Developer: Appaloosa Interactive
Release Date: May 23, 2006
The PlayStation 2 has weathered a serious drought of shark-related games. Sure, Shark Tale was a decent title, but the game is much more about fighting or evading sharks than being them (not to mention it has a dancing mini-game – yikes). Everblue 2 and Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters did little to quench my thirst for shark action. In fact, the only game to really deliver the sensation of an underwater creature is Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, developed by Appaloosa Interactive and published by Sega. Luckily, Majesco realized the overwhelming need for a shark simulation and recruited Appaloosa to develop Jaws Unleashed, based on the 30-year-old film franchise (which was based on a novel).
Licensed games are nothing new – dozens are released each year to coincide with new films or popular television shows. However, there seems to be a recent surge in acquiring older film licenses upon which to base games. Sure, "Reservoir Dogs" and "Scarface" both seem like totally plausible game licenses, but what about "Jaws?" How do you make that work? Appaloosa looked to the success of games like Grand Theft Auto to create an open world to explore as the shark in question, with decidedly poor results. While ripping people apart and head-butting boats is initially quite amusing, the game becomes repetitive, and the mission objectives become ridiculous and implausible. Pair these faults with a shoddy camera, and you have the recipe for Jaws Unleashed.
Grand Theft Auto may have been used as an inspiration, but Jaws Unleashed doesn't quite embrace the idea of a wholly open world. Instead, the ocean is segmented into parts with significant loading in between. Sure, the loading screens have some interesting trivia, but if I wanted film trivia, I would go to Wikipedia, not my PlayStation 2. Each area is populated with fish, dolphins, and other aquatic animals. Boats and jet skis can be knocked over in search of delicious humans, and if you're lucky, you may find a pair of scuba divers to munch on. I just didn't find the open-world aspect to be very appealing. Granted, tearing a dolphin in two never got old, but generally, you will only spend time in the ocean while traversing from mission to mission.
Controlling Jaws works fairly well, and his abilities can be upgraded as you progress through the game. Points are earned for finishing missions and finding various items scattered along the ocean floor. Jaws' accuracy, power, speed, hunger, and health can be upgraded with these points, and doing upgrades also unlocks advanced moves such as the Body Bomb and Corkscrew Attack. While playing, you must look out for both the hunger and health meters. They are supposed to correspond with each other but seem to work fairly independently, creating absolute confusion. The best way to avoid this situation altogether is to eat constantly. Just bite anything that comes close to you, and see what happens.
As noted earlier, the camera in this game has some serious issues. It can be controlled with the right analog stick, and there are three pre-sets to choose from, but none alleviate the issue at hand. While swimming frantically, the camera will occasionally lose track of Jaws, leaving you helpless. People and animals attack from who-knows-where, making counter-attacks difficult to manage. To top it all off, the frequent movements of the shark above and below the water line may cause you to become disoriented or dizzy. Really, it's a pretty sad situation. I can understand the difficulty of creating a working camera system in an environment where you can move in any direction, but it really should be better than this.
Of course, the tepid draw distance ratchets up the disorientation factor. Much of the foreground is just a blur, with only a few feet of details drawn in at any given time. Maybe this is for a more realistic feel, but concessions could certainly have been made to improve the quality of the game. The rest of the title is a mixed bag, visually. Jaws looks quite good, with strong animations and nice texturing. The reflection of the environment on the water looks amazing at times, though the underwater graphics are fairly typical. The human characters and other various details are poorly done, giving the game a very inconsistent look.
Jaws Unleashed presents a new story in the "Jaws" universe, choosing to focus on a modern-day adventure in lieu of a throwback tale. Amity Island has been thriving economically since recovering from the initial shark attacks 30 years ago. Mayor Larry Vaughn Jr., is looking to create jobs and increase property values, so he enters into a partnership with the CEO of Environplus, Steven Shaw. However, Michael Brody, a marine biologist, is worried about the potential for increased shark attacks due to the history of the area. Sure enough, your task as Jaws is to tear up the place during the island's Fourth of July celebrations. What could be more American than eating people alive?
The storyline unravels over the course of 10 missions, though there are several more side-challenges available. Maybe I wasn't thinking enough like a shark, but I found many of the missions to be both confusing and totally implausible. One of the early missions could be described with both of those words, along with other ones: pointless, a waste of time, etc. In that mission, Jaws finds himself in captivity. To escape, you are instructed to find a key card. Yes, a shark must find a key card. So I swim around for a few minutes in the enclosed environment, finding absolutely nothing. Eventually, it tells me to carry one of the nearby humans in my mouth and take him to a card reader. How would I ever figure that out by myself? And how does a shark know about key cards? To make matters worse, Jaws got stuck in a wall and died shortly after picking up the human. Clearly, the game has some issues.
A later mission tasks Jaws with taking down three oil refineries. Each tower has four mounted machine gun turrets, which must be taken down for Jaws to progress with the mission. How might he do that? By biting yellow balloons placed above each gun. I am entirely serious. According to Jaws Unleashed, modern-day machine guns can be disabled by popping a balloon. Isn't technology amazing? I haven't even mentioned the next part of that mission. After popping the balloons, you must find the torpedoes located on the ocean floor and shoot at the towers – from your mouth. It may be absurd to play as a shark in the first place, but this game is just off the charts.
I was being sardonic when I claimed there was an overwhelming need for a shark simulator on the PlayStation 2, and after playing Jaws Unleashed, I think I can go several more years without playing another one. What could have been a very neat idea is ruined by a bad camera, buggy gameplay, and totally ridiculous mission objectives. Sure, it's kind of like Grand Theft Auto … if you removed the humans, weapons, vehicles, land, realism, variety and fun. We have seen how bad modern movie games can get, but we may be looking at the first of many games to ravage a classic film license. Stay on the dry land, friends.
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