Shrek 2

Since the ushering in of the current generation of consoles, multiplatform ports have become extremely commonplace. Though the level of visual quality may fluctuate, you can pretty much expect the same thing from the PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube versions of most multiplatform releases. This makes it a bit surprising that Activision, when making its games based on Shrek 2, chose to create a unique title for the PC. Granted, the Luxoflux-produced console version of Shrek 2 was a little short and a little simple, but the PC version undercuts that title with poor visuals, rougher, shallower gameplay, and an outrageously short running time.

Shrek 2 may be bad, but fortunately, it's also pretty short.
In keeping with the "Take that, Brothers Grimm!" tone of the Shrek movies, the game kicks off with the opening of a leather-bound storybook and an appropriately gentle English narration. This quaint scene is quickly bulldozed by Shrek's wiseacre sidekick, Donkey, who provides us with some fast and dirty exposition concerning the newlywed ogre couple of Shrek and Fiona heading off to Far Far Away to meet Fiona's royal parents. The game goes on to loosely follow the story of the movie, with Shrek, Donkey, and Puss In Boots trying to rescue Fiona from the grasp of the king, the queen, and the fairy godmother. One of the few edges the PC version of Shrek 2 has over its console counterparts is slightly sharper writing. The Shrek films are still funnier, to be sure, but the PC game has a decent ratio of good jokes to bad jokes, with plenty of knowing winks to silly video game practices, as well as a lot of the standard storybook stuff. The problem with irony, though, is that making fun of trite, repetitive gameplay conventions doesn't make them any less trite or repetitive.

And, boy, is Shrek 2 ever rich with trite, repetitive gameplay conventions, and the actual content of the gameplay alternates between incredibly basic platform hopping, some switch flipping, and combat sequences that require you to mash on the attack button until everyone is on their backs. The game controls like a stripped-down third-person action game, complete with the standard WASD-plus-mouse control scheme and standard abilities. You'll alternate between controlling Shrek, Donkey, Puss In Boots, and a gigantic gingerbread man, and for the most part, their controls are identical. Each character can double-jump, perform simple combo attacks, climb ledges, and shimmy along ropes. The simplicity and familiarity of the gameplay formula are made worse by the fact that the game simply doesn't control very well. The timing on the jump and the double jump seems a little awkward; the animation of your character climbing a ledge doesn't always match up with the level geometry; lining up your character with a rope to shimmy along is needlessly fickle; and the combo attacks don't really match up with your button commands, which creates a disconnect between the controls and the onscreen action.

There are also pieces of the game that are, quite simply, useless. You can collect coins from crates and downed enemies and spend them at drive-through-style menus that periodically appear throughout the game on a variety of power-up potions, but at no point does the game become challenging enough to make these coins necessary--in fact, if you simply ignore all the coin collection and stay focused on getting to the end of the game as fast as you can, you'll easily shave a good half hour off your game time. The game actually shows off a little inspiration near the end, such as when you lay siege upon the castle as a gigantic gingerbread man, but there just aren't enough moments like these to carry the game, which is otherwise painfully easy and wickedly short.

One of the things that the console version of Shrek 2 really nailed was the visuals. The levels weren't huge, but they were full of detail, and the characters looked great and animated nicely. Alas, this is not the case with Shrek 2 for the PC. The levels look pretty bland throughout, and a lot of the elements repeat--there's actually a sequence near the end of the game where you play through different parts of a level as three different characters, which leads to some pretty egregious recycling. The main characters are pretty rough approximations of their motion-picture counterparts and act as a fine example of why the details count. It's the small stuff, like the clumsy animation transitions and the somewhat stingy character models, that keeps the characters from looking quite the way they should. The enemies you'll face look decent, and considering the game's length, or lack thereof, there's a decent variety of foes.

It remains a mystery why Activision would develop an entirely unique Shrek 2 game for the PC.
One of the few things that's shared between the console versions and the PC version of Shrek 2 is the voice cast. Some of the stand-ins for the actual celebrity voices heard in Shrek 2 the movie don't quite match up, but the cast is generally pretty adept, and they're given some decent material to work with, too. The voice work shines the most during cutscenes, and there's some good in-game voice work too. However, the characters feel the need to talk a lot, but don't have a lot to say, leaving you to hear the same speech clips over and over again. The soundtrack suits the game for the most part, using lots of lute-and-flute arrangements to give the game a nice storybook feel, though about halfway through the game, the soundtrack veers off into wah-wah-driven funk that would seem more appropriate as the opening theme to a '70s cop show--it's actually pretty good stuff, it just seems wildly out of place. There's not much to say about the in-game sound effects. They're serviceable, in that they don't betray the feel of the environments, but they're not terribly spectacular, either.

What makes the Shrek movies fun for the family is the inclusion of something for everyone--there's plenty of slapstick and scatological humor for the kids as well as some sly pop culture references for the older folks. But Shrek 2 for the PC is strictly for kids, though considering its clunky controls and short running time, it's not even a terribly good game for them.

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