Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter is a futuristic sci-fi shooter that diligently follows in the footsteps of the futuristic sci-fi shooters that have come before it. Though it touts a nice blend of standard first-person shooter action and space-shooter action, the game continuously evokes either the general feel or specific elements of other futuristic sci-fi shooters. Mace Griffin was originally released on the PS2 and Xbox almost a year ago, and it was passable for a console shooter then. However, competition for shooters is tougher on the PC, and Mace Griffin can't match the level of polish or inspiration found in other recent games--or even the games it draws from. Yet despite the game's derivative nature, lack of multiplayer, and slightly dated technology, there's a fairly entertaining experience to be had here.
The game limps out of the gate with significant exposition about the future history of the universe and Mace Griffin's specific botchery. The picture it paints is of a pretty standard industrialized future where space corporations squabble over space mining rights, and space crime is a constant problem...in space. When we first meet Mace, he's a part of an elite force of space police called the Rangers, though shortly thereafter he's framed for the slaughter of his squad and is quickly sent to space jail. By the time he gets out, the Rangers have been discredited and disbanded, and the only thing on Mace's mind is revenge, though the game takes its sweet time uncovering the conspirators. To bankroll his vengeance, Mace goes into the bounty-hunting business by taking on a series of seemingly unrelated jobs and slowly learning about the conspiracy responsible for his incarceration (and the scale of its nefarious plans).
Each of the jobs that Mace takes on is represented by a large and largely self-contained mission. Though the isolated missions give the story a disjointed feel, the action is pretty good, and each mission has its fair share of nicely sized firefights. These small-scale set pieces would undeniably be more satisfying if the AI were more consistent. Sometimes enemies will exhibit some sort of preternatural space-sixth sense by reacting to you before they can even see you, so they'll actually roll behind cover and then start lobbing grenades. Other times, you can walk right up and pump a few rounds into them before they'll even show you enough courtesy to turn around. The game compensates by placing enemies in hard-to-reach places, and, later on, by simply giving enemies bigger guns and making them harder to kill. However, the kills would've been more satisfying if the enemies were just smarter.
Mace Griffin also falls back on jumping puzzles pretty often, which can be frustrating at times. This is partially because the jumping mechanic sucks and partially because the visual clues the game gives you can sometimes be a bit unclear. There are also several countdown-clock sequences where you'll have to disable a series of bombs, reprogram a ship's navigational computer, or simply try to get to your ship before the rock you're on explodes.
The missions that the game strings these elements into are lengthy, with some of the more-epic missions coming close to the two-hour mark. Considering the way the game breaks up the missions into more-digestible chunks--with load times tucked into hallways, caves, and ventilation shafts--it wouldn't have been unreasonable for the game to be a little more liberal with the hard saves, which it only doles out at the beginning and end of a mission. Save for the unreliable jumping mechanics, the game's controls give you standard first-person shooter mobility and are appropriately responsive. The set of weapons you'll brandish is pretty predictable, and it includes a standard handgun, a sniper rifle, a minigun, a few types of grenades, a rocket launcher, some energy weapons, and a shotgun that looks as though it was wrestled right out of Master Chief's cybernetic hands. In another nod to Halo, Mace Griffin borrows that game's rechargeable armor system.
When you're not running around space temples, space mining installations, or space luxury cruisers, you'll be engaging in space dogfights, usually just outside of these gravity-stricken environments. Being able to go straight from shooting guys in the face to shooting guys in space has been one of Mace Griffin's major selling points since it was first announced, and with this in mind, the space combat sequences don't really constitute a significant portion of the game. The mechanics of the space combat are simple, but they're still kind of viscerally satisfying. Instead of being this major component, the dogfights end up being another trick in Mace Griffin's bag, which is all right.
Visually, Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter feels like a bootleg amalgam of stuff the designers saw in Red Faction, Halo, and Unreal--and then decided to appropriate for themselves. These are fine, fine games to take inspiration from, but developer Warthog doesn't exhibit the same assuredness in its design as the developers of the games it draws from, and a lot of the game ends up looking pretty cookie-cutter. To be fair, there are occasional spots of inspiration. The most notable example is the group of technology-worshiping cult members who all wear masks with flat-panel screens that display an iconic happy face or an iconic frowning face, depending on mood. The game basically looks the same now as it did when it first came out on the PS2 and Xbox in mid-2003. It's got a clean look to it, but the somewhat boxy environments make the game feel dated. With the higher-resolution capabilities of the PC, Mace Griffin hasn't looked any better, but even at its best, it still just looks OK.
Mace Griffin has a matching mercenary sound design to it, in that it gets the job done but lacks creativity. The weapons sound convincing, from the curt blast of the shotgun to the high-speed whine of the minigun. Various ambient space hums and sound effects help flesh out the environments. Oddly, Mace himself doesn't make much noise when moving about, and his footsteps are whisper-quiet, though if you listen closely you can hear him breathing heavily while running. Your enemies have a limited number of phrases they can blurt out during the game's action, but most of the voice acting is relegated to the cutscenes using the game engine. Actor, musician, and spoken-word performer Henry Rollins provides the voice for Mace Griffin, and his performance here is the very definition of "phoning it in." His delivery is consistently low-key and monotone, and instead of sounding like he's grimly serious, he just comes off sounding completely uninterested.
Despite being a rough composite of about a half-dozen other first-person shooters--but without a lot of personality of its own--there actually is something to Mace Griffin. However, one of the biggest hurdles for the game, at this point, is the fact that there have been an inordinate number of really great PC first-person shooters released in early 2004, thus making Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter rather forgettable in the grand scheme of things. But if you can get past these factors, you might just have some fun with it.