Developer: Artech Studios
Release date: April 21, 2005
Buy 'RAZE'S HELL': Xbox
With Raze's Hell, Artech Studios has managed to tap into my most secret desires, the ones that I only know of when asleep or in a television-induced coma. They've built a cartoony action game featuring the chance to kill characters that seem as if they may have been excreted by the big purple dinosaur himself.
The game starts out with your standard cliché fantasy plot; the princess of the kingdom Kewtopia has determined that it is her duty to bring the warm fuzzy happiness that she experiences at home to the rest of the world. To accomplish this daunting task, armies of Kewletts have been mobilized in order to improve the lives of the dark, ugly and sad creatures which inhabit the planet. It seems that being cute all the time is prone to twisting one's brain into a mess of malfunctioning goo, as is evident in the fact that Kewletts are improving the world by killing off every other sentient life form on the planet.
Raze, being one of those ugly, unhappy, decidedly un-cute life forms, finds his village under siege by what can only be described as an adorable rainbow of death. Raze does what any sane person would do in such a desperate situation – run like hell. And run he did, right into a cave that happened to be the home of an ancient, powerful artifact, an artifact which is home to a strange flying creature with bunny-esque ears that grants "super" powers … such as the ability to eat bugs, spit bugs and somersault.
Raze's Hell feels a lot like a deranged military shooter in that you run around fighting against overwhelming odds using a variety of semi-realistic weapons. When I say semi-realistic, I am only referring to what the weapons do; Raze utilizes his new powers by inhaling a large number of bugs and then forcibly "expelling" them from his body at his opponents. Depending on the type of bug, the resulting regurgitation will take the form of varied types of weapon fire, including exploding guided butterflies, explosive red bugs, sniper green bugs, fully automatic machine gun blue bugs, and more. Ultimately, none of the "weapons" behaved in a manner we haven't already seen a la modern military shooters, yet somehow, the character and style behind them has created enough difference to obscure the similarities slightly.
Clicking and holding the left analogue stick is how Raze sucks in various bugs for ammo and Kewlett giblets for health. The mechanics behind this somehow reminded me of a twisted Kirby, only kind of in reverse; instead of being cute and sucking up bad things, you're bad and sucking up cute things. The directional pad is used to select which type of ammo you will use when firing with the right trigger. Some ammo types allow Raze to zoom in for more accurate shots, which is done by clicking the right thumbstick.
The X button toggles stealth mode, which is generally less useful than in some stealth-oriented titles, it feels almost like an afterthought instead of a planned part of the game, as the transitions between stealth and non-stealth and the "vicious" finishing maneuvers are slightly choppy. When outside of stealth mode, Raze trundles a bit slower than I would have ideally wanted. To help appease me and others like me, Raze can curl up into a ball and roll rapidly forward, plowing through his enemies like a big, ugly bowling ball. The controls follow the standard console FPS layout and should feel very familiar to just about anyone who has played one before.
The onslaught is constant. The sheer number of Kewletts, mixed with their aggressive nature and fairly accurate marksmanship, can make for some frustrating defeats. Playing the game on the highest difficulty level proved to be a constant struggle, where walking into a clearing for the first time might yield about 20 Kewletts in a fairly steady stream of excruciatingly bright death. If you haphazardly meander into that mess, you are going to die and will have to start over from the last checkpoint. These colorful little creatures can take more punishment than an infomercial knife (especially later on, when they start wearing full metal battle suits). All of this added together changes the game from being a cute, mad dash into a game of sniping and running.
Co-op is present and theoretically should help to ease the daunting numbers of Kewletts that need to be killed. However, it is quite easy to find yourself shooting your teammate, which nullifies a large portion of the possible benefit. Outside of the fairly standard co-op and death match multiplayer options, Raze's Hell is host to a slew of unique and fairly interesting game types. The most interesting of these was a fairly simple, yet strangely difficult, golf game; apparently, golf on this planet is played with a ball that stands about as tall as a man and with guns instead of clubs. Outside of those minor differences, the game is nothing more than a somewhat tedious exercise in golf. Other mini-games include a stealth-centric game, a survival game, and Rain of Blood, where Raze takes shots at Kewletts parachuting from the sky.
It's funny that the Kewletts always talk about killing off the ugly things because their sentiments also seem to be reflected in the game's graphics. While the Kewletts are obviously meant to look cute, they also are well animated, well designed and interesting to look at. Raze, on the other hand, generally looks like a human with bad posture, a bit of a skin problem, and an all-black wardrobe. Raze is just ugly as far as graphics go, and he just does not seem to be well textured, animated, or designed so that metaphor isn't even very accurate.
The stage design could also use some work, as the world seems spartan and barely memorable; one stage blends into the next and the next, and none of it is really worth spending much time looking at. Generally, the visual effects themselves are on par, with bright beams for laser fire and things of that nature, but the "screen splatter" effect is one that's worth mentioning. When Raze rolls over an enemy, their body will be tossed against the screen, and it will begin to slowly slide down in a very cool-looking effect. Unfortunately, this happens slowly so the body covers a portion of the screen for way too long, and to make matters worse, other things can cause that kind of screen obstruction, like exploding Kewletts, paintballs and even the rain. While it is initially neat to see, the effect quickly becomes a frustrating, game-hindering mess.
The sound effects are pleasant for the most part; the nasal and high-pitched voices of the Kewletts make their deaths more enjoyable. The mushy sound of their giblets splattering about as you cause their pastel bodies to explode is pleasurable and rewarding. When firing bugs from your mouth, the things tend to squeak a bit, which is not only entertaining, but also reminds me that I'm spitting lethal bugs at enemies. Little effects like that are present in many ways, like how the Kewlett guns make a jack-in-the-box sound as they crank out bullets. Musically, I was slightly less than impressed. It was as spartan and uninteresting as the stages, and it really didn't do much to provide emotional emphasis during any part of the game.
It should be said that while the general look and feel when playing the game is that of an unfinished work in progress, the satirical and dark comedy stands out as a saving grace. The Kewletts spew a steady stream of witty, biting comments in a high-pitched decisively "cute" voice, and they're sometimes . It's not just the cuteness or the wit that makes these comments so great, it's the fact that, at times, they are obviously sardonic references to real-life issues. This type of multifaceted humor is present in many aspects of the Raze's Hell, and even when the humor isn't making a veiled jab at current issues, it's still painfully funny. The game is worth playing, but mostly because of its humor and the fact that you get to enjoy the slaughter of cuteness.
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