Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: Fighters Uncaged

Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)

Developer: Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft

# of Players: 1

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: D

As a launch title for Microsoft's otherwise interesting (and multimillion selling) Kinect, Fighters Uncaged suffers from a case of "good idea, poor implementation" but sadly, this didn't have to be the case. If you're feeling the need to compare, unlike Sony's PlayStation Move brawler The Fight: Lights Out, this is a supremely below average game that's quite undercooked and shows its flaws as soon as you start playing. The Fight does indeed have its own flaws, but it's at least actual fun once you get the hang of it, supports two players and can be played online. Fighters Uncaged is strictly a solo affair, which makes little sense for a game in the genre these days. The generic, poorly told "story", stereotypical enemies straight out of a bad Final Fight clone and wonky Kinect controls all beat up on you as you're slogging through, making it a total chore to complete. It's not all bad news, however. It's certainly a game that's not getting a sequel (unless too many Kinect owners new to motion control gaming snap it up and make it a mega-hit).

In a weird way, what's here seems ridiculously similar to any number of arcade beat 'em ups from the 80's and 90's, but any sense of irony (or humor) might be lost on gamers who've never set a toe into an arcade. The story is just your character, Simon going from one location to another, pounding away on assorted bruisers with silly names (and some of the worst voice acting you'll hear in any game to date) until one or the other of you are a bloody pulp (well, not so bloody, as this is a T rated game). This might be interesting if the game had far more responsive controls, a better overall level of polish and maybe a few concessions to modern fighting games. Not that a game so set in its faux retro ways needs it, but don't expect much in the way of deep character customization options here. You do, on the other hand, have to play through a mandatory tutorial that teaches you basic fighting moves (with the option to learn advanced moves if you like).

Granted, you're supposed to be a bad-ass street brawler out of the gate, so some players will indeed find the tutorial's need for so much repetition annoying and the mandatory fight against your teacher even more so. On the other hand, I can't think of anyone who's ever beat a standard arcade fighter on the first attempt on one credit. So in that respect, this game showing you its ropes isn't that much of a bad thing. That said, once you get into the main game you'll find that, depending on your mood and level of patience, you'll either be highly frustrated and sweaty or grimacing like an angry jack o' lantern and sweaty. Moves sometimes don't register properly or you have to pull off a more slight movement than what a real punch or kick would be like in the real world.

If this wasn't enough of a hassle, figuring out how the game scores fights is simply baffling. It's not a good thing when you've gone through a few minutes of swinging and kicking only to find out you won the match but didn't score enough points to progress. When that happens, you're basically recast as Sisyphus as the game send you back to repeat fights over and over until you start scoring the "right" way. To make matters worse, Once you do start getting the scoring down and manage to whip out some decent enough moves, you'll find that the game isn't all that long. Of course, it's not supposed to be a 50-hour RPG and like any fighter, you'll come back for more even when you're finished. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of game that some players who shelled out full price for will defend to the death because they had no choice but to master it (as best they could in this case) and yes, they'd be able to beat you at it... had there been a two-player mode.

Presentation is plain, despite a few slick touches to the environments. Character models and animation are less than impressive and when you add the aforementioned voice acting, it's hard not to laugh at most of what's happening on screen. The music and "announcer" also do a terrible job of presenting anything close to a halfway believable game experience, but then again, it's quite intentional - or at least it HAS to be. The problem is, none of the corny jokes, character names (Ratface? really) and badly done martial arts or other fighting moves can save a game that should have been a showpiece for what Kinect can do. the results are a total disaster that either needs to be patched at some point (if possible) or simply overlooked as a purely failed experiment.

As much as I love many of Ubisoft's games, I can't seriously recommend Fighters Uncaged as a purchase, but feel free to rent it if you need a chuckle and don't mind punching and kicking at the air in your living room. As the third Kinect game I've played, it's a true disappointment, partly due to it's unfinished nature and partly due to the fact that the peripheral is so much more capable of better things. I'm sure there's that usual "we're getting used to the hardware" excuse that pops up with every new console or add-on, but that one's getting old, especially this console cycle. Had there been six more months or so of development time, I'm sure we'd see a two-player mode, online play, more selectable fighters and possible some sort of chat support (among other things). Better luck next time, Ubi - keep those darn Rabbids away from your game-making tools, OK?.

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