Stuck in the middle with you.
Just to quickly answer the first question everyone wants to know about this game; yes, you do get to play as Mr Blonde and slice people's ears off with a straight razor. Still, as any real fan of the movie knows, there was so much more to Reservoir Dogs than that brutally iconic scene and the good news is the video game version knows it too. How well it uses that knowledge is another matter.
Reservoir Dogs heralded a revolution in contemporary cinema that saw the previously marginalised indie scene start barking at the big boys, with tiny budget wonders suddenly chasing the tails of Hollywood blockbusters. Former video store clerk Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut might have been a mish-mash of his own geeky adoration of obscure gangster movies and Hong Kong action flicks (Ringo Lam's City on Fire being a major inspiration) but it was still an audacious, hugely influential slice of cinematic nirvana, laden with eminently quotable dialogue and a soundtrack to die horribly for. Above everything else though, it was cool.
Some 14 years later, with all the pace of a limping greyhound, the games industry has finally caught up with the Tarantino craze and Eidos has released an officially licensed tie-in to the movie - though I guess it doesn't beat EA's 42-year record with From Russia with Love. Understandably, gamers burned by previous lacklustre licences have raised a concerned eyebrow at such apparently blatant cash cow milking (did anyone even play Vivendi's misguided jab at Fight Club?). When it comes to movie-based games, you simply have to.
All right ramblers, let's get rambling
Climactic Mexican stand-off aside, Reservoir Dogs the movie could hardly be described as an action film. The characters may all be armed but the shoot-outs are short and effectual, yet developer Volatile Games glosses over this fact by packing the game with endless gunplay and car chases. Reservoir Dogs hops with wild abandon between the two styles of play throughout its relatively short duration, with the car chases being used as a break from the main, on foot action. For players of 24: The Game, this will all feel unerringly familiar and owners of Driver: Parallel Lines or any of EA's Bond outings won't be noticing much new here either.
The story closely mirrors that of the movie by depicting both the execution and aftermath of a doomed diamond heist from the viewpoints of six, black-suited gang members, each given their enigmatic codenames like Mr Blonde, Mr White and Mr Pink. Time shifts abruptly between missions, meaning that one minute you can be fleeing the cops on your tail in a stolen car (ably using you Burnout-purloined boost to zoom ahead) and the next you are chasing store employees intent on raising the alarm. It's as disorientating as it was in the film but, despite the limitations of featuring only two styles of play; the technique keeps players hooked by making them guess what's coming next.
As Eidos explains, one of the main lures of the game is that you "get to experience those parts of the movie that were only suggested". Although this again misses the point of the source material, taking Mr Blonde (voiced by the only returning cast member, Michael Madsen) on a murderous rampage through the mall and helping the doomed Mr Blue go out with a bang, as he exits the heist through the front door into an army of cops. Presumably they thought it would make for a better game than sticking straight to the script.
That's your excuse for going on a kill-crazy rampage?
While the driving sections are functional at best, with a fair share of little glitches and handbrake-grabbing pop-up problems, it's the shooting levels that at least break some new ground - albeit gently and with a blunt pickaxe. Viewed over the shoulder, your task is to generally guide each character from one room or outdoor setting to the next without getting blown away. Although it's perfectly possible to kill everyone in your path, using the same find-cover-and-fire controls and stock selection of guns and grenades we have seen a hundred times before, the game's smart Crowd Control system (all Reservoir Dog's key features are cleverly named after snippets of dialogue from the movie) can help prevent levels from becoming a bloodbath. Simply grab an unguarded cop or civilian, jam a pistol to their head and threaten to blow away the hostage if anyone takes a step closer.
Tougher opponents, like SWAT members, won't back down too easily and a quick clunk on your prisoner's head with the butt of your gun will be needed before they reach for the sky. Once an enemy has put down the weapon, you simply hold R2 and guide them to a wall, where they will crouch until you leave. Hit a hostage too often though and they will drop dead, resulting in every available cop reaching for their gun and blasting away. This, coupled with a constantly flagging energy bar for each hostage, means you have to perpetually find a new victim to coerce or start shooting. Fortunately, the combat engine is pretty sturdy and spontaneous gunfights rarely descend into Hitman-style chaos. Plus, if you have taken enough hostages or wasted enough enemies, an adrenaline meter fills up enough for you to go into Bullet Festival mode. Not unlike the slow-mo western thrills of Red Dead Revolver or Gun, time slows to a crawl for a few seconds so you can take a few choice pot shots at surrounding would-be killers before returning to normal speed, with gratuitous cut scenes then showing each bullet hitting its mark. Again, this is nothing new but it's carried out with style and is very satisfying in that sick sadistic way that Jack Thompson will abhor with every fibre of his being. Wisely, merciful players though are rewarded with better career rating than trigger happy killers, who get branded Psychos, so that should temper any reactionary groups. Well, maybe a little bit...
The choice between doing ten years and taking out some stupid motherf**ker, ain't no choice at all
And that leads onto to another major question about Reservoir Dogs; is it really that violent? Quite simply, no it's not. The game is certainly no more bloodthirsty than GTA and, despite the odd shotgun decapitation, pails in comparison to classic brutality benchmarks Manhunt and Soldier of Fortune. Mr Blonde's trademark ear removal technique can be pulled off by building up adrenaline and then pressing the triangle button while holding an enemy but, like the movie, the camera cuts away for the worst part - leaving the real gore to your imagination. The actual level of violence is hardly shocking and has been greatly exaggerated, much like it was ahead of the film's release.
Throughout the game, the presentation is very strong and, for the most part, befitting of such a venerated license. When your character steps into the daylight, even on the ageing PS2 the graphics are quite impressive. They may not match the next gen competition but this is still a decent looker that manages a consistent frame rate throughout. Music wise, all the favourites from K-BILLY'S Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend are present and correct too, while the way characters tell anecdotes and banter during the driving levels adds an entertaining edge to the soundtrack.
Although the overall atmosphere is far removed from the tense, dialogue-heavy trappings of the film, this is a consistently enjoyable action game that will keep you entertained for the few hours it lasts. But, and let's not beat around the bush here, Reservoir Dogs' refusal to break the leash of modern gaming conventions means it will never create impact of its cinematic big brother. Tarantino's movie showed audiences just what could be achieved with no money but stacks of talent, while the game merely demonstrates what can be pulled off with current generation hardware and enough spare cash to snap up the rights to a cult movie. It's not that clever and, crucially, it's not that cool. They might not need to be put down but these Reservoir Dogs lack any real bite.