War of the Monsters
Aliens, robots and monsters, oh my! Kikizo takes a look at Incog's latest action-fest - War of the Monsters.
By Kikizo Staff
The interminable question about whether or not 'size matters' has raged since time immemorial, but when it comes to irradiated monstrosities and destructive scale, it can be said with the utmost certainty that bigger is most definitely better. And so, taking that philosophy to heart, Incog Inc. have unleashed upon the insatiable PS2 public, War of the Monsters, a 3D brawler not unlike Twisted Metal: Black.
Disparate themes of psycho clowns and monolithic beasts aside, both games place an imperative on wanton destruction and the decisive pummeling of those who stand in your way. Having staved off an alien invasion, humanity is now threatened by the emergence of gigantic mutants spawned from the radioactive ooze discharged from the downed invader's crafts. Thus, as one of 10 different monsters, it falls to you to perform the requisite duties expected of such creatures, that is, to smash things.
Adventure, the main mode of play, is similarly structured to Incog's hallmark car-combat effort: players, after selecting the beast of their choice, advance through a series of encounters against varying numbers of rival monsters (up to two larger opponents or multiple smaller ones) and the occasional boss battle, with tokens and explanatory cutscenes offered as reward for your toil. Accrued tokens can be spent on mini-game modes, alternate costumes, stages and hidden characters.
Contrary to first impressions, it is the environments, not the monsters that are the true stars of the game. Teeming with life, these interactive battlegrounds are what ultimately shape the War of the Monsters experience, without which, the game amounts to nothing more than two monsters wailing away at one another with a selection of canned combos. When placed in the center of a bustling metropolis however, players have at their fingertips a virtual playground in which, as one would assume would be the case if a 50-foot monster ever did stroll into your neighborhood, anything goes.
They can climb buildings; trample pedestrians; utilize vehicles, debris and other rudimentary implements as weapons; and even cause the buildings themselves to topple upon unsuspecting opponents. The appeal of having an entire city at your mercy is obvious, and it is this element that is WotM's biggest asset. But that said, the game is hampered by questionable design choices and niggling problems throughout.
Chief among these complaints is the Artificial Intelligence. While challenging, it does at time border on being overly 'cheap.' Opposing monsters will only fight toe-to-toe when cornered or if possessing abundant health. The rest of the time players will find themselves having to chase them across the cityscape, hunting them down, and all the while hoping they don't snaffle too many health items before they can be engaged once again. This isn't much of a problem when faced with only a single opponent, but later in the game you're forced to fight two adversaries at once, an exercise in maddening frustration if there ever was one.
A common scenario: while you're fighting one opponent, the other is off healing itself, get a few punches in on your current opponent and he too will run off in search of nourishment. Now, you could try and follow him, but oftentimes his partner will at this point have been healed sufficiently to once again take up the fight. And heaven help you should you allow both opponents to be healthy at the same time. The flying monsters are especially annoying as they can fire off a series of projectiles from distance, seldom coming within arm's length of your creature.
Given the fact that you're allotted three lives per stage, these tactics do not make the game excessively difficult, but having to employ similar hit-and-run and button-smashing strategies drains much of the fun out of being a giant monster. This less than satisfying combat, combined with the tedium of having to drudge through the Adventure mode with each character in order to accrue significant amounts of tokens, severely limits the appeal of the single-player game. And quite frankly, it's about time developers came up with greater incentive than simply being able to unlock things to increase replay value. The other single-player modes offer some respite, but it's in the two-player mode that much of the title's appeal lies, which makes the exclusion of four-player support all the more baffling. Of course, Incog's much vaunted camera system (when players draw near to one another the two split-screens merge, and when further away, split once again) would have to give way to purely split-screen based play, but that's a sacrifice, I'm willing to bet, many would gladly make.
The senseless carnage is made all the more appealing thanks to the accomplished engine powering your degenerate escapades. The creatures themselves are mostly just darker, edgier versions of venerable stalwarts such as Godzilla and King Kong, but all are immaculately rendered and possess unique mannerisms that certainly help players to identify with their chosen avatar. As is the case with the gameplay, its the environment that packs most of the visual punch, in fact, much of the enjoyment derived is a direct consequence of the level of interactivity each area offers.
Throwing a monster into one of the larger buildings will see it shed its outer shell in a glorious rain of concrete and steel debris; panicked mobs will disperse around your character, while civilian vehicles desperately try to avoid the ensuing carnage; military helicopters can be plucked out of the air and hurled, satisfyingly so, at the target of your choice; and electricity and fire crackle to life as you destroy nuclear towers and tankers. Great stuff.
The camp, sci-fi theme pervades even the game's soundtrack, offering a rousing, quick-paced score accompanied by effects that, as you'd expect of a game like this, are heavy on the bass. Not since Rampage has there been a game that so accurately portrayed what it is like to be a giant monster (at least, what we assume it to be like) and for that War of the Monsters should be lauded. Accomplished visuals, appealing subject matter and Incog's obvious technical mastery make for a solid package, but the game's limited scope ensures that the fun factor is lowered exponentially as time wears on. An entertaining title, despite its problems.