Licensed games get a bad rap. Traditionally, when a movie or television lends its properties to the small screen gaming world it gets botched. Perhaps it’s poor visuals, or clunky gameplay. Maybe the game is short, or has terrible audio. Many times, it’s a combination of these. But on rare occasions, a licensed game comes out that isn’t a complete waste of time. Spider-Man 2, for instance, was a spectacular open world game that proved a movie could translate to an interactive living room experience. Many of us have fond memories of Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, a game that was not only ahead of its time but that completely changed the landscape of competitive multiplayer shooters on console. It’s easy to toss a licensed game to the curb because of past trends, but we have to remember that there is a possibility for a great licensed game.
R.I.P.D. is not one of these games.
R.I.P.D, based on the movie by the same name, is an Xbox LIE Arcade title that will run you 800 Microsoft points (or $9.99 if you’re on the beta program). In it, you are tasked with fending off wave after wave of “Deados” with all manner of weapons not unfamiliar to gamers. In theory, it plays a little like Gears of War’s horde mode meets Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies and the kill-streak system. In reality, it plays like crap. If the movie turns out anything like the game, it’s safe to assume that you’ll be asking for a refund.
When you boot up R.I.P.D, you are given the choice of two characters: Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges. The character models are barely acceptable, and they get the likenesses down pretty well for the most part. That is, at least when the textures finally manage to pop in. Both options play identically, so there’s no reason to debate for very long (although if you’re like me and still have a grudge against that awful Green Lantern flick, you might find yourself leaning towards Jeff).
So you’ve got your choice of actor, now its time to choose your weapon. There’s three to start with: the pistol, pump-action shotgun, and sub-machine gun. There’s more of course, unlocked through the game’s currency that you earn playing missions. Each weapon can also be upgraded, improving magazine size, damage, and accuracy. The cost of unlocking each weapon doesn’t seem too bad at first glance, but when you factor in the slow rate of making money it becomes an insane grind. Notable choices are the banana and the hairdryer which are two special weapons that can be unlocked for 250000G. When I think about the amount of time I’d need to play the game to unlock them, I also think about jumping off a very tall cliff. You can also purchase consumables, but because money is so scant, it seems a waste. In all honesty, none of this matters, because you won’t be using your weapons after a few minutes
You can choose from seven different maps, all of which are just a series of looping hallways. I wish I could say something about them that shows any hint of thought in the level design. Unfortunately, if there is anything redeemable about the way the levels are constructed, it is lost due to the mechanics and poor A.I. Every map devolves into a frantic rolling and punching festival. But we’ll get there.
Now that we’ve gone through all the pre-game preparations we come to the real action. You’re dropped in to your map of choice, and not long after the enemies will start to appear. The game is third-person, allowing you to stare at Jeff Bridges back for the duration of your 30-45 minute session. Tutorial messages pop up every time you play, so you never forget what to do and how to do it. That being said, they are necessary to trying to play this ridiculous mess the first time. This game goes against standard control norms, relegating switching weapons to the D-pad instead of a face button, typically Y on the 360. Instead, Y functions as your powerup use, so be ready to use that accidentally a lot when you want a different weapon.
Various enemies begin to spawn haphazardly around you, shooting at you and charging you with melee weapons. You can shoot back, but without any kind of aim-assist it is a difficult task. Don’t worry: there are so many enemies that you are bound to hit something. As you fire endlessly into the horde, you might be inclined to take cover. However, there is no method to taking cover, and so you just roll. Roll back and forth, here and there, dodging fire from all sides. The enemies also don’t take cover, and do not hesitate to get close to you to attack, or roll themselves. It’s like the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus of Suck.
So as you are being shot repeatedly by relentless enemies, unable to take cover, you notice something. You aren’t dead. Thankfully, you have so much health between you and death that you can take shot after shot after shot and not worry about it. And your health recharges CoD-style. Armed with this knowledge, you run directly at enemies, blasting them away. Maybe you even realize that your punch is incredibly powerful and begin using that. Now, in the middle of a gunfight, you are rolling around, punching people because it is the most effective way of defeating enemies.
But now there’s a new issue: there are some enemies that can heal other enemies. If the game hadn’t already been a pain before, then this is where things get really dicey. With only about six enemy character models, the game is scant on options as far as different models to utilize. To add to that, there is no visual indicator on what enemies have which weapons, nor which powers. So you have no way of knowing which enemies you would strategically attack first, and must assess these situations quickly amidst the havoc.
The visuals are muddy and plastic, reminiscent of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. When you can see them, that is. Enemies would often pop in and out of existence, and I found myself often using their muzzle flashes to aim at them when they suddenly disappeared. The audio is also abysmal, with enemy fire being far too quiet to notice over the deafening thunder of your own weapon. The music is grating, and the other audio effects are nothing to write home about. Thankfully, you will not have to listen to repeated one-liners from your character. They remain silent in the chaos.
The game lasts for five waves, totaling about 200 enemies. On the last wave there is a boss enemy, who has an absurd amount of health and a constantly spawning posse around him. Along the way, the game will also give you a couple challenges to complete, from getting head shots to collecting items, all to be completed in a set amount of time. You earn bonus currency here, so there is a lot of incentive to complete these challenges.
As you kill enemies, you fill a meter at the top which unlocks different perks against the Deados. Chief among them, and first on the list, is a health beacon. If it was hard to die before, it’s impossible now. You can plop down a health beacon every few seconds if you’re fast with the punches. You can also unlock chains to hold your enemies in place, which is perfect for finally shooting people. There’s also an auto-turret, which will get destroyed in about three seconds. You can become invisible, for stealth-punching. Finally, you can get a sort of thorn attack that kills every enemy on the map. This is the best power not because of its effectiveness, but because killing enemies that rapidly means you are that much closer to ending the game.
All of this is limited by a timer that ticks away in the upper right corner. If you do die, a minute is knocked off. Clock hits zero, and it’s game over. Or, maybe not. On every single occasion when my timer ran out, it took the game a healthy amount of time to recognize this. In some instances, I got maybe an extra two minutes before my failure was set in stone. This is just one of the bugs that plagued my experience.
In another instance, there was an enemy that simply ran away. He just ran and ran, never shooting at me, but always taking cover and running away. It was a mad dash to catch him, and on the occasions where I did, he turned out to be invulnerable. I must have chased him around for twenty minutes, my timer long since expired. So the game forced me to quit that session, which meant no currency for the time I’d put in. These frustrations are common in R.I.P.D.
So let’s recap: You can’t take cover, but it’s very hard to die. You can’t aim well, there’s not a lot of ammo, so you just roll around punching everything. There are enemies that you want to prioritize killing, but no way of knowing which enemies to punch first. Everything you look at looks bad, from the textures to the scarred faces staring you down. The sound is bad, so you’ll probably want to bring an iPod. The game will continue to instruct you on how to play, even though you may have played for 6 straight hours. Although I can’t fathom who would ever do that to themselves. But hey, there’s online co-op. Apparently the developers were fans of the phrase “misery loves company.”
Please note that a zero is not a score I hand out lightly. It is my firm belief that this game is of the absolute poorest quality, and I can say that I was both stunned and appalled by it. R.I.P.D. fails at nearly every aspect of game design. It is not fun, nor pretty, nor anything that you’ve come to expect from games in the last few years. Even as far as a licensed game goes, it stands out as one of the worst of this console generation. It borrows heavily from other games in the genre without also taking what makes those games good. There are no redeeming qualities to speak of. It is a movie tie-in of the worst variety. I genuinely feel bad for anyone who buys this game. It seems out of place on the XBLA, and would be more at home as a punishment featured in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. Do not buy this game. Do not play this game. Do not let your friends play this game.