The Weakest Link Review
By Monica Bair |
The British: allies, friends, tenders of many pubs and bringers of solid, if cult, Indie flicks and music. Sure, they drive on the wrong side of the road, and have cute little accents, but we love 'em... They just need to stop exporting their mad cow disease over our way, because Weakest Link is a mad cow alright and I feel uncontrollably ill.
Activision (how hast thou tarnished thy name?) have seen it fit to transmogrify NBC's television show into the realm of PC gaming, no doubt hoping to cash in on the droves of average PC users regularly glued to their NBC affiliates to see what the show's host, Anne Robinson has to say next. I should have been elated by The Weakest Link. With a concept that revolves around treachery, flagrantly strutting one's mental superiority over another, and blatant disregard for the emotional well being of its contestants, it seems the show would offer more than enough to capture the attention of a bitter, and foully cruel PC editor such as myself. But as life has time and again so brutally taught us, theory on paper seldom turns out as well in actuality.
For the most part, The Weakest Link can be said to be an accurate representation of the game show from which it was spawned, but the marred delivery of virtually all of its components and its unadulterated lack of merits in practically every respect hamper an already grossly underdeveloped title.
I found the game to be graphically pretty repugnant. Start with a black background. Add four sets of audience sections (with each section being static and identical to the last), then add the central stage, overhead lighting, and contestant podiums. The lighting is not overly dramatic, but rather simple transparent cone effects. Color changes on the ground and the cones, but the actual differentiation is no more spectacular than sequentially looking at something red and then something blue.
The characters are atrocious assemblages of blocks. Their faces are completely devoid of any life and their rigid, stuck together bodies wouldn't qualify as good five years ago. I was in fact altogether baffled by their choice of a 3D engine in the first place. The game seems perfectly suited for a prerendered backdrop with short clips of FMV characters. They'd need only have the actors repeat their generic phrases in video forms to accomplish this too. I honestly don't understand it.
What we're left with is a barely passable portrayal of the television show that doesn't in any way bathe players in eye-candy but instead acts as a big fat sign telling us we're all playing The Weakest Link, just in case we thought it was The Wheel of Fortune or something. That is, graphically, the game is just kind of there, and features just enough in the form of aesthetics so that you'll be familiar with what you're playing, but lacks just enough so that'll be decidedly under whelmed.
Aurally the game is a near direct port of samplings from the TV show, that is to say the assortment of sound effects and "music" are exactly what you'd expect them to be. In terms of voice... If you enjoy the incessant nagging and mocking of Anne Robinson then you'll be covered; however, if you find the hostess to be rather mundane and offensive without humor, then The Weakest Link will certainly displease you. She's all that she is on TV, only scaled down. Because having her record responses for every possible outcome would be insane, she's limited to spouts of vague comments that could apply anywhere. It works to some degree in conveying her attitude and personality, but tires quickly. Don't worry; you can actually mute the game and still play (everything of relevance also comes in text form).
Options allow you to bend the rules a bit, which is probably the saving grace of the title. Beginners can toggle the difficulty from normal to junior, but that choice of terminology is a bit suspect as no child under fifteen will be able to answer half of the questions in the majority of categories. There are also settings to determine the frequency of questions asked. That way, if you're not big on the historical facts you can cut them down to a minimum. Hey, just turn the frequency of all categories down to the absolute lowest and confuse the hell out of the game! "Does not compute! Does not compute...! Must...Destroy! It won't actually do that, per say. If it does... Boy howdy, now may be time to take yours down to CompUSA for a little fixer upper as the Dalek phenomenon is not exactly welcome (getting stabbed with a plunger just isn't as fun as it sounds).
Other options include granting yourself, or other humans, exclusive rights to bank (the method by which earned money is saved, for the unfamiliar amongst us). You will immediately want to turn this feature on. Let's just say both my patience and faith in the choices of the often erratic computer controlled contestants is less than stellar. Even though they're said to have personalities, their accuracy and consistency in providing answers is spotty at best. They'll answer obscure questions about literature, but not know what leaf is prominently featured on the Canadian flag. It's because of this that I think the game is a bit unfair to categorize individual players... Why not just call them all the weakest link, I say?
The way in which they vote is conversely, overly predictable. As a general rule, you'll see practically unanimous votes against those that missed the most questions regardless of their banking perspicacity. This rule of consistently picking the weakest does change in approaching the last few cycles of play to picking the most powerful. When it's down to three, the strongest of the lot (assuming it's not you) will probably vote off the weakest, while the others will vote for the strongest. The few instances of illogical, human-esque actions are too rare and far between to make them noticeable, let alone appreciable. People in real life are always at the mercy of their feelings, and will often act on revenge, appearance, and relation to others when making pressure intensive decisions. None of this is present in the game. I purposely played a few rounds where I attempted to vote the same player off every round regardless of outcome, and never once did they stray from their tried and true course of voting off the weakest of the lot to exact a little revenge on yours truly. The game could very well be taking into account things of this sort, but if it is, it goes entirely unnoticed.
Perhaps the most debilitating aspect of the game is the idle time it forces on players. All of the moments of pause on the show where players take their turn are amplified. It just sucks waiting for your own turn to come. The game also forces you to sit through tedious voting sequences and the mindless prattle that ensues after each. In fact, I'd say about 90% of The Weakest Link involves doing nothing. Playing multiplayer and acting as all of the participants can even become preferable to the single player game.
Which leads us to another of The Weakest Link's characteristics that bother me significantly: multiplayer. The game has the potential to be an excellent time waster if only you could bust it out in the office and play a few rounds with neighbors and coworkers across the LAN or Internet. But alas, we're limited to multiple players playing off of one screen. Any possible degree of enjoyment quickly turns to disgust once you realize shouting out, "Who wants to play a game of the Weakest Link with me?" somehow necessitates Chud, the mail room jerk, and five of his hygienically challenged buddies to cram in your well kept office space. Having seven people seated around your computer is impractical and awkward.
Because quickly typing in exact phrases would suck, and voice interpretation isn't exactly peachy keen, selection of answers is entirely multiple choice, and also depends on difficulty (the easiest level offering up two choices, with normal forcing you to pick between four). In normal mode, answers also only at first appear as the first letter of the correct answer. For instance, when asked the question "Is a penguin a dog?" You would be given two choices of which to respond, either "T" or "F," standing for either true or false respectively. This actually turns out to be a good compromise between limited technology and the intent of the show and actually turns out to work fairly well. With answering based off of letter selection, you, like in the show, will have to first have some inkling as to just what the hell you're talking about before you go and respond.
Unlike the show, you're actually afforded brief leeway when given the choice to bank. This stretch of time actually makes it possible to view the whole question or at least gather a feeling of it before you choose whether to bank or not (this can quickly turn into cheating, especially when you opt to have human players control banking exclusively). It's like knowing the entire question in Final Jeopardy before you have to make a wager.
In addition to multiplayer, The Weakest Link screams for some degree of personalized customizability. The thumbnail gallery from which you choose your character begs for your own picture to be in there. Indeed, if you could import your own picture, voice samplings, and maybe even wrap a character face on a model like NHL 2002 allows, and then pit yourself against other players online and off, the game would be an undeniably fun pastime despite its myriad of shortcomings in other areas.
As is, The Weakest Link, even for show diehards, is a novelty at best. Unless your ongoing therapy sessions include extensive conversation and focus on your disturbing Anne Robinson obsession, you'll bore of this in less than a day's time, in fact, I'd wager even before lunch. There's just too much failed potential and sloppy delivery to make it worthwhile.
-- Ivan Sulic
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