Altered Beast

Gamestyle Archive Intro:  the pain of Altered Beast still exists within. It marked a frustrating period as a Dreamcast and Sega supporter with periods of no releases or titles put together in quick fashion (often arcade ports) to fill such holes. Altered Beast was a painful infliction on PlayStation 2 owners who may have wondered what all the Sega fuss was? This release dates from February 2005.

PS2_Altered_Beast_Cover

If Altered Beast is a blueprint of Sega’s newfound direction, then the next few years are going to be an uphill struggle. This release is indicative of so many Dreamcast titles – not the magical releases – but the games that lacked any conviction or spark and merely added a few more nails to the console’s coffin.  How could Gamestyle ever forget such efforts as Fighting Vipers 2, Charge ‘N’ Blast and OutTrigger (to name but a few)?

Thankfully we did, but Altered Beast has let loose those demons once again. The original Altered Beast is perhaps one of the most overrated releases in retrospect, as its legacy has built up over the years. Yet when you actually discuss the memorable and influential games of the Mega Drive era, it is rarely – if ever – mentioned. The gameplay in the original was extremely limited, and more often than not you just bypassed the incidental enemies to dash towards the next boss encounter (and many simply recall the game because it was given away free when you bought the machine). The Mega Drive version was simplistic, repetitive and shortlived – which begs the question: why the remake?

The modern take on proceedings is that you are a member of a special government unit, sent into a nameless town to investigate an outbreak. Yes, it’s more akin to a Resident Evil ‘remake’, but this version fails to share any of the mythology from Altered Beast. Instead of relying on shotguns or a traditional arsenal, these operatives control their own DNA sequence (courtesy of a specialist microchip). Yet their gory transformations are not limited to one type of monster; you can select from several which have unique abilities and killing moves. The first problem is there is no viable alternative to fighting except transforming (as in human form you are extremely vulnerable and unarmed). Whilst in monster mode it is important to kill, as you can receive health and sanity points that fill your health meters (the latter controls how long you can remain as a monster before changing back). So, predictably, levels are populated with various monsters that surround any survivors (cue lots of painful dicing and impaling of enemies).

Moving into a three-dimensional arena just highlights how bland this once-popular type of release has become – a decent fighting system can only compensate for so much, but there’s simply nothing new or entertaining about the battles offered in Altered Beast. And this is only the beginning of the game’s problems (incidentally, Sega of America decided not to release this title in its own territory). Gamestyle really is struggling to find any positive regard for Altered Beast – although it does have a 60Hz option, which in itself is confusing (given its profile). The camera needs constant adjusting, as it fails to keep up with characters or provide a satisfactory viewpoint when engaged in mass brawls. Further, the cut sequences have a grainy quality which is normally associated with Sega Saturn or early Playstation releases (and the transformation footage becomes irritating, kicking in every time you make the DNA change). These segments do try to inject variety by focusing on different parts of the body, but after a while even gore-hungry teenagers will tire of the interruptions.

Each level consists of a few rooms where progress is defined by a linear path. Conveniently-placed invisible walls will prevent anyone from dashing ahead (and thus hoping to avoid the minions beyond the next doorway). So progress is dictated by killing everything – which again just highlights the bland nature of combat. And things fails to improve as you delve deeper into the town (which consists of yet more rooms and more generic monsters). Despite the linearity, there are moments of confusion for the player as the next step (or action needed to move on) is seldom defined. For example, after killing the first boss – a giant rat – another action will be required, or else you must continue to fight the underlings as they appear from the catacombs. These lapses in design continually pop up, and with no help or training modes provided, it’s a dismal process of trial and error.

Visually, matters are hardly improved by muddy textures and sloppy graphics which fail to satisfy the player. Environmental detail is poor, and bereft of any incidental objects that might’ve at least provided variety. The voice-acting is dire – truly matching Resident Evil in at least one department – and the musical accompaniment barely enough. There are options to view details on monsters and their appearance, but the only option Gamestyle suggests is that you select ‘Quit’.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

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