A Poor Man’s God of War
Beowulf is a classic tale. If you are digging deep into Norse mythology, it doesn’t get much better than the story of a man who became a king for all the wrong reasons. It would only make sense to turn such a classic tale into a game, right? Well, no matter what way you look at it, this is still a game based on a movie, and history has shown that this type of games are just plain terrible. Choppy visuals, sloppy gameplay, and quirky controls are all side-effects of most movie spin-offs, which are generally just put out there to make as much money as possible. Nevertheless, games based on “action-oriented” movies tend to do better because they try to copy the formula of better games in the genre. Beowulf on the PSP is proof of that. Opening up a new dimension to the original story and following God of War’s mechanics closely, can Ubisoft pull a winner out of its hat?
Everyone knows the story of how Beowulf slew Grendal and then was bribed into being king by the fallen beasts’ mother. Beowulf would then become king and rule over the lands for several decades. If you saw the movie, then you know they skipped a lot of Beowulf’s life, primarily the time in which he was king and in his prime. Beowulf for the PSP tries to fill those time gaps by providing a unique side story of its own that intertwines quite well with the original plot. In the lands of Denmark, you will find yourself roaming the countryside, commanding a handful of Thanes against enemy units, and battling fierce monsters known as Titans. Sounds like something straight out Mythology class, right? Well, it isn’t too far off what God of War’s primary storyline is about, and the evolving storyline is definitely one of the best things to come out of this package.
As mentioned earlier, Beowulf is an action-oriented hack and slash title that copies a lot from most modern third-person adventure games. You have your traditional map screen loaded with objectives, weapons that will appear here and there along the landscape, and the ever traditional health and energy bars. Levels are fairly long, with the occasional cutscene or objective change breaking up the action. In fact, on paper, everything seems to play out just fine. It is unfortunate though that the people over at Ubisoft didn’t double check their notes. First of all, whose bright idea was it to exclude a decent lock on system? Half the time you will see Beowulf swinging wildly toward one particular direction, only to miss a stationary target. This could have been easily fixed with the implementation of a functional camera, but the options are quite limited. Second of all, why is it that every single attack knocks poor Beowulf straight on his back end? Though boss fights are fairly simple, the confrontations are overly drawn out due to the sluggish movement of the protagonist. I sure don’t remember this happening in the movie.
What I did recall was some epic battles and amazing imagery, which Beowulf for the PSP only does about halfway. Throughout a progression filled with mountains, valleys, and beach coasts, a mix of soldiers, assassins, and animals will continually impede your progress. The game does a good job with giving you plenty of fun weapons to mess around with, but the combat is very archaic and generally makes the title feel older than it should. For example, depending on the current weapon you are holding, you can put together a combo attack by repeatedly pressing the “circle” button. Now, it would have been nice if you could have had a variety of swings to mix and match strikes, but the same attack pattern is repeated over and over again. An energy bar called “Carnal Power” attempts to help give you a few moments of extra fun, but all the first one I got does is just improve your defenses and heighten the power of your attacks, though I was still continually thrown to the ground time and time again, even in this so-called ultimate mode. Later in the game you can unlock some different carnal powers, but again, they add very little to the tedium of the battle system.
On the other side of the coin are the visuals, which I have to admit, look fairly decent for a handheld title. Well, at least when looking at the environment. The variety of different stages the title presents you with is quite solid and really helps give the game an atmospheric position. Unfortunately, the character and enemy sprites look quite plain, with this claim made ever more apparent when you take a look at some of the bosses. For instance, I thought that the giant sea serpent from the first few hours in would be intimidating, but due to its low polygon count, I could barely make out what it was. The U.I., however, is very easy to discern and makes for a quick learning curve. The map is simple, but offers enough utility to show your location, key positions in the area, and your current objective. It would have been nice to see a little more lighting and shadowing detail, but I suppose you can’t expect much from a movie-to-game crossover.
Sadly, the audio department barely fares any better. It is quite disappointing that most of the time I couldn’t even tell if there was any music playing at all. This was quite frustrating to me as the movie had an excellent soundtrack that really invoked the essence of the action and scenery. What little music that pops up in Beowulf is immediately drowned out by annoyingly repetitive groans, grunts, and weapon slashes. And while these all sound like they should, they could have balanced the music and sound effects a little more effectively. This usually results in just turning off the game’s sound and replacing it with some music of your own. I will give the game this though: the occasional cutscenes are well put together. Voice acting is on par with the movie and helps attempt to move the story along. The problem with this is that the epic nature of the breaks in the gameplay really don’t feel appropriate compared to the rest of the game, which feels boring, tedious, and depressing.
To be honest, there really is nothing more to say about Beowulf on the PSP. The battle system is old and redundant, the visuals are lackluster, the music is non-existent, and there isn’t even a multiplayer option. What you are left with is a poor cash-in on a great movie that people will still unfortunately buy because it bears the name of “Beowulf.” The new storyline the title presents you with is interesting and deep, but the sheer mediocrity of every other aspect of the game will detract you from wanting to know what happens next. Overall, if you are looking for a quality action experience on the PSP, there is more than enough available on the PSP. Most notably, God of War: Chains of Olympus, which is set to debut in March. So yeah, just wait for that. You’ll thank me later.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.3 Graphics
Character and enemy models are adequately designed, but look dated. Lack of concentrated details like quality shadowing and lighting also bring down the quality. Frame-rate occasionally gets a little choppy. 3.4 Control
Beowulf controls fine, but the overall feel of the character is sluggish. Poor camera makes for several control issues, once you are a few hours in. 2.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting in the cinematic pieces is excellent. Unfortunately, the rest of the sound department failed to show up. 2.0 Play Value
The overall adventure will take around 15 hours give or take. The problem is that there really is no incentive to finish the game, and even if you did, there is not much to do after it. Stick with God of War. 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.