As has been seen time and time again, messing with classic films for video game adaptations can be a dicey prospect. Sometimes, against all odds, it works out, and you get something surprisingly enjoyable. Other times, you get hollow action games that simply use a classic film as a crutch to peddle unremarkable gameplay, and end up offending the very audience at which the game proclaims to be for. Eidos Interactive's Reservoir Dogs falls distinctly to the latter end of the spectrum. Based on the cult-classic Quentin Tarantino film about a group of foul-mouthed robbers trying to sniff out a rat among their group after a jewel heist gone wrong, this third-person action game tries to justify its existence by expanding upon many of the questions left at the end of the film. The problem is that none of the answers are very interesting. These new sequences act less as legitimate fan service and more as a hackneyed means to put you through a series of boring, clunky, and disjointed shooter levels, as well as some painfully frustrating driving sequences.
As a film, Reservoir Dogs told the tale of the rainbow coalition of bank robbers, Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Orange. A collection of unassuming crooks hired on by a salty old gangster named Joe Cabot and his son, Nice Guy Eddie, this crew planned, executed, and subsequently fled a jewel heist that was broken up by the arrival of many, many cops. Many suspect a set-up, and we learn bit by bit the events that led up to the formation of the crew, the heist itself, and the eventual breakdown through a completely nonlinear storyline. Generally speaking, the game version of Reservoir Dogs tells the same tale, though not with as much exposition and dialogue to properly set things up. You get many of the key scenes from the film in CG cutscenes, but it's safe to say that if you haven't seen the movie this game is based on, you'll frequently find yourself confused as to what's going on. You don't really get much of the background info on any of the main characters. The game simply rushes through the parts of the movie that actually explain things to try and get you into the action as quickly as possible. In that way, Reservoir Dogs seems specifically designed to be a companion piece for those already familiar with the film. Unfortunately, it's a pretty unpleasant companion.
Fans of the film might be wondering how, exactly, such a dialogue-laden, action-lite crime drama could work as an action game. The answer is that it really doesn't, though not from a lack of trying. The developers turned the individual escapes and chases vaguely alluded to in the film into full-blown gameplay sequences. Novel idea, except that the rootin', tootin' gunplay parts and Blues Brothers-inspired car chases seem completely out of line with the tone of the film. Basically, the answer to every question of what happened to one character or another is that they found themselves running through one generic-looking environment or another, encountering scattered gatherings of cops from time to time, until they got to the exit. Or, they found themselves driving a car, trying to get from point A to point B without exploding. These exact scenarios happen over and over again, and they aren't fun in the slightest.
To be fair, Reservoir Dogs does make a vague attempt to play to the mentality of a smart criminal by letting you take hostages, rather than simply blasting your way through every cop that gets in your way. As you move through a level, you can take any nearby, unarmed person hostage. This slows you down considerably, but cops won't fire at you as long as you're holding an innocent person in front of you. Initially, you can just make verbal threats to get cops to put down their guns, and once they do, you can target each of them and take control of them. Once you move an unarmed cop over to a wall, you can force him to get on his knees with his hands behind his head and stay there. Some cops won't respond to verbal threats, so you can simply rough up the hostage a bit to show you mean business, and they'll eventually back down.
There are many problems with this system, not the least of which is the fact that you're disabling entire police forces and SWAT teams by smacking around a single hostage. Granted, most crime action games don't rely on realistic police tactics to be fun, but the very conceit that a cop will stay on his knees--face to a wall, even after you've turned your back to him, with a gun on the ground six feet away--is tough to swallow. And where are the snipers? The most ridiculous aspect of all is a special move you can pull off after you fill up your adrenaline meter (which, of course, fills up as you cause more chaos). With this move, you do a particularly brutal attack to your hostage that actually knocks him out. This leads all the cops in the vicinity to lay down their arms and immediately surrender. So, to recap, you've just beaten a hostage senseless, knocked him to the ground, and given the cops an open target as your human shield is now on the floor. And these knuckleheads with submachine guns decide it's time to lay down arms and give up?
Logic leaps aside, the mechanic itself also happens to make the action completely boring. The theory here is that you could actually get through Reservoir Dogs without firing a single bullet, but doing this is no fun at all. You move so slowly, and the levels often take a good bit of time to get through, so you find yourself slogging away at a snail's pace, repeating the exact same sequence of actions to get multitudes of cops to surrender over and over again. And as a final nail in this idea's coffin, sometimes it doesn't even work. Sometimes cops will randomly pick their guns right back up after dropping them, forcing you to smack a hostage again and again until they finally stop getting sassy with you.
You can choose to simply blast your way through levels, though that's only slightly more fun. You can use a few different weapons, ranging from multiple pistol types to shotguns, machine guns, and sniper rifles. The problem is that aiming and shooting is incredibly inaccurate. You can target specific enemies with a target-lock button, but even then, your ability to hit them is suspect, and when you do, it takes dozens of rounds to finally put any enemy down. Your only chance of survival with this method is to use cover, but even this doesn't work very well. Once you line yourself up with a wall, you can peer around corners and shoot decently enough. But actually getting your character to line up with a wall is a chore. Sometimes they'll do it, and sometimes they'll roll in some random direction or just stand there getting shot to death. You can take only a few bullets before you're dead, as well.
Depending on which way you play a level, either as a violent psychopath or a consummate professional, this all ties in to a rating that tallies up at the end of each stage. On one end is the psychopath rating, and the other the professional rating, with a "career criminal" rating in the middle. Your actions count toward one of these overall ratings, which determine the ending you get at the end of the game. Given the lousy gameplay, it's highly unlikely that anyone will want to play through the game multiple times to see the different endings; but if nothing else, it won't take you very long should you decide to punish yourself this way. The whole game takes only around five to six hours to complete.
The game's driving sequences use the same system, though it judges you based on the amount of reckless damage you cause, versus more cautious driving. Unfortunately, driving cautiously is impossible with driving controls this heinous. Cars oversteer ridiculously, violently slipping around a track and making it extremely hard to avoid oncoming traffic and nearby cop cars. Sometimes you have to slam into cops to destroy them, but lining them up can be an extreme pain when you can barely keep your car moving straight. The driving courses are also extremely linear, with few shortcuts or jumps to speak of, and a very specific map path that you have to take to get to your objective, so it's not like you get to do much in the way of exploration while driving, either.
Though Reservoir Dogs is far from the worst-looking action game you'll ever see, it's not pleasant to look at. The character models are blurry and don't animate very well. It's a far cry from what you see in the cutscenes, where the models at least have some detail to them. In-game, they just look awful. Environments frequently repeat the same urban settings, even after you've gotten past the heist sections of the story. Though some areas look decent, you'll frequently see extremely fuzzy textures and set pieces that clearly weren't meant for careful examination. When driving, car physics are all over the place. Some cars will launch hundreds of feet with a simple tap, while others will stand pat after a hefty bump. The driving camera also has a tendency to go absolutely insane when multiple cops are rubbing up against you, snapping back and forth between top-down and behind-the-car views in a spastic fashion. Predictably, the PC version of the game does look better than the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions, though it also requires a dual-analog gamepad for proper control. You can get by for the most part with a keyboard and mouse, but when you have to direct disarmed cops toward walls and objects to surrender, you have to slide the mouse around to direct their movements, which is a poor substitute for the right analog stick control on the console versions.
The audio in Reservoir Dogs is far and away the best thing about it. Though Michael Madsen is the only one of the original Dogs to provide a voice and likeness for the film (and he does a pretty good job with it too, sounding less intoxicated than usual), the remaining voice actors, while not even close to sounding like Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, Tim Roth, Steven Buscemi, or the rest, do a good-enough job with the dialogue on their own merits. And to his credit, the actor voicing Buscemi's Mr. Pink does at least get the inflection right, even if it is laced with a bit too much Peter Lorre underneath. The dialogue itself is right in line with the film, which is to say, it's extremely curse-laden. Certainly in the running for the most prolific use of words like f*** and s*** this year. Many of the hits from K-Billy's "Super Sounds of the Seventies" radio show play during various sequences (though there's no Stephen Wright-inspired radio DJ to compliment the music), including such gems as Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You," George Baker Selection's "Little Green Bag," and Blue Swede's rendition of "Hooked on a Feeling." These tracks make for some delightful listening, even if what's going on in the game itself is anything but delightful.
Were Reservoir Dogs content to be merely another generic action game, sans license, its mediocrity would be pretty unassuming and far less offensive than what it does by taking the Reservoir Dogs name. This game doesn't answer any questions left by the film or provide a unique and interesting interactive version of the story. It simply punches a hole in the story and begins tearing away at the edges to try and cram a bunch of lame-duck shooter levels and ridiculously bad driving missions where such things just do not fit. If you aren't familiar with the film, you'll be equal parts confused by its reconfiguration of the story and irritated by its poorly conceived gameplay. If you are a fan of the film, multiply those same feelings by a factor of a hundred.