“Let them fight.” By uttering these three simple words in the 2014 movie Godzilla, Ken Watanabe’s character got straight at the heart of the iconic monster’s appeal. Why turn to precise, conventional military options that might minimize collateral damage, this renowned scientist seems to be saying, when instead humanity could opt for the more delightfully insane plan to let these hulking kaiju battle it out and level an entire city? You know, nature’s way. The makers of Bandai Namco’s Godzilla game seem to understand the truth in Watanabe’s crackpot theory. Too bad that’s about all they get right.
The formula for a successful Godzilla game is so simple as to be almost un-fuck-up-able. Start with angry, atomic laser-breathing dinosaur. Drop it in a skyscraper-rich environment, preferably one characterized by dubious structural integrity. Throw in some tanks, fighter jets, and other signs of humanity’s utter impotence in the face of a chaotic and uncaring universe. Introduce rival monsters to expedite leveling of city. Repeat.
Technically, the makers of Godzilla have followed these steps to the letter. They have also, however, managed to do the impossible. They’ve made what should be an orgy of wanton obliteration (the good kind!) into something that makes the justly maligned 1998 Matthew Broderick film look, by comparison, like a valuable addition to the Godzilla canon.
The player assumes the role of Godzilla, king of the monsters, god of destruction, lizard lord of all he surveys. So far, so good. But the problems start immediately. A puny human in the corner of your screen informs you that Godzilla (you) is probably after humanity’s precious “G-Energy” reactors. This substance helps him grow bigger, stronger, and infinitely crankier. These talking heads, the ones sharing all this useless Godzilla intel, look like something out of the early PlayStation days. At first, the low-fi effect comes off as an intentional throwback style. A nod to the ’80s arcade classic Rampage, maybe? If only it were so.
This game would have been bad in 1997. You can only imagine what it looks and plays like now. Yes, there’s a sense of intentional homage to old Godzilla flicks, but the game emulates the movie monsters’ visual crudeness while capturing none of the films’ campy fun. Each level in the game looks nearly identical, and they all require you to destroy these power plants and gorge yourself on life-giving atomic waste. On your way to a plant, you’ll demolish any number of buildings. A young girl (part of humanity’s woefully impotent G-Force) calls in a continual string of airstrikes. Near as I can tell, none of these have any effect whatsoever on Godzilla’s health.
Apparently the only thing Godzilla needs fear are other kaiju. Inevitably, one of Godzilla’s legendary enemies turns up for a showdown. Mothra, Battra, Mecha King Ghidorah—every weird enemy from the old movies is here, and all are gunning for the crown of alpha predator. When one appears, you’ll awkwardly circle each other, flail around, trade a few energy beams, and then the defeated creature will fall. You have less than half a dozen fighting moves, and unfortunately, none of them is a PS4 self-destruct mechanism that could end your misery.
G-Force seems to be equally conflicted by these lumbering monstro-y-monstro melees. After destroying some rival beast and then the reactors, the radio operator mournfully states, “The entire area has been destroyed by Godzilla.” And yet there is definitely positive, “Level Complete!”-style music playing, even as humanity acknowledges its imminent extinction. As a corollary, you’re also supposed to pick up these data packets during the fights, information that, in theory, will help G-Force defeat Godzilla. Through in-game actions, you’re basically encouraged to help your enemies, humans, in their efforts to defeat you, Godzilla. So why would you pick up the data packets? Do we want Godzilla to win, or not? Whose side are you even on, Bandai Namco?
The confusion is rampant. “I wish we knew what Godzilla was thinking right now.” The static G-Force operative utters these words, oblivious to the fact that Godzilla isn’t “thinking” anything beyond insatiable hunger. If this is the extent of the strategic thinking on Earth’s first and last line of defense, we probably deserve what’s coming to us.
And here’s the worst part: In order to “evolve” Godzilla (or any other kaiju you choose to control), you must play through the same ridiculous, stilted campaign over and over and over again in an endless, excruciating loop. This game feels like something that would interest the two New Zealanders who watch Grown Ups 2 every week and talk about it on their podcast, Worst Idea Of All Time. Because unabashed masochism is the only discernible justification for putting any time into Godzilla.