Genre : Action
Developer: Planet Moon Studios
Release Date: December 2, 2003
To simulate the experience of playing Armed & Dangerous, round up three of your most sarcastic friends. One of them should, preferably, be a tea drinker, while another must be a crotchety old man with bad hearing. Now, run around in Amish country throwing explosives, as roughly three hundred people empty automatic weapons and rocket launchers in your general direction.
That’s Armed & Dangerous.
I presume it to be set in the distant future, where the Wheel O’ Society has been spun again and wound up on feudalism. Noted bastard King Folger has been oppressing the peasants of the land of Midden for long enough, so the notorious outlaws the Lionhearts have taken up arms against him. The Lionhearts consist of the human Roman, the leader of the group; Q, an enormous robot with a near-fetishistic love for tea; and Jonesy, an ambulatory Scottish mole-man with a penchant for explosions.
The game’s funny, by the way. Like, on purpose. Keep this in mind. It’s a bunch of well-voiced ridiculous British and Scottish people shooting at each other, surrounded by a plot that necessitates the coining of a more extreme word for it than “utterly absurd.” I may call it “schpedoinkle.” I don’t know.
The legendary Book of Rule holds the power to overthrow the King, but it’s been locked away for years, magically camoflauged as the best book ever written on basket-weaving. The Lionhearts decide to steal it, and to do so, enlist the help of Rexis, a shriveled little prune of a man with no eyes, bad hearing, and the vaguest hint of incredible psychic powers. From there, it’s a chase scene; the Lionhearts must blast and bomb their way across Midden, saving villages from the King’s armies and evading pursuit, to pull off this ultimate heist.
When I say “armies,” please note that I am not kidding. Armed & Dangerous is essentially a third-person shooter set deep within enemy territory, where your progress through a level is a matter of evading, outshooting, outsmarting, or simply annihilating the King’s soldiers, who’re often working from entrenched positions, supported by snipers, or extraordinarily well-covered by gun turrets. Into the bargain, they always, always have you outnumbered and outgunned. Individually, a given enemy tends to be pretty stupid, standing around and waiting to see you, but as a group, they’re uncannily good at luring you into a crossfire.
That’s just the random rank-and-file gun- and bow-wielding mooks; mechs wielding mounted chainguns, teleporting monks with magical powers, goons wearing jetpacks and toting machine guns, armored zeppelins, and the occasional parade of small monsters running at you with barrels of gunpowder will all complicate matters in their own special way. There’s an almost visible and vicious glee visible in the game, where an ordinary corner or bare stretch of land will in some way instantly mutate into some kind of unceasing explosion, the better to scatter you liberally across several square yards.
In other words, the game’s calling you out, man. Seriously. It says you’re a punk. You should’ve heard what it called your mom.
You spend the game controlling Roman, who, like all the Lionhearts, appears to treat overkill as a lifestyle. On some missions, you’ll be backed up by Jonesy and Q, who’re less like friendly CPU characters and more like Options from Gradius, opening fire upon whatever you’re shooting at.
The first thing that I noticed upon putting the game in is that almost everything in the environment has a “lifebar,” from enemies to buildings. Do enough damage with the right tools, and you can destroy just about anything. If you’re having difficulty dealing with a sniper in a building, arm your portable mortar and just blow it up with him in it; he’ll go flying out the window, screaming, and land with a boneshaking thud on the ground. You can use this to trigger avalanches, crushing and scattering a knot of distant opponents, or for the sheer unrivaled joy of destruction. Remember, if the level you just cleared doesn’t look vaguely like postwar Berlin, you’re not doing it right.
Armed & Dangerous differs from other third-person action games in recent memory — True Crime, BloodRayne, Max Payne 2, etc. — in terms of scale and agility. The latter point’s simple; Roman doesn’t have any kind of evasion roll to speak of. He can jump, and he’s pretty fast, but you won’t get to leap out of the way of incoming gunfire. If you expect to get anywhere, you’re going to have to learn how to circle-strafe, just like in an FPS.
The former point is also simple, yet strangely profound. You are not only able, but encouraged, to go tactical at any given time over the course of the game. Grenades in Armed & Dangerous have an insane range and are easy to use, plus they drop like pinata candy out of like every other guy you shoot. You will almost never have to worry about ammunition, and while Roman doesn’t have access to a lot of guns, what he does have are either terrifically effective or terrifically explosive. Sometimes, they’re both.
Consider, for example, the Land Shark Gun. You can get new bombs and firearms in a level by visiting a pub, which’ll also save your game, refill your ammo, and heal at least some of your wounds. If you pick up the Land Shark Gun in a pub, you’ll find that it only has two shots, but that’s all it needs. Once it locks onto an enemy target, fire, and a shark fin will tear through the ground between you and him. He stops shooting and looks around warily, right before a shark — a real shark — jumps out of the ground and drags him down, screaming. The shark’s still hungry, so it runs around for a while longer, eating that guy’s squad mates and generally causing mischief.
I really can’t seem to get over that. I just shot a guy with a shark.
When you aren’t ballistically propelling sea life at people, you’re armed with things like homing missile launchers, a handheld mortar cannon, a sniper rifle, and Roman’s trademark sticky bombs, adhesive grenades that glom onto buildings or enemies before exploding. Enemies hit with a sticky bomb will panic and freak out, running away or falling over; each time I use one, it’s like a happy little gift-wrapped bit of sadism to lighten up my day. The other bombs are equally horrible, ranging from the World’s Smallest Black Hole to the Guy Fawkes Bomb, which causes all the enemies hit with it to start shooting at each other. Even better, occasional minigames will place Roman into the hot seat on ancient machine-gun turrets, where he, and he alone, must halt the advance of oncoming armies.
The firepower brought to bear on both sides isn’t exactly eye-bending. Explosions are frequently disappointing little puffs of smoke, and the landscapes tend to be unexciting and muddy colors of brown. Still, it plays damned fast, even while you’re getting chewed apart by three separate mounted guns again; a lack of detail is forgiveable, in a game that delivers this much action.
A lot of funny games are either just stupid, or aren’t much fun to play between movie sequences. Armed & Dangerous is well-done on both sides of the aisle, delivering both laugh-out-loud humor and a truly intense shooter. I wouldn’t recommend it to those with a low threshold of frustration, but anyone else can start looking forward to this now.
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