reviews\ Dec 7, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Reign of Fire - GC - Review

Well, another movie hits the theaters that I wanted to see and quickly went to DVD. Not bad for me, after all … since the cost of renting is cheaper than going to the local cinema anyway. Reign of Fire always looked like a neat concept and a cool film for the most part, so I was only happy to review the game of the same name for the GameCube. All being said and done, the movie quickly fizzled out of the theater, and my overall impression of the game fizzled as I played it as well.


Reign of Fire, for those of you like me who have yet to see the movie, revolves around a group of humans in the future who have sought shelter in a ruined fortress where they struggle to grow crops and survive while being constantly under the threat of dragon attack. The dragons have awakened after centuries of slumber, and they returned with a hunger and a vengeance to ravage and destroy the earth as well as the humans who try to live. One day, a general by the name of Vann Zann arrives with a whole outfit of military support, and introduces them as the Irregulars … a group of post apocalyptic dragon slayers. You get recruited in to help Vann Zann and his men defend the human outpost, and off you go.


Fighting dragons obviously is no task for a guy on foot brandishing a slingshot or pistol, so you control numerous vehicles during your mission based objectives. You get to drive things like a 4x4, a heavy tank, and a dune buggy just to name a couple. Each one has a varied assortment of weaponry to select, and there are multiple weapon pickups to find scattered throughout the blasted wasteland like tracking missiles or straight rockets. There are two control options to select from, one being basic where the left analog stick aims the turret and also points the vehicle in the direction that you want to go while A accelerates, and an advanced option which is more FPS style and uses the right analog stick to aim your gun while the left analog stick drives the vehicle. It sounds pretty good up front, but that’s where things ultimately start getting ugly.


The biggest frustration with Reign of Fire is the controls themselves, which are cumbersome in either setting and don’t work too well in a fast paced action title. While using the basic setup, for example, you can’t drive in a straight line and fire all around you since the vehicle accelerates in the direction that the gun is pointing. To make matters worse, standing still to rotate and blast away is almost a sure fire way to get bombed by some nasty dragon breath or get set on fire which slowly drains life away, since hundreds of them will be circling around at any given time. Overall this was the easiest control method in my opinion, but became a severe problem when having to face a ground dwelling creature that I pretty much had to drive at, shoot, then hope I could back up fast enough to get out of the way. Any other time it was definitely better.


In the advanced control mode, which worked a little bit worse for me personally (which was a surprise since I’m used to those controls from Metroid and other FPS titles), vehicles don’t operate as nimbly as humans do. There really is no strafing, which can be really necessary when hitting stationary targets that fire back. Most vehicles can’t just go one direction and then the other on a dime, so it is more like a lazy zig zag motion which won’t get you out of the way of anything at all. Also, vehicles are a lot more clumsy, and closed in areas or unseen cliffs soon prove to be a leading cause of death since you will find yourself trying to drive one way and shoot another way, then bouncing backwards like a rubber ball when hitting something or just plummeting down the hill. Ultimately I switched back to basic mode, which has its own quirks mentioned above.


The other issue that I had with this game was the overall lack of intensity that it gave off. It’s a chaotic and constantly moving game, which will keep you constantly moving and shooting, but each mission consists of “drive from point A to point B and shoot the heck out of anything moving which appears red on your radar”. Oh sure, there are other objectives like escorting a patrol or even putting fires out and rescuing farmers, but 90% of almost every mission is driving along the blasted landscape and shooting tons of circling and fire breathing dragons on the way to point B. Up front, the whole squad based atmosphere and warfare thing was pretty cool, but lost it’s luster after a couple of times.


All of that aside, the one area which stood out for me and proved to be decent for a while was playing as a dragon. The controls weren’t nearly as bad here as they were for the human missions, even though they still have their own weird issues at times, and you of course have the power to incinerate everything, breathe different types of breath weapons like fireballs or streams of fire, and even pick up objects and toss them at your human prey while getting fired at. The unfortunate thing here is that you have to get through the sometimes dull and frustrating human missions to get to this point.


Graphically, Reign of Fire didn’t do much to amaze me either. Don’t get me wrong, they had some really nice things added in which were pretty cool. Things like dogs that run up hills and flush out wingless dragons or dragons that drop yachts at you from above like bombs did some great things for the atmosphere, and the constant barrage of gunfire from you and your platoon while ATV’s and jeeps circle around you ripping machine guns and rockets into the sky got pretty chaotic at some points. The problem here is that the overall graphics were really dull, even though it takes place in a Mad Max style world, so most of the game seems like it’s in the same brown and green scenery with some farm buildings or old pipes here and there. Add in some faceless characters, choppy soldier movement, and some generic fire effects which were really cheesy looking at times and it kind of just makes you go “Hmmm”.


Soundwise, Reign of Fire wasn’t too terrible. The voiceovers weren’t bad at all, even if Vann Zann seemed to yell at me most of the time about watching my fire or getting back to the mission at hand if I strayed off to far. The dragons will roar and screech as they swoop down to try and nuke you in their atomic breath weapons, and various squad members will yell for help or scream as they get ignited or blown to nothingness during a battle. The music is an action movie style soundtrack, and while neat … will just sort of begin fading into the background in light of all of the other drama going on around you.


Overall, there are some things here which may appeal to a lot of you action buffs out there, and all negative things removed … the combat itself either as human or dragon can get pretty intense at times and no one can say that there are quiet moments to this game. Ultimately, the frustrating control, repetitive gameplay, and average graphics will not appeal to a lot of folks and will quickly kill a good time … even for heavy action fans (me included), and I would definitely recommend renting this game prior to purchasing, even for that younger dragon fan on your list.  


Gameplay: 6.4
OK, the whole idea behind the game was pretty neat, and this game opens with a cool cinematic cut scene which gets you ready to play. Unfortunately, the gameplay gets very repetitive very quickly, and the controls can be extremely annoying at times and just make the game more frustrating. On a more minor note, the camera has its share of issues at times as well, and sometimes will prohibit you from seeing where you are going or what’s around you.


Graphics: 6.3 
The characters riding in the vehicles look pretty good, as do the vehicles themselves, but the landscapes look rough and the game is pretty much the same environment over and over again. The fire effects look like the old “superimposing” techniques of 80’s movies, and there are times where fireballs rain down from the sky … with no dragon in sight that could have made them.


Sound: 7.0
The music wasn’t too bad, and the voiceovers were pretty good as well. The music got forgotten due to all the stuff going on during the game, but is a cinematic style score. The machine gun effects sound like “repeated pencil tapping on wood” for some of the vehicles, but cannon or rocket fire was OK.


Difficulty: Hard
The main thing which makes this hard are the controls, which make ground based combat against large enemies too difficult or make trying to stop and shoot at the same time a severe risk of a do over.  


Concept: 6.8
The whole concept of this game oozes with possibilities, and BAM! did a good job with the action element and capturing some chaotic battles. This game could have benefited from some mission variation and more time in development … especially seeing what BAM! was able to do with other games like Dropship for the PS2.


Overall: 6.3

Boy, I was really wanting this game to work out for me, but overall it fell way below my expectations, especially considering the ads I had read and some box shots that I caught on the internet. Well, I’m still going to rent the movie anyway since it still looks like it would be pretty good, and I suggest that you do the same with this game if you are planning to check it out for the GameCube.  

Above Average

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