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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Sweet like chocolate, or bag of wonk?

Roald Dahl's stories are full of vicious cruelties visited upon children. That's why children like them, being so vicious and cruel themselves. Sadly, of course, the loveable old Norwegian is no longer with us, and thus can no longer weave magical tales to demonstrate his wondrous storytelling abilities, vivid imagination and casual racist tendencies.

But if Dahl were alive today, we like to think that the game of the remake of the film of his book might inspire him to write one of the greatest stories he ever produced, starring a villain more odious than all his other evil creations put together.

It might begin one cold and crisp Christmas Eve when children all across the land are tucked up in bed, full of excitement, as they wonder what Santa will bring them this year. A shiny new red bicycle perhaps? A chestnut pony with a mane the colour of butterscotch? Or, best of all, a copy of GTA: San Andreas and an Action Replay!

But, alas. What they don't know is that Santa has been duped by a sinister and shady character who hates Christmas, children and the whole concept of decent entertainment. He has taken advantage of Santa - knowing that the rosy-cheeked buffoon, when faced with row after row of games with guns on the cover in Oxford Street HMV at 5.25pm on December 24, will find his eye caught by the one cover depicting a gay old fellow dressed in a bright purple suit, accompanied by a young boy clutching a giant lollipop.

Santa will realise that the gay fellow looks a bit like Johnny Depp, and will recall a trip to the cinema almost five months ago when his children remained relatively quiet for an hour and a half, and came out saying the film was "all right" and that they "liked the Oompa-Loompas". And so he will snatch the game from the shelf, hastily part with his hard-earned shillings and rush home so his wife can wrap it, confident of a job well done.

But, alas - again - for now it is Christmas morning, and the game has been whirring away in the PS2's disc tray for just ten minutes, and the children have already decided that there's more fun to be had trying to fit an orange inside the cat that they earlier stuffed inside the turkey. And Santa sits glumly on the sofa, controller in hand, realising he has been done over. It's a Condor moment if ever we've seen one (cue music).

Done over by whom, you might ask? Why, by the evil Mr Lazy Gamemaker, as we'll call him, who knew Santa would buy this product on the strength of a movie tie-in, and thus did not bother to work very hard. Why, he didn't even bother to tell his developer minions to finish it, judging by things like the appalling camera, terrible controls and miserably sparse levels - no, he just banged it out quick-smart and rushed it off to DADC, confident of a con job well done.

Back to reality

A cotton candy sheep. Great if you're hungry, but the jumpers come out a bit sticky.

At this point in the story some kid would probably discover he had a magic power or a special ticket or a massive piece of fruit or something and Mr Lazy Gamemaker would end up meeting a seriously unpleasant end, but of course real life isn't like that.

So we'll just have to do the best we can to try and save the day by warning all prospective Santas - and indeed anyone looking for a birthday present, a surprise gift, a divorce palliative or perhaps, with misplaced optimism, a decent movie tie-in - that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most tiresome games we've ever had the misfortune to play. Yes, even more tiresome than Conker Live & Reloaded.

We should admit at this point that we haven't seen the new Tim Burton adaptation, so we can't answer the question of whether the game succeeds in capturing the feel of the movie. But if you have seen the movie, and you found it to be dull, uninspired, irritating and generally a complete waste of time and money, then the answer is a big fat chocolate-coated 'Yes'.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory leads you in deceptively, with some excellent storybook-style cut-scenes and a basic opening level that sees you (as Charlie) chasing a ten dollar bill through snowy streets. You end up careering down an icy path on a dustbin lid and trying to avoid obstacles in your way - and wondering why nothing actually happens if you accidentally hit them.

But 'who cares?', you think, 'I am going to the famous Willy Wonka chocolate factory, where I shall have marvellous adventures with the man himself and the fat kid and the spoilt kid and the one who blows up like a balloon and the other one'.

Then you find yourself in said factory and charged with rescuing said fat kid from his chocolate pipe prison, and crushing disappointment ensues.

For instead of the wonderful spectacle that the chocolate river is supposed to be, you're confronted with a big green lawn in a big grey room with nothing to see but a big brown splodge and the odd candy tree here and there. The colours are horrible, there's very little detail and the whole thing looks a poor quality PSone game from about ten years ago.

Charlie says

Note distinct lack of characters, objects, background detail or anything of any interest whatsoever.

Start moving around and things go from bad to worse. Yes, worse than shoving a handful of Revels in your mouth only to discover they're all coffee. And/or the bullet-hard toffee ones. The camera is dreadful, jerking all over the place and completely losing the plot should you dare to, say, start jumping from one platform to another. And when the action starts to heat up - like when you're engaged in "combat" with a bunch of robots, for example - you'll see frames dropping like flies at a Raid factory.

But very little of your time is spent fighting enemies - for the most part, you're tasked with solving a series of unimaginative and repetitive puzzles. Most of these revolve around directing Oompa-Loompas to do things like harvest sweets, fix broken switches and put stuff in boxes. You're supposed to be able to control them, but all too often you'll realise they're not following you as requested, and you'll turn around to see they're trapped against an invisible wall and running helplessly on the spot.

Invisible walls are a particular pet hate of ours, and they abound in this game. We were particularly annoyed to discover that they line the banks of the chocolate river, after we decided that everything was so unbearable we'd attempt to drown ourselves in it. It was at this point that we realised we were already drowning in a sea of warm, brown, sticky goo, and that it wasn't chocolate.

Some of the puzzles are so easy you just want to fall asleep, like the one where you have to shear cotton candy sheep. Step 1: press D-pad to make sheep follow you. Step 2: press D-pad to make sheep go in shearing machine. Step 3: watch cut-scene. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Rubbish.

But then, just to keep things interesting, they've thrown in some tasks that are impossibly hard. Like the one where you have to chuck a big ball at a pipe to block it up - not so tricky, you might think, but we had enough trouble picking up the bloody thing since it rolls away whenever you get remotely near.

And once you've mastered that, you discover that there is no way of aiming the ball - you just have to position Charlie in what looks like it might be the right position and press the triangle button. Then, almost invariably, you have to watch as the ball rolls very, very slowly away, misses the pipe entirely and rolls very, very slowly back. There are about a dozen pipes to block, and we estimate it took us about a hundred throws to get all of them. How on earth young kids are supposed to be able to achieve this, let alone be entertained by it, is beyond us.

4's company

No idea what those big dials or that big glowy tube are supposed to be for. Don't care.

Still, we thought, at least that's over. On to a new and possibly even exciting area of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory! Oh. We're back at the chocolate river. And the Oompa-Loompas all seem a bit confused, and won't do what they're told, and two of them have just wandered off entirely, and we really can't blame them, but we're wondering how much more of this we're expected to take.

It's as if Mr Lazy Gamemaker teamed up with Roald Dahl's evil nemesis who, completely lacking in imagination himself, decided to create an utterly tiresome and uninspired game that would ruin the man's legacy forever.

Occasionally you'll come across the odd concept that must have looked good on paper, but has been appallingly realised thanks to the shonky controls and inebriated camera. We like the idea of bouncing from platform to platform on a bubble gum balloon, for example, but since every time you bounce into the air you lose all sense of direction and the bubble bursts every time you fail to guess exactly when the game wants you to press X, it's not much fun.

In short: the controls are awful, the camera is beyond appalling, the graphics are hideous, the environments are bare, the gameplay is unbearably repetitive and the whole thing is an utter chore to play. The game's only redeeming features are the stylized cut-scenes and the rather excellent music, but we certainly wouldn't pay full price for the privilege and we don't know anyone who would.

Even if you loved the film, even if gullible children are tearfully begging you to buy them this game, even if there's been a nuclear holocaust and the only games to survive are this and Army Men: Green Rogue; please, just say No.

2 / 10