Golden Axe Beast Rider
first submission for

Bottom Line: Golden Axe wasn't a snuff film before, but it is now. Be grateful.

Temporally, I may not be on time and on target, like Marky Mark. But I buy these things, and then eventually they sneak up on my xbox, like a cat, or a dedicated, vengeful spirit (same entity), and my eyes open wide in surprise and soul dropping disruption as the white logo fades, the blade extends telling me that an update needs to be installed...

a progress bar completes...

I see the logo again...

Ah, and then, as I was saying, my soul drops out the bottom of my pants as the stalker unleashes itself upon me.

It's not nearly as bad as it sounds at first blush.

GABR deserves recognition for its achievement in creating a lovable acronym, and for animation which is, legitimately, at least half the time, very good, rather than painful. Considering the wretched deficit of animation and animating talent in triple A studios--indeed, the fact that 9 times out of ten, when some plebian says 'animation' they are referring (like the thinning wall of a blood vessel is referring to the fact that you strain too much while on the toilet) to an effect which consists of static meshes, or textures, and is dynamically generated according to broad parameters (Winamp visualization is not an animation--It is a screen saver made out of math that had a technical art pass. Sometimes they may contain an animation, but that is a coincidence, and in any case, forget I mentioned it.), it is soil-yourself incredible that something ever moves well outside a cutscene (and usually in them). The point is that these people are wrong and should die for not having specialized esoteric knowledge.

Since Prince of Persia is a recent triumph of the human spirit, I should compare. The animation in GABR, when it's on, is better than Prince of Persia. Now, why and *how* can this be?


Any time something needs to happen in prince of persia, it's reasonable to assume it will complete before something else happens, and if it needs to be interrupted, a jarring cutscene, most likely developed to hide loading (admittedly better than an elevator) will make sure you forgot what was happening, anyway. While what happens during those moments is graceful and charming, only a satanist drinking blood out of a crying child could possibly be more evil than an artist hired for such a job who could not perform admirably when his medium is locked down in such a way. The challenge of game animation is not to guarantee grace and beauty during tightly constrained moments, where collision boxes are aligned correctly, player control is temporarily disabled, and the sequence is inevitable. Yes, there are transitions between these moments of deranged apelike movement, and those transitions aren't the thoughtless farting of the bus passenger next to you as they get up to disembark at their 'stop'. But with modern animation curves and blending, those transitions are remarkably automated in many cases.

Golden Axe, beast rider, on the other hand, not only make assertions about movement being asynchronous, with respect to intent *and* execution, but manages to alert me to the idea that mass is drawn to nearby bodies of mass, and take up space. Admittedly, putting all this information together means there must be some staging. Usually you are, spaghetti western (with an eye toward Botticelli, considering the leather inner-thigh chaps, and the barebreasted hang em high random Ancient Dragon God roadies rotting on the occasional tree) style, approached by several enemies, and then attacked obsequiously one at a time. However, if you intend to play the actual game (and you might), you'll find that you are not only attacked in rational sequence, as though they really do want to dismember you (and they will), but will do so *far* faster than you can reasonably react to if you accidentally kill one of their fetish bedecked dickheads--since he apparently sends the rest into a frenzy.

I could make a disjointed point out of commenting on the behavior of the animals you ride, since it is their weight and poise which lends alot of my high opinion about the animation, but I don't have to if I just make the following assertion. The 'berserk' mode that the various potbellied rapists enter when you kill their leaders does not make them twitch in a state of massless, frictionless, timelapse. They simply recover faster and swing more often. As thought truly angered! I'm not saying this is a simulation of trailer rage, as experienced by former prom queens when they fail to bring home another case of Miller, or when the Broncos throw an interception, but it's not painful and stupid. I've been backed against a tree and beaten mercilessly into stewing beef more satisfyingly in this game than I have in any other recent offering.

The music is appropriately forgettable, in the sense that I am not scarred by it. I remember being charmed at least once, and that is a far as anyone can comment on music in general unless they want to invoke the name of a japanese composer as though anyone would, could, or might give a shit.

Design for the basic fighting is interesting. Level design, however, is where the game falls down, and was likely why this game was passed over like a primary target by the monument destroying ships in Independence day or the planet destroying ships of the Vorlon in Babylon 5 during the climax of the war against the shadows. In this case I guess destruction is a metaphor for critical praise. This metaphor was no accident.

In any case, the level design is torture. What this game has is combat, and animals to ride. Combat that needs to be genuinely considered. The counter system, such as it is, that distinguishes between nimble side steps and lightsaber style one handed blocks is satisfying because while you cannot sidestep something meant to be blocked, you can block something meant to be sidestepped--you will simply be thrown back by the effort, and immobilized momentarily while you recover. Not an issue when it's just you and Johnny in the back seat and he's trying to argue that you 'owe' him something (and your subsequent hip-driven kick into his groin), but when it's the entire O line, you're going to wish you never came out for varsity cheerleader tryouts. The reason the level design is torture is because these interesting battles are broken up by excessive cutscene sprinkled switch objectives (and objects). You have to set something on fire and watch as the game shows you in painful detail that you have Done Something. There's also a number of rough edges in terms of being able to run up an uneven surface with rocks, yet, somehow, being unable to leap across the gap between a couple tree trunks beyond, back onto the bare ground you traversed moments before. The designers gave serious thought to removing all superfluous invisible walls after their 3rd jaeger-bomb during a 'design session' at TGI Fridays. Then, the next morning, while stumbling to the refrigerator to get water (they have one of those fancy taps on the front of the fridge), recanted: swearing off 'forever' the mere idea of removing invisible walls. Then, sitting down at their laptop with a cold compress on their forehead, began cutting and pasting transparent geometry to block the player's movement.

In an epiphany, they realized what the game really needed was invisible traps that spring out of the ground instantaneously and damage you or your animal.

It doesn't need that.

2.5 stars

piece one for action button net submission.

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