Saying that I’m a fan of Steven Spielberg is a bit like saying I’m a fan of air in this day and age, but I’ll say it all the same. I don’t need to tell you about the countless classics he’s made – putting his name in a trailer will literally get millions of butts on cinema seats. He’s also the man behind my favourite film series of all time, Indiana Jones. If I hadn’t fallen for that franchise at such a young age I may well not have fallen for the Uncharted series, or even video games as a whole as much as I have.
So when the industry legend recently claimed that his latest film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, would be a lot like his earlier works, I got excited. And then I thought about the potential for the video game adaption of the same name – a real chance to capture the magic of a Spielberg flick in gaming – and got even more excited.
Of course, history suggests that such potential will surely be wasted, and while Tintin does go some way to capturing said magic, it still falls short of a Hollywood experience.
Played out mostly as a 2D platforming, fighting, puzzle mash-up, The Secret of the Unicorn sticks to the plot of the film throughout its campaign, occasionally mixing things up with 3D environments and vehicle segments. It doesn’t do all that great a job of retelling the events of the flick though, thanks to a somewhat muted presentation that feels rushed. Cutscenes, while in-engine, are compressed to poor quality and fail to really capture the sense of adventure that the film is all about. The story seems to skip over bits and pieces that, without having seen the movie, leave you feeling a little pushed along. Certain events feel more like a cheesy excuse to mix up gameplay rather than move the plot along.
It’s not helped by bland graphics that pale in comparison to the film’s jaw-dropping CG. A variety of locations keeps the colour palette fresh, but the bland character models feel like a missed opportunity on two systems that we know can come far closer to the look of the movie than this effort.
The gameplay does a better job of reflecting the spirit of the character though. Combat – while simply restricted to one button and some opportunities for stealth moves – is a scrappy thrill, with the intrepid reporter flinging his fists this way and that, leaving thugs twice his side face-down, legs-up. Different enemy types may require a bit of thought (usually needing something thrown at them first), but for the most part Tintin gets waist deep into the action with satisfying results.
Platforming is a similar story, though it somehow manages to be even more straight-forward. Tintin doesn’t possess the finesse of a blue hedgehog or Italien plumber, thus finds himself more struggling to clamber up objects than leaping over them. Mechanically it’s nothing special; just a series to gap-jumping, ledge hopping roadblocks, but it’s the Drake-style scruffiness to it all that gives it its character.
Once you’ve nailed these two fundamentals then you’ve got 70% of the game down, which, of course, does lead to a hefty amount of repetition. The first two chapters in particular feel longer than they actually are when it’s essentially the same room about a hundred times over. Developer Ubisoft Montpellier realises this a little later than it should have, and starts adding in plane and motorcycle sections to compliment a few later, more varied 2D levels. These sections are hit and miss, with boring plane missions thankfully stamped out by longer, more exciting motorcycle chases.
The second half sees underwater levels and carrier parrots (really) provide some variety on the standard gameplay, saving the game from outstaying its welcome before the credits roll. The mix of combat, platforming and vehicle segments ends up making the single-player a jack of all trades but a master of none. Its serviceable gameplay is given a spark by the spirit of adventure, but the dependence on easy 2D gameplay makes it feel like a movie game that’s played it safe rather than try and realise the full potential of the franchise.
Looking outside the linear path of the main quest you’ll find a pleasing amount of content. Each chapter is armed with a score of collectables to find, and there are several other gameplay modes dotted around the main menu. A two-player co-op mode which throws in Captain Haddock as a playable partner proves to be an enjoyable romp, if not straying too far from the campaign itself. There are also challenges to master if the lure of trophies and achievements are enough to keep you hooked.
In Tintin, Ubisoft have come up with an enjoyable, if a little safe and underwhelming action game. As a film-to-game adaption, it stands head and shoulders above a lot of other efforts, but it lacks the confidence to try and pull off the more spectacular moments of the film with similar results, rather falling back on simpler gameplay. But, hey, there are 850 words above this sentence that are coming from a guy who absolutely loves this genre, and he can tell you that he’s pleased as punch that he saw this one through to the end.
+ A fun, serviceable campaign that satisfies from start to finish
+ Plenty of extras to be had after finishing the story
– Satisfying , yes, but the single player never reaches its true potential
– Repetition, bland visuals and presentation damage the experience