Phil Larsen
08 Sep, 2006

Alex Rider: Stormbreaker Review

DS Review | At least he's got good hair.
Ahhhh, Alex Rider. What a dreamboat. The ultimate in teen heartthrob badasses… from the last six months. Yes, a new one comes along with every new drama series or less-than-Hollywood movie, and Alex Rider is no exception. The DS game, entitled Alex Rider: Stormbreaker, is yet another title based on a movie based on a book. This is usually sufficient grounds to dismiss a game as rubbish before playing. What is surprising in the case of Stormbreaker is that for a portable 3D action game, you actually won’t find much better on the DS. This isn’t to say it is great, but anyone after a beat-'em-up with some cool gadgetry and slick presentation should give Stormbreaker a second glance. A third glance may be pushing it. Buy something else if the decision is too difficult.

Stormbreaker has you assuming the role of the young Alex Rider, a teen spy virtuoso (not really an original concept – but that is the movie’s fault, not the game designers) out to avenge the death of his uncle and take down the latest billionaire tyrant bent on ruling the world. No prizes for a unique story then, but Stormbreaker actually provides a less-than-boring narrative, and this does make for some interesting gameplay sequences. The core game is a third-person action fighter, which features Alex running around various mansions, labs and compounds beating up guards and using gadgets/doohickeys to move forward. Get this – the tool he uses to access various features is a Nintendo DS. Massive product placement right there, and it's in the movie also. I couldn’t help but laugh at Alex as he was presented his DS Heavy, while I was playing his sorry behind using my super-cool DS Lite. Nice.

Getting beaten up by a 14 year old kid is a daily occurence for me.

The action takes place from a fixed camera behind the back, and it actually controls similarly to Resident Evil 4. Alex isn’t as nimble as Leon Kennedy, nor does he have any firearms, but the comparisons are evident. It could also be compared to Tomb Raider, yet without more fluid movement, the gameplay possibilities end there.

So, make your way to the exit of each level, pick up any power-ups or Spy Points you can, and every time you see a guard, run up and begin the punishment. It isn’t exactly torture – guards usually go down before they can get more than one punch in, and this is pretty much the way it goes throughout the whole game. Many may find it boring, but there is just something about the combat, something quietly entertaining. The camera is nice, it rotates independently during battle mode as you move Alex, and even gets all cinematic on yo’ candy asses when you manage to sneak up for a Surprise attack. Recognise.

And that is pretty much all there is to the main game. Really. Run through the easy-to-navigate (yet quite well-designed) levels, bashing up dudes until you reach the boss - which are all just as easy, yet take a few more hits. No real puzzles (I needed to backtrack this one time for a few seconds to push a button to open a door, if that counts), and no real difficulty. What makes it enjoyable is the simple fun. It isn’t a great title on its own, but rather Alex Rider serves as an indication of the DS capabilities. Add a slightly more fluid and complex movement system and more varied tasks to complete during levels (as opposed to in between – more on that in a second) and there really wouldn’t be much to complain about.

Little known fact: Tarzan was also a great Snooker player.

As mentioned, in between each run-and-punch level there is a mini-game, which is more often than not a tacky excuse to chuck in some unique DS functionality. Blow in the microphone to propel Alex’s parachute, rub the screen clockwise to abseil down a building, and so on. There is however a pretty decent Snooker simulation, and a surprisingly well controlled underwater level. Again, expand the better games out into the main experience and tweak the movement engine, and we would be onto a winner. I can’t stress enough the potential of what this game demonstrates. The DS hardware hopefully will be able to accommodate larger 3D environments, while retaining quality and increasing movement.

The graphics are actually very impressive. It seems that Nintendo has a habit of over-hyping the power of its handheld systems, and eventually always focusing on 2D games with a 3D twist. Still fun games, but the fact is the DS doesn’t do 3D nearly well enough to constantly produce quality titles with cutting-edge graphics. This is probably why I was so enamoured with Stormbreaker. One woodsy, outdoor area complete with waterfalls is especially pretty, and also quite well-designed. Most of the levels are. The character models are also done quite well, and give a fairly accurate representation of the real-life counterparts (which are displayed throughout the game in cutscenes using stills from the film). There is no slowdown, even in the largest areas and even when Alex is actually flying over the skyline of a fully 3D city on a parachute. Again, so much potential! It really is exciting to think of what's to come on the DS, after playing games such as this.

The main game will take an average gamer 2 hours to complete. That’s it. There are two difficulty levels, and the only real difference is that Alex takes a bit more damage – but this is negated as soon as he starts leveling up. Oh yes, there are experience points, but it isn’t really satisfying when the game is over so quickly and there isn’t a chance to develop a meatier character. The gadgets you receive after the introduction seem to be cool, but I didn’t use any of them once. There just isn’t any point. See guards on the map? Who cares, they are easily disposed of within seconds if one spots you. Cloaking device? Useless, because then you would miss out on the precious experience points. Still, the items are there for those who want the full spy experience; they just have no real practical use.

Each DS cart is a different gadget. How true.

To the game’s credit, there is quite a lot of unlockable content. Varied outfits, galleries, extra spy items (equally useless, but there you go) are all available. These can be revealed after you collect Password Chips and Spy Points during the main game. The codes are entered in the Passwords section of the menu, and the extras items can be bought at the Toy Shop using Spy Points. It’s a pretty neat feature, and getting all the extra gear did warrant a second playthrough for me – even though the second time on a harder difficulty probably took no more than an hour. All the mini-games are available after you beat the main game, to try and best your high scores. Still, over half of these are not fun enough to bother with more than once.

So, how does this action-packed adventure with a teen heartthrob end? Pretty impressively – at least for the limitations of the DS. The game mechanics really do show infinite promise, and even with this first attempt there is some dumb fun to be had – except it takes no more than five hours to complete the game 100%. Yes it is simple, short, easy, shallow and a movie tie-in. But I enjoyed it. So sue me – or better yet, take out a hit on me by recruiting some dreamy teenage spy. At least the subsequent movie-game-tie-in based on my demise may build upon Stormbreaker's efforts and produce something really worth instant-messaging about.
The Score
Simple fun, and a very promising sign of what may be possible on the DS in the future. Probably not worth full price for the limited lifespan, but there is fun to be had no matter how you get your hands on it. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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1 Comment
7 years ago
Looks good, i was excpecting another terrible movie game to be honest. The movie doesnt look great, and this is a step in the right direction for once
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