‘How I Stuck My Arm in Someone’s Box and Destroyed The World.’
Let’s just get this out of the way now: I love mythology. Show me anything to do with Ancient legends or folklore and you’ve got my full attention. There’s one area in particular that I’m a sucker for, and that’s Cryptozoology, or in layman’s terms, monsters and stuff.
This is where Thomas Deckard, gentleman art thief and protagonist of Legendary, steps in. He’s been commissioned by a nefarious and wealthy stranger to steal an ancient and powerful artefact. Upon opening, however, it turns out to be none other than Pandora’s Box, and instead of plagues or disease being inside it, a plethora of mythical creatures are unleashed upon the modern world.
Now it’s Deckard’s responsibility to sort out the apocalypse, find out who hired him and find out why the Box burned a mysterious ‘Signet’ into his arm. All the while avoiding two factions of an ancient secret society who vie for control of The Box, and the power held within it.
In theory, a game that gives me a gun and tells me to shoot a bunch of monsters in the face should have been a stampede of awesome that I would gladly lie down and be crushed by.
It’s NOT, and let’s explore why.
Legendary has solid visuals, nothing absolutely spectacular, but it’s not a bad looking game. Those visuals, however, aren’t put to particularly good use because you’ll spend most of your time crawling through an endless labyrinth of subways and sewers on your quest to save the world.
Instead of facing off against horrific foes in wide open city streets, you’re forced to trudge around in bleak, dark tunnels, searching for a way back to the surface, only to be thrown straight back down when you do. It makes the game feel very claustrophobic and tightly packed, when it should have been about city-wide destruction and epic battles to save the population.
A botched and clumsy control system, ineffective weapons and tedious combat make Legendary very difficult to enjoy. I began to tire of shoot-outs with larger enemies like the Griffons or the Minotaur’s, who took more bullets to kill than 50 Cent. It may also be the most brazenly linear game I’ve ever played. Shameless and strict path determination forces you through the levels, blocking doorways and roads with invisible walls or ankle high debris, (Deckard can‘t jump more than about four inches from the floor.) It’s as if the developer is following you around the levels, poking you with a big pointy stick if you try to stray.
There are a few strange design choices, the most infuriating is the fact that almost every single operable door in the game is locked by a keypad that takes far too long to over-ride. Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing behind it that would warrant the security. I swear, during one of the sewer levels, I opened one locked door only to be immediately confronted by another. What is the point in that? Is it to slow you down, making the game last longer? Why not just a ‘press action to open’ prompt, or if it absolutely has to be secured, why not a padlock that I can just shoot off? It’s little itches like this, should they have been scratched, that would have made Legendary far more bearable.
The voice acting is absolutely atrocious. There are several unconvincing, some would say offensively stereo-typical British accents littered about, and all of the lines are delivered with a turgid lack of emotion usually reserved for 50‘s B-Movies. I’m not normally a fan of the ‘silent protagonist’ in any game but, judging by the rest of the cast, its probably a small mercy that Deckard is entirely mute.
The most prominent innovation in Legendary has to be the ’Signet’ burned into Deckard’s hand. It allows him to absorb the energy (or ’animus’) of a dead creature and use it to either heal himself or to push back other enemies with a small blast wave. While it’s mostly used as a narrative device to explain why Deckard sticks around to fight instead of just getting the fuck out of dodge, it’s also a neat little touch that helps ease the endless tedium saturating most of the game-play.
The ACD (or Animus Control Device) is another element that particularly stood out to me. They are a kind of ‘leash’ that can be manipulated by Deckard’s Signet to dictate who the creatures attack in a firefight. Feed the machine a little bit of Animus in the midst of the chaos, and all the monsters in the area will turn against the soldiers who captured them. This unique mechanic was woefully under-used, having been introduced far too late in the story (chapter 6, out of 8 in total) and I felt it was only effectively showcased in one particular sequence that saw you trapped in a two-storey library room with two Minotaurs and a bunch of soldiers. It’s extremely tense and a shining moment in the overall blandness.
In summary, despite it’s many technical flaws and awful design choices, the main issue I had with this game is it’s distinct lack of ambition. Mythology is a massively diverse subject area just waiting to be exploited by a game in this genre, with endless possibilities for set pieces and enemies. Legendary manages to dismiss most of these in favour of repeated encounters with the same few beasts over and over again. What the game handles quite well, in it’s favour, are the set-pieces. While few and far between, the giant Golem (who’s made of old bits of rubble) and the Kraken about halfway through are welcome changes from the frankly tiresome Werewolves, but why wasn’t there more of them? I can hardly even imagine why, with such a wealth of potential enemies at their disposal, Spark Unlimited would only put eight fairly generic ones in the game. Where are the Dragons, the Giants, the Hydra, the Centaurs?
That pretty much sums up Legendary. Where was all the good stuff? Did it get put to one side during development, and someone forgot to put it back in? It’s a game with a unique story and some genuinely innovative features that was put together with all the care and precision of a scrambled egg. The ending sets up for a possible (and mercifully as yet unannounced) sequel that, given the right development team, could take this basic foundation and build something that rises above simple, brainless mediocrity.
Then again, I’ve always been an optimist.