This game is even different from the movie, which itself is different from the original manuscript
Lowered expectations is the only thing that’s going to make this game passable for players. The less you know about the actual ancient literature known as Beowulf, the more you might be able to appreciate this game. Also, the less you know about action-oriented gaming, the more you might be able to appreciate this game.
Beowulf is not the kind of game that is likely to impress any game reviewer, unless it’s his or her first assignment and the novelty of playing games for a living hasn’t worn off. I can tell you with no uncertainty that Beowulf is one dog of a game. There is so much going against it, I’m having trouble at where to start. I have to qualify my comments here in an effort to be fair. Beowulf is not a terrible game; in fact it’s passable. I will definitely give it a score that will put it above the passing grade. Now having said that, my expectations of Beowulf were not low, considering that this game is supposedly based on the epic fantasy poem of the same name that was written more than a thousand years ago. I expected a lot more than a generic game with a lame adaptation of the original story.
First of all, let’s try to ignore the fact that there is also a movie released with the same name. That will figure prominently later, but for now let us be concerned with the original classic story. It’s believed to have been written in England during the 7th century. The author is unknown, but widely celebrated. Although Beowulf is a poem, it’s a friggin’ huge one. It tells the fantastic tale of a hero defending his world. That’s a really shallow overview as the poem goes into great detail with the names of places, characters, and detailed descriptions of monsters, battles, and situations. But the shallow overview is all that you’ll have to concern yourself with. The story in the game is so convoluted and confusing that it barely resembles the original, with the exception of the shallow overview.
A warrior defending his kingdom against aggressive monsters is hardly anything new. So it’s a wonder why the developers didn’t stick more closely to the original poem seeing as it’s the only surviving literary work in the fantasy genre. Some claim it’s the first, and there’s no doubt of its influences. As with the movie, the story has been dumbed-down in an effort to cater to a huge, young, demographic that would never be able to spell Beowulf correctly, let alone have ever heard of it or would ever consider reading it. “Why read when you can watch the movie? And after that, I can play the game. I’ll be a friggin’ expert on that Baywatch-Wolf thing.”
I am by no means a literary snob. I truly think that some of the best writing of our time can be found in the Simpsons (circa 89-95). I just think that if you’re going to mess with a classic, don’t make a mess of it. What we’ve got here is a generic action game with a convoluted storyline that is revealed in sections like a mystery game. Bits of clues help to make sense of events eventually, but there’s no need for this kind of suspense. Normally in a game like this you need to be in the here and now. Unfortunately, due to the repetitive and restricted nature of the gameplay, it’s really a blessing to have your mind occupied with other thoughts.
Much of the gameplay is redundant. You repeat the same kind of quests/missions over and over. They involve fighting waves of monsters and moving on to the next arena. Expect a lot of button mashing. There are only a few different moves. Once you acquire and learn them, the only thing you have to look forward to is making them more powerful. You will punch, grab, jump, climb, dodge, counterattack, and slash with weapons. Successful moves will earn you points which you will use to upgrade your tiny set of moves.
Beowulf has a posse with him. They are called the Thane, and with a few commands they will perform some helpful duties. For the most part, the Thane respond not unlike special needs kids on a day trip. They don’t always listen, they get in the way, they freeze in a panic, and they can’t be relied upon to always think for themselves. If one of them gets attacked by a vicious monster, the others will stop work and look on with interest, not so much as offering to shoo the beast away while it feasts upon their comrade.
As with the move list, the command list for your personal army is rather small. This is no RTS game. You can order them to move to a certain area, flank you, and put them to work in a few tasks such as moving huge rocks, rowing a boat, and turning a crank. Any interruption from an enemy will typically stop these guys in their tracks. They can also get in the way of your attacks when you enter in the more powerful Carnal Mode, which is the equivalent of an energy boost, but with some repercussions. The Carnal Mode actually attempts to address deeper issues discussed in the original poem. This mode makes Beowulf more powerful, but it also turns him into a beast which his army resents. Beowulf must choose to use this mode wisely as it will give him what he wants, but at the expense of his trusted allies.
Entering into a chant with the Thanes is a way of goading the enemy into a fight. These chants are in the form of a mini-game in which you must press the buttons in a rhythmical sequence. Here’s where you’ll experience the reason for the Mature rating as some of these chants are liberally sprinkled with blue language. It’s quite funny actually, and adds some much-needed charm to the game. Another component of the Mature rating is the graphic depiction of violence. There is plenty of blood, guts, and severed limbs throughout. You do get used to it, as it becomes overkill after a while. There are only a handful of stock finishing moves which are repeated.
Weapons are consistent with the era. There are no guns or lasers. You’ll use a variety of spears, hammers, and swords. Most of the slashing will be done with the swords, but like all weapons, they have a short shelf life. The more you use any particular weapon, the faster it will wear out and eventually become useless. This can be particularly disconcerting later in the game when you’re up against enemies with armor. Weapons can fail in the middle of a battle. There are some magical weapons that are supposed to stand the test of time, but that time is also limited. You’ll have to continually scavenge weapons from the enemy in order to carry on.
Graphically the game is inconsistent. There are some really nice scenes, but some of the darker areas don’t display enough contrast between characters and background, making things difficult to see. The voiceacting is forced and there is plenty of repetitious dialogue. The soundtrack is really good, managing to convey a sense of another world in another time. Some camera angles make things difficult, but overall the game is mechanically sound as controls are responsive and easy to access.
Beowulf is recommended for a rental. You can blast through the game on the lower difficulty in less than day. You will notice the title says: Beowulf: The Game. That’s to distinguish it from the ancient manuscript. I tend to think of it as a disclaimer, or quite possibly a warning.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Not a bad looking game, but it’s too dark in certain sections. There is also a lot of repetitive stock animation. 4.0 Control
Control is solid and responsive, but there’s not a lot of moves. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Average voiceacting. Sound track is good, but the sound effects are repetitive. 1.1 Play Value
You may want to try replaying the game on a higher difficulty setting, but that’s the only reason to try it all again. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.