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by THQ

Shot0153-01.jpg (6151 bytes)New Legends is in a precarious spot. On the one hand, it is a really fun game to play and has a lot going for it. On the other hand, it is pretty obvious that this title is going to look really old in another year or two. You might wonder how Infinite Machine, one of THQ’s prize development houses cobbled together from ex-LucasArts developers, could screw up. The answer to that query, however, would be that they didn’t screw up. They just stopped too soon.

NL01-01.jpg (6332 bytes)New Legends creates an intriguing future-past version of China. The evil Xao Gon has begun to take over "New China", and that means eliminating all of the clans who currently run the show. Xao Gon, along with his five half-demon spawn offspring, pretty much goes through these clans like you-know-what through a baby. The game opens as the Soo clan is attacked and it is left to the clan’s only remaining survivor, Sun Soo (not to be confused with Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War), to reclaim not just his family’s land but all of China. It’s a big job, so Soo will need help.

Shot0070-01.jpg (6431 bytes)Fortunately, Soo gets help. During the course of his adventures he manages to wrangle a good cast of characters, including Boo, the burly and kind-hearted half demon, Jen Chi, who rides a great Chinese dragon, Fa Zhang, the centarian with a deadeye rifle, and Topo, who is a fighting monk in a tradition undoubtedly based on the Shaolin legend and reality. These characters, and a couple more, assist Soo in his efforts to route the forces of Xao Gon from China and restore order to the land.

NL04-01.jpg (6585 bytes)The gameplay is probably the best brawler experience I’ve had. As you fight, you can execute combos. In most brawlers these combos are too few and ineffective to be much use or much fun. However, New Legends keeps everything fresh. The combination of old and new allows the game to include weapons like swords and staffs as well as machine guns and rocket launchers. You have access to a variety of weapons as you pick them up from slain enemies or have them gifted to you for defeating a boss, but you only carry four weapons at a time. In the heat of combat you can quickly shift between these four weapons (and you can even hit pause to swap out those four weapons for four new weapons, which kind of defeats the purpose of the limited inventory).

boo-01.jpg (7130 bytes)Each weapon you use requires a different style. The firearms are limited by the availability of ammo as well as their effectiveness in certain situations. The traditional martial arts weapons can be just as formidable as the firearms, and these weapons carry special combos with them. Each main weapon has several combos that can be used in combat. That means that as you go along you must continually learn new combos and figure out more efffective means of martial combat. This keeps the brawling in the game fresh and prevents it from becoming too repetitive, which in turn means that a major chunk of the gameplay stays fun the whole time.

Shot0210-01.jpg (7185 bytes)While the complex fighting system is really cool, the game has a lot of other features going for it. Unfortunately, none of these good qualities are evident at the outset. New Legends has possibly the worst first level I’ve ever seen. It practically begs gamers, "Put me down! I’m not a fun game!" This is a big problem because, as I believe other reviews of the title show, the blandness, confusion, and generally "not fun" aspects displayed in the first level will put off many gamers. However, I encourage you to keep going. That first level isn’t much fun, but it isn’t too difficult either, and the following levels and unfolding story really make you wonder why Infinite Machine shot themselves in the foot with such a bland opening. We need a hook, fellaz!

s4-01.jpg (7533 bytes)Once past the first level, the story begins to unfold and you begin to hook up with your buddies. The gameplay gets exponentially more fun. You’ll do a whole ton of brawling, some running and gunning, and some level-specific tasks. One aspect of the gameplay that is truly rewarding is the group vibe of the combat. Sure, you can run ahead of your pals and try to hog the kills, but, especially on your first time through the game, that’s not really a winning strategy. It is better to hang close to your friends so you can retreat amongst them when enemies get overwhelming. And let me tell you, there are plenty of enemies in this game. But your allies fight well and are fun to watch, so they provide excellent cover when the going gets tough.

s6-01.jpg (7824 bytes)There are quite a few really unique and interesting elements to New Legends. There is a level where you must go to "the other side" and fight ghost soldiers, and another where you must outrun an avalanche. You free a dragon from imprisonment, and the rendering of the Chinese dragon is just really neat looking. The movement throughout the game is excellent, which enhances all aspects of the play. Soo can only carry four weapons at a time, but he actually carries them. Switch weapons and his appearance changes to reflect his inventory. Levels set among mountain passes and hidden monastaries are well designed and fun to play. Some of them even look pretty good.

s3-01.jpg (8012 bytes)But that’s the other downfall of New Legends. The visuals are thoroughly mediocre, and this is a game that should be beautiful. The story and dialogue is actually decent, and gorgeous graphics could have made this title a major cult hit if not a mainstream success. However, for the most part, the textures are bland. I don’t mean to harp on it, but the ugliest level is, by far, the first level. Later levels, such as the mountain pass, look much better, but are still far from beautiful. Since so much of New Legends rests on the story, and since so many details are provided in other aspects of the game, it is noticeably lacking that the visuals are so midrange.

s5-01.jpg (6343 bytes)Of course, other things could have been done to New Legends to make it a bigger, perhaps better, and definitely different game. Early in its development, the title was rumored to support multiplayer, and it is easy to see how this could have been a good addition. However, taking New Legends as a narrative-based action brawler is not a problem for me. We need some good games in this genre – the brawler has always been a sorely underrated and underdeveloped area.

ss1-01.jpg (6445 bytes)Most folks out there won’t get past the first level of New Legends, and that’s too bad. I suggest at least a rental on this title, and make sure you suffer through that opening – it’s short enough, I promise. Once you get into the game, it is genuinely hard to put down, which is a stroke in its favor. As I said in the opening of this review, New Legends will probably look and feel pretty dated in another year or two. Hopefully by then Infinite Machine and THQ will have teamed up on a sequel, and hopefully they’ll be able to further polish and hone this gem in the rough. We’ll look forward to it.

Shawn Rider   (04/29/2002)


Ups: Deep combat system; great story; nice movement and animation; lots of weapons; fighting with allies.

Downs: Mediocre graphics; horrible opening level; limited replayability.

Platform: Xbox