Release Date: April 5, 2005
Pre-order 'RAZE'S HELL': Xbox
Imagine this, if you will. Your planet has become a utopia — plants bloom everywhere, the people are happy, music fills the air and the sunlight warms the population. And, well, you liked it better before ... so what's a dark, smelly, brute of an alien to do when his home suddenly becomes cute? Become a dark, smelly, well-harmed and blood-spattered brute, of course!
Raze's Hell will put gamers right there as the title character, a bulky blue warmachine with a chip on his shoulder and teeth the size of Topeka. See, Raze is a staunch opponent of all things bright, sunny, and pleasant, and he's less than thrilled over his new co-habitants, the Kwetletts. Small, pastel-colored, with voices like a kindergartener on helium, they've invaded the place and are working hard to transform the dark and grimy landscape into a candy-coated nightmare of epic proportions. All the natives are caged up, well-armed troopers patrol the landscape, and slowly but surely things are being converted. The only thing standing between them is Raze and his all-natural bug-based firearms. (Yes, I said bug-based.)
RH plays as your standard third-person shooter; from a standard view behind Raze's back, he'll lead a one-man — er, one-whatever-he-is war against the power of Kwet. Quite possibly the goofiest army in quite a long time, the Kwetletts will come at you with teddy bears, balloon-borne paratroopers, robotic mice, and wind-up jack-in-the-boxes ... not to mention sniper rifles, rockets, mortars, motion-sensor turrets, grenades, laser Gatling guns, and other weapons of mass destruction. Battles are large, often pitting you against a half-dozen or more troops. It's certainly not for the weak of heart or controller — these guys are more than adequately prepared to open your head like a can of creamed corn.
Raze is hardly unprepared himself, though. The natural insect life of his planet can be converted into ammunition for his built-in guns, giving him access to simple machine-guns, a sniper rifle, and even more impressive gear like a mid-range needle cannon and remote-controlled spider bombs. All he has to do is eat the right ammo via his vacuum cleaner of a mouth, and it's go — no finding the right gun in some dusty corner. Tied together with the ability to roll up like a pill bug, long range vision modes, and a pair of lethal blades for hands, Raze can easily turn back the tide towards himself and his people.
What's most pervasive here is the humor factor. It's obvious that, while a hardcore shooting spree at heart, the outer portions of RH are not meant to be taken very seriously. Raze is over-the-top dark, cut from the molds of folk like Spawn or The Punisher, while the Kwetletts have gone as far in the other direction as possible. Their weapons and troopers are all cute things like kewpie dolls, big-eyed teddies, or bunny rabbits with plastic goggles. Their buildings are great pink things with hearts and stars, designed more like dollhouses or gingerbread homes than guard towers or ammo depots. Even while you're shooting holes through them, these "soldiers" can't help but be cute — with voices like chipmunks, they'll shout things like “you can take away my life, but you can't take away our cuteness,” “there goes the cowardly coward-man, hiding like a coward...hah,” “come on out, we just want to giggle negotiate,” or any other of dozens of quoteables. The landscape is even dotted with billboards sporting spoofs of World War II era propaganda posters. It's so unabashedly silly that most gamers will just grin the whole time.
It's impossible to build a title completely on the atmosphere, though, and right now Artech needs to spend a bit more on cleaning things up. The preview build I played through had four levels, including the tutorial mission. The other three maps were simply huge things, wide open and full of combatants, almost to the point of distraction. Ammo is nicely laid out, and Raze's ability to eat the dead (some will go "ugh," I'm sure) for health helps a lot.
It's far too easy to trip huge battles, and frankly, the difficulty level is insane right now. I played on normal and still got blown away on a regular basis — the laser rifles basic Kwetlett troops carry do a lot of damage per hit, and they have near-perfect accuracy. This is simply going to produce a frustration-fest for any but the best gamers. Hopefully, balance tweaking is one of the primary things being done right now — the engine looks good, handles well, and is really fun to work with, though it needs some serious optimization to ease off brutal slowdown. Some sections feel like a SNES game, not an XBox title.
I can't recommend any game based simply on a press copy, as too much can change between that pressing and the final version to really say for sure. What I see here looks entertaining enough, but has a massive annoying factor that will hopefully be dealt with before it finally comes out. Everything else that's obligatory — a strong engine, good design, interesting weapons and background — is already nicely in place. It'll also be interesting to see what kind of multiplayer modes are laying in wait (none were available on our build) – co-operative could be intense fun, and possibly ease off the challenge.
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