Version tested: PlayStation 2
Isn't it odd that there exists a whole litany of games that we instinctively know are going to be plumbing the festering sinkholes of gaming before we even play them? Once such indicator of impending polygonal doom is a game's being titled "Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance", a title which is remarkable in its Nostradamus-like ability to prefigure the train-wreck of tragicomic wrongness about to unfold.
It's not just that it sounds like a movie that even your friendly neighbourhood porn dungeon will have placed in its "speciality" section. It's that the entire title screams "Game designed for IQs 60 and below. Strictly not to be supplied to any persons capable of rational thought".
It's at this point that I can hear the rustling sound of impatient forum fingers skipping to the end and unleashing witty counterarguments. But I know what you're going to say; and you're wrong. I don't shy away from computer violence. I just like to see it done with some style, and above all, some point. This game, in its infinite foulness, has nothing.
The story? Stop me if you've heard this one before. You start as one of the five main characters, whom apparently all have different special moves, although you'd be hard-pushed to notice. I chose Raven, because I loved his manly scar.
Character picked, the game deftly lumbers from cliché to cliché. You discover one of the other characters is a traitor, so predictably off you cavort in a red mist of vengeance, thus the name of the game. Avenging by smacking in the faces of everyone you meet never quite goes smoothly, and before you know it you're also smacking the faces of generic mob boss, and his generic henchmen along with various generic police> and others.
You'll spend quite a bit of time in The Hole, a dive in Downtown Las Santos, er, Sombras, which is the grim city in which you're on your mission to smack faces. The bar is the home of Tracy and Melvin, who give you advice and side-quests for cash, and teach you new but unhelpful moves. They also let you get really drunk, something which is supposed to make fighting difficult. The actual effect is to slow all the fights down, making them easier, and also added some much-needed colour.
The plot is nothing if not generic. It is, however, taken to new rungs of substandard ridiculousness by the voice acting. The voices are so badly cast, plodding, full of bizarre and unwelcome stresses and pauses and EMPHASIS as to make it impossible to control your mirth at the production values and feeling that you'd rather hack your own knees off than play this game.
If you imagine the worst cod-Oirish accent you can muster, you should know it barely touches the horrors that Raven's voice actor has managed to express. I was tempted to describe him as a graduate of the Dick Van Dyke School of Foreign Accents, but this would be unfair to Dick who was, after all, capable of expressing a foreign accent, just usually not the correct one. What's been achieved here is something new and extra-special in the world of rubbish accents.
In some desperate and failed attempt to demonstrate his hardness, and generic off-the-peg game character bad-mother attitude, Raven is obsessed with the word "shite". At the point where Raven told me I "didn't know shite about shite", I had reached an unacceptable ebb and turned the console off in disgust.
I would normally try to alternate the positives and negatives of a game, but I've yet to find a positive here beyond "it loads" and "the title menus are easy enough". So, in keeping with spirit of the game, I'm going to 'beat down' (ahem) the most "shite" things about in it order.
The gameplay scrapes another barrel with its limp-fingered, repetitive, unsatisfying button-mashing for the most part. It's a game about tedious fighting, and that's it. Certainly nothing else of note. Yeah, okay, so there's a one-on-one mode, and a scrolling beat-em-up mode, and an interrogation mode where you can extract information from NPCs by destroying their self-confidence or some other such gimmick that falls flat. But basically they all involve pressing the buttons fast enough to smack the person in the face.
The game offers absolutely no disincentive to brutally massacring everyone and everything, including innocent bystanders. Because you are a bad man, you choose to kill them in cold blood, steal their possessions and then scarper. Curiously, once you return to the scene of your crime, they're usually alive again, so you can murder them again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Perhaps it's because death is only a temporary setback that arbitrary cold-blooded massacres of innocents are met with a gaming blind eye.
The graphics are wretched. Dank, washed out, dull, boring, boxy, uninspired, drab, dirty and lazy. The hallmark of cheap graphics; the 'somebody's-smeared-Vaseline-on-my-telly' effect is present and correct. It's just awful. Objects pierce supposedly solid walls on a 32-bit-style gaming trip with alarming regularity. The models are ugly and tedious and very repetitive, using the same model for every policeman, for example.
The music is unlistenable. I'm rapidly running out of adjectives here, so either think muzak-trying-to-sound-cool, or recycle some from above. It seems that every tune is an endless half-minute music loop, which you will be murderously sick of within 15 seconds. And as far as I could tell, there were at most six or seven of these irritating tunelets in the entire game. The music will make your ears cry, and not in a good way.
But most egregious of all is the camera. I know that camera issues mar many, many games, but I've never seen a game whose camera was so sluggish, jittery and just so damned wrong at being in the right place when necessary. At any given moment, the camera will be between 90 and 180 degrees askew of where it should be, rendering the game virtually unplayable.
There are a few good ideas in Beat Down; unfortunately they are all half-baked and poorly implemented, and fail to raise it above its general foetor. Such flawed dynamics include the ability to recruit defeated assailants into your gang. This fails because in melee fights, they tend to stand around and do nothing, not drawing fire, not helping, just getting in the way.
Then there's the "trauma" mode, where the stinging pain of defeat rends you unable to fight for a while, while other characters plaster you with puerile insults. This 'feature' adds nothing, and ultimately frustrates.
And there's the "fishnets and high-heels" mode, where you can dress your character in other clothes including drag, so that the police won't recognize you. It doesn't really work, as your "threat" meter fills up really quickly whatever you do, rendering the clothing-changes a waste of time. And finally, there is a two-player mode. It's tedious too and suffers from all of the same flaws as its hateful single-player brother.
Even if you are one of those hormonally-riven pre-teens who finds random, pointless violence, brutality and cruelty against characters and NPCs without any kind of challenge, skill, point or end at all, and no other depth or mechanic whatsoever; even then, there are better examples of the genre than this suppurating pustule of worthlessness. Avoid this beast at all costs, or there is no hope for you - or mankind.
2 / 10