We’ve been so invigorated in a refreshing shower of high quality titles from the past three months that we’d forgotten games like this still exist. When not soaping-up with the next-gen, we’ve had the pleasure of pampering ourselves with a gift basket of minty fresh titles that have breathed new life into our crusty home consoles. We’ve deodorised with the perfumed prettiness of Shadow of Colossus and plucked the cheddar from our toenails with the ever-sharp TOCA 3. And while the piping hot water of Black sprays onto our face we reach out with squinting eyes and grab the Aeon Flux loofer. It’s damp and someone’s left their pubic hair on it.
Back to the cold shower of reality that states a large percentage of video games aren’t very good at all. Aeon Flux struggles to stay lukewarm. Based on the movie, based on the MTV shorts, based on anything to try and instil some kind of reason for its existence, it’s a game so bog standard it may as well come with its own carpet to soak up the stains.
Even by video game standards, the story behind Aeon Flux is nonsensical. A plague has wiped out a fair whack of humanity, with survivors living in a perfect society within the walled city of Bregna. Our heroine Aeon Flux is an assassin, part of a rebellion intent on uncovering the truth behind the ruling scientists and their dubious totalitarian state.
At least that’s what it says on the box. In practise there is no story, no structure, no timeline and no reason. Levels are not connected in any way other than you’re playing them off the same disc, with a black-clad killer running through a series of sci-fi sets. It’s impossible to tell if this has been done on purpose as some sort of artistic statement, or whether designers Terminal Reality structured the levels by sticking them in a large hat and asked the tea lady to pluck them out at random. Aeon fights for one side and then another, like a fit-looking Yojimbo, while characters become good guys, bad guys and then seem to change their entire personality at random points during the game. At one point I wasn’t sure I was even playing as Flux.
Still, the prospect of a gripping narrative isn't the primary reason most of us play video games; if we want stories we’ll read books. Show us the guns, show us the action, show us the hot Charlize-a-like "slapping the beeswax outta fools". Initially it seems appealing, with a third-person blend of acrobatics, gunplay and fistfights, but the designers don’t trust you to play the game properly, so when they’re not gripping your arm and forcing you across the screen like a pushy mother, they’re making you fool around in a giant monkey ball, or insisting you fight enemies with a completely unwieldy control system.
Aeon’s acrobatics are context sensitive, so she need only get in the right position and with the tap of a button you’ll marvel as the nimble minx flips, flops and flies across the screen. Expect no Prince of Persia grace or sense of satisfaction here though, as Aeon controls like she’s wearing a built-up shoe. Throw in a camera that doesn’t highlight the way forward and the supposedly fluid gymnastics become a staccato dance where the player sits staring dead-eyed at the screen, waiting for a cue.
Although armed with a F.U.G. gun (don’t ask) the game isn’t big on bullet exchanges. There are four different types of ammo, all of which have varying degrees of uselessness, and you’ll struggle to find nearly enough bullets to take out a single enemy. Not that gunplay would be any fun if you had the ammo - you aren’t able to switch targets and have to rely on a sticky auto-targeting system that you have no control over, where turning to face your victim is the only way of lining up a shot. It’s one of those daft design decisions that ranks up there with Tanner getting out from behind the wheel of his car.
As the player unloads what little bullets he does have on the wrong enemy, it’s clear that the designers are forcing you to make the most out of Aeon’s hand-to-hand fighting skills. But when these involve mashing two buttons together in order to build a meter for finishing moves, you’ll begin to realise this other half-arsed approach to combat doesn’t deserve your attention either. Again, context sensitive kills are encouraged, but whatever’s stuck to Aeon’s boots merely increases the frustration and becomes yet another punch to the groin of fun.
And finally there is what can only be described as Super Monkey Ball moments. Our heroine gets inside a big techno-ball and rolls around levels, squishing bad guys while moving from one location to another. Why? We have no idea - it just seems to be there. There’s also a smaller orb used to deactivate sentry guns and such, where the controls seem to fight back and awkward time limits will make you want to simply stop playing the game all together, put the controller down and go cuddle up in a warm and happy place. Writing about Charlize Theron and balls should have been so much more fun than this. As it is, there’s been no excuse to mention one bouncing off the others chin.
When Aeon Flux isn’t busy being average, it’s tied up in its own gibberish, or nudging you towards your next confrontation with awkward controls. It has almost none of the excitement we play video games for and as such, is time lost and tears in the eyes of anyone foolish enough to waste their money.