Contract J.A.C.K.

Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Action


PC Review - 'Contract J.A.C.K.'

by Ben Zackheim on Jan. 8, 2004 @ 1:59 a.m. PST

Genre : Action
Publisher : Vivendi
Developer : Monolith
Release date : November 11, 2003

You're a game publisher and you've watched two of your most critically acclaimed properties sell like coldcakes. What do you do? Three options, in my opinion. One, you put the franchise aside and wait for the market to come around (i.e. kill it). Two, you thank fate for giving your company a quality team and tell them to keep up the good work. Or three you figure it's best to produce a quickie product, just-in-time-for-the-holidays. Hey, maybe it'll hit and make your money back right?

The "Contract" in Contract Jack seems to take on special meaning when you consider how rushed and uninspired the game is. The game feels like it was meant to fulfill a contract instead of fulfilling a gamer. CJ is a prequel to the classic and brilliant No One Lives Forever 2, a critical hit but a so-so seller. The lead character in NOLF (Cate Archer) was sassy and sexy and she ran around a world that was alive with conversations to overhear, and clever minimissions with brilliant Bond-type gadgets like camera lipstick and hairspray welders. Then there was the satisfying story and great voices and graphics - it all came together to make a couple of hits that never hit as hard as they should have.

And maybe that's why Monolith is giving us the male perspective on the NOLF universe. Maybe a guy with big guns will sell better! Pure speculation but humor me. I'm the one who had to play through the game.

You play the role of John Jack, the man with the name that's funnier than most of the game. You're recruited (whether you like it or not) to work for H.A.R.M. to eliminate a new enemy that threatens the organization's existence. Jack is big, he's got big guns and he's a guy - so I guess that means he just has to run forward and shoot.

Because that's all you'll be doing in his shoes. Granted there are some nice side touches like shooting old style cannons, the occasional crane hijack and a vespa ride through the countryside. But there's no stealth. That's right. One of the things that made NOLF 1 and 2 so fun is just gone. This is a straight shooter. So anyone who was hoping for a prequel with the same finesse and class as the other NOLF games should just put your wallets away. The missions are like being a mouse in a maze but instead of cheese you get swarms of bad guys to feed on. There's not much more to do here than find open doors, follow the path laid out for you and mow down the bad guys. Running around the small levels so you can get to the end and emerge in another small level of baddies is not my idea of a good time these days. Call me old. I mean, I enjoyed Serious Sam because it felt like an ode to the old Doom shooter days. And if that's all CJ was I could probably accept that. But CJ is part of a franchise that gave us stealth, humor, sexiness, story and Cate. CJ inhabits that world but he just shoots his way through it.

The graphics aren't cutting edge but they have that Jupiter engine shine that makes it fun to look at. It's a fine piece of engineering and could probably last another year. The outdoor stuff in Italy looked pretty weak (things like trees and distance draw) but overall I can't fault the look of the game. The sound is also ample with good gun effects and a great, but repetitive, soundtrack.

The good voice acting is still part of the package but get this. It's offscreen. Yup, you get some funny lines in there but you have to listen to the voice come at you from a PA system or a radio. This "device" was certainly used in the previous NOLF games but not to this extent. Perhaps there was no time to do the cutscene animations? But the worst of it is that you get a bulk of the dialogue while there are firefights going on -- which makes hearing the supposedly funny gags impossible to hear. There's some good writing here and occasionally you'll get a hint of the brilliant quips that Monolith built their name on ("You have entered a top secret Czechoslovakian military base. Continue through the metal door. Unless you are an intruder, in which case you have entered a highly toxic waste dump and should run away.") But I must have missed half the jokes to the loud spray of gunfire, or a burning man's squeals.

Which brings us to the weapons. They're not bad. They're just not that good. No Bear Trap or Explosive Kitty can be found (like in NOLF2). It's all about the testosterone with CJ. Big guy, big guns, small levels. You get a shotgun, a few variations on the machine gun, a few laser rifles, some grenades, a pretty cool rocket launcher. All the FPS standards. They have a decent feel to them but there isn't enough variety for me to spot a clear favorite.

Around three hours into playing I was thinking I'd give the game something in the 7.0 range. It was brainless and the levels were completely uninspired but there were some amusing moments and the killing could be fun in a "how much more blood can I spill?" kinda way. Then I got to the moon/space level and things were looking up. "Here we go!" I thought. "This is what I was looking for!" It was just really nice to see the game shake things up. It was a bold intent with boring execution. Nothing really changed in the silence of space. There's still hall after hall of guys who now have lasers instead of bullets. I don't want to give away the end of the space sequence but let's just say you go out into space, and there are even more guys with lasers instead of bullets.

Returning to earth has its share of upsides. The villa is quite well done and the little cars zipping around are kind of cool. The AI prefers this setting as well since they seemed to move with much more confidence than they did in previous levels. Another plus are the couple of minimissions that pop up in this sequence. They're too quick, but they're fun (I've always wanted to use a cannon). Those touches, along with some slightly more intelligent carnage once again had me thinking the game might have a chance.

And then it happened.

The game ended.

Granted the ending is cool but it came around 4-6 hours early. I tend to look in every corner and break open every box when I play a shooter but I finished CJ in around 6 hours. Think about it. Six hours. If you buy the game for 40 bucks that comes to $6.66 per hour! That's what they call a ripoff where I am from.

I'm disappointed in Contract Jack for many reasons but the one that gets me the most is that it's just no fun. There have been a lot of classic shooters that are just mayhem with no story to speak of (Quake) and shooters that depended on tiny details and story as much as the graphics engine (No One Lives Forever 2). Contract Jack does neither story nor mayhem well. In the final analysis, I'm not sure how this game got made with the NOLF license. It's such a departure from what the fans love. Monolith has nothing to prove, being a powerhouse of good gaming, in my mind. Why throw this thing out there when it clearly doesn't hold up to its predecessors in any category? The cynic in me says "It's in the contract, Jack."

Score : 5.5/10

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