Canis Canem Edit Reader Review
GTA III has a lot to answer for. If it wasn't for Rockstar's infamous PS2 release, who knows what state gaming would be in today. Would someone else have done it? Would every other game be a free-roaming action adventure? Would Jack Thompson exist? Fantasies aside, Canis Canem Edit (CCE) is the culmination of many years worth of development and revision by Rockstar on its initial PS2 engine, and potentially marks the final hurrah of a developer and platform that seem to be made for each other. Evolution not revolution then, but lets face it, some things just don't need to be changed.
Your role in the game is that of Jimmy Hopkins, a disillusioned teenager sent to Bullworth Academy boarding school whilst your mother and new step-father take a year-long holiday. Arriving at the building you find the place divided into the usual stereotypical cliques, with the geeks, Jocks, Greasers and preppies all vying for control, and bullies generally interfering with everyone's business. Your job is to conquer and unite the warring factions and ultimately face-off against your arch-nemesis Gary. Whilst I'll leave the majority of the story unspoilt, there are some predictable twists and turns along the way, along with some unexpected events.
As you would expect from a game of this lineage, gameplay is more or less directly lifted from the GTA series, with buttons mapped to the same functionality on the PS2 controller, and the same targeting system in place. Whilst there are no cars to drive, Jimmy can take control of a wide assortment of bikes and other smaller vehicles. The environment is a lot more compact than your average GTA game, and you can run a little faster and further without needing to recover stamina. As such the lack of transport options doesn't really hamper the experience nearly as much as you'd think, in fact it comes across as a refreshing change to have to navigate the world in a different manner, and mastering the control of the various pushbikes to win races is a rewarding experience.
Hand-to-hand combat plays a large part, and Jimmy has various movesets to upgrade and discover throughout the game, along with projectile weapons such as the spud gun and slingshot, which behave in a similar manner to the rocket launchers and sniper rifles from its big cousin. The game retains a similar mission-based structure, with a variety of extra-curricular activities and quests to carry out whenever you choose, or these can be revisited at the end of the approximately 13-15 hour campaign. Jimmy is also supposed to attend a variety of school lessons daily. Although these can be avoided (watch out for the prefects), they give extra bonuses for attendance and are a worthwhile diversion. Remember kids, stay in school, and winners don't do drugs.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag, and at this point the GTA engine is really starting to show its age. However there are still a lot of nice touches, such as the way that the environment changes with each passing season, and the attempt to give each character in the school a unique personality is definitely to be praised. It makes the game world come alive when you can identify most characters just by the way that they walk, rather then the 'generic bystander A' approach of so many other titles. Imbuing the game with atmosphere and personality seems to have been the goal of the design team, and its largely been pulled off with aplomb. As long as you can get past the decidedly 'last-gen' look, you'll find a world sparking with attention to detail and some excellent design choices.
Special praise also has to be given to the Audio. Eschewing the standard Rockstar approach of tying the game into any specific time period with a barrage of pop songs, the game has a full score that's at once non-obtrusive and supremely evocative. Played by a house band rather than an orchestra, each mission type has its own theme tune that fits perfectly with the action and adds to the atmosphere. I cant stress just how much this lends to the game, its enough of a change in audio to stand out from the pack, and I hope other developers follow suit. Its not always necessary to have a bombastic over-the-top assault on the eardrums, and although this approach would never work for a game like Final Fantasy or even the standard GTA series, its a perfect fit for a game of this nature.
A total conversion to the GTA engine then? In some respects this is a valid complaint, but CCE contains enough new features and a charm of its own that makes it stand above the other third-party clones to come out over the last few years. The setting and storyline is inspired. Everyone has been through the school experience, and no matter what aptitude you had in your chosen temple of knowledge, you will definitely identify with one or more of the rather clichéd groups on offer, for better or worse. Its a scenario that has largely been ignored in gaming for some reason, and with the content on offer here it makes you wonder why only a few developers have tapped into this successfully before.
This is one game you won't mind getting detention for.
9 / 10