When a first person shooter bungles moving and shooting, what does that leave room for? Great reloading? A potent save system? Awesome menus? Legendary is not a good game nor is it a so-bad-it's-good one. Its premise is sound enough: let loose a myriad of mythical brutes into our modern-day world and throw in a diabolical tyrant intent on ruling the earth. You at least have potential for a fun camp classic in the Clash of the Titans mold, but instead of delivering anachronistic thrills, Legendary piles poor gameplay mechanics onto overused shooter cliches, drying up all the juicy possibilities and leaving a dull, lifeless husk in their wake.
If you want to get the most out of Legendary's story, it's best not to think too hard: It's pure frivolity. As professional art thief Jack Deckard, you're hired to steal the mythical Pandora's Box from a New York City museum. But, as an entry on Murphy's Law in Jack's own PDA reminds us, what can go wrong will go wrong. Soon enough, griffons clog the skies and a gigantic golem constructed of cars and concrete is terrorizing a panicked public. Meanwhile, the incident brands a mysterious signet on Deckard's arm, which lets him absorb the life energy, or animus, from fallen creatures. The next step is obvious: Discover the truth behind his employer and kill some werewolves and minotaurs in the process. The concept has potential, but the story is insipid and doesn't always make a whole lot of sense. Why would Pandora's Box unleash such a limited collection of creatures? Why are the subways still running when the city is under siege by winged beasts? How does a mercenary, in one of many scenes featuring Legendary's cringe-inducing dialogue, forget that he's looking for a minotaur?
But coherence doesn't matter when the whole thing's just an excuse to grab a few guns and take aim at the nefarious beasties. To developer Spark's credit, a few of your mythological encounters are mildly fun, such as a boss fight versus a gigantic kraken that feels appropriately epic. Even some of the regular enemies have a strong concept behind them: Werewolves lithely jump from wall to wall, and the ghostly Nari can possess inanimate objects and use them as weapons (for example, a Nari uses a soda machine as a weapon during one of Legendary's more hysterical encounters). Some of the ensuing battles are legitimately fun; this is particularly true when werewolves are involved because their behavior is so unpredictable. In another interesting scenario, a Nari steals a handle from the wall just as you are about to turn it, forcing you to go retrieve it. Unfortunately, most of these scripted scenes are simply annoying, such as one in which you have to shoot the blades of an industrial fan before you're carved into a bloody pulp. And every battle--the good and the abysmal--are absolutely littered with design elements so atrocious, it's amazing that they could have made their way into a modern-day shooter.
The problems start with simply moving from one place to the next. Deckard can only hop a few inches off the ground, yet when sprinting, he leaps forward as though he's competing in the long jump. With such terrible jumping mechanics, it's a wonder that Legendary would even include platforming sequences, let alone the awful one thrown at you early on in the game. Should you even find a spot you think Deckard can easily hurdle, you'll discover countless invisible walls, or even worse, you'll get stuck on the various objects littering the cramped levels. The ease with which you can get hung up on the environment is rather astounding, and it's a big frustration in such battles as one in which you fight off a minotaur in a crumbling graveyard.
This is also one of many examples of Legendary's poor level design, which is not just highly claustrophobic, but also overflowing with ridiculous cliches. For a good half of the experience, your objectives consist of going some place (like the ever-popular sewer) to turn a handle so that you can go some other place (like the ever-popular warehouse) to open a door. Every closed door in the game that you can open is controlled by a security panel, and opening it is as simple as touching two wires. To do so, you dutifully hold a button down for six seconds or so; you don't need to enter a code, find a keycard, or perform a minigame. Why not just let the player open the door without the unnecessary padding? As for the handle-turning and lever-pulling tasks, even other shooters lend these mechanics some type of puzzle elements. Unless you count the few occasions where you glimpse a green-glowing object above or below you (hint: shoot it), there's nothing thoughtful about Legendary's non-puzzles.
At least the weapons are decent, which is to say, they work. But even here, it's flabbergasting that so many basic flaws are held up for display. It's really cool that you have to lop off a werewolf's head to kill it lest its lifeless body reanimates a moment later. Why, then, do you have to pound on its head and neck area with your axe countless times before you hit the magic spot? This might be the only game on earth where a flamethrower is a more effective instrument of decapitation than a fire axe. In addition, there are numerous flaws that make you realize how much we take for granted in most shooters. Why can't you keep the trigger held down while you automatically reload, so that shooting continues once reloading is finished? When you load a checkpoint, why do you automatically wield the weapon assigned to right on the D pad, rather than the one you were carrying? Aiming sensitivity and turning speed while firing certain weapons also feel off.
Legendary's sole spark of originality comes from the life force known as animus, which leaks from fallen creatures. Deckard slurps it up with his signet and uses it to power various objects, as well as heal himself. He also uses it to let loose brief blasts of energy, which makes ghostly enemies corporeal and knocks some foes back. This comes into play a few times during the single-player campaign, such as an infuriating sequence in which you have to power up a device that the fluttering Naris keep picking up and moving around. Its use in the game's single multiplayer mode is more interesting. Here, two teams of four must kill werewolves, collect their animus, and use it to charge up generators back at the team's base. Again, there was potential here, but all of the problems of the single-player campaign are out in force, and four uninteresting maps all but ensure that the game's tiny online community will soon disappear entirely. As it stands, matches just aren't much fun; teams usually rush werewolves and animus without bothering with each other, so the game is often over before it really begins.
Legendary uses the Unreal 3 engine, though it's only obvious because of that engine's telltale texture-popping, which is particularly noticeable here. Aside from a few set-piece moments, such as the sight of the impressively towering golem looming above you, it's hard to look at the game. Human character models stare blankly ahead and look like porcelain dolls, the geometry count is low, and the overall art design is dull and muddy. Nothing looks crisp or detailed, and some visual peculiarities, such as the way rubbery werewolf corpses get stuck in the geometry and jitter around, may induce a few laughs. You also might giggle when you shoot at a window and hear the sound of glass breaking yet not actually break any glass. That isn't to say that Legendary's audio is terrible, and it has a few bright spots, such as the eerie effect you hear when sucking up animus. The best thing that can be said about the rest of the sound design, from the generic rock soundtrack to the mediocre voice acting, is that it isn't particularly offensive.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Legendary is that it prepares you for a sequel, which in this case is less of a tantalizing tease than it is a full-on threat. Memorably, the game's lead designer apologizes in one of the Xbox Live achievement descriptions for giving another achievement such a cheesy name. Unfortunately, a game as bad as this one calls for more than just one apology.