Developer: Pipeworks Software
Release Date: November 20, 2007
As a longtime fan of monster fighting games, I went into this review with an open and even optimistic mind. I still remember pumping a whole pocketful of quarters into Neo Geo's classic King of the Monsters in the arcades years ago, and more recently wasted many enjoyable hours with Incog's awesome (and similarly titled) War of the Monsters. Despite relying more on look-alikes than actual licensed characters, both of these games are superior to the mess that is Godzilla Unleashed. Curse of the licensed content? Seems like it.
There's a drawn-out story mode in Godzilla Unleashed, alongside a more straightforward brawl mode, where you just jump in with up to four players and battle it out, destroying quite a bit of the surroundings in the process. Story mode is typically cheesy in keeping with its cinematic heritage, but it, like the rest of the game, isn't without flaws; the first and most evident flaw is that the subtitles often fall a page/speaker or two behind the actual spoken dialogue during story-laden interludes. The option to toggle between English and Japanese speech is nice, and may be partly to blame for this incongruity, but come on, people. This is just lazy.
Story mode revolves around an alien race seeding the Earth with giant crystals that suck up energy and attract our titular band of monsters due to their own radioactive natures. The initial barrage of crystal-carrying meteors destabilizes the shields that are penning up the beasties on Monster Island, allowing them to roam around the world in search of these crystals. Several real (though not realistic) cities get involved, from typhoons in Tokyo to lava spills in Seattle, chaos stretching from San Francisco to London to Sydney; no part of the world is safe. It can also be said that no part of this game's world looks remotely good, either.
This is the first of many letdowns in Godzilla Unleashed. I can accept that the PS2 can't render accurately the entirety of any one of these cities. Scant landmarks would have sufficed, but the levels are not only painfully bland to look at, but they also feel cramped. Sure, a 50-foot monster isn't going to squeeze neatly between skyscrapers, but that's not really the issue. The invisible barriers around each city are vastly more effective at containing the critters than all the shields on Monster Island were, and you'll sometimes get cornered against one without really knowing it. The barriers need to be more visible and further apart. Monsters need room to do their thing.
From there, we go to the pitiful environmental geometry and effects. I had to check to be sure the disc wasn't somehow playing in my PS1 because of all the low-res, repetitive textures, and I could count on one hand the polygons used to render Big Ben in the heart of London proper. Oftentimes, especially with next-gen games, screenshots don't do them justice and you really need to see things in motion to appreciate what a game's visuals have to offer. The exact opposite is true of Godzilla Unleashed, as every screen I've seen looks vastly better than the retail release on my high-def screen. Buildings don't crumble to rubble or fall on top of monsters and kill them; they just sink into the ground and disappear. Stepping on cars or trains doesn't smash them, cause explosions or scatter debris. Rather, they simply instantly transform into flat, 2D sprites of a vomitous-looking smear on the ground. If the camera zooms far enough above, the cities look laughably small and sparse. It's just weak from start to finish. Forget particle effects or alpha blending; the look here is partying like it's 1999.
I'm willing to make concessions for sub-par graphics if the gameplay is smooth and the frame rate never falters, but neither is true here. The title runs fairly well as long as you're way out on the outskirts of the play area and far from the action, but charging into town where two or more brutes are slugging it out would have you believing that horrible, game-crippling slowdown was a super-move just used against you. Fluid gameplay is also hampered a bit by stiff combo animations that you often get stuck watching on auto-pilot once your target has sidestepped it, opening you up wide to unavoidable attacks. Environmental interaction hardly exists, either. You can grab the occasional small building and throw it at someone, but forget about scaling buildings, leaping here and there, tossing tanker trucks at each other, or impaling one another on antennas or the like. That was all done years earlier in War of the Monsters and apparently stayed there. For how little is going on, you'd expect load times to be few and far between, right? Wrong again. You'll see that screen more often and for longer than this game can really justify.
Another idiotic scenario you'll encounter in Godzilla Unleashed: Seattle (which is inhabited by pot-smoking hippies, if the voice acting is to be believed) is oozing with lava from a nearby volcanic eruption, and this lava hurts your monster if you touch it when you don't have fire resistance. Fine, so just jump over it, right? Wrong. Unless you're squaring off nose-to-nose with a monster, the jump button only propels you vertically, not horizontally (though the opposite is true in close-quarters combat). So you can hop up and down all day, completely unable to cross said lava without taking damage. Also, once you jump, if you don't release the movement stick, you'll just stop going forward. Broken gameplay alert!
Moreover, most of the story mode missions give you the option of just running around breaking crystals rather than actually fighting anyone. So, it's a fighting game where you can win by not actually fighting anyone. Okay. I suppose there could have been some balance to this in the strategic "points" each "faction" gets tallied at the end of each level, though it never really amounts to much. The monsters are broken into four different groups, ranging from Earth's hallowed defenders to aliens to mutants and beyond, and your overall goal is to finish first and square off against the invaders. Apparently these missions are also team-based, but you have to be paying close attention to know whom you're sided with so you don't knock in their teeth. Or perhaps that's what the broken camera-lock system is designed to prevent, but instead prevents me from doing anything I really want to do.
See, once you get within, say, three-quarters of the distance of the city away from an enemy monster, you auto-lock onto him and have to hold a button to run around freely, not relative to where he is. The main problem here is that the camera stays locked onto both of you together, whether you want to run someplace else or not. This makes interacting with or navigating your way around anything in the environment a pain in the butt since it's either zoomed out way too far, or the item you want is off-screen and you have no way of changing the view to find it.
The other controls leave a lot to be desired, too. High and low attacks are mapped illogically to X and Square, respectively, with a "fierce" attack on Circle and blocking done with Triangle. Quibbles aside, there are two big issues here. First, you can't remap any of the controls, only toggle vibration on and off. That's all. Second, any and all of the hits lack the sort of wallop you expect them to have when getting clobbered by a lizard the size of a jumbo jet.
Sound effects are about the only thing Godzilla Unleashed has going for it. The music in particular is pretty good, featuring plenty of background guitar metal and snappy orchestral work to keep you tapping your feet, and the beasts' trademark screeches and other sounds are here faithfully intact. Too bad they'd be better served on a "Sounds of Godzilla" CD. Somebody send me the soundtrack to this game instead.
Multiplayer mode (offline only) events out some of the play issues since they affect everyone, but it's still not something I'd consider fun, especially not with 2003's War of the Monsters available on the same console and at a reduced price. Now that's a game that does everything right that Godzilla Unleashed has done wrong. In War of the Monsters, the graphics are sharp, environmental interactions are plenty (picking up vehicles as weapons, climbing buildings, chucking an enemy into a skyscraper so it collapses on top of him, etc.), and the gameplay is a million times better than what's on offer here. The people behind GU could stand to learn a thing or 12 from Incog and the wonderful monster mash-up they put together which, while not perfect, is infinitely better, more playable, and more fun than this latest disservice to the big radioactive green guy from under the Japanese sea.
Critical opinion is unanimous on this one. Any promise shown in the preview we saw before went out they window by the time the final product was delivered. The hardest of die-hard Godzilla fans may insist on spending a little time with Unleashed just to marvel at the vast cast of monsters from the movies over the years, though most of the 17 in attendance have to be unlocked by actually playing it. However, much like any Uwe Boll movie, an impressive cast can't change the fact that the settings are unremarkable, the monsters control and fight lamely; without a decent fighting engine or satisfying destruction element, it fails on all fronts. This has all been done better elsewhere years ago. Rent first, if even that.
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