Will Rock Review
Some considered Serious Sam, the silly first person shooter released a couple of years ago, to be a cheap knock-off of other games in the genre. It actually turned out to be a pretty good game, as its hordes of monsters, wacky game events, and budget price made it both a critical and retail success. Well, Serious Sam has its own knock-off now: Will Rock by Saber Interactive.
While gamers will generally love a great imitation of a great game, a mediocre imitation of a great game simply doesn't work. While the $18-$20 price certainly helps the case for this game, it still leaves a bad taste behind. It also leaves us with the question question: "Why didn't I just play through Serious Sam again instead of buying this?"
Will Rock uses their own custom-made Saber 3D to power its visuals, and while the engine was used fairly well to create huge levels and show lots of monsters, it offers little more. Most of these huge levels are barren of details since monsters are likely to fill up the screen at any time, which was a bit disappointing. At least the frame rates were generally very good, which is absolutely necessary in a game as frantic as this. [I've made a correction regarding the use of their own engine - thanks to the few who emailed me regarding this.]
Even though the game requires DirectX 9, we don't actually get any of the cool DX9 features that are showing up in other games. Of course, a game with a budget price might be excused from this, as most games today still don't support these new features. The whole package was pretty sound and stable, as I suffered from zero crashes or other instability problems. At the very least, this game seems like it was tested pretty well.
So far, one patch has been released for Will Rock, which adds a few basic things to the multiplayer mode (a dedicated server, a chat system while in-game, etc) and a few AI fixes that mostly seems to stop monsters from getting stuck on objects. The game could probably use a couple more patches to add some new multiplayer gameplay - more on that later.
[Edit: another reader, Joey Holman, wrote in to let me know that a quicksave is available, just not listed in the menus. F6 to save, and F9 to load. Why these keys can't be re-bound in the menus, though, is beyond me. ]
All of the usual FPS controls are here, and they are all configurable, but it's a barebones setup - just enough to make most people happy, but not quite all the options that would make everyone happy. For me, what I was supplied with worked quite alright.
Will Rock is a pretty decent looking game that won't win any awards, but works for a fast-paced shooter. The levels all follow a greek mythology theme, and you will pass from one huge temple to some underground complexes, back out into large, open areas very often. We do find a lot of repeated textures, but it's a bit unavoidable here - the buildings and other architecture in this game are truly massive.
The weapons start out boring and quickly get pretty interesting, and the special effects are much the same. The later weapons do include some cool effects, like the crossbow that shoots fiery bolts - they will cause enemies to burst into flames and eventually burn down to ashes. The acid gun is particularly gory, as it causes enemies to expand and "pop" in a mess of green.
The monsters all look great, and considering how many of them get thrown at the player, this balancing act between speed and eye candy must have been pretty difficult for Saber Interactive to follow. There aren't a huge range of monsters overall, but on each level you're guaranteed to see at least several types - many times all at once. Will Rock isn't astounding to look at, but I would put it right on par with Serious Sam and several of today's more expensive shooters.
Will Rock follows the Serious Sam method of throwing a ton of monsters at you, giving you a truckload of ammo, and letting you have at it - minus the realism. Sure, there's some story about archaeology and Greeks, a girl named Emma and something with Zeus. Blah, blah, whatever; this game is about blowing stuff up.
Will rock includes of the elements that made Serious Sam fun, except this time it's just not as much fun. The cheesy one-liners that Will throws out are even worse than Sam's, and the little gimmicks that pop up in the levels to surprise you... well, they're not as surprising. Generally, this game just isn't as entertaining overall.
The hordes of monsters that come after you mostly follow the Greek theme as well, and you will be expected to deal with multiple types of monsters at once. They're all very dumb, though, and while most of them have a projectile they can throw at you, they never try and predict where you will be - they only fire directly at where you were at that moment.
Gameplay is made a little more interesting as you can collect treasure to spend on power-ups. There's Titan Damage (much like the Quad in Quake), Titan Motion (slow motion), and Invulnerability which can all be triggered any time once you've bought one. I found myself holding on to these powers, though, waiting for a time to use them that never really came. If I died, it was because of a major misstep or the wrong weapon being used.
This means that the big fights will just have you moving constantly to avoid most of the enemy fire, which can get a bit dull. Not that Serious Sam had any tactical geniuses in its bestiary, but the developers would create certain situations that required you to think and act quickly. Here, it's just constant run and gun without even the quick thinking part.
One particularly annoying type of monster is the exploding rat that sounds JUST like the rats in Everquest. Yep, they copied the full set of sound effects (except for the "boom" when they explode), and then throw a bunch of these things at you, sometimes spawning them up ten feet in front of you. It's just not fun to have to deal with them, and any ex-Everquest junkies could lapse into some unwanted MMORPG flashbacks.
Saber also has this thing with baiting you to a specific spot, having you pick something up, and then spawning a bunch of monsters all around you - in all directions. It becomes easy to predict, so much so that I was almost able to call out the types and numbers of monsters before they actually popped up. Serious Sam was a little more random and sometimes devious in this aspect, which made it that much more fun; we get little of that with Will Rock.
Gameplay will sometimes get slowed to a halt by a goofy switch hunt, which might take you a while considering the amount of territory you must cover in Will Rock. These breaks in the action didn't make me want to find the switch - they made me want to stop playing altogether.
Over-the-top boss encounters are also standard for Will Rock, although these usually just involved a big, slow boss with a lot of health eating up my ammo; it was the monsters that kept spawning nearby that were actually hitting me.
I have to say that Will Rock isn't as bad as I've made it out to be, simply because this is a game that you can find for about $20 US. More effort could have been put in to making this game a great value for your dollar, especially in the line of multiplayer modes - on to that next.
What Serious Sam lacked in single player, it surely made up for in its hilarious and varied multiplayer modes - a few mods helped that along, as well. Even though it was plagued early on with laggy and unstable internet play (which eventually got cleaned up), at least the LAN play was still great from the start. Will Rock includes cooperative multiplayer as well as two deathmatch modes, and while the internet play is just fine, the game is still a bit barren here.
The co-op mode is probably the best thing here, as deathmatching is usually best left to the games designed specifically around it. And Will Rock does deliver a decent amount of multiplayer fun, although it's still not much more exciting than the single player game. It gets dull right at the same points, and it's generally just plain inferior to the game it imitates. So far I have seen little effort by Saber to make Will Rock easy to modify, so hopefully they'll release editing tools in the future.
Here's one place that Saber really skimped. The weapon and monster sound effects are fine enough, and when in the middle of a fight, the game sounds great. But the voice work is so bad it goes past "cheesy funny" and lands back into unfunny - yes, it's possible, and Will Rock has achieved it.
The music was a terrible mishmash of stuff thrown together; tracks would jitter and start repeating, the rock during the fights was grating, and it was altogether just a bad experience. I turned the music off, but then I realized that Will Rock includes very little ambient sound at all; if there's no fight going, the only things you will likely be hearing are your footsteps or the creak of a door opening as you walk near.
Will Rock mimics Serious Sam in many ways, but it manages not to live up to its rival in most aspects. Combat frustrations, silly switch hunts, and a barebones multiplayer all combine to make this one somewhat disappointing to play. Sure, the budget price makes up for much of these problems, but I still have a hard time recommending this game over yet another round of Serious Sam.