|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Isopod Labs||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Activision Blizzard||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 5, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Vigilante 8's original home was the Sony PlayStation. In the vehicular combat genre it really only had one opponent: Twisted Metal. Yet, instead of being direct rivals, the two titles complemented each other. Both featured arena-based level design, starred wacky characters, mounted improbable weapons on automobiles, and had vehicles that few would ever associate with the word combat. Their gameplay attitudes could be boiled down to a simple phrase: destructive fun.
However, there's a qualifier to all this history. Vigilante 8 may have been a respectable title two console generations ago, but this Xbox LIVE revamp, running 800 Microsoft Points ($10), is so steeped in its own collective nostalgia that it constantly seems to be crying out, Hey, remember how much fun I was? There's the past tense crux: Vigilante 8 may be spruced up in the graphical department, but its gameplay is bittersweet, a reminder that age doesn't make all things better.
Don't go looking for story because you won't find it. Instead, the gameplay itself serves as motivation: you're thrown into an arena with other vehicular renegades and they want you dead. The only solution? Kill them first. If you do a little more searching, you'll find that each of the characters has a small back story, but it's so generic that you'll quickly gloss over it. The character designs themselves are '70s stereotypes: there's Torque, the token African American whose main problems in life are gambling and The Man; Dave, a hippie obsessed with UFOs; and Boogie, a professional disco dancer who looks like he moonlights in a Bee Gees cover band on the weekends. All this is in jest, of course by its nature Vigilante 8 is arcadey, so character attachment isn't priority number one.
What is a top priority and makes character selection important is the particular vehicle each character drives. Not only does this lend to distinct stats for instance, sedan-like cars have better top speeds and acceleration, whereas trucks and vans have more armor it also affects weapon selection. Every vehicle can pick up weapons like mortars, missiles, and rockets, as well as fire stock machine guns, but each character has their own specific weapon. Boogie unleashes a entrancing disco ball that flings opponents through the air, Dave recruits UFOs to fire a storm of lasers, and Torque can unleash the power of his subwoofer, sending a shockwave in all directions.
So, in theory all this should lead to good times, but unfortunately that's not the case. The first interactive obstacle is the controls. Things like weapon-fire work well enough, thanks to the ability of most of the weapons to home-in on their targets, and performing a quick boost (handled by tapping the gas twice) is quite easy. It's actually driving around the arenas, chasing after others, where Vigilante 8 makes its biggest slip up. General steering controls fall into one of two extremes: you're either sliding all over the place, akin to your car skating on ice or wrestling with a virtual steering wheel that seems overly stiff. It doesn't help that the horizontal camera control is inverted and unchangeable once enemies pile up near you, trying to pan their way becomes way more difficult than it should be.
These disorganized controls are made worse by the nature of combat. A general assumption would be for the whole arena to be utilized, so there would be lots of chasing and long-to-midrange weapon-fire; not here. A good chunk of the time the computer will ram into your vehicle and then proceed to unload its payload as fast as it can. This would be considered a viable strategy if the game didn't have a strange sticking problem. A lot of the time, when the computer slams into your vehicle, it plops your ride on top of theirs, and, since there's no way for your car's wheels to make contact with the road, you're just left there stuck in the middle of air, getting blasted. The nice thing is you can turn this exploit around and use it on the computer. However, it totally defeats the purpose of having a big arena. Why drive around, making hairpin turns when the easiest and sometimes only way to win is to collide with your nemesis as soon as possible? This forced close quarters combat favors the strong armor vehicles, making the more nimble rides seem worthless.