by Roody Yogurt
Some weeks ago, I had an enlightening AIM conversation in which "KenobiMustard" (name changed for the sake of anonymity) confessed that he found the slaughter of innocents in Grand Theft Auto strangely arousing. Now, while it doesn't quite push that button for me, I have to admit that yes, sometimes it is fun to be able to tear shit up in games. Specifically, this conversation made me mention how I thought Shiny Entertainment's "Messiah" might be a good suggestion for this homocidaphiliac.
If I recall correctly, Messiah was one of those games that was hyped up, delayed, eventually released as a buggy mess, slammed by the critics, and quickly passed up by most consumers. Of course, that meant it found itself in the bargain bins that much sooner, where I picked it up remembering how the premise intrigued me.
The premise being that you are Bob, a cute cherub with the ability to possess humans, sent down from heaven to clean shit up for the Guy Upstairs (I just played through the game a second time and I still don't really understand why). The ad I remember from PC Gamer involved getting a worker killed in an accident, possessing the doctor who comes to see to him, and going to some area where only higher ranking people (such as doctors) can go. That is in the game but I do have to say, it's usually easier to use one of the several alternate methods to get places than to execute these especially clever ploys.
As the ad suggests, this game is all about killing unsuspecting innocents (and not so innocent), from first room to last. Luckily, there are all sorts of way to be especially vindictive, like jumping off a ledge and dispossessing them in mid-air, gently floating down, and watching them crawl about with broken legs, slowly dying. There are lots of other good ways to kill people but I won't go into too much more detail since hey, I expect at least one person who has read this review to pick up the game sometime. I do have to say that it's pretty clear that all these characters live in a dangerous world so it's easy to not feel too bad about killing. I mean, if Bob wasn't going to push that button that caused the floor to disappear, sending the scientist standing on top of it into the giant meat-grinders, someone else would have! I mean, c'mon!
Where GTA beats Messiah hands-down is how GTA lets you wander around a fully realized world, finding new victims, yes, with still the ability to stop for a second and say, hey, that's a pretty sky. There are no pretty skies in Messiah and through the entire game, despite some larger areas one can wander through, there's a claustrophobic feel like one's draining through an inexhaustible number of funnels.
Let's talk about some of the things Messiah does well. Stylistically, it's pretty strong and its imaginativeness is quite entertaining when you're not beating your head against the steep-learning curve. Some of the weapons are very fun to use, like the pump gun that can take someone out with one shot (and head shots are implemented well) or the harpoon gun that pins someone up against the wall where they spasm about like a dying bug. Unfortunately, with the learning curve and all, much of the beginning of the game involves possessing people non-stop (and dying) until you're lucky enough to possess the last person standing.
Sometimes Bob's actions and words are cute. There is a noticeable lack of cuteness, though, when you accidentally fly Bob into a wall and he does that cartoon-type arms-outstretched SPLAT (and slowly slides down) as a horde of Chots (the cannibalistic sewer dwellers) are shooting the hell out of you.
Luckily, the game gives you enough save spots that one should do okay. I mainly ran into some problems because I keep a handful of save spots near some cool parts of the game that I thought I might want to re-visit sometime (which I consider another plus).
The music for the game (provided by Fear Factory) is pretty decent, I'd say, as it consists of a ton of passable songs that I don't especially hate and one that I actually enjoy.
There's actually a Red Light District part in this game where one can actually see some not badly rendered boobies. Sure, that alone doesn't make a game and I've often wondered how hard it must be to try to put some erotic elements in a game without going too far. I do like games to reassure me that they're aiming for an adult audience in more ways than just unimaginative uses of profanity or potty humor, though.
Now let's talk about some of Messiah's problems. Despite the fact the game came with a patch disc, it still has a couple noticeable bugs. I've found that you'll want to turn off the "Pre-load Cached Files" option as there's one part where the game will always crash with it on. At least one other time, the game crashed for no reason, so save often.
Right at the beginning, you get this stupid voice in your head that sometimes tells you what you should do and most of the time is just the stupidest, lamest-written crap. Of course, it all has to do with the plot-twist that comes halfway through the game that one can guess five minutes before installing the game itself, and none of it is really that entertaining. The ending and the plot itself are in themselves pretty lackluster; it's really just the gameplay and the game world that kept me going both times.
The controls, of course, are ultra-configurable, but finding the right set-up that feels comfortable might take a little time and take some getting used to. Expect to die a fair amount right away.
The first time I played through the game, I found myself wishing they had done more to personalize the characters. I wanted to feel good about going out of my way to not kill scientist A or know more about cop B that I fed to the dogs (ok, there are no dogs in this game). That was part of the reason when I eventually played Anachronox and every character had a short story to tell, it quickly became a poster-boy for what I like to see in games.
This second time through, though, I found that lack of character involvement didn't bug me so much and thought I probably could relate to the developers who were probably a little too close to the game. I still think finding a way to do it my way would have been a more satisfying game-playing experience, but what can I say, the game succeeds in other areas.
There are also a couple "do the perfect jump-float to get to the other ledge" parts that I've come to hate in games. I have no idea why Bob can so easily grab onto a ledge in every other part of the game, but if it's a moving platform then, goddamn, it has to be perfect. At least, these parts, for the most part, weren't as long as I remembered them but that doesn't make them any less of a chore.
Messiah is also one of the handful of games in recent years where once I got to the end level, I found it too annoyingly difficult and resorted to cheat codes. I thought I might try to give it an honest try this second time around since the game, in general, was a lot easier (knowing what to do and being familiar with it). Once I got to it, though, I was reminded how it goes out of its way to be a little bitch and said, "Fuck this noise."
I also missed one of my favorite parts on this second play through. I won't go into specifics but if you find yourself playing it and are wandering through a Chot sewer area, look under every set of stairs for a doorway. Oh, the fun to be had.
So yeah, I don't know if I've sold anyone, but if you're looking for a dystopian future sci-fi kill 'em fest, keep your eyes open for Messiah at your favorite game stores with decent bargain bins and used game selections. Between this and Sacrifice and catching up on the MDK games, I'm starting to get the feeling that Shiny Entertainment games don't always succeed on every level but they're definitely a quality group whose shit doesn't deserve to be passed up like some of it has been.
About the author: Roody Yogurt won't kill you if it takes you nineteen months to post his fucking review.