reviews\ Dec 7, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Reign of Fire - XB - Review

There is just something appealing about being a part of a human resistance fighting for survival that many movies and games have been made on this fascinating premise.  In the movie Reign of Fire, the human resistance is up against mythic creatures that no one thought would ever be real until the day a dormant dragon is awakened and takes to the skies.  Soon the Earth is leveled by hundreds of fire-breathing dragons as the survivors struggle for their continued existence and to one day defeat these monsters once and for all. 


In Reign of Fire the game, you are given a chance to fight back in the desolate background in the London of the year 2024.  As Quinn, the leader of a small encampment, you join the leader of the Kentucky Irregulars named Van Zan who has come to bring hope to humanity and take on the dragons.  Armed with military transports, heavy artillery and an army of determined men and women, together they set out to make a last stand.  While you’ll find characters the elements found in the movie, this is not a you’re-playing-the-movie type of game.


The game allows you to control four different kinds of vehicles such as a military vehicle, a tank, a fire truck and a small buggy.  The first mission is to make sense of the controls with Van Zan offering the instructions (the controls are where the game really falls apart, but more on that a little later).  From the very start you are instructed on how to accelerate, break and fire primary and secondary weapons.  Your arsenal list consists of mini-gun fire, ground to air rockets, heat seeking missiles and water cannons (used to put out fires). 


Control-wise, this is where the game’s faults start showing up.  You move your vehicle in the same way you move your Warthog in Halo, meaning you direct an aiming crosshair in the direction you want to go and then step on the gas to make it go.  This would have worked had the controls been more responsive, instead you find yourself awkwardly struggling to make sharp turns.  Gamers will find it frustrating how easily Van Zan can go up a hill while your vehicle struggles sluggishly to make it halfway up the same hill.  Thankfully targeting enemies and firing your weapons is simple.


The mission structure starts out strong and gamers will, no doubt, be impressed the first time you go up against legions of flying dragons as well as the creepy earthbound dragons that attack quickly.  You are usually sent out to escort convoys and protect engineers as they perform some task or another.  Sometimes you are sent to protect your outpost or put out fires that threaten your outpost facilities.  After that the game’s missions feel repetitive, offering nothing else despite the fact that you can control other vehicles.


Still, the game designers were thoughtful enough to at least try to up the game’s replay value by giving you the choice to continue playing as the human resistance or assuming the role of the dragon threat.  As a dragon you can take to the sky as a napalm-breathing dragon and take down Harrier jets, missile launchers and destroy giant forts.   You can blast fireballs down at your enemies or even pick them up and let them fall.  This all sounds great on paper, but when you’re actually playing a dragon, you’ll see the fun sucked right out due to the awful controls again.  Still, gamers will be grateful that the option is there at least.


At least there are a lot of good things to look at since the graphics in Reign of Fire are actually nicely done.  The barren landscape that spans as far as the eye could see is charred, dusty and filled with the remains of great buildings and trees that were once green with leaves.  Above the darkened sky is as if ash had polluted it and the winged beasts that breath out bursts of flame add a sense of insanity to this scenery.  The dragons look great spitting out fire and even more so when a carefully shot heat-seeking missile brings it down.  Each vehicle is also nicely rendered and nicely detailed.


Sound-wise the game has a good soundtrack that plays throughout the game and great sound effects.  The music brings out the raw intensity of the attacks and helps establish a sense of urgency that the game itself seems to lack.  Meanwhile the sound effects are both loud and detailed and each vehicle has its own distinct sound while the screech of the dragon is as horrifying as the dragons in the movie.  As far as the voice acting is concerned, it isn’t bad but its not very convincing either. 


In the end, Reign of Fire has its share of fun moments but unfortunately these moments are few and ruined by the awkward controls that make driving and shooting an aggravating experience.  If you loved the exciting action and thrills seen in the movie, this game will be something of a disappointment.  This is still a recommended rental. 


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 5.0
Unresponsive and extremely awkward, the game’s controls making moving your vehicle a massive struggle that ultimately takes them out of the game.  Unlike the old NES game Jackal, where the driving and shooting were equally balanced, you are forced to stop your vehicle to accurately get a good shot at your enemies.  Of course, stopping mean you are now a sitting duck and an easy target.  This is unfortunate because shooting down dragons is just a real blast and a real treat to watch.


The mission objectives are also extremely long and lacking in innovative idea.  Many of the missions have you going from Point A to Point B or defending a moving convoy . . . all of which were fun the first time but not so much the third or forth time around.  Being able to playing as a dragon does make up for it a little, though.


Graphics: 8.2
There’s nothing quite like looking up at the sky and seeing dozens of dragons swooping across the skies or belching out balls of flames that can set other vehicles and people of fire.  The graphics in this game are crisp and clear and filled with great textures on the dusty terrain filled with scorch marks left behind from past attacks.


The vehicles move around realistically, kicking up dirt and dust as they speed toward their destination, and the same can be said about the earth-bound dragons that swiftly crawl across to attack vehicles.  The special effects are also most impressive with the flames gorgeously lighting up the skies (and people) while damage to them is seen as quick spurts of blood as their bodies are riddled with bullets.


Sound: 7.5
The game’s soundtrack is actually pretty good at setting the mood just right and it picks up when the dragons attack.  There’s even a song by the band Mad At Gravity called “Walk Away.”  The dramatic score is much better than the unconvincing voice acting of many of the characters scattered throughout this game--although the voice of Van Zan is almost a dead-on impression of Matthew McConaughey.


Still there’s no disputing the fact that there are some great sound effects in this game and you’ll definitely know this the first time dragons attack your convoy.  The scene comes to life with heavy machine gun fire and the screeching cry of the dragons before they let loose a volley of flames.  And while the people down below don’t scream when they are lit on fire, the crackling flames do a good job of making players wince.


Difficulty: Medium
In the film, Van Zan explains how intelligent the dragons can be and that underestimating them would be a fatal mistake.  This proves to be correct in the game as well since the dragons always seem to find you where ever you are in the massive map of a particular area and attack you with precision.  Staying put in one place in order to get clean shots at them is not the best idea either.  Unfortunately, the biggest challenge is not the long missions but the awful controls you will have to put up a struggle with that makes the game more difficult than it really is.  As a dragon, flight is just so jerky that your failure to make sharp turns makes you an easy target.


Concept: 5.5
Aside from the fact that you can play as the human resistance and later as the dragon, this game has all the makings of a really enjoyable addition to a fun movie.  As the humans, you get to drive different vehicles that have very different capabilities and as a dragon gamers will have fun setting things on fire and causing mass destruction. 


Overall: 5.8
Reign of Fire starts out like a raging inferno but quickly extinguishes itself rather quickly with its repetitiveness and dreadful controls.   This is highly unfortunate seeing as there was a lot of potential in a game that pits you against fire-breathing dragons and then lets you become one.  Still, the flaws keep this game from being the enjoyable treat is was really suppose to be.


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