52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 34
Release Date: September 19, 2006
Developer: Ubisoft Montréal
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
A few years ago, I was surprised by a story featuring a 900lbs domesticated bear and a mule deer. They had to work together to survive the wilderness during hunting season while trying find their way back home to safety. I was surprised because my expectations for this story were extremely low, but funny dialog combined with great character made me a believer. That story was for Open Season the movie. Open Season the game on the other hand did not surprise in any way.
Open Season for the Xbox 360 expands on the movie and the adventures of the two main characters; Elliot the mule deer and Boog the domesticated 900lbs bear. The escapades of the duo that was cleverly told in about 90 minutes at the theatres, has been turned into a twenty-five level ordeal for the game. Boog and Elliot will need to learn new skills and work as a team if they want to survive. Escaping the woodlands of terror, filled with hunters and other wild critters, before returning home will not be a quick & simple task. The premise may sound very promising, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
Compared to all the other versions of the game released for just about every console since the Atari 2600, the graphics on the Xbox 360 are quite nice. The forest is filled with grass that sways as our heroes walks through it and the water effects are quite pleasing to the eyes. That is not to say the game looks incredible for it does not, it just looks better than the other versions. Boog, Elliot and other main characters all look lifeless and very bland. Each character has very basic animations with none of the charming idiosyncrasies unique to each one from the movie in which the game takes inspiration.
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The audio is another sore point. The movie featured the voice acting skills of Ashton Kutcher (as Elliot) and Martin Lawrence (as Boog). It is the interaction between these two that made the movie so enjoyable. The game does not benefit from the voice talents of Kutcher or Lawrence as they have been replaced with sound-alike voice actors who have as much chemistry as water & oil.
The main problem with the game is in its repetitious nature. Repetition is common place in a game as most games have a basic gameplay formula that the developers will rinse & repeat over and over again. For example Gears of War has the duck & shoot system, while Batman makes great usage of his stealthy divide & conquer tactics. What makes these games different is that the gameplay formula that is being rinse & repeated is fun and rewarding. Open Season opted to rinse and repeat two gameplay elements; the first is locating stuff, the second is dealing with hunters. This is a perfectly acceptable option, but neither gameplay scenario is particularly fun nor rewarding.
Locating quests consist of having Boog or Elliot (choice is pre-determined for the gamer) run around a level looking for objects that are not very hidden and conquering dangers that are not very dangerous. The simplicity of the level design and lack of any real challenge makes for an empty gaming experience. Combine this with the fact that every other new level will have some woodland creature in need of some item or items and it will not take very long before each new level becomes a chore to complete. Still completing these quests will reward the duo with the usage of that particular critter’s unique talents, or some may also teach Boog new skills. Boog may be a bear, but he was a domesticated bear and as such has lost touch with most of his natural ursidae abilities. To become all the bear he can be Boog will need to learn as much as possible from his wild counterparts. Various critters will teach him how to sniff for food, swim and some new attacks. This will expand his simple repertoire of scaring hunters and tossing Elliot around. Even after having gained a new skill, the linear nature of the game provides little feeling of any real accomplishment as gamers know that any acquired skill will be required in the next level. This is the very same level that could not be accessed unless the current one was completed and the new skill obtained rendering the newly obtained skill redundant. In fact, the only rewarding feeling I got from playing the entire game was when that all so familiar pop-up appeared on the screen to indicate that a new achievement had been unlocked.
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The game actually does pick up pace and starts to become enjoyable once all of Boog's skills and weapons have been upgraded and the gamer is free to utilize whatever method of gameplay they choose, but unfortunately this is near the end of the game. This brings up another sore point (some may actually consider this a positive), even with twenty-five levels the game is very short. The average gamer should be able to breeze through the entire game in about six to seven hours while unlocking 900+ achievement points. Once the main game has been completed, there are seven mini-games that can be played. The mini-games are really only fun when played with friends. Make sure these friends are on hand for there is no Xbox Live action in Open Season.
Ubisoft Montréal is among my favourite developers. With series such as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Rainbow Six series, I tend to believe that the studio can do no wrong; Open Season is proof positive that this is not always the case. I cannot help but think that Open Season could have been a much better game had Ubisoft implemented an open world filled with places to explore and provided Boog with all his skills from the beginning of the game. The game could have also benefited from a bit of variety in the quests that needed to be accomplished. Finally the game really needed the voice talents of the actual actors to make it work. Most gamers that would be playing this game would have picked it up out of association with the movie, so at minimum these are the gamers that Ubisoft Montréal must please. All in all, Open Season is “bearable” at best, but not “endeering” in any way (sorry, I really could not stop myself from using such cheesy lines).