Version tested: Xbox 360
Calling a game Legendary is either an act of supreme confidence or foolhardy hubris, especially when your last entry into the first-person shooter was the thoroughly dire Turning Point: Fall of Liberty. That's the position that developer Spark Unlimited finds itself in, and after only a few hours play you'll start to suspect that a more honest - though less marketable - title would've been Hilarious.
As in hilariously bad. Any hopes that Spark might have learned from the myriad flaws painstakingly pointed out in dozens of reviews for Turning Point is dashed almost immediately. In almost every respect, Legendary is exactly the same game but with the Nazi invasion of America replaced with an invasion of mythical beasts.
They've accidentally been released from Pandora's Box by our hero, Charles Deckard, you see. He's a blank slate of a thief, hired by a mysterious character to retrieve the fabled artefact, and in doing so he only goes and pops it open. Even the ancient Greeks understood that Pandora's Box was a metaphorical representation of mankind's capacity for evil and suffering, so the fact that the game labours under the impression that it's literally a box full of monsters, which looks like the Ark of the Covenant, should give you some idea of the level of creative innovation on display. That the monsters in question are drawn from Greek, Norse, medieval and even Jewish mythology simply confuses matters even more.
At least the opening of the box gives us our obligatory opening set-piece, as New York's Natural History Museum is torn asunder by the outpouring of evil monster energy in a scene crudely swiped from Ghostbusters. Just as Turning Point started with a series of staged sequences as you descended through a skyscraper construction site while German troops parachuted around you, so Deckard must scramble out of the museum as fire-spitting creatures chomp on civilians. As in Turning Point, it feels stagey and fake, and there's no sense of danger since every single moment is so obviously scripted. Try and shoot the griffins busy devouring bystanders on the street and your bullets pass right through. They're not actually there, you see. It's just scenery on a low-rent ghost train.
From there, it's a rapid slide past mediocrity into just plain bad. The aiming is better than it was in Turning Point, but that's hardly high praise. The twitchy crosshairs still fail to compete with any other current first-person shooter, while the generally unresponsive movement controls hamper your progress once again. Scenery snags are common, while the game goes out of its way to block your path with stupid and illogical obstacles. Deckard is apparently a very lethargic man, since he's completely incapable of jumping more than one foot off the ground, or pulling himself up onto waist-high objects. This means, for instance, that a simple handrail forces you to laboriously make your way around, over, out and through a protracted series of conveniently crashed subway cars simply to reach a door ten feet from where you started.
Such clumsy construction is found in abundance throughout, with Spark's fondness for lazy and linear design on shameless display. Is there a bit where you have to make your way down a train track, dodging trains? Of course. Sewer levels? You betcha. Inexplicable jets of flame that switch on and off so you can pass? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Even potentially good ideas get dragged down to the most basic level. The vast open space of Times Square, a fantastic location for a pitched FPS battle, is predictably transformed into something more manageable by some remarkably precise destruction which shapes the rubble and debris into a series of narrow, winding corridors. Interactive objects glow bright green, rendering the occasional puzzles completely redundant, while the game constantly reminds you which buttons to hold down to perform basic tasks.
The poor decisions don't end there. Your interaction with Pandora's Box has left you with a supernatural brand on your left arm. This allows you to absorb Animus Vitae, the life force of defeated creatures, which you can then use to unleash a pulse attack, top up your health or charge up essential mission objectives. So your most valuable game resource is dropped by every single monster but must serve multiple functions, often at the same time. In a better designed game, this dichotomy could lead to some interesting tactical problems.
Here, it's simply annoying. The game spams you with respawning creatures and uncannily accurate evil soldiers, but because they exhibit absolutely no evidence of AI, there's never any breathing space to fight tactically. Werewolves, for instance, can only be killed by decapitation. They scamper and claw at you, but once they're down you can switch to your axe and frantically swing away at their neck, dozens of times, until the game decides you've hit the exact spot required and the creature dies. Absorbing Animus means standing still and holding a button, and topping up your health is the same. Neither is realistically possible in the middle of a fight, since enemies just come lurching towards you constantly, taking off huge chunks of health with each hit.
Graphically, it's every bit as bad as Turning Point, with character models that are consistently and horribly outdated. I actually made a note that the inclusion of creepy mannequins was a rip-off from Condemned, until I realised that these pale, featureless automatons were supposed to be civilians. There's a character who I assume is supposed to be your sexy female companion, but she looks like Mr Punch and sounds like Margaret Thatcher and I couldn't wait to get far away from her freakish hooked nose and flat, painted, staring eyes.
Glitches are frequent, with objects getting stuck through walls and NPCs jittering around like marionettes. Needless to say, the frame rate is nothing to write home about. Once again, Spark has managed to take Unreal engine 3 and make it look like a 1997 Half-Life mod. Try to slurp up some Animus while the game simultaneously tries to render flames and smoke, and you'll get a lovely psychedelic slideshow. What makes it all the more galling is the occasional moment where the game actually looks pretty good. There's a giant golem made from cars and rubble in the third chapter that is genuinely impressive - though the manner of its defeat is typically pedestrian - and there are enough moments of subtle lighting sprinkled throughout to suggest that there were at least some people involved who knew what they were doing.
Legendary is the gaming equivalent of cheap supermarket own-brand beans, but instead of costing eleven pence it costs the same as a prime steak cooked by a top chef. It's a bad, bad game. One of the worst I've played on this generation of consoles, in fact. In that regard, at least, the title is surprisingly accurate.
2 / 10