Great Eggspectations (Fired -Ed)
Yorkshire, the 1950s. Tired of making miniscule profits from the family egg farm Mrs Tweedy decides on a plan of action to raise her fortunes by turning the beleaguered chicken population in her yard into pies. Guarded day and night by Mr Tweedy and his dogs, the chickens involved aren't happy with the situation and set upon contriving more and more adventurous plans to escape to freedom. Led by Ginger, a hen on a mission, and aided by Rocky the Flying Rooster and Nick and Fetcher the amicable but strictly business headed rats, Chicken Run takes the player through a riot of hair brained schemes in a bid to make the great eggscape. Based on the summer hit from masters of animation Aardman, the game seeks to capture everything that made the film a winner. Packaged neatly with front end presentation that games like Spiderman are making a standard in premier action titles today, the player is set up initially with high hopes of an endearing and worthwhile licence. Something unusual in the gaming world to say the least, but despite some minor irritations Chicken Run is more of a giggle of delight from the row in front than the ever annoying, "Muuummy… I wanna go to the toi - let."
Flying the Coop
The game is divided into three acts, each with its own concluding boss level. The principle for each of these remains the same: collect together items from around the farm needed to build an escape device and then play the resulting mini game to see how many chickens you can release to freedom. Once all the mini games for an act have been accessed and the minimum number of cluckers required set free, the boss level is triggered, a mini game in itself. Chicken Run makes no pretensions toward being a game of great depth. The options screen records best times for each of the levels, replayable after completion, and totaled up the game comes to around a grand four hours duration. Not particularly long and to be honest despite the fact that an award system is in place to entice the completist into returning, the desire to replay for maximum points is small. The mini games conform to standard child pleasing tactics. Carefully balanced against the paced exploration and thought of the collection phases, frenetic activity governs timed challenges. From basic button bashing antics to entice hens to lay eggs to Parappa the Rapper style musically timed sequencing, there's nothing really original in any of them. Comical animation, fluid control and fitting sound effects though keep them fresh. Whether you're strapping chickens to fireworks to rocket them through randomly opening barn doors or carefully using tools in time with Mr Tweedy to disguise the noise of building your latest greatest device, the games always exude a charm not often found in such simple gameplay.
Behind all this though is the core of the game, the exploration of Tweedy's Farm and the collection of various objects needed to build escape contraptions. Starting out with the simple job of making a pair of wire cutters to escape the chicken coop the three acts gradually extend the play area to encompass the entire farm. This is where the inevitable Metal Gear Solid comparisons arrive. The play area is constantly patrolled by the Tweedys and their dogs and while sneaking about avoiding torch lights the characters can even press themselves flat against the sides of walls Solid Snake style, the camera altering to show the area being entered. This unfortunately though is more use for composing great screenshots than aiding any stealth techniques. The camera for the most part hangs lazily above the action, dutifully following proceedings from a viewpoint that can be frustrating in the way it restricts the player's view. Some more thought was needed with this, in conjunction with the disorienting and equally small scale radar the fear of the unknown isn't so much thrilling as down right annoying when it leaps out of nowhere and pins you to the floor. Some connection between the map and the radar too, if only an indication of north, would prevent the need for constant flicks to the map screen. Despite the comical appeal of sneaking chickens around the farm behind the back of the lumbering Mr Tweedy, the fun for the most part comes from solving the simple puzzles leading to the objects on Ginger's checklists. Especially so in the later stages of the game when the player controls both Nick and Fetcher the rats in tandem to achieve goals. As said though, this is a children's game. To anyone with any real experience of videogaming the puzzles are more a formality than a challenge.
What does sell the game though are some superb visuals. Realtime lighting sets the mood with ease, whether it be the moonlit chicken coop or the farm in the haze of morning, and the simple but highly effective realtime shadowing that accompanies it demonstrates a proper consideration for aesthetics. Being a game with a natural cartoon style the restricted colouring of Playstation textures is less noticeable than usual too. Don't get me wrong, these are still definitely Playstation standard graphics - but as the rats creep through the shadow cast by an open door and the pale dawn sky brightens over the chicken coop, the proper use of lighting creates an enticing atmosphere. As does the sound, lifted for the most part from the film. From the kazoo led humour of the mini games to the taut strings accompanying Ginger on her dashes across the farm the sound is unintrusive, unspectacular, but fitting and mood setting. The character voices for the most part too match their cinematic counterparts, even though voiced by less budget stretching talent.
I get the impression that Chicken Run has been bracketed incorrectly by a lot of the attention it has received. It's a film licence, but despite its more mature tongue in cheek moments it is a children's film, so its unfair to expect the game to appeal to an audience outside that demographic. It is a children's game and despite its sometimes bland gameplay it fits the bill well. Comparisons to Metal Gear Solid are unjust, Chicken Run doesn't attempt to poach Konami's golden egg. It borrows ideas, but the 'Chicken Gear Solid' tagline doesn't do justice to what is a perfectly serviceable and for the most part enjoyable game. The PSone is being pitched as a children's console and young'uns who have seen the film will probably gain great enjoyment taking on the challenge of helping Ginger and her friends escape in what could be termed a launch game for the newly refined and retargetted console. While older kids will be clamoring to play with Tina's ample charms as titles like DOA2 launch the PSone's bigger brother this Christmas, those of us with a little childhood innocence about us will find the charm of the game outweighing its shortcomings for the few hours it lasts. Nothing demanding, something perhaps to ponder over for the time it takes the Christmas turkey to go down, certainly something to occupy the kids for the snooze that comes afterwards.