As has been seen time and time again, messing with classic films for video game adaptations can be a dicey prospect. Sometimes, against all odds, it works out, and you get something surprisingly enjoyable. Other times, you get hollow action games that simply use a classic film as a crutch to peddle unremarkable gameplay, and end up offending the very audience at which the game proclaims to be for. Eidos Interactive's Reservoir Dogs falls distinctly to the latter end of the spectrum. Based on the cult-classic Quentin Tarantino film about a group of foul-mouthed robbers trying to sniff out a rat among their group after a jewel heist gone wrong, this third-person action game tries to justify its existence by expanding upon many of the questions left at the end of the film. The problem is that none of the answers are very interesting. These new sequences act less as legitimate fan service and more as a hackneyed means to put you through a series of boring, clunky, and disjointed shooter levels, as well as some painfully frustrating driving sequences.
The Reservoir Dogs are back, filthy mouths and all.
As a film, Reservoir Dogs told the tale of the rainbow coalition of bank robbers, Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Orange. A collection of unassuming crooks hired on by a salty old gangster named Joe Cabot and his son, Nice Guy Eddie, this crew planned, executed, and subsequently fled a jewel heist that was broken up by the arrival of many, many cops. Many suspect a set-up, and we learn bit by bit the events that led up to the formation of the crew, the heist itself, and the eventual breakdown through a completely nonlinear storyline. Generally speaking, the game version of Reservoir Dogs tells the same tale, though not with as much exposition and dialogue to properly set things up. You get many of the key scenes from the film in CG cutscenes, but it's safe to say that if you haven't seen the movie this game is based on, you'll frequently find yourself confused as to what's going on. You don't really get much of the background info on any of the main characters. The game simply rushes through the parts of the movie that actually explain things to try and get you into the action as quickly as possible. In that way, Reservoir Dogs seems specifically designed to be a companion piece for those already familiar with the film. Unfortunately, it's a pretty unpleasant companion.
Fans of the film might be wondering how, exactly, such a dialogue-laden, action-lite crime drama could work as an action game. The answer is that it really doesn't, though not from a lack of trying. The developers turned the individual escapes and chases vaguely alluded to in the film into full-blown gameplay sequences. Novel idea, except that the rootin', tootin' gunplay parts and Blues Brothers-inspired car chases seem completely out of line with the tone of the film. Basically, the answer to every question of what happened to one character or another is that they found themselves running through one generic-looking environment or another, encountering scattered gatherings of cops from time to time, until they got to the exit. Or, they found themselves driving a car, trying to get from point A to point B without exploding. These exact scenarios happen over and over again, and they aren't fun in the slightest.
To be fair, Reservoir Dogs does make a vague attempt to play to the mentality of a smart criminal by letting you take hostages, rather than simply blasting your way through every cop that gets in your way. As you move through a level, you can take any nearby, unarmed person hostage. This slows you down considerably, but cops won't fire at you as long as you're holding an innocent person in front of you. Initially, you can just make verbal threats to get cops to put down their guns, and once they do, you can target each of them and take control of them. Once you move an unarmed cop over to a wall, you can force him to get on his knees with his hands behind his head and stay there. Some cops won't respond to verbal threats, so you can simply rough up the hostage a bit to show you mean business, and they'll eventually back down.
There are many problems with this system, not the least of which is the fact that you're disabling entire police forces and SWAT teams by smacking around a single hostage. Granted, most crime action games don't rely on realistic police tactics to be fun, but the very conceit that a cop will stay on his knees--face to a wall, even after you've turned your back to him, with a gun on the ground six feet away--is tough to swallow. And where are the snipers? The most ridiculous aspect of all is a special move you can pull off after you fill up your adrenaline meter (which, of course, fills up as you cause more chaos). With this move, you do a particularly brutal attack to your hostage that actually knocks him out. This leads all the cops in the vicinity to lay down their arms and immediately surrender. So, to recap, you've just beaten a hostage senseless, knocked him to the ground, and given the cops an open target as your human shield is now on the floor. And these knuckleheads with submachine guns decide it's time to lay down arms and give up?
You'll take hostages frequently if you want to survive. It also slows the pace of the game to a crawl.
Logic leaps aside, the mechanic itself also happens to make the action completely boring. The theory here is that you could actually get through Reservoir Dogs without firing a single bullet, but doing this is no fun at all. You move so slowly, and the levels often take a good bit of time to get through, so you find yourself slogging away at a snail's pace, repeating the exact same sequence of actions to get multitudes of cops to surrender over and over again. And as a final nail in this idea's coffin, sometimes it doesn't even work. Sometimes cops will randomly pick their guns right back up after dropping them, forcing you to smack a hostage again and again until they finally stop getting sassy with you.