Drake of the 99 Dragons Review

To simply call Drake bad would be a major understatement.

As far as third-person action games go, they don't get a whole lot worse than Drake of the 99 Dragons. The brainchild of Swedish developers Idol FX (who also created a comic book to go alongside the game), Drake is just an absolutely broken mess of a game. Its story is derivative in design and is nonsensical in its delivery; its graphics consist of a jumble of uninspired cel shading and ugly animations; its sound design consists of a cacophony of terrible effects and voice acting; and its gameplay features some of the worst controls and horrendous targeting ever found in a third-person shooter. All of these factors combine to make Drake one of the most atrociously unplayable games to come along in quite some time.

Drake is about as bad as third-person action games can conceivably get these days.
Drake is about as bad as third-person action games can conceivably get these days.

The game's title character, Drake, is an assassin for a Hong Kong-based clan known as the 99 Dragons. One day, the clan is attacked and pillaged by a mysterious gang. Unfortunately, Drake, along with the rest of his clan, is murdered, and a sacred artifact of theirs is stolen. Immediately following the raid, Drake is brought back from the dead by the gods. He is then sent on a mission to retrieve the artifact and to avenge his fallen clan. This initial setup takes up the first few missions of the game, and, beyond that, it's pretty much anyone's guess as to exactly what's going on. The story itself is told through disjointed cutscenes that are narrated by Drake. Clearly, Drake isn't exactly the most adept storyteller, as his ability to speak in broken sentences of little or no meaning far surpasses his ability to tell a decent narrative. Add in the fact that new characters and scenarios are frequently brought to the table with little to no satisfactory explanation, and the end result is a story that you just won't have the chance or desire to ever care about.

The story isn't even the most frustrating or awful thing about Drake, either, as its gameplay definitely earns that dubious distinction. Drake is a third-person action game that is almost solely based on the one gimmick of having Drake hold two guns at once. The right and left trigger buttons fire each of Drake's weapons, and he can actually hold different types of guns in each hand. However, whatever varying degrees of effectiveness might have been gained from such a mechanic are entirely negated by the game's unbelievably bad targeting system. The right thumbstick controls Drake's aiming, and a light--frequently indistinguishable--targeting reticle appears on targeted enemies. Targeting an actual enemy is largely relegated to an auto-aim function that, incidentally, is completely broken.

Frequently, Drake will run into an area that's full of bad guys who stand directly in front of him. Yet his guns will be aimed to one side or the other for no discernable reason. This could be caused by another enemy in another room somewhere, or it could just be a random occurrence. Whatever the case, you'll have to swing the stick around to get his aim back in line. Unfortunately, this leads to yet another big problem, as the game's camera control is also controlled by the right thumbstick, so swinging the stick in a manner such as this will pretty much cause you to lose all sight of what you're supposed to be shooting at. Basically, this whole thing comes down to a constant tug-of-war between the camera controls and the game's buggy auto-aim, thus reducing Drake's gunplay to a harrowing--and often angering--experience.

There are a few other tricks to Drake's gameplay, but they aren't much better. Aside from just shooting up everything in his path, Drake has the ability to jump (and double jump) and can run along walls. Additionally, as he collects the departed souls of his fallen enemies and comrades, he can also run around in bullet time, and he can even temporarily freeze time. These are all great ideas, in theory, but Drake's execution of all of them just falls flat. Jumping around is a pretty unwieldy task, thanks primarily to the game's buggy camera and loose handling controls, and trying to use double jumping to get anywhere is practically an exercise in sheer luck. Running around walls doesn't really do a whole lot for you either, and, more often than not, it just gets in the way of your trying to jump up to a ledge or a higher floor. As for the bullet time stuff, it isn't especially useful, as Drake can't move any faster than the enemies he's slowing down. Stopping time is pretty much useless altogether, unless you need a moment to try to shift the camera back into a workable position (which really is pointless, since it'll inevitably go right back to another horrible angle).

Drake's missions are just as uneven and problematic as everything else in the game. The bulk of the action relies on you just getting from point A to point B and shooting everything in between. The levels themselves are laid out in a pretty straightforward manner, for the most part, so figuring out where to go isn't much of a big deal. The bigger problem lies in frequent sections where large groups of enemies will spring up and start shooting from all directions. Perhaps if you could aim properly, this might not be a problem, but, because of the game's horrible shooting mechanics, nearly every level is reduced to bout after bout of trial and error.

Difficulty aside, there's also a lot of bugs to be found in Drake, many of which tie into enemy AI. A few missions require you to tail a courier who is supposedly holding the stolen artifact. To do so, you have to follow him from area to area until you eventually get to the end of your journey. On more than one occasion, we'd get to the courier's next stop only to find him trapped in a doorway or behind a box, apparently unable to move any farther into the level. In actuality, if you're able to figure out where the end point of the level is without the courier, you can actually complete the mission, even though you'll have left him behind. That is, of course, assuming you can actually get past him. In certain scenarios, he'll block your path altogether. Shooting him or trying to move him will only result in more frustration--or an accidental death. There are plenty of other examples of bugs just like this one scattered throughout Drake, and each one is just another example of how sloppy the game is as a whole.

Drake's visual style can only be compared to that of the animated Batman cartoon series, with square-jawed, barrel-chested character models and lots of dark, urban environments. Beyond this basic comparison, however, there isn't much else good to say about Drake's graphics. The game uses a form of cel shading that isn't exactly cel shading, but, rather, it's something Idol FX refers to as "rim-light shading." It doesn't make the game look animated or comic-inspired so much as it just makes everything look weirdly shiny and off-kilter. The game also animates horribly in just about every conceivable way. Drake moves around in an extremely stiff and goofy manner that just looks ridiculous, and the constant movement of his arms in every which direction makes things even worse. Enemies are stuck with only a couple of repeated movement animations, and, about half of the time, a piece of the environment will trap them in an endless loop of one of these animations. The actual environments themselves are drab, vacant, and lacking in any sort of aesthetic appeal. The previously mentioned awful camera system is another huge problem, and it's on a semi-constant basis. Besides just being uncontrollable, the camera will also frequently shift behind walls or under floors, and it will even get stuck in certain places for lengthy periods of time. Not even the frame rate manages to hold its own in Drake, as the game has its own tendencies to bug out and starts dropping frames in some of the most bizarre places.

As for Drake's audio, it's practically nonexistent. Drake's characters are all fully voice acted, and, in terms of line delivery, it's competent if uninspired work. However, the actual actors who voice the characters sound completely wrong for what the game is trying to get across. Drake himself sounds sort of like a cross between a game show host and the Moviefone guy. Nearly all of the bad guys have these quirky, cartoony voices that just make no sense at all. The game's sound effects are even worse. Cheap gun effects, lousy crash sounds, little things (like the fact that Drake's footstep sound effect stops a full second after he stops walking), and the fact that the game's door-opening effect is actually the exact same sound as the AOL Instant Messenger "buddy sign-on" effect all culminate in a pretty awful audio experience. There's no music to speak of on the main menu screen, and the stuff that shows up during the game is so understated and bland that there's no reason you'd ever notice it.

Drake's method of cel shading just makes everything in the game look oddly shiny--and not much else.
Drake's method of cel shading just makes everything in the game look oddly shiny--and not much else.

To simply call Drake bad would be a major understatement. Drake is simply an out-and-out failure in every single discernable category. Whatever style or pizzazz that Idol FX has tried to create for its comic book world is buried under a pile of cheap graphics, a lame story, awful audio, and an abysmal gameplay system that would still be painful to play even if it weren't as decisively broken as it is. There's nothing stylish or interesting about Drake, and, to be quite frank, any time spent playing this game is an absolute waste. If it isn't clear up to this point, let us sum it up with one simple statement: Don't play this game.

The Good

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The Bad

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