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For: PSP   Also on: Mobile

Blunt instrument

Product: Beowulf | Developer: Tiwak | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: PSP | Genre: Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Beowulf PSP, thumbnail 1
Perhaps the first Anglo-Saxon morality tale, Beowulf is the serious story of a man whose vanity warps him into becoming a monster far more dangerous than those he slaughters. Heck, in the lavish CGI film version, the great hero stoops so far as to shag Angelina Jolie - bet that's something those original Scandinavian poets didn't see coming. As for what they would have thought about computer games...

At least this PSP version of the Beowulf film is one of the most accurate film-to-game conversions we've played. Not only does it follow the plot with the attentiveness of a Hollywood stalker, it elaborates on it by filling in the missing years of Beowulf's life not chronicled by the film. It shares the film's strengths and weaknesses too though, which is to say it's excellent in many respects, but in the end succumbs to a kind of lifelessness.

But to deal with those first impressions, this is a very solid looking game. You could squint and mistake the cut-scenes for clips from the film, particularly as the voice acting has been supplied by members of the original cast and the script has all the same historical epic bravura.

In-game, for the most part, these standards persist. There are some glaring graphical flaws, such as the sea's failure to splash when you run into it and the fact that enemy unit types are clone-like, but in general it's all very polished, with detailed environments and character models, hulking monsters, fluid animation, glinting sword-swipes, and a rich palette of colours. The only thing missing is that particular shade of crimson associated with the action of a sword making deep contact with a human being's limbs.

In terms of its narrative, Beowulf is essentially a series of unrelated adventures, which contrive to dovetail with the film's truncated story and to demonstrate the title character's steady rise to the top of the metaphorical volcano into which he eventually hurls himself.

In practice, what this entails is arriving at a new location, taking a few steps, hacking down a gentle wave of baddies, taking a further few steps forward, and hacking some more. There are a few side-missions you gain by approaching villagers with question marks above their heads, but these invariably involve killing things and so offer very little variation from the main theme.

While reasonably satisfying, the combat is primitive and occasionally tiresome. Beowulf swipes and lunges with pleasing heft, but enemies are just on the wrong side of resilient, presenting no great threat but taking several clanging, bloodless hits to defeat.

Attacking moves are bound to the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons, and by repeatedly pressing Square you can string together combos of different types depending on the weapon in your hands. Unusually, there's no auto-lock feature, so you need to line enemies up but this is no great inconvenience.

Weapons degrade as you use them, so that after a few minutes of bloodthirsty hacking you're likely to find yourself suddenly bereft and lunging with your fists. Thankfully, you can pick up the weapons left behind by your defeated foes, so if you feel you'd rather have a lumbering battleaxe than a nimble sword you can employ murder as the means of bringing forward its availability.

Fairly early on in the game, you acquire thanes to accompany you, and soon after that you gain the opportunity to choose which three you'd like to take with you on each mission, as well as which weapons from your armoury you'd like to wield.

Using the D-pad you can issue instructions to each of them, such as picking up a new weapon or set about moving a door, and so you often need to ration commodities amongst the group. These characters are both a help and a hindrance, since if all of them die you fail the level, imposing the unwelcome responsibility of babysitter on the hero.

Still when the going gets tough, there are two emergency measures you can take. By holding Up on the D-pad, you can activate Heroic Boost, which momentarily frills your thanes with blue light and makes them invulnerable and stronger. With the R shoulder button meanwhile, you can activate your own red-hemmed Carnal Rage, which gives you the same powers but also alienates your thanes and makes it possible for you to hurt them, increasing the necessity for circumspection in combat.

Generally, though, this is a game that involves little self awareness. Instead, you'll spend the vast majority of your time either wildly mashing buttons or running away. For all its lush presentation and sincerely delivered narrative, Beowulf is just a very a long, very blunt, very repetitive, and very average hack-and-slash epic whose gameplay doesn't do justice to its commendably good presentation. There's no Grendel's mother mini-game either? What were they thinking?
Reviewer photo
Rob Hearn | 10 January 2008
Despite the huge effort that's obviously gone into the graphics and the cutscenes, Beowulf's gameplay never really come to life
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