- Review Price: £33.00
While playing the single-player portion of Conker: Live and Reloaded – an update of 2000’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day – one thought inevitably turns around and around in my head. What was it that prompted Rare to turn what had promised to be another cuddly 3D platformer – very much in the mould of its own Banjo-Kazooie – into a potty-mouthed, faeces-obsessed, eclectic adventure featuring an amoral, boozed-up squirrel? Was it working with Nintendo? Did pressure to design games that fitted into Mario’s cutesy mould spur them on to create something so completely the antithesis? Just idle speculation, and we’ll probably never know, but the results are really something else.
If you’ve heard shocking tales of Conker’s Bad Fur Day before, I can assure you that they’re all true: the blood, the gore, the bleeped-out swearing, the cheap sexual innuendo, are very much present and accounted for. There are whole areas where you’re literally wading or swimming through excrement. Relieving your bladder is an integral part of the game. One of the bosses really is a giant operatic turd that threatens to shove your head up its behind. You’re genuinely are told to **** off by just about everyone you meet. At one point, you actually sacrifice a cute baby dinosaur to get a little further on your way. If any of this sounds remotely offensive, or you’re the high-brow sort that prefers sophisticated French arthouse comedies to Team America: World Police then trust me, Conker isn’t for you.
Which might actually be a shame, because the Xbox is horrifically starved of decent platformers, and underneath all the sh*t, p*ss, vomit, swearing and violence, Conker is better than just about anything similar on the system. On the Gamecube or PS2 it would find stiffer competition, what with Super Mario Sunshine, Jak & Daxter, Sly Racoon and Ratchet & Clank knocking around. On the Xbox, against such lacklustre acts as Blinx or Sonic Heroes, Conker shines.
This is arguably because the original Conker’s Bad Fur Day sits in a sweet spot in-between two camps of 3D platformers. Like Banjo-Kazooie, it takes the basic Mario 64 template, with the game divided into a series of large, themed environments containing enemies to defeat, routes to explore, tasks to perform and hidden bonuses to discover, and within limits you’re able to move between these environments at will. However, foreshadowing Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank et al, Conker wanted to be more than just another 3D platformer; it wanted to add a chunk of blasting and a spot of racing into the gameplay. As a result, you get a game that mixes the usual climbing and jumping with bloodthirsty levels parodying Saving Private Ryan and The Matrix.
Admittedly, Conker doesn’t spread these components evenly throughout, with the front half more of a conventional platformer and the game becoming more trigger-happy towards the end. However, both parts of the game are very enjoyable indeed. After Banjo-Kazooie, Rare had designing 3D platformers down to a fine art, and the mixture of tasks and the imaginative ways in which you complete them make Conker a lot more enjoyable than the usual ‘collect five of this, then six of that, defeat a mini-boss then collect some more’ stuff you find in many second-rate examples of the genre.
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.
Luckily, in this case familiarity brings the opposite of contempt. Once you know the maps, understand your mission and take the time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the various classes, running from pilots to snipers to bazooka-wielding dudes and ninja-types, Conker is a hoot. It’s fast-paced enough to keep the action flowing, but with ample room for tactics and genuine team-play. As usual, a lot depends on your fellow players and there’s no shortage of online buffoons who a) blow-up everything that moves, whatever the objective or b) whinge constantly about all the newbies who are blowing up everything that moves, whatever the objective or c) stop whinging and just bomb the newbies at their spawn points (Grrrrrrr). Still, that’s a given with any online, team-based game. If you want to make the most of the experience, the secret is a little practice offline. The game’s bots are reasonably intelligent, know what they’re doing, and before long you’ll know enough to proceed. Even then, it’s wisest to stick to the game’s straightforward maps – Beach Dead and T.M.S Spamano – before heading for the more complex missions.
Overall, Conker: Live and Reloaded might not drag the Xbox Live! hardcore kicking and screaming from Halo 2, but it won’t be for want of effort or accomplishment. The maps are brilliant, the characters are full of personality and the combination of cuddly furballs and mindless destruction stops it all from getting too serious. Whether you’re storming the beaches or freeing the Panther King from his Carbonite prison in a brilliant Star Wars themed mission, it’s easy to have a good time. Even if Conker’s Bad Fur Day came on its own, I’d be urging anyone with a passing interest in Xbox platform games to give it a whirl. As Live and Reloaded, it’s practically essential.
With graphics that rival anything on Xbox, Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows ample sign of Rare’s old platform gaming magic and holds-up brilliantly against the present day competition. Better still, the multiplayer component deserves to be a Live hit.