Sometimes, all you want to do is just be a man. To regress to a primitive, Neanderthal state, to rip meat from its bone or bark nonsensical grunts at passing cavewomen. It’s just fun. Beowulf, Ubisoft’s latest film-to-game licence, lets you do just that. If there’s a more manly game than one that allows you to tear everything in your path to shreds in a fit of carnal rage, then we haven’t played it.
Beowulf might just be the first game ever to be based on a poem. Odd subject matter, you may think, until you realise that it’s a poem that’s all about a Welsh guy killing a whole heap of big monsters, and it’s a poem that’s been turned into a major CG (computer generated) motion picture starring Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie. So, playing as the titular Beowulf (he’s not a wolf, just a guy with a big beard), you have to hack and, indeed, slash your way to ancient poetic victory using a system that can only be described as ‘insane’.
You see, Beowulf is not your ordinary hack-‘n’-slash game. Yes, there are elements of Dynasty Warriors evident in its squad-based slaughter, and more than a touch of the PS2 LOTR games with all the incessant murderising, but has there ever been a hack-‘n’-slash/rhythm-action game before? A game that includes a QTE to resist the sexual advances of a nymphomaniac goddess? A game where your own bursting libido can be transferred into a screen-saturating Devil Trigger? No. Of course there hasn’t.
When not hacking or slashing, Beowulf often has to rouse his troops in song. An early example comes when crossing a mighty ocean aboard a longship. As your loyal men struggle against the tide and rain storm, you lead them in a sea shanty by conquering a simple beat matching minigame. When you get the button presses crashing in time to the music, it’s surprisingly affecting, as your band of manly companions sing about shagging and boozing. To say that Beowulf is an adult piece of interactive entertainment would be putting it lightly.
This is compounded by the sheer violence of it all. Beowulf isn’t a student of the Dante school of balletic brutality. Nope, he drinks from the same chalice as Conan and Kratos – he likes his violence close, personal and bloody. With a couple of simple button presses, you can grab an unsuspecting enemy, spin him around and snap his spine with a forceful boot, or pick him up and throw him headfirst into a wall, accompanied by a ferocious battle roar. And when the proverbial excrement hits the medieval fan, there’s a devastating ‘overkill’ mode (see Ray Rage boxout) that can decimate everything on screen in seconds, be it foe or friend.
Of course, being a licensed game and a hack-‘n’-slash, Beowulf is far from perfect. As is often the way, it’s a game keen to show its hand early, so while the opening couple of hours are littered with thrilling set pieces, like the stunning Sea Serpent boss battle, the second and third acts become more of a war of attrition, with seemingly infinite streams of enemies and a marked jump in difficulty. After the five millionth time you’ve cracked someone’s skull open, it can become a bit boring. Also, having to complete rhythm-action sections to encourage your men to open a door can prove incredibly frustrating if some previously unseen peasant sees fit to waggle his sword in your general direction, meaning you have to start all over again.
Probably not. But that’s not to say Beowulf is an awful game, merely a just above average one. For a movie licence, the production values are quite high, with character models and backgrounds looking solid and believable, and a smattering of stylish effects breaking up the monotony of greys and blues. It may play like Dynasty Warriors, but it certainly doesn’t look like it.
With a boisterous script and some stellar voice work from Winstone and Sir Anthony Hopkins, Beowulf at least feels like a proper videogame rather than a piece of movie merchandise. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a kid’s game. It may be a CG movie, but it ain’t Surf’s Up. Unless Surf’s Up involves brutal, unflinching acts of extreme cruelty and violence. Now there’s an idea…