Review by Inigo Pipkin
"Whatever happened to all the hero's?"
Action Man used to be a REAL man. Launched in 1966 in the UK by Palitoy he was a fully posable figure based on an artist’s dummy. Back in the 1970’s Action Man was so manly he even had a beard. With his close-cropped hair, full beard, scar upon his cheek and normally proportioned body this was a hero any young boy could aspire to become. It was easy to picture him pulling up outside Barbie’s Dream House in his mucky Jeep after a hard days combating the Third Reich, stashing his bazooka behind the fridge, kicking of his boots and planting a big wet stubbly kiss on a swooning Barbie before putting his feet up, lighting a pipe and reading the newspaper. You could smell the testosterone the moment you opened his box up.
Alas, political correctness killed him off in 1984. Fast-forward to the 1990’s and Action Man returns, and what has happened to this epitome of understated British manhood? He has been “super-heroified” that’s what, now he has bulging biceps, a silly macho jaw line and has become as ridiculously out of proportion as female dolls always have been. Reduced to an effete muscle-mary, who looks like he would rather spend the day in the gym pumping iron and admiring his reflection than keeping the world safe from fascism.
Of course even that aspect of Action Man has changed in recent years, as this videogame amply shows. When Action Man was created he was originally set against the Nazi’s and was basically a soldier. For some reason this has been watered down and now Action Man has an archenemy in the form of Dr. Gangrene (a silly Ming the Merciless type) and fights to protect the world against Ecological disaster. This in itself is laughable as if he was REALLY going to be protecting the world against ecological meltdown he would come equipped with a copy of Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” book and a set of placards and bricks.
But anyway, putting that to one side and accepting the fact that the nature of Action Man has changed to a more fantastical one than one grounded in reality how does this 2000 Hasbro Playstation game based on him and Dr. Gangrene measure up taken purely as a kids game?
Well surprisingly it’s not to bad. It’s not great, but actually it’s a very playable game. There is a lot to do in the game and although its very easy there is enough variety in the gameplay to keep you interested for the four or five hours it will take you to complete.
The basic structure of the game sees Action man ordered on various missions against the forces of Dr. Gangreene. These can be divided into two basic types, vehicle missions where Action Man enters a pitched battle with the slimy green forces to clear them from a city area, and third person action missions, where you take control of Action man himself to infiltrate and investigate Dr. Gangreenes various bases of operation.
The contrasting types of gameplay are handled well. For example and earl mission sees you take to the city streets in a car. This is viewed in a top down perspective similar to the first two Grand Theft Auto games. The cars move smoothly and speedily around and the camera follows from a bird-eye view without losing the action or swooping about to nauseatingly. Of course it is made very kiddy friendly. At the beginning of the level you are given a number of agents to capture, this you do by shooting them using the guns mounted on your car. They don’t die when they blow up, they are “captured”. Also you can’t bash into civilian cars or cause wanton destruction. You can only smash boxes and collect power-points in the shape of the Action Man logo. However despite this extreme simplicity, both this and the similar helicopter and boat levels are fast paced and enjoyable in a kind of “old skool” arcade fashion. The smooth graphics and responsive controls help immensely.
The other mission types which are conducted from a third person viewpoint are also handled well. Action Man finds himself near say a desert laboratory or inside one of Gangreenes bases and must use the various gadgets and gizmos he has to fulfil his Mission Objectives. One level once cleared of baddies, seems to be empty, but using the metal detector allows you to find hidden keys and ways to access the next level. Again combat and exploration has been made very simple. When guards appear they are automatically targeted. Although they will duck behind shields to avoid your gunshots, you can rush up and pistol whip them into submission with a couple of hits. Health pick-ups for you are plentiful and you would need to be pretty feeble to ever find yourself dead or captured.
In these levels again Action Man is easy to control, the various items he needs are assigned to buttons for ease of use. Although the camera moves around him, basically to help you see enemies coming at you from the sides with one button press you can go into a static behind the character viewpoint from where you can pan round to examine your surroundings closely. As its rare more than one opponent will attack at once its unlikely you will ever be taken by surprise. Boss fights see you taking on various minions of Dr. Gangreene before the showdown with him. These include the lovely green Toxica who likes to squirt slippy green goo at you, a common weapon used by these pollution fixated meanies.
Again due to the young age group its aimed at, the game clearly sets out its mission objectives and these can be called up at anytime at the press of the start button. There are no huge complex menus to navigate. Also the game will stop and highlight new dangers that approach and point out where you need to try your gadgets out to find something. This is of course unnecessary for the older gamer, but probably less intrusive for the younger ones.
Graphically as well it’s reasonably impressive. Although the various levels are rendered fairly simply, and some of the desert levels are a tad bland they feel solid enough to walk and drive around. There is little polygon clipping or warping and no falling through the scenery that plagues many more ''ambitious” Psone titles. The human characters and Action Man himself are rendered well, with good detail and movement. Action Man has a good selection of martial arts moves for taking opponents on up close and of course his unlimited ammo supply. The auto targeting means collision detection is accurate and combat though quick and dirty is not frustrating. Audiowise there is not much to say about it. There is little music, and sound effects are limited to gunshots, engine noise and a few groans and shouts.
Of course it’s hard to see how this relates to Action Man the toy. They have taken him and his enemies and turned them into humans. None of them look very much their plastic counterpoints. Maybe this is no bad thing considering what a pigs ear 3DO have made of creating game based on the toy Army Men. What we have here is a competent game that as been put together with some thought and care. Its far to easy for probably all but the most inexperienced gamers, but its and enjoyable few hours diversion for those with a passing interest in Action Man in his current form at least.
Although the rot set in with Action Man the toy along time ago (it was the advent of gripping hands, eagle eyes and moulded on plastic underpants that sealed his fate), this is actually a better game than a lot of similar ones based on popular toy ranges. It sticks to the new philosophy of Action Man and is still head and shoulders above the ludicrous Max Steel and his awful games. With the current popularity of World War II games, maybe we’ll get a retro Action Man extravaganza, seeing our bearded hero doing manly things like sploshing about in swamps with only a stick of dynamite and an inflatable raft to save him from the platoon of Germans lurking over the hill. Until then, this is a decent, polished game, that is let down rather by its constant hand-holding of you through the game and extreme brevity.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 11/25/02, Updated 11/25/02
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