Steven Spielberg's Minority Report was one of this year's better action movies, so it was of no surprise to discover that the enterprising Activision had snapped up the rights to make videogames based on the futuristic tale of pre crime operatives and elaborate stitch ups.
Recently released on all three next gen console platforms, (plus the GBA), the lead character is John Anderton, a pre crime officer who studies the findings of three psychics who, bizarrely, lay in a water tank hooked up to a machine that projects their thoughts onto a big screen that Anderton can manipulate in a futuristic kind of way that we don't really understand. These pre-cogs (as they're known) have the ability to predict when murders are about to take place, and thus the pre crime officers move in to stop these heinous acts taking place. And then promptly lock the would-be guilty away so they can cause no more trouble.
You're a future murderer!
Trouble is, Anderton (played by Tom Cruise in the movie) discovers that he himself is going to commit a murder at some point in the near future, and is forced to go on the run to avoid permanent detention - but in the movie's high tech age this is easier said than done, with retina scanners capable of tracking individuals wherever they are, and jet pack powered cops swooping in from every direction to wrestle you off to chokey.
With an interesting take on the fugitive genre, it ought to have given Treyarch (developers of Spider-Man: The Movie, Shaun Palmer, Kelly Slater) plenty of inspiration to conjure more than your average movie license spin off. But you gamers should know by now that the chances of a decent movie tie-in game are about one in a hundred, so we approached Minority Report with more than a little scepticism.
Our initial feelings about the game went up a notch when we discovered the rare presence of a wide screen and surround sound option. But that's about as good as it got. Minority Report merely takes the escape element of the movie and makes a Final Fight style beat 'em up out of it.
Stab that Square button as fast as you can
The controls are fairly familiar, for a third person action game, with the left stick controlling movement, and the right stick the camera. X punches, square kicks, circle blocks, triangle jumps, while L1 shoots, and R1 targets - with weapon select assigned to the D pad. A range of combos makes the combat look initially promising, but stabbing the kick button like a maniac seems to dispose of just about anything in the vicinity. And if that doesn't work, you can always pop them with some futuristic guns.
Weapons are generally dotted around, but normally with extremely limited ammo, so cautious use is advised. Anderton seems to be a fairly feeble chap, so you constantly have to keep a check on your health; otherwise you'll find yourself dead in a worryingly short space of time. Health pick-ups are also available, but armed enemies cause heavy damage so quickly you have to tread extremely carefully. If you fail, it's an annoying trip back to the very start of the level, with no mid level check points provided to cushion the blow of your (inevitable) failure.
Groundhog Day: The Game
Initial forays are pretty straightforward, with a few unarmed foes to dispatch, but the action soon gets tough after the first three or four levels, with robots manning the facility, followed by cops armed to the teeth. And once you've got possession of the jet pack, things get even tougher, with packs of cops capable of gunning you down in a matter of seconds. At this point, you really wonder why you're bothering, as the old school trip back to the start of a long, enemy strewn level just feels like gaming torture, Groundhog Day style. On level 5, it's actually possible to avoid half the enemies just by jet packing through them all, but Treyarch arbitrarily throws up obstacles for the player, forcing them to dispatch a set number of enemies before doors magically become unlocked.
You can collect cash lying around (which is mostly hidden in 'secret' areas), and buy ammo, armour, or better weapons, but you'll probably be halfway through the game before you have anywhere near enough to play with. The chances of you enjoying the experience long enough to even get halfway are pretty slim, believe us.
And we haven't even mentioned the graphics yet. The fairest thing to say would be that they're 'functional'. If we were being cynical, we'd say that they're the result of a rushed development cycle, whereby Treyarch were given a matter of months to churn out something that would be released just in time for the DVD release. If you turned back the clock a couple of years, this kind of low rent, low texture, low poly blandness would have probably been - just about - acceptable. It's no exaggeration to say that this wouldn't look out of place on a PSone.
We've been spoiled
But the progression of technology is a harsh mistress, and sub standard offerings become the subject of much pointing and laughing by a community spoiled by (much) better things. Minority Report doesn't even try to be cutting edge in this department, with nothing truly terrible (ok the lens flare is comical), but nothing ever even remotely eye-catching. Even the colour scheme is death by blandness (at least the execrable Gungrave bothers to look good). The lack of Tom Cruise as John Anderton in the cut scenes is utterly predictable, but his digital replacement is so crushingly generic, with such piss poor voiceovers that you wonder whether the people responsible for this game even watched the film, it's so embarrassingly far from representing the real thing. If we hadn't watched the movie already, we would have no interest after witnessing these cut scenes.
As a game, the combat-centric nature of the gameplay bears little relation to the movie, and to somehow stretch out a 15 level game based on tiny snippets of the action is testing credibility to the limit. There are a ton of cool gadgets the developers could have employed, and a whole adventure element that would have suited the game perfectly, and done justice to what is a pretty decent movie. Instead Treyarch seems to have taken the 'churn it out quick' option with a laughable attempt at appealing to the lowest common denominator, but instead appealing to no-one but people who don't know any better.
How did it get released?
What you're left with is a punch, kick and throw marathon that bears more resemblance to early 90s side scrolling beat 'em ups from Capcom than a 21st Century action adventure on a next generation console. You'd think a publisher with a good reputation like Activision wouldn't want to be associated with such second rate titles - especially one attached to a high profile movie license.
If you fancy a couple of hours of entertainment, you'd be better off spending a few quid on renting the movie than burning Ł40 on this wasted opportunity to recreate the experience as a videogame.