Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance
Well, things have certainly turned sour. Raven, Jason, Gina, Lola, and Aaron have been set up and framed. Everyone in town, be it the Zanetti Family mob, rival gang members, and the even crooked Las Sombras police department believe that these five are responsible for murders of the city’s dockside drug dealers. Since nearly all the underworld was getting a piece of the action, this team of former mafia enforcers is now on everyone’s must-kill list. Utterly surrounded, the five criminal outcasts now have two options: split up and escape into seedy urban sprawl of Las Sombras or die trying. None of them will get very far, though: a few breathless steps later, yet another group of killers descends upon them with steel pipes and broken bottles a-swinging. One of the suited assassins lunges forward, ready to bust someone’s skull open. The unlikely heroes ready themselves for the final, bloody onslaught and-
About thirty mood-killing seconds later, the Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance disc stops whirring and actually lets you get back to the action. Your character (the game only lets you play through one of the five targets’ stories at a time) will be pitted against whoever happens to be in the vicinity. Even though each hero is touted as being the deadliest enforcers in the trade, their combat tactics are pathetic at best. Instead of snapping bones and flinging their prey in any direction, your character can only perform a small handful of punch and kick combos. Sure, such maneuvers have badass names like “Triple Snake Fang” and “Au Chibata” they’re ineffectual and inaccurate at best. It’s not like there’s anything technical about it, either; you’ll have little else to do besides mindlessly button mash your way through the fights. Considering that the blocking, dodging, and other tactical controls are unforgivably slippery and unresponsive, the simplistic tactics are an unwelcome blessing in disguise.
After you’ve beaten your enemies into submission (you can tell by their awkwardly wooden death animations and splotchy facial wounds), you can pick over their bodies for cash, health replenishments (apparently mobsters carry fried chicken legs in their pockets), and the occasional weapon to add to your inventory. From there, it’s on to the filthy slums of downtown Las Sombras, where you can have a beer at the local tavern and chat up the patrons for leads, tips, and jobs. Since both the cops and the mafia are out for your hide, you’ll have to spend some time at store and nab some new clothes to stay incognito. Not that it really matters, though; while your stealth level is measured onscreen (Metal Gear Solid 3 veterans ought to recognize it) most of your foes won’t notice your shady figure unless the gauge is at its maximum.
Of course, you’ll never be able to avoid all the fighting. Since the progression of Beat Down’s story is mission-based, your character will have to plod slowly all over Las Sombras and retake the city one area at a time. Upon encountering of the many thugs lining the streets, you can either kill them in yet another tedious brawl or try to recruit them to join your ever-expanding army. If they happen to join up (you may have to beat them into agreeing with you) you’ll have the option of having them tag along on your dark journey or simply stay on call in case anything nasty goes down. Considering all of the rival gangs and cheap crime lords roaming throughout the city, you’re going to need all the help you can get. While your buddies will automatically assist you in taking on larger crowds of foes, you’ll only be able to control them one at a time during a boss fight. Somewhere between the third or fourth game over, you’ll realize just how underdeveloped and pathetic your cronies really are.
Assuming that you actually have enough patience for such half-assed battles (the experience points for the upgradeable health and attack stats are a small incentive), you’ll eventually get through your character’s story. By then you’ll have endured the same choppy animations, curse-ridden cheesy lines, and edgy B-Movie cutscenes countless times. Sure, there characters can be equipped with a decent variety of suits, shirts, and other costumes, but their models are too blocky and static to make them appealing. At least Las Sombras has some detail to it; you’ll get to see a neon signs giving off a flickering glow, litter in the streets, and the occasional sedan that appears out of nowhere to run you over. Unfortunately, these little details are far and in between; much of the city is little more than poorly lit alleyways and blandly designed buildings cooped up into a city that is a tiny fraction of the size it could have been. Considering what the Grand Theft Auto and other free roaming games accomplished on the PS2, such a presentation comes off as lackluster at best.
It’s a shame. Capcom actually had a few good ideas with Beat Down. The story is interesting, but many of the scenes seem forced. Controlling the different characters could have been cool, but their movesets are pathetically underdeveloped. The same goes for all the inept lackeys that’ll join your quest for vengeance. The controls are glitchy, unresponsive, and downright aggravating to use. Between the ridiculously long loading times, choppy animations, and poorly rendered graphics, you won’t have much to look at. But hey, at least you get to play as a generic badass working over some of the darkest and grittiest places that anyone’s ever seen. Yeah, like that’s a lot of fun.