Conker: Live & Reloaded
Hello readers, this is Kikizo. You're Live on Xbox - please do not swear. The votes are in, and we can now reveal the final Xbox game to exit the Microsoft house is....
FACT! There has been a war of sorts going on for around 150 years, ever since the North American grey squirrel was introduced into the UK. Since this inception, the indigenous red squirrel population has been dwindling. FICTION! It seems now, that a greater threat has made itself known, in the form of the evil jack-booted, wash-stickered (40°, do not tumble dry), cotton-stuffed Tediz. So the Squirrels have banded together as the SHC to fight off this new threat, the result of which is a game full of team-based, mission-led multiplayer mayhem.
The multiplayer aspect of this new release is quite obviously the area Rare has been most focused on. The clues are there, in the subtitle order, and with the Xbox Live option being highlighted by default. That being the case, it will be easiest to start by talking about the single-player game first, a remix of the old N64 game, Conker's Bad Fur Day.
Although 'remix' is perhaps the least applicable description for it, since Rare has only covered the bare minimum required to bring this version in line with current expectations. Don't get us wrong, it looks fantastic; the graphical overhaul brings to life the sights fans of the previous game could only (and had to) imagine. The fur shading of Conker himself looks fantastic, adding an extra level of cuteness that more sharply contrasts with his potty-mouthed, sociopathic personality.
Aside from the graphical overhaul, this is practically the same game of nearly five years ago. There are some other minor cosmetic changes - negligible script amendments, a cut section here, a new bit there - as well as some other tweaks - and the camera has been tightened up, but still has problems close to walls, and the difficulty has been toned down a touch. Unfortunately though, there are still issues here that betray L&Rs' past generation roots - a sometimes archaic structure, wooly objectives and the animation.
Still, the original Bad Fur Day, even with such technical problems, was wholly worth playing for its British (and crude) sense of humour, and numerous movie pastiches (that is as long as you find such base things as singing poo, drunk scarecrows and swearing to be funny). The gameplay cribs from almost every genre, involving a kart race, third person shooting, platforming, numerous boss fights and a guano-fueled bombing run from a brown eye's view. Although a warning to anyone replaying this: take off the rose-tinted glasses, it's not as funny as you remember.
Next up is 'Chapter X', a halfway house between the Bad Fur Day rework and the multiplayer. This is a single-player story and mission based campaign that plays the same as the multiplayer game, indeed using most of the same maps and missions. Choosing from six character classes as either SHC or Tediz (each side having the same classes) including the self-explanatory Grunts, Long Rangers (snipers), Sneekers (stealth) and Demolishers (the big guns), and the less obvious Sinurators (flame throwers) and Sky Jockeys (pilots). Each of these classes wields their own weapon types, special items and skills, and also a class-specific vehicle.
The missions cover the basic multiplayer game-types - Capture the Flag, Deathmatch, Domination - but the humour of the main game is lacking here. Sure it's crammed with as many movie pastiches, too many at times, and uncensored swearing, but obviously the focus is on the gunplay so there is no time for it to be missed. These same missions can also be played in both versus and co-op modes in split-screen, but sadly only by two players (with teams filled out by Bots), and even then the slowdown leaves it all but unplayable. System Link is by far a better option, for those that have the setup, but of course Xbox Live is going to be where most players get their action from, again all the same missions being playable with anywhere up to a full complement of sixteen players.
The Chapter X missions and Bot-based practice is entirely necessary in preparation for playing on Live, because the structure of the multiplayer game is incredibly, overly and unnecessarily complex. Much like at certain points in the single-player game, there will be times of uncertainty at what to do next, indeed it takes a few attempts at each mission to work out exactly how to reach the victory goal.
An example of the depth: with each character class, the main weapon can have multiple firing modes (short burst, full auto, anti-vehicle - and that's just for the Grunts machine gun!), on top of which you have to switch to grenades from the main weapon, and then choose the grenade type (frag, stun, gas, napalm, EMP or smoke). Then take into account weapon upgrades (dropped by dead enemies) which unlock a second specialist weapon, character specific tools (hacking devices, vehicle repair) and skills (beserk, invisibility). That's a lot of stuff to get to grips with, it gets complicated just reading about it! In fact, it's not unlikely that most players will give up on the multiplayer before they even go Live with it.
It also doesn't help that switching between weapon and skill types is too unwieldy for such a fast paced game. The system is similar to that used in the Rainbow Six games, where you hold down a button and use the analogue stick to select, or alternatively just press the button to cycle through choices. Not being able to have the main weapon selected at the same time as grenades is criminal, and it ends up that grenades are mostly forgotten about, yet the Bots are happily chucking them all over the place like faeces-flinging zoo monkeys.
Still, if enough people can be gathered together for a full game, everyone will be on a more even footing and be dealing with the same issues - the only problem left being some unbalance in the usefulness of each character class. If a full team can't be cobbled together though, there aren't really any maps to cater for smaller groups, and the fun is significantly lessened.
So we have a single-player campaign that, if you've played N64 BFD, you might get ten hours of reminiscent joy out of, and if you haven't, enjoyment of it will be directly proportional to your level of humour and how many films you've seen. Then we have a multiplayer game that can be fun, despite an overly complex and cumbersome nature, but only in the right environment (e.g. on Live with plenty of people who've put the practice in). All of which is based on a template that's nearing a wooden anniversary. Certainly an interesting choice to be the final, firstparty Xbox game, isn't it?
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Conker Live and Reloaded
E3 2004: Conference 'Terminator' themed trailer (640x480, 1Mbps)
Conker Live and Reloaded
E3 2004: Direct feed gameplay (640x480, 1Mbps)
Conker Live and Reloaded
E3 2004: Detailed showfloor gameplay demonstration (640x480, 1Mbps)