Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: Terminal Reality
Release Date: November 15, 2005
One of the oldest axioms in video gaming is "games based on movies or TV shows are rarely worth your money." This was true back all the way to the Atari 2600 – anyone remember E.T.? Gremlins? Raiders Of The Lost Ark? – and has rarely been disproven in years since. That's not to say it can't happen, but more that it requires a special touch and a strong team in order to break away from simply making something that copies the movie or looks like an episode of the series. Put simply, Aeon Flux is not going to make the short list of great games from movies.
AF is based loosely on the recent movie the same name (which is, in turn, based loosely on the series of the same name, which was itself based on a set of animated shorts). In the far-flung future, the country of Bregna has risen from the ashes of a global catastrophe to become an unprecedented utopia. Chairman Trevor Goodchild maintains the peace, controlling the masses via any means necessary, from catering to their whims to outright mind control. Aeon is an agent of the rebel Monicans, who are attempting to break the veil Trevor has created in order to free the people. The manual confusedly insists that the game takes place more than 100 years before the rise of Chairman Goodchild (who is already shown in power), and then manages to span some 300 years, after which the movie takes over.
This isn't given anymore treatment in-game, making it a confusing mess of times, dates, and people who apparently live forever. While nowhere near Enter The Matrix levels in its attachment to the movie, having seen the original series or the movie does help considerably. Aeon's world is a mess of technology gone haywire, a sort of twisted re-creation of Metropolis that is explained so lightly that the setting stands only to give the designers what kind of textures to create.
The game itself is very simply defined as a Prince of Persia knock-off, part and parcel. Aeon is a superhuman acrobat, capable of bending, rolling, and flying around the room like a rubber ball possessed by a ferret on methamphetamines. Nearly any move Aeon needs to pull off is handled by the A button, save those rare times when she needs to crouch or roll, which is B instead. Levels are built around those daring trapeze moves, much like PoP, though it's difficult to maintain the suspension of disbelief required to accept that a government laboratory would only be navigatable by throwing yourself up pipes in a long vertical shaft, but there they are.
Aeon is easy enough to control in simple situations, but often the segments and camera angles are built not for accuracy but for speed, pushing you to not think about where you're jumping but to just do it now. Given slightly loose movement control – Aeon is slippery, particularly when in a full run – it's often difficult to coordinate jumps and spins without retrying them repeatedly.
Stashed on top of all the vaulting and flying about on grappling hooks is a combat system. The brawling system is hardly anything to write home about: Aeon has a punch and a kick, neither of which are spectacular, though they can lead into a few dramatic combos. Through kicking the snot out of random Breen guards, you can regenerate health, find ammunition for your F.U.G. (more on that later), or pick up Style Energy. Style allows you to execute dramatic Charge Moves, which do far more damage. Even with that considered, hand-to-hand combat is very simple and not always satisfying.
Some enemies are difficult to ever hit, and many simply turn on their block modes and refuse to do anything else until you give up. Aeon also has a multi-munition pistol, the F.U.G. (Flux Universal Gun), which fires any one of four rounds. Again, the F.U.G. is really just fluff, given that the ammunition is either not very effective or not very plentiful. It can take a few dozen rounds to drop a guard using Flechette Rounds, and given you can only carry just over 100 of them, you have to be far more frugal with firing than is really allowed. Melee combat is often used as an "unlock" for shields and lifts, meaning you'll see lots of folks you'll have to beat up in order to progress.
I've saved the engine for last because there's little to be said. It moves smoothly, yes, and looks and sounds all right, but that's the highest praise it gets; there's really nothing innovative or gorgeous here. Aeon is an acceptable model who is animated adequately; many other characters look low-poly and move stiffly (if at all – Eva, your sister and main contact – seems to be content to stand there and stare at you, even while speaking to you). The combat is not nearly as dramatic as anyone familiar with the series or even the movie will be expecting, either, replacing dangerously flowing combat and painful contortions with more mundane kicks and jabs. Things that should be dramatic, like flying down a zipline and opening fire on people as you pass, are fun once but quickly drag down, because nothing's ever really different.
My major sticking point here is the shadow it stands in. Prince of Persia was a fabulous struggle against the very ruins you were in, a fight to survive against the environment. Yes, combat was there, but it was manageable and simply stood as segues to more flips and wall-runs. Doing the same thing in AF's labs and warehouses has none of the charm. It's simply an easy way to show off how athletic the lead heroine is and to bring a challenge into the game. It feels played out before it even starts, like you've been there and done this, only better. The uneven challenge leaves me cold as well: dying from falling lets you start over near where you died, while dying in combat, which is just as common, forces you start over from the last checkpoint, which is often ... the beginning of the level. It is not always obvious where to go from where you are, and at least once a script "wedged," keeping a triggered event from actually happening.
This is the exact trap licensed games fall into on a regular basis. In order to release something close enough to the material being licensed, it's often required that something already established is "harvested" to save time. In this case, it almost worked, but there are just too many flies in the soup. It doesn't help out in the least that movie was a poor production itself, leaving much of the linking material as incoherent and badly designed. Given many more months of development time or more attachment to the cult classic series, Aeon Flux may have worked out differently. This release, however, is a merely average Prince of Persia clone with a bad movie sewn onto it. It may be worth investigation if you need your next wall-running fix, but don't come with high expectations.
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