Shrek 2 Hands-On

We spend some time with Activision's upcoming action game based on the DreamWorks films.

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We received a work-in-progress version of Activision's upcoming Shrek 2, the game based on DreamWorks' upcoming movie that catches up with everyone's favorite ogre. Unlike the previous Xbox-exclusive Shrek game from TDK, Shrek 2 is a multiplatform release with some unique gameplay features. We had the chance to try out the PlayStation 2 game to see how it's coming together.

Shrek 2 offers a pretty standard mission-based experience. The various levels in the game will be set in themed worlds based on your standard fairy tale archetypes and locales from the film. Each area will have its own set of unique objectives to clear as you make your way to the exit. The twist to Shrek 2 is that you'll be in control of a gaggle of characters, four in all, that you'll be able to swap control of on the fly. Each of the characters in your motley quartet will feature unique abilities that you'll need to make it through each area.

We tried out the first two areas, Shrek's Swamp and Spooky Forest, in the game to get a feel for how the mechanics work; we were pleased by how the game was shaping up. The game uses storybook-style pages with narration to set up the action. The first level of the game is set in Shrek's swamp and puts you in control of Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, and the Gingerbread Man. You'll start out by collecting snail eyeballs (Shrek needs some munchies for the trip to see Fiona's parents). Once that's complete, you'll be able to progress further into the level. This level is basically a tutorial designed to familiarize you with swapping control of each of the characters and using their unique abilities for the right jobs. Shrek is able to pick up and throw selected items, Fiona can slow down time, Donkey can unleash a mighty "burro blast" from his backside that clears certain obstacles, and the Gingerbread Man can use cookies to entice enemies to walk into traps. The level also features cameos by familiar faces such as Robin Hood and his merry men, Lil Red, and the seven dwarfs. The end of the level shows off one of the minigames, known as "Hero Time," which features Fiona singing. The minigame requires you to match onscreen prompts to button presses as Fiona regales an assemblage of birds with a happy song that causes them to explode, much like in the first Shrek.

The Spooky Forest level shows off some of the variety to be found in the game by switching out a member of your squad. For instance, the Gingerbread Man is replaced by Lil Red, whose special ability is to pitch explosive rotten apples. While the level follows the same general flow as Shrek's Swamp, you have the added task of shepherding three blind mice along the level. While the three blind ones do OK on their own by following cheese strewn along the way, you'll have to work up a sweat and fight off enemies as well as disarm mousetraps.

The graphics in the game look sharp and do a fine job of bringing Shrek and his crew to virtual life. While the graphics don't exactly match the impressive work that DreamWorks is doing for the film, they still capably create a lush world to explore. The camera in the game alternates from being fixed in segments to allowing you to manipulate it. The system, although problematic in places, works pretty well overall.

All told, Shrek 2 looks and plays well. The variety of characters (you'll end up controlling up to 10 over the course of the game) and the flexible gameplay--up to three other players can pop in and out of the game as you play--make for a promising game. While it won't revolutionize anything, Shrek 2 looks as though it will do right by its license and offer some chuckles along the way. Shrek 2 is currently slated to ship this May for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, and Xbox. A Game Boy Advance version of the game will also be available.

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