Genre : Action
Developer: Point of View
Release Date: November 21, 2003
Video games based on American superheroes have had a notoriously mixed track record. Marvel has a fairly substantial edge on this, with a popular (albeit poorly balanced and desperately in need of an update) Capcom fighting franchise based on their characters, and the decent Spider-Man 3D brawlers of the last few years. They still have a few embarrassments, like the old NES topdown shooter based on the X-Men and Fantastic Four on PSOne, but all in all, they’re doing all right.
DC’s… not. Their games aren’t merely bad; their flagship characters keep turning up in games that’re described with words like “worst ever” and “utter crap” and “turn it off, for the love of God, turn it off, aiieee.” Superman 64, Batman: Dark Tomorrow, Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis… it’s just an ugly list. Let’s not dwell on it.
Somewhere in the middle of it all is Spawn, Todd McFarlane’s creator-owned antihero, a former American black-ops soldier whose death during a mission transformed him into a hellspawn, a costumed warrior whose mission is theoretically to gather evil souls on Earth to fuel Hell for the inevitable war against Heaven. Spawn, however, is not particularly interested in this, and so finds himself in the bizarre position of using Hell’s own powers to fight it back.
His comic book was the single biggest seller of the 1990s, which meant video games were a painful inevitability. The SNES Spawn wasn’t bad, but then came Spawn: The Eternal on PSOne, which I only remember because of how it let you rip off thugs’ arms and beat them with them; and Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand, a fast-paced brawler with zero arcade exposure and decidedly mixed reviews, which was further hamstrung by the inexplicable decision to release a Dreamcast version without Sega.net support.
The basic theme here is that Spawn games tend to focus on being bloody and gory affairs with lots of heavy metal and truly demented demons to fight, and somewhere along the line, someone always seemed to forget to include fun.
Spawn: Armageddon wants to buck that trend. It’s got Namco behind it, which is a solid place to start from. Like The Eternal, Armageddon is a third-person brawler; unlike The Eternal, Spawn’s been given a really solid assortment of moves with which to smite his opponents.
To go from the most obvious example, Spawn, in Armageddon, is carrying his trusty axe Agony, the same weapon he’s got in Soul Calibur II. Between bone-breaking blows and overhead smashes from Agony, Spawn can literally tear apart lone demons with his costume’s sentient chains. Seriously. You lock onto them with the R1 button, hit Square, and chains snake out from Spawn to wrench the demon’s body violently apart, in a gory explosion of blood and meat.
The gore of the combat is only matched by the grotesqueries of the demons you’ll be fighting. These are the kinds of things I expect to see in a game based upon Todd McFarlane’s art; chitinous demons and shrieking hellbeasts predominate, topped off by the occasional blade-filled chittering monster the size of a luxury sedan. It’s difficult to say anything about the graphics at this point, since I am playing an incomplete build, but the animation isn’t bad. All of the forces of Hell are as frightening and inhuman as you’d expect them to be, perhaps especially so when you’re driving an axe or a chain through their soft fleshy bits.
Be sure to play this one with your kids in the room. It’ll be great.
As fans of the character know, Spawn’s also packed to bursting with the energies of hell itself. In The Eternal, you couldn’t refill your supply of energies; once it was gone, it was gone, as was the case in the comics. (I don’t believe such is the case anymore, but, well…) Armageddon lets you scoop up extra magic from fallen demons, which can in turn be used to fuel Spawn’s powers. You start off with six abilities, ranging from a fireball to a powerful arcane shield; in this build, they seem a little broken, as the ranged attacks have lousy hit detection and the final ability, a burst of pure energy that damages and stuns the demons struck by it, simply does not work. Still, the ideas behind them are sound, and it’ll be interesting to see how they influence the gameplay in the final retail build.
Armageddon also has more than a little platformer mixed into it. The designers seem to have taken a cue from the Spider-Man games on PSOne, with a healthy shot of Devil May Cry for flavor, and have made Spawn’s New York a Gothic place of hanging ledges and distant platforms. Spawn himself is equipped with a doublejump, can glide short distances with the aid of his ragged cape, and can use his chains to pull himself up onto distant ledges, if there’s a handy grapple point. There are all kinds of secrets hidden amidst the game’s labyrinthine stages, from Spawn comic books, fluttering batlike in hidden alcoves, to extra weapons. The environments are appropriately foreboding, and feature any number of destructible items such as roadblocks, dumpsters, sawhorses, shopping carts, and more, for that extra bit of vandalistic flair.
The game’s New York is also, as in the comics, a hotbed of demonic activity. Armageddon's plot is fairly simple, as these things go: Spawn looks up from his angst one night, to discover that the alleys where he makes his home are being overrun by demons, and only he can see them. He shoulders Agony and gets to the killin’, hacking apart demons from one end of the city to the next.
This is the first step upon a path that will bring Spawn into conflict with a group of renegade angels, and their plot to destroy hell with an arcane superweapon. One might think that Spawn would be on board with that idea, except for one little thing; the superweapon in question will destroy the Earth when it’s used. Clearly, this is the kind of dilemma that can only be solved via the rapid application of an axe to somebody’s head.
At this point, Armageddon has some real problems, mostly having to do with hit detection and Spawn’s powers. However, the game’s recently gone gold, so those problems can be confidently expected to have been addressed. Hopefully, this’ll be the action game that fans of Spawn have been looking forward to, and they can find out for themselves on the twenty-first of November.