On receiving the movie tie-in of the visually stupendous avian adventure, Legend of the Guardians, I set out with a degree of trepidation and conflicting expectations, into the skies. I'd been captivated by the movie trailers, would the game be able to attain the same talon grasp over my attentions? On first impressions, I'm afraid, sadly not.
Swimming in the great ocean of games, there are hundreds of titles which can offer me a good experience. To differentiate themselves in the vast quantity of new titles coming out every week, games now need to bring something special to the table, be it through their graphics, musical score, immersion, plot or gameplay, amongst various other possible winning factors. On the face of it, however, Legend of the Guardians seemed ill-motivated to provide splendour in any of these areas.
Scrambling through some underwhelming title screens and menus, I became an owl and my strigine, opalesque eyes had as their first expression...one of immense disappointment. Stripping away the child-friendly trappings and ropey movie tie-in gameplay and plot clichés, the game is at heart centred on aerial combat. Aerial combat games have two priorities: firstly a satisfactory mechanic to ensure that the control of your aeroplane/spaceship/owl does not degrade into a scenario akin to wrestling with a hungry anaconda and, secondly, providing a mouth-watering visual backdrop to accompany your doubtless aerobatic talents a picturesque canvas to compliment your airborne exploits. The controls were in place. The visual backdrop, however, was starkly absent from proceedings.
The graphics, in what has become an all too familiar state of affairs with tie-in games, have been finished to an unabashedly basic level - almost to the point of being worthy of sneers and mockery. Where the film has been finished to microscopic detail with a loving finery of craftsmanship, being lauded as "The finest 3D film of all time", the game flounders like the scruffy, doodled-upon sketchbook of a semi-talented thirteen year-old art student being exhibited next to a Picasso and a Matisse. There's just no polish, no sheen to the environments, which as part of a fantasy game could have offered almost limitless potential for breathtaking vistas and astonishing terrain formations. My issue with the graphics is not what they do, but what they do not.
After making poor first impressions on a par with incessantly yelling expletives at your girlfriend's father upon meeting them, it might seem a daunting task for the game to redeem itself, but it manages. And manages with style.
What is often ignored in reviews these days is the simple question, 'Is the game fun to play?'. Distracted by ingenious shadow effects or an innovative interfaces, reviewers can often skim right past this fundamental question. On this occasion, however, I can happily report that Legend of the Guardians delivers on the entertainment front. Satisfying flight mechanics allow for a degree of style when battling your owl's countless fleet foes and prevent the rather lax plot from allowing the somewhat repetitive gameplay to descend into an utterly irksome festival of apathy.
The combat system is equally effective, avoiding what could have been an irritating, fiddly escapade by stripping away manual targeting and employing a variation on the infamous and often poorly-implemented quicktime event. Easy to learn but difficult to master, pulling off extended combinations of attacks always brings an expression of indignant defiance to the facial features before they once more subside into the gamer's typical blank and unresponsive visage.
The game's lifespan is not particularly expansive and there is little replay value on offer, other than side missions and a gallery of collectibles for the little ones and the lure of more gamerscore for the completionists amongst you. If it were longer, though, the simple game mechanics may begin to wear thin so it is, perhaps, advantageous that the game is not a grand saga of epic scale and proportions.
The voice acting adds a human aspect where otherwise it might've proved difficult to forge an emotional connection between the player and the characters. Strangely, the absurd nature of an owl with a man's voice gets overlooked as soon as birds in armour enter into the equation. The game's score, which is mostly orchestral, dances with the plot to provide a cohesive and relatively involving story, though the events of the cinematic interludes, generously lavished on the player between levels, often vanish out of memory in the muddle of the levels themselves.
The plot is simple to match the gameplay and is clearly designed with younger thumbs in mind. "Heroic owls" is enough of a summary, though perhaps "heroic owls spread across a range of obligatory environment types, carrying out an unlikely number of brave deeds" might do it more justice. This doesn't detract from what the game offers for older players, though I wouldn't purchase this title in hope of having the boundaries of your mind blown open to new extents. What is here is a fun few hours of game that can be dipped in and out of with little commitment necessary to reap the game's entertainment value. It won't keep you fixed for long but this may be the buffer in between Call of Duty sessions whilst your game rage subsides.
For children, this is definitely a winner. For fans of casual, laid back gaming involving owls, again, I can recommend this. If you're expecting value for money, however, then you'd be far better off looking elsewhere. It's a fun thumb-twiddling experience but your feathers will be itching for something new before long.