When it comes to the modern-day crop of big-name comic book artists, few among the pack have developed the rabid following that Todd McFarlane has. The creator of the Spawn series has enjoyed enormous success over the years, and, in turn, he has parlayed that success into a number of other areas of entertainment. One of McFarlane's biggest cash cows has been his various lines of action figures, including the McFarlane's Monsters line that features his own interpretations of various classic horror monsters. McFarlane's Monsters are also the inspiration for McFarlane's Evil Prophecy, a PlayStation 2 beat-'em-up game developed by Konami that features these many grotesque creatures as its primary antagonists. It's an interesting concept, but it's ultimately a concept whose appeal will largely be based on your particular level of interest in McFarlane's designs--and on your ability to put up with some rather clunky gameplay and production values.
The time is the 19th century. Strange things are happening all across the globe. Vampires, werewolves, and other assorted creatures are attacking the populous; ships are being lost at sea to swarms of ghastly sea creatures; and in some areas, the dead are literally rising from their graves. (real wrath-of-God type of stuff) People are, predictably, freaking out. But one gentleman, in particular, is most concerned that this could all be part of an "evil prophecy" leading to the end of the world. That gentleman is Dr. Hans Jaeger, a brilliant scientist in the field of electricity studies who also happens to possess a book that tells of the end of times and of the signs that point toward it. Apparently, these are all signs that are beginning to come true. After coming to the conclusion that he simply cannot allow this to happen, Jaeger recruits some of the world's most renowned monster hunters to take evil to task. They include Logan, a brute of a pirate whose crew was slaughtered at the hands of evil sea creatures; Delphine, a gunslinging expert in killing werewolves; and Sundano, a mystical warrior from Africa. The four don't make for the friendliest of teams, but they can still take out a whole lot of monsters.
Of course, the plot is mostly just an excuse to set you up to beat the living hell out of as many monsters as Evil Prophecy sees fit to put in front of you. The game is primarily just a big, dumb beat-'em-up--and it's unapologetically so. In traditional fashion, much of the gameplay simply relies on the age-old mechanic of walking in one direction, beating up a bunch of bad guys who spawn in front of you, walking another 10 feet, and so on and so forth until you eventually get to the boss character. Then you beat him or her up too. This is effectively what Evil Prophecy does best, in that it stays fairly consistent in its style and methodology of action. What, unfortunately, bogs the game down is its occasional forays into the realm of exploration and puzzle-solving, in addition to some problematic team-based elements.
In most of the game's levels, you'll have to perform at least one kind of special objective to move on. This can range from simply finding a way to traverse a gap in your path to actually locating and rescuing kidnapped villagers. Sure, it's absolutely not a bad idea to try to break up the semi-monotonous beat-'em-up action, but the objectives the game puts in front of you aren't fun or interesting. For example, having to run around inside a labyrinthine maze of sewer tunnels to specifically try to locate one of several kidnapped children while being constantly pummeled by hordes of spawning monsters is far more frustrating than fun. As the game goes on, the objectives get more complex, and the enemies get much, much tougher, thus making later portions of the game downright maddening.
The one aspect of Evil Prophecy that moves away from mere typical beat-'em-up fare is its team-based element. During the game, all four of the hunter characters are fighting at once. You can quickly shift through the roster of hunters to pick your particular warrior by using the left and right buttons on the D pad, and the remaining three characters are controlled automatically. They don't just stand idly by, though; they fight right by your side and are often just as adept at plowing through enemies as your average player. That said, there are definitely some artificial intelligence issues to speak of. Periodically, teammates will get hung up in certain areas, either stuck in a blocking animation or otherwise just immobile for no discernible reason. Dead spots will sometimes appear in the action, where neither your teammates nor the surrounding enemies will attack, thus leading to a stalemate until you start up the action again yourself. Additionally, when one of your teammates gets too low in health, he or she will immediately switch to an almost entirely defensive mind-set. While this does make a certain level of sense, you're still basically losing a teammate prematurely, since he or she won't attack any enemies unless an enemy specifically goes after him or her. Ideally, having your teammates fight to the bitter end would probably have been a more welcome solution.
On the plus side, the basic fighting mechanics in Evil Prophecy are actually pretty good. The X button acts as a basic attack button, which, when pressed in rapid succession, performs a basic combo attack. The circle button is your jump button, and the square button performs a low-level, character-specific special attack. Holding the R1 button and pressing X performs a more powerful special attack. Special attacks drain a meter that represents your entire team's special abilities, so when one member performs an attack of this type, the whole team's ability to perform a move decreases. The meter builds itself back up as you inflict more damage on enemies, so it usually doesn't stay depleted for very long.
Each character also has a specifically unique elemental attack that he or she can perform. As it is explained early on in the game, each hunter represents a specific elemental power. Logan is fire; Jaeger is electricity; Sundano is magic; and Delphine is light. When you press the R2 button in conjunction with a directional button, this allows you to perform a combination attack with one of your teammates. Throughout the game, helping out specific teammates during battle will increase your cooperative abilities with that character. As this increases, your ability to inflict damage with these combo attacks also increases. Certain combos actually work better on certain enemies than others, so you have to figure out the right combination of characters to inflict the most damage to specific types of enemies. This is kind of a neat idea, but really, the whole elemental angle feels like something of a tacked-on mechanic that doesn't feel very much in keeping with the game's primary themes. Still, the combo attacks do add more depth to the gameplay than you would otherwise get.
Evil Prophecy also has a multiplayer component, though it is one that isn't accessible in the story mode. Outside of the story mode, the game also features dungeon, battle, and time attack modes. The dungeon mode is a cooperative, up-to-four-player mode where you and your friends simply battle through level after level of never-ending bad guys until you're all dead. Battle lets you and your friends either compete against one another by trying to see who can kill the most enemies, or it actually lets you fight one another to the death. While both of these modes are nice ideas, they aren't as well-put-together as one might hope. The fighting in the battle mode, when playing competitively against one another, is just sloppy and incoherent, and the cooperative dungeon mode just gets old quickly. Were the co-op gameplay available in the story mode, it might have been more entertaining. But in its current state, it lacks any sort of longevity beyond a couple of plays. The time attack mode is single-player only, and unless you're especially keen on trying to beat your times on specific levels, it isn't very interesting.
With Todd McFarlane representing the influence for Evil Prophecy's visual design, one might assume that the game would take a decidedly comic book-like appearance. Interestingly enough, this isn't really the case. The six primary horror monsters that serve as the game's bosses--Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Voodoo Queen, Sea Creature, and the Mummy--feature the same look as the action figures they're based on, with McFarlane's signature, over-the-top style quite prevalent. For instance, the Wolfman, rather than just being the traditional tattered-pants wearing, human-built wolf creature of old, now features a decidedly more grotesque design, with its wolf head actually appearing from out of a forced-agape human mouth and a large blade mounted atop its right shoulder for some inexplicable reason. The trouble is that these are really the only characters that feel like decidedly McFarlane-like creations. The four heroes aren't very aesthetically interesting to look at, and most of the grunt enemies you face, while certainly horrific in most cases, aren't anywhere near as creatively designed as the main monsters. In fact, most just look like pretty simple rip-offs of other horror game enemies. McFarlane's art style also doesn't really translate especially well into the game's graphical design, and if it didn't have the man's name right in the game's title, it'd be easy to mistake it for just another horror-based game that could have been inspired by practically anybody.
Technically speaking, Evil Prophecy looks OK, though it's definitely not impressive. Characters and enemies are limited to a fairly short roster of animations, most of which aren't especially involved or interesting-looking. The game features six different world areas, each with several different-level sections. Though the worlds are fairly different from one another, the levels are typically just thinly different interpretations of the same basic world designs. None of the environments are particularly rife with eye candy, but the dank, atmospheric looks of them are complementary enough for the game's creepy intentions. Evil Prophecy does run at a fairly consistent frame rate (save for a couple of rough spots), but the game suffers from a pretty horrid camera. It is utterly incapable of framing a proper shot on its own during combat, and even trying to swing it around into a proper angle is next to impossible, since it will often still frame you halfway out of shot even at its best angle. Were it not for this infernal camera, Evil Prophecy might have been a far less frustrating game than it turned out to be.
Evil Prophecy has absolutely no speech whatsoever. You will hear periodic grunts and shouts from your hunters and from the enemies onscreen during a fight, but the game's cutscenes and bouts of dialogue are handled purely through scrolling text boxes at the bottom of the screen. The remaining aspects of the game's audio design are equally minimalist. Background music is appropriately dread-inspiring, though not ever especially memorable, and the in-game sound effects are basically what they need to be but nothing beyond that. The game certainly doesn't sound terrible, but there just isn't much sound to it.
In the end, it's tough to recommend McFarlane's Evil Prophecy. By no means is it an especially bad game. It has certain unique qualities to it that set it apart from just being another halfhearted beat-'em-up game, and if you're especially fond of Todd McFarlane and his creations, the ability to fight against his interpretive monsters and the addition of several interviews with McFarlane himself (as well as quite a bit of unlockable concept art) might make the game worth renting. However, for anyone who isn't especially obsessed with all things Todd McFarlane, Evil Prophecy just has too many problems to make it recommendable.