Armed and Dangerous

Just by luck I spotted a boxed copy still ominously unsold on a Best Buy shelf set next to the jewel case “value” editions of the game. I had heard about the whacky weapons and the “Monty Pythonesque” humor that lurked hidden inside the package and was curious to see what something blended from sheep, dead parrots, bawdy humor, and gunplay would be like. With Eric Idle mocking me from behind the counter, I bravely made my purchase without the need to resort to my coconuts.

The version of “Armed and Dangerous” below was played on a PC. It is also available for the Xbox.

Of Heroes, Sheep, and Smelly Old Men

One thing that can be said about getting the boxed edition of a title is that the chances are good (although not guaranteed) that you’ll get a good manual out of the deal. “Armed and Dangerous” delivers on that count with a meticulous backstory and gobs of information on the weapons and the gameplay, delivered in the same kind of humor that you’ll experience throughout the title. It describes the history of the land, the many kingdoms, their dependence on onions, and the mechanations of the land of Forge led by none other than, you guessed it, King Forge.

See, in his rush to conquer the land, he missed an opportunity to gain fantastic power thanks to an artifact known only as “the Book of Rule”. The Book had been smuggled away from the King’s clutches by Rexus who disguised himself as a woman. Unfortunately for him, he was spotted lifting his skirt while standing taking a number one and was prompty beat on the head and the Book taken from him by the King’s agents. But the King was again denied his prize, for the Book had become the “Book of Basket Weaving” thanks to a spell Rexus had disguised it with…if only he could remember when he did that. Enter the Lionhearts, a troupe of rogues who have become a rather nasty thorn in King Forge’s side. Led by Roman and following Rexus’ stench, they hope to pull off the greatest heist the land has ever known…to steal back the Book of Rule before King Forge can unlock its secrets.

Fortunately for them, they also have a talent for laying waste to most everything they come into contact with. Accidentally, I’m sure.

One Lump or Two?

The game is played from a third person perspective as you take control of Roman, the devil may worry protagonist who is accompanied by his two best friends: Jonesy, a mole with a penchant for big explosions wielding a brutal attitude delivered in Scottish brogh; and Q, a robot centurion that doubles as a walking tea distillery with a deadly aim.

As you run blindly into the action, aiming is handled through a sight on the screen controlled by the mouse. Basic squad commands and movement are handled via the keyboard, all of which can be remapped. The arrangement works pretty well for the most part with a very small learning curve. The first mission will get you acquianted with the controls and soon you’ll be mowing down endless hordes (and lowering the property values) everywhere you go. The simplicity of the controls owes much to the fact that the game was initially a console title.

Having easy to manage controls and an interface that doesn’t get in your face will also help you in trying to survive the deceptively harsh difficulty of the title. “Normal” can prove to be quite challenging, but you can always choose to have the game go “Easy” on you or beat your fingers into submission by raising the bar by making it more difficult. To further make things interesting, there are special ‘tokens’ scattered throughout the game that unlock a variety of cheats and specials that some players may want to try and find. The game also has a save system that watches your back by saving every time you change levels, leave a pub, or hit the escape key to create your own save.

Commanding your two partners in crime is a snap with only a few general orders to give them. You can point the cursor at a piece of dirt in front of you and quickly order them to the spot to stand guard and stand guard they will, shooting and attacking anything that comes within range. Or, you can tell them to follow you or to work actively to defend you from the nasties that come crawling out of the landscape to kill you. Q, the robot warrior in whose veins runs the hottest of teas, will shoot at anything that he can see and will occasionally toss a healing cup of tea to help keep his friends alive. Jonesy, the mole with the attitude and a burning desire to stick his dynamite into the unknown regions of his enemies and watch them sparkle like Roman candles, whips out his six shooters to blast anyone that is crazy enough to attack you while tossing the occasional explosive gift package that sticks to those who aren’t so lucky to be ventilated.

Unfortunately, you’ll quickly discover that while your partners have a lot of character on the battlefield in what they say to each other in their battlefield banter, their bark is a lot better than their bite. To say that they were all but useless would be a crime against what they do bring to the table, namely more of the Pythonesque humor that effuses itself throughout this production. But I wouldn’t want either of these guys covering my arse in a heated battle as most of the time you’ll find that they’re more useful as distractions than as partners. Fortunately, they’ll be be back in the cutscenes and in the next level to try and do better. Or die trying. Again.

Roman will also find himself solo on certain levels such as the ones that stick you in a gunnery turret against an army of foes that will try and scale the walls that you are asked to defend. The turret can shoot a limitless amount of screaming hot lead at the legions that will be coming over the hills and across the plains towards you. You also have a rocket cannon attached to the turret that will allow you to clear cut their numbers as you keep below the quota of how many are allowed past you. Other levels where he is asked to go solo will put him up against armies of King Forge’s soldiers in villages, war torn trenches, and mountainous terrain.

The good part is that there is a lot of weaponry available to Roman along with fixed emplacements on the battlefield such as machine gun nests and cannons just waiting to be taken from their owners. It’s a good thing, too, as the enemy will come at you with missile towers, soldiers with jet packs, snipers, and countless numbers of generic goblin-like thugs. To make things more interesting, the missions also vary from just surviving to the end of a level to mixing in rescues and havoc as you are asked to save peasants and lay waste to King Forge’s troops in equal measure. Roman will even get a jet pack in later levels to help him get the jump on his foes.

“Armed and Dangerous” certainly lives up to its namesake as it also provides Roman with a variety of deadly tools and getting to them is as easy as checking into the local pub for a quick one. The pubs are scattered throughout the levels and are where he and the boys can duck into and find themselves healed (to a certain limit) as well as their ammunition replenished. Occasionally, they’ll also have access to new weapons such as ‘The World’s Smallest Black Hole’ to the infamous ‘Shark Gun’. These weapons live up to their names. The ‘Black Hole’ will generate a void that will suck your enemies into its crushing embrace while the ‘Shark Gun’ shoots out a shark bullet that dives into the ground and swims in the soil…snacking on enemies that it finds. The only limit to the power of such weapons is the number of shots that you actually have with them. The ‘Black Hole’ is a one shot weapon while the Shark Gun can only be used for two good shots. If you’re close to a pub, though, you can always run back in for seconds or hope that one of the enemies on the field of battle drops something that you can use like more ammo…or more health.

A Happy Time in the Country

The graphics of the game do the job well enough especially in the character design for the main stars. Not only do they look great in the cinematics of the title, but the animation work also delivers a great performance further distinguishing them as more than just polygons on the screen in battle. Enemies will fly through the air from explosions, zeppelins will explode and pieces will fly, and sheep will cry out before ending up as an unexpected stain on the field of valor.

The same cannot be said for the enemies in the game which quickly become repetitive and boring. They consist of only three main types of enemies: the brown hulking grunts, the black uniformed captains with their machine guns, the the black uniformed captains with machine guns and jet packs. There are also the occassional challenges with ‘special’ soldiers such as elite snipers, walking turrets, giant robots armed with mini-guns, and zeppelins flying overhead. But those are too few and far between to really break up the monotony of the hordes of goblin grunts and black uniformed machine gunners that continue to rain on your parade. Your companions, if they haven’t died yet, will occasionally crack a joke about how their numbers seemingly ‘never end’ which is all too close to the truth. Putting the same foes into the same bland ground ad infinitum eventually became tired.

The level design, while it can be creative, provides a fairly linear playing experience for the most part. This also lends to a dreading sense of sameness that you’ll start to feel for most of the first two thirds of the title as you start seeing the same houses and dirt mounds and mountains scattered everywhere until you are nearly at the end of the game. The last third of the game really starts to pick up as the landscape becomes a lot more varied and the action even more frenetic as you close in on the climax.

Almost sensing that this might be a problem, the game’s humor is certainly there to keep you smiling even without the dead parrots. Anyone who is a fan of Monty Python-inspired humor in general will find themselves with quite a few funny moments to enjoy from the cinematics between each level to the chatter between Roman’s friends as they try and avoid getting killed. Some of the jokes, though, were hit and miss, but if there was a game where voice acting was definitely something to point at as a good thing it is in this title. The actors do a great job in delivering the jokes and the rest of the humorous narrative, especially in the cut scenes. The cinematics, while severely compressed by today’s standards, do the job in delivering the comedy skits that drive the underlying madness to keep you laughing all the way to the next objective.

The music is also very well done, matching the quality of the voice work with inspired pieces that you could almost swear came straightaway from the United Kingdom. The sound effects for the most part are pretty good, but the voices continue to be the best ear candy that this title has to offer. Most of the guns, yours and the enemy’s, sound puny against the backdrop of explosions and screams that usually follow. It’s amazing how many bullets you can fill a grunt with before they finally go down.

Save a Pint For Me

“Armed and Dangerous” has quite a few hours for action fanatics to shoot a few rounds into and delivers a healthy dose of humor at the same time, something that many of its peers usually try and hide beneath the smug air of seriousness wrapped around themselves. But as amusing as the tongue-in-cheek story is, its not for everyone. Those who aren’t fans of Monty Python inspired humor may only feel even worse if they are forced to play a game that has this as its most important schtick.

For those that do appreciate the humor, it is too bad the rest of the game fails to reach the same level. It was nice to order your partners around and ask them to take a few hits for you, but you’ll find that they’ll fall faster than spent bullet casings if left alone on their own later in the game making them all but useless as partners in crime. And while the action starts out exciting and fun with explosions and bullets aplenty, it can quickly get repetitive with only the jokes to keep you company through the linear gameplay. When you finish the game, there is little real reason to go back through it other than the cheats and extras that are unlocked by the tokens you find and the additional difficulty levels.

Being “Armed and Dangerous” can be funny, but gamers that are looking for more than just the punchline might not like the delivery.

- World 1-1

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