Bandits: Phoenix Rising is a straightforward car combat game that promises straightforward driving and shooting action and more or less fulfills that promise. It's not especially ambitious, but for what it is, and despite its problematic save system, it's good enough.
As far as plot is concerned, Bandits can be summed up in three words: The Road Warrior. It's the future, society has gone to pot, one thing leads to another, and all of a sudden you're driving a nitrous-injected dune-buggy tank across the desert. The main vehicle is actually piloted simultaneously by two characters: Fennec, a traditional wisecracking hero type, and Rewdalf, an angry Scottish dwarf. Which, technically, leaves you in the role of the car.
The game's 22 missions offer a nice variety of goals. There's offensive driving from points A to B, the running defense of friendly vehicles, racing, and the occasional oddball surprise mission, such as one in which you man a stationary turret. Most of the missions start at a screen where you can choose a chassis (light, medium, or heavy) and then stock it with a variety of weapons. Every vehicle's primary gun is a rotating turret that can fire in all directions. Steering defaults to mouse control, though you can switch on the fly to operating the turret with the mouse and steering with the keyboard, letting you drive in one direction while aiming and firing in another. This control scheme, combined with the large size of the environments, makes the combat less prone to the constant driving in tight circles that characterizes other car combat games. You can actually tear across the desert and still effectively engage a pack of cars on your tail.
Secondary weapons--ranging from missiles to Gatling guns to land mines--generally fire either straight ahead or straight behind your vehicle. This weapon choice adds a minor, but somewhat interesting, strategic element to every level. Some missions are definitely better tackled with a specific combination of chassis and armaments, though you may have to play a particular level a few times to figure out the best combination.
You'll have to play various levels a few times for other reasons as well, and this is the game's biggest flaw--you can only save your progress at the end of each mission. Bandits is a tough game to begin with, but the save system occasionally drives it into the realm of the nearly impossible. Some of the levels involve 10 or more minutes of routine combat followed by a difficult boss battle. The game's developers even acknowledge the problems with the save system; the between-level hints specifically refer to replaying missions repeatedly.
Graphically, Bandits is just average enough to not make much of an impression at all. It creates believably large desert and tundra environments featuring long stretches of flat ground punctuated by low-slung buttes. With only occasional extra scenery, though, the environments also quickly become realistically monotonous. The car models are much more detailed than the landscapes, but, in a significant graphical omission, they don't show any progressive damage until they finally explode in a shower of metal scraps and ammo pick-ups. The audio is unremarkable as well, though the developer put Rewdalf's thick Scottish brogue to great use by inserting the word "crap" into every other line of dialogue.
The game also includes standard deathmatch and team deathmatch multiplayer modes. Though these work well enough, Bandits is best as a single-player game. It would have been nice if the developer had attempted to add some truly new multiplayer modes to the game--perhaps something that took specific advantage of the game's vehicles--but no such luck. Last year's Mobile Forces would better serve anyone looking for fast-paced multiplayer car combat.
Bandits has good enough graphics, good enough sound, good enough mission design, and good enough action. So, those looking for action reminiscent of The Road Warrior should give the game a look, but they shouldn't set their sights too high.