Spawn: Armageddon would be a great game if it were any fun. It’s a crying shame that an inventive, though overwrought, comic like Spawn could get such shabby treatment as this. The universe of the Spawn comic is a fascinating look at the gray area between good and evil, and the fine line most of us walk day in and day out. It’s probably a good thing the gore and nightmarish creatures of the Spawn comic are kept to a minimum in the game, otherwise a lot of parents might freak out. However, the game is nowhere near as ferocious as its source material.
The problem with the comic book Spawn is that it is soap taken to the highest degree, which then beats readers over the head with so much overt symbolism it becomes a Where’s Waldo of Spot the Hidden Meaning. The main character is Al Simmons, an assassin who grew a conscience one day and was killed by another assassin. He went to Hell where he was presented with an offer by one of the larger demon lords, Malebolgia. The big M wanted Simmons to be a general in Hell’s army when Armageddon came, and the impulsive Simmons said yes. He did this figuring he could get back to earth and back to his wife, Wanda. Imagine Simmons’ surprise when he returned to earth as a Hellspawn, cloaked in a living suit with a wicked cape, and some chains mean enough to make old man Marley run for the hills. Simmons (now called Spawn) continually tries to use his powers for good, but considering both his history and where his powers come from, babysitting the local kids isn’t exactly high on his agenda. Adding to Simmons’ fun are Angelic Hunters sent to kill the latest Spawn, and an assorted number of jealous demons like Spawn’s nemesis, the hefty Violator.
What sets Spawn: Armageddon apart from the comic is you get exactly none of this history. Sure there are a bunch of monsters running around, and you get to cleave them with a wicked axe (named Agony and which is actually the physical manifestation of Spawn’s tortured soul), or shoot them with some really big guns, but what’s the point? Better yet, is there any fun to be had? Sadly, I’d have to say no.
The graphics are really sharp in Spawn: Armageddon, and the main character looks appropriately wicked. The colors on Spawn are really vivid, and I liked the slight greenish glow to his eyes. Spawn’s cape (a living thing by itself) is also done extremely well. Spawn can double-jump then launch his cape and glide back to earth, and man does that cape look cool. I really wish you could attack with it, but oh well. The environments throughout the game all look static and lifeless. True, you can destroy a lot of what you see, but everything is very blocky with no creativity put into it. I got the feeling most of the boards were recycled with different textures put in. The monsters just look strange, instead of nightmarish and scary. There’s a boss monster that looks like a cross between King Kong and the Terminator, and I just started laughing when it showed up. It’s never a good sign when the best you can say about a game’s graphics is, “Well, that one thing looked cool, but the rest blew.”
The character animations were also pretty stiff. Spawn only has a few moves while swinging Agony, and the monsters (from demon trees to Angelic Assassins) all are either walking around you or charging you. If this were truly done in a comic book style ala XIII, then each model would justifiably have a limited set of animation. Where the pain kicks in with Spawn: Armageddon, is that I really got the impression the engine could pack a lot more visual punch than what was on display. I’ll admit the full-blown cinematics were gorgeous, but like the latest model on Average Joe 2, there needs to be some depth once we get past the introduction, and it’s just not here.
Note to game designers: During combat, having more than a 10 second loop of the same hard-rock song playing in the background is a good thing. I found it difficult to bring this score out of the basement because there is exactly one ominous theme that plays throughout each mission, and one hard rock tune that loops like I just said. I also noticed during the cut scenes (specifically in the city) that the audio would actually cut out in between the actors speaking. I’m not sure if this was a bug or just a cue to me that it was another character’s turn to speak, but it was annoying to say the least.
As for the voice acting, it was actually pretty good. Those of us who are fans of the animated show from HBO will remember Keith David’s stellar work as Spawn, and Kevin M. Richardson does him justice here. At first, I couldn’t believe they got David (who gave a definitive vocal performance on the HBO show) to come back for this, then I checked the credits and Richardson is listed. Other characters like Violator, Malebolgia and Mammon all are done well, but I wish they’d not been left stranded with half-baked lines as clichéd as, “We have to work together on this.” The sound effects are pretty decent, but once again it seems like the budget was limited to having three effects and they were just looped endlessly.
The controls are really basic, with X being the button to fire your weapons, whether using the shotgun or supernatural chains. The Y button uses special Hellspawn powers that throw fireballs, speed up time, throw supernatural lances, etc. The A button jumps, and a double-tap double jumps, while the B button attacks with your axe. The right trigger locks onto targets. When you’re gliding through the air you can sometimes pull the left trigger and Spawn’s chains will shoot out and hook onto a ledge pulling him to it. Basic stuff overall, but I never got into combos. All I was really doing was cycling through my powers and guns, or cleaving away with the axe.
One of the things in your Options menu is an Encyclopedia of all the monsters you face, and the more you face them the more information appears. One such monster was a spider demon with a soft underbelly, something that looks like a spider right out of Starship Troopers. The Encyclopedia mentions that a swift uppercut with Agony will flip the monster and really hurt it. The trouble was I couldn’t figure out how to do an uppercut, and the manual lists nothing about that move. This struck me as a problem because when you’re surrounded by three of these things, they will kill you pretty dang quick. I’m all for discovering things, but when the manual doesn’t even point you in the right direction regarding possible moves, I take issue with that.
Something else I take issue with is a camera that gets hung up on everything you pass by. You control the camera with the right thumbstick, but good luck seeing what you’re wanting to see. Frequently, the camera would lock into place causing me to fall off a ledge, or have to become really unique in my jumping just to see where I was. Another bad design move occurs when the camera starts in a limited position while enemies attack, and you have to fight them off while fighting the camera. What makes this even more frustrating is that this happens so seldom it should be a non-issue, except for the few throw-downs when you realize you can’t see what’s coming, and have to regroup just to survive.
Spawn: Armageddon is just… boring. The thought of trying to save the world from the overzealous forces of Heaven (whilst also keeping the forces of Hell at bay) is a really cool idea, but why is there so little creativity in evidence? Every mission becomes a slug-fest where you kill a bunch of monsters, move on to the next stage, and repeat. As for the boss monsters, simply circling them while firing your guns at them will win practically every time. I even beat down Violator doing this, and I was walking on a floor that drained my health. There are some monsters, however, that can provide a challenge, such as the King Kong rip-off, but even they are easy enough to defeat after trying once or twice. I hate to see so much potential just left out in the cold, and Spawn: Armageddon could have really been something good, instead of something that’s not even close to half-baked.
There is also no real story going on, other than someone is trying to preemptively start the Final Battle, and the search to find out who’s doing what. If even once I’d had the sense of true jeopardy towards earth, I’d have been more into the game. Sadly, it’s apparent right from the start that the humans can’t see what’s going on, though one would think Hell-fissures erupting in Central Park might clue in the locals that something wasn’t right in Oz. Since each mission boils down to fighting a lot of simple-minded monsters, and there are plenty of markers that turn from green to red when you touch them, thus showing where you’ve been, you quickly realize there isn’t a lot of variety, challenge, or fun.Even the fans of “Spawn” the comic series are advised to take a pass on Spawn: Armageddon. True, you can hunt through hidden comic books in the game to unlock comic covers and other concept art, but you have to completely play through all three difficulty levels to get everything, and the game is just not worth that. If someone else has it at their place, it’s worth checking out to see the cape, but then you will have seen the highlight.