Let’s face it: Everyone loves a rampaging monster. Watch little kids playing with Legos, and after they’ve painstakingly constructed a building, car or other structure, you’ll see them gleefully stomp and crush their creation. There’s something cathartic in watching a giant creature (often the byproduct of man’s misguided experiments with radioactivity) demolish an entire city. Armies are often powerless to stop them, police are often snacks for them, and scientists are forced to recognize the folly of their arrogant ways. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Rampage series, there haven’t been a lot of monster games that have captured the thrill of being a 60-foot menace to society, until now. Sony’s War of the Monsters gives players the chance to leave a path of destruction in their wake, unleashing the inner beast in us all.
The concept behind War of the Monsters harkens to the schlocky, B-Movie plots that spawned so many memorable (and forgettable) monster films of the ‘50s. Apparently, all of the theories and concerns are true, because massive numbers of UFOs descend upon earth and embark upon a mission of global domination. Everything looks grim for the human race, especially because conventional weapons don’t work and even nuclear weapons are ineffective. As a last ditch effort, the world’s scientists come up with a plan to erect huge energy pulse transmitters around the globe, in an attempt to disrupt or damage the invaders. As the pulse was released, UFOs started tumbling from the sky, crippled by the wave of energy. Unfortunately, humanity’s victory was short-lived, as fuel and other substances from the downed crafts slowly polluted the land, air and oceans, producing numerous mutations. These creatures quickly rose to assert their control over the world, and thus began the War of the Monsters.
Players assume the control of one of the eight initially available rampaging creatures seeking to claim Earth as its own. Most of these have been modeled off the classic monsters that most people have come to know and love. There’s the obvious homage to King Kong and Godzilla, as well as plenty of other Japanese monster movie staples like giant robots and a preying mantis. Unlike Rampage or other monster movies, which were more action oriented, WOTM has a basic fighting engine at its core. Regardless of the character that’s chosen, each one receives similar basic moves, like punches, kicks and throws. These can be strung together in small, yet effective combos, and can even be used to juggle fellow monsters a la Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter 2. Monsters also get a short and long-range special attack, which can only be triggered after numerous attacks or through the collection of energy power-ups. Yet don’t expect fireballs or dragon punches; instead, you’ll have abilities often found in the monster movies, like radioactive breath or sonic yells.
You’ll take your beast tearing through thirteen stages, all of which feature at least one opposing monster and, depending upon the level, a subsequent boss fight. While there aren’t specific cities featured in the game, you can usually infer its real world counterpart, such as Japan, San Francisco or Las Vegas. These battlegrounds feature a ton of items, all of which can potentially be wielded as a weapon. Rocks and debris can be launched as massive missiles. Billboards and radio towers can be turned into spears that can impale opponents. And yes, you can hurl creatures into (and sometimes through) buildings and skyscrapers, sending tons of glass, girders and other structural items crashing to the panic-stricken streets below. Obviously, these titanic battles will wreak plenty of havoc on a beast’s stamina, but luckily health power-ups are scattered liberally throughout the stage, allowing you a ton of opportunities to heal yourself and continue the fight. You do have to be careful though, because the computer knows about these power-ups as well, and will consciously seek them out if they’ve taken a lot of damage.
Graphically, WOTM takes the stylized ‘50s monster movie theme and runs rampant with it. From the drive-in menu layout to the movie posters trumpeting the upcoming level, the B-Movie feel is captured so perfectly that you’ll want to sit in a car with 3D glasses on. Many of these cutscenes have been modeled after the mock newsreels that were used as trailers or expositional moments in these films. If you’ve ever watched these kinds of movies, you’ll be able to pick up on many of the Godzilla/Them!/End of the World movie references, all of which flavor the looks of stages and characters. For instance, one of Preytor’s outfits can be changed with that of a giant ant, and Togera can don a Mecha-Godzilla appearance. Each monster is animated quite nicely, and are very expressive on their stages. Something that will definitely catch your attention is the amount of destruction that you can cause, with detritus quickly scattered as monsters stomp through towns. Even more impressive is the fact that the game tracks two or more large creatures and the chaos caused without the frame rate ever slowing down in any way. In fact, the only thing that can be a little hampering is the camera. There are moments in the single player game where it can sometimes get stuck in objects or not fully track your opponents relative to where your monster is. This is an odd quirk, considering that the two player experience is rather seamless, with a camera that effectively splits the screen if characters move out of plain sight, imperceptibly merging again once they’re closer.
Musically, WOTM feels ripped directly from some old ‘50s movie that you’ll find on late at night. With plenty of horns, drums and organ riffs, there’s something that’s grand and overdone at the same time. There aren’t many voices, but when they’re delivered, they have the kind of news announcer voice that you’d typically hear in old radio plays. A majority of the time, however, you’ll be hearing the roars of monsters, the crash of breaking steel and mortar, and the scream of frightened citizens.
Speaking of the citizens, why can’t you eat them!?!? It’s a friggin’ monster game, and yet you can’t eat scared people running for their lives or even interact with them in any way. (I know, it may sound very much like I’m endorsing Rampage-like play, but there’s something so genre-specific about a monster picking up a human and either climbing a building or chewing on them as an appetizer!) In fact, most of the denizens run invincibly through falling girders and monsters, which feels a little odd considering that just about any other item that people interact with is completely destroyable. Quite a few of these items can impale your creature way too easily and invisibly. Many times, you’ll find yourself running around, only to become quickly rooted one spot vigorously trying to remove an object that you could swear never hit your monster.
However, potentially the largest problem that exists within WOTM is the lack of depth to the game. Granted, there are mini-games, unlockable costumes, and other fare, but the game only consists of 13 levels or so. Regardless of the monster chosen, there is no difference in plot, battlefield or enemies, which makes the game seem rather shallow. Similarly, the differences with the monster outfits are purely cosmetic, and bestow no additional powers, abilities or plots to the game. In the end, while the A.I. is truly outstanding and will give players a large challenge, it does seem as though you’ll merely play to discover single player endings. The two player experience, however, is outstanding, and is one of the main reasons why you’ll most likely come back to play WOTM again and again. Who hasn’t wanted to team up with a friend and destroy a couple of city blocks, or pick up a billboard and smash someone through it? This is a great game for two friends, and while you might not be able to fight with four players or have online play, buddies will definitely get a lot of enjoyment out of this one.
Overall, fans of monsters, B-Movies or action games will probably find a lot to like, and smash, in War of the Monsters. While it may not have as much as depth as many other action titles, the solid graphics, fun two-player battles and schlocky humor should keep players coming back for more. PS2 owners should give this one a chance to go berserk on their system.