We liked Mercenaries 2, but after some of our competitors unfairly kicked its face off you’d be forgiven for thinking we reviewers relish the opportunity to stomp a game’s head in. Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, bad games make for hard work. First, you have to play long enough to form an educated and authoritative critique. Then, you have to write several hundred words on something truly awful in a manner which your readers will find engaging, even though the game has stolen every ounce of your fading holiday buzz, and all you really want to say is “DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE”.
The very worst game reviews are laundry lists of good and bad points – this is good but this is bad, but that’s okay because this is good – bemoaning the faults and apologising for them by way of the stronger points. It’s the easiest review any writer can bang out, but even for that you need one redeeming quality. Just one, Pandemic. Just one would have been enough. Now, Star Wars: Battlefront was a pretty strong game. Even now, it sits just behind Halo 2 as the second most played online videogame on the original Xbox. It’s obvious why you’d think the same trick would work for the Lord of the Rings franchise; it’s all about the epic battles, after all. Fans of the book would probably dispute that, but – hey! – what do the nerds know, right?
It might have worked, too. EA did a fine job banging out three LOTR games cribbing from the Dynasty Warriors template, didn’t they? And those games were produced by the guys who did Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball, and the unfortunately named and now defunct Stormfront Studios, so how hard could it be, right? Well, you sure showed them. Battlefront managed a thoroughly decent bit of shooty-shooty-bang-bang between Empire and Rebel forces, but Conquest takes its cue from Dynasty Warriors and makes the combat so intangible and repetitive, and the combo system so incompetent there’s not a single decent punch-up to be had.
Where Battlefront looked good, Conquest is Keith Richards; where Battlefront had interesting and almost-balanced character classes, Conquest has a band of wooden-legged freaks who moonwalk like the Former King of Pop; where Battlefront had fun vehicles to pilot and fight, Conquest has the gimpiest horses since Two Worlds, and Cave Trolls and Ents which, frankly, look like claymation diarrhea.
Worst of all, where Battlefront showed respect to its inspiration and paid homage to the license, Conquest is more like an offensive parody. Remember that bit in Tolkien’s masterpiece where the loyal-unto-death lapdog Wormtongue gave his life fighting hordes of Middle Earth’s finest heroes in defense of his beloved boss Saruman, before Gandalf sprinted to the top of his tower to circle-strafe and lightning-zap the bugger to death? And how about the part where every battle was narrated with hilariously bombastic bellowed insights like “YOUR POISON ARROWS ARE POWERFUL. USE THEM!”? That’s right, Pandemic. That didn’t happen, did it? No.
And we know what you’re going to say – it’s designed to be played online. But even if you’d built a multiplayer game as magnificent and as robust as Saruman’s tower at Isengard, it would collapse like a house of cards because you’ve built it on foundations of poor mechanics, horrible presentation, dull combat, worthless maps, and total contempt for the mythology. There isn’t an online gamer, Battlefront player, Dynasty Warriors nerd, movie buff, or Lord of the Rings fanatic on Earth who could be satisfied with Conquest. It should ship with the pre-owned sticker already on the box.
We still remember Full Spectrum Warrior, you know. You’re better than this. Much, much, much better.
Jan 14, 2009