Monsters, carnage, brutality… Angelina Jolie. Yes, it’s about time for another hack-and-slash adventure, and it’s no surprise that Beowulf is ready and willing to let the bodies hit the floor in this Xbox 360 gore fest. Our story begins a long, long time ago in the age of Vikings, mead and Jesus. Beowulf is one of the first adventure stories ever written, and it’s a great tale for anyone who still practices the archaic art of reading books. However, this game is a remake of a movie that is a remake of a book. Needless to say, the game is about as close to the book as egg salad is close to Victorian architecture.
The story revolves around Beowulf, that arm-ripping, eye-gouging, dragon-pounding hero we all know and love. He has chosen to rid the land of the wretched troll known as Grendel, and all he has to help him is a bunch of disposable Thanes and his muscles. This is as far as the game follows the book, with a bunch of plot twists and back story added to lengthen it out. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll be much more familiar with the plot as it’s practically the same, with some extra baddies added in to maim.
Beowulf’s gameplay almost entirely consists of you hacking your way through armies of beasts in a God of War-esque bath of blood and gore. You’ll use a series of X and Y presses to execute combos, with B used to grab enemies in a chokehold. Left Trigger (supposedly) locks on to enemies and allows sidestepping and rolling maneuvers, but it only works sporadically. And not to be overlooked, the oh-so-powerful A button assumes its typecast role of jumping.
Because Beowulf is a god among men, you’ll be able to witness his power in two different ways. The game has a sort of morality system in which you can either be the heroic leader or the bloodthirsty warrior who mows down everyone in his way. For those goody-two-shoes out there, the Heroic Storm is perfect. This makes your Thane unstoppable killing machines and gives you a nice health boost to boot. On the other hand, if “innocent” isn’t in your dictionary, then the Carnal Fury is your weapon of choice. It requires you to be on the brink of death to activate and allows you to cause fiery explosions and unlocks the ability to lift pillars and wreak havoc in general. Your maniac state comes with a price, however: afterwards you’ll be stunned for a few moments, and your health will be nearly gone. There’s a bit of an imbalance, though, as Heroic Storm is the vastly superior method with your Thanes killing all the fiends while you enjoy a coffee break and read Maxim. It also has no downsides, and upgrades for it are much easier to come by.
Those rivers of blood don’t come easy, so Beowulf has a number of Band-Aid inducing weapons at his disposal to run into battle with as you shout, “I AM BEOWULF!” They break down into either: a sword and shield combo, a two-handed axe, or a two-handed mace. Piles of weapons are scattered throughout the game, as you’ll need them quite often.
This brings us to this game’s ugliest monster of all: every weapon in Beowulf has apparently been constructed of glass, as every single one can and very, very, very frequently will shatter into a thousand pieces. To make matters worse, you have no bar or meter warning you when this will happen, so it’s always a surprise. Constantly being unarmed will drive you to find the Legendary weapons, which are thankfully not too hard to find in the game’s linear stages. Unfortunately, even these weapons of the gods will break, almost as if they do it just to laugh at your empty-handed disgust.
Beowulf’s graphics are not the main concern here, as you’ll fight hordes of enemies in the grey swamp, then hordes of enemies in the grey cave, followed by a horde of enemies in the grey forest. Most of the pixels have been spent on the bosses, which have much more polish and shine than the cannon fodder you’ll constantly send to Hades. The assembly-line soldiers you’ll fight range from forest creatures, bandits and the occasional troll.
With all these holes, you’ll finally and inevitably focus on the Xbox Live Achievements. The Achievements involve either beating the game on the two different difficulties or slaughtering enemies in certain ways. You’ll be required to beat the game a minimum of two times, once on Thane and a second time on Legend. You also must be Heroic once and Carnal the other time. There are collectables, but the stages are far from mazes, so you’ll find them quite easily, and the Internet is always an option for those real Achievement addicts (ourselves included).
To sum Beowulf up, its two difficulties aren’t all that tough, save for the controller-spiking “protect the target” missions on Legend. The enemies all fight in the same general way, and the bosses are slow and predictable. Beowulf definitely isn’t a must-buy, but a rental is recommended, especially for Achievement hunters.
– John Dempsey
Shop for Beowulf at Amazon.com.