Following hot on the heels of the theatrical release, Ballistic: Ecks
vs. Sever is actually the sequel to the original Ecks vs. Sever game and
via extension, the movie. The muddled motion picture was directed by
the Thai director Wych Kaosayananda - Kaos for the rest of us.
Fortunately, Ballistic avoids the action overdose that plagued the film
and manages to put up a solid but not incredible first person shooter
The original Ecks vs. Sever had an interesting premise going for it. It
pitted Ecks versus Sever in a courtroom recounting why they were
fighting each other and you basically played the side of whoever was
recounting. There might have been inconsistencies but the mirror level
play actually added to the challenge of the game. On one mission as
Ecks, you might be infiltrating a facility. On another as Sever, you
might be fighting your way out of it. On the space-cramped Game Boy
Advance, it's a smart decision that makes use of all the space
No such smart decisions appear in the sequel, which forces you to fight
through a series of linear missions, shooting bad guys, solving simple
puzzles, finding key cards and opening doors. The ninety-degree design
is still apparent, as Ballistic does nothing but dress up the new locales
with more colors and variety. Thankfully, the game no longer operates
within confined warehouses and metal spaces. Moreover, there are more
outdoor environments put in but they are novelties more than anything
and placed in at the expense of a smooth framerate. It's a marked
improvement but then when you think of first person shooters released
this year, it's not a phenomenal leap. Think of what Doom II did to
Doom, instead of what Quake did to Doom.
In light of id's Wolfenstein and Doom appearing on Nintendo's handheld
system, in addition to Duke Nukem, Ballistic begins to lose its luster.
One noted improvement made, though, is in the audio department. The
sound effects are beefed up with crisp, clear digital effects of
gunfire. That's something that should have been in the original game
from the very beginning.
Luckily, Ballistic manages to avoid the inane plot elements of the movie
and strikes out on its own. Agents Ecks and Sever will try to foil a
plan involving nuclear weapons; a hot and popular topic this year. Many
of the missions take place in areas where there are civilians so
discretion and discipline are crucial to success. However, it's the
puzzles and mazes that continue to put a damper on the action. There is
a limit to how much wandering one can take without a credible map
system. Moreover, such devices tend to be hemmed in between levels only
to artificially extend the lifetime of the game. Ten hours of good
gameplay is a laudable feat. But ten hours of gameplay extended by
another five of mindless wandering will turn a great game into something
Finally, despite the audio-visual sprucing, there's no in-game music.
But I won't fault the developers for that. Even the recently released
Unreal Tournament 2003 has the music on a muted level in comparison to
the sound effects.
Ballistic continues to use the standby password saves, which is slightly
less irritating to use than the first release. I still would have
preferred a quicksave/quickload function that most first person shooters
have adopted on modern consoles and of course the PC. However, a bright
spot shines on and that's in the multiplayer component. With so many
improvements to the weapons, levels and architecture, you're bound to
have a more enjoyable deathmatch experience in Ballistic than in the
original Ecks vs. Sever.
Ultimately, Ballistic is a solid game. Its improvements can be summed
up into two halves. The first half is polish. They polished a lot of
the things that made the original Ecks vs. Sever great. The second half
consists of genuine additions to the game, like the brighter colors and
the new sound effects. However, I miss the tit for tat tête-à-tête that
Ecks and Sever had in the original game. The recent movie release has
truly bewildered the direction of the franchise for BAM! Entertainment.
Originally, Sever is an NSA agent (however implausible but then again we
saw not one but two in Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson in the mindless
XXX) trained as an assassin. In the movie, she's part of the Defense
Intelligence Agency or DIA. Something has to give if these two continue
to develop in parallel to one another. It's too bad this sequel had to
move on to more prosaic themes, like yet another nuclear armageddon
waiting to happen. I would have liked to see the game ditch the
'Kaotic' movie altogether and just work on what it did best earlier on.