Tuesday, July 21, 2015

War of the Monsters

Cinemassacre's latest James and Mike Mondays episode was about the new Godzilla game on PS4, and mostly lamenting how the game lacks local multiplayer.  Otherwise, the game looked great, but lacked something that James could only put into words as "it's not... fun?".

It reminded me of a PS2 game called War of the Monsters.  It doesn't have any specific movie license or tie-in, but that's okay.  The lack of a license allows it to be an homage to all the various different types of monster movies, with the alien invasion genre thrown in just for good measure.

I watch the intro cinematic every time I start up the game, just because it sets the tone quite well.  Aliens invade, Earth repels them (using EMP devices that I swear I've seen in one or another alien invasion movie), but radiation from the alien ships causes all kinds of mutated monsters to appear, and then they start fighting and wrecking cities in the process.  It's all you really care about, honestly.  Short, sweet, and to the point.

The game gets one massive thing correct: the atmosphere.  The menus could have been some sort of bland thing with pictures of monsters and a logo, but they aren't.  The whole menu takes place in a drive-in theater.  The title screen and main menu are projected onto the screen itself.  Go to the options, and guess what?  You're at the concessions stand.  The unlocks section is a wall with some movie posters.  Selecting the minigames from the two-player option takes you to the arcade machines.

Meanwhile, the music you're hearing the entire time you're navigating the menu is precisely what you'd expect, and it finishes the job of setting the atmosphere perfectly.  The rest of the music in the game is in a similar vein, and it works quite well.

Gameplay is what you'd hope for from a game that sets the tone so perfectly.  You pick a monster, and run around a fully destructible environment beating up other monsters, climbing skyscrapers, throwing rubble (or gas tanker trucks... which explode on impact) at the other monsters, and even making buildings collapse.  Some pieces of rubble are large enough to use as a shield, and others will impale your enemy on impact, offering the chance of a free hit so long as you get it in before they pull it out and throw it back at you.  There's even people running around in the city levels, and stepping on them leaves behind a nice satisfying blood splat.

There are pickups to be had as well.  Health pickups are the obvious ones, with bigger ones restoring more health.  Energy governs everything you do with your monster, and there's pickups for that too.  Then, there's pickups that enable you to use a special attack, of which every monster has two (one close-range, one longer-range).  Finally, on some stages, there's a stealth powerup.

That "on some stages" bit should have gotten your imagination going, yes?  Certainly, you think, there are stage-specific hazards.  There have to be!  Well, you're right.  In one stage, hitting a UFO that's hovering nearby causes a tsunami.  One stage is a nuclear power plant, and you can vent radioactive waste into the level.  There's a stage with a volcano, and you can make it erupt.  There's also a stage where you can vent steam into the level, but the level has a hidden twist: if absolutely everything in it that can be destroyed is destroyed, an earthquake happens and the level layout radically changes.

The single-player offers up a story mode, where you go from one stage to the next beating up monsters until you make it to the stage with the final boss, some weird tentacled alien thing, and defeat that.  Along the way you get "battle tokens", which you can use to unlock things.  "Things" includes more monsters, extra costumes for monsters, extra stages, and minigames.  If you have two memory cards, there's a trick you can use to unlock everything once you get enough tokens for the most expensive item.  Copy your save so that it's on both cards.  Then load from one of them, spend all your tokens, and save to the other one.  Keep repeating that and you'll get all but one unlock.  The last unlock requires you to have a save on your memory card from Twisted Metal: Black with Sweet Tooth's storyline beaten.  Once you get that, simply fire up the game and it'll unlock.  You can delete the Twisted Metal: Black save after it unlocks.  The connection to Twisted Metal: Black is that Incog, Inc. developed both games.

Also available in single player are various modes of fighting against CPU-controlled monsters.  But that's not what you're after, now, is it?

No, you want the two-player mode.  That's where it's at, right?  Beating up a friend (and up to two more CPU-controlled monsters) is much more fun than playing by yourself.  Multiplayer is split-screen, but when you get close enough to each other, it merges into a single screen in a completely intuitive manner that manages to not mess with the controls at all.  The result is an incredibly accessible multiplayer experience that promotes passing controllers around between friends.  Heck, there's even an option to reset the level, so once you destroy everything, you can reset it and do it again.

The game does have a few shortcomings, though they're not huge.  It doesn't support the multitap, so there's no four-player brawling that will ever happen.  Also, there's no option to choose a random monster, not even when you're choosing for the CPU.  That's it, though.  Two relatively minor things that don't get in the way of your enjoyment of the game whatsoever.

Overall, it's a great game for fans of monster movies.  It gets everything right that it needs to, and is incredibly fun.  Well worth whatever bargain bin price you find it at.  Also, it's available on PS3 via PSN (or at least it was in the past), so there's that.

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