Revealed at the last E3 and subsequently paraded by Microsoft at countless events and trade shows, Digital Illusions' Shrek game has enjoyed a very high profile. The fact that it stars a nearly picture-perfect replica of the hit movie's computer-generated lead has only helped this. Shrek is indeed among the Xbox's most visually impressive launch games. Never before has a video game adaptation come so close to duplicating the movie on which it was based. The detail within the worlds will often amaze you and will, without a doubt, sell you on the graphical prowess of the Xbox. But these amazing visuals have come at a price--as a gameplay experience, Shrek is pretty unsubstantial. Only the youngest of players will find its gameplay compelling in the least, and even they, by now, have become accustomed to something more.
Shrek the video game takes place after Shrek the film. In it, you take the role of the grumpy yet good-natured ogre as he travels through the world's various lands performing good deeds. As the story goes, the fair Princess Fiona has been abducted by the evil wizard Merlin and is being held in the Dark Tower Fortress of Pure Evil. Merlin has also sealed the lands surrounding the foul place in a thick, impassable fog. The only way for Shrek to lift this fog is to travel the world performing good deeds; these will nullify the evil with which the fog is woven. With his book of good deeds in hand and with the aid of the friendly magic mirror, Shrek is on his way.
Each of the lands that Shrek travels to has an entry in his good-deed book, which details all of the missions possible in that particular world. Essentially, Shrek adheres strictly to the Super Mario 64 school of gameplay design. Each of the worlds is largely static and self-contained, but your actual goals while in them vary depending on what specific good deed you've set out to perform. The exact nature of these deeds varies, but you'll notice several constant themes: object hunts, basic seek-and-destroy missions, and a few scattered combinations of the aforementioned. One stage in the Mother Goose world, for instance, has you punching a clock in the face (to force night to fall) so you can bust some croquet-mallet-wielding mounted guards sleeping on the job. Once you find them, in the relatively tight map, you have to punch them enough so they'll wake up. This is about as interesting as it gets.
As a result of this sort of structure, the worlds feel a bit segmented and inharmonious. You'll come across objects, for instance, that were obviously designed for one particular mission and play no part in any of the others. In many cases it feels as if individual maps for subworlds were drawn and were then combined into larger worlds halfway through the game's development. The maps themselves vary in size, though none of them are particularly large. They're notably smaller than what you'd find in most platform games, and they feel a bit more cluttered as a result, as if too many elements were crammed into too little space. The environments vary greatly in theme and, at least from a visual standpoint, seem very thoughtfully designed. The Mother Goose world is suitably saccharine, and if you look close enough, you'll see some twists. The Creepy Crypt, on the other hand, is your typical trick-or-treat wonderland, with broom-riding witches, dancing skeletons, and contrasting lighting.
To accomplish all his tasks, Shrek is armed with a modest list of abilities. He can run, jump, and wall-jump with the best. Instead of the standard 3D platformer butt-stomp move, Shrek has a punch, a kick, and a grab, as well as a set of formidable gastrointestinal abilities. The punches and kicks will damage your enemies directly, while the grab lets you set them up for a long-distance punt, when used in tandem with the kick attack. To the white and black buttons, respectively, are mapped burp and fart attacks. The latter releases a noxious cloud of gas that will stun opponents, and its effect is required to fulfill certain mission objectives. Also, if you release gas while crouching, you'll cause any adjacent fire sources to violently explode. You build gas by collecting onions, which replenish, so you never need fear a less-than-steady supply. Burping, on the other hand, does nothing but offend, unless you've collected chili-pepper power-ups, which are present in some stages. Burp while under the influence of one, and you'll exhale a jet of fire.
As you fight enemies in Shrek, you'll notice one thing: the disconnected feel of the gameplay. For some reason or another, you never feel as if you're actually hitting your enemies. Though you'll definitely see Shrek rolling on them with his fists, and you'll certainly hear them complaining about your pummeling, you won't quite "feel" yourself doing it. Perhaps the accompanying sound effects aren't substantial enough, or perhaps the animations aren't given the breadth they need to do the task; regardless, the contact you have with enemies isn't as satisfying as it should be.
If you watch the game being played, though, rather than play it yourself, you'll likely have no problems with any of this. Indeed, Shrek is a great-looking game, and given its place as a first-generation Xbox game, its impact is pretty easy to feel. Shrek himself looks nearly identical to the model used for the movie, right down to the individually modeled teeth and his bump-mapped knit sweater. The game's textural quality--while spotty in some places--is where the bulk of the graphical attention has obviously gone. Rusted steel looks (and almost feels) like rusted steel, and ditto with granite, straw, and most any other textural entity you can think of. Specular highlighting is also used, where appropriate, and the effect is largely satisfying; when combined with a convincing bump-map, the specular highlights on the rusty drawbridge in the Sweetsville stage make it one of the game's highlights. Digital Illusions obviously went all out with Shrek's graphical production, and it has paid off, in that respect.
Digital Illusions was given a fair amount of leeway in regard to how closely the game adhered to the movie's action. But unfortunately, as with games like this, providing a compelling gameplay experience has taken second seat to furthering the purpose of the license. In the end, Shrek is an impressive game to look at. But as games go, it leaves a lot to be desired. Only the most rabid Shrek fans need apply.