Imagine, if you will, an action blockbuster that's a mix of The Da Vinci Code, War of the Worlds and Godzilla, which stars a protagonist who resembles Indiana Jones crossed with Thomas Crowne, and you're getting close to what developer Spark Unlimited has created with Legendary.
Never ones to churn out simplistic plots (having previously worked on Turning Point: Fall of Liberty), Spark has taken the legends surrounding Pandora's Box and placed them in a modern setting. You play Charles Deckard, a renowned thief-for-hire who has been employed by the mysterious Black Order to retrieve Pandora's Box, which has recently been hauled up from the bottom of the ocean by some enterprising and rather unwitting treasure hunters.
As it happens, the reason for turfing the box overboard in the first place was justified. As the legend promises, it contains all the evil in the world, and through the centuries the location of the box has been well hidden by another shadowy organisation called 'The Council of 98'. The Black Order, for reasons not immediately obvious, wish to keep Pandora's Box in their own care. One would assume strapping it to a rocket and pointing it at the Sun might be a better approach, but that probably wouldn't make much of a video game.
The game starts with a fairly comprehensive explanation of preceding events, and drops you in the shoes of Deckard shortly after he's actually located and opened the box. You'd think an international art thief might be a bit more clued up on basic mythology, because in opening the box he's managed to unleash a fury on the planet the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Crazy Frog ringtone epidemic of 2005. New York is basically destroyed, and rather than this being a product of America's overfunded nuclear stockpile, a collection of enormous mythical creatures have instead laid waste to everything in sight.
To be honest, despite being powered by the Unreal Engine 3.0, Legendary isn't what you would call graphically innovative. This isn't actually a bad thing however, as the game sports some incredible draw distances that are necessary to do justice to the massive monstrosities released by Deckard's irresponsible turn of a key. If you're after a march through the back catalogue of a heraldic salesperson then you've come to the right place - you'll find Griffons, Golems, Werewolves, Minotaurs and more - most of which appear at the most inconvenient time possible, such as when you're running for your life.
Deckard does have a secret weapon up his sleeve. Or rather, at the end of it. The one positive outcome from his mental lapse in judgement is that he now has a powerful signet embedded in his left hand. This signet collects and distributes "Animus Vitae", a sort of energy produced as a by-product of the carnage that has been unleashed. Deckard can collect this Animus whenever it appears in random locations around the environment, and he can also harvest it from the bodies of slain creatures. The Animus can be used to heal, or to perform a kind of telekinetic blast attack that can scatter objects or creatures who venture too close. Again, not a unique concept, but it seems to be balanced quite well, even if it did remind us of the plasmids in BioShock.
Legendary will have you scrabbling all over the globe from your initial starting point in New York. There are a range of environmental puzzles to resolve, usually comprised of the "find this, turn that, bypass these" style of mini-game that adds little depth to the title. There's nothing overly complicated about these, and the Xbox 360 version we played had a fairly comprehensive achievements system attached. Legendary is fairly well railed in, something the developers have actively pursued in order to keep up momentum. In any other game this might be a point of contention, but it just seems to work here - probably due to the impossibly grand scale of the cinematics, and the need for the enormous creatures to be adequately presented. It does imbue the game with a film-like quality, something to remember if you simply can't play anything that isn't open-ended.
The weapon system is simplistic, albeit capable, and you'll have no trouble switching between pistols, axes and rifles, and using these to not only hunt down the mythical beasts, but target the environment to complete the aforementioned puzzles. These dynamics however are not what will keep you hooked on Legendary - the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the time and effort the developers have put into the creatures.
The initial attack on New York will give you an adequate example of the amount of detail you can expect as you progress. In one scene, cars and people are flipped through the air, the ground cracks and buckles, buildings collapse and Gryphons swoop and pluck pedestrians from the ground as you run from building to building to escape the insanity. Corpses litter virtually every location, and injured members of the public walk around in a daze trying to comprehend what has occurred. Despite causing this, Deckhard seems to show scant regard for assisting anyone, but then he's probably got bigger things on his mind. Such as the repair bill.
Legendary is a nice distraction from the predictable run-and-gun titles so prevalent at the moment, and its focus on the ancient past as a source for modern mayhem is commendable. It's a solid title that will appeal to many casual games, however ultimately will be unlikely to scoop many awards due to the relatively shallow combat mechanics and simple environmental interaction. It's a novel concept for a new IP, and one we hope Atari are keen to pursue with a sequel.