A couple of hours into Merchants Of Brooklyn and I'm considering fetching that brick from the front garden. I could beat myself around the face with it. Perhaps a trip to the hospital will put things into perspective. Perhaps not. Merchants Of Brooklyn is beautiful, brutal, horrendous and infuriating. It looks fantastic: often colourful, occasionally monstrous, always stylish. The ultra-detailed cartoon visuals, where everything is outlined inked and outlined, certainly promise much. A cyborg neanderthal gladiator using the dismembered limbs of his enemies and a transforming bionic arm to defeat the future Mob of Brooklyn - these ideas promise even more. And then there are the crash bugs, the instant deaths, the quicksave attrition. Why oh why.
If we can step back for a moment - and get that perspective without self-bruising - it's worth remembering that Merchants of Brooklyn is a commercial outing in CryEngine 2 from a small, indie team. Paleo Entertainment are modders turned pro: they can't be expected to have QA'd this one into smooth gaming butter. Their visual achievements, with the comic-strip cutscenes and cel-shaded thuggery, really are something. But they don't save the game.
The combat is messy: hand to hand combat means flailing about in the vicinity of the enemy. Ranged combat means blasting away meanly with one of a number of uninteresting weapons, the variety of which simply introduces less and less utility. You start out with the flak cannon from Unreal Tournament - pretty cool, yes - and then get increasingly crappier armaments from there. Standard FPS weapon tree in reverse.
What is far more crucial to you progress is the ability to pick things up, "charge" them, and fling them at your enemy with explosive effect. This has the awesome side-effect of being able to pick up the head of a slain opponent, charge that up, and use it to blast his buddies into further meat. More boney missiles for your war. The down side is that it occasionally insta-kills you. In fact plenty of stuff seems to occasionally insta-kill you, which would be fine if my game didn't occasionally crash to desktop. The quicksave attrition soon mounts, and the repetition feeds into an ugly, biley feeling of frustration. Merchants Of Brooklyn is a sloppy experience that I cannot recommend.
Incredibly, Paleo initially (accidentally) put up an early, unfinished version of their game for download on Steam. Someone has suggested to me that this mistake makes the finished game look pretty buff by comparison. That's a sad way to look at it. It's been fixed and patched since then. A better way to look at it is to see this as a sad misfire of game design, by a team that is obviously amazingly talented in the art department. This is, after all, their first outing. Few, if any, indies are this accomplished in building characters and environments in a top-end FPS engine. It's just a shame, then, that they couldn't craft the game to go with it. Maybe next time, eh?
Merchants Of Brooklyn is out now on Steam.