Thursday, March 8, 2012

While Kick-Ass helps praise the value of the modern day vigilante, it provides its own best example for why you should leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. Shallow brawler gameplay, bland presentation, and technical foibles plague this downloadable game, providing plenty of reasons why you should keep your underwear on the insides of your pants.

You take control of one of the film's three pseudo-super characters: Kick-Ass, Hit Girl, and Big Daddy as you punch, stab, and shoot your way through the game's short eight-level story mode. All three characters handle similarly and use a mixture of light and heavy attacks to plough through wave after wave of dumb enemy clones that attack you. Holding the R2 button and hitting the square, triangle, or circle buttons allows you to spend a portion of your auto-replenishing energy bar to dole out three character specific specialty attacks. These include such things as tossing out stun grenades, temporarily increasing the damage of your melee strikes, and twirling aerial pistol assaults. There's no combo system in Kick-Ass, so these special abilities are the most effective way to handle opponents and become all too easy to overuse to get the job done.

You seldom fight foes one-on-one and can hold your own against groups, but clipping errors, enemy pathfinding, and atrociously stupid AI means it's easier to exploit ranged attacks to take down assembled enemies that are milling around waiting for you to approach. Enemies in your line of sight stand by idly as you destroy a room or butcher their buddies. Ranged damage is as much a foe as a friend, however, and it's not uncommon to be shot at from offscreen by enemies who chip away at your life bar until you can get close enough to retaliate. Environmental objects allow gruesome kills like impaling targets on a forklift or electrocuting them against power boxes, but the physics are unintentionally laughable, so it's not unusual to see your target fly across the screen as the result of a simple punch or gunshot wound.

Completing mandatory missions and killing bad guys earns you experience points, which can be spent to upgrade your existing defence, attack, and special abilities--no new skills are unlocked. There's little strategy to point allocation, and because expenditure isn't permanent, you can niftily redistribute it on the fly to stay alive a little longer or dish out more damage if you encounter a particularly nasty situation.

The story assumes that you have knowledge of the movie or comic book upon which this brawler is based, although it does take liberties with how things play out. Each level includes a boss character lifted from the film, culminating in the game's final whimpering crescendo of an on-rails shooter and a cutscene--not the showdown you've been working toward. These battles play out like the rest of the mindless brawling, only with more hitpoints. Once you've completed the game, extreme difficulty and Arena mode are unlocked--though only the characters you've already completed the story mode with are available for both. Extreme difficulty makes the AI slightly tougher (but not smarter), while Arena is an escalating survival mode in which your health can only be restored at the end of each wave by smashing crates.

Local two-player cooperative play is available and is limited to the campaign mode. There are no online competitive or co-op modes, and when playing on the same console, only one character retains the ability to control the freely rotatable camera. The same quirks found in the single-player mode (slow rotation and players standing near walls are obscured) rears their ugly head again. Worse still, there is a finite distance two players can be separated by, so it?s all too easy to be pummeled by an enemy just outside of your attack range or have an important power-up dangle tauntingly in front of you.

The small number of levels in Kick-Ass is equaled by its miniscule set of drab environments, which include the streets of New York, a lumber warehouse, a junkyard, an apartment, and a penthouse. Character likenesses are reasonable, and animations showcase the acrobatic abilities of the cast well. The game is prone to slowdown even during less intensive fights, and while the frame rate never stutters, at times, response from the characters slows to a crawl.

Audio is particularly disappointing and cobbles together Kick-Ass and Hit Girl audio snippets from the film to repeat them ad nauseam. Big Daddy's lines have been recorded by an impersonator and are way off the mark. One particularly filthy Hit Girl sample gets bandied about so often that it loses all impact long before you finish the game. Part of the soundtrack from the movie has made the transition to the game, but sound effects frequently cut out during combat when using some abilities. Chunks of video from the film are used to bridge story gaps as cutscenes, but the amount of compression used makes them look cheap and nasty.

This brawler is as basic as they come, and unless you're interested in endlessly building up your characters to the maximum level in Arena mode, there's very little incentive to come back for more once you've completed the short story. Kick-Ass is a disappointing and all-too-brief experience for its $14.99 (AU$16.85) price tag.

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