It says a lot about the overall quality of Eidos’ Fighting Force PSN download when the most special moment it has to offer happens to be the sight of the original PlayStation logo, followed by that turquoise piracy message. Seeing those distinctive images flash up on the screen, many middle-aged gamers will feel an overwhelming nostalgic shiver running up their spines. Of course, these things won’t mean anything to younger players. Their minds won’t be filled with memories of days of yore; they won’t recall a time when video-gaming was just beginning to spread its wings; when Sony’s marketing was redefining the industry and when, most importantly, the third dimension was finally being opened up.
As we’ve already hinted, the unfortunate truth is that once such opening imagery has disappeared from view and you‘re required to start playing, any fond recollections of the past will soon be utterly destroyed. Make no mistake about it, Fighting Force was not the PSOne’s finest hour.
For the uninitiated, Fighting Force was a 3D take on the excellent Streets of Rage. The gameplay involved taking control of one of four oddly-named youngsters and making your way across cities and through multi-storey buildings, pummelling the locals with your fists, feet or anything you could lay your hands on. In a way it was almost a prophetic, interactive version of the recent British riots – only there weren’t any bonus points for managing to loot the local Foot Locker.
So what makes it such an awful experience then? Well, let’s start with the visuals. To say they’re as rough as sandpaper would be a hideous understatement (unless it‘s some kind of industrial strength sort that’s capable of taking the edges off pure gold). Obviously this is a retro release; dodgy aesthetics are par for the course and allowances should be made, but whereas simplified 2D sprites retain a cute appeal, jagged polygons are rather less endearing. The level settings are pleasingly varied, but anyone taking more than a fleeting glance at the “bent” wall textures risks prolonged nausea.
The main characters and enemies are perhaps the greatest visual crime. Let’s just say that if that was the closest the artists at Core could come to recreating the human eye, it might have been better for the entire cast to be wearing sunglasses. On a more serious note, we need to bear in mind that back in 1997 developers clearly hadn’t fully gotten to grips with the Sony hardware and were trying to push the boundaries. It’s just difficult for a 2011 audience to remember when something so unsightly was ground-breaking.
In parts, the audio is pretty good. The effects that accompany hitting your foes are suitably authentic and add some satisfaction to trading blows. Unfortunately, the score, which is perfectly acceptable when it is present, has a nasty habit of stopping halfway through a stage. This sadly drains a lot of the tension from proceedings and makes you wonder if FF is, in fact, some kind of elaborate game of musical chairs and you should be trying to locate the nearest seat before a muscular opponent occupies it.
All these presentational shortfallings could be ignored if lying beneath them were a quality gameplay experience. Sadly that is not the case. There are moments of enjoyment, when you wriggle out of a tight spot with a flurry of kicks and punches or launch a perfectly executed sliding tackle to down a tough bad guy, but it all gets incredibly repetitive, incredibly quickly. With no combos, blocks or reversals at your disposal, the fights involve very little strategy. There is fun to be had throwing a backwards punch at the guy stood over your shoulder, but when you compare the mechanics here to those of, say, Ninja Gaiden, you realise how far gaming has evolved in the subsequent years.
In terms of longevity, most competent gamers will be watching the end credits within the first day. Yes, there’s some alternative routes and the four different heroes have marginally different fighting styles, but very few users will stick with this for longer than a week. There’s a two player co-op mode included in the package, but at the end of the day, which is better, to be bored alone or with a friend?
Perhaps this seems a very brutal assessment. Don’t misunderstand me, there are little inclusions that will bring a smile to your face, like when the UPS tribute truck rocks up to deliver another batch of enemies or the wind blows all the paperwork about in an office fight, but it’s not enough to warrant parting with your hard-earned cash.
The PSOne was home to an incredibly broad back catalogue and there were many AAA blockbusters that would make worthy additions to PSN. It doesn’t take a genius to tell you Fighting Force was never good enough first time around and the years have not been kind to it. Publishers need to show a lot more wisdom in what they select to regurgitate.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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