Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Release Date: November 4, 2008
It's a strong premise, and one that should have carried Legendary to the heights of epic gameplay. Unfortunately, the inexperienced hands at Spark Unlimited managed to turn what should have been an interesting and engaging first-person shooter experience into a barely competent and choppy mess that only retain a few shreds of dignity.
The story of professional art thief Charles Deckard isn't the most brightly plotted or original one, but it's still a really good setup for a game. Who hasn't wanted to face the most deadly lineup of mythical all-stars ever assembled? It's an excuse to pit players against gigantic sea monsters, massive conglomerations of rock and steel called golems, and legions of deadly and frighteningly quick gryphons. It's an intimidating bestiary for one man to take on, but thanks to the rather sloppy handling of the action and enemy AI, it winds up being only occasionally thrilling, and mostly … well, boring.
If the concept is Legendary's biggest strength, its biggest weakness is definitely the presentation. Instead of dedicating the story to a strict first-person narrative, Deckard is given almost no voice, and it's all told in the third-person by his British accomplice, Vivian Kane, who is just as helplessly caught up in the mess as he is. She's the real driving force of the story, and she's responsible for setting up your allies and getting you from location to location. She's pretty lifeless, and it was a huge mistake to have her explain all of the intervening action rather than witnessing it firsthand. To make matters worse, all of the cut scenes and slideshows are inexplicably laggy and choppy, even after a 4.5GB mandatory install to the PS3's hard drive. It's baffling and inexcusable for a slideshow to be choppy, but it's kind of astounding that they managed to let such an obvious error leave the dev studio, no matter how inexperienced they may be.
The slowdown might have been comprehensible if Legendary were pushing the boundaries of current-gen technology, but it's a fair bit uglier than most games coming out these days. The werewolves are hideous, and the people are stretched-out stick figure caricatures. The environments, while varied, aren't really exciting, and they're pretty static when compared to games on last-generation consoles. Any character emotions are grossly exaggerated, and everyone looks like a puppet being manhandled by an extremely excited and inexperience puppeteer. It's astounding that a game that looks this bad can usurp that many resources on today's powerful machines. Everything in the presentation, from the sound to the script to the action itself, comes off as sloppy, lazy and low-budget.
To top off the muddled presentation and crummy programming, the game is short and has an incredibly contrived ending. It purposely concludes about halfway through the story, leaving the player with a cheesy finale slideshow that acts as a preview of the events of the next planned game. A title like this isn't very likely to actually see a sequel, so what the folks at Spark Unlimited have actually done is release a half-game that anyone can finish in about five hours.
What's really surprising, though, is that Legendary can actually be pretty darn fun. I'm not going to lie; the first time I killed a gryphon, which had previously been pecking off civilians and paramilitary mercenaries everywhere I turned, I was filled with pure triumph. I had pumped 200 rounds of machine gun into that beast, and I deserved that victory and the enormous health boost he'd dropped. That big bird was down! Some of the battles, such as the Kraken, are a bit anticlimactic, but there are some moments of pure bliss buried in this ugly little FPS. To top it off, the level design is pretty top-notch. It's linear as hell, but in a good way, and there are very few spots where you might be left wondering what to do. Thanks to the pop-up objective marker, it's very hard to get lost, and that's a good thing in an offering this hectic and crammed with chaos.
The shooting can get a little clumsy at times, what with the drastic recoil of the automatic weaponry and the useless "down-the-sights" view, but for the most part, it's pretty competent. Anyone with FPS experience should be able to mow down monsters and people pretty handily. About the only unique aspect of gameplay is the health drops left behind by every creature. It's referred to as "animus energy," and its most obvious use is as a refresher for your health bar, but it can also be used to charge up electronic equipment like an EMP generator or repel enemies at close range with an Animus pulse. It would have been nice to see new moves unlocked as the game progressed, but once you get the pulse, that's about it for the usefulness of your animus gauge.
Unfortunately, this is really the only bright spot in the darkness. Once it's over, it's over. There is an easily accessible multiplayer option, but there's only one type of match, and it's pretty lame. It's always going to be a team battle, and you run around trying to kill as many legendary creatures as possible so you can overload your opponent's sophisticated equipment with the animus energy that creatures drop when they die. To make things worse, Legendary is selling worse than Wii Music, so it's pretty difficult to find an action-packed match in the multiplayer mode anyway.
Legendary is by no means a legendary experience, but it's not a train wreck either. It's not worth the full $60 asking price, but it's a good rental for anyone who wants to punish some ancient myths or who's in need of a decent FPS to pass a few hours. Some people will be able to dredge up the game's moments of joy and be grateful for the experience.
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