Sunday, 13 November 2011

Game On #2. Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths And Legends

Logan and Sh'lainn hunt for monsters in Roswell Conspiracies (1999 - 2000)

Sticking with the theme of PS1 sci-fi, this week's Game On looks back at the Ubisoft tie-in to one of my favorite cartoons; Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths And Legends.

When it started broadcasting on Fox in 1993, The X-Files replaced The Twilight Zone and Doctor Who as the face of TV sci-fi, bringing home 5 Golden Globes and securing brand-name status during its 9-year run. BKN, a branch of the Bohbot Entertainment company, tapped into the market by basically reformatting the series as a Saturday morning cartoon, pitting a dynamic male/female team against governmental conspiracies and world-threatening aliens. BKN produced a number of distinctive cartoons in the late 90's, mostly spun-off from hit movies (1996's Jumanji, 1997's Extreme Ghostbusters), but Roswell Conspiracies remains their crowning achievement, despite low viewing figures and early cancellation. The blocky, primary coloured animation was never released on VHS or DVD in any region, although some kind soul has uploaded all 40 episodes to YouTube, and nostalgia aside (I have A LOT of love for this show) it really holds up, largely thanks to an offbeat sense of humour and some solid plotting. The scripting is really smart, but what continues to hook me is the emerging relationship between bounty hunter Logan (Scott McNeill) and his banshee partner Sh'lainn (Janyse Jaud; actually an X-Files extra in 1996), which playfully skirts around an obvious romance. Their teasing relationship, as well as the one between professional cover-up artists Fitz (Peter Kelamis) and Nema (Saffron Henderson), provides the series' beating heart, and worked around it are a series of hugely impressive action sequences - for those who want a flavour, check out Ep. 9: Bounty Wars! So, does the 2001 videogame do this underrated series justice? Let's not raise our hopes, eh?

The cover art for Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths And Legends...

So no, it's not very good. Again. Roswell Conspiracies has some pretty solid production values, making a valiant attempt at recreating the series' winning aesthetic, but what it lacks is any of the feeling. Rather than branching off from any of the show's existing storylines, Ubisoft's title crafts its own (weak) narrative, moving the 'plot' forward through stodgy animations and wooden dialogue, most of which is accessed through your PDA. The missions are all very linear, employing simplistic puzzles to block your way from the end-goal, with the path to their solutions littered with dumb enemy AI. Even though the game is easy to grasp, the needlessly complicated control system makes getting through it a bit of a chore, and the enemies' frequent respawning becomes a nagging difficulty when crossing ledges - eventually you'll just want to give up, as checkpoints won't save you here. I tried using cheat codes to unlock every level, just so I could get a full taster of the game before reviewing, but sadly they didn't work on the PS3 system. I haven't sampled every stage, but the ones I did play through were incredibly dulled and bland, coloured with shades of brown, black and grey (at least they got the blocky part right).

Once again I find myself wondering how much potential this game would have if re-made, even if it were on the older PS2 system. What it really needs, outside of some mission/combat variety, is a sense of the show's heart and humour; some co-op play would actually be really welcome, with 2 players controlling Logan and Sh'lainn. Throughout the series they encountered lycanthropes, vampires and minotaurs, each with their own abilities and environments, so the game would have been much stronger if built around one of their 'types'. The script and voice acting are really poor here too, which is perhaps the biggest letdown. The game, despite looking the part, just doesn't reach anywhere near the right tone. I remember renting the Roswell Conspiracies game in 2000, when the show was at its peak. Rainbow Video allowed for many of my early film/videogame experiences, and I miss the place dearly. But not even nostalgia - and remember, I've got A LOT of love for the show - can save this one. Even for PS1 it's a clunky, boring title, and a terrible disappointment.

Next week: Back to the movies for 1999 tie-in Tomorrow Never Dies, the first of a 007 Double Bill!

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