Bandits: Phoenix Rising Review

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Publisher: Tri Synergy/Pan Vision
Developer: Grin Inc.

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 128 MB RAM, GeForce3 or comparable video card, 4x CD ROM drive

Welcome to the post-apocalyptic future! This is life in the aftermath of... well... something or other. Perhaps there was a nuclear war, some sort of biological catastrophe or just a breakdown of common courtesy. Regardless, the outback is now ruled by gangs that traverse the desert wastes in armored cars, and civilization is limited to a few walled cities with access to water, decent soil, and fuel reserves. Part Road Warrior and part Car Wars, Bandits: Phoenix Rising follows the exploits of Fennec and Rewdalf, leaders of The Wolfpack, a mob of bandits that prey upon everyone from the helpless to the fortified. The Wolfpack hope to steal a massive cache of gold from the final bastion of civilization, Jericho City. On the way, Fennec and Rewdalf learn that every competing power of the wastelands is searching for the Phoenix, a powerful weapon from the past that is falling into The Wolfpack's hands, piece by piece.

Kyle Ackerman

In Bandits: Phoenix Rising you take on the roles of Fennec and Rewdalf, the driver/gunner team and leaders of the bandit marauders called The Wolfpack. Fennec sounds like an overly-enthusiastic teenager, and Rewdalf is an insane balding dwarf with an appetite for major munitions and an absurd accent that may be trying for Scottish. From the introduction that sets the stage for a grim and impoverished future, Bandits seems like it could be the game of fast-paced, post-apocalyptic vehicular combat you've been waiting for. It almost is. Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues that make Bandits feel like something that needed just a little more time in the oven. Despite eliminating nearly all show-stopping bugs, and providing a thrilling setting, problems remain, and some features just seem to have never made it into the final version.

Rule the Desert

Bandits captures the frenetic pace and havoc of fighting in off-road vehicles with turret-mounted machine guns. Cars charge at one another, zig-zagging to avoid incoming fire and small packs of Bandits duel to a great soundtrack of driving music ranging from metal to hard-hitting electronic dance. Despite the speed, Bandits is designed to be simple to control. For precise combat, you can drive with the keyboard while controlling your turret with the mouse. For slightly easier driving, there is also a YGWYL (You Go Where You Look) interface, that will turn your car to face whatever direction your turret aims at, when you accelerate. YGWYL is great for racing. The other interface will allow you to travel at an angle while precisely targeting rival bands.

There are multiple vehicles you can pilot including the light Coyote and the heavy Ogre. While every vehicle has a central turret, each vehicle has progressively more fixed emplacements that can be mounted with rockets, chain-guns or mine layers. There is a glorious, Mad Max like feel to escorting a train across the desert in an Ogre chassis with twin vehicular shotguns, a swivel mounted cannon, and twin excavators (heavy grenade launchers). Better yet, the terrain is deformable, so that the excavators can dig deep craters that can even trap enemy vehicles. Once, a fixed emplacement even shot through a ridge until it had a line of fire to my vehicle. To complete the feel of gritty, collapse-of-civilization styled combat, the battlefield fills with smoke and dust once the shells and rockets start flying.

Bandits' biggest flaw is far too common in games – there is no in-mission save. Perhaps it was a feature they never got to, but missions are far too long for that feature to be absent. Late game missions tend to be long, ending in boss battles. Much of the mission may be easy, but that long stretch needs to be repeated endlessly so that you can tackle a battle that will last no more than a few seconds, such as defeating the Flaming Pumpkins' boss, Dowd, or the Enclave prophet, Vincent. The whole issue is aggravated by the fact that when the game crashes, it does so at the end of a completed level, before the game registers progress. So, repeating a level enough to succeed once may not be enough.

Almost to the Finish

The dialog and voice acting are also almost there. Although lightened by a few laugh-out-loud moments, the text is typically overlong and stilted. There are simply lots of extra words, making the conversations seem adequately, but not expertly, translated. Problems range from the basic (writing chit-chat as "shit-chat"), to the more excessive load screen note, "Sometimes it never seizes to come new enemies..." On the lighter side, every time Fennec and Rewdalf send another vehicle to its doom, they have to shout something clever. To the developer's credit, they understood that there needs to be a lot of variety, and many of their comments are amusing, up to Rewdalf's cry at dying, "Aaaw Crap! Now we'll have to play this level all over again!" Each of the gangs has a distinct character, but the voice acting varies. Rewdalf is at least passionate, while Fennec would be far better as a grizzled veteran with some sense of the gravity of his actions. The Flaming Pumpkins as a gang sound decently like mid-western hicks, the Enclave drivers are whining religious freaks, but the Crusaders' voices are poor, stilted military caricatures. Strangest of all, instead of cut-scenes, you get mysterious "letters from the front" that seem like placeholders for animations that never materialized.

The game tries to achieve variety in missions, ranging from pursuit to extermination, and even throws a race and a fixed emplacement mission (manning a turret) for variety. At the same time, the game is an endless parade through the monotonous brownish desert landscape of the wastelands. Late in the game you finally get to a wintry mission with a frozen lake, but it's just the same terrain with different colors and less friction. There was also an effort to balance the different vehicle types by making some weapons (such as the sniper turret) only available to lighter vehicles, but the heaviest car seems to be universally the best option. The cannon can do anything the sniper rifle can do, just with an arcing trajectory.

The manual has lots of character, and describes the situation and the factions, but fails to give you important information such as default key bindings. As another example, there is a great soundtrack with multiple radio stations, but you have to piece the music interface together based on the key assignment screen and occasional advice during load screens. Finally, collision detection is a bit odd. Your car will drive cleanly through cacti and posts. You will collide with the bodies of other vehicles, but their enormous wheels are insubstantial, and sometimes cars will get locked in terrain or on other vehicles. This is particularly irritating when defending a Crusader base, as your ally will often get caught in the hillside, leaving you to fend for yourself against hordes of enemies.

Is It Thunderdome?

It's really sad that there are so many fundamental problems with Bandits, because this is a game that anyone who has watched Mad Max desperately wants to play. It's even brutally close to being good. The first two-thirds of the game are exciting (before the save issue becomes a problem), and it's worth picking up the box to have a bit of fun with a jeep and chain guns, just not at the initial price. Bandits even has a multiplayer function, although it seems impossible to find anyone online. Once the game hits the bargain bin, it may even be worth picking up more than one copy for some LAN party banditry.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 25, 2003 8:19 PM.

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