Conker: Live and Reloaded Preview

A mascot massacre.

I feel nothing but sympathy for game developers burdened with the unfortunate task of creating a brand new platforming mascot. It must be a nightmarish exercise in Twenty Questions before somehow arriving at a marketable cutie-pie; I wouldn’t wish such mind-numbing Mad Libs on anyone. There is very little joy in telling the world you’re the proud father of “Badgie â„¢,” an extreme, rollerblading, teenage badger/monkey wearing red sunglasses and a diaper searching for the Lost Golden Relic while avoiding the troublesome Dunky Birds and eating hundreds of purple badgie-beans.

Hands off. That idea is mine!

The thing is, we see so many awful Badgie rip-offs that it’s almost become white noise. Legions of snappy penguins, encephalitic voodoo men, retarded crocodiles, confused marsupials and misguided logos wander aimlessly about the gaming landscape, wondering why, exactly, they were discharged from some desperate developer’s gray matter only to die of starvation in the desert of lost mascots. Out of the frying pan, into the bargain bin.

Such a fate was not to befall one Conker T. Squirrel, however. Despite a quick appearance in Diddy Kong Racing and a thoroughly marginal showing in his own GBA game, the rude rodent escaped the clutches of mascot purgatory by doing what few mascots dare to do: grow the f*** up.

And so I doff my cap to the folks at legendary developer Rare, who had the good humor and terrible taste to produce perhaps the largest ball of snot ever fired upon the mascot race, Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the N64. Released at the tail end of that system’s lifespan, BFD made all kinds of last-minute waves with its adult humor, foul language, scatological obsessions and genuine dislike for all things hackneyed, not to mention its amazing piss-stream technology. The game farted on the industry’s head, and the industry loved the smell. It just hated the timing.

Well, if you own an Xbox, June might be your yucky month. Conker: Live and Reloaded offers a fresh take on this old nasty with a brand new, highly-combustible multiplayer fragfest alongside the entire Conker’s Bad Fur Day single-player adventure, now with updated graphics and a few tweaks. Put the two together and you’ve got just the smut we’ve been waiting for.

Since the single-player is essentially just a buffed up remake of Bad Fur Day, we implore you to reread that oldie but goodie, as the facts are largely unchanged. Some new dialogue here and there does add some life, however, and the whole shebang has gotten a facelift, a tummy tuck and an entire box of Alka Seltzer, what with the beautiful new textures, lighting and animation. BFD was a beauty on the N64, and with the Xbox power applied liberally, is quite the looker today.

The gameplay is just as you might remember, featuring much of the same great voice-acting along with the same levels and bosses. If you’ve never battled a giant poo, you don’t know what you’re missing. Honestly. Sorta.

The real meat of this mascot, though, lies in its new multiplayer smorgasbord. Pitting the SHC (Squirrel High Command) against the loathsome Tediz, multiplayer Live and Reloaded takes a cue from the Battlefield games by focusing on team-oriented, objective-based matches for up to 16 at a time. Each side has its own goals on each map, giving ample reason to play as both the squeamishly good and the cuddly evil. For instance, you’ll have to blow up a few gates while slowly making your way up a war torn-beach as the SHC, while the Tediz must hold the lines until the time runs out. From basic Capture the Flag to variations on Halo 2‘s Territories mode, there are quite a few ways to play.

There seem to be a billion ways to take part in the festivities as well. You can hop in Solo by playing alongside a collection of “dumbots,” who actually don’t seem nearly as stupid as their name implies. Chapter X lets you run through the missions with story briefings beforehand, although the plot really just serves as a way to describe the objectives. If you have a friend nearby, you can rock through the maps in Co-Op or Vs. modes. Most folks, though, will probably opt to kick some fuzz in the fully-supported Xbox Live play mode.

Regardless of how you attack it, the game starts to really shine in its class system. There are six classes available for both sides, and each comes with specific guns, grenades and special abilities, giving all of them unique play styles.

Grunts carry the effective Sturm 21 gun with three firing modes, along with the nifty ability to self-heal. Sneekers are the scouts, relatively weak at long range but deadly up close thanks to a sword and the ability to cloak or feign death. Watching their backs are the Long Rangers, the snipers of the lot who also happen to have the ability to literally scan the map for enemies. If you prefer the heavy stuff, you’ll want to pick the Demolisher, who roams the battlefield toting a rocket launcher. Thermophiles are a dichotomy of destruction as they harness napalm and acid along with the ability to heal other units. Then there are the Sky Jockeys, the only class capable of piloting the game’s wildly effective airships.

You heard right – there are five vehicles here, too, which each class can summon using terminals in the field. Need more firepower? Grab a tank and do your business. There are also specialist terminals that allow each class to pick up and place devices like mines, air or ground cannons and even teleportation gates anywhere on the map.

While you can’t customize your character’s payload, you might happen upon an upgrade token in the field that adds additional weapons and abilities to further extend the depth. The Sneeker, for instance, gains access to fierce throwing knives and the awesome Disguise ability, which makes her perhaps the deadliest unit in the game. Death seems to sting more when you don’t see it coming. The Long Ranger, on the other hand, gains upgrades like the Krotch 45 close-range pistols and an extended zoom for even more of an inside/outside game.

When you mash all these bits and pieces together, you get a multiplayer affair that can be played in countless ways. You might start as a Grunt, run to a specialist station to grab an Earthguard cannon, which you’ll drop near your team’s flag. Meanwhile, a Sneeker is off doing recon with their remote-controlled Snoopa cam or feigning death near the enemy’s base, which is being watched carefully by your Long Ranger. The Sky Jockey has called in the Mule 32 troop carrier/bomber, which is being manned by a few other Grunts as it sets off in a blaze of diversionary hellfire.

No matter the strategy, the gunplay feels right as rain thanks to satisfying explosions and weapons that pack a crispy, kinetic punch. There’s often quite a bit going on in a Live and Reloaded match, but even in its unoptimized form the framerate doesn’t miss a beat and the draw distance is impressive. Despite it’s fluffy appearance, the game is chock full of the mature depth hardcore gamers expect from the finest fragfests.

The mascot who grew up is growing again, and he’s looking to take on bigger game than before with a thorough, multi-faceted package that’s as serious as it is disgusting. If the playable build parked in our Xbox is any indication, Conker: Live and Reloaded is set to turn other mascots into skid marks when it rolls onto shelves this June.

For more screenshots, check out our Conker screen and fact page.

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