Dog’s Life PS2 Review
This game has been described by one magazine as “Grand Theft Auto with a dog”. While I wouldn’t say that’s 100% accurate, the game is relatively free-roaming. Basically, the game is divided into several “lands”, all of which are divided into a number of themed sections – for example, the first land is Clarksville, a pleasant country town in the USA; this is divided into a farm area, a poultry farm, a residential area, a watermill and a field. Roads lead from one area to the next, with an annoying load time breaking up the gameplay. You can move freely between areas, and explore almost every crevice of the level in a GTA-fashion – however, the fact that the gameplay is not nearly so seamless, given the frequent load times, doesn’t match up to GTA fluidity.
The game is largely a great deal of fun, in the same relatively non-linear way that GTA was. However, it is somewhat flawed; graphically, although the animals are faithfully reproduced and move far better than any others that I have seen in a game, they often cross their legs unnaturally when turning, or even lose a part of themselves into the scenery when they get too close. Once I went up to a moped and barked at it and the whole thing disappeared! These kind of things scream “rushed job”, and there are so many of them that they really spoil what is essentially a nicely formed game. Also, when I possessed another dog and barked at a young boy, he still referred to me as “Jake”, which just seems lazy. While were on that subject, the people look absolutely terrible and all seem to have the same face with varying degrees of facial hair, and wrists that go flat when they are bent. Not nice at all, and a pity when all of the animals look superb.
In GTA-fashion, part of the enjoyment of the game is gleaned from the way that you can go almost anywhere in any land; Jake can jump and clamber up most things, such as cars and boxes, and swim to new areas. As well as this, he has the ability to perform various begging moves to get treats from people, sit, dig, lie, bark, shake water from his fur, snarl, pick things up and throw them (using his mouth), pee, fart and poo. These actions can be performed anywhere in the game – jumping up on a cars bonnet and peeing on the windscreen has been my most triumphant moment so far. This adds an incredible appeal to the game – just being able to go into a shop and poo on the floor (without afterwards being arrested) and hearing all of the customers exclaim in disgust is highly amusing for a while, and something that just isn’t offered in your average game.
As well as the standard 3rd person view, you can switch to a first person “Smellovision”. In this view, you see the world in sepia tones – the only real colour are wisps of smoke, which must be collected to offer various bonuses. For example, there are 50 purple “smells” hidden in each area – these can be on rooftops, on the edges of cliffs and in buildings. Collecting all of them will reward Jake with one “bone” – the more of these he collects, the more respect he receives from other dogs, who will bark at him and damage his health if their “bone count” is higher than his.
The other smells in the area open challenges that must be completed to win more bones. Usually these pit you against another dog in the area – all of the areas contain at least one other canine, which acts as your enemy until you have beaten them in one of these challenges. A peeing contest involves you marking certain points before your rival; a chase means you catching the other dog and so on. When these are completed, you gain control of the enemy dog for a short period of time. Each of them possess special skills that make them invaluable; a Husky can climb icy slopes, a Mastiff is strong and can move heavy objects, a Chihuahua is small and can fit through cat flaps. There is always one set action that this enemy can complete that Jake can’t, and so you must use the limited time to find and complete it in order to earn another bone. If you fail, you can always go back and “possess” them again.
The humour of the game leaves a lot to be desired. This is one game that will be branded kiddie, and one where we can see where these branders are coming from. There is an unhealthy amount of emphasis on the appeal of pooing and farting, with the last being particularly over-frequent; if Jake eats something that’s off, he farts continually until its out of his “system”. Similarly, an old man at the start of the game farts frequently, which shows as yellow plumes of smoke in smellovision. While this is naughtily humorous for the first one or two times, it quickly gets boring and embarrassing. Something that might keep kids amused for a while, but not so cool for an adult after several hours methinks. Jake also shouts out witty lines involving smelly pants and the like when collecting smells, which I doubt will have anyone over the age of 10 in fits of laughter.
At the same time, though, the aforementioned old man talks about his “dreams” of cheerleaders wrestling in mud or something, which I found kind of disturbing to find in a largely kid-themed game. Still, there’s only so many times you can do the “dirty old man” joke as well without it becoming tiresome.
Now we move onto the sound; generally a nice blend of ambient tunes for the background, although once when I loaded up my game it skipped a great deal (probably more my PS2 than anything else). Similarly, the sound effects, such as parting and pooping etc are lovingly recreated. However, the voiceovers are somewhat annoying (though admittedly not as horrible as Shenmue 2 on Xbox, which must have the worst voiceovers in history), and all of the dogs, whether a huge Mastiff or a tiny Chihuahua, all have the same bark pitch, which detracts from the atmosphere of the game.
This isn’t a big game, containing only 3 worlds that each will take only a short time to complete. The game is also clearly aimed at children and suitably dumbed down to appeal to the younger generation. Nothing to write home about here then.
In spite of all these faults, the game is still relatively enjoyable, and worth a quick buzz – although with only three somewhat short and easy worlds, the lastability of this game seems a little too brief for me. That and the difficulty level is non-existent – I doubt anyone that’s played games extensively before will find ANY of the challenges even remotely challenging. Worth a look see though, and at the bargain price of £29.99 might be someone’s cup of tea.