It seems that Majesco has cornered the market on publishing new intellectual properties. This week it brings us not one, but two innovative games with characters and gameplay elements that are somewhat out of the ordinary. While Psychonauts
has taken up most of the spotlight this week, there is also a little known third-person shooter hitting stores this week at the friendly price of $19.99. Raze's Hell
is an incredibly difficult game with plenty of content and average production value. While most budget titles feel like cheaper versions of more popular games, this one exhibits a rare spark of originality that makes it worth a second look.
The setting of Raze's Hell is a kooky fantasy land inhabited by ugly monsters and a ruling race of cuddly creatures known as Kewletts. The story is portrayed through a series of short cut-scenes that are often humorous. It follows the exploits of Raze, and his quest to take down the evil queen of the Kewletts who has launched a preemptive war against all things ugly. The world of videogames is cluttered with anti-heroes, but Raze's situation is slightly different. The Kewletts look like loveable stuffed animals, but behind the flowers and rainbows they are sadistic, racist little bastards. The story follows Raze on his path of destruction to the capital of Kewtopia. The story is humorous and at times a little nonsensical but on the whole it is entertaining.
The game opens with Raze barely escaping an attack on his home turf. As his fellow villagers are slaughtered, he escapes into a cave where a mysterious glowing stone imbues him with strength and power. Most importantly, Raze gains the ability to use nature against his opponents. Instead of picking up ammo from the Kewletts, he smashes different colored glowing pods and sucks up the remains. Each color yields a specific type of ammo that Raze can unleash on his enemies. Most of these environmental weapons resemble the typical shooter equipment. There is a machine gun, two types of sniper rifle, a shotgun, and rockets. There is also a second tier of specialized weaponry with some bizarre attacks. One of these is a large flame bomb that toasts large sections of ground. There is a floater, which snags enemies and carries them out of the way. There are also two types of attack drones that players can remotely navigate across the battlefield. Ammo collection is cool, but not quite as well implemented as the similar system used in Stranger's Wrath.
Raze also has a melee attack that dismembers his enemies with a couple of swipes. This move becomes necessary in later levels when ammo isn't always readily available. Ammo isn't the only thing that can be collected while slaughtering the evil hoard of Kewletts. After Raze blasts his foes to pieces, he can also inhale their giblets to regain health. There is also a mostly useless stealth mode that allows players to sneak up behind enemies and enact an instant kill. Raze moves rather slowly, so when there are no visible threats, the best way to travel is to use his roll attack. By holding down the B button, Raze transforms into a "morph ball" and speeds across the landscape. This move can also be used to squish weaker enemies, but if players run into harmful obstructions they will suffer for it.
Welcome to Hell
This is the type of game that would normally make for some quick weekend fun or a decent rental. However, gamers should be ready for an incredibly challenging experience. Normally, I enjoy difficult games. The Ninja Gaiden Hurricane Pack is one of my top all-time action experiences. However, there is a difference between adjusting to a steep learning curve and hitting a brick wall of difficulty. Raze's Hell is the type of game that forces players to earn every step of advancement in almost all of the levels. Running blindly into an unexplored gully will result in a guaranteed instant death. Even though kills reward the player with literal chunks of health, the enemies are expert shots and incredibly aggressive. Normally I shy away from adjusting the default difficulty settings, but even on easy with auto-aim, this game often feels like a never-ending cycle of death.
Because the Kewletts are so adept at taking down their enemies, Raze will spend a large chunk of time sniping from afar. Players will find themselves constantly scanning the horizon because the moment more than one enemy is alerted, you can kiss your sweet ass goodbye. This is compounded in later levels when the Kewletts start donning steal armor and little samurai outfits. Even with charged sniper shots, these enemies can take a ridiculous amount of damage before hitting the dirt for good. The large assortment of weapons and melee attacks should have combined for some intense run and gun combat. Instead, Raze has to hide in dark corners and pick off his enemies from afar.
Aiming also feels off because the reticule accelerates too quickly as it moves across the screen. Look sensitivity can be adjusted, but it's not enough to compensate for the frustration that occurs during sniping.
The 20 levels of Kewlette killing action can be played alone or co-op. A friend can jump into the game at any time by pressing start on the second controller, which is always a welcome feature. Players can also sacrifice some of their own health to raise a fallen comrade. One would think that co-op would make the game easier, and it does to a certain extent. However, friendly fire is always on, and in the heat of the battle, its easy to inadvertently take down your partner. There is also an online mode that allows players to compete with other monsters in a game of Deathmatch, Team Deathmath, Capture the flag, king of the hill, team king of the hill, and ultra violent soccer. Playing against other people is immediately more fun than taking on the unforgiving A.I. in the single player game but the weapon system isn't as nice a fit. There are some nice options like weapon sets, adjustable timers, radar, and team changes. Since the frame rate in the offline version of the game is average at best, it doesn't get any better over Live.
If online extras don't float your boat, Raze's Hell also has a few mini-games that can be unlocked by completing the single player campaign. The four games include an exercise in stealth, a simple golf game, survival, and blood rain. These games prove that more isn't necessarily better and it will be surprising if anyone can get addicted to these simple diversions.
Raze's Hell deserves credit for its dark sense of humor and unique presentation. The Kewletts constantly run their mouth and shoot off glib one-liners when they bite the dust. Their annoyingly cute design combined with their high pitches voices and pointed insults make the player delight in tearing them apart. There is a stark contrast between the insanely colorful Kewletts and the gory results of battle. When Raze rolls over an enemy, they fling up against the screen and leave streaks of blood as they slide off. The screen spattering trick is also used in rainy environments and when Raze is grazed by multicolored paintballs. This visual ploy works as eye candy at first, but sometimes obstructs the screen and becomes annoying. Creatures explode into chunks after taking an excessive amount of damage, while blood sprays in every direction.
Graphically, Raze's Hell mixes the good with the bad. The different types of Kewletts look excellent. The characters seem to borrow from a number of sources, including children's television icons like Barney and the Teletubbies. Raze, however, isn't as inspired. He is supposed to be a gruesome monster, hell-bent on revenge but from behind he resembles a cross between Jar-Jar Binks and a turtle. The environments have a few interesting textures, but overall they feel barren. It would be nice to have more detailed structures and foliage, but the frame rate is already consistently choppy. It is a vast improvement over earlier builds, but the game play would have benefited from a solid 30 frames per second.
The Kewlett's voices are the real standout in terms of sound. They have some flat-out hilarious comments while Raze blasts them into pieces. Other creatures have appropriately strange voice work but are nowhere close to the evil cuties. The background music is fittingly eerie but the sounds of warfare normally overpower the audio.
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