PLATFORM: XBLA, PSN, PC (Reviewed)
ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER: Old School Games
Stray outside the bounds of mainstream gaming, and you’ll occasionally find an indie title so innovative, so outrageously original, that it defies all attempts at traditional categorization. God Mode is not that game. If this was an episode of Maury, Painkiller wouldn’t even need the DNA test to know that yes, Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer IS the father. Taking the rushing hordes and underworld aesthetic from mom and the 3-tiered difficulty arena combat from pop, God Mode at first glance suggests an inspired pedigree, but ultimately fails to deliver the goods.
Teaming with up to 4 other people, players are tasked with gunning their way in 3rd person through hordes of enemies, across five large maps broken up into individual combat arenas. This is actually one of the few improvements over the Mass Effect formula, as even though each section of the map is self-contained (constrained by magic walls and often accessible only via a post-brawl portal), moving through the larger level gives a more definite sense of progress compared to simply tackling round after round in the same location. This is also one of the few areas where the game impresses visually, with its large-scale Grecian architecture, and background elements like a wandering Cyclops. It’s not exactly mind-blowing, but a pleasant change from the usual bombed-out city, jungle, corridor motif of most shooters.
The other big change is that each arena includes a random “Test of Faith” triggered by an altar at the beginning of each round. These introduce a variety of gameplay modifiers that can include everything from a thick smog covering the field, to players taking damage when standing too close to one another, to my personal favorite, one shot one kill for both players and enemies. There’s a few duds in the bunch (players exploding after death seems fairly pointless, and one that forces you to stay within a set radius of the altar is downright infuriating) but overall it’s welcome variety for an otherwise fairly repetitive experience. In addition to the tests, individual variables can be toggled on and off through the use of oaths (similar to the skulls in Halo), which offers bonus gold and XP at the price of handicaps like reduced health, less ammo from pickups, and increased enemy damage.
On a fundamental run and gun level it’s generally satisfying mowing through the waves of enemies, but God Mode is a game that fails not because of a single glaring flaw, but rather death by a thousand cuts of little missteps and questionable design decisions. For example, in addition to a primary and secondary weapon, each player is given a meter-triggered special ability, which generally falls into either the protection/healing or damage category . Yet one of the most beneficial oaths puts this ability on permanent cooldown, essentially eliminating a third of your arsenal, which would be annoying if the abilities themselves weren’t so underwhelming. Neither the benefits nor damage last long enough to provide much help, especially when you have to pause to cast, an invitation for group-humping by the game’s swarming mobs. Even the titular God Mode ability reached at level 24 is nothing more than ten seconds of invulnerability and unlimited ammo.
The weapons themselves are similarly limited; none are out and out awful, but at the higher level certain combos are far more effective than others, especially when fully upgraded (plasma pistol + minigun = win). I also found the splash damage on the weapons to be slightly wonky (in part due to a rather limp visual), and it was often unclear why certain shots failed to damage. Add in a slow and ineffective dodge, environments that do little to break up the “sprint backward and hose” gameplay, a lack of text chat and a handful of repeated enemies, and it all adds up to a pile of warts on top of a generally sound Serious Sam-esque experience.
All of which might have been forgiven if the game showed any personality, but here too God Mode fails to distinguish itself. I should be clear, personality does not equal story. The game’s sole bit of narrative is a brief line saying you’re the descendant of a god, fighting your way out off Hades. As plots go it’s more Bad Dudes than Bioshock, but enjoyable games have been built on less. Yet while the title suggests over-the-top craziness, it’s outlandish in the most boring ways possible. Play as a zombie, mutant or undead clown, with a handful of funny hats and glasses! Fight a variety of God of War rejects ranging from skeletons with swords to skeletons with bows! Break out wacky weapons like the assault rifle and grenade launcher! Sadly the combo buzz/chainsaw pictured below is the only thing you’d see outside your average FPS, and it’s actually less useful than most of the other weapons. The sole spark of charm is a narrator channeling Dr. Frank-N-Furter by way of the yyyyyyesssssss!? guy, but he’s wasted on a handful of short pre-match tales recounting your death (which are inevitably skipped) and a single mediocre joke (“Welcome to Hades. That’s Hell in a toga.”) repeated ad nauseum when you start the game.
At $10 God Mode obviously isn’t aiming for AAA status, nor do I hold its relatively limited nature against it. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see a small, self-contained game that doesn’t feel like it’s been stripped bare for an inevitable torrent of DLC. However if you’re going to call yourself God Mode, there comes a certain expectation of bombast, manic gameplay and outlandish trappings. If God Mode’s soul is damned, it’s for the unforgivable sin of being crushingly, brutally average.
**One quick note on technical issues. On PC, several users have reported an inability to launch the game, as well as failed matchmaking and instability within matches including hanging and inability to progress through levels. While I did encounter several online issues, during the course of playing the game for review developer Old School Games released a patch which seemed to address many of the problems. I know different outlets have different stances on this, but since my goal with this review is to be informative rather than punitive and because the patch came while I was still playing the game (and thus reflects its current state), the game’s technical issues are not reflected in the final score.**
Out of 5
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