybe not a “number” of things, but they can do at least two things. For example, in fights, they run around like headless chickens, and like headless chickens they’ll produce plenty of blood. But also like headless chickens, they’re not very useful for fighting. So, your Thanes can sort of fight, and they can move stuff (which they’re much better at). Basically, they’re like your own personal entourage of angry Nordic furniture movers.

A major part of the Thane gameplay is boosting their morale, which makes them run in much faster circles while they bleed. In order to bring your Thanes into a blood frenzy, you have to play a rhythm game. There’s nothing like a game of DDR or Guitar Hero or Taiko Drum Master to get the troops riled up. Succeed, and they’ll do things much faster and more powerfully. Fail, and they’ll eventually get around to doing what you tell them to, but at a much lazier pace.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this clone is anywhere near as good as God of War. In fact, some of the most frustrating moments in this game are those that are modeled after the scene in the first God of War where you’re protecting your family from wave upon wave of enemies. In Beowulf there are a couple of these protection sequences, but for some reason they’re much harder than they should be. The combination of less responsive controls and the “help” of your mindless Thanes makes these sequences unbelievably difficult.

click to enlargeThe game looks good for the most part, but lackluster art design means that you’ll be looking at an nice sharp picture of ho-hum levels and creatures. Sound is similarly vexed. The quality is just fine, but no sounds are put to exceptional use.

Parents concerned about the "M" rating would be a mistaken in thinking that this game does a disservice to the original poem by introducing excess brutality, immorality, and generally lewd behavior. If anything, the game isn’t brutal, immoral, or lewd enough to do justice to the poem which puts modern-day horror and action films to shame.

The real problem with the game is that it’s too light on everything. Too light on action. Too light on excitement. Too light on story. And too light on gameplay. There’s no need to be subtle in a great hack-n-slash game since you need something to make the game worth playing. But you won’t even find mindless action here, only a brain-dead game. Hell, it doesn't even rhyme.
D Revolution report card
  • Tear Grendel’s arm off.
  • Promising Thane rhythm game
  • …that is ultimately dull.
  • Stiff controls
  • Worthless Thanes.
  • Where’s my “Gad of Wer”?
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