Calling your game "Legendary" is really just asking for people to take a pop at you. For a generation brought up to see the phrase as a description of slightly dubious excellence - Chuck Norris being probably the most apt recipient of the title - rather than a reference to mythology, you might as well call the game "Fantastic" or "Bloody Marvellous". It's just a bit assumptive, you know? A bit of a liberty.
It's surprising, then (but really just as well) that our first impression of Legendary can be summed up in one word: unpretentious. This is a game that's as straightforward as they come. It's a first-person shooter without any of the frills and flourishes - an honest, simple, hand-on-heart experience that's all about a man with a lot of guns going up against demonic beasts with lots of teeth.
The "Legendary" of the title refers to those beasts. Cutting a broad swathe through the world's various mythologies, the game throws creatures at you including griffons, werewolves, and a particularly creepy nasty from Eastern European mythology which appears in the translucent form of a floating, giggling child, before screeching and diving at you with slashing, clawed feet. Yuck.
The whole idea of the game is that you're a thief who has been recruited to steal an item from a box stored in a museum in New York. The problem, as explained in the abrupt opening scenes of the game (which also serve as a tutorial for the controls), is that this is actually Pandora's Box - and by opening it you unleash all of these pent-up nasties on the world, as well as a nicely cinematic energy pulse that rips through New York, tossing cars around like popcorn on a hot pan.
As the game progresses, there are plenty of additional McGuffins thrown into the plot - two ancient forces, now equipped with top of the range military gear, clash over control of the Box, with you stuck in the middle. However, for the most part this is simply an excuse to drag you from location to location battling an assortment of monsters, and the game makes no attempt to pretend otherwise.
Instead it focuses all of its resources into doing one thing: providing really good, entertaining, run-and-gun gaming. Stripping away the various complex systems and ideas which have accreted on the FPS genre since the days of Doom, Legendary instead focuses on using the power of modern hardware to increase its scale. In part, this means putting plenty of creatures (dozens, in some cases) into your encounters, recalling the frantic energy of Doom itself. It also, however, means really turning up the scale to epic levels in other ways.
The intention to provide epic scale is made clear early on in the game. Throughout the entire New York section - around two-to-three hours of gameplay, by our estimate - you'll occasionally be menaced by a gigantic monster which smashes its way through entire skyscrapers and city blocks. This is a Golem from Greek legends, but in Legendary it's made up of wrecked cars and pieces of buildings, rather than clay - and it's easily 40 stories tall. The task of eventually felling it (in the neon ruins of Times Square) is a multi-stage objective that's several levels worth of play on its own.
Thus far, that's as far as we've seen in Legendary - but we're promised that the action next moves to London, where equally gigantic beasts will be on display. There's talk of the London Eye and Big Ben falling foul of rampaging golems. Strangely, from what we can gather, the action next moves to Durham. We're sure Durham's pretty epic in its own right, but that's got to be right up on the list of "odd locations for videogames" right alongside Resistance's use of, er, Grimsby.
In terms of the gameplay itself, Legendary is as familiar as you'd expect. Like many recent FPS games, it allows you to fire from the hip or look down the sights for more accurate shooting, and also restricts your weapon load-out to two guns. We ended our tour of duty pretty satisfied with the excellent shotgun and scoped assault rifle combo we'd picked up, but there are presumably plenty more choices to be found later in the game.
The game's sole innovation lies in the health system it employs. Having received some of the power from Pandora's Box when you opened it, you now find that you can absorb "Animus" energy both from little clouds that are found as you progress, and from the bodies of dead beasts. This Animus energy can be used to recharge your health (and does so automatically if you pick up additional enemy once the Animus meter itself is full), and there are also various special attacks that use this energy.
As you progress, the game does start to introduce the occasional physics-based puzzle. These are normally pretty straightforward, but can be a little jarring in contrast with the balls-out, old-school FPS action that comprises the rest of your play-time - and they do highlight the unfortunate fact that, in common with FPS heroes of yore, your character jumps like a paraplegic. Pressing the jump button yields a grunt and a tiny hop, and the concept of climbing over objects is apparently alien to this all-action hero.
Still, that's not much of a criticism of a game that wears its heart on its sleeve, and has no pretensions of being anything other than an action-packed shooter. It helps that it really looks the part graphically - it's not the best looking game we've seen by a long shot, but it's a perfectly passable use of the Unreal Engine 3 tech. The scale, as mentioned, is impressive, and enemy animations aren't half bad either. You also flay skin and flesh off your bestial foes as you pepper them with small arms fire, which is a "nice" touch (for some very unusual definitions of the word "nice").
Oh, and of course, there's multiplayer. You know the drill - all sorts of standard modes will be supported (no co-op though, we're sorry to say), with more details to come closer to launch. One potentially interesting multiplayer feature will be the ability to turn on Beasts on the levels, so that while you're tearing into your human foes, AI-controlled beasts will be tearing into both of you. How that'll work in practice remains to be seen, but it's certainly cool in theory.
Legendary was looking remarkably polished when we saw it, with no major outstanding bugs evident in the 360 version apart from some stuttering in the cut-scenes. That's a pretty good sign for a polished launch for the game, which we're expecting to appear on 360, PS3 and PC simultaneously in October or November. It's unlikely to set the world on fire (literally or metaphorically), but for straightforward, well-executed FPS action that's perfect for a half-hour stress-relieving blast, it's looking like you could do a hell of a lot worse this autumn.
Legendary is due out on PS3, 360 and PC later this year.