Largo Winch: Empire Under Threat

Review by Jen
March 2003

Largo Winch is based on a French comic about a billionaire playboy who was born in Poland and adopted by an American business mogul. I'm not a comic reader so this matters not one whit to me. I'm just throwing it out by way of background and because it makes for a nice opening line.

In the game, Largo's adoptive father, Nerio, has died recently, leaving control of multinational megacorporation Group W to Largo. Cut to the present: Largo has just finished giving a keynote speech at a charity shindig, thanking all of the sponsors for financing a tanker full of milk to be shipped to the starving people of some fictional country that is supposed to represent somewhere like war-torn Serbia or perhaps war-torn Croatia. A bomb threat is called in, and Largo springs into action, a la James Bond. Following the threads of the story will set Largo to trotting around the globe, from Mexico to the Mediterranean, from New York City to Siberia, and back again, all in an effort to figure out who is trying to sabotage his company and why.

I'll just say right at the outset that Largo Winch is a game that, while ultra-cheesy, is a lot of fun to play. Okay, now with that out of the way, let me get straight to the nitpicking.

First and foremost, the typos! Oh, the typos! I realize that English is an evolving language, but the accessibility of the World Wide Web to anyone with a second-grade education and the wherewithal to post a home page has rather devolved the language into a veritable patois. I daresay the language has changed more in the past decade due solely to the influence of the internet (okay, maybe rap music is partly responsible too) than in the half-millennium since ye Olde English days. The possessive "it's" is now so prevalent that a whole generation of children will grow up not knowing that their forebears once cringed at the very sight. Must I now view myself as a grammar curmudgeon solely because I expect a modicum of proofreading and quality control in professionally published printed text in any medium? Well, I will take up the burden and stand as the last bastion between you, dear reader, and the anarchy of illiteracy, and decry such wanton article abuse and fanciful spellings whenever I shall chance upon them! Okay, to be fair, I can't remember the last time I played a game that had printed text and no grammatical or spelling errors—I think proofreading is a lost art, a thing of the past. But I don't have to like it.

Besides that, the printed text doesn't always match what the actors are saying. Not only that, but the mouth movements don't always match what the actors are saying. There are many instances where a jaw will be flapping and no sounds emitted, or vice versa.

The voice acting ranges from bad to worse, although not in the same league as The Watchmaker's. The actors all too obviously are reading lines straight from a script into a microphone. Sometimes the cadence is way off, too, so I suspect the lines were not recorded sequentially, either. A big segment of the game takes place in Mexico. The Mexican nationals have Mexican accents. The action jumps to Siberia. The Russian nationals have Mexican accents.

There is one puzzle where you have to disarm an electrified booby trap to enter an apartment. To do this, you turn off the power. Fine. You go into the apartment, and you can still use the answering machine ... and the computer's still on.

There is a puzzle where you have to use a mainframe terminal within the high-tech, high-rise penthouse Group W headquarters to hack into another computer. When you start the puzzle, you are treated to modem dial-up sounds. Surely a billionaire would've ponied up for broadband?

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to review a game here. I got a little sidetracked. I apologize for that.

Gameplay in Largo Winch is straight point-and-click. Well, not exactly, since you have to use either the keyboard or a gamepad instead of the mouse. The interface is similar to that of Grim Fandango, wherein Manny, I mean Largo, will incline his head toward something that he finds interesting. Fear not, gentle reader, in this not-so-subtle-by-half-as-the-sublime-Grim-Fandango game the item will also be highlighted so there is no mistaking the fact that Largo can examine it and maybe make some sort of comment or pick it up. Once in inventory, items can be combined with other items, or merely used in their unadulterated form.

Besides the standard inventory-type puzzles, there are minigames (their word, not mine). I hate minigames! I feared the worst, and from the outset I plowed forward in dread of some sort of ugly arcade bullpucky popping up just when things were starting to get interesting. It never happened. One of the minigames is a poker game ... yep, you read it right, one of those big ol' scary battles to the death with playing cards as the weapon of choice.

That only happened once. And I was just kidding about the battle-to-the-death part.

The other two minigames are computer hacking and fighting.

You have to do the computer hacking seven or eight times throughout the course of Empire Under Threat. It's a logic game where you have to move across nodes and gather information before a virus (the opponent) catches up with you. This is actually a pretty fun puzzle, but there are two or three too many times you have to do it and it loses its charm after a while.

The fighting ... oh yes, the fighting ... Scared you, didn't I? Seriously, it's simplified, scripted, turn-based battling right out of the console RPG design manual, only easier. Largo and his cohort(s) (if any) always get to go first, and there's always some tricky attack available that will disable one or more enemies right off the bat. There are about 12 or 13 fights in the game. I lost nary a one up until the final two, and then in both of those cases it was a matter of losing once to figure out what to do given the available options and reloading armed with a full can of whoop-ass, or rather a viable strategy for success.

Anyway, the minigames aren't so bad after all.

There are many, many actions throughout the game that can lead to the untimely end of Largo. Fortunately these are all made readily apparent and you are always given fair warning and plenty of opportunity to "don't do that!" Also fortunately, you can save anywhere, anytime.

Saving and restoring both require an inordinate amount of button- or key-pushing, but the controls are pretty straightforward and, while not exactly intuitive, relatively easily mastered, mainly, I think, because you really can't make any mistakes by pushing the wrong button. Or key. (I played with a gamepad; I am always grateful for that option when it comes to non-mouse-driven games. "My name is Jen and I am a carpal tunnel syndrome sufferer.")

There are tons of locations, leading, since this is a 3D game, to tons of long load times in between each scene. There are also tons of cutscenes, which cannot be skipped even if you've seen them before.

The graphics are surprisingly pleasant for what is so obviously a B title, albeit a lovingly crafted one. Apart from the weird lip-synching discussed earlier, the scenes are quite well-rendered with plenty of polygons. And the cutscenes are very pretty, almost blurry-photorealistic if that makes sense.

The in-game music works well, but the loading music got on my nerves in a big way. Sound effects are believable and work well as well. (I need a synonym for "well." Oh well.)

I guess that's about it, so I'll wrap this up now. Basically, all of the goofy and not-so-goofy things in Largo Winch blend quite nicely to make it fun, easy, light fare for the adventure gamer looking for a change from the more somber Dreamcatcher Experience. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Dupuis
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: September 2002

Available for: Game Cube Windows Xbox PlayStation 2

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/00/ME/XP
128 MB RAM
GeForce 32 MB
Direct X 8
4X CD-ROM drive
350 MB free hard disk space
Keyboard or joypad

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