Planet Moon Studios’ Armed and Dangerous, the spiritual successor to Giants: Citizen Kabuto, brings back the laughs, but adds more explosions and silly weapons.
Armed and Dangerous (PC)
(USA 2003, developer: Planet Moon Studios (now defunct), publisher: LucasArts (now defunct) , platforms: PC, Xbox)
A group of rebels, the Lionhearts, try to keep the Book of Rule that grants magical powers away from the opportunistic King Forge.
Very weird and very British
The Lionhearts are a bunch of likable characters that might not be too bright, but they’re always ready for some unexpected violence and cowardliness. Roman, the leader of the pack, is a thief, accompanied by giant mole Jonesy and robot Q1-11, which already makes for some pretty comical scenes, even if they aren’t exactly material for most memorable characters ever. Led by the blind seer Rexus who often has weird sexual orientation problems, it’s very reminiscent of how the Smarties and Meccaryns of Giants: Citizen Kabuto behaved. The antagonists are just as quirky, especially King Forge’s mentally challenged son. The whole world the heroes traverse is much more lively than in Planet Moon Studios’ first game, so it’s quite different to compare these two titles. Traveling from one place to another place (or from village to village), the Lionhearts meet all sorts of strange people who are almost exclusively used for comedic purposes.
Everything feels very much Monty Python, especially with Holy Grail references, so the Lady of the Lake makes an appearance as well as rather dumb village people. The British sense of humor is omnipresent and makes for some very funny scenes that don’t shy away from toilet humor, swearing, plus people and animals, including children, getting hurt in some outrageous ways. This already becomes apparent at the beginning when one can shoot penguins for no other reason than being able to simply do it. Allusions to other games or pop culture, like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, can also be spotted, although these feel rather forced. Some of the cut-scenes are also too long, so there are definitely too many jokes following each other, even if these sequences help to make the world more believable, as silly as it is.
Same day, same play
Despite featuring three characters, it’s only possible to play Roman who can give orders to his team mates (as in the Meccaryns campaign of Giants: Citizen Kabuto). Unfortunately, the A.I. isn’t the best, so compared to modern squad-based cover shooters it’s best to complete missions on one’s own. This is a missed opportunity, because if one could have used the different personalities of each character with their own weapons or skills, then the game would have been more varied. As it is, the mission objectives become very repetitive. Fortunately, the focus is on blasting action with the addition of a jetpack to fly around levels, so there’s no strategy genre mix. Except for casual first-person turret sections that task the player to defend a village or castle against incoming hordes of enemies, it’s a third-person action game all the way through. However, having to collect village people and bring them to every single house allocated across each level makes for a tedious endeavor, which isn’t helped by the lack of a map and the mission objective pointers being rather vague at times.
Shooting funny or funny shooting
Despite not offering much variety during missions, the non-stop action is great fun, helped in no small part by the wonderfully comical weapons. For example, the Land Shark Rifle actually launches one of those sea creatures to grab and eat an enemy when emerging from underground, the World’s Smallest Black Hole swallows every enemy in sight, and the Topsy Turvy Bomb turns the screen upside down and makes enemies fall to their deaths. All these can be obtained by going to a pub where it’s also possible to save, something which is desperately needed, as the game is very difficult with its sheer number of powerful enemies. It’s also possible to find upgrades for weapons, but they’re well hidden in the levels and it’s not always an option to explore with so much gunfire going on. At times, the game borders on the unfair, especially if enemies are in control of turrets, sniper rifles or RPGs. Being cautious as well as using fast reflexes is mandatory to survive, because even if flying around with a jetpack in certain levels is an option, one is rarely safe and always overwhelmed.
Past tech glory
The graphics haven’t aged that well, with some very low-res character models and backgrounds that only feature brownish and more dull colors. It might be more suitable for a war game, but knowing how amazing Giants: Citizen Kabuto looked and still does, it’s something of a letdown. The same holds true for the cut-scenes that aren’t done with the in-game engine, but in CGI, complete with lots of ugly pixel artifacts. One can get used to it, but a more vibrant color palette for the levels and higher resolutions for the movie sequences would have done wonders. At least the weather effects, like falling snow, or explosions look pretty cool. It never gets old to shoot dynamite barrels to see enemies fly through the air or out of destroyed houses. However, trying to play the game on modern PCs is a hassle, because it either runs too fast without using a tweak tool or everything is presented in a window with borders on each side. Of course this has to do with new widescreen equipment, but taking into account that so many older games run more smoothly, it’s definitely a drawback to struggle with the aspect ratio. Fortunately, the sound design fares much better. The score ranges from military music to some catchy folk songs, again highlighting the humor of the game, which is especially true for the good voice acting, even if the one-liners during levels can become rather repetitive.
Memorable humor, not so memorable game
Armed and Dangerous is a very funny game, but not always fun to play. Story, characters, and the setting are memorable, as is the British sense of humor. Together with inventive weapons, it’s a joy to blast through each level, even if the squad-based system is more of a gimmick. Unfortunately, it’s tough as nails with some unfair passages, and it doesn’t look particularly good for modern eyes. However, the main deal breaker is the repetitive level design that is only saved by some well-done cut-scenes and great music. It’s certainly a step back from Giants: Citizen Kabuto, not only because it takes about 5 hours to complete, but because one simply doesn’t get to see a lot of new things after the first few levels. Still, despite not being a true classic, it’s worth playing for the humor and non-stop action alone.
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