Fighting Force features interactive 3D environments and a variety of attacking moves. Players can choose from four different playable characters -- Hawk Manson, Ben Jackson, Mace Daniels, and Alana McEndrick -- and learn unique character moves, special moves, and combinations. The seven levels stretch across 25 stages and include shopping malls, secret islands, submarines, and office buildings. Players will utilize available weapons like knives, axes, and guns. A cooperative mode allows friends to team up, but a full single-player story exists as well.
Here's the basic concept behind Fighting Force: take an old-fashioned side-scrolling beat 'em up game of the Streets of Rage variety, and give it a cutting-edge 3D makeover, adding a host of new gameplay elements as you do so. It's surprising no-one's done this on the PC before now: scrolling-n-fighting games have been around ever since Irem's Kung Fu Master first appeared in the video arcades. From 1984, when Kung Fu Master made its debut, they sustained their popularity thanks to successful arcade releases such as Double Dragon, Altered Beast, Final Fight, and Two Crude Dudes - each of which were subsequently translated for consumption in the homes of bloodthirsty Megadrive and SNES owners. Indeed, games of this ilk were a staple of the 16-bit gaming market. Some were a great laugh (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), some were absolutely appalling (Cliffhanger), and some had dwarfs and orcs in them and therefore don't really count (Golden Axe).
Like action movies (their closest Hollywood equivalent), scrolling beat 'em ups often stick to a particular formula - an unwritten code of law from which they must not deviate. Fighting Force is no different. Let's pick through those rules right now - and describe the game in more detail as we do so.
The ten laws of scrolling beat 'em ups:
1 'The game must feature a group of seasoned fighters, of which one must be a 'big bloke', and another a 'cool' bloke. Women should be extremely attractive, young, and considerably more agile than the male characters (although they may NEVER be physically stronger).'
Well, that all seems to be in order. Check out the panel for more information on the Fighting Force kicking crew.
2 'The game is not a meaningless series of fight sequences; it is telling a story. A stupid one. Preferably involving an evil overlord and a dastardly scheme.'
Well, we've got a cracker here. It's the year 2003, and our heroes are struggling manfully to reach the secret H.Q. of Dr. Dex Zeng, a traditional 'mad scientist' who's planning to bring about the Apocalypse he believes should have rightfully occurred at the turn of the millennium. If he has his way, planet Earth shall burn as its population dies screaming. I blame the parents myself.
Anyway, our heroes are out to stop him. You've got to admire their motivation. If I knew that a crazed megalomaniac with countless millions of dollars at his disposal was hard at work plotting the end of the world as we know it, I'd give up completely, hide under a blankets and whimper tearfully about how cruel and unfair everything is. And the planet would get blown to bits and I'd die. Not so our heroes. They know exactly what to do: seize the rose by the thorns, grit those teeth and roll their sleeves up. 'I'll break through his defenses and stop him,' they must have thought, 'even if I have to beat every single one of his henchmen to death with my bare hands.' Which brings us to the next given absolute.
3 'The player(s) must face an apparently endless stream of assailants, each loyal to the overlord's cause.'
No kidding. Dr. Dex Zeng's devotees are legion. The press release describes them as 'several militant followers,' which implies that there are about 100,000 less of them than there actually are. Whatever the difficulty setting, they never stop coming - an unremitting tide of hooligania violentis, each of them doggedly hell-bent on knocking your head off. Imagine strolling into the center of a National Front rally wearing a T-Shirt with the words 'All White Men Are Poofs' printed on it in bold, black capitals; the ensuing scenes would be strikingly similar to much of Fighting Force.
There's no respite. Enemies continually spill out of doorways, alleyways, subway trains and the back of trucks. They stride towards you with a menacing sense of purpose, clenching their digital buttocks, inwardly chanting a Neanderthal mantra: must hit man hard in face. And not one of them so much as smiles at you.
4 'Weapons must be made periodically available during the game. Both dedicated hardware (knives) and impromptu weaponry (bottles) are permissible. All such objects must be unusable after six or seven blows.'
Now here's an aspect in which Fighting Force scores highly: the sheer variety of things with which you can thrash people senseless is quite unprecedented. There are three whole methods of getting your hands on a maiming tool of some description. The first, and best way is to knock it out of an enemy's hand. Baseball bats, knives and guns are all readily available in this manner; the game should be made compulsory training for all student teachers in South London, where it can be regarded as interactive documentary (although the occasional grenade or rocket launcher might raise an eyebrow).
Your second option is to keep an eye out for nearby 'trackside objects' which could conceivably come in handy. The programmers have included a bewildering number of these: oildrums, crates, suitcases, dustbins, parcels, planks, even traffic cones are for the taking, each of them ideal for at-the-scoundrel hurling.
Finally, and most entertaining of all, there are the weapons the player makes for themselves. Most of the scenery in the game is interactive in the most satisfying sense: you can break it. As anyone who regularly vandalizes primary schools will tell you, damaging other people's property purely for kicks is a heck of a laugh (the downside being that it's a socially reprehensible act perpetrated by imbecilic teenagers). Fighting Force manages to combine the vicarious thrill of vandalism with the brutal satisfaction of hitting someone with something hard, by making it possible to break certain objects until they yield potential weaponry. Take a parked car, for instance. Start smashing ten bells out of the accursed thing, and the alarm goes off and the windows start to shatter. Really trash it and eventually the wheels fall off - which you can then lob at the enemy. Play as 'big bloke' Smasher and you can even rip the engine out and swing it around. It's also possible to wrench railings from the walls, forming an impromptu baton, and to grab fire axes from emergency boxes.
5 'The enemies must be incredibly stupid'
Ah. Not so. The bad guys in Fighting Force fearlessly break rank with tradition and actually use their noggins from time to time. Drop a gun and one of them may well pick it up and ventilate your chest with it. They'll also grab discarded knives and baseball bats on occasion. More frightening still, certain attackers sometimes peel away from the main fight and explore the scenery in search of objects to throw at you. Their A.I. routines also stretch to provide them with a kind of collective memory; if you repeatedly favor a move, they'll learn to block it. It's hardly a battle of wits, but it does represent a substantial improvement over yer average piece of cannon fodder.
6 'The game must be split into multiple stages. Progression will be interspersed with segments in which players are temporarily confined to a limited area until such time as all their attackers have had all traces of shit beaten out of them'
That's true of Fighting Force. The game is staggered across seven levels, which in total are split into around twenty five separate chunks. There's plenty of variety here, even if the settings sound peculiarly familiar. The characters slug it out in the darkened alleyways of the Bronx, in the corridors of a giant office block, through a park, on board a subway train, atop a variety of lifts: indeed, every location you've ever seen in an action movie seems to rear its head at some point in the game.
7 'The fighting itself must be both simplistic and repetitive'
Well, yes. Core's initial plan with Fighting Force was to endow each character with as many moves as the characters in say, Tekken. Unfortunately, given the full 3D environment, that's proved impossible (most one-on-one beat em ups, despite their 3D appearance, limit the action itself to a two-dimensional plane). What you're left with is undeniably more complex than the Final Fight school of scrapping, but not light years beyond. If you're good, you'll have learned your chosen character's every move by the end of the second level, so the only thing to look forward to is the ever-changing scenery, the promise of some new weaponry, and a host of unfamiliar enemies. More than enough for some, but those who aren't fans of this kind of caper in the first place are likely to tire of the ensuing repetition before long. But what can Core do? The solution to the problem is to introduce a new 'move' for every character at the start of each new level - which would surely urge the player onward.
Still, if you've got an obsessive-compulsive disorder tempered with violent anti-social tendencies, Fighting Force is bliss.
8 'There must be a two-player option.'
Another count on which Fighting Force hits home; not only is the pre-requisite co-operative mode included, there's also a mano-a-mano 'Battle Arena' mode in which you and your best pal can punch each other repeatedly around the head face and neck, using one of the four 'good guys', or (depending on your progress through the main game) an 'end of level' boss. It ain't exactly Virtua Fighter 3, but it is a very welcome addition.
9 'The absurdist nature of the violence must make the player laugh out loud'
Yup. Perhaps we're all sick, but don't you agree that there's something intrinsically hilarious about relentless, merciless physical brutality? If you don't so much as stifle a chuckle when 'Hawk' headbutts a street punk, or suppress a smirk as 'Mace' senselessly murders a pair of couriers with a stolen fire axe, then you're not human. Or inhuman. Whatever.
10 'One of the characters must have a move whereby (s)he knees an enemy repeatedly in the testicles'
Hey. They haven't let us down.
Fighting Force is a computer game in which a lot of people get hurt in a variety of entertaining ways, with excellent 3D visuals and a surprising amount of detail. So if you like the sound of that, our advice can be effectively summarized with this pithy, direct epithet: download it.
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Evil Dead: Hail to the King, Fifth Element, The, Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas, Evil Dead: Regeneration, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza, Die Hard Trilogy, Freedom Fighters, Ed Hunter
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