Hands-onRayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc

Ubi Soft's third Rayman game focuses on combat and puzzle-driven action while maintaining the series' signature trippy style and atmosphere.

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Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc
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We were recently able to play through the early portions of Hoodlum Havoc, Ubi Soft's third Rayman game. Since the release of the original Rayman on the PC in 1996, Ubi Soft has turned its limbless, helicopter-capped hero into a franchise icon. Though the character of Rayman has not really been changed since Rayman 2, almost everything else in Rayman 3 is new or improved. Hoodlum Havoc is the next chapter in the Rayman story, and it features the series' signature bizarre world and comically colorful characters and enemies. And, judging from what we've seen, Hoodlum Havoc also marks a shift toward combat and action for the series.

Once you find yourself in a hostile situation, you'll find that the combat system handles seamlessly and efficiently. Running in range of and looking at an enemy will auto-lock your attacks. Moving your view to different enemies will shift the auto-lock. Like in Rayman 2, your normal attack fires slow-moving yellow energy balls. There are also weapon upgrades, in the form of small canisters that are sometimes dropped by enemies. When these canisters are triggered, beams of light flash into the sky, and your attack changes. On one level, activating a blue canister gave Rayman a chain attack that allowed us to reach new areas by latching onto suspended handholds and swinging. When used as an attack, the chain latched onto one enemy at a time and kept dealing damage as long as the chain wasn't pulled back in for another attack. On the same level, a green canister gave us an attack of swirling orange energy, which we used to blast the base of a pedestal, spinning it down within reach.

Frequently, the level you're in will dictate the appropriate style of play. In one level, you'll navigate an airship though conduits while intermittently manning a gun to blast approaching alien ships. In this case, the view will switch from the normal third-person perspective, used while steering the airship, to a first-person view from the gun. When you're not in combat, you'll be exploring and solving puzzles in an alien environment. The result is an interesting mix of precision flying, puzzles, and action. On another level, you'll emerge from a cave to face groups of enemies, all of whom fire slow-moving blasts of energy. This forces you to balance evading enemy fire with trying to pick off the enemies, and the result is a ballet-like combat puzzle involving equal amounts of retreating, jumping, and attacking.

All the levels we played through featured healthy doses of combat. In one level, after following a magical frog through a swamp, you'll face off against a speedy witch, chasing and being chased around a magical cauldron with a potion brewing inside. In order to slow the witch down, you'll need to splash the brew out of the cauldron in the hope that it will hit the witch and turn her into a slow, harmless frog, allowing you to attack her more easily. The witch can do the same, and she'll try to splash you with the same green goo, and the encounter quickly becomes a tense timing puzzle. This type of encounter is indicative of what we've seen throughout our experience with Rayman 3--though there's lots of combat, the combat is like a puzzle, and it requires lots of thought and strategy.

Rayman also has various abilities and upgrades. You'll make liberal use of Rayman's helicopter cap, which usually allows more gliding than flying. The helicopter cap will slow your fall when you're in midair and allow you stretch your descent back to the ground over long distances. However, on one level, we happened across a power-up for Rayman that boosted the strength of the helicopter cap, after a comical in-engine cutscene showing Rayman trying on the new, powerful temporary equipment. While it lasted, the power-up allowed us to gain enough height to cross a long stretch of dangerous water.

From what we've seen, the Rayman 3 audio and visuals are also impressive. The game features fascinating alien levels complete with colorful textures, beautiful architecture and design, and smooth, fluid animations. Complementing the bizarre style and colorful worlds are varied enemies and endearing friends. One bug-eyed, blue platypus-like fellow acts like a backseat driver while you steer your airship, constantly voicing his displeasure and concern over how fast you're driving and how many enemies are closing in. Enemies range from a French-accented, Jumanji-like hunter to pointy-hatted, energy-hurling hoodlums. The music and sound effects are similarly wacky and fit the world perfectly. Overall, the game's unique world is already very engrossing.

Rayman 3 impresses with its humorously comic charm, endearing style, and addictive puzzlelike gameplay. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc is due out next spring for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and PC. For more information, movies, and screenshots, check out our previous coverage. In the meantime, check out our 557316new screenshots of the PS2 version.

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