The concept of the game remake is still somewhat new. Sure, there have been plenty of sequels that felt like simple remakes, but the actual act of taking an old (and usually classic) game and redoing the whole thing with modern technology is still a notion that feels more familiar to modern-day Hollywood than the modern-day game industry. However, remakes are happening, with the latest being Conker: Live & Reloaded for the Xbox, a reenvisioning of 2001's Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64. It was one of the very last games to appear on the N64, and it is widely heralded as one of the system's best and funniest games. It takes a would-be platformer, combines it with a third-person shooter, and throws in a lot of cursing and toilet humor to turn the whole thing into an M-rated extravaganza. On top of the remake of the original game, developer Rare has thrown in an all-new and completely disparate multiplayer component that features Xbox Live support. So, with all of that said, is either aspect of the game any good? The answer is a definite yes, although there are a few hurdles you'll have to leap over in order to truly appreciate what Conker: Live & Reloaded has to offer.
Let's start with the single-player portion of Conker, which is the stuff that originally appeared on the N64. For those of you who missed out on the previous release, Conker's Bad Fur Day was basically the video game equivalent of Animal House for its time. Essentially, Conker, a generally self-absorbed and borderline alcoholic squirrel (who somehow manages to make blackout drinking quite adorable), gets royally wasted with some buddies of his at the local pub. He tries to stumble home to his aerobically zealous girlfriend, Berri, but he gets lost and ends up crossing paths with some of the weirdest characters ever put into a platformer. These characters range from a temperamental panther king who lords over a number of inept weasels and, for some inexplicable reason, demands a red squirrel to use as a replacement table leg, to an operatically minded impresario of excrement named the Great Mightypoo. The story makes just about no logical sense, but it kind of doesn't need to, since it was just a vehicle to take a cute and unassuming character like Conker, and throw him into a mature adventure filled with bad words, public urination and, shall we say, adult situations.
Part of what made the original Conker such a big hit was the fact that there wasn't anything else like it at the time, especially not on the N64. In fact, you could probably say that a fair portion of its shock value came simply from the fact that this game existed on a Nintendo system. The rest of it came from the fact that the game was legitimately funny in a deeply crude and rude way. But in 2005, crudeness is not an altogether unfamiliar concept in gaming, and so much of what made Conker seem so nonconformist during its time is really quite the norm in today's gaming world. Of course, that isn't to say the game isn't funny (you're definitely going to find quite a lot of off-color and generally offensive humor here), but it's just that some of the game's gags have held up better than others. For example, the series of random movie parodies for which the game is so well known, like The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan, were absolutely hysterical four years ago, but now they feel a little dated, especially if you've played the game before. Though other bits, like the whole thing with the Great Mightypoo, are still very funny. Whether or not that says something specifically about this game, or just about the staying power of scatological humor, one way or another you're going to find quite a bit to laugh about in Conker...just maybe not as much as you would have in the N64 days.
The actual gameplay can be described in much the same way as Conker's general sense of humor. Though Conker's Bad Fur Day did what was considered a masterful job of combining two seemingly incompatible genres back in the day, in 2005, Conker feels like a game with some serious pacing issues. The first two-thirds or so are pure platforming, with Conker jumping around various environments, collecting items, occasionally engaging in combat with grunts, and solving periodic puzzles. For the most part, this whole section plays quite well, if a bit simplistically. Mechanically, there's really very little to master, save for the feel of Conker's jumps (and his subsequent hovering ability that comes with his tail-spinning maneuver), as well as the use of the B button as a contextually sensitive action button. Essentially, the levels are littered with B pads that you can just hop on top of, press the B button, and immediately jump into some kind of random action that can range from busting out a slingshot to nail a nearby button to actually turning yourself into an anvil, causing you to crush whatever's below you. It might seem like kind of a dull-sounding mechanic, but it actually works pretty well.
However, other aspects of the platforming portions aren't quite as much fun. For one thing, the basic combat absolutely sucks. All you do is run up to your foe with your trusty baseball bat in hand, hit him, run away to dodge the predictable counterattack, and repeat five more times until he's dead. To be fair, you actually engage in very little combat at all during these sections, as it's more about ducking enemies than fighting them. But when you do have to fight them, it's not fun at all. Another problem is that controlling Conker can be somewhat of a hassle. Jumps can feel a little unresponsive in certain situations, and trying to position him on ledges and other narrow spots can lead to more than a few accidental falls (simply because Conker wouldn't stop moving). Also, the camera is just a terrible pain in tight areas to position properly. The camera's a smidge better than the N64 game, but just barely. The last and perhaps most frustrating issue is that the game never does a good job of giving you even a slight clue about what you're supposed to be doing half the time. Certain objectives are plainly obvious, but the ones that aren't are downright opaque, and it usually takes 10 to 15 minutes of wandering around to figure it out. But had Rare just added in a few little guides to try to make things a tad clearer, the game would have benefited greatly. On the plus side, the fact that the game does have some challenge to it is nice, and you won't just blow past all the puzzles and scenarios indiscriminately.
Once you get to the last levels of the game, Conker becomes a third-person shooter, and these portions are a lot more fun than the basic platforming areas. There really isn't a whole lot to them, save for you blasting away at zombies, the evil Tediz (they're like Nazis, but with teddy bears instead of Germans), and other nasty bad guys...and doing it all in a fast and frenetic fashion. In fact, the action in these sections almost makes you feel like you're playing a totally different game than you were just a scant few hours before, since the platforming sections, while good, are also much more slower paced. Jumping from the platforming to the shooting can be a bit jarring, but the end portions of the game are more than satisfying enough to make up for the weird shift in gameplay.
So, let's say you're a Conker's Bad Fur Day expert, and you already know most of this stuff. You're probably wondering what, if anything, Rare has changed from the original game to make it a fresh, new experience. Well…OK, surely enough, certain aspects of the game are definitely different. Mostly, it's little details, like placement of certain collectible items, as well as frustrating aspects of the game design being altered slightly to make them more forgiving (or just being axed altogether), and a few aesthetic changes, such as the Mansion level, which has been given the Van Helsing treatment (though not really changed in any other major way). As it is, it's largely the same game you might have played nearly five years ago, and it's still only around 10 hours long. But if you never played Bad Fur Day, this version of Conker is probably the one to play, if only because the few changes that were made and the few bits that were cut weren't anywhere near the best parts of the game, so you won't be missing any of the good stuff. For those who already know Bad Fur Day inside and out, this is where the multiplayer comes in.
The other half of Live & Reloaded's package is an all-new multiplayer game, featuring team-based battles of objective-based and deathmatch varieties. Sorry Bad Fur Day fans, the old game's multiplayer is nonexistent here. But the good news is that this new multiplayer functionality is quite good, though it does have a few qualifiers that make it so.
When you first get into a multiplayer match, you'll begin by choosing a side--either the cute, cuddly good guy squirrels (known as the SHC), or the evil Tediz. You then choose a character class. There are several to choose from, and each class has a nice roster of unique abilities and weapons. Slower-moving demolitionists carry big bazookas; the fast and nimble sneaker character can stealth herself (but can only carry melee weapons); and then there's the squarely in the middle grunt, who carries a machine gun and works best as an all-around character. Snipers, sky jockeys, and thermophiles make up the rest of the class list. Figuring out what kind of character suits your playing style is key in getting the most out of Conker's multiplayer experience, as is playing out that role fairly strictly, since deviation from your character's primary role leads to a lot of quick and ugly death.
Well, to be honest, you'll experience a lot of quick and ugly death in the early goings of the multiplayer, regardless of how well you play a specific class, and this is simply because the mode takes some getting used to. You'll undoubtedly spend a fair amount of time just trying to figure out the nuances of your character's alternate weapons, as well as the five different types of vehicles you can drive. The vehicles are kind of a pain early on, simply because they don't handle intuitively. Once you get a handle on them, bringing death upon your opponents via a tank or an airborne vehicle can be an immensely satisfying experience. It also doesn't help that the objective-based maps can be pretty perplexing the first few times you try them out. The heads-up display doesn't do much to let you know exactly what you ought to be doing, so it'll take some trial and error to really figure out how the whole thing is supposed to work.
The basic objectives for each map usually just revolve around securing specific checkpoints scattered about a map, or the usual capture the flag kind of stuff. The maps themselves are rarely all that big, though most of them feature at least a few unique aspects. The first map in the game, Beach Dead, is basically the whole D-Day scene from the Saving Private Ryan spoof in the single-player game but with more-specific objectives. Another map takes place in and around a castle occupied by the Tediz. A vast precipice separates the good guys from the Tediz, and a pair of cable cars goes back and forth, taking members from each side to the opposing territory. While these little nuances are neat, they don't change that the maps are fairly run-of-the-mill across the board, without a lot of space or uniqueness to them. They do the job, but there definitely feels like there could have been more added to each and every one of them.
There are a couple of other issues with the multiplayer that prevent it from being brilliant. For one, the controls can be a little weird in certain respects. It's tough to gauge when you're actually hitting an enemy, so you tend to have to be a little more careful than perhaps you'd like to be with your shots in order to play effectively (unless of course you're the demolitionist). Which segues nicely into another problem, namely that certain character classes just aren't balanced as well as they could be. Demolitionists feel too powerful, for instance. Despite the fact that it takes them the longest to reload, it's still too easy for them to just run around, killing everyone in one hit and without too much hassle. On the flip side, snipers and grunts tend to get blown away the easiest, simply because grunts' weaponry just isn't that powerful or accurate. Snipers have to be extremely accurate with their shots in order to work effectively, which can be tough with the loose reticle movement. The good news for the less-powerful classes (and for all classes, really) is that there are weapon upgrades you can get, and they do quite a bit to counteract the initial balancing problems. It's just too bad that the default weaponry isn't always as great as it could be.
It also bears mention that this game is really designed for a lot of people to play at once, and so in smaller matches, it doesn't fare well. If you can get a good-sized group of people together to play online, and that group of people knows how to play the game at least reasonably well, you're probably going to have a very good time with Conker's multiplayer. The action can be extremely satisfying when played well, and terribly underwhelming when played poorly. It's unfortunate that this isn't the kind of gameplay that you can just immediately get into and enjoy no matter who you're playing with or against. But under the right circumstances, it's great. It should be noted that there is also two-player split-screen play with bots, system link play, and single-player versions of all the multiplayer missions (again, with bots). But really, the Xbox Live play is really where it's at, as the split-screen play has some frame rate problems, and the bot artificial intelligence isn't exactly brilliant.
The stand-out star of the Conker package is its graphics. Hands-down, this is one of the best-looking Xbox games ever made. This is most true in the single-player game, but the multiplayer looks phenomenal too. Take one up-close look at Conker's character model, either in-game or during a cutscene, and the level of detail on everything is just phenomenal. His fur looks touchable and smooth, he animates without a hint of jerkiness or unnatural movement, and everything surrounding him looks nearly as good. The environments are beautifully crafted, and the various enemies and side characters are almost always extremely detailed themselves. And even with all this detail, the frame rate is pretty much a constant, and it's only slightly choppy in the most intense areas. In the multiplayer modes, the level of detail isn't quite as high, but it still looks wonderful. Even with all the explosions and what not going off all over the place, it still runs smoothly and only rarely gets choppy. This game is simply a pleasure to look at in every single way, and it easily takes the title of the best-looking platformer around.
In order for Conker to work as a comedic game, the voice acting would have to be at least pretty good, and it most definitely is. Of course, this is pretty much the exact same dialogue from the original game, so if you played the original, you'd already know that. Conker's still got the same goofy voice, and all the other characters have appropriately weird inflections. The dialogue itself puts a little too much emphasis for its own good on the weirdness of each character, as it can occasionally be hard to really understand what the characters are saying and it interrupts the comedic timing a bit. But overall, the dialogue is great and profusely foul. Granted, all the swearing is bleeped, but in a way, it just makes it funnier. The rest of the audio, namely the music and sound effects, is cool. Some of the tunes on the soundtrack are quite catchy, and all the sound effects fit perfectly into the scope of the game.
Did Conker's Bad Fur Day really need a remake? Probably not. It was a fantastic game for its time, but it probably could have gone on existing purely as an N64 title, or it could've gotten a proper sequel and done just fine for itself. However, a remake was made, and for what it is, it's absolutely worth playing. Those who never tried Bad Fur Day aren't likely to ever pick up the N64 version, so this remake serves as a great way to bring a new generation of players into the bawdy world of Conker. And as for those who already played Bad Fur Day and aren't necessarily sold on the notion of playing through a prettier version of a 10-hour game they've already completed, the multiplayer component, despite a few gaffes, is certainly worth checking out. In the end, Conker: Live & Reloaded definitely has some quirks and even a few legitimate problems, but the whole of the experience is a great one. Xbox owners would do well to give it a go.