Movie tie-ins are funny old things that fail more often than they strike a decent note. I'd struggle to remember one that was ever actually decent, it's THAT bad! The main problem with them in the past is that they feel obliged to follow the line of the plot as far as possible, making it hard to come up with anything unexpected or original. Far too many ended up as a long sequence of tedious sub-games loosely strung together by the movie's plot, and these in particular were generally awful. Latterly, with games like Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire and the seemingly endless stream of Star Trek related games, officially licensed software has taken the more cautious tack of using the previous media only as guidelines, and coming up with a unique plot of its own.
From Dust 'til Dawn (FDTD to its friends) is in this second category, following on from the film with the incarceration of the Hero Seth Gecko aboard a converted oil-tanker cum prison boat - quite a novel idea, I thought. Naturally, one of the convicts aboard is just a little bit vampy/psychotic, and goes on a nibbling binge that sees half the crew and inmates turned into eldritch creatures of the night (tm). The game starts with you sprung from your cell, with nothing but a stolen tazor to protect you.
FDTD is a first or third-person shooter - you can switch between the two views at will, which makes a nice change, although third person is by far the better option. Thankfully, aiming is assisted by a nice red laser beam so it's not difficult to hit things as in many third person games. You follow the action from just above and behind the main character, allowing you to see enemies directly behind you, which can be a real life-saver. The controls are simple - cursor keys move you and strafe you, while the mouse aims and looks around, with the left button firing weaponry and the right button using items or pushing a nasty vampy's fangs away from your tasty lil' neck (mmmmm). Enemies range in style, from the hoards of grunts, through shotgun-wielding mechanics, flying half-bats, heavily armoured machine gun guys and a lovely hard-to-see metallic effect stealth vamp.
Ok, let's cut to the chase, you want to hear about the weapons, right? Well, first off the tazor is utterly useless. It offs the human guards very nicely, but since these only occur in the very first section, the fact that it is useless against vampires makes it totally forgettable. There are several pistol-type firearms that are all pretty similar, a shotgun that acts more or less like a more powerful pistol with less range, and a couple of obligatory machine gun/pistol type armaments. Frankly, I was a little disappointed - where is the super-soaker full of holy water? What no condom bombs? I want a vibro-stake! Actually, there is ONE whacked-out weapon I've found that appears a long way into the game - the CD launcher. It doesn't look like much more than a fancy handgun, but the CD's it fires have a slight homing capacity, and bounce off walls to hit several targets - great for killing huge droves of bloodsuckers in groups. 'At last, a weapon worthy of a true artist,' I hear you cry! It certainly had ME shouting 'Eat white-hot Bon Jovi Album, Evil Lawyer Scum!' for a while.
A nice touch with weaponry is how they reward accuracy. Early on in the game, you receive a sharp, pointy stake from a kindly psychotic preacher (I presume he must have been the prison chaplain). This stake straps nicely to the inside of your forearm on a retractable spring, ready to be used at any time. A good accurate shot to the head or leg of a vampire will blow it off (they grow back in a few seconds) sending the villains sprawling to the floor. A quick tap of the right mouse button, and you can drive the pointy end right through their hearts. This is very, very rewarding, especially since there are several different animations for the process, and you get a nifty stake-cam for every one. I particularly like the forward-roll-'n'-staking that you get if you can aim it just right from a distance away. But the best bit is, every successful staking gives you a little health back - BONUS!
So far, so good. But wait! It can't all be sweetness and light! It's a movie tie in, for goodness' sake! Surely something must go wrong? Well... ok yes, and the first one hits you the second you start the game. The graphics. In-game they don't look too bad, the low poly count helps keep frame rate high in huge mobs. However, in the cut-scenes (of which there are almost too many) you can clearly see that the hands are like paper thin gloves stuck onto the ends of each arm. The mouths, lip-synced badly to the texts, are quite literally triangular, the bottom lip sagging disturbingly in the middle when they open - urgh! Not only that but AI is somewhat lacking. Bad-guys just attack with the most appropriate method, and run away when low on health. They also seem to think that if they are facing a corner, they are invulnerable, leading to many of them standing perfectly still facing a wall as you brutally murder them.
Next problem - the levels! During the first half of the game, you are constantly forced down a set path through rooms that look distressingly similar, and often repeat themselves. Only later on does the architecture begin to vary, although it is very nice when it does, as if it's trying to make up for the monotony of the early levels. With few exceptions, there is usually only one way around the game, and many doors don't even open until all the resident nasties have been offed. Add to this that at certain points you are required to protect civilians, and things get a little annoying and confusing.
And another - the plot! It's lousy, disjointed and, although the acting is passable, badly scripted. The mini-missions that sprinkle the game are also very contrived - why can't the big butch demolitions expert get her own damn explosives? Why does a party of heavily armed marines have to wait for a lone convict to go fetch them some ammunition from vampire-infested corridors? I begin to wonder if it was written by Cryo in French and then poorly translated by the same. Even the heavily-accented grunts in Outbreak (name-dropping) have a better script than this.
ARRRRGH! It crashed on me again! Now I have to go back to my last save!
Finally - the subgames. Fans of the sniper rifle will be sadly disappointed to learn that it only appears once in a while, where you are suddenly forced into immobility in first-person, trying to gun down vamps with an unresponsive gun before they reach their target - usually your friends. A minigun/gatling cannon affair also crops up in a similar fashion from time to time, and is far more enjoyable, but you just end up wishing you could carry the damn thing around with you, or at least choose when you want to use it rather than having it scripted into a specific part of the level.
Ok, that's a lot of moaning done now, and I've probably put you off the game completely but... gnnnnnnnnnnnnh... I like it! I can't help myself, I really DO like it! It's very satisfying to blow the legs off a vampire and stab his stomach full of stake! The blood effects are lovely, and you are occasionally (VERY occasionally) treated to a nice 360-degree matrix camera lifted directly from The Devil Inside (like the one in Max Payne but better basically) - shame it's so rare. You get an incredible adrenalin rush from gunning down hoards of vamps and, because they die fairly easily, you never feel that you are fighting against insurmountable odds.
In conclusion - like many movie licenses before it, FDTD is a flawed game with lots of niggling little problems. Unlike its ancestors in film-ripoff-land, it is actually a lot of fun to play! This game would be excellent as a bot-related 'stake as many as you can' deathmatch arena type thing. If you can ignore the dodgy script, battle through the annoying sub-games, save the preacher from being bitten to death by a toothy Herman Munster lookalike and put up with the uninspired level design, the actual fighting will have you bouncing up and down in your seat shouting 'I got another one! I got another one!'.