Aeon Flux could have been one of the best movie-based game tie-ins I?ve ever played, alongside the Chronicles of Riddick. It had the potential, the ideas, and especially the source material to do so. Its initially good premise ultimately falls flat, just like Aeon dying constantly in the original animated series, due to shoddy execution, awkward design decisions, and blatant copying that does nothing to enhance the game. The fact that the Aeon Flux game stumbles should be no surprise. The vast majority of games that are created for the purposes of tying in with a major blockbuster movie release usually turn out to be quite the stinkers. With Aeon Flux, it looks like at least a little extra effort went into the title. The aforementioned problems that bring down most major movie game tie-ins still plague Aeon Flux, and it shows.
For those of you in a flux about what Aeon Flux is, here is a quick primer on the story behind the Aeon Flux universe. The story revolves around leggy, limber assassin and all around bad-ass Aeon Flux. She fights on behalf of the Monicans, a rebel group intent on overthrowing the utopian-yet-dystopian government of Trevor Goodchild, currently running Bregna, the last city-state on Earth after the vast majority of the human race is wiped out by disease. The original animated series of Aeon Flux, created by Peter Cheung, was first aired to the wide open public by way of MTV?s Liquid Television, and soon became a cult phenomenon. It was innovative in its action sequences, visual splendor, and violence and gore levels, all of which were way ahead of their time. It could be considered part of what started the trend of the sexy female action hero. Just recently, the live action feature film based on that animated series was released to theaters, starring Charlize Theron in the titular role. In case you haven?t guessed yet, the game Aeon Flux has been made to tie in with the movie. So far, the movie isn?t doing very well in the eyes of the critics ? it?s gotten a dismal critical consensus of below 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. So with that in mind, it?s probably a wise decision on the part of the game developers to adopt a visual style and storyline that?s more in tune with the original animated series than that of the movie. It adopts a sort of halfway point between the movie and the original animated series, having the impossible architecture and bright neon color scheme for the bad guys and minor characters of the animated series, yet going with the movie?s look for the titular character and other major characters. So yes, it?ll be Charlize Theron (or her polygonal analog, anyway) you?ll be seeing in the game, much to the delight or sheer horror of players depending on how much of an Aeon Flux purist you are.
As unique as the visual style of the game is, that?s pretty much the only thing going for Aeon Flux?s graphics. The graphics are an obvious indicator of Aeon Flux being rushed to coincide with the movie?s release, because they look horribly dated. Characters look dreadfully blocky and are lacking in any sort of detail, being so minimalist in polygonal count that the characters don?t look nearly as natural as they should. The environments look decent, but they also have plenty of jagged edges popping out of them. So many, in fact, that you wonder how Aeon Flux doesn?t cut herself on them more often. Clipping errors flourish, where occasionally guards are able to point their guns through doors (and shoot through them too!), and Aeon can sometimes get stuck in a little pocket of geometry, such as odd corners or pipe brackets coming out of walls. Perhaps the most glaring graphic related fault is the slowdown. Unforgivable. Considering how low-end the graphics are as it is, why is there slowdown in the game? It particularly happens when there are a lot of special effects on the screen at once?like explosions or special ammunition being used. This means the game can slow down at some pretty critical moments. To say something nice, at least said special effects are decent when shown ? explosions look fiery and detailed, motion blur and slow-motion effects are used in just the right places and the rag doll physics are funny to watch.
The sound effects don?t exactly give much of a good impression either. It?s not that they?re really bad, per se ? Charlize Theron gives a respectable, although nowhere near memorable, performance as Aeon Flux, for while she?s mostly deadpan in her voice acting, it fits well given the jaded nature of the character. Explosions sound like they should, and there are some nice touches in things like the sound of ringing ears and the temporary silencing of sounds when the space-distorting Shockwave round is used. What really kills the sounds in this game is not the content so much as the execution ? audio bugs abound. There is more than one instance where the sound mysteriously dips in volume or cuts out entirely, leaving only music. Some sound effects mysteriously stop mid-playback or don?t get played at all in certain circumstances, and there are also some weird pauses in between certain lines of dialogue. From what I could tell, my disc wasn?t scratched or cracked, so I don?t think this is due to a bad copy of the game. The repetitive, monotonous music soundtrack doesn?t help much either.
In actual gameplay terms, it?s easy to see where Aeon Flux could have been better, with one sore spot sticking out being the lack of original concepts. Much of the gameplay seems to have been ripped directly from other franchises, more specifically Prince of Persia and Metroid Prime. True, the wall-running, flipping, and other gymnastics certainly have been used in many games. Where Aeon Flux?s copying of Prince of Persia becomes glaringly obvious is in sections where deliberate pole-to-pole vaulting is necessary, where literally a series of poles are before you and you traverse them in the exact manner in which players have done in Prince of Persia. Jump onto a pole, aim yourself, hit the jump button, land on the next pole, rinse and repeat, with a little variation such as timing, the occasional wall jump, etc. On the Metroid Prime end, what Aeon Flux more specifically rips off is the Morph Ball sequences, in not one, but two ways: the more 2-dimensional sequences where you guide Aeon Flux?s ORBs (conveniently ball-shaped hacking devices to their appropriate I/O sockets; and the more 3-dimensional Roller sequences, where Aeon hijacks an again ball-shaped shipping container which she, well, rolls around in. Both such sequence types, in their original context in their home games, are lots of fun and still original enough to warrant repetition (with variations of course, like Metroid Prime Pinball), but the way Aeon Flux handles them make these key sequences feel like cheap knockoffs. Controls for the Prince of Persia-style gymnastics are iffy at best, and nowhere near as smooth as the game they try to emulate. The detection of the angle of approach, to differentiate between running straight up a wall and running along it at an angle, is wonky, and too often you end up doing one instead of the other, often to harmful or lethal results. Jumping mechanics are also dicey, especially ledge and wall detection. It?s easy to miss ledges when jumping or attempting to grab onto them. Sometimes, when you push a direction to jump a certain way from a fixed point like a pillar or pole, the game has you leaping in a completely different direction. The odd positions for fixed cameras in these leaping sequences certainly don?t help much.
The Roller/ORB sequences are also executed with much less finesse and polish than their Metroid Prime counterpart. The more 2-dimensional ORB sequences also suffer from awkward fixed camera angles, causing the ORB to not go where you want it to go. In addition to awkward camera angles for the Rollers, they have this sort of extra weight and momentum to them that makes them harder to control; more realistic, yes, but this being a game, realistic doesn?t always equate to fun. This is especially true considering how much this hampers movement when fighting enemies with the Roller, by rolling and boosting into them, again a mechanic ripped right from Metroid Prime. Said inertia can result in the Roller moving too slowly to get out of the way of a guard?s stun baton (from which a direct hit can instantly kill a Roller). Also, some obstacles that are harmful to Rollers, such as pistons coming down from the ceiling, aren?t indicated too well.
Although the aforementioned sequences make up a good chunk of the gameplay, the very crux of Aeon Flux?s gameplay of course comes from the fisticuffs and abundant gunplay fans have come to expect from all of Aeon Flux?s incarnations. Regrettably, these core areas also don?t play nearly as well as they should. In the area of gunplay, shooting can quickly become a chore due to the lack of an effective targeting system?or rather, any aiming or targeting system at all. There is only an auto-targeting system present ? Aeon Flux just chooses her shooting target with absolutely no input from the player. There?s no way to pick your first target or change targets later, so you could be trying to shoot an enemy right in front of you only to have Aeon shoot at some random enemy off-screen that you can?t even hit because of some cover obscuring the target. Needless to say, it can get quite annoying. The different ammo types and functions are a nice touch, though, each having a uniquely applicable situation.
As far as hand-to-hand combat, it?s respectable, at least, if far from perfect. It has a nice set of moves, and the ways to take out enemies can be diverse, if somewhat hard to pull off. Perhaps the coolest of all are the individual takedowns one can perform. By hitting the left trigger and an attack button, you can do four takedowns that have different effects, such as throwing bad guys into others, or recovering health. Combos are mentioned in the instruction manual and tutorial text, but frankly any and all combinations of mashing X and Y I?ve tried have yet to pull off what looks like a combo. Also mentioned are ?style attacks? where holding down the strong attack button (Y) would result in a slow-motion, extra-powerful attack that does extra damage and knocks enemies back. I?ve tried again and again to pull this off, only to have it pulled off much less often than I wanted. Since the aforementioned combos are so hard to detect as far as being properly pulled off, it?s almost impossible to tell when to hold down Y to deliver that ultra-stylish attack. Doing leaping attacks or other attacks that depend on gymnastics (such as delivering attacks off of poles or walls) almost never go where you want them to, usually either going straight down from the pole or ledge, or in the case of midair attacks, sailing over the enemy.
The original Aeon Flux, in many ways, was the ideal source material for an action game, as it certainly had the frenetic pace, the cool weapons and gadgets, and even the ?game over, try again? effect of the titular character dying in many of the episodes. So with all that, it?s a disgrace to see such prime material squandered over such a mediocre game. While it?s not horrible, it could have been much cooler. At best, it?s a disappointing shadow of what it could have been.