Whiplash Review (Repost)
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2
Reviewed on Xbox
"Spanx is a crazy weasel once used for electro-shock testing. Redmond is a know-it-all rabbit who failed his last mascara test in the makeup lab." So what if Spanx may have killed and eaten Redmond's mother? They both have a common cause – they need to escape from Genron, a conglomerate that can solve any problem with animal testing. They also have a common bond - a chain that shackles them together. Spanx and Redmond will have to cooperate to reach freedom and avenge animal kind.
Whiplash doesn't stand out as a platformer because of its gameplay: it stands out because of an exceptional sense of humor. Many platformers would reward you for completing a boss battle with a victorious gesture or cut-scene. Whiplash alerts you in an "attention K-Mart shoppers" voice: "You have defeated the Genron Power Boss Monster. Lawyers will arrive shortly to begin litigation." Whiplash has a sense of humor that neatly straddles the fine line between funny and tasteless. Unfortunately, the game suffers from a lack of polish that becomes more apparent as the game continues. Still, there is much fun to be had before the banquet of backtracking begins.
Anchoring Whiplash's sense of humor, Whiplash sports Spanx and Redmond. Spanx is a weasel, and Redmond is a rabbit, both of whom were part of Genron Corporation's massive animal testing operation. Both had outlived their usefulness, so they were chained together and placed on a conveyer belt to enter the Genetic Recombinator, where they were going to be combined into a new, experimental organism. Fortunately, despite being linked by a steel chain, they were able to escape their fate, and are now free to make a speedy exit from Genron. Both animals have been modified in useful ways. Spanx still has wires connected to his brain that now allow him to pick up stray signals and security messages. Redmond was subject to tests of Genron's experimental super-hold hair spray, which turned his fur into a super-tough suit of armor and made him nearly invulnerable.
Gamers take on the role of Spanx, engineering his escape from Genron with the aid of Redmond. Redmond asks Spanx, "So, to you I am some kind of Swiss Army Bunny? Is that it?" That's exactly it. With his near-invulnerable fur, Redmond serves as a weapon, grappling hook, or inflatable balloon, and he can be irradiated, charged with electricity, set aflame, frozen and more. Redmond's brain and obvious wit are irrelevant to his and Spanx's escape (other than his pained humor) but he is an excellent weapon, and resents it deeply. Do enough damage with Redmond and he goes berserk, destroying everything in a hyper-frenzy that only abates if he can't break things fast enough. This is a lot of fun if you get him into such a state in a room full of breakables. He's like a hyperkinetic yo-yo on the end of his chain, breaking everything in sight. Just about every problem can be solved by torturing or abusing Redmond in some way. This is a game that should manage to simultaneously enthrall and enrage animal activists with its sense of humor.
At its root, Whiplash is a basic platformer. Much of the game follows Spanx as he jumps from place to place, using Redmond to swing from air-purifying spheres, or zip down extended cables. Combat is important, but not exceptionally difficult unless you are overwhelmed or trapped in confined spaces. The early levels have some long corridors, but many of the regions in the early game are nicely designed, forcing you in twisting paths that may revisit the same room, but ultimately offering a linear and obvious path to escape. There are some difficult platform jumping sections (such as the incinerator) which require repetition. Some platformer games have you collecting gold stars, coins or bolts. Whiplash does let you collect keys, robotic mice and Hypersnacks, but mostly the game has you break stuff. The goal is to reduce Genron to bankruptcy, so you need to break everything you possibly can. Since you are breaking lab equipment and corporate accoutrements, your goals fit in the game setting better than, say, floating stars, and the destruction is just plain satisfying. Freeing lots of animals or damaging Genron's bottom line will get you boons that improve combat or other abilities.
Although Genron is happy to torture animals for its own purposes ("Genron: We hurt animals so you don't have to"), stuffing crocodiles with experimental milkshakes or firing the Hamster Cannon, Spanx and Redmond don't typically kill humans. Spanx may whip them into submission and unconsciousness with a rabbit, but he doesn't kill them. Hang around long enough and they will awaken to pursue you anew. If you free trapped experimental animals, they will take out their resentments on their captors, keeping the humans unconscious while Spanx and Redmond explore. Beating on humans will often yield some of Genron's employee's favorite food, Hypersnacks ("They're like carpet bombing your mouth... with flavor!"). Eating Hypersnacks gives Spanx more health and allows Redmond to do more damage. This creates an interesting dynamic, as you decide how to distribute Hypersnacks between the weasel and rabbit. This works better in theory, as both critters hit their maximum improvement long before their respective abilities become important.
The first time you pass through many of the levels (except for the aforementioned long corridors), the designs seem creative. As you near the game's conclusion, you spend much of the endgame revisiting all the areas you've been to before, looking for high-energy grapple points that have suddenly become accessible. Backtracking can be fine if saved for optional collectibles or power-ups, but in this case you must backtrack to acquire keycards to progress. This gets to another problem in Whiplash – the map. The 3D map interface is difficult to use and feels more like a level design tool than something usefully abstracted for the player's understanding. It contains a lot of information, but doesn't mark places the player has already visited, so you need to remember the shape or name of rooms you've already visited. Because the map is hard to use effectively, you'll spend enormous amounts of time backtracking (while looking for keycards) and searching spaces you've already visited. Although the levels were clever the first time through, once all the switches have been triggered, all the windows broken and all the ladders lowered, it becomes far less obvious where you should go. You may find yourself running in circles, searching fruitlessly for the formerly inaccessible areas.
There are also some odd bugs and small glitches that become more prevalent as the game progresses. The collision detection is more problematic as the game goes on. Early on, Redmond may dangle through the top of a crate occasionally, but once you get into the waste department, Spanx can regularly step through walls. Security devices like laser beams sometimes destroy the automated security drones or incapacitate the guards on their normal patrols before they even notice you. Forced changes in camera angles become more inconvenient in the later game making some jumps or the boss battle in the incinerator more difficult than necessary. There are also odd glitches such as one point in the game when the letterbox format used for cut-scenes doesn't go away, obscuring important information like Spanx's life meter.
The first three-quarters of Whiplash can be a lot of fun with some laugh-out-loud funny moments. Sadly, it feels like Whiplash could have been a great game with a little more time in development to complete and polish it. The visuals are appealing and colorful (even if not cutting edge) and the music is minimalist, but the humor, quite simply, makes the game. Whiplash is at its best when poking fun at corporate excess, animal testing and video games themselves. As many game protagonists have longed to shout at their taskmasters, Redmond yells "Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is doing some crap for you!"