Released in 1998, the Spanish film Torrente, El Brazo Tonto de la Ley (Torrente, The Stupid Arm of the Law) was a huge hit in its country of origin. The comedy about a homophobic, racist, sexist ex-cop who, for good measure, drinks too much and abuses his crippled father, reportedly grossed more money than Titanic, at least in Spain. This exotic pedigree gives Torrente the game an air of intrigue that eclipses the final product, which turns out to be a typically rotten movie-licensed budget shooter.
Whatever charm the movie had didn't survive the translation from screen to game. Other than some brief narration before each mission and a handful of repeated catchphrases (all voiced by the film's director and star, Santiago Segura), there isn't any story here, or any humor beyond the level of a bad Duke Nukem clone. Apart from the fact that he's a fat guy with a comb-over, Torrente may as well be any generic action hero.
The game begins in Madrid before moving to the seaside resort town of Marbella (the setting of the original film's sequel). Both areas are largish, clockwork environments with plenty of cars and pedestrians, as in Grand Theft Auto. You have more or less free rein of the entire city during each of the game's roughly 60 missions, but that's where the GTA analogy ends. The cities aren't particularly complex, lacking the interesting nooks and alleys of the GTA universe. You also can't drive any vehicles.
The game was released last year in Europe, but the graphics look more dated than that. The environments are colorful, but boxy and simplistic. The textures are blurry, as if ported from a previous-generation console, and the draw distance is short. Some of the character designs have an unusual elongated look reminiscent of the arcade classic Rolling Thunder, but the character animations are uniformly stiff and artless. Other than Torrente's 10-or-so quips and the sound of gunfire, the game is also oddly silent, though the little music that does exist is actually kind of catchy. Not 20 dollars' worth of catchy, though.
Torrente's missions feature a variety of goals. There are some escort tasks, some timed delivery jobs, and a few straightforward combat assignments with an occasional requirement to collect something along the way. Once in a while, the game tosses in an oddball contrivance, such as shooting manhole covers in order to close them before a blindfolded hostage falls into the sewer. There are also several on-rails bonus levels, which effectively deliver a sense of high-speed chaos that ends up being the best part of the entire game.
The core gameplay is bad enough to make the mission variety irrelevant, however. Aiming, both in the default third person and optional first-person views, is loose and imprecise. Enemies have two behaviors--they either run straight at you or stand in one place and shoot. The vast majority of them pose little threat. The remainder, equipped with rocket and grenade launchers, will kill you with one shot, often before you see them. Survival often feels like a matter of luck rather than skill.
Since there's no in-mission save feature, the game becomes an exercise in replaying each level over and over again until you finally map out the positions of all the one-hit kill enemies. The missions often take place over a large area, and Torrente moves at a realistically pokey pace for a fat, middle-aged man, so expect to spend a lot of time covering the same ground. No matter how well you've committed a mission to memory, though, you'll occasionally--and seemingly arbitrarily--get rammed by a stray car and die. It's frustrating in the first mission and unbearable by the 60th. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone who isn't getting paid to do so ever finishing Torrente.
There's no multiplayer, but, well, no great loss. Given its lurid subject matter, Torrente, bad as it is, might have been some kind of epic disaster or at least an interesting failure. Instead, its awfulness is entirely, depressingly average. If nothing else, collectors of all things Torrente can buy it, store it, and keep it in mint condition in the box, and not feel as if they've missed anything.