Releasing a game based on the original Jaws move license in the year 2006 is not so much missing the boat as turning up at the harbour thirty-one years after it's been shut down and replaced by a coastal airport, but let's not scoff at Jaws Unleashed. Not yet, anyway. This is Appaloosa, after all, and they made Ecco the Dolphin, and that was pretty good. A Jaws game could be brilliant with today's technology - think of all the blood they could put in! It could be a glorious, destructive orgy of violence, all smashing ships to bits and tearing tiny people limb from limb and hunting down and eating everything else in the sea whilst that spine-tingling theme tune provides a fitting background to your rampant devastation of Amity Island.
Instead, I get this:
Find... find an ID card? I'm a giant monster shark, how am I supposed to even use an ID card? Actually, scratch that, why should I need one with these jaws? Surely I should just be able to bash my way through this glass tank and out to freedom, so I can ruin someone's beach party by chewing their guests' legs off?
But no, I have to find an ID card, and so I spend eight minutes swimming around and around the tank looking for one, crashing into things and getting stuck behind scenery, until I accidentally beach myself on a railing, at which point a white-coated lab technician appears out of thin air and wanders into my mouth. Then the door opens (he must have had an ID card!), but I'm still stuck on the railing, so there's nothing I can do except sit there and wait for Jaws to suffocate. Which he does, promptly.
Other such frustrating, broken nonsense follows. Jaws Unleashed's introductory mission is a fair summary of the worst that this game has to offer. It does get significantly better once that's over with, but never enough to bring things up to an acceptable standard. It doesn't even have the theme tune - it has a weird, non-threatening remix that's about as bone-chilling as an overfed goldfish. It gets one or two things right, but awkward controls, a horrible, horrible camera, completely bizarre mission design and countless smaller, less fundamental annoyances mean that those few successes do little to sweeten the experience.
Once the horror of the introduction is over, Jaws Unleashed places you in an open sea, always giving you a decent measure of choice with regards to which mission or attribute-boosting challenge game to pursue next. If you can wrestle around the awful controls and camera, some of them are nearly enjoyable (usually the ones that involve wanton, senseless, undemanding destruction). Other times, Jaws is bizarrely cast as an environmental crusader, valiantly defending the seas from nuclear waste-dumpers or throwing exploding barrels at bridges. The missions, sadly, are often so confusingly structured that you will find yourself swimming about for ten minutes trying to figure out what the game wants of you before Jaws either dies of hunger or is killed by something that you can't see. Infuriatingly, you have to eat constantly to stay alive, which robs the casual exploration of Amity Island of any pleasure it might otherwise have entailed.
Jaws himself looks reasonably good in-game - not big enough, if you ask me, but reasonably well-animated and nasty-looking. Disappointingly, he isn't as nasty as he looks. One of Appaloosa's greatest and most fundamental mistakes here was incorporating an attribute improvement system, which means that Jaws is a bit useless for the first half of the game. To illustrate the point, you tend to have to seize hapless swimmers and savage them five or six times before they eventually die at the beginning of the game, because Jaws' power hasn't been upgraded. He also dies far too often at first because his health is low and his hunger requirements high, and destroying things with the basic ram attack takes an age. This does not make me feel like a giant monster shark. It makes me feel helpless and frustrated and angry that I have to waste my time upgrading a 31-year-old shark's attributes before I'm allowed to have any fun.
Surely, all anyone wants from a Jaws game is lots of blood and eating people and smashing things to bits. When that's what you're doing, Unleashed is fun despite its enormous flaws in execution. Had that been its focus, instead of a botched attempt at open-world exploration loosely structured by a bizarre, unengaging and often nonsensical plot, Jaws Unleashed would have been a much better game. Instead it's a mess of conflicting design elements, glitches and outdated film trivia, casually entertaining for about five minutes and tear-inducingly frustrating from there on out. It tries, clearly, but it fails on almost every count.
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