Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter Review

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Publisher: Black Label Games (Vivendi Universal Games)
Developer: Warthog

Platforms: Xbox and PlayStation 2
Reviewed on Xbox

The discovery of the Vagner system has opened up a brand new frontier for humanity to explore, joined by two other intelligent races – the huge but herbivorous Jaldari, and technologically savvy, swamp-dwelling Valleakans. Together, the three races are settling and exploiting the Vagner system, mostly for the benefit of major corporations such as the Tannan Corporation. Even with a major corporate presence, the Vagner system is a frontier region with a rough, 28th century frontier mentality. To protect the populace (and their own financial interests) several major corporations created the Enforcer police service. A Ranger service was also created to take care of special actions, but subsequently disbanded. Now, the Guild of Bounty Hunters has taken the place of the Rangers, taking on danger for pay rather than honor or duty.

Mace Griffin tried to make a career of the Ranger service, serving as a pilot and infantry, until a mission turned sour. While doing his duty, Mace fell into a trap that took the lives of an entire ship full of Rangers, save him. Upon his return, Mace was court-martialed, and thrown into prison with common criminals for ten years. Once his sentence was complete, Mace joined an old friend from lock-up who sets him up with the Guild of Bounty Hunters. Mace's work in the guild not only serves to fund his operations, but to help him discover the forces that set him up for a fall and ultimately avenge the dissolution of the Rangers and the death of his comrades.

Kyle Ackerman

Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter takes the gravity-encumbered action of a first person shooter and punctuates it with occasional piloting sequences in which you take control of a fighter and engage in fully-3D space combat. The mixture is a good one, and both types of play are robust enough to be fun. The space combat and piloting aren't excessively difficult, making them arcade-like fun rather than difficult simulation. Even so, the bulk of your time in this title will be spent working for bounties, slogging on foot with a collection of death-dealing devices.

This is a game that has learned many, but not all, the lessons taught by preceding first-person shooters. The developers at Warthog incorporated several simple, but important design choices. Mace has an energy shield that will recharge if Mace is out of the line of fire. Functioning like the shield in Halo, Mace has limited health, but the shield is constantly recharged. This makes combat more tactical than simply running and shooting. Mace often encounters allies in combat – if you can save the locals in time, they will aid you, making combat considerably simpler. There are snipers, but they can miss, and their shots can be deflected by Mace's shield, meaning that there are no one-shot kills of the player. There is a waypoint compass, helping the player navigate through ships and asteroids. There's even a button to skip cut-scenes.

Unfortunately, all these decisions are undermined by the developer's decision to impose time limits on nearly everything Mace has to do. Time limits add stress, and not an entertaining stress. In most cases, the player doesn't know how far Mace has to go, how much time he can take to eliminate opposition, or how to get there. The player just has to rush headlong through the level, hoping to reach objectives in time. During these sequences, the compass often disappears. That means a short timed sequence can involve a try or two to figure out what to do. A long sequence can result in long and irritating repetition, especially since there is no save-anywhere feature – you just have to hope that the next checkpoint is close. Mostly, the timer prevents players from taking what would be otherwise interesting levels at their own pace. There are no difficulty settings in Mace Griffin, and the timer often seems like it was added to make otherwise fun sequences more challenging.

The time limits are unfortunate, because Mace's missions are actually interesting and entertaining. Not surprisingly, space combat is often very similar. Heck, it's space – there isn't much out there aside from the occasional ship or asteroid. At the same time, the levels in the first-person shooter mode are distinct, each with its own character. All the regions have their share of sparse hallways, but missions ranging from a temple to a ranch to a luxury cruise each have a different color scheme and character that makes them visually distinct. Those missions have lots of nice touches, like mining equipment, or the acolytes of the Temple of Virtual light, who wear bio-feedback masks that display their mood (as giant, flat-panel happy faces).

Levels vary, sometimes requiring all out blasting, strategic action, or even an assortment of puzzles, jumping and otherwise (such as blasting an explosive tank to move an obstacle). Foes aren't always the brightest, but the game makes up for this by placing them cleverly behind barricades or in sniper perches. They will duck and weave at times, but it's also possible to sneak up right behind some and shoot them in the head without eliciting a peep. Without the timers, the first-person shooter sequences could easily stand alone as an interesting and entertaining game. With the addition of the 3D space combat sequences, the action varies enough to be exciting.

An extensive, if conventional, story pervades Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter. While the game progresses as a series of isolated missions, each mission develops the universe or unveils more clues hinting at the sinister plot that undid the Ranger service. There is a lot of the usual standing around and arm-waving as dialog plays, but the voice acting is entertaining (often comic) and Henry Rollins (the man with the largest neck in Rock) is a suitably laconic Mace Griffin. Despite a key allowing you to skip cut-scenes, the plot is interesting enough to keep your thumb away from the button.

Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter does so many things right, it's disappointing that timers often turn otherwise straightforward excitement into frustration. There are no difficulty settings, so it's worth renting the title to determine if the game fits your level and style of play. This title offers a lot of play time, only some of which is dragged down by being under the clock – the rest is an excellent combination of shooting on foot and in space.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 2, 2003 6:00 PM.

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