Genre : FPS
Release Date: June 18, 2003
In this analogy, Halo is a blockbuster success. For whatever reason—excellent special effects, witty script, great cast, a plotline that resonates with the current national mood, etc.—Halo is a multimillion dollar bona fide smash hit.
Now, when a movie is this popular, you can usually go to the video store about six weeks after it hits theaters, and see the first few B-movie imitators hit the shelves. For example, Jurassic Park was still making the rounds when Roger Corman released the knockoff Carnosaur.
The thing about those B-movie knockoffs is that they typically focus on the wrong aspect of the blockbuster they're imitating. They assume that the reason the movie did so well was because of its central hook; Halo was a success because people like to see aliens getting shot in the future. Therefore, another movie about aliens getting shot in the future will do well. What always seems to escape the people who make the B-movies is that a plotline or science-fiction macguffin isn't what makes a movie, or a game; the execution is key. The devil, as they say, is in the details.
In this analogy, Halo is the blockbuster, and Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter is the ripoff.
It's a bit unkind, I'll admit, but it's the overwhelming impression that I get from the latter game. Mace Griffin feels as though it were reverse-engineered by a marketing team: "Kids seem to like Halo; which means they like having a personal force field, gibbing aliens with powerful explosives, fighting in a variety of environments, and driving around vehicles. Some of them complain about only being able to carry two weapons, so we'll take that part out and let them carry all the weapons they want. Also, Master Chief's kind of blah as a hero, so let's make our protagonist a badass bounty hunter who's out for revenge against the unknown people who set him up to take the fall for a crime he didn't commit. Hopefully, the fans won't notice how cookie-cutter our hero is if we give him a famous voice actor, preferably one who's at least as badass as our hero. Great work, everybody. See you on Thursday for the next meeting!"
My cynicism, as you can see, has force and physical weight.
Perhaps I am jaded. These have been a pretty good couple of years for first-person shooters on consoles, from a fairly successful adaptation of No One Lives Forever to Halo to the Medal of Honor games and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. (There've been missteps, like the X-Box port of Serious Sam and its tendency to actually have lag during the single-player campaign, but you can't win 'em all.) Double analogue sticks have lent the console FPS genre a playability it didn't really have before, and developers have done a lot with this generation's processing power.
So it's a little weird when a game like Mace comes along and feels stale and tired from the get-go. The title character is a former member of the Enforcers, a corporate police force founded to protect settlers and colonists in the newly-discovered Vagner system. The first level of the game involves an ill-fated mission, where Mace's squadron investigates a space station that's under attack, and Mace finds himself the only survivor. He promptly takes the fall for the squad getting wiped out and spends ten years in the pokey. When he gets out, he wants one thing, and one thing only.
No, no. The other thing.
I meant revenge. Come on, you knew that.
In any event, he takes a job as a bounty hunter to pay for all of the things required for a quest for vengeance, and that's when the fun really starts.
The problem is, of course, that it's not really fun. Mace Griffin is one of those games that will probably have its fans among the general gaming public, but game reviewers, hardcore gamers, and FPS fanatics are all going to have the same problem with it: if you've played Halo, you've already played Mace Griffin. Mace, to me, literally feels like Halo with slightly looser controls, particularly the overresponsiveness of the right analogue stick. You've got the same general look and feel to the weaponry, and Mace boasts a personal force shield that works exactly like Master Chief's. The enemies are a weird lot, particularly the second level's modified humans, but none of them really stand out.
Granted, there's nothing overtly wrong with Mace as an FPS, aside from the occasional badly edited cut scene. It's a bit harder than most, but that's largely because of the environments in which you fight. For example, the last leg of the first level takes place in near-complete darkness, which doesn't seem to hinder any of your enemies. The regenerative force field helps to minimize that, obviously, and it's difficult to get angry about cheap hits when their effects go away almost instantaneously.
What I find particularly frustrating is the game's occasional space combat. It's obviously designed to serve as a break from the ground-based action, but there are a couple of problems with that theory. For one thing, the space combat involves shooting, and the spacecrafts all handle identically to how you control Mace. Fighting in Mace's spaceship is functionally the same as fighting as Mace, except in a fully three-dimensional environment (slightly reminiscent of Critical Depth). If this is supposed to be a fun break, then I'd hate to see what Black Label would call unwelcome distractions.
Additionally, even the faster, more responsive fighter ships handle like Greyhound buses. An average space mission involves going up against about two dozen lightly armed, highly maneuverable enemy ships, frequently backed up by gun turrets adorning a nearby space station. For these ships, their relative speed, your lack of any real homing weaponry (you can lock onto an enemy vessel and eventually fire homing missiles at it, but a) you have to keep them in the targeting reticule for a ridiculously long time, and b) I never got it to work even once), and the size of the arena means that they can completely avoid your gunfire by simply retreating as far as they can. Go ahead and chase them. Half a dozen other fighters will sneak up on you while you're rotating the ship like a total goober, looking for your opponents. I spent every space combat mission in the game wanting it to be over immediately, so I could get back to the FPS.
Mace Griffin is, in the end, just sort of there. It's a messy blend of other games—Halo, a little Max Payne, an occasional bit of Medal of Honor: Frontline—and seems designed from the ground up to make you wish you were playing those games. The one unique thing it brings to the table, the space combat, is really just more FPS in a new suit. Mace Griffin takes derivative first-person shooters to a new height, or maybe depth, and I can't honestly recommend it to anyone unless I'm being mean.