No need to waste time clamoring about lousy feature film to video game metamorphoses; let’s just say that Activision’s The Fifth Element PlayStation game is a textbook example of the conversion conundrum – and quite possibly the worst game I’ve ever played.
The game loosely follows the broader themes of the Luc Besson uberfilm of the same title – which starred Bruce Willis as Korben and Milla Jovanovich as Leeloo, two characters on a course to save the world – and sticks all of this drama on the Nightmare Creatures game engine Kalisto unleashed on us exactly one year ago. Within the single-player action-adventure game, you play as both Leeloo and Korben, or each character’s cut-rate-designed likeness anyway, not one or the other. Meaning as you progress through the game, you’ll switch between Korben and Leeloo, depending on the level. The difference between the two is basically defined by Leeloo’s acrobatics and hand-to-hand combat style and Korben’s firearms. Your goal is simple enough: follow extremely basic and elementary missions that play out more like a treasure hunt than an adventure game, and do this over and over until you’ve completed over 20 levels of sheer agony and boredom.
But it’s not the painfully rudimentary missions that make this game a washout; it’s the ugly graphics and the incredibly foul gameplay mechanics that make The Fifth Element such an embarrassingly bad game. As Korben, you shoot your enemies (the cops, the cops’ floating surveillance units, whatever) with a stockpile of unlimited ammo to get them out of your way; however, where you aim, as long as you’re in the vicinity, doesn’t really seem to matter. In fact, on a couple of occasions, the lack of precision shooting was so obvious, the subject I was aiming at seemed to arbitrarily fall to the ground and promptly disappear. My bullets traveled beyond him and off to his left. But alas, he died anyway. Maybe it was fear. And naturally, a good part of shooting straight is being able to sight. Can you aim, or tighten up your angle? Nope. Since there isn’t a look feature, you just have to turn the clunky characters in the general direction you want to shoot, and hope for the best.
Also, large rings of graphical fire form around your characters when you’re shot at, so as to mask the lack of target precision as well. And because it’s impossible to move on without mentioning this, if someone is shooting at Korben, and you can hear the enemy’s shots, you won’t be able to hear your own until your enemy’s shots cease. So you won’t even really know if you’re cappin’ or nappin’ – not that it matters because your enemies die so quickly and easily anyhow.
While playing as Leeloo, you trade in your guns for a charming little worthless cartwheel/flip-type event that lends you some variety, but with very little usefulness. Leeloo mostly uses her fists and her kicks as weapons, with various scattered grenades and such she picks up along the way. The 3D fighting engine, however, is worse than Nightmare Creatures. Either it’s magic, or Leeloo can manage to punch the cop who’s not even within arm’s reach, but yet she won’t be able to turn and punch the guy who’s punching her. On a semi-positive note, the characters can, on occasion and sometimes with no purpose at all, hang from the ceiling and monkey-bar their way across a room or hall, crawl under sensor beams, and roll away from enemy fire as needed.
In spite of the game’s many levels, the missions are terribly simplistic, often making a task that may have completed the previous mission, a new mission entirely (would you actually free someone from prison and not escape yourself within the same mission?). The real challenge in The Fifth Element, notably, is managing the lousy controls, as the puzzles are insultingly easy, and the course of action is inanely dull.
The graphics are grainy, loaded with seams, awkward perspectives (no, you don’t have any control over the camera at all, which makes it pretty dated at this late point in time), blind platform jumps, and pop-up from the get-go, and they don’t improve. The intro and the cutscenes are better, naturally, as they’re excerpts from the film itself – often in the form of non sequiturs that have been wrapped around the game’s anemic plot.
The enemy AI is laughable, as well. When in the same room with several enemies, if you’re attacking one, the others seem to linger behind a bit, then move up when the first guy’s down. Or if they are up close to you, they seem to be dancing, rather than attacking you, until you turn your attention toward them, respectively.
The Fifth Element has an OK soundtrack. It’s not good, but it’s not intrusive. And coming from a game that should receive a quality citation, one mediocre feature is perhaps its only saving grace. Kalisto should have spent more time on this engine. Period. The game is not fun, not pretty, and not challenging. And the sad part is, Activision can’t even cash in on the movie license, because the characters look nothing like those in the movie. Don’t waste your money on this game, and if you’re walking around the rental store, get the movie, not the game. –Lauren Fielder
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