Developer: FluffyLogic / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Cartoon Violence) / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $9.99
Eat Them! is a really, really bad title. Try saying it out loud. “Eat-Them.” Transitioning from a hard “t” to a soft “th” is unnecessarily difficult, isn’t it? I’d been pronouncing it “Eat ‘Em!” for days before I realized that this PSN exclusive has better grammar than my speech can manage.
Why witter on about the title? Because the actual game itself is so insubstantial that I’d rather talk about diction than dick around with Eat Them! any longer. This is some mediocre stuff, right here.
The story in Eat Them! is just window dressing, but it’s actually pretty good window dressing. Not quite “Andrew McCarthy’s Department Store Windows in Mannequin” good, but it works. A mad scientist has invented giant monsters, but his creations have been stolen by the PARP Corporation (I have no idea what that stands for) so he sends his creatures on a merry rampage. Each locale has one story mission, but there’s barely a half dozen total and they primarily consist of uninspired objectives like breaking your henchmen out of jail or robbing banks. The best story mission has you defending a throng of Pro-Monster demonstrators from the oppressive city police, which has a pleasingly playful sense of humor about it that is conspicuously absent from the rest of the game. Pity.
Eat Them! has only one thing on its mind: destruction. And it executes this destruction reasonably well. It’s the rest of the game that’s lame. From a 3/4-down perspective, your giant monster of choice roams around various cities – or rather a small part of various cities, surrounded on all sides by force fields – destroying buildings as the game tallies how much money it would cost to repair the damage. (As usual, the monetary system doesn’t make any sense. I guess it only costs a few hundred dollars to replace a dozen skyscrapers.) So far, so Rampage. Eat Them! also throws in some checkpoint-based race missions and mini-games with specific goals, like rounding up escaped zoo animals. Eat Them! is not a complicated game, nor is it particularly good.
Sure it’s fun to break things, but there’s no sense of catharsis in Eat Them! because you’re destroying a city with no personality. In the Grand Theft Auto series the world and the people within it are characterized as completely douchey, so killing everybody and wrecking everything feels right. It feels fun. In Eat Them! you destroy one city after another, but while each one looks a little different from the others there’s no sense that anything is gained or lost by their demolition. You don’t feel righteous and you don’t feel cruel. You don’t feel anything, really. An adequate challenge alone might have compensated for this lack of context – that is to say destroying the world might be satisfying if it was at least really hard to do – but Eat Them! offers no such challenge. The hardest levels are usually hard because the time limit is set a little low, or because the game is coy about your objectives and how to meet them.
Yes, all the levels that aren’t based on simple destruction are problematic. Return the animals to the zoo. How? Save the mad scientist’s henchmen. How?! This isn’t trial and error, it’s just an error. The checkpoints are similarly confusing, particularly in the horrible race levels. The next checkpoint is rarely on-screen, and the arrow pointing you in the right direction repeatedly disappears. When it does show up it bounces around the frame like a spastic squirrel. The targeting reticule has a very similar problem: distance attacks like rocket launchers and lasers are extremely difficult to aim with any kind of precision, making it particularly difficult to destroy the ED-209’s, Iron Men and the many other (relatively) microscopic nuisances that litter the screen.
Eat Them! offers one feature that can’t be achieved by just popping in Hulk: Ultimate Destruction: a creature creator that allows you to customize your monsters. The various unlockable heads and limbs, earned via standard mission objectives like causing a certain amount of damage or beating an arbitrary time limit, are sometimes fun to look at but of little in-game consequence, and while some of the power-ups are fun and effective – there’s an arm that shoots lightning and eventually an attachment that can slow down time – it’s not a rich system because the only thing you’ll need to finish the game is one fast monster (for the races) and one monster that does a lot of damage (for every other mission). Since you can switch monsters before each mission – and during, should your monster die during gameplay – the need for strategy is severely limited.
A mediocre single-player campaign could have got a free pass if Eat Them’s multiplayer wasn’t so problematic in its own right. The multiplayer is cooperative only. There’s nothing wrong with cooperative play (well, there is in Eat Them!, just not on sheer principle), but if you spend all your time upgrading your monster with crazy weapons and scary heads the least you’d want to do is beat up somebody else’s monster, right? No dice. You can work together through the single-player campaign, and you’re ranked at the end of each mission based on speed, property damage and so on, but that’s all. It doesn’t work very well. In co-op your monsters appear to be on an invisible tether, presumably to keep them both in frame at all times, but this limits strategic possibilities and quickly becomes an annoyance. And the camera pulls so far back to accommodate even that distance between you that it’s very difficult to tell what’s going on, even on a 46” HDTV.
Worse yet are the race missions, which unlike the rest of the game are played in split-screen (making it almost impossible to see what you’re doing). They’re completely broken. The race doesn’t end once it’s won, so everybody has to run out the clock. But once somebody’s won they lose all functionality, stopping in the middle of a checkpoint and preventing their opponent(s) from progressing. So everyone waits around like an idiot until the game decides to start working again. Pretty bad indeed.
At first glance Eat Them! has an impressive visual aesthetic, with cel-shaded graphics that really pop in the game’s (minimal) cinematics. The environments are crammed with little details that would really impress… if they weren’t so damned little. Certain gameplay elements – like the more svelte flying mechs that attack you in later levels – will make you squint in single-player mode and almost make you go blind in multiplayer. Worst of all is the lighting scheme. A game with this much detail should certainly be bright, but on a properly calibrated television, sitting close enough to actually see what’s going on, eyestrain became an issue after barely an hour. Eat Them! may not be ugly, but problems like these sure ain’t pretty.
Eat Them! is a bona fide success in the sound department. There are no voice-overs to speak of (and therefore no bad voice-overs, which is a pleasant change of pace), but the wide array of screams, roars and explosions are pleasing to the ear and properly balanced. The game has a surprisingly robust soundtrack of clubthumping tunes that match the tone perfectly without ever taking center stage. This is some very sound sound all ‘round.
Eat Them! doesn’t offer anything new to either the destruction or giant monster videogame genres. You may be a little amused while destroying these cityscapes but the charm quickly wears off. There’s no emotional investment, little challenge, and nothing that shakes off happier memories of War of the Monsters.
Eat Them! can just eat it.