Displayed on the various loading screens of Jaws Unleashed are a number of trivia bits pertaining to the original Jaws film. One particularly excellent piece of trivia cites that the writer of both the Jaws novel and screenplay, Peter Benchley, never would have written the original story had he known anything about realistic shark behaviors. But while history has been kind to Jaws' legacy, in spite of its creative liberties, Jaws Unleashed, the action game based on the film license and developed by Appaloosa International, won't be getting any such pass. And Appaloosa doesn't get to excuse its awful game by claiming not to know anything about making a fun action adventure starring an ocean-based lead character, either. This is the maker of the Ecco the Dolphin games, otherwise known as some of the best underwater adventures ever put on consoles. Jaws Unleashed is, in every imaginable way, the anti-Ecco. Instead of saving humanity, you're chomping down on it with sharp, angry teeth, and instead of finding yourself having a breezy, enjoyable time with the game, you'll find yourself cursing at Jaws Unleashed's awful controls, even worse camera, and completely idiotic missions.
There is certainly a measure of visceral entertainment to be derived from being able to tear into unsuspecting prey...
Jaws Unleashed takes place 30 years after the events of the first film. The days of the malcontent shark have all but been forgotten, and Amity Island has returned to its days as a thriving township. But when a major corporation comes to town to do something entirely corporate and anonymously evil, the local marine population is disturbed, and along comes yet another gigantic shark (or is it the same one, 30 years later?) to lay waste to the populace and wreak havoc on the island. The setup for the shark-biting action is flimsy at best; but then again, this isn't really a game you'd ever play for its story, and the developers had to find some way to tie the Jaws license into this whole thing.
You can't really blame the Jaws license for sinking this game. This is not some hastily tossed-together cash-in on a classic movie. This game was originally announced back in 2003 as Sole Predator, and was a completely license-free shark-based action game long before the Jaws license came along. So without the license to blame, all you're left with is an entirely poor game design. In theory, it's not a bad idea for a game. Jaws Unleashed takes the concept of an open-ended game world and simply makes it an underwater adventure. It also takes the sort of freeform ultraviolence of something like the Grand Theft Auto series, replacing guns with rows and rows of sharp teeth. Once you get past the first mission, you can go just about anywhere on Amity Island and eat just about anyone or anything you want, be they people, dolphins, seals, or anything else with an ounce of blood in it. Not to mention that you can destroy various pieces of the scenery and take part in some side missions. While that might sound like a hoot, every other aspect of the game design conspires to wreck the experience.
For starters, the game controls are just awful. Jaws starts out with a few basic moves, including a basic bite, a charge-up head-butt attack that's good for wrecking boats, docks, and the like, and a slightly less damaging but still reasonably effective tail whip. You can earn new moves over time, too. But the problem with the basic moveset given to Jaws is that the shark just doesn't handle well. It's not necessarily surprising that a big, lumbering shark, traveling at full speed through the water, might blow past a target or have trouble lining itself up for a precise attack, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating in this game, when so many of your mission objectives and attacks require a degree of precision that simply isn't there.
Not to mention that some of the things Jaws can do are just ridiculous. One of the things you'll actually find yourself doing a lot in the game is having Jaws jump out of the water and onto dry land to grab some poor, unsuspecting schmuck. And it isn't like Jaws just throws his head out long enough to grab the guy and sink back into the water--Jaws actually beaches himself in most cases, and you use the swim button to make him wriggle his way back ever so slowly into the water. He can survive for only a limited number of seconds, but watching this unbelievably silly act is no less mind-blowing to watch--nor any less frustrating when he gets stuck on some invisible piece of scenery and can't make it back to the water in time.