By and large, most games founded upon feature-length movies have fared poorly in the marketplace. The reasons are fairly obvious. Tethered to a storyline that, for all intents and purposes, was designed to unfold at breakneck speed or rely upon various cinematic devices to propel the plot, most game translations have failed to capture the same compelling intensity and epic workmanship that was expressly developed for the silver screen. And, while it's certainly difficult - but not impossible - to elicit and replicate the same awe-inspiring majesty and grandiose scale of, say, a Star Wars extravaganza, it's doubly hard to craft an equally respectable game from an out-and-out box office flop.
In the case of Universal Studios' Waterworld - the highly touted, multimillion dollar bust starring Kevin Costner - Interplay had strangely decided to give the project a green light and construct a real-time, man-to-man combat wargame rooted in the muddled machinations of a world succumbing to global warming. In the game, you assume the role of a War Chief, tasked, in brutal if methodical fashion, with amassing enough hydro (fresh water), food, weapons, and critical information to successfully evade the "smokers" - a tribe of seafaring scavengers - then somehow revert our inundated world to its once former glory.
Comprising 25 sequentially playable missions, the game actually commences just prior to the introduction of Costner's forgettable "Mariner" character, gradually acquainting you with the many perils and pitfalls associated with perpetual life on the high seas. Virtually all of the missions are situated on man-made atolls - enormous, misbegotten shantytowns - floating, without a purpose or port of call, atop the world's singularly vast ocean. If you recall from the movie, these shantytowns are composed of misshapen structures, docks, and jetties, all constructed from whatever debris or abandoned, seaworthy vessels could be salvaged during the supposed "Great Deluge" when the world was engulfed by sea water.
You are assigned a small taskforce, composed of anywhere from two to fourteen men, mustered out by the computer in line with the mission at hand. Squad members are issued weapons and other stores as you see fit; you will typically apportion what meager weapons and ammunition are available based upon each member's special abilities, combat record, and accrued inventory at the outset of each mission. Team members may also pick up additional stores - health packs, stimulants, ammunition, etc. - during the course of play, sometimes stripping the dead while in other instances snatching objects strewn haphazardly about each atoll. Prior to mission start-up, you may also barter your wares with the "trader," exchanging items of lesser consequence for weaponry and accoutrements better suited for the scenario.
As was the case with the movie, the plot becomes the game's own worst enemy. Because the world has been inundated by melted ice floes, the so-called atolls represent the only real setting for conflict. Each atoll looks and feels like the previous battleground, with an occasional new outcropping here, a different lever and staircase there. By the time you reach the eighth mission, you can pretty much figure out for yourself how each mission has been feebly choreographed and take appropriate measures long before the first shell takes flight. Moreover, there's no way to issue explicit orders to each team member, such as defend or patrol a specific area. As a result, the most effective battle tactic proved to be banding together every available squad member into a close-knit if unruly mob, unleashing the rabble upon the enemy, then trusting that at least one man survives the ensuing carnage. Not exactly my idea of how tactical warfare should be portrayed.
Amidst the tidal wave of fresh and innovative real-time wargames already washing up on shore, Waterworld barely manages to keep its head above water. By lashing together commonplace and repetitive gameplay with a tale as tall as they come, Waterworld should be cast adrift and never seen or heard from again.