Rare has received its fair share of grief for its Xbox lineup, with Grabbed by the Ghoulies (read DailyGame’s review) the developer’s only title on Microsoft’s console. Sure, Rare is working on Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power (read DailyGame’s preview), but those are for the Xbox 360, and gamers are currently more interested in the here and now. With that as a backdrop, Rare is finally releasing Conker: Live and Reloaded, a game three years in the making but based on a title five years old.
When Conker’s Bad Fur Day released on N64, it broke ground for its context-based gameplay, graphics and potty-inspired humor. But with online gameplay all today’s rage, Rare has added a handful of online components to Live and Reloaded, hoping to make the game stand out for something other than its penchant for poo. It’s appropriate, then, that the opening cinematic drops players into the main menu with online options highlighted, because the game was designed to be an online multiplayer experience. Playing a deathmatch or team-based game as a Squirrel or Tedi is why this game exists; the single-player update is simply thrown in as a “value add.” But it’s still not enough to make Conker: Live and Reloaded worth the money.
The definition of a “value add” is something that adds value to an already-solid product. With Live and Reloaded, there are two problems with that. First, the single-player game shows its age at nearly every opportunity. True, the updated graphics look gorgeous, but the gameplay elements themselves, the nuts and bolts of what drive players forward, are rusty. Second, the online component of Live and Reloaded, the meat of what this game was designed to do, is only marginally enjoyable. With vague objectives, confusing spawn points, a God-awful HUD and strategic elements that just fall flat, Conker: Live and Reloaded will lose gamers’ online attention faster than its foul-mouthed main character loses his girlfriend.
The single-player game is a revamped version of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a popular title for the N64. The storyline, as vague as it is, involves a drunk squirrel named Conker battling his way through both a hangover and a handful of diverse but linear environments to capture the throne. Along the way players will surf over lava, smash a boiler’s brass “ball bearings,” drop anvils on a baby dinosaur, feed fast-acting laxatives to docile cows, urinate on flaming bats and fling toilet paper at an operatic yet homicidal pile of poo. To say cute ol’ Conker is the character in a kid’s game is like saying the benign cutouts in South Park are designed for Saturday-morning appearances. This is definitely a game for adults, much like it was when it originally shipped.
But now that the Y2K jitters have faded away, leaving us with our faculties as well as a few more platforming years under our collective belt, it’s easier to see Conker’s faults. Nearly every level hinges on pulling a switch and/or hitting context-sensitive buttons. Conker’s long-jumping ability, a core element of all platformers, comes and goes as it suits the situation. The camera is only partially maneuverable and frequently gets hung-up on obstacles. And invisible walls keep players from exploring any area outside the pre-determined Path of Linearity.
These misgivings are probably signs of a five-year-old game trying to cut it in a world of more-evolved platformers. For example, Conker’s Bad Fur Day generally provided little to no direction about what players were supposed to do. Five years ago, this let players experiment with a 3D world, wandering aimlessly around each creative level until they realized their objective through trial and error. Yet by modern standards, this is considered lazy and/or poor level design. So, too, are the incessant loading screens, which plague a surprisingly large portion of this Xbox version. As a result, the single-player portion of Conker: Live and Reloaded feels incredibly tedious, far from the “value add” it’ supposed to be.
Still, Conker: Live and Reloaded was designed for multiplayer competition via Xbox Live, meaning that Rare developed the game’s heart and soul from scratch. Presumably, that would mean the game is better in its online, split-screen and system-linked modes. Unfortunately, it’s not. Most online shooters are more involved, far more fleshed-out and far more enjoyable.
The multiplayer action in Conker: Live and Reloaded is based not on weapons, per se, as much as it is on specific character classes. Each class, from grunt and demolisher to sniper and sneaker, caters to a specific gameplay style. The weapons for each class change accordingly, as to the defensive capabilities and special moves, leaving gamers to find the character class that bets suits their style. What’s more, both the Tediz and Squirrels feature the same basic classes, so players can play to their style regardless of their defensive or offensive role.
The problem is that the gameplay itself, regardless of class, just isn’t all that fun. For starters, the action is incredibly fast-paced, yet the reliance on different classes forces players to think strategically. It’s almost as if Rare couldn’t make up its mind about the type of battles, frantic or strategic, that it wanted gamers to play. Second, although players can hold several weapons at once, each with its own alternate-fire mode, it’s both dangerous and a chore to cycle through them while you’re getting fragged from all sides. Third, if you discover that your character class isn’t working and want to switch mid-match (theoretically a nice option), the penalty for switching is to pause you in battle, leaving you completely vulnerable to the opposition.
Yet perhaps the most frustrating part of the multiplayer options is the heads-up display. Quite simply, Conker: Live and Reloaded has the busiest, most distracting and pointless HUD in any multiplayer Xbox game. The screenshot above is representative of virtually every intense battle. At a time when players most need their faculties and field of vision, the HUD keeps them from seeing enemies clearly because it wants to have cute messages like “nice play by so-and-so there.” The purpose of this is presumably to avoid having a narrator, but at least you can mute a narrator if you find him annoying. No such luck with the HUD.
Were the multiplayer gameplay actually more enjoyable, players would certainly take advantage of being able to play against up to 15 bots. Of the ability to play solo, co-op, versus or in chapter mode. Of the deep stat-tracking system in Career Battle that monitors data such as kills, deaths, matches and the number of earned medals. Rare had some great ideas with Conker: Live and Reloaded; the developer just forgot to make them fun.
Maybe they were just busy polishing the graphics, because Conker: Live and Reloaded looks fantastic. In spite of all the particle effects, explosions and action going on at once, the game seldom skips a frame, and its draw distance is impeccable. Each character and environmental object is also well textured, and the gradual change from one section of Conker’s world to the next makes the entire game feel like part of a cohesive environment. The audio, too, for all its bleeped-out dialogue, is crisp and appropriate throughout the game, with a soundtrack that will have you tapping your toes like a foul-mouthed Disney character. It’s occasionally repetitive, but at least it’s always well-done.
For a game focused on multiplayer action, Conker would seem to rely on online multiplayer for its replayability, but the inclusion of bots and the ability to replay single-player missions should keep even a few offline players entertained. The game also divides its multiplayer campaign into chapters, inviting gamers to play on six different maps and achieve objectives in the context of a greater story. These chapters, in WWII and futuristic themes, are only playable in order, but they do have three different difficulties.
Conker: Live and Reloaded is one of Microsoft’s swan-song games for 2005, one of only two console titles the company has left to publish this year. Like any game in this position, it faces pressure to go out with a bang. Instead, Conker: Live and Reloaded goes out with a foul-mouthed fizzle. We can vouch for the Rare-developed Xbox 360 games we’ve seen, but this current-generation game simply has too much style and potential where it needed substance and delivery. This is one game Xbox owners are better off running through its rental-period paces.
- Gameplay: 7
- The single-player is dated, and the multiplayer isn’t as enjoyable as most other shooters out there.
- Graphics: 9.2
- Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.
- Sound: 8.8
- You’ll hear every foul-mouthed syllable and toe-tapping tune in complete surround, even if they are somewhat repetitive.
- Replay: 7.2
- Replaying chapters is feasible, and online multiplayer is present, but neither is overly comelling.
- Overall: 7.8
- Too little, too late. What’s Rare been doing for three years? At least we can now look forward to their other games.
— Jonas Allen