Clumsy, repetitive and achingly dull, once again video games have poorly served the King of the Monsters.
It's one of the great mysteries of video gaming. How has the mighty Godzilla been able to inspire so many beloved interactive rip-offs - from Rampage to the sadly obscure War of the Monsters - without ever starring in a decent game of his own? It would be nice to report that this latest effort balances things out, and gives Big G his long overdue video game redemption, but despite some nice ideas it still falls painfully short.
The last time Godzilla stomped onto consoles was in a trilogy of sloppy fighting games in the 2000s. Those games focused on the monster-on-monster action to the exclusion of almost everything else, and suffered thanks to their lumpen controls and one-note gameplay. This new game still suffers from the same problems, but at least takes a swing at creating a broader tribute to the King of the Monsters.
The main game mode is God of Destruction, in which the idea is to guide Godzilla inland as he rampages through Japan in search of generators powered by "G-Energy". You chart his path across ten branching stages, made up of 25 areas. Sometimes you're able to choose between two different locations for your next attack, at other times there's only one way forwards.
Each location offers the chance to encounter another monster, but difficulty is determined by the politician in charge of the human response. Some maps are easy, ruled over by a soppy old man who sees Godzilla as a wayward creature, the harder ones are governed by someone who escalates the armed response far more quickly.
You'll rarely be troubled by the humans, though. Godzilla shrugs off tank fire and rockets alike as he stomps into action, and the only reason to even respond to their feeble provocations is to complete bonus objectives. There are several tasks to complete in each area, though none are interesting or challenging, and soon begin to feel repetitive.
Your primary goal is to destroy the G-Energy generators, as that's how you win each stage. If another kaiju appears, you'll need to deal with them as well before progressing. Every building and enemy destroyed releases G-Energy, which causes Godzilla to grow in size. The bigger you are, the more damage you cause, and causing consistent damage to the scenery builds up a combo meter, which in turn multiplies the amount of energy you absorb.
You'll also be tasked with standing on four spots in each map, so that humans can capture data on Godzilla. Quite why you, as Godzilla, would go along with this is unclear, but there are markers on the map and go to them you must. At least, you must if you want access to the final stages of the game, which only unlock once enough research has been done. You won't get it all in one playthrough, so you'll need to grind through the God of Destruction campaign multiple times before you can tackle the final true ending.
A King of Kaiju survival mode, where you try to defeat six enemies as quickly as possible, and a rudimentary online multiplayer mode are the only other options, and each of those relies entirely on the same plodding, button-mashing combat that saps the life out of the core campaign.
There's a lot of grinding in this game, particularly where levelling up is concerned. You can increase Godzilla's abilities and powers, and those of other unlocked monsters, but only by cashing in DNA samples from defeated kaiju. Specific DNA is required to unlock each new tier - you need cells from both Gigan and Jet Jaguar to extend your atomic breath meter, for instance - and since the game doesn't tell you at the start which kaiju appear in which stage, there's a lot of blind luck and replays involved just to earn the first few meagre power-ups.
It takes only about an hour to play through the campaign, but after four complete runs without making any noticeable progress in terms of upgrades, I'd had enough. DNA doesn't even carry over between monsters either, so for each monster you want to evolve you'll need to grind through the same stages over and over. And over. And over.
This wouldn't be such a chore if the game were, you know, fun. It's not. Control is peculiar, with Godzilla rotated with the shoulder buttons while the stick moves him forwards and back, and strafes left and right. It's a weird tank-like approach that possibly suits a creature of this size, but never once feels natural.
Attacks are limited, with a three-hit basic combo and a stronger attack as your core offensive options. Godzilla can perform a short head-down charge, which is useful for pushing enemies back, and also has his famous atomic breath. This takes time to charge, however, and lasts for barely a second. If you want to really let rip with it, you'll need to pour hours into the grind for more kaiju DNA. The same is true of the handful of additional moves on offer, while all the other monsters have their own broadly similar attack patterns, regardless of whether they fly, crawl or stomp.
There's none of the goofy silliness of the Showa era movies from the 1960s, when Godzilla would wrestle with his enemies or use them as footballs. Nor is there any of the weighty pugilism of the later Millenium series. With no block move, fights are simply monotonous slugging matches, with the victor determined by which monster spams the most effective moves fast enough. Skill barely factors into it.
Environmental destruction doesn't fare any better. Godzilla can stomp through only the smallest and most basic structures. Anything larger and he simply walks on the spot next to it until it flashes and explodes. You can attack buildings, of course, but the physics leaves much to be desired. It doesn't matter if you're striking a skyscraper or a single storey office - one combo makes it fall to pieces in the crudest way possible, all square lumps and crude particle effects. All the while, Godzilla clips through everything he touches - arms, tail, even his entire upper torso will constantly vanish inside buildings and other monsters alike. In a game which demands a feeling of tangible impact in order to sell its fictional behemoth, it's a shocking oversight. The lack of feedback is appalling.
Visually, the game is barely trying. The monsters have had the most attention lavished on them, but even then they only occasionally look worthy of the PlayStation 4 while animations are jerky and awkward. The simplistic maps, dotted with the same boxy buildings, could have been carried over from the PlayStation 2. You could argue that this is true to the movies, but you'd be wrong. For all their cheesy reputation, the detailed model sets and monster designs of Eiji Tsuburaya were state of the art for their time - the 1954 original was the most expensive Japanese movie yet made - and far from being a worthy tribute, this game's bargain basement approach makes a mockery of his iconic work.
As a lifelong Godzilla nut, I've grown used to being disappointed by his gaming outings, so none of this really comes as a surprise. What makes this particular failure sting is that you can see the beginnings of what could be the first genuinely good Godzilla title amongst the rubble. There are moments here, generally when a new kaiju first appears and you begin to battle, demolishing everything around you as helicopters and jets buzz overhead, where you can feel the distinct appeal of this most misunderstood movie franchise trying to make itself known. With the power of today's consoles to draw on, it should be brilliant.
And, credit where it's due, for all its failings the game doesn't skimp on the fan service. There are dozens of monsters to play with, from old standbys such as Anguirus and Gigan to newer additions to the canon like Space Godzilla, and the chintzy presentation hits the spot where the Japanese movie Venn diagram overlaps with classic Japanese arcade gaming. The addition of a Diorama Mode, where you can stage your own static scenes, using models unlocked in-game, is a particularly lovely idea - though the clunky, fiddly implementation makes it less fun to play with than it should be.
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to report any of this. Sitting at my PC, wearing a Godzilla t-shirt and surrounded by plastic models of the series' wonderful menagerie, I wanted so desperately for this to be the game to truly realise the character's potential in gaming. I wanted Crackdown with kaiju. Instead, I got...this. The only thing being crushed here is the dreams of every monster movie fan who ever picked up a joypad.