reviews\ Nov 24, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Reign of Fire - GBA - Review

Reign of Fire on the GBA is based on the feature film of the same name and is one of many movie-to-game titles released this holiday season.  But unlike so many of those games, Reign of Fire manages to deliver a relatively entertaining experience, something that cannot be said about 90% of other games whose success is heavily reliant on the license to which it is attached.  This game won’t be winning any technological achievement awards in the near future but it does do a commendable job of staying true to the movie while keeping the action well-paced and intense. 


Reign of Fire takes place in the year 2024 when the world has been overrun by dragons and is now a mere shadow of its previous glory.  Simply put, humans are an endangered species and the only hope for humanity is the small number of military outposts scattered throughout the world.  You’ll play the part of Quinn and lead a squad of heavily armed soldiers through various missions under the command of the dangerous Denton Van Zan.  Your objective: fight fire with fire and dispose of the dragons once and for all.  And when it is all said and done you’ll be glad to know that the developers went the extra mile integrating a dragon campaign that allows you to play as the bad-guys.  In this mode of play, destroying humans with fireballs and napalm will be your primary goal.  But regardless of which campaign you prefer the in-game action sticks pretty much to the same formula, which is to say that you’ll frequently be required to go from point A to point B while disposing of the opposition.


To get an idea of what to expect from Reign of Fire in regards to gameplay, think Smash TV with a strategic element of exploration and vehicular combat.  In the human campaign you’ll basically have two methods of getting around: walking and driving.  While on foot you’ll have a handful of soldiers that constantly follow you and provide additional weaponry to use against the dragons, though their level of help depends solely on your ability to shoot and dodge since they will simultaneously mimic your every move.  In the dragon campaign you are able to fly on command or attack on all fours in ground-based combat.  Missions vary from simple search-and-destroy missions to assignments that require you to put out fire or harvest crops.  Yes, harvest crops. 


Different missions will require different methods of approach.  For example, in levels where you need to put out fires, the fire truck is necessary as it is the only vehicle that has the ability to do so.  Likewise, harvesting crops requires the use of the harvester.  The process of harvesting is not as complicated as you might think though, you need only walk up to the automobile, hit the B-button to get behind the wheel, drive over a field of crops then drive to the drop-off point.  You can also control a tank and, as you might guess, it is used solely for offensive reasons.  Lastly, there is the military vehicle, which can cover large areas quickly while providing only minimal fire-power.  Playing on the side of the dragons doesn’t allow for as much diversity in terms of offensive/defensive capabilities and, of course, the use of vehicles in this mode is not possible.


Graphically, Reign of Fire features detailed sprites and sharp animations.  Unfortunately the physics system is far too off-kilter to properly compliment the cool on-screen visuals.  As you wander around the relatively large environments you’ll notice that the areas tend to blend into each other due to repeating objects, enemies, and items.  You’ll never be lost since the included Crazy Taxi-esque arrow will constantly point you in the right direction, but from a visual standpoint the environments are far from impressive.  Reign of Fire may not be impressive from an aesthetic standpoint, but aurally it’s downright generic.  The occasional digitized sound clips lend themselves nicely to the experience but the rest of the auditory package is considerably lacking.  The music is simple and almost entirely forgettable, and the same can be said about the sound effects.


Overall, Reign of Fire is a surprisingly entertaining, albeit occasionally repetitive, movie-to-game title that manages to play off the big-screen license with beneficial results.  The ability to perpetrate large doses of destruction is the game’s main hook, followed closely by the multi-faceted vehicle feature.  However, the objectives are, more often than not, completely devoid of any originality whatsoever, and the problem of consistently bizarre physics in relation to maneuvering through the environment mar what is otherwise a pretty decent game.  Looking at Reign of Fire when compared to other big-name movie-licensed games it is top-notch, however when contrasted against whole of the GBA’s current library of titles, it is only middle-of-the-road.



Gameplay: 7.6
Navigating your way through the game’s two campaigns is a snap thanks to the simple yet effective button layout: use the d-pad to move and the buttons to shoot, simple.  But while this simplicity-is-key approach allows newcomers to quickly get the feel of the game it also lends itself to the fact that the play-control has almost zero depth and gets quickly repetitive.

Graphics: 7.2
Mixed bag.  While the texture quality, character models, and structures are all good-looking the environments tend to repeat and the physics engine is all over the place. 

Sound: 5.4
Reign of Fire is a pretty good game but the audio additions are in no way responsible for that.  Aside from a few cool digitized sound effects the whole auditory package screams middle-of-the-road. 


Difficulty: Medium
Progressing through Reign of Fire is, for the most part, cut and dry.  The missions entail simple fetch quests with more than a dash of combat peppered throughout.  The latter levels in the game can take some time and a few tries to complete though, and there is a hefty amount of missions to keep you busy.

Concept: 7.2 
Reign of Fire is unique in the sense that it mixes old-school shoot-em-ups like Smash TV with a more open-ended approach in regards to maneuvering.  But when you get right down to it, this is a straightforward objective-based action game that is not unlike a bevy of titles before it.

Overall: 7.1

If you are a fan of the movie on which this game is based, you’ll certainly find a lot to like in the two available campaigns included on the cart.  But what is cool is that even if you’ve never seen the film you’ll still appreciate Reign of Fire’s visceral-style of action and simple control scheme, if only for a few hours. 


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