Nov 15, 2007
If you've seen Beowulf's motion picture magic in 3D IMAX, you already know it's a must-see blockbusting behemoth. But don't let the big screen sparkle fool you; Beowulf was meant for the big screen, not your little one. In fact, following in the forgettable footsteps of this summer's Pirates and Fantastic Four celluloid-to-console adapts, Beowulf: The Game is destined to line bargain bin bottoms. It has its hacking and slashing moments, but like so many movie-licensed titles, it reeks of a truncated production schedule and a too-heavy reliance on a story intended for another medium.
We could forgive the rambling VO and boring cut-scenes - a quick button press and tweak to the volume quickly covers these problems - if Beowulf's gameplay picked up the slack. Sadly, a mash-up of mini-games, weak squad commands, and so-so combat combine for a disjointed, poorly paced experience.
The mini-games, ranging from rhythm-based chanting - meant to inspire your Thane troops - to a weird button masher that has you resisting the sexual advances of Angelina Jolie's character (why the hell would we want to do that? Granted, it's actually some other actress entirely, but she's still hot), never mesh with the rest of the experience. Even the God of War-like boss-battle button-matching sequences feel clunky and repetitive. Additionally, the squad commands, so specifically tied to certain events, don't afford much freedom as you're basically told when to use them.
The combat, supported by some slick finishing animations - stomping guys in the nuts, and snapping the necks of giant trolls are highlights - is by far the best part of this package. It's not great, but the heavy hacking and slashing - complemented by copious amounts of blood and gore - is moderately satisfying, and unleashing Beowulf's Incredible Hulk-like "carnal fury" offers a fun, rampage-fueled romp.
But all the gore in the world isn't likely to satisfy if there's not a meaningful plot behind the bloodshed - which this both does and doesn't have. We can appreciate Beowulf's classic literary roots. Hell, we even enjoyed it a bit back in English lit class. But a game bloated with talky cut-scenes, bogged down by boring Old English-y dialog just isn't fun. And it doesn't only affect the cinematics; even during gameplay, off-screen characters will begin babbling. We love the occasional ale or wench reference just as much as the next guy, but when we're facing down an army of unearthly beasties we really don't want to hear Anthony Hopkins droning on about heroism or his favorite mead.
From its longwinded narrative to its painfully paced gameplay, none of Beowulf's elements ever gel. Instead of delivering a fully-realized cohesive experience, it comes off like a cobbled-together coat tail-riding cash-in. While there's some satisfying sword-swinging to be had, it's hard to recommend based solely on that, especially when the recent Conan release offers a far better sword-and-sandal epic. If you're looking for a Beowulf fix, catch up with him at the multiplex or library, but best not bring him home to play.