Wiry director Quentin Tarantino's debut film about a group of colorfully named criminals and a diamond heist gone awry is the jumping point for this video game adaptation. Instead of focusing entirely on the heist's aftermath, the game lets players experience the events leading up to the warehouse rendezvous. The non-linear storyline, done in classic Tarantino style, explores each character's point of view in a number of action sequences. Players will engage in high-speed chases, daring escapes, abductions, gunfights, and more.
The game also includes a rating system based on the actions performed by a particular gangster. Characters who approach situations with a minimum of force will receive a "professional" rating, while depraved acts of violence will earn them a "psycho" rating. To re-create the 1992 film's atmosphere, the developers acquired the rights to use the complete soundtrack, including the signature song "Stuck in the Middle with You." Actor Michael Madsen also lends his voice and likeness to the memorable role of Mr. Blonde.
It used to be that movie-based games would come out about the same time as the films they were based on, sink or swim, and disappear from our minds. For some movies, no games would come out, which, considering how bad these games used to be, was a good thing. (In other instances, such as with Stallone's racing masterpiece Driven and its attendant games, gamers lost. Hard.) Recently, however, an alarming new trend has game makers mining cinematic history for easy game fodder, and so far the quality of the results hasn't held a candle to that of the original films.
The latest classic film to be thus "honored" is Quentin Tarantino's 1992 gangster drama Reservoir Dogs. It took 14 years, but now we've got the game to go with it. Unfortunately, in almost every way that the movie was tense, funny and exciting, the game is simple, boring and contrived.
The game's basic outline follows the plot of the film, or rather the plot behind the film, since most of the actual movie was dialogue in a warehouse. The game invites you to experience the aftermath of the botched diamond heist from each of the criminals' perspectives, taking you through the frantic shootouts and high-speed getaways that were only alluded to in the movie. It's about as good an idea for a Reservoir Dogs game as can be had, but the reality falls short of the concept thanks to the double whammy of underdeveloped, paper-thin gameplay mechanics and the noticeable lack of Tarantino's razor-sharp scripting.
Most of the levels take place on foot, with you playing one of the criminals as they try to escape from a public location. You can choose to be a psychopath by shooting everyone in sight, or you can take a more "professional" approach by avoiding bloodshed through intimidation. In reality, the game designers want you to take the second route, and the quality of the ending depends on how respectably you've behaved throughout the game.
The problem is that neither the shooting nor the hostage-taking mechanics are very interesting. The shooting action is akin to that of a second-rate GTA clone, and there's no real reason to engage in it outside of panic. Meanwhile, the hostage antics are vaguely creative yet thoroughly boring. I got the basic strategy down in the first ten minutes, and was able to breeze through the rest of the game, disabling every cop I ran into, with the exact same methodology. If crime is really this easy then I'm in the wrong line of work.
Even if you do want to play the game as a shooter, the gunplay is so thin as to be effervescent. I discovered that I could use the "forward roll" move over and over to evade the vast majority of gunfire. I was thus able to take Mr. White through the entirety of level three by rolling right on past everyone. Apologies to Mr. Keitel for triggering this embarrassing display, but kudos for being up to the acrobatics.
The occasional driving levels have a similar feeling of insubstantial fluffiness. The physics are just good enough to get by, the routes are largely linear, and there's just not much intensity or excitement to be had. The most I had to retry a driving sequence was twice, and then it was off to do more forward rolls and hostage-taking. That's the game, and it takes only a few hours to play through.
On the technical side, the graphics are at least decent, especially on console. The character models look pretty lame, especially when reenacting famous scenes from the movie during cutscenes, but the interior environments have a certain level of detail and verisimilitude that I appreciated. The mall level in particular is very impressive for the PS2, though less so for the Xbox and not at all for the PC. Outdoor scenes are somewhat rougher, but they get the job done.
The soundtrack is the game's one shining positive, with most of the cool '70s songs that made the movie soundtrack so memorable. The voiceover sound-alikes, too, are pretty decent. Michael Madsen contributes his own lines, though I don't think he really stood out as the one authentic actor.
Controls are fine on PS2 and Xbox, though the car steering is rather suspect in all versions. The PC game has one serious problem in that the hostage-directing controls are mapped to the mouse, requiring the player to drag the mouse around repeatedly, picking it up and resetting it each time, just to direct a hostage around. Considering that you'll do this hundreds of times during the game (at least if you're trying to do well), this is enough to recommend against the PC game entirely. As far as I can tell there is no gamepad support.
If you haven't guessed yet, Reservoir Dogs is not a fitting tribute to the classic film, or a good game in its own right. It's playable, mostly, but so uninteresting and bland that it's nearly impossible to think of a reason to.
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