If you’ve seen Ugly Americans on TV, you’ll know about the puerile nature of the show. It’s much like the Adult Swim series in that it takes old-fashioned Scooby Doo-esque animation techniques, and throws in a very modern style of comedy for, usually, great effect. Of course, this kind of humour is rife with pitfalls. It’s the kind of comedy that you’ll either love or hate once you get to grips with exactly how it works. And even if you love it, some episodes will fall a bit flat, while others will have you rolling in the isles. It takes a good deal of comic nous to pull this kind of effort off in the way that its conceptual predecessor, South Park, for example, did.
Sadly, no amount of comedic genius is going to save the videogame version of Ugly Americans from being awash with painful and poorly placed ‘comedy’ tidbits. Saying nothing of the game as a whole, just yet, you can probably imagine how a title borne of a comedy series like this can fail so utterly to bring its ‘A’ game to a videogame release.
Let’s start with the obvious. Videogames often try, but regularly fail, to be funny. There is a reason for this that many developers seem readily able to ignore, namely that in-game humour is, unless dealt with in a carefully unobtrusive fashion, a distraction that we do not need. In-game, it’s often out of place, and as such lacks the context required to elicit gags. Unless you’re playing a game based on a particular brand of humour, such as Conker’s Bad Fur Day, or Monkey Island, gags just don’t work.
Outside of the actual gameplay, there’s a degree of leeway that an accomplished comedy writer can use to shoehorn in a few laughs or offer some kind of context to a later joke. In fairness, this is becoming more prevalent, particularly on XBLA, where the games are somewhat less serious. Risk, Renegade Ops and Rock of Ages all spring to mind, and while they’re not outrageously funny, they do carefully deliver laughs where needed.
Ugly Americans: Apocolypsegedden has real issues where the funnies are concerned. On the one hand you have cut-scenes that follow the format of the show, which you’ll either love or hate, and on the other, you have the most dire in-game delivery of humour I have ever seen in a game. I use the term ‘humour’ in the loosest possible sense here. The main culprit is the soundbyte nonsense that enemies spout as you kill them. Each level has one category of baddies (zombies, bird-men, demons etc…) and each category of enemy has only two or three phrases. These phrases, apart from being repeated every 2-3 seconds, are the most banal and downright offensive that could be imagined. Things like “Eat my shit” and “Gobble my balls” as well as utterances like “Why do I feel so strange.” The level of repetition here is unparalleled in my experience. Someone – at some point before this game went out the door – must have played it, so why is there this horrible, brain-melting audio? This is a big problem, and one that isn’t easy to overlook. Sure you can turn the sound off, but that doesn’t detract from some singularly poor QA.
Anyway, past that, and something that makes that problem all the more annoying, is that this is a really great game. It’s by no means complex as it’s an isometric, two-stick shooter, but it has some real character in game design that’s genuinely refreshing. You select one of the four characters, and a level, and proceed to clear the level with as many points as possible. Nothing new there, right? Well no, but the difference in the characters is really rather significant. It’s not only in the starting arrangement that this holds true, but also in the leveling-up system that requires you to change your play style and weapons to match the character you’re using.
I won’t go into too much detail, as that’s really the main joy of the game – understanding these strengths and weaknesses – but for such a simple shift in the gameplay mechanics, Backbone Entertainment has added a fantastic level of enjoyment to what would otherwise be a very ordinary shooter with some dreadful audio issues.
Yes, it’s a simple game, and yes it has some horrendous issues with the placement of the ‘comedy’, but the on and offline multiplayer aspect, combined with the nice cut-scenes make it a worthwhile purchase. With three mates and a few beers, this is a fun purchase that will, if you like the series, keep you entertained for at least an evening.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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