Sunday, March 14, 2004

Criticom (PSX)




Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Great cinematics, slightly varied characters
Cons: Graphics, sounds, difficulty.. just another fighter

Introduction

I must say, Criticom is the first game I have reviewed that I do not personally own. I rented it out of boredom from my local video store, and was completely and utterly disappointed. Not entirely because the game is bad, but also because I did not know what to expect. The video store here does not have boxes, nor instruction books for the games it rents out. In fact, until I actually rented the game, all I knew about it was the name that was listed on the sheet of paper taped to the bottom of the sales counter.

I seem to have a habit of doing that. I rent games that I have never heard of before, if for no other reason than to find out what the heck it is that I have missed out on. I do not like missing out, but I guess missing out on Criticom would not have shot holes in my sails. They say curiosity killed the cat, but in this case my curiosity killed a few hours of my time. That would be fine, I suppose, except that said time was killed slowly and painfully.

Criticom controls pretty well using the digital pad (no analog in this game). The R1 and R2 buttons are used for special moves, and the L1 and L2 buttons are used to roll. The four main buttons are used for kicks and punches, two each, and can be assigned in the game options menu. The only other game options let you set music and sound volume, and turn the timer on or off.

Story & Game Play

Since Criticom is a fighting game, the story itself is severely lacking. There is this relic.. and some clans of warriors.. and a lot of kicking and punching and jumping. This "relic" gets stolen, and a couple of warrior clans that have banded together strive to get it back. Supposedly this relic has mystical powers, and as such is greatly sought after. Wow, someone give the writer a Grammy..

The game play is a lot like Battle Arena Toshinden, except for one thing... Criticom is so damned hard! Holy crap, I could hardly believe it. Out of the first twenty matches, I lost nineteen of them. The one that I did win, was only because I was lying on the floor in a bloody heap, and the brilliant computer AI, in it's haste to jump on me while I was down, miscalculated completely and jumped out of the arena.

There is no difficulty setting in the options, it's just this hard. Think you can just cheat, look up the list of moves, and go stomp some butt? Wrong again. In a unique twist of fate, your head pounding warriors actually level up in Criticom, and learn new moves in the process. Such a novel feature would be most welcome in any other game, but in Criticom it just adds to the utter frustration you feel while being tossed around like a rag doll.

Fine, so I have finally given up and realized that I was not going to progress very far at this rate. I load up the 2 player mode, and force my brother to sit and kill his brain cells too. We proceed to knock each other around for a while, experimenting with the different characters. It's not a bad experience, but you can just as easily pound away at each other in any other fighting game on the planet. At the very least, we can now die a bit slower when we face off against the relentless computer.

In any case, the goal is to beat the ever loving crap out of your opponent, or knock them from the arena. In the latter case, they will fall God only knows how far down into the mist, and you will win the match by knock out. Good luck with that though, the computer does an excellent job of getting out of the way if you ever get them remotely close to an edge.

There are only eight different characters to pick from, but at least they are varied. Dayton is male, humanoid character that is selected by default. Every fighting game has one of these, and it just wouldn't be right if it didn't. Demonica is next, some weird purple demon with long hair. Then we have Sonork, who is a big-headed alien, also with a purple-ish hue to his skin.

Exene is another female character, and she is really butch looking. Crew cut, wearing army boots and sporting a couple of nightsticks, she looks like the kind of woman you don't want to run into in a back alley. Delara is next, yet another female character. She looks the part of a pirate, complete with eye patch.

Next comes Gorm, a big green monstrosity. The prodigal son of the Hulk and Swamp Thing, he is strong, slow, and most of all... ugly. Yenji is the seventh character, who looks like a cross between Wolverine and the Shredder, of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. Lastly, we have a goofy looking thing called S.I.D.. I guess it is supposed to be some sort of alien robot, as it looks like a Bionicle toy I seen the other day.

Graphics, Sound & Video

I could tell you that the graphics were pretty good... but that would just be a lie. Characters suffer from an extreme lack of polygons, and this all the more evident when they are zoomed in upon at the end of a battle. The demon lady Demonica, for example, has so much polygon flicker around the pelvic area, that she appears to have a penis flopping around in front of her. Must just be my wild imagination getting carried away. Or not..

Jump ahead to the next battle, where I am playing as the character Sonork. I knock my brother onto the floor, where he is lying there waiting for me to pounce on him. I jump high into the air, and to my surprise, Sonork folds in half with his head and his feet facing straight up into the air, and lands butt first on top of my brother's character. We spent the next ten or twelve minutes laughing our butts off, pun intended.

Anyway, the arena is fully 3D rendered. You have a full range of motion, including the ability to roll to the side instead of being hit, kicked, or whatever. You can go a full 360? around the arena. The camera will stay where it was for a few seconds, and after you have stopped for a moment, it will slide around to catch both characters in a side view again. It's not all that bad actually, I was pretty happy with it.

On to the music. While the quality of the background music is pretty good actually, the choice music leaves me wondering. Instead of high paced, rhythmic beats, we get some slower stuff that is just un-exciting enough to make you turn the volume down instead of adding suspense or heightening the action. It sounds like it belongs more in Age of Empires than it does in any kind of fighting game. It actually reminds me a bit of Bittersweet Symphony, by The Verve.

Sound effects are even worse though. Sonork is prone to say, in a whiney nasal voice "That didn't hurt". Exene's "Who's your daddy" comes in a close second for all time cheesy sound effects. Other characters follow suit, saying other equally lame lines when they win or lose a match. Do yourself a favor, and just turn the sound off completely.

One of the few places where Criticom shines, is in the cinematics. Too bad they tried to make a game out of it instead of a movie. The cut scenes do a great job of conveying what little story there actually is, and they do it in a nice Dune meets Star Wars kinda way. If there were a few more of them, I would have to recommend this game just to watch them, and skip the game playing all together.

Conclusion

Vic Tokai Inc's Criticom is rated "T" for Animated Violence. Since Criticom stands for critical combat, and it is a fighting game, that is probably the best rating you could expect. Not that I personally found it to be all that violent.

Aside from the low polygon count, everything else is acceptable. Decent use of textures, free range of movement.. if this game had higher polygon counts, it might look pretty good actually. Pretty good, but not great.. it wouldn't have been enough to save this game from the bottom of the stack, but it would have certainly helped.

While Criticom contains a bit of unique content, you would be much better off playing Tekken 3 or Battle Arena Toshinden. The overall game play is basically the same, and they are much better games in my opinion. However, if you can find Criticom for under $10, go ahead and grab it.

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