Last year's sleeper hit Chicken Run pays homage to The Great Escape, a classic World War II POW escape film, and a host of other movies through sly in-jokes and witty allusions. Created with clay models and stop-motion animation, the family adventure-comedy film tells the tale of alternately sly and daft chickens cooped up in a farm that's run by vicious Mrs. Tweedy and her henpecked husband. Led by Ginger, the most determined of the lot, the girls try unsuccessfully to escape, only to be met with repeated setbacks, such as guard dogs and a towering, blade-filled chicken pie machine. Then they meet Rocky, an American rooster, who has a gift for charming the ladies - he gives the chickens a real hope of escape. The film's focus on clever gadgetry and daring yet wacky escape plans is perfect material for an action game - but unfortunately, Chicken Run the game falls short of its potential.
The basic action of the Chicken Run game sticks fairly closely to the film. Playing as Ginger, Rocky, and Nick and Fetcher (a couple of crafty cockney rats), your main goals in each of the game's three acts involve finding items needed to assemble escape devices, like a disguise or a catapult. Within each of these acts, there are mini action games, like catching falling eggs. To advance the story, the game occasionally switches to animated cutscenes, some of which are original while others are excerpted from the film.
For such a simple game, the control scheme is surprisingly convoluted. The keyboard controls are referred to both by what they do, like "action" or "jump," and by Roman numerals. When you're trying to navigate various menus, it's easy to get confused by the sometimes redundant or vague control names. Outside of that, the in-game action is pretty smooth. You generally play via an overhead view, and you can rotate the camera for slightly different views, though none are entirely satisfactory.
The game takes its cue from the spy action game Metal Gear Solid - you have a radar that shows enemies like guard dogs or Mr. Tweedy as moving blips. A bright cone represents the enemy's field of vision. If you're spotted, the radar turns red, warning you to run for the shadows or to throw a brussels sprout in the distance to distract a dog. You'll also need to avoid searchlights and tiptoe slowly across gravel so as not to give yourself away with noise. As you're searching for items, your radar will also indicate them with a blip, along with a beeping sound that speeds up as you home in on the item. If you get caught while hunting around, you'll have to restart at the beginning of the current area, minus one of your recently collected items. To help you on your quests, you'll have both plans and map fragments.
These plans and fragments look like hand-drawn pencil sketches, which is a nice visual touch that fits the source material well. The conventional cartoon-style animation (locked in 640x480 resolution and 16-bit color) is good enough, but it doesn't truly capture the high visual quality and memorable style of the film. The new animated cutscenes in particular just can't compare to the ones taken from the film.
The game's sound is also good but hardly great. Some of the characters are well voiced by the actors from the film, though Mel Gibson is notably absent. The score is catchy, and it sets the mood well. Sound effects are competent but not exceptional, and odd differences in sound levels can make some of the voices very difficult to make out.
Originally designed for video game consoles, Chicken Run has some annoying console game conventions, like having to run back to a certain coop to save the game as opposed to being able to save at any time. While on your missions, you can collect pictures lying about - each picture depicts a scene from the film. Since these serve no practical purpose, it's not much of a reward to find one. But the game's lack of replay value is a more serious flaw. The game is easy and short, which is fine for the younger audience for which it's apparently intended, but experienced players will get bored quickly. And since the game has neither multiplayer modes nor difficulty levels, the replay value in Chicken Run is limited even further.
Ultimately, Chicken Run is a game best suited for children. While the film has wonderfully dry humor that's often geared toward the adults in the audience, the game just isn't funny. The high spirits of the film are largely absent, and the characters are mere shadows of their big-screen counterparts. The gameplay in Chicken Run can be fun, if not particularly involving nor challenging, and kids should have a good time with it. Unfortunately, neither experienced gamers nor fans of the film will find much in the game beyond a quick, light diversion.