In Drake of the 99 Dragons, you're cast in the role of a dual pistol wielding warrior attempting to restore the honor of his clan whilst walking the fine line between the world of the living and the, uh, not living. The developers at Idol FX even fabricated a short comic book on the character to go hand in hand with the game's comic feel and appeal. Unfortunately not the art style nor the dual weapon system are enough to overcome the major issues involving Drake's control, camera and overall game design. There are plenty of games out there that look worse, but not many that are tougher to handle than this one.
As a third person shooter, Drake attempts to differentiate itself by giving gamers the feeling that they're in an action packed, fast paced John Woo flick with all kinds of chaos going on. Thus, Drake wields independently fired weapons in each hand, can run along walls and slow down time like your favorite Keanu Reeves character, Neo. In fact watching the game run in its demo mode is downright thrilling with the lead character blasting, hopping and bullet-timing in pristine comic settings. Getting the game to look that cool when you're controlling it however, is not possible. We give the developers credit for presenting a cel-shaded, stylized game that certainly doesn't look like a typical Xbox or PC game, but playing it is a lot like picking the wrong chocolate treat out of a box of fancy candy --the one with the licorice and broccoli cream filling.
On the Xbox version, you moved Drake around the game environment on the left analog stick and attempted to control the camera/aiming reticule on the right analog stick with the triggers firing the weapon in each of his respective hands. The tuning of the game is intended to make things quick, so the moving the camera with the right stick is extremely sensitive. The only problem is that it's also very inconsistent, especially when you start doing complicated moves like jumping and moving around with the left stick. The PC version didn't do much to improve the control issues. It's still not uncommon to turn a corner and end up fighting the camera because there's an enemy hidden behind an object. Even if you use the quick-find targeting button when you enter a room, the perception is that you're losing control of the camera at an in opportune time. The precise aim of a mouse doesn't help as much as it could, thanks to the awkward camera.
The problems with the coordination between camera and character only continue the more you play. Falling down stairs, off of buildings and walkways will happen far too often even for expert gamers. Fighting the camera leads to you fighting control of the main character which of course makes it tough to deal with enemies. Even when you're trying to be careful as possible and keep your health meter full, you end up taking way more damage than you should since enemies will always seemingly be able to get the drop on you and ambush you from impossible angles.
Basically, none of the positives about Drake, including the story, unlockables, style, nothing can make up for the fact that this game doesn't play well. It feels broken.
The comic book feel is apparent throughout Drake and reinforced with action words showing up when Drake lands with a "THUD!" or breaks something with a "CRASH." The are problems with the animation and the character design though. When doing quick moves, usually done in conjunction with frustrating camera controls, he simply "hop" to a new position rather than transition naturally from one position to another. The flat comic like design would suggest that the developers wanted to keep things simple so the framerate would stay high. There's no reason why a basic character, dominated by a two dimensional black coat flapping around, can't have smooth transitional animations.
The environments are simply and blocky but still within the realm of a comic book setting. All of the visuals in the game are simple for a reason, but you're not sure if it's to keep the framerate high or to stay in line with the comic motif.
If the visuals and control are this problematic, developing the game with sound as an afterthought would make that element of the game disastrous. The truth is the audio in Drake isn't too bad, it's just not very ambitious to begin with outside of the cool bullet-time effect. This is probably our most favorite part of Drake. When you engage the bullet-time slowdown control, the game slows down gradually and this includes a warping sound effect on the audio until the game slows down to the point where everything is silent. Disengaging the bullet-time effect slowly speeds things back up to normal and the audio follows suit. It comes off surprisingly well in this game. The music is appropriate for the genre and fits the other themes of the game.
Drake is a good idea that went horribly astray and ended up disastrous. There's no need to rent, purchase or entertain the thought of playing this one. It would be nice to see somebody develop a game with a character that can fire two weapons independently but then again maybe there's a reason why nobody's done it yet. Drake tried, but like we said nobody has done it yet.
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