It has been several years since the last time those good old Duke boys graced a gaming console with their presence. The first two Dukes of Hazzard games attempted to go the logical route with the license, combining mission-based driving gameplay with storylines befitting of the classic Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Unfortunately, both games suffered from a myriad of bugs and other problems that wrecked them both completely. This latest Dukes game, The Dukes of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee, unfortunately isn't much different. It features a plot worthy of the TV series, a number of the original TV actors reprising their roles...and boring, frequently broken gameplay that absolutely ruins the entire experience. Just like the show's Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane, this game is foiled largely by its own ineptitude.
Return of the General Lee once again puts you in control of Bo and Luke Duke, by way of the General Lee, the brightly colored, rebel flag-sporting Dodge Charger that helped make the show so famous. You'll also control a few other characters throughout the game, such as Daisy Duke, Uncle Jesse, and Cooter Davenport as you attempt to stop another one of the vile, money-hungry "Boss" Hogg's evil plots to get rich at the expense of the good people of Hazzard County. The plot itself plays out fairly predictably, with the Duke family and friends constantly having to outwit Hogg and the Hazzard police department to save an orphanage as well as the very county itself. The script was written by professional TV writers, and in some respects, it really shows. The game features the same sort of flashback-styled narration as seen in the TV show, and the dialogue is delightfully goofy. In fact, it's safe to say that Return of the General Lee's story is probably its greatest asset. Then again, it doesn't have much competition.
The gameplay and mission structure follow pretty much the exact path of General Lee's predecessors, consisting of a number of mission-based driving scenarios that should seem pretty familiar to anyone who has played a game of this type. Sometimes you'll have to race from one place to another in a certain amount of time, or perhaps you'll have to follow another car while keeping yourself out of sight so you don't get caught, and at other times, you'll be trying to distract the dim-witted cops of Hazzard County to allow some other doings to transpire. In theory, this sort of thing should work absolutely grand within the scope of the Dukes of Hazzard universe, but the execution of these missions leaves lots to be desired.
For starters, the pacing of the game is just achingly slow. The cars themselves provide very little in the way of a satisfying sense of speed, but even the missions seem to just drag on endlessly. You'll be driving from one part of Hazzard County to another, and even though the county isn't especially big, you'll feel like it's taking forever to get anywhere. Further compounding this is the game's lousy mission structuring. Return of the General Lee uses something of a GTA-esque mission design, wherein you'll have to drive to specific locations to actually set missions in motion. However, unlike GTA, there's no open-endedness to it. You never really have more than one mission available to you at a time, and all you can do in Hazzard, apart from missions, is roam around aimlessly, and there's really nothing of note to do around the county while roaming.
Make no mistake--driving around in Return of the General Lee isn't much fun at all, thanks to the downright unpleasant driving physics. Every car in the game is ridiculously powerslide-friendly, so even a slight turn one way or the other will often cause your car to jerk just far enough off course to become frustrating. Even more annoying is that you still have to use the hand brake to powerslide around certain corners or turns. This powerslide mechanic is insanely overwrought, causing you to often spin out 180 degrees every time you turn unless you're extremely, extremely careful. There are also no real crash physics in the game. Yes, cars can run into one another and into random objects, which will stop any forward progress, but that's about it; even that isn't a guarantee. Sometimes cars will just drive up walls or objects, rather than actually crashing into them, and there is no damage modeling at all beyond a few little scrapes and scratches. You can total your car, though there's no way to gauge how close you are to destroying it, so it all feels largely random.
It's obvious that Return of the General Lee's driving physics system is geared toward the manner of crazy stunt driving for which the show was so well known. The game does provide you with more than a few opportunities to take some wickedly crazy jumps, and they're all presented via a new camera angle and in slow motion. It's great that this is included, but unfortunately, there aren't enough stunt jumps in and around Hazzard County to counterbalance all the boring, ill-feeling driving you'll have to do when you're not jumping over barns or broken bridges. The game's multiplayer component, which contains a few different types of race modes, is also pretty much negated by how generally unpleasant the driving tends to be.
The game's pacing and driving physics aren't the only things to complain about, either. There's also the artificial intelligence of opposing drivers, which is just plain horrible. Periodically you'll find yourself in a race, or, more often than that, being chased by the cops. The race opponent AI is fine, though it rarely goes beyond simply trying to cut you off here and there. However, the AI for police is simply bad. Cops will drive up walls, completely miss pretty much every time they try to ram you, and often find themselves stuck in random spots, unable to chase after you any longer. Another problem is the lousy map system. You can pause the game and just view a whole map of the county if you want, and that works just fine. But, if you're looking for a map on the go, the one the game provides for you is absolutely horrendous. By pressing a button, a semitransparent version of the pause menu map will appear over the entire screen, which pretty much nullifies any usefulness of the feature, since it's so ridiculously distracting to try to see through the map while driving.
Return of the General Lee's graphics aren't particularly special, but they mostly get the job done. The car models predictably feature the most detail of anything in the game; though, in a simply dumbfounding move, the color of the General Lee isn't even quite correct. It's more of a light, peachy orange rather than a deep, bright orange that the car is so well known for. Seriously, how do you mess that up? As we said before, Hazzard County isn't especially big, but it does manage to capture the sort of country backwoods look and feel pretty well. In addition, the visual designs are a little repetitive, and after a short while, the whole county starts to run together. Also, while the frame rate is quite smooth overall, one noticeable flaw comes in the way of a massive pop-up due to a fairly shoddy draw distance. The game also features a number of rendered cutscenes featuring the many colorful Dukes of Hazzard characters. These scenes are far and away better looking than anything else the game has to offer visually, and they are definitely the game's best graphical asset.
As mentioned before, some of the cast of the original Dukes of Hazzard appear in the game, including John Schneider, Tom Wopat, and Catherine Bach. The actors do a fine job with the writing, which helps to perpetuate the feeling that the game is like another episode of the show. However, the one sort of off-kilter aspect of this is that the actors are obviously well into middle age by now, and the character models that represent them are still in their 20s. It's just a little disconcerting to hear Tom Wopat's middle-aged voice coming out of a young Luke Duke's mouth. The remaining sound design components are all pretty good, including the appropriately banjo-heavy soundtrack and in-game sound effects, like engine revs, crashes, and squealing tires. There's nothing spectacular here, but it's all more than serviceable.
Game developers have had three tries now to get a Dukes of Hazzard game right, and it's three times now that they have failed. Return of the General Lee manages to get the look and feel of the show mostly right, and it provides an enjoyable plotline akin to the sorts of stories you'd see every week on the Dukes TV series, but it sadly balks at including an enjoyable game to go along with that story. If you're a diehard fan of the Dukes, Return of the General Lee might serve as a decent rental, simply for the story. If you aren't, then the game's lackluster driving mechanics, dumb missions, and assorted other irritations are certain to be too much to handle.