Jaws Unleashed
Developer: Appaloosa Interactive
Publisher: Majesco Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players: Only the one, thankfully
Words By:

I suppose, in some perverse cosmic way, I had it coming. I’ve studied a bit of Buddhism. I’d like to think the concept of Karma is a real force acting in our lives and rewarding the occasional good deed, but damn the notion when it decides to bite me in the backside. I was sitting at home with my cherished Xbox, as is my want, having a lovely afternoon (just the two us, you understand, we never seem to spend time together anymore) when lo, there was a knock at the door. Cursing the interruption I opened it to reveal two kindly old ladies, dressed suspiciously like my grandmother. Before I could ask the question forming in my head I was interrupted by one of them – “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, and well, we’d like to talk to you about the big question, ‘why?’”

Damn you Karma. Just when I was enjoying my afternoon…

I managed to dismiss them after a few moments of diplomatic conversation and return to my electronic pleasures, but something continued to nag at my mind as I popped the Jaws Unleashed disc into the big black brick. As I played this new title and tried to put some notes together for a review I slowly realised what it was that had been bothering me. When the chaps at Appaloosa Interactive decided to take a crack at coding Jaws, somebody (preferably not a Jehovah’s Witness) should probably have stood up and asked them why.

For instance, why now? Jaws Unleashed seems to be unique as a film-to-videogame adaptation, debuting some thirty years after the release of the celluloid shark-fest that inspired it. Even more perplexingly, the game has been timed to coincide with absolutely nothing related to the original film (bar a low-key anniversary DVD release it seems). Add to this the fact that Unleashed is coming out on a system that is at the end of its life cycle, not to mention the outgoing Sony workhorse, and you have some pretty decent reasons not to try and make this game.

But Appaloosa bless ‘em, they tried anyway. Without the pressure of a tight development cycle that inevitably results from having to get the game onto shelves while the film is still at the local Kino you’d be forgiven for daring to think that the developers would have taken the time to produce something slightly better than the average attempt at piggy-backing on a film’s marketing hype (I’m looking at you Legend of Jack Sparrow). They didn’t, and a conscientious objector would be perfectly justified in asking why that is.

You are Jaws, who has been unleashed (har har) on the waters surrounding Amity Island to chomp, rend and dismember as much you can. Trying to stop you are deep sea explorers Environplus and Micheal Brody, mild-mannered marine biologist and the apparent son of the hero of the first Jaws film. And that’s about it. I think there might be some kind of story arc to play through, but such a ham-fisted job has been made of the game’s cutscenes and writing that it is difficult to be sure. Basically, your tasks are to kill and eat people in increasingly gruesome ways.

And that part is fun, for a little while. Jaws has a series of special attacks that can be unlocked with points earned from your various dastardly deeds (read: eating people) and carrying out these special little moves makes a nice change from just repeatedly hitting the R trigger. Your victims make cute little screams too, and struggle helplessly in your mighty jaws (do you see?) as you drag them to their doom amid a worryingly large cloud of blood. Even other sea creatures fear your wrath, functioning as little more than a health bonus for you to swallow up.

That’s all though. The levels are linear and buggy affairs with little instruction to the player, occasionally ending in some lacklustre boss battle. It gets depressing, frankly, chasing a giant killer whale that insists on simply swimming round and round his tank while you snap at his tail for twenty minutes (as you end up doing at the end of the first mission) only for you to break the camera before you can deliver the final blow and subsequently restart the level (something I had to do twice). There are side quests, but there is no real incentive to play them beyond the quest for points.

The framerate goes through the floor whenever you kick up a cloud of bubbles or destroy multiple objects (and as most of the game takes place underwater, it happens a hell of a lot!). I encountered a number of clipping problems, and one or two occasions where the controls would simply refuse to respond to commands for several seconds at a time (though I did have my nose stuck in a rock at the time). Being on the Xbox my graphical expectations were relatively low but even so I was still unimpressed with everything bar some of the water effects – this game seems to be running on the ‘Ecco: Defender of the Future’ (what an ironic title) game engine that appeared on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 five or so years ago). It all comes across as a bit shoddy, and still feels like it was rushed out in time for a movie premiere, which is not a genuine excuse for this kind of thing anyway and one the developers can’t even use.

Why, Appaloosa and Majesco, why?

Best Bits

- You do get to eat people…
- Lots of people in fact…
- Almost too many
Worst Bits

- Plenty of bugs
- Regular colossal framerate drops
- A coral reef displays more intelligence

by: Barry 'Imperial Creed' White

Copyright © Gamecell 2006