As futuristic secret agents go, they don't get much more enigmatic than Aeon Flux. Maybe it's her unbelievable acrobatics and deadly abilities. Or maybe it's her indecipherable relationship with Chairman Goodchild, the leader of the pseudo-fascist society that she resides in. Or maybe it's that she is seemingly killed over and over again but somehow shows up to fight in yet another disjointed adventure. Whatever the case, Aeon Flux is a tough girl to get to know, and that's what's both so intriguing and so troubling about Aeon Flux the game. Released just ahead of the film of the same name, this game has more to do with the irregularly structured, disjointed animated shorts that appeared on MTV's Liquid Television over a decade ago and that eventually spun out into a full-fledged TV series. At least we assume that must be the case, because if the film bears a similar narrative to those shorts, it's tough to envision anyone making it through something that disjointed for two full hours, let alone a 10-hour action game. Thankfully, there's enough stylish combat and enjoyable platforming and puzzling to make up for many of the game's shortcomings.
In the future world of Aeon Flux, a devastating disease has wiped out the vast majority of the world's population. A lone city-state, Bregna, still stands. Ruled by a congress of scientists and the previously mentioned Trevor Goodchild, this society has all the trappings of a military state, with plenty of propaganda, clandestineness, and greed to go around. Aeon Flux is a trained assassin within this world, though you never get a particularly good sense of which side she's on. Often you find her working for the Monican rebellion, an underground organization looking to bring down Goodchild. In other situations, she seems to be working for the government, going after the Monican rebels and even acting as the love interest of Goodchild. From an artistic perspective, it's interesting simply because it forces you to rethink how you feel about every character, as they all pop up throughout the game's various chapters, usually in fairly different contexts. But because the chapters begin and end almost completely independently of one another, and with such wildly varying situations, you never get a great sense of who Aeon Flux is and what she's supposed to be about. All this game does is build you up for a full chapter, only to tear it all down and start anew. It's disconcerting, to say the least.
If you're not overly concerned with having a sympathetic protagonist, then Aeon Flux can be enjoyable, simply because of how it plays. If you ever played BloodRayne or BloodRayne 2, then you'll be immediately familiar with the ins and outs of Aeon Flux. Developer Terminal Reality is responsible for both games, and Aeon Flux uses the same engine as the BloodRayne titles. Therefore, it's functionally the same--a third-person action game in which a slick-looking female character gets to do all manner of cool-looking acrobatic maneuvers and kill bad guys with quite a bit of style.
Almost everything in this game is done contextually. Certain actions, like rapelling down from a high perch or hacking a computer, simply require you to walk up to an icon in the correct spot and press a single button. The game's platforming bits are laid out in ways to make Aeon seem like the most nimble little minx you've ever seen, with plenty of poles, ledges, and walls to leap around and on. Again, these are all set up through very specific contextual actions and don't require a ton of skill to execute, but they're still fun to watch.
The combat focuses more on the hand-to-hand side of things, though you will have multiple guns you can use when the situation requires it. The hand-to-hand moves revolve around stringing together basic combos with weak and strong attacks, with a few variants here and there. You can sometimes hold down an attack button at the end of a combo to do a more-powerful attack, and there are even fatality moves you can pull off. They're pretty much bloodless kills--lots of neck snapping and the like. However, the best combat moves in the game come in the form of the attacks that combine with the acrobatics, such as creeping up on an enemy near a ledge and yanking him off to his doom, or rapelling down from a ceiling, letting bullets fly in every direction while you descend.
Certainly Aeon is given no shortage of nifty moves to pull off, but if there's one major flaw with the combat, it's that you have no ability to target whatsoever. The game simply targets the enemy closest in front of you, be it in hand-to-hand or gun combat. When someone's shooting you from far away, that's a big problem. The ability to switch whom you're targeting on the fly would have been a tremendous help here, and what's more, there doesn't seem to be any good reason this functionality was left out.
When you're not beating up foot soldiers or hopping around poles, there are some puzzles to be solved here and there. Sometimes they're as simple as finding a hidden opening that leads to a computer terminal that will let you shut down a gun turret, and sometimes they're much more involved. The more-involved bits often take a page out of the Metroid Prime dossier, putting Aeon into a crazy, controllable orb that can get her into places she would otherwise have no access to. These bits are strange, in that they're set up kind of randomly and sometimes involve clunky combat sequences where you're trying to roll over soldiers, but the basic idea is a neat one, if not the most original. There are also parts where you'll control a mini orb that can hack into specific terminals for various nefarious purposes. Mini orbs are much more unwieldy than their bigger brothers, thus leading to a lot of frustrating repetition of specific parts where you just can't seem to keep your orb on the proper track. Still, these puzzles are usually cleverly designed, and were it not for the annoying controls they would be a whole lot of fun.
Most of Aeon Flux takes place in the city of Bregna, but Bregna offers a variety of locations--everything from bustling, neon-colored cityscapes to war-torn desolation--and each area has a certain level of flair. The graphical engine used in Aeon Flux seems fairly limited in scope, but the aesthetics of this world are undeniably flashy and pleasing to the eye. The same can't be said for the people who inhabit this world, though. Aeon is well designed and closely resembles Charlize Theron (who plays the superagent in the film), but most of the other characters aren't pleasant to look at up close, and enemies look especially goofy when they die, due to the overdramatic use of rag-doll physics, which can also lead to some ugly glitches when enemies get caught up in the scenery or other inopportune spots. This was a problem in BloodRayne 2 as well, so it's not altogether shocking that it's still a problem here; it's just disappointing. For the most part, the game's camera does a good job of staying out of your way, but it can be a bit obnoxious in spots during some of the platforming sequences, denying you the level of vision you need to figure out exactly where to jump to next. The game mostly runs smoothly, although certain scenarios with multiple enemies onscreen can lead to very noticeable drops in frame rate. Problems aside, this is a good-looking game that runs equally well on both the Xbox and PlayStation 2--just don't expect anything too spectacular.
Though you won't hear the likes of Frances McDormand, Sophie Okanedo, or Johnny Lee Miller reprising their film roles, Charlize Theron does appear in Aeon Flux to voice her title character. Her delivery is a little subdued in spots, but for the most part she voices her character well, and the supporting cast is quite talented, holding up its end of the bargain solidly. Very little else about the audio stands out beyond Theron's appearance. The soundtrack blends well enough with the action, and there are plenty of sounds of guns blazing and Breen soldiers dying painful deaths. But while there's nothing special about any of it, nothing about the soundtrack or effects is exactly bad, either.
Aeon Flux certainly does a good job of relating itself to its source material, but when your source material is a decade-old animated series known more for its hypersexual heroine's abstruse adventures than its legitimately engaging characters or storylines, it's tough to turn that into a compelling action game experience--at least, one that can sustain for the average length of a game in this genre. And what's more, those who go out to see the movie with no previous knowledge of the old Aeon Flux animated series and then run to grab this game might be confused as all get-out. But even at its worst, it's simply an average action game that's still better than most action games based on licensed source material, and at its best, it can be quite an entertaining ride with style to spare. In the end, Aeon Flux, much like the character herself, is equal parts beguiling and bewildering, but mostly worth experiencing all the same.