9/19/2005 12:21:30 AM
Fantastic Four Xbox Review
By Mark Diller
Ah ... the movie tie-in. What can you say about a game whose whole reason for being is a cross-marketing opportunity? By now it’s a truism that good movies translate into bad games, while the occasional bad movie (“Chronicles of Riddick”) will surprise us all by translating into good games. So where does that leave us with “The Fantastic Four,” a movie that wasn’t exactly terrible, but wasn’t particularly great either? Will the game be better, worse, or just as mediocre? Read on!
Confession time: I was never a big fan of the comic when I was a kid. The premise of it all seemed a little weak -- four people go up in space, get hit by cosmic rays, and come back with marvelous powers that somehow are completely different from one another! While I might have been willing to suspend my disbelief when it came to something like the X-Men, somehow the FF didn’t draw the same reaction. I transferred those same emotions to the movies -- I did buy a ticket to see the FF movie, but I left the theater having neither loved it nor hated it. So, whereas I might be really interested in a good game featuring someone like Wolverine, the idea of playing as Reed Richards isn’t the sort of thing that’s going to get my panties in a bunch. I did, however, have two strong hopes when I started the game: that it would be fun, and that it would tell a story that I found at least marginally more interesting than the movie.
How did it go? The game turned out to be like the movie -- I certainly didn’t love it, but I didn’t quite hate it either. As a movie tie-in, of course the game is required to take you through some scenes in the movie, and these are possibly the weakest points in the game. One early scenario, set on the space station where the main characters get irradiated, is particularly pointless: playing as Ben Grimm, you have to navigate around in your space suit and perform a series of mechanical operations, working against the clock. Since this comes at a point in the story where none of the characters have developed superpowers, it’s a pretty uneventful scene, and playing through it is neither fun nor particularly challenging.
After that the game continues to more or less stick to the movie’s story, but with odd twists. In the movie, the characters wake up in a hospital. The same goes for the game, but this version of the hospital is crowded with robots that attack you for no good reason. These are the first scenes where you start to realize that this is a fighting game. Your character will be attacked by large numbers of enemies, which you’ll beat down by hammering on the A and B buttons until they’re all lying in pieces on the ground. Every now and then you’ll see a shimmering patch of light on the ground, which signals that your character can do something super-powered there. You navigate to the spot, hit the B button, and then are required to pass some test of physical dexterity: spinning the left thumbstick around really quickly, or pressing the A button quickly or with precise timing, or whatever. If you succeed in that text, you’re “treated” to about a five-second in-game cutscene showing your character doing something super. In practice the mechanic is clunky and occasionally annoying: the collision detection is a little off, so you’ll have to navigate back and forth until you finally find the precise spot where you’re able to hit the B button and get past the challenge.
That, in a nutshell, is the entire game. The robots that attack you in the hospital are replaced by street thugs who attack you in the city’s streets or mole-men who attack you in the subway, so no matter where you go or what you do, you’re always hammering away at legions of enemies. In most challenges you can team up with other members of the Fantastic Four, and sometimes you’re allowed/required to switch between them to overcome particular obstacles. Basically, though, it’s a button-masher, with boss fights and a few jump puzzles thrown in for variety. And to be honest, I was getting pretty bored with it after a few hours.
Neither the sound nor the graphics are distinguished. I found the character models to be pretty weak copies of the movie actors (the Sue Storm model, in particular, looks nothing like Jessica Alba), and the voice acting is competent but nothing to write home about. Overall the production values identify this as a B-grade release: they didn’t spend a lot on development, probably hoping that they could make a lot of money by piggy-backing on a hit movie. As it turns out, though, the movie wasn’t much of a hit, and this isn’t much of a game.
The real shame is I can see a potential for a really fun gaming experience, hidden deep inside the Fantastic Four concept. Johnny Storm, after all, is a hothead (both literally and figuratively) who combines enormous power with complete irresponsibility, while the Thing is basically a poor man’s Incredible Hulk. I could see a game where you played as all four characters, creating absolute havoc as the Thing and the Human Torch while Reed and Sue run around, trying to fix everything. It would be a game that combined heroism and wanton destruction -- how could that not be fun? Alas, not only is this a game that doesn’t do that, it’s a game that doesn’t bother to try.
Graphics: 6. Decent environments marred by poor character design.
Sound: 6. Average at best.
Gameplay: 5. Run, punch, repeat.
Story: 5. A less interesting variation on the movie.
Replayability: 5. Would you really want to replay this?
Overall: 5. For “FF” fans only.
Fantastic Four Xbox Review