It’s also true that the gameplay isn’t perfect. There are too many pointlessly obstructive baddies that require five hits to kill, too many lava pits and revolving blades offering instant death, and the camera plays up badly from time to time. All the same, this feels simultaneously like a throwback to a golden age of 3D platforming and a sign of how far ahead of the curve Rare was five years ago. Amazingly, Conker just about keeps up with the new-school kids.
It certainly helps that the game’s characters and environments are so glorious. Despite some rough edges where the game’s N64 roots seem to be showing through – and these are very infrequent indeed – the new-style Conker looks superb. Outdoor scenes are full of swaying grass, detailed rock textures and rippling water, with a heightened Technicolor palette and beautiful lighting that almost bring The Wizard of Oz to mind. And if indoor areas don’t quite match up, despite a similar abundance of detail, then at least you can’t complain about the characters. If you thought the fur effect in Rare’s Starfox Adventures was good, Conker makes it look primitive, with a squirrel hero who is the furriest furry critter to ever hit the screen. Make no mistake; this one’s a jaw-dropper.
Now, a few critics have opined that Conker runs a little short, and I’ve no doubt that it does if you played the original to death and know exactly what tasks to complete in what order. I didn’t, and so I’d say there’s a safe twelve to fourteen hours of gameplay here for the average joe. Even that’s not incredible value for money, but don’t worry: Conker Reloaded would only be half the title.
It’s the Live portion that will give Conker its longevity, and it’s also what elevates it to the big leagues of Xbox gaming. We all knew to expect third-person action, but Conker gives you far more than just another simplistic Deathmatch mode. With sixteen-player online games, character classes to select from, vehicles to pilot, and gun-emplacements to commandeer, Live and Reloaded is a surprisingly sophisticated offering. In fact, its lack of simplicity is its biggest hurdle. On your first few attempts, you won’t have a clue what’s going on.
This is partly because Rare has eschewed the usual Deathmatch/Capture the Flag/Assault modes in favour of eight named missions. Each contains set objectives for each team – Squirrel High Command or fiendish Tediz – and while these might be essentially Capture the Flag or Assault in disguise, they also go as far as destroying enemy defences, taking and holding specific areas or stealing documents. The biggest problem is that the game doesn’t really make obvious enough a) what these objectives are b) where they can be found, or c) how to accomplish them. Add the large size of some of the maps into the equation and you can guarantee that your first hour online will be spent wandering aimlessly while katana-wielding ‘sneekers’ separate your fluffy head from your fuzzy torso and cowardly skyjocks bomb the spawn points from the comfort of their planes.