The N64 was a great machine, and one of the greatest reasons for its success would be Nintendo?s dream team partner Rare. Having provided several of the platform?s killer apps, Rare games have long been known for their addictive gameplay and excellent graphics. Many of their titles snugly fit the Nintendo image ? cute, friendly, and just plain nice. However, toward the end of the N64?s lifespan, one of their games ? Twelve Tales: Conker 64 exhibited something of a Jekyll and Hyde like transformation. Starting as a typically smiling and happy Nintendo property, it became something of a monster ? a drunken, womanizing monster, whose main character also happened to be a squirrel, and Conker?s Bad Fur Day was born.
When Nintendo decided to cut Rare from their stable of developers, Microsoft saw an opportunity to acquire one of the world?s premier software houses and quickly adopted the veteran English development studio. Until now, though, the relationship has not been quite as dynamic as the relationship with Nintendo ? having only produced Grabbed by the Ghoulies, which although fun, didn?t garner the kind of attention it (arguably) should have. As such, many of Rare?s diehard fans have been waiting for the much talked about reworking of the classic N64 game, Conker?s Bad Fur Day.
So, several years and an entirely new gaming platform later, we have Conker: Live and Reloaded. Anybody familiar with the N64 original will be right at home here, and even players new to the Conker universe will have little trouble making themselves at home. First impressions will more than likely prove favorable, as the training segment is a fun and easy introduction to the game. Interestingly for longtime fans, a couple of jokes in the opening tutorial segment have been changed, and wryly acknowledge the fact that the game is in fact a remake, which is a nice touch and fits well with the general humor of the game. It is also noticeable that the difficulty has been somewhat reduced in the transition to the Xbox. An early example of which can be seen when Conker has to return a stolen item to its rightful owner. In the original game, the path players needed to run along was very precise, and any deviance from it resulted in a failed mission. Now, however, Conker can pretty much run wherever he pleases ? as long as it?s still in the right direction. While this may dismay some hardcore fans, it may make it all the more accessible to new ones.
In terms of gameplay, Conker is (and honestly always has been) a simple game, and its current incarnation does little to convince a gamer that this particular facet of the game has changed over the years. Rare really introduced the aspect of context sensitive controls to console gaming, and as such it is always obvious when you need to perform a specific action ? you merely stand on the context sensitive platform and the game will equip you with whatever item any given situation requires. There is no need for a huge inventory or a puzzle-solving mind here. Given the age of the game, this is somewhat repetitive, yet it rarely feels overused. The single player game in fact is often saved from feeling repetitious by the fact that the gameplay style changes briskly, leaving the player in suspense regarding quite what it is they will be asked to do next. There are many gameplay types spread throughout Conker?s world, including the obligatory platforming, third person shooting, and even racing segments. In fact, if you?ve ever played a game and thought to yourself ?man, this is fun and all, but I really want to roll a ball of poo around?, well, you might as well buy this game right now. Despite the huge amount of fun it presents, the single player campaign has not proven to be the main selling point of this title. In fact, the completely redesigned multiplayer aspect has often been touted as the best reason to buy this new iteration of the now classic game. So, considering that the immensely fun multiplayer modes present in the original have been completely stripped away in favor of an all-new class based multiplayer game, has the sacrifice paid off? While sounding like a wonderful change on paper, the reality is that the multiplayer can be (and often is) an immensely frustrating experience.
Essentially the multiplayer is split into a game containing two warring factions ? the Tediz, and the SHC (Squirrel High Command). A nice touch in this mode is that it has a loose story that links all the separate parts of the multiplayer campaign that span the two quite distinct combat zones ? Old War and Future War. The graphical stylings of Old War will be familiar to any fan of WWII games or movies (especially Saving Private Ryan), while Future War has an obvious sci-fi flair, encompassing designs that could have been ripped straight out of The Terminator or even Aliens (and likely have since all of the above mentioned movies have been lovingly parodied in the single player mode). Whichever battle a gamer chooses to be a combatant in will yield a choice of one of six classes ? which are replicated on whichever side is chosen to fight alongside. There is the grunt, which is the most balanced class of the six you have to choose from. Then there is the sneeker, who is your stealth character, able to mercilessly kill with bladed weapons, yet is flawed in long distance combat. Next up is the demolisher, a slow lumbering powerhouse who packs a punch with the default bazooka. The long ranger is the sniper of the group, and as expected is a formidable adversary across great distances. Providing flaming death is the job of the thermophile who, besides torching your furry enemies, is tasked with being the medic for your troops. Last, and by no means least, is the sky jockey ? a character who is able to predictably man the aerial vehicles and supply air support.
Although this wily assortment of characters spans a fairly typical multiplayer class structure, the multiplayer can feel very unbalanced. There is a power-up system that allows for a character?s abilities to be ramped up, which is very desirable in gameplay terms, but often the mission assigned will initially fall by the wayside in a feverish attempt to be among the first to improve a characters skills. This is where the balancing becomes something of an issue. From the outset, characters are barely remarkable, but can become immensely formidable when upgraded. It is truly a shame that a skilled player can be obliterated by a lesser adversary merely because they were able to upgrade first. Assuming this is not enough to dissuade gamers, the multiplayer does have a reasonable compliment of game types that adhere strictly to the multiplayer handbook, as you will see campaigns reminiscent of king of the hill, capture the flag, and assault. The gameplay within multiplayer always manages to provide the player with something new to do from mission to mission, but the underlying balance issue remains. Sadly, it would have been nice to be able to indulge in some simple bloodshed via death match, but sadly it is not provided out of the box. Conker: Live and Reloaded does not support downloadable content, either, so it is not likely to ever be seen. This, my squirrel loving friends, is a sore omission.
Graphically, Rare has delivered a game which is both visually lush and cohesive, which is no small task given the wide variety of themes and environments present. You will see tranquil valleys which wouldn?t look out of place in a Disney movie, then move into a mine completely made of feces, but admirably, the transition in environment never seems at all jarring. As fans of Conker will attest, one of the nicest graphical elements in the game are the various homages to classic movie scenes. Unfortunately, while still being humorous now, they were much funnier upon the games initial release purely because the movies being parodied were much more current. However, in an attempt to update the look of the game, Rare has seen fit to take the spooky section of gameplay and dress Conker like Van Helsing (from the recent Hugh Jackman movie). This choice seems to have backfired somewhat, as the scenes he appears in are a parody of Francis Ford Coppola?s movie Bram Stoker?s Dracula, which now, thanks to the character change seem somewhat ill fitting. Animation throughout the game is smooth and humorous, and the lighting present in various parts of the game just makes this title look absolutely beautiful. In terms of current generation platformers, it is arguable indeed that any game in the genre is as visually arresting as this.
The audio in Conker is also very good, offering a variety of quirky, yet horribly catchy, tunes to accompany the rapid thematic changes in the game. It is not unusual to be playing and hear a solemn march usher in a tense, foreboding scene, yet moments later a player may hear a chirpy hummable little ditty which will play while you wander the countryside watching the butterflies flutter through the air. Where the audio in Conker really shines is in its vocal work. At once utterly adorable and deliciously cheesy, many of the jokes present in game are delivered verbally. This game is constantly humorous, and the M rating is certainly well deserved. There are many jokes that are absolutely innuendo laden, and although bleeped out for added humor value, there is also lot of swearing. However, the language accentuates the enjoyably absurd nature of the storyline rather than being there for the sake of a mature ESRB rating.
Replay value will largely be dictated by how much a player enjoys the multiplayer format. Many will likely lament the lack of any form of death match modes, which were a staple of the original title. The squad-based focus of the online/multiplayer game will arguably fall into the ?love it or hate it? category. Single player mode is always an enjoyable diversion, but with the visual nature of the game, it is unlikely that a second or even third run through will yield the same kind of experience. There is little in the way of unlockables, and those that are present predominantly apply to the multiplayer modes.
Overall then, despite its simplistic gameplay (and ill balanced multiplayer), Conker: Live and Reloaded is a game that can easily win a gamer over with its bawdy humor and lovingly crafted design. In fact, despite essentially being a four-year-old game with somewhat dated gaming mechanics, it is still as fun today as it was when it was first released. Rare is truly one of the most gifted software houses out there, and any self respecting gamers should take it upon themselves to help a poor hung over squirrel find his way home?.