There's a fine line between "classic" and just plain "old", and while some games of yesteryear are worth resurrecting, others simply aren't. As far as Altered Beast goes, we'd have to argue it falls into the latter category.
For those with short-term memories or a birth certificate that has yet to yellow with age, the original game first appeared in the arcades back in the late 1980s before being ported over to the Mega Drive.
It was a side-scrolling beat-'em-up set in ancient Greece, and had you playing as some bloke on a mission to rescue Zeus's daughter. And although it's remembered with fondness in many retro gaming circles, we recall it being a bit rubbish, frankly.
Now SEGA has gone and done a remake, and what with it being The Future and everything the ancient Greece bit has been chucked in the bin. Instead the game is set in the fully three-dimensional present day and opens with our unnamed hero being transported to an unknown location via helicopter, of unspecified make, which crashes after a weird flying beasty pops up from nowhere and slams into the undercarriage.
Luckily he survives, unlike the pilots, but regains consciousness to discover he has no memory of who he is, where he's been or where he's supposed to be going. Is it just us, or does this sort of thing happen to game characters a lot more often than it happens to real people?
Anyway, after a bit of a wander our man discovers a briefcase containing a document that seems to be about something called "Project Altered Beast" and "Genome-Chips". But before he has time to find out more, a load of funny-looking blob people with slimy brown skin and spindly legs come lumbering out of the undergrowth and go on the attack.
Next thing you know you're watching a cut-scene - a pretty gory and rather impressive one, it has to be said - of him transmogrifying into a big, blue and moderately scary-looking werewolf.
It's here that you take over control, and here that you realise being in control isn't that much fun. Attacking is based around pressing the square button for basic attack combos, but once you've started a combo you can't seem to stop, which means you're often left swiping blindly at empty air whilst helplessly watching a group of enemies lumber up and whack you from behind. There's a jump attack if you press X, but this isn't much use unless you're being thwatted from above by killer wasps and the like.
If you take down enough baddies you can launch a super attack by pressing the triangle button, which is a bit more like it. There's plenty of blood and gore to be enjoyed, and if you aim right the screen gets covered in a big flat splodge of red. Very satisfying.
As the game progresses the combat system does get a bit more sophisticated, since you can earn new combo chains by collecting extra DNA strands. And, this being Altered Beast, you get the ability to turn into all sorts of different creatures - including a minotaur, merman and bird-type thing - each with their own special moves. Or rather, er, move.
The human/beast dynamic works with the use of something called Spirit Energy. Whilst in creature form, you consume this constantly, and if you run out you'll start using up your human life force until you change back.
You can replenish Spirit Energy by weakening an enemy, and then by what looks like - and what can only be described as - fisting them to death. It's more amusing than it might sound.
This is all very well, but transforming into beasts quickly becomes something of a tiresome operation. Not because it's fiddly to do - a single press of the circle button does the trick - but because you have to watch a mini-cut-scene of the transformation Every Single Time.
All right, so we did use the word "impressive" before, but it's not long before that becomes "painfully repetitive". They may only last for a second or two before you can skip them, but the constant cut-scenes simply serve to interrupt the flow of the gameplay and remind you that you're not actually fending off a wave of bloodthirsty monsters whilst trying to uncover a sinister government conspiracy, but sitting in a comfy chair whilst playing a videogame. And a videogame which isn't very good.
It's little things like this which push Altered Beast over the borders of "average but playable" and into the realms of "too irritating to bother with". Other examples include the fact that you can't enter certain areas for no obvious reason other than there's an invisible wall in front of you, or the way so many enemies stand lumpenly about doing nothing whilst waiting for you to attack.
Then there's the rubbish camera, which follows you about with all the speed and intelligence of, well, one of your enemies, and the way the save points are few, far between and almost always to be found in stupid places.
And, if we're being really picky, how come your character loses his shirt after transforming into a werewolf for the first time, but manages to keep hold of his trousers? A small gripe, maybe, but these things all add up to create a game that, whilst not completely terrible, isn't well-designed enough to be truly enjoyable.
Altered Beast hasn't even made it to the shops over in the States, and we're not surprised - it's hard to see who the game might appeal to. If you're a huge and indiscriminating fan of the third-person hackandslash, there's nothing here you haven't seen before, and seen done a lot better.
If you're a die-hard fan of the original game, you'll probably be disappointed by the shonky new plot and lack of a multiplayer mode, something which for many people was the whole point of the Mega Drive version.
In short, we can't recommend Altered Beast to, er, anyone. Had it arrived a few years earlier it might have been worth a look, but now, like the original, it just feels dated. And since the shops of 2005 are full of shiny new handhelds and games that outclass this one by a mile, there are better things to spend your money on.
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