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Griffins, Werewolves, and Gamecocks, Oh My

Here's some impressions of mythological shooter Legendary, coming soon from Gamecock and Spark Unlimited.

Griffins are pretty metal, you must admit.
Griffins are pretty metal, you must admit.
I wanted to get excited about the mythologically themed first-person shooter Legendary when I first heard about it last year. The premise sounds neat enough: you're a cat burglar who's sprung Pandora's Box and loosed all its unpleasantness on the poor unsuspecting world, so now you've got to trot the globe and deal with it.

But Legendary's developer, Spark Unlimited, hasn't posted the best track record in its short lifespan. Neither of its past two first-person shooters--the last-gen Call of Duty installment Finest Hour or this year's alternate-history World War II game Turning Point: Fall of Liberty--were worth much attention (or so says the review mill; I didn't play them). Turning Point leaned on its own unique what-if premise, in which the victorious Germans steered their path of conquest straight into the United States via an invasion of 1950s New York. An interesting setup didn't excuse Turning Point's bland plotting and blander gameplay, apparently.

While giving a demo of the PlayStation 3 version of Legendary, publisher Gamecock's CEO Mike Wilson was quick to stress that an entirely different team is making Legendary than the one that built Turning Point, so I'm willing to grant that maybe the third time's the charm for Spark. I saw the game's introductory level--where you bust into a museum and inadvertently let all those mystical beasties out of the box--and one later-game mission that's got you fighting off an assault on a base by a bunch of werewolves and griffins (you know, those things you spent too many hours flying around on in World of Warcraft).

On the upside, both of these levels had massive amounts of dramatic, destructive stuff going on all around you. When you first open the box, a ton of the gigantic griffins soar out and start wreaking havoc on the New York City streets, piling up cars and slaughtering the populace with abandon. Some kind of weird ethereal creature about 10 stories tall stomps its way down a major avenue, drawing cars and other debris to itself to make up its corporeal body as it levels the streets. In the later level, I had to fight off a steady stream of werewolves that were jumping onto a platform elevator I was riding up to the roof, where I then had to take up a guided rocket launcher and shoot down some griffins to clear the airspace for a few attack choppers to come in and lay down heavy fire. I'll agree with Wilson on one point: griffins versus helicopters is fairly badass. There's a good dose of wanky hair metal music in the game, from what I heard, and I think that's appropriate to the setting, too.

Shoot him in the face! The face!
Shoot him in the face! The face!
There were a few neat mechanics I caught in the short demo. When you drop a werewolf, it doesn't stay down for long unless you walk up and blow its whole head off--and really, if you wanted to kill a werewolf, wouldn't you want to be damn sure it wasn't going to get back up? In addition to the monsters and your own Military Dude-Force, there's a third faction of armed mercs which seems to want to kill everyone, and you can engineer the occasional three-way battle (warning: Gamecock marketing term) where everyone is fighting everyone else and you can hang back and watch the fray.

It all sounds exciting on paper, but on the other hand, I feel like all this kind of been done before. We've been playing shooters with frantic Normandy beach landings for what, almost a decade now? I can't really knock Legendary without playing the final version, but at the same time I'm not sure it's enough for a shooter to simply toe the cinematic line these days. Not having seen Legendary before, I was a little saddened that you yourself don't seem to reap any rad supernatural powers from Pandora's Box; all the armament here is of the rifle-and-rocket-launcher variety. In the age of the thinking man's shooter (see BioShock), I'd hope for some more unique mechanics. You do get an area-of-effect energy move that stuns enemies, and you can absorb health from the baddies you slay, but otherwise your strange glowing hand seems just for show. Maybe that will come into play later in the game.

Parts of the demo ran a little choppier than I would have liked, but Wilson remarked that the 360 version is further along in development right now, and made light of the issues the Unreal Engine has had on the PS3 in the past as well. As always, that might improve before release.

Legendary is due to hit the 360 and PS3 at the tail end of September. Keep your eyes peeled in the near future for new video footage of the game accompanied by some, uh, colorful commentary courtesy of Wilson and Miller High Life.
Brad Shoemaker on Google+