Our first encounter with LucasArts’ Armed & Dangerous was at E3 2003, when the game came out of nowhere to become one of the most talked-about titles here at DailyGame. Comic in delivery but strategic in design, the game mixed massive team-based gunfights with comic relief that compelled you to move forward even if the gameplay didn’t.
Upon its release this holiday season, Armed & Dangerous lived up to that promising first play. Still hilarious and full of bullets, the game entertained like no other team-based shooter in 2003, save for Rainbow Six 3 and SOCOM II. That’s not to say the game’s perfect. After all, with the exception of those two games, the only other notable team-based shooter was Brute Force. And that’s not much competition.
Still, Armed & Dangerous has its strategic moments, its hilarious but functional weapons galore and a humor that’s hard to beat on any platform. That’s all great stuff, from an entertainment perspective. But the abrupt “linearity” of the level objectives and an inconsistent scale of difficulty tend to interrupt the game just as things start to get good, which ultimately takes away from the “wow factor” we had back in May.
If you’ve read our preview for Armed & Dangerous, you already know about the unique weapons. Suffice it to say that the Land Shark Gun, World’s Smallest Black Hole and Topsy Turvy Bomb are absolutely hilarious in concept, but they’re even funnier to see used against your foes. The standard sniper rifle, machine gun and rocket launcher also serve their respective purpose, even if they’re not as “special.”
It’s a bit odd, then, that only the main character, Roman, can use these great weapons. True, having three Land Shark Guns in use at once could make the Lionhearts’ (your ragtag squad’s) chances too favorable, but as hard as the game can be in some places, such an allowance would’ve been helpful. It also would’ve been nice given that the teammate AI is more “A” than “I.” Health packs go unnoticed entirely, even when teammates are in dire need, and God help them if they’re in the middle of a firefight, because they don’t seem to realize that buildings and rocks make for great cover. To make matters worse, players can’t issue orders or directly control Roman’s squadmates. Maybe his sole use of special weapons makes sense, then; once his teammates die, it saves all the special weapons for him.
Presuming Roman’s teammates will die in battle, all is not lost, because the levels are organized in a way that Roman can generally succeed on his own. For example, one level has players fighting through a mountain pass, eliminating an uber-robot and destroying a set number of houses. Wave after wave of enemies heads players’ direction, invariably eliminating Q and Jonesy, but taking out enemies’ spawn points drastically increases Roman’s chances of making it out alive. Likewise, the English pub, where games are saved and new weapons are issued, is situated in a nice, central location that Roman can visit time and again for a free boost of health and ammo. And finally, once the last objective is achieved, the level ends. Immediately.
That’s right, players can be in the middle of an ammo-depleting battle, completely surrounded by enemies with no hope in sight, but if they destroy the last house while aiming for the 12 foes in front of it, an “objectives complete” message pops up and the level ends abruptly. Like most team-based shooters, the levels are linear to begin with, but this “insta-end” formula (and it occurs in more than one level) is disconcerting. It’s one thing to have your hand held through a level, but it’s another thing entirely to have it slapped away once it’s done its business. At least let players finish what they’re doing.
With that said, there are more than a few instances where the insta-end technique comes in handy. The reason for this is that one level can be incredibly easy, followed by an insanely difficult level, which in turn precedes another simple level. And when I say a level is difficult, I mean hard-like-you’re-never-going-to-sleep-again-without-a-binky difficult. In those levels, gamers will be thankful that completing the last objective can get them out of a bind. Sure, it’s a cheap way to complete a level, but in many cases it’s practically the only way.
At least the humor will keep you from losing your sanity, because the developers have apparently lost all semblance of theirs. Maybe it’s the Scottish accents. Maybe it’s the genre-mocking scenarios. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the great writing. Regardless, Armed & Dangerous is the funniest game I’ve played in years, and its quips, one-liners and CG movies make up for nearly all the frustration of a difficult level or inept teammate.
Most of the humor comes in the levels themselves (saving a precious sheep, only to accidentally blow it up and replace it with a teammate wearing sheepskin), but enemies’ and teammates’ dialogue is just as amusing. For example, since darn near everything is destructible, if you blast a building and set a nearby enemy on fire, it’s not uncommon to hear him screaming (in full Scottish accent) “My arse! My big, burning arse!” Likewise, when Q, your robotic teammate, is on the verge of death, he might say “Right, then. Full systems failure. I’ll be leaving now.”
The between-level movies provide some quality laughs as well, and they definitely move the story forward. That’s a good thing, since gamers will probably end up watching movies half as much as they play through levels. If only the CG flicks were a bit more polished. The majority of the graphics in Armed & Dangerous are fantastic, with high-resolution textures, detailed character models, deformable environments and location-specific damage when you shoot an enemy. These great graphics make it hard to ignore an inexplicably low-resolution span of video or a choppy animation.
But again, the humor pulls through, this time with the movies’ accompanying audio. As in the rest of the game, the audio in Armed & Dangerous’ movies is top-notch, will full Dolby Digital support and great voice acting. There’s nothing like a comedic line delivered perfectly, and the audio department makes sure players won’t miss a single punch line. The game also has a fantastic soundtrack, which dynamically changes from calm Celtic chords to bass-filled beats as the situation changes. I’d normally tip my hat to the outstanding audio, but this is a LucasArts-published game, so great audio comes with the territory.
I’d also normally tip this game off of the “good stuff” scale, given my mixed feelings about the insta-end phenomenon and the inconsistent difficulty, but the complete package of Armed & Dangerous precludes me from doing so. Yes, the friendly AI is bad, and yes, the levels are linear and end more candidly than any game in years. But darn it if the game doesn’t make me want to continue playing anyway. The humor, audio, over-the-top weapons and scenarios are just too good to pass up. When all is said and done, Armed & Dangerous isn’t the end-all-be-all shooter I expected, but it’s certainly greater than the sum of its parts.
- Gameplay: 7.5
- Graphics: 8.3
- Sound: 9
- Replay: 7
- Overall: 8
- High on entertainment, low on “wow factor.”
— Jonas Allen