The Scorpion King: Rise of the Akkadian Review

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Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Point of View

Platform: PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

You play Mathayus, the soon-to-be Scorpion King from the the movie of the same name. As a young man, Mathayus has aspirations of becoming a great warrior. After defeating some of the warriors in his home village, Khemet, he is given his first mission as an Akkadian, a guild of assassins. A local lord has murdered one of the King's concubines, and her sisters have petitioned for revenge. Mathayus is sent in to single-handedly dispose of this king and anyone else who gets in his way. Along the way, Mathayus must overcome betrayal and seemingly insurmountable odds to become the legendary leader of the Scorpion King movie.

The Great Thirsty

Arguably the biggest action/adventure movie of last summer, The Scorpion King represented to many the return to a simpler time, when bigger-than-life heroes had yet to be replaced by the bitter, quasi-realistic anti-hero of the 1990's. The Scorpion King: Rise of the Akkadian provides an excellent plot supplement to the film, tracing the rise of Mathayus (portrayed on screen and in the game by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) from peasant to great warrior. But the Scorpion King game parallels its film counterpart in unintended ways. It, too, is a return to simpler times – more specifically painfully simpler times, and the end result leaves much to be desired.

Opening with a quick tutorial, covering the battle system and general interface, the player is given the basic instructions of how to fight: an assortment of stronger, slower attacks, a few somewhat weaker but faster attacks, and a few other moves involving throwing (enemies and a few interactive objects), jumping, blocking, and the more powerful "special" attacks. While these and the combinations that can be reached through them may sound like a lot of options when listed altogether, in practice this leads more to repetitive animations and even more repetitive button tapping.

The combat in Scorpion King is, unfortunately, best summed up in a quick cliché: quantity over quality. In short, you enter a room, are attacked by somewhere between two and six enemies at a time, several times until the enemy counter for that room reaches zero. Although the enemies do get slightly harder as you progress, fundamentally the only thing that makes the game difficult at all is the sheer number of thugs and guards thrown your way. Beginning with two or three enemies one at a time makes perfect sense, but the sheer lunacy of sets of 6 enemies three or four times in a row is ridiculous. It leaves the player with a sense of painful monotony: being surrounded, pressing the X and square button enough times to survive, collecting the health, then moving to the next room to do it all over again. The fighting system could have at the very least been jazzed up with some more entertaining animations – instead of dying in any interesting way, the enemies simply fall to the floor and fade out.

Graphically, Scorpion King is somewhere between realism and sheer cartoon silliness. That's not entirely a bad look, and it's somewhat reminiscent of the newer Warner Brothers superhero cartoons. It's a good and interesting choice. The problem comes in, however, when the characters interact with the environment. Mathayus doesn't look like there are any natural forces holding him down. It's not that he looks like he's floating, just that he moves in an unnaturally smooth manner that makes it hard to believe there's any impact to what he's doing. The enemies pose further graphic problems, in that they will magically turn to face you as soon as you attack them, so that the one-hit reaction animation that is present in the game can proceed uninterrupted. On the whole, the graphics are just too simple, with sparse textures and limited, almost robotically smooth animations. In short, if variety is the spice of video gaming, this is bland: rice cake bland.

What a relief then that the music is so good. The game's opening theme is Godsmack's "I Stand Alone" and it definitely gives you the grim, powerful feeling of being a great warrior. The in-game music is suitably atmospheric and very much reminiscent of the film's music – sort of a triumphant Middle-Eastern kind of thing. The actual sounds of the game themselves are great, but, as with the animations, there just aren't enough of them. Repetitive grunts and sword-on-sword grating wear thin after a while, and the voice acting (although featuring such talents as The Rock, Ren and Stimpy's Billy West, and Star Wars alum Mark Hamill) is mediocre at best. Admittedly this is a video game, so these guys aren't reading Shakespeare, but you could certainly expect a bit more from these professional actors.

Overall, The Scorpion King: Rise Of The Akkadian seems to have been yet another victim of the movie license rush process that has killed many excellent game ideas. It's not so much that the overall premise is flawed, as it is unfinished. This game had potential... definite potential... to be a great 3D action/adventure title, but instead it came out as more of a gimmicky, brainless, and uninteresting 3D version of the side scrolling games that used to populate arcades before gamers craved depth. Non-stop action may be a great thing to sit and watch played out on the big screen, but controlling it in a smaller, quieter digitized form is decidedly not a good way to spend time. If you want to relive the many adventures of the Scorpion King, you're better off doing it on DVD.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 22, 2002 8:19 PM.

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