Todd McFarlane's Spawn has become one of the most recognizable and popular comic book characters ever to hit the mainstream. The comic series has spun off into a number of different merchandising directions, including a highly popular series of action figures, a dark and gritty cartoon series on HBO, and a feature film starring Michael Jai White and Martin Sheen. There have also been a couple of games based on the Spawn franchise--one for the PlayStation and one for the Dreamcast. Sadly, both games failed miserably to make good use of their license in practically any way. The latest game to bear the Spawn namesake is Namco and Point of View's Spawn: Armageddon, an action adventure game that heavily borrows from the concepts found in Capcom's Devil May Cry series. Unfortunately, regardless of the game's inspiration, Armageddon is a mediocre action game that is carried only by its license.
Spawn: Armageddon sees the return of one of America's most popular comic book antiheroes to video game consoles.
The Spawn comics tell the continuing tale of one Al Simmons, a former soldier who was killed as part of a government conspiracy and was then reborn as a hellspawn--a soldier of hell. Upon his rebirth, Simmons had a change of heart and turned against the kingdom of hell in favor of a vigilante lifestyle, and he swore to fight all things evil. Spawn: Armageddon's storyline has our brooding hero facing a multitiered threat. A group of renegade angels have launched a massive weapon straight into the depths of hell in an attempt to destroy it. Unfortunately, the side effect of this weapon strike is that hell's minions now have an easy exit topside to the earth's surface. Add to that an escaped experimental supersoldier, developed by Spawn's primary earthly adversary, Jason Wynn, and our hero has quite a hectic agenda on his hands. There are around 20 missions in the game, but none of them really drive the story, which actually only comes into play in some brief in-engine cutscenes that appear from time to time. Missions are set up by a title screen that appears at the beginning of each mission, quickly dictating what you're supposed to do and why. Beyond these few simple elements, there isn't much plot to be found.
Spawn has a few ways to attack his foes. He can use his trusty axe, his hellpower attacks, his ever-popular chains, or just good old-fashioned heavy artillery. The axe is most useful for any close-quarters combat. Axe attacks can be strung together into quick, though repetitive, three-hit combos and the moves include an uppercut slash, a forward flip attack, and a jumping axe slam attack. Hellpower is basically the game's answer to magic attacks, and a meter near Spawn's life bar shows how much he has available to him at any given time. There are a few different types of hellpower attacks--most of them are varying types of projectile attacks, and one is a Max Payne-inspired bullet-time effect. Spawn's chain and gun attacks are rolled into one button. When Spawn is unarmed, he can use his chains indefinitely to stab at or pull apart enemies from a distance. Throughout the game, Spawn can pick up a number of different weapons, including a basic shotgun, a hefty rocket launcher, and even a pair of dual-fisted miniguns. You can also target a specific enemy by pressing the right trigger button.
Despite the range of attack methods, however, combat in Armageddon gets old pretty quickly. Axe combat is pretty much the same three hits over and over again, and the other axe moves are really only necessary against specialized enemies, which don't pop up that often. The hellpower projectile attacks are effective, but they are often difficult to aim properly. That leaves your long-range attacks, which you'll generally use the most. In fact, pretty much all you need to do when faced with a non-boss enemy is find yourself a good spot in the middle of the action, hit the target button, and start hammering on the gun/chain attack button, ad nauseam. It usually doesn't matter what kind of weapon you're using in this situation, and really, your chains are nearly as effective as any of the guns, which have limited ammo.
When you've got both the forces of heaven and hell coming after you, it's safe to say you may have made some poor choices in your life.
Part of this is because none of the enemies are really all that difficult. On all difficulty levels but the hardest, plowing through levels is quite a briskly paced task, and nearly every bad guy has a surprisingly low life meter. The other reason is that the enemy AI is virtually nonexistent. Aside from some of the bosslike characters, pretty much every enemy in the game is about as nonaggressive as you'll find when it comes to demonic hellspawn. You might think that a lifetime of pain and suffering would make them a little more aggressive in their tactics, but interestingly enough, it seems that all these tortured souls know how to do is execute some obscenely basic attack patterns that rarely ever come close to doing any real damage to you, and you can often avoid them by simply mashing on the projectile attack button. Certain enemies, such as the fire demons and the claw demons, require a little more strategy than simple button mashing, but these brief respites from the mind-numbingly easy task of working your way past Armageddon's antagonists don't do much to help matters.