Review by Steerpike
Monty Python, Too
I have great admiration for the British people, but for some reason
I tend to think of them as more highbrow than we New Worlders. I
think it's the accent. When wondering how the English would react
to, say, our nation's limited exposure to Shakespeare or our peculiar
sense of humor, I must remind myself that these are the people who
gave us Benny Hill, Coupling, Red Dwarf, Fawlty Towers, and Doctor
Who. They also use the word "sodding" in casual conversation.
We are more alike than different, separated by accent but joined
by a shared love of funny words and mocking the French.
Armed & Dangerous is the second offering from Planet
Moon Studios, a small California-based developer with a staff composed
almost entirely of expatriate Britons. Many are refugees from Shiny
or Virgin Interactive (or both), and their studio has developed
a reputation for being fueled by two distinct qualities: a great
love of new technology and the sort of deranged humor than only
the British can produce.
Planet Moon burst onto the scene in 2000 with the impossible-to-categorize
Giants: Citizen Kabuto, one of the very first titles to take
full advantage of the then brand-new technology of hardware transform
and lighting sported by early GeForce and Radeon cards. Giants
was a popular enough title and gained a substantial cult following,
but for whatever reason I missed it. Having played through Armed
& Dangerous, howevera game that isn't perfect but
is certainly worth the price of admissionI'm definitely going
to start trolling the bargain bins for Planet Moon's earlier release.
Armed & Dangerous is going to need at least a 900 MHz
processor and almost four gigabytes of your hard drive; it also
calls for a DirectX 9 compatible video card. Most serious action
gamers have these specs, though, and once installed the game is
perfectly stable. Frustratingly, it (like all games released from
last September on) uses the newest version of InstallShield for
its installation routine, and this new version is buggy and obtuse.
This is not Planet Moon's faultjust be prepared for the possibility
that you'll have to try to install the game more than once before
you get it right.
In Armed & Dangerous, you control Roman, the leader
of a gang of melodramatic, rather unintelligent (but certainly good-natured)
Robin Hood-esque thieves called the Lionhearts. Throughout most
of the game you are accompanied by your three partners in crime:
Jonesy, a Mole-person and former onion miner; the tea-addicted combat
droid Q; and Rexus, Roman's blind, unhygienic, mentally addled foster
Onions are grown and not mined here on Earth, so you may have already
extrapolated that Armed & Dangerous doesn't take place
on this planet. Rather, your adventures go on in the world of Milola,
a place with four unique nations: Midden, Armortia, Forge, and Scotland.
Centuries ago a curse was placed on the Kings of Forge, causing
one generation of Forge Kings to be evil geniuses and the next to
be kindly morons. Every other generation, the Kings of Forge were
able to conquer a little more of Milola, until finally the whole
world was under the dominion of the most recent evil smarty-pants
king. This most recent King Forge hungers for an artifact called
the Book of Rule, an all-powerful weapon that has, among other things,
the ability to turn people into shrubs and, more importantly, the
ability to break the curse on the Forge line.
Years ago, Roman's foster father Rexus stole the book and cast
a spell on it so that anyone who reads it will find not the super-weapon
he seeks, but a how-to guide on the subject of wickerwork. So, though
Forge has since recovered the book, he's not able to use it unless
he can get his hands on Rexus and somehow force him to break the
spell. Thus begins your adventure, as Roman, Q, and Jonesy rescue
Rexus from King Forge and decide to steal the book for themselves.
The story is unapologetically goofy, and there's a thin line between
weird humor and stupid humor. Armed & Dangerous never
crosses that line, despite the fact that computer programmers are
famous for stupid humorit's difficult to describe, but people
tend to know it when they see it. In a nutshell, saying something
like "your country is under attack by doom chickens" is
stupid, yet the idea of onion mining is inexplicably hilarious.
Armed & Dangerous doesn't miss the mark in its humor,
and most people with sufficiently open minds will be laughing out
loud throughout the game. Add to this some fantastic voice acting
and great comic cutscenes and you're good to go.
And They're Off
The Lionhearts are very strong believers in the philosophy of victory
through the persistent application of vastly superior firepower.
Throughout the game you will have access to an array of weapons
that is both staggering in its ability to obliterate and breathtaking
in its hilarity. Gravity-altering land mines, minuscule black holes,
marine-predator launchers, and personal howitzers round out a dazzling
selection of machine guns, rifles, explosives, and rockets. Sadly,
though the basic message of Armed & Dangerous implies
an embarrassment of weapon choices, in truth only a handful are
available. It would have been funnier (and more fun) if the developers
had included three dozen weapons instead of just enough to manage.
Regardless of selection, Armed & Dangerous is one of
the most violent games you'll ever play, but it's violent in the
same way that Road Runner cartoons are violent. There's no blood;
blood would ruin it. The carnage is carefully tuned to produce laughter
rather than grim satisfaction, and in this it is successful. The
screams of anguish and flying bodies are orchestrated by classic
British pub music: accordions, bagpipes, and cheery beats. The music
is excellent and totally out of place, which in this game means
In most levels you control Roman and the game AI controls Q and
Jonesy (Rexus is too old to fight and blind anyway) as they plow
through a staggering number of opponents. You can stop for a drink
at one of the many pubs scattered throughout the levels, and there
you may change your weapon loadout or get equipment to fulfill objectives.
The game also saves automatically at the pubs, though PC players
have the ability to save anywhere they like as well. A big vote
of thanks to Planet Moon for tweaking Armed & Dangerous,
which is enjoying a successful multiplatform release, so that
it doesn't play like a console port on the PC. One complaint about
the system is that starting a new game grants you one (1) "slot"
in the database, so you can't produce multiple saves in case something
goes wrong during your game. Normally I would shred a game for this,
but in Armed & Dangerous it doesn't seem to make much
difference. This is less a challenging game and more an infinitely
The game's major technological step forward is that the environment
is almost completely destroyable. You can knock down anythingand
I mean anythingthat you find in the game. This is a lot of
fun, since the developers didn't shortchange us in the huge explosions
department. Though the game world is destroyable, the environment
is not deformable: you cannot blow up a hill or something like you
could in Sacrifice.
That's a small complaint, though; you don't see this level of
freedom in most shooters, and you certainly don't see it associated
with such a strong physics engine.
Scarier than a Room Full of Germans
Despite Planet Moon's lust for super-advanced technology, the graphics
and positional audio in Armed & Dangerous are good but
won't knock your socks off. It's clear that the studio chose to
focus all of its technological might on the destructible environment
at the expense of pretty much everything else, and, once again,
while I would normally give such a game bad marks for mediocrity
in graphics and sound, Armed & Dangerous is just so charming
that I can't bring myself to be too hard on it.
The one thing that everyone is blasting the game for is its brevity.
A motivated shooter fan can finish Armed & Dangerous in
fewer than eight hours, and that's a problem. It's true that studies
make it clear that PC gamers prefer 16 to 40 hours of play rather
than 250, but finishing a fifty-dollar game in less than a day would
rightly incense anyone.
I have a vague suspicion that the staff at Planet Moon are heavy
drinkers, because though Armed & Dangerous is a short
game, it is staggering in its replayability potentialespecially
when taken as entertainment for slightly drunken gamers. This is
exactly the sort of game that people will play through more than
once, and likely more than five times, if only to laugh at the story,
experiment with the weapons, and find the hidden secrets you missed
the first dozen times around. It's the Project IGI of goofball
shooters, and since such a game has not yet hit the market, Armed
& Dangerous fits a critical niche. Still, a few more missionsand
a little more variation within themwould have been nice.
So Armed & Dangerous is too short, has limited saves
capability, offers too few weapons for a game that makes its reputation
on a vast arsenal, and has a graphic engine that doesn't rival Unreal 2.
Contrarily, it sports superb writing and voice acting, is laugh-out-loud
funny, and brings enough originality to the table that it's worth
more than a passing glance by action game fans. It's also a lot
of fun to play.
When I announced my intention to pen a review of this game on the
staff board, others whose opinions I respect immensely warned me
that I would find it funny but way too brief. And those folk were,
as usual, quite correct. But for some reason Armed & Dangerous
is going to get a more positive rating from me that I would
have otherwise expected. It has an intangible quality that suggests
to me that I'll be playing it for quite some time to come, despite
the fact that I finished it in fewer than 12 hours. I've always
had contempt for judgment of games based solely on replayability,
since even ten hours of fun for fifty bucks is, in my book,
pretty reasonable. But Armed & Dangerous will be on my
shelf for a long time to come, and I have no doubt that I'll revisit
it more than once in the forthcoming monthsif only when I've
had a pint or two at the pub.
Release Date: December 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
PIII or AM D Athlon 1 GHz (P4 AMD Athlon XP 1.5 GHz recommended)
256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB 3D graphics card with hardware transform and lighting (T&L)
capability (64 MB 3D graphics card with hardware vertex and pixel
shader (VS/PS) capability recommended)
100% DirectX 9.0b compatible audio device
4X CD-ROM drive (16X recommended)
Keyboard and mouse
Where to Find It
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