Reign of Fire for the Xbox is based on the 2002's summer film by the same name, starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale. The plot centered on the concept of modern man pitted against fire breathing dragons that have become the dominant species on Earth. The movie was unremarkable, and its sometimes striking visuals were offset by a flat plot. This game is then a logical successor, as it follows well in those same footprints. It's not terrible, and sports some good graphics if nothing else. But ultimately, a number of glaring flaws keep it from being an enjoyable gaming experience.
At its core, Reign of Fire is a vehicular shooter. You drive around in a variety of different vehicles, each of which is armed with a number of different weapons and able to equip other firearms strewn about the level. The game uses a control scheme where the player controls the vehicle's aiming cursor with the left analog stick, and the vehicle drives in that direction. While at a first glance this seems to be an effective control scheme, given the action you'll be seeing in the game, it will quickly become obtuse and unwieldy. You might find yourself wishing for some of the more established control schemes seen in other car combat games, as these controls tend to feel mushy and unresponsive, especially in the heat of battle. There is an alternate control scheme available, where the movement of the vehicle is controlled with the left stick and the aim is controlled with the right, but this scheme, established primarily for first-person shooters, makes even less sense in this context.
You will operate a number of vehicles, starting with a military jeep, then on to fire trucks, dune buggies, pickup trucks, and tanks. The first few missions of the game are fairly lengthy and chaotic--your briefing just calls for following orders from your superior, and they basically boil down to "Go to this point and kill stuff...great job! Now go here and kill more stuff!" Later in the game your objectives will be laid out at the beginning of each mission, giving them a more cut-and-dried feel. The only enemies you will face are, well, dragons, and while there is something of a variety to them--ones that crawl, others that fly and breathe fire, ones that only charge at you and bite you--the variety wears thin quickly.
The game's visuals do a fine job of giving you the sense that you're in an all-out war, with countless dragons raining fire down upon you and your comrades, and with batteries of guns aimed skyward trying to bring the beasts down. Even still, the action lacks a real sense of urgency. The progression of the missions doesn't seem negatively affected by your inaction. An ally might report that he needs help or is taking damage, but he doesn't ever actually die if you just wait it out, and when you check on him, you might see that in fact, he's perfectly healthy. Most attacks aren't very damaging to your vehicle, unless you get caught on fire, and so you'll often just feel like you're waiting for the missions to end, killing dragons to kill time because that's the thing to do. The friendly AI has a tendency to be pretty bad, too. In missions where one of the victory conditions is to protect certain characters, they do very little to keep themselves out of harm's way, and if they get caught on fire, they do nothing to extinguish themselves--they will merrily burn to the ground unless you restart the mission first.
Toward the end of the human campaign, the game splits in two--you can opt to finish the missions allied with the humans, or you can choose to play as a dragon. While this initially sounds like a good twist that might breathe some replay value into the game, the control for the dragon is so stiff and awkward that it robs the dragon campaign of whatever fun it might have offered. You don't end up feeling like the extremely intelligent and agile terror of the sky that the dragons are made out to be, but rather a flying, fire-breathing brick. At best, the control of the dragon just feels buggy--there will be times when you attempt a maneuver but the dragon does nothing, and other times when the dragon performs an action that you didn't tell it to. This leads to a sense of separation between player and game, which is really bad.
To its credit, Reign of Fire looks great. The whole world has a great postapocalyptic feel to it, and the detailed levels are filled with scorched trees, burned-out cars, and deteriorating buildings. The vehicles kick up dust and ash when you accelerate quickly or make sharp turns, and the shadows of the dragons as they pass overhead adds an ominous feeling to the proceedings. The game's color palette borrows heavily from the one used in the film, resulting in a dark, drab, and washed-out look throughout. It bears mentioning that, as a multiplatform title, the game's graphics seem to have originally been tuned to the Xbox's superior graphics-rendering capability and then toned down for the PlayStation 2 version. The Xbox version's graphics have more polish to them--the textures are sharper, the ashen sky is more detailed, and the vehicles cast shadows upon themselves, which is a nice, subtle touch. The game also doesn't suffer from the slowdown issues that the PS2 version has. On the other hand, both versions of the game use motion-blur and camera-shaking effects whenever you sustain severe damage, fire a powerful weapon, or use the dragon's speed rush maneuver. The effect is so overused that it quickly becomes tiresome and gratuitous.
Audio in the game is mediocre. Each vehicle has a unique sound to it, and while the various firearms sound pretty good, each machinegun and each missile sounds the same, so you'll be pretty tired of the effects by the end. When in a convoy, the rumbling sounds of vehicles are reminiscent of the tanks from Saving Private Ryan, which is a decent touch. The voice acting is delivered with minimal conviction, however. It's on par with what we've come to expect from games at this point. Reign of Fire's orchestral score does well to give a feeling of purpose, but most of it is set in short loops, and get rather grating by the end of a mission.
In the end, Reign of Fire ends up being a fairly thin gaming experience. There is some occasional fun to be had, as some of the action sequences are exciting at first to take part in, and watching a felled dragon fall from the sky is an exciting sight. Unfortunately this excitement always quickly fades, leaving you with a game with unresponsive controls and lackluster action.