Conker: Live and Reloaded Review
Rare's had a tough time over the last few years; while the creators of classics like RC Pro Am, Battletoads, Goldeneye, Killer Instinct, and Perfect Dark certainly have had their share of great games, recent duds like Starfox Adventures and Grabbed by the Ghoulies have made gamers wonder if they've lost their tough. Since their purchase by Microsoft, though, they've got plenty of funding and have had the time to really put some nice polish on their games. Their most recent release is Conker: Live & Reloaded, which includes a redo of their raunchy platform title Conker's Bad Fur Day (originally seen on the Nintendo 64 back in 2001). Just like the original, this new Conker is rated M - sure, for a few seconds it looks like a cute, fuzzy platform game, but it doesn't take long for players to realize it's actually full of silly stuff, toilet humor, and plenty of profanity.
Conker: Live and Reloaded has a whole new graphics engine and quite a few little changes to make the original game that much better. It looks great, and is probably one of the best-looking Xbox titles out there. The gameplay, while not drastically changed from the N64 game, is still pretty original for even today's standards. While Conker's a cute, fuzzy squirrel just like you'd see in your average game in this genre, he's obsessed with money and loves getting drunk. Much of the situations and antics that Conker gets into are still unique even today. The game makes fun of itself, its own designers, and platform games in general, and it's hilarious pretty much all the way through.
Throughout his adventures, Conker will be able to jump, hover, climb, duck, and do most of the things you'll see in games of this type. But with the "context sensitive" areas he can stand in, he can also wield a whole set of deadly weapons. And he'll need them, because some of these enemies are very formidable. You'll get a few classic boss encounters as well as some very original fights on top of that, and even the friends and other "people" Conker encounters are very unique. Sure, there's a story, but it actually makes so little sense that if I tried to describe it here it would just come out wrong. Let's just say that Conker goes through a huge number of really odd situations and fights that are very funny and always satisfying to see through.
This game doesn't come without its problems, though. At first, it seems like you'll need to do a bit of melee, baseball-bat-swinging combat in order to win, but it turns out that you only need to do that rarely. Most of the rest of the time you'll have to solve some sort of puzzle, even while a bunch of enemies are after you and you're trapped in there with them. The camera also feels a bit like the one we saw back in 2001, and while it's a bit better than the N64 version, it's still not exactly stellar. The many movie references from Bad Fur Day are back here, but they feel a little tired - it's not like we haven't seen about a million Matrix parodies already. They're still enjoyable, but they just don't have the effect they had back when the original was released.
At least near the end of the game, Conker will start being able to really throw around firepower more often. The game sort of transforms into a third-person shooter, as you'll be taking on an army of Tediz (like Nazis, but they're fuzzy teddy bears in uniforms instead). But one of my favorite parts about Conker - and this is seen in almost every area of the game - is the massive attention to visual detail. For example, all of the furry creatures in the game (Conker included) have actual modelled fur, and it moves beautifully as the characters run around or even gesture during the cutscenes. And the world is a product of some very creative imaginations, where you'll come across dozens of things you've never seen a game attempt before (well, other than in the original Bad Fur Day).
But what really sets this game apart from the original is its new multiplayer mode that can be done via system link, or over Xbox Live. It's basically a whole new game thrown in, and it could almost stand up completely on its own - almost. The two sides, squirrels and Tediz have six character classes (much like the classic mod for Quake called TeamFortress) to pick from and duke it out in large arenas. These maps will have different objectives, many of which mimic other multiplayer games out there. While the look is certainly unique for this type of game, it's not like this multiplayer mode has a vast array of original ideas, either.
At the same time, Conker Live still brings a few unqiue things to the table, mostly in the interaction between infantry troops, ground vehicles, and flight. It's not meant to copy the Battlefield, and tries to strike its own balance. We'll see in a minute, though, that Rare only partially succeeded here. Another interesting thing that I like is that the Flyboy is the only character class can actually, well, fly. That means there's no Battlefield-style problem where everyone on a team is fighting for the planes and choppers.
Just like the single player mode, though, there are a number of issues I have with the multiplayer game, but here they almost ruin an otherwise great set of ideas. The maps aren't designed to handle small numbers of players, and so you might find yourself a bit bored unless there are about a dozen people or more in a game (the limit is sixteen). There are no AI-controlled teammates to fill in empty slots, unlike what we saw in Star Wars Battlefront, and this is what stops the multiplayer mode from standing up on its own - since System Link is such a pain in the butt, the only way to really enjoy this is to play in large games over Xbox Live.
It's also difficult to get a feel for some of the weapons, and it's tough to tell when you are actually hitting your opponent. Finally, despite Rare's efforts to balance the game, the six classes are still rather unbalanced. The demolitions and soldier classes are very powerful and both do massive damage compared to the others. None of this is enough to bring down the game's fun, but it could turn into a real pet peeve for veteran multiplayer fanatics.
More than anything else, though, I'd have liked this game a lot more if it had a more reasonable price tag. Even though the whole single player campaign got a new look, and the new multiplayer mode had much more effort put into it than what you see in most games, I still think of it as an enhanced port. That's fine for a game that's hugely popular and less than a year old, but this just feels wrong. I can imagine that quite a few Rareware fanatics are going to have trouble swallowing the cost of this game. Hell, the developers even realize this, because they changed some stuff in the tutorial level and then added a joke about tricking gamers into thinking the rest of the game would be just as different.
While those who played and loved the original Conker's Bad Fur Day might scoff at the purchase of this new remake, I can still mostly recommend it due to the multiplayer mode. Sure, the single player game is mostly familiar material, but the graphical overhaul and tightening up of some of the gameplay works well. And that new Live! mode it's still a lot of fun, even with its few moderately large issues. And for someone like me who only played a bit of the original N64 title, I can definitely suggest that action gamers out there pick up Conker: Live & Reloaded.