|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: GRIN||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Warner Bros.||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 24, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
March 16, 2009 - Last week, the folks handling PR for Wanted: Weapons of Fate flew a bunch of video game reviewers to Hollywood, wined, dined, and lodged them, and gave them access to the game and developers. Here's what we learned about the third-person shooter, due March 24.
When it comes down to the absolute basics, Wanted is a lot like Gears of War. You'll be taking cover and moving between protective barriers, trying not to spend much time out in the open. There's regenerating health, a huge damage difference between headshots and bullets to the body, and a generous checkpoint system that keeps you from having to play the same long sections over and over.
However, it's unfair to dismiss Wanted as a "Gears clone," because the developers took this setup and turned it on its head. In Gears, cover is always defensive: you hide, pop up, shoot until the coast is clear, and proceed to the next barrier. In Wanted, cover can also be offensive; by firing a few suppressing shots, you can slow down time. Then, by moving quickly from barrier to barrier ("chaining cover"), you can sneak up on enemies without them seeing you. If you get near enough, a single button press will execute a close-combat kill. The cover-chaining mechanic, coupled with speedier cover-to-cover movement in general, drastically changes the pace and feel of the game.
There are other interesting features as well. The ability to curve bullets will delight fans of the movie; you can shoot hiding enemies by holding down a bumper button and setting a trajectory with a joystick. Also, instead of chaining cover, you can leap between barriers in Max Payne-style slow-mo ("Assassin Time"), killing multiple enemies in the course of one jump. Both of these mechanics cost you "adrenaline," which is earned by killing enemies (even when you spend adrenaline to do so, meaning that if you kill enough enemies each time you use adrenaline, you hardly ever have to battle your opponents the "normal" way).
Another departure from the Gears formula is the inclusion of Resident Evil 4-esque quick-time events in some of the cutscenes. You'll retain control of your gun, though, shooting bullets out of the air and killing enemies before they can take you down.
Story-wise, the game picks up where the movie left off, rather than re-making the film or throwing the plot away completely. It's hard to say much about the game's events without spoiling the movie's ending, so we'll just point out that another branch of The Fraternity (the French one) plays a major role. The events unfold over the course of an eight-to-ten-hour campaign playable in two difficulties at first. (A third unlocks when you finish the game. You can also unlock playable characters and art.)
The notion of The Fraternity existing outside the Chicago branch is something that didn't come up much in the film; it's a concept that's explored more in the hyper-violent comic books on which the movie was based. Weapons of Fate also dresses protagonist Wesley Gibson in his trademark black suit, in addition to the street clothes he wore for the film. The graphic novel's author, Mark Millar, gave the developers advice on the game.
However, the main inspiration here is the motion picture, not the comic. The graphics aim for photorealism, not a cel-shaded comic look, and some of the character models and voice acting come from the movie's cast. A few of the levels even recreate scenes from the film (the airplane sequence evokes the train scene from the movie).
Movie-based games start with two strikes against them, but judging by the publisher's behavior and our interactions with the staff, this is a game that's been taken seriously. Perhaps most compelling is the fact that though development started back in early 2007, management didn't insist that the game's release coincide with that of the movie (June 2008) or the DVD (December 2008). This indicates not only that it was important to Universal Studios that GRIN be given enough time, but also that Universal is confident that the game can succeed without riding the movie's publicity coattails. Further, the developers avoided tacking on features they couldn't fully flesh out, even if said features would look good on the back of the box. They won't hesitate to tell you they decided to go without multiplayer and don't regret it, for example.
Of course, the best way to test the effort put into a title is to play it, and at the Wanted event, we got to spend some hands-on time with the final code. We'll save our standard list of good and iffy attributes for the release-day review, but for now, suffice it to say that the gameplay innovations work very, very well. As a masked, fleet-footed assassin should, you feel incredibly mobile, strategically darting around each battlefield inflicting death on anyone unfortunate enough to get in your line of sight (or warped shooting trajectory). The controls are intuitive, thanks to the developers' following Gears' lead on the basics and extensively testing the new mechanics (in an early build, they say, you could steer the bullets directly, but that felt too clumsy).
Our experience with Wanted left us convinced it's not your typical movie game. "Great, but is it actually worth $60?" you might say. Good point. Check back March 24 to read our full review, and to see if you should plunk your hard-earned cash on this title.
CCC Freelance Writer