Apocalypse – Review

Apocalypse

(Activision for the Playstation)
by Eric Johnson

Apocalypse has arrived at the precise moment when it seems that just about every Playstation game worth the price of admission requires a Ph.D. to enjoy. This game manages to bring back a taste of the best of the long dead quarter-eaters that I used to play in high school; it’s mindless, but exceptional, brain candy.

Despite a few notable flaws, this is a well-executed atrocity fest, with the player taking on the role of Trey Kincaid, nano-scientist turned mass murderer in the face of a genetically engineered apocalypse. Kincaid is played by a motion-captured Bruce Willis, around whom all the packaging and promotional material is centered; this is not a cameo appearance or a celebrity endorsement, the entire game is centered around him to create a vicarious-action-celebrity-fantasy camp. Apocalypse on the whole is about killin’, killin’, killin’, as Willis wields flamethrowers, rocket launchers, industrial lasers, and portable lightning bolt generators against thousands of cops, zombies, giant rats, inbred sewer dwellers, ex-girlfriends, military battle robots, and the occasional harbinger of the apocalypse. Lots of explosions and plenty of blood as the killin’ unfolds over the course of twelve, rather long and usually well-designed levels. Central to the success of Apocalypse are excellent character control, good graphics, and the achievement of the delicate balance between challenge and frustration. Serious sound problems, the limited amount of full motion video, and occasionally ill-conceived level design keep the title out of classicville. While not insurmountable, these problems are disappointing and seem the result of rushed completion.

Willis’ half-assed delivery is eerily reminiscent of his work as “Mikey” the wisecracking toddler from the Look Who’s Talking series. Fortunately, since there is no useful dialogue, putting some music on and muting the TV is an excellent antidote. On the other end of the spectrum, moving and shooting is buttery smooth as long as you have the Dual Shock controller with one joystick controlling movement and the other controlling directional fire – a thumb-saving alternative to button pushing.

Graphically, the game looks like a fleshed out Mobius drawing – it’s a gaudy future more akin to The Fifth Element than Blade Runner; the exquisite detail never dramatically slows down the action.

At the start of development, Willis’ character was envisioned as an intelligent “buddy” who would accompany the player and provide assistance as the game progressed. This turned out to be a bit too ambitious, so after months of delay, the game was modified so that players could simply become the Willis character; thus salvaging the extensive amount of information required to render and give voice to the man. Taking into consideration the sluggish stupidity of your average AI sidekick, this was probably a better idea in the first place. The vicarious-celebrity-fantasy-camp experience is a great idea and in the future should be used on more ambitious projects. In movie terms, Apocalypse is a star vehicle, not a high concept movie. Willis is the main draw and the fact that it is a good game is almost a matter of circumstance. In the wake of more ambitious titles it’s easy not to notice a strong arcade-style action game, but Apocalypse succeeds for what it is: one hell of a good time.

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