There comes a time in every person's life when he or she questions his own sanity in relation to the masses. This may be a very subtle self-exercise but it does happen. Case in point: Pauly Shore makes a movie that grosses over ten bucks. This will undoubtedly make you stop (quite literally) and wonder: "Is Pauly Shore REALLY a comedic genius and I just don't get it?" And while that may be an extreme case, there are more subtle signs in everyday life. For example; I cannot fathom the rise in popularity of reality shows. Try as I may, the thought of making celebrities out of idiots does not appeal to me. And speaking of bleeping idiots; how Dr. Phil has not only managed to write bestselling books, stay on the air, do lecture tours and force his nonsensical, self-satisfyingly belligerent bleeping opinions on the masses for so long escapes the boundaries of my logical reasoning. But the reality of it is: Pauly Shore is a millionaire, reality TV is still alive and well and Dr. Phil's opinion seems to matter to millions. So am I crazy or what? How can an overwhelming majority be wrong? We elect the guy with the most votes right? Well, Conker: Live & Reloaded puts me in the same dilemma. I hear everyone go on and on about this game; the brilliance of its single player campaign, its new and innovative multiplayer modes, its colorful use of colloquial speech and adult situations and you know what? I don't bleeping get it! And I wonder if we are even playing the same game sometime…
When the original Conker's Bar Fur Day (BFD) was released for the Nintendo 64 everyone loved it and proclaimed it the New Apple Pie. I too was one of the many who had a copy pre-ordered (I still have the whoopee cushion in a drawer somewhere) because like many, I thought that Rare could do no wrong. My favorite shooter was Rare's Goldeneye (followed closely by Rare's Perfect Dark) and my favorite platformer was Rare's own Banjo-Kazooie. But Bad Fur Day was a monumental letdown for me. It underwhelmed me so much because it seemed to actually take a few steps back from Banjo-Kazooie. And now, 4 years later, Microsoft releases an updated version of Conker: Live & Reloaded, a game that for all intents and purposes is really 2 games; the original BFD and a new multiplayer game. And so, I will try to be as objective as possible as I walk you through this latest installment, but just remember the tiny little voice in the back of my head that keeps whispering: Is Pauly Shore really a comedic genius and I just don't get it? Oh, Bleep No!
The single player campaign of Conker: Live & Reloaded follows Conker (a squirrel no less which is intended to make "everything" funny from this point on) and his misadventures with the world's worst hangover. This sets the tone for the rest of the game: Potty Humor. Conker relies heavily on vulgarity to get by when it just fails to lack in originality. If you take out everything that is sophomoric and "suppose" to be funny in the game, you are left with a head-scratchingly-bad bleeping platformer. For one, the controls (which weren't that great on the N64 either) are terrible and seem to even have a slight delay to them when attacking and jumping. Add to that the complete inability to lock-on to enemies (a la Zelda) and you are left with a game that is more frustrating than it should be. Did I also mention that the game never gives you a clear indication of what you're doing, what's going on or what you have to do? In fact, you will enter areas, try to accomplish all its goals, leave it and wonder what you've even accomplished. Well, there are probably a lot of things to collect at least, right? Uh, no. A few fur tails here and there to get extra lives, some abrasive wads of money (which look an awful lot like Ed The Sock) and some chocolate squares for extra health. That's it. Un-bleeping-believable.
Luckily, Conker looks and sounds amazing. All the areas and characters are graphically well defined and the fur effect used on Conker is a thing of beauty. I urge you to stop and look around as much as possible and note all the little details: the texture of characters' eyes, the sky, the trees; this is where Conker really shines. The voice acting is now loud and clear but still as painfully slow and annoying to listen to as it was originally. If Conker was a real person I'd punch him in his bleeping face… even hung-over, no one talks that slow! You'll also note that even though this is an "uncut" version of Conker, most of the bleeping swearing has been bleeped the bleep out. If I remember correctly, the N64 version was truly uncensored had way more vulgarity from the start than this version. Yes, you can unlock a potty mode, but what's the point? It seems that Nintendo may be a little more willing to take risks with adult content as was displayed with the various versions of BMX XXX that shipped to different consoles. The music on the other hand is well composed and sounds very clear, but the songs feel as though they should have been scraped and/or completely updated. The limitations of the N64's cartridge were clearly responsible for the music of the original, but there were no such limitations here. Why do I then feel like I'm playing an N64 game if I close my eyes?
As you can tell, I'm not dwelling on the single player version too much since there are already a hundred BFD reviews in the world. If you have never experienced Conker's BFD you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try to see what all the hoopla was about. In a nutshell, the game is pretty tame by today's standards. The GTA series and a few Midway games have made games that are far more disturbing, but the simple fact the BFD relies heavily on sexual innuendo and pure potty humor does make it a niche title. If you're old enough to actually buy Conker though, you may as well just get Leisure Suit Larry, The Guy Game, The Playboy Mansion or any of the Outlaw series of games for sheer titillation value. If you have already played the N64 version of Conker, you may want to skip the single player experience altogether; while it looks a million times better and a few clever developer jokes have been added early on, you may remember Conker's BFD more fondly if you don't have to tread through it again. I actually suspect/fear that those who will enjoy the single player version on Conker are those not actually old enough to buy it. Yes, the box proudly proclaims that "This game is not for anyone under the age of 17," but such a warning just whets the appetite of minors just getting off their GTA buzz and looking for more mature content. The bright spot may simply be that most of the humor will just fly right past them. Conker is in your face, but sometimes, there are moments of subtle genius that takes a very lewd & crude adult to relate to.
And now to the real meat of the game: The new multiplayer modes. When you flip through the game manual, you will note that this is the main focus of Conker: Live and Reloaded and rightfully so. First off, fans of old will be a little disappointed to hear that the entire N64 multiplayer experience has been scraped, but remnants of each map hide somewhere in these new offerings. The multiplayer campaign, which can be played online or off for the most part, mostly involves team-based gameplay like capturing bases akin to Battlefield 1942 and more recently Star Wars Battlefront, as well as more traditional multiplayer modes like Capture The Flag and Deathmatches. Let's set the record straight right from the start; whatever Conker tries to do has already been done in other games and twice as well. If you want to play BF1942 type matches, get BF1942 or Battlefront. If you want deatchmatching or CTF matches, get Halo 2 or any other number of excellent multiplayer titles. Conker brings nothing new to the table and what it does offer is generally a frustrating and dull experience.
The multiplayer campaigns focus on the War between the Tediz (the token Bad Guys) and Squirrel High Command (SHC - The Bleeping Heroes) across two campaigns; the Old War and the Future War. For all the naming contrivances of weapons, vehicles and maps, both time periods feel awfully the same. Regardless of what side you'll chose to play on, you will first have to pick between the 6 class specific characters, each containing their own assets and disadvantages. And as a note, while the main hub is really clever and well detailed, the other menus of the game are very unintuitive and you will sometimes have to use trial and error to get anywhere. This also brings up my first gripe with the multiplayer modes: naming convention. I understand there's a manual I can refer to, but why can't things just be laid out simply for me? As it is, when you enter the Xbox Live & co. sub-menu, you may be a little hard pressed to find out what you're really getting into. Not to mention, once you begin a game, you may have to watch the briefing several times to gather what your true objectives are. In any case, you will be given 6 character classes to choose from. But don't be fooled by the large choice: the classes are terribly unbalanced and a few minutes online will teach you that some classes are just plain useless while others are almost used exclusively. Similarly, you will find that while the game runs lag free, the amount of annoying bleepers playing Conker is staggering and ruins the experience completely. Half the people online have already figured out ways to exploit the game while the other half have no bleeping clue what they are doing and are not in any way, shape or form ashamed of voicing this fact repeatedly, over and over, ad infinitum, again and again in your ear.
Thankfully, you can also play the game in split-screen mode, on System Link and Solo using "dumbots". In theory, the multiplayer aspect should be wonderful, but the small amount of maps, restrictive gameplay and ugly color schemes (I hope everyone loves brown - brown, brown, brown - all the live long bleeping day) make the mode a little hard to swallow, coupled with the fact that your viewpoint of the action is not at all useful, the controls take lots of getting used to (who puts the jump button on the left thumb-click?) and for all intents and purposes it always seems like there is too much indecipherable stuff happening on the screen at once: and all in pure, wonderful brownish tones. The best word to describe Conker multiplayer is frustrating! You will undoubtedly find yourself killing off the opponents, driving vehicles, swapping weapons and almost having a good time when you'll realize you have absolutely no clue what's going on, where you are or where you're going. The mini map in the bottom left corner of the game is completely useless and acts more as a cluttering distraction than a useful tool. The energy bars of each character are too large and the player names take up too much room. When aiming around it's almost impossible, in the heat of battle, to tell one brownish looking Teddy from one brownish looking squirrel and so, they both get a heaping of hot lead!
But here is the kicker, the bottom line if you will: Regardless of everything I've written and said, everyone I know loves this game! It has replaced Halo 2 and Forza as the game of choice amongst my Xbox Live friends list. No one can give me a reason why or argue against any of my points, but everyone thinks it's the bleep! They play the single player game and love it, finding it clever, original and rudely funny, they make nightly plans to play on Xbox Live and they can't stop talking about their exploits the following day. And I'm happy they like it. I'm glad they are discovering it. None of them had ever played the original and everything is new to them and I think that helps a lot. Maybe I've become jaded or maybe I simply don't "get it", but Conker really isn't the game I knew or the game I was expecting. As it stands, I'd rather play almost any other game over it. But please don't take my word for it; rent it and give it a try, you may just love the bleeping thing. Everyone else I know seems to. And sometimes there's no accounting for taste. Me? I'm still wondering what's wrong with me. At this rate I may have a few old Pauly Shore movies to catch up on too.