14th Dec 2006 | 16:53
The Great White shark: seaside antichrist, cinema icon, hilarious videogame character. Appaloosa Interactive's attempt to turn it into the anti-Ecco (a series it also created), complete with special moves and characterised foes, is charmingly insane. When it isn't giving its movie ancestor cause to roll in its grave with blasphemously daft missions and joyless cut-scenes, it conjures a lively, evocative, sometimes ghostly experience both above and beneath the waves.
The first sign of trouble and it's admittedly trivial, is that someone's seen fit to call the shark itself 'Jaws.' Call us anal for pointing it out, but Peter Benchley's novel wasn't a biography and neither is its subject the latest in a James Bond style succession of identically codenamed marine assassins. It's a shark. It has no name, just as it doesn't have a library card, a council house in Byfleet or a daytime chat show on Living TV. Granted though, the game does give you a licence to kill (everything, as it happens), and at times bears an unwitting resemblance to Thunderball.
But the trivial can be symptomatic of greater ills, and Unleashed's other issues with authenticity form part of the reason for it being so difficult to get on with. It wants to be a thriller one minute, a comedy the next, yet finds out the hard way that not even a Great White can have its cake and eat it. Thanks to the recent troubles of publisher Majesco, it's also somewhat unfinished, marred by control and camera issues. It makes sense that the shark can't reverse, sit still for too long (they die, you know) or strafe, but not enough sense to justify the damage dealt to the game's accessibility. Much challenge is derived from the need to manage your trajectory when approaching a target and striking during a small window of opportunity, but what fun is that when even modestly elaborate scenery can trap the shark or send the camera into a prolonged fit?
Had Appaloosa been given time to properly complete Unleashed, it's tough to know how much would have been fixed. Malfunctions aside, the game remains a hit and miss affair. The shark itself is fantastic, if only for its lithe animations and ability to raise a smile. In pursuit of the main mission objectives, which typically involve either mass slaughter or eco-friendly industrial sabotage, the shark employs some unexpected skills: the spitting power of a ballistic missile submarine is one, a nose as rigid as Dr Doom's is another, and an unlikely penchant for aerobics tops them off. You could say he's like a Jet Li of the ocean, only flabbier and more constipated.
While deflecting the attacks of marine life (watch those dolphins - they've a side to them), you're charged with miscellaneous terrorist activities, from tearing seafarers apart to seeking out collectible items. The shark has a love of car number plates, tin cans and skeletons, so no council house then, but perhaps plans for an autoyard, corner shop or theme park. A hunger gauge ensures your appetite for mashing the chomp button never wanes, and points earned by fulfilling your duties boost your low-level attributes (power, agility, etc.) while unlocking special manoeuvres.
As the modelled ocean unfolds into an alternately tranquil and haunting domain, Unleashed provides a scattering of pleasures, but never gels them into something durable, and sometimes does the exact opposite. Its natty interpretations of John Williams' movie score, together with cut-scenes that look like a casting call for McCain Oven Chips, conspire to pull the game under when they should be drawing you in. Not the most seaworthy of vessels, despite its worthy seas.