Review by Spirit_X
"If I was a Predator I would use this game to practise."
Thermal vision. It's cool isn't it. Whether your particular cup of tea is a Splinter Cell or a Rainbow Six it seems that Tom Clancy has exclusively sewn up the whole ball of thermal vision wax. Well NO MORE Mr Clancy, there's a tango on your rear and he's here to watch the thermal heck out of any earthling foolish enough to step into his field of view.
The original Predator was released when I was barely knee high to a brussel sprout and I should never have been watching such a gorefest at the tender age of 12, but my mum rented it for me and in 24 hours I watched it 4 times. We all know the Predator is cool as beans but does it translate? Can they pull it off? Movie tie-ins don't exactly have the greatest reputation for innovation and quality but fret not people because there's a new player in town and this boy may well be our last hope in a long and distinguished lineage of hopeless translation.
Predator:Concrete Jungle (PCJ) opens in the year 1930 with rival gangs all vying for control of New Way city and it's in the middle of a particularly vicious gun battle between the police and said gangsters that we get our first glimpse of the predator, our player character. Essentially the predator (affectionately known as Scarface) is badly injured during this battle and we all know about a preds knee jerk reaction to a sticky situation. He sets his ship to explode rather than himself and explode it does. A lot. In the aftermath we learn the two crucial facts that give our game a story. First, Scarface survived the explosion and is extricated from the planet by a passing flight of his clan brothers. Second, Scarface has, in his haste, left behind his Predator mask as well as various items of equipment and weapons, and in the predators eclectic culture this is a sacking offense. Kind of like the prime directive it seems the preds live by a strict rule of not affecting the culture of those they hunt by way of their technology at least.The knock on effect of this transgression is, again, twofold. For starters the human race gets quite a technological boost from the discovery of the alien technology and for pudding our disgraced (anti) hero is banished to a backwater sewer of a planet inhabited by six foot bugs for a hundred year sentence of exile.
That covers the first five minutes of the game and it's here that the game proper starts, a hundred years after the opening, it's now 2030 and the once burnt and apocalyptic skyline of a broken city has been rebuilt using new technology into the ultra-shiny futuristic Neonopolis. Now pardon me for perhaps being a little over thorough with the story synopsis but I have to say that I found the story of this game to be unusually engaging and for a long running fan of the Predator films (and another recent cross-over franchise) it really delivers a nice mix of surprise and expansion upon what has thus far been established.
PCJ is divided into 28 levels, or chapters as the game refers to them and this is possibly a better choice of noun as each chapter can take anything from five minutes to an hour to complete. Some are sprawling city levels which, while never huge, are plenty big enough, others are interior and can consist of a small number of rooms to hack your way through or an entire building complex to navigate. There's a lot of variation too in that while your primary function is stalking there are also levels that involve a straight stand-up fight, or protecting someone/thing or grabbing someone and taking them somewhere, using them to bypass security or just flaying them alive and hanging them from a billboard, yeah the old ones are the best. Oh and of course the inevitable boss fights. Add to this a number of bonus missions which are generally secret objectives to be achieved while on the hunt. Rewards for completing these side quests range from new costumes for Scarface to health, power and armour upgrades and unlockable checkpoint races across town.
The general style of play also varies a lot as in some missions you're dumped in the city somewhere and given an objective with no time constraints thus allowing you to wander the environments as you please and dish out good helpings of random death in the appropriate places, which are basically the places in which you feel that it's appropriate. Other levels can give you a strict race against time or just a good old straight-laced linear run through a building or facility. Some of the city areas are reused for multiple levels but rather than detracting from the game I actually found that this adds something because you begin to get familiar with the environments and when you see your soontobedrowninginapoolofhisownblood henchman skulk into a nearby alley you know exactly which rooftop to cut across to get to the fire escape which you climb up to get to the gap you leap across to get to the other end of the alley just before he does so you can kill his ass. Or something like that. It just makes it feel predatory, and that's good. The general running, leaping, flipping and climbing aspect is also handled nicely with crisp animation that really sells it, Scarface always seems to have the correct weightiness and to move in a realistic manner. Of particular note is the ground shaking Matrixy impact from a big jump followed by the slow and deliberate straightening of the body and the various acrobatics he performs to flip himself up from ledges and back-flip off walls.
The game screen is reasonably uncluttered with all the four HUD displays tucked into the four corners. The HUD consists of an easy to read radar in the top left which can be made to show different entities or objects depending on which vision mode you have active. There is also a weapon display panel, a health display and a power readout which shows how many units you have left for use of the plasmacaster (shoulder cannon), smart disc (sharp frisbee) and your cloak. Yes that's right your cloak uses power, sorry and all that but that's the way it is, you soon get used to it and if you think about it the game would be a tad simplistic if you had infinite use of it. All HUD panels are straight forward and functional, no complaints.
Ok, ok, ok, so how does it play? Sorry.
Well, it plays good and the word that springs to mind when describing this game is "dense", this game is very dense. So dense in fact that I almost don't know where to begin. In fact the first thing I'd like to say (write) is a word about the camera. I have heard a few gripes and moans about this on the boards and I just don't understand what the problem is. The game is primarily third person and as such employs the now familiar right stick camera control and it's fine, it just works, doesn't stick, doesn't shake, it's good, it points at the player. There are a couple of "automatic" camera options if you like and I suspect that it is these that people have taken issue with but personally I just shoved it on manual and use it like the Splinter Cell camera, it's fine really, honest, no it's really ok.
Alright, so....gameplay. You're on a rooftop peering down on a handful of your oh-so-unsuspecting prospective victims and this is what it's really about. For starters you've got three different vision modes. Thermal, yeah we know what that does. Neuro-vision allows you to see a persons level of aggression, if they're green they are passive and unaware of you, yellow and they're suspicious, red and they know you're there, although they may not know where exactly. Finally you have Tech-vision, this allows you to easily make out electronic devices such as recharge points for your power supply (which Scarface must thrust his wristblades into to extract the power), cloaked enemies and other various level specific objects and characters. The fun doesn't stop there either as with a quick flick of the black button you instantly enter first person view. While in this mode your movement is locked off and you have four levels of zoom to play with as well as a nice peek function allowing you to lean round corners, but it's not until you target an enemy (by holding the left trigger) that this first person perspective really starts to do some work for you. Whenever you lock onto a target in this manner you automatically scan the enemy and as you peruse the vision modes each scan gives you a different set of info. Thermal tells you the basic physical status of the enemy, this includes any armour they're wearing and whether or not they have any resistance to, for example, bladed weapons or plasma shots. A Tech-vision scan will give you all the information you need about what a character is armed with and whether or not they have any known weaknesses or enhancements. The Neuro-vision gives you information about the characters social status, whether they're a police patrol officer, a brutal psychopathic killer or a civilian scientific research assistant, it allows you to identify your prey as, lets face it, we don't want to be killing the defenceless civies here, there's no honour in it and you do get penalised for breaking the code of conduct. Anyone packing heat is fair game though whether gangboss or grandma. Additionally once you scan a target with Neuro-vision any other character of that same class will be identified with an icon above their head. This comes in very handy as the auto aim of your weapons will be restricted to targeting only members of that group once identified. As far as I can see the vision modes really couldn't have been implemented any better, all are clearly represented, functional and genuinely useful AND you get the cool swooshing noise as you flip from one to another. Sweet.
So anyway, we've scanned a dude and let's say we got ourselves a gaggle of your average, run-o-the-mill, commonal-garden street pimps, valid targets. Well I guess first we must decide whether to leave them be and move on or to add a little spice to their day. Ok, that didn't take long.
Ahhh, weapons, yes, we're here, took a while I know but this a very dense game which I think justifies a good meaty in depth look, so I make no apologies. As mentioned above using your ranged weapons uses up power (with one exception) and while this isn't too bad for the smart disc, the plasmacaster is pretty thirsty and this must be taken into account or you could find your cloak failing at a critical moment. Although you are able to upgrade the amount of power you can hold as the game progresses. The plasmacaster basically does exactly what it says on the tin, it looks right, sounds right and is pretty lethal. One of the most satisfying aspects of the weapon is that it will auto target enemies who you are not facing. This looks very slick as the shoulder mounted death ray animates independently of you and allows you to blast the dude flanking you all over the pavement while you're in the middle of decapitating some other hapless hoodlum. The smart disc also deserves a mention, as one of the preferred tools of the trade it allows the user to target more than one enemy at a time creating much confusion and an inordinately high demand for band-aids when used on groups of enemies. The disc is also capable of targeting more and more enemies as it is upgraded. Then there's the speargun, a gun that fires spears then. This doesn't use any power to fire, instead you must find the ammo in the form of pickups dotted around the levels and they're frequent enough for this to be a useful and formidable weapon. In a nice nod to the FPS AvP games the spears will pin enemies to walls or in the case of a headshot the skull will be torn clean off. All ranged weapons can be fired in third or first person, which is nice.
For a more personal encounter would sir consider a range of deadly melee weapons. We got wristblades, we got spears, knives, sharp sticks, not to mention a most popular line in unarmed combat. At this point I must stop for a moment for an important message:
This is an ADULT game. It is gruesome. And I really mean it. I know you've all played GTA and that but I've never quite seen a game go this far before, and I love it. No seriously, this is definitely not for the kids, although I know they'll all play it and you're probably about 13 reading this now. Don't. Stop. Go and do your homework, this is mans stuff.
Still with me? Good. So once you decide to get cheek to cheek with the dude in your crosshairs the first thing you'll usually do is cloak, that's what it's for. By doing this your average joe on the street will be completely unaware of your presence unless you move too fast in his field of view at which point you may get a "What the?", or "Who's there?", you know, the usual stuff. So with weapons ready let battle commence. After perhaps frying a pimp or two from the rooftops you jump down, cloaked, and land surrounded by 5 or 6 of them. This is where all hell breaks loose and once you know what you're doing it can look very cinematic as you take out an entire gang of thugs before they're ever able to get a grip on what's going on. I'll take you through a hypothetical. First guy is standing with his back to you, so you lock on, creep up and as you approach a skull icon appears above his head, this is your cue to perform an "execution" special move. These are particularly vicious, we're talking torso left, legs right, throat slits, decaps, back-breakers, body twists, and a few novel lessons in the chiropractic if you know what I mean.
So now you've torn the first guy in two and the others are alerted that something bad is going down. At this point you engage the third person combat engine which consists of one button for the wristblades and unarmed attacks and another for the use of your hand-held melee weapon. This can be a "combistick" (staff), a glaive (double bladed spear) or a maul (think sharpened metal tonfa). The rest of the fight could go something like this: you grab one dude by the throat and chuck him at one of his comrades flooring both, quickly jump on one, squishing his guts, and then drive your spear through the other before he gets up. Now you somersault over the next stooge in front of you as he opens fire with his .45 and he inadvertently shoots the guy who was behind you and you now find yourself behind the shooter. You grab him by the back of the head, lift him off the ground and smoosh his skull to the point of explosion, no sorry, PAST the point of explosion. Two left now, one has clocked you and charges with a knife, he runs straight into your glaive and finds himself impaled, tossed in the air and finally cleaved in twain by the smart disc, while still in mid-air. I'm not making any of this up, no artistic license going on here, this is all in there. So alright there's one left but I think you get the idea now, lets just say for arguments sake that you give him a few punches, pick him up by the throat and smash his head into a wall. The combat kind of feels a little like an update of the Spidey 2 engine and is generally responsive and controllable. Before we leave this subject I must mention the "Vocal mimicry" function employed in the game. Basically once a target is locked onto in first person perspective pressing the gadget button allows you to play back various sound samples of human speech in order to lure your prey into a favourable position, doing this puts the enemy on yellow alert (see above) and makes them cautiously check out the direction from whence the sound came. Many of these samples are taken from the films and the rest are things you here during the game. A nice touch.
Enemies vary considerably from ten-a-penny cannon fodder to the more advanced security officers to ED-209-esque mechs right up to the deadly species of.......well no, that would spoil it. A.I is generally fine, nothing special. Someone sees you, they're alerted and check their surroundings more carefully, if you run in front of them they'll spot you even when you're cloaked, better to creep and make the best use of the device. I should mention that all NPC's are completely and profoundly deaf while in the third person view. You can run up behind a guy and do your biggest, scariest predator roar (gadget button) and he won't flinch an inch, target him in first person and whisper, "Over here" however and he'll snap round smartish. A minor niggle but a niggle none the less and it's certainly not the only one. Often the boss fights, of which there are a healthy handful, are underwhelming consisting of plugging away with the melee attacks without any real need for tactics or variation, although dealing with multiple boss type characters simultaneously does add an element of battle tactics. The graphics feel a little generic which unfortunately does tend to make the game feel cheap although the model of the predator itself is really spot on. Other than this my only real gripes are that there are no predator nets in the game, a real shame, and that there is little if any replay value. I mean it's worth going back to simply because it's fun but once you've finished it there's nothing more to unlock or work towards.
Aside from the graphical quibbles above, which frankly I think will only put off the shallowest of gamers, the overall look of the environments is very solid and functional with no glitches or bad clipping that I could see, although I've only played the XBox version. The sound in PCJ is much more worthy of mention however as real attention has been payed to getting all the right samples from the films and slotting them into the appropriate places and I really appreciate this aspect of it as it adds an ass load of atmosphere to proceedings. Even just hearing the maniacal clicking from the back of the predators throat as you roam around seems to make the whole experience cohesive and engaging.
So in conclusion then, it's good? Well I think it is if my 2 cents is worth...er.....a dime, or something. I can see magazines and websites rating this game on the ugly side of a decent score though because, as an intelligent comment from a Gamefaqs user (The Necronoir) brought to my attention, a lot of the enjoyment of PCJ comes from investing a little imagination in your approach to playing it. What does that mean? Well, if you want to you can run through the whole game gung-ho, mashing the attack buttons, killing willy-nilly and you'd be done in ......maybe 5ish hours. You'd have a pretty boring game and you'd probably find it more frustrating than challenging or rewarding BUT, and this a big but, if you "be" the predator, if you actually play the part and slow down, look around, observe, scan, lure, plan, ambush and execute then you'll find what I think is a real diamond in the rough. So don't be put off by any low scores you may see, a lot of these cold-nosed, game-hardened career game journos seem to forget that these games are supposed to be fun. Yeah that's right, FUN, remember that? If you're still in doubt then I would say that at the very worst this game has great potential and is definitely worth a rental for anyone over the age of 18. It's kind of snuck up under the radar and the experience is all the better for the lack of hype and expectation.
Hope you enjoyed this, went on a bit I know, well ok a lot then. Thanks for sticking with it, this is my first review, enjoy PCJ.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 04/20/05, Updated 04/21/05
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