By today’s standards, the Godzilla movies are pretty hokey, but that can be said about most early sci-fi cinema. Back when the movies came out, the effects were great and the stories had a moral about the consequences of nuclear proliferation. Today, they are still fun to watch for the nostalgia factor, and the films have a strong and loyal fanbase.
The entire concept of the movies, giant monsters beating the tar out of each other, sounds like the perfect premise for a game. Sadly, Atari’s latest attempt at a Godzilla game, Godzilla Unleashed, is pretty disappointing.
The first inklings of the game’s lackluster quality comes with the flat, cheap-looking cutscenes and the campy dialogue. Crystal asteroids are crashing into Earth all over the planet, and the crystals are making the resident monsters nuts. All hell breaks loose, with monsters trashing cities across the globe, and once again it’s Godzilla’s job to get things under control. I can usually forgive something like this because Oscar-winning drama isn’t the point of a Godzilla game. As long as it gives me an excuse to start wrecking stuff, I couldn’t care less about the story. In this case, the story and presentation are a tip-off to the shoddy nature of the rest of the game.
The solo campaign is played in various cities around the world, where multiple monsters are doing battle and draining power from the crystals. You play as the good-guy monster of your choice, and occasionally you are assisted by an ally monster. Your job is to get control of the area, either by taking down the bad monsters or destroying all the crystals. Sounds simple, right? Well, I honestly wouldn’t mind a dead-simple monster fighting game if the gameplay worked. In Godzilla Unleashed, it doesn’t work on almost every level.
You’ll be fighting the camera at turn, making it a more aggravating opponent than any of the rampaging kaiju. The broken camera spawns a whole new host of problems, too. You can never confidently hit what you’re aiming at, and your monster has a tendency to lock on to the closest target available, making no distinction between friend or enemy. This turns most fights into desperate flail-a-thons, where you’ll be mashing buttons while your monster punches air, and subsequently gets his tail handed to him. To remedy this glaring combat imbalance, you could smash one of the supercharge crystals lying around, which makes your monster disproportionately powerful for a few seconds. That way, all of your kicking and flailing might actually inflict some damage.
Or, you could simply die, which is pretty easy considering how unbalanced the combat it. No kidding, you can just plain die in each level and the game will advance to the next stage anyway. I’m not sure why the developers did this; maybe it was easier than making the combat playable. No matter who you play as, the solo mode is basically the same experience and is over in a few hours. There are unlockable monsters, but playing through the campaign more than two or three times is just a chore. Godzilla and his buddies don’t handle like formidable destruction machines, but like guys in rubber costumes. Maybe the developers were going for an ultra-movie-realistic vibe, but if they were, it didn’t work.
There is a multiplayer mode, but the combat is just as finicky and frustrating as it is in the solo mode. There isn’t anything new in Godzilla Unleashed multiplayer, and with so many other great fighting games on the PS2, I can’t see anyone pulling this one out for parties.
Graphics and sound are pure bargain bin material. I won’t say that the graphics are necessarily terrible, but for a game at the end of the PS2’s life cycle, they certainly don’t impress. The monsters don’t look too shabby or animate all that badly, but the environments look like they were made of plaster and cardboard. They also behave like cheap movie sets—crushing buildings doesn’t yield satisfying clouds of debris, but disappointing little puffs of smoke. The game really does look like one of the old 60’s movies, but it comes off as cheap and low tech rather than nostalgic.
The music can be summed up as grating. The industrial metal background music is ignorable at best and abrasive at worst, and it doesn’t really convey the game’s theme. I’m not too familiar with the music from the films, but something a little more epic, or at least intentionally corny, would have been more appropriate. Sound effects are partially accurate to the movies, and hearing Godzilla’s signature roar was pretty cool. Most of the monsters have corresponding samples, but the rest of the effects are mediocre.
In fact, mediocre is a good way to sum up this game. I’m still not sure why there hasn’t been a good Godzilla game yet—you’d think that the concept would be as bulletproof as the giant lizard’s skin. Atari only managed to make Godzilla Unleashed low tech and cumbersome, much like the lumbering rubber monsters in the movies. A fighting game lives and dies on its combat system, and this game grows tiresome after only an hour or two. Diehard fans of the kaiju genre will have to wait for a worthy game adaptation of the venerable atomic monster—the zippers are quite visible on this one.
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