The Scorpion King proves that the name of a popular movie and even the likeness of its star aren't nearly enough to make an otherwise bland game seem enjoyable.
The movie-to-game translation is a time-honored tradition in the video game industry. Since the earliest days of home gaming with E.T. on the Atari 2600, we've seen more downright awful movie-licensed titles than most discriminating gamers would care to remember. Unfortunately, in the new PlayStation 2 version of The Scorpion King, subtitled Rise of the Akkadian, we have yet another example of how flawed the process of converting a successful movie into a playable game can be. The Scorpion King proves once again that the name of a popular movie and even the likeness and voice talent of its star aren't nearly enough to make an otherwise bland and uninteresting game seem enjoyable.
The Scorpion King for the PS2 is based on the action movie of the same name, which stars the people's favorite WWE wrestler, The Rock. In Rise of the Akkadian, you take control of The Rock's character from the film, Mathayus, as you travel through an original storyline created specifically for the game. The plot here is positioned as a prequel to the film--you guide Mathayus as he is still training to be an assassin in the warlike society of Akkad. At first you'll be battling human foes, but eventually, Mathayus will be pitted against an evil wizard named Magus and his otherworldly forces. Honestly, the plot in Rise of the Akkadian is mostly an excuse to let you take control of The Rock and beat the crap out of hordes of enemies.
You control Mathayus from a standard third-person perspective as you guide him through the game's assortment of levels. Aside from the lightest of puzzle solving elements, such as having to turn a crank in one room to open a door in another, the focus of the gameplay is squarely centered on fighting, fighting, and more fighting. In each area of each level, you'll be greeted with mass amounts of enemies that rush at you blindly, waiting for you to unleash a variety of combat moves on them and knock them down. It's not uncommon to see Mathayus swinging his fists and kicking his feet madly into a group of three or four enemies, taking them all down en masse. In fact, the more you play The Scorpion King, the more it starts to look not so much like an adventure game as it does a simple brawler like Final Fight and its ilk.
The Scorpion King would like you to think that its combat system is complex and intricate. Mathayus has access to four different classes of weapons: gauntlets, one- and two-handed swords, and spears. As you progress through the game, you'll find more powerful versions of each of these types of weapons, and when you pick up a new one, it replaces the weapon you were using. Whichever weapon you're using, Mathayus has two attack buttons: a fast, light attack and a slower, more powerful one. These can be chained together in preset sequences to pull off a reasonably large number of attack combos on enemies, and each of the four weapon classes has its own combos. In addition, you can perform a simple jump attack and a couple of super moves that drain a "stamina" gauge. You can also pick up shields that let you block enemies' attacks, but these can be broken and you'll have to replace them if you do so.
Unfortunately, though you have access to a multitude of moves, very often you'll find yourself simply flailing on the buttons randomly in the thick of frenzied combat. The action is usually too harried for you to really think about what moves you're using, and it's often difficult to even integrate blocks into the flow of combat. The super moves aren't very impressive either, as they generally consist of a roundhouse kick and a charge move. These are good for clearing out enemies that are ganging up on you, but they require little or no technique to use, much like the rest of your moves. Ultimately, the gameplay is either too easy, in areas where you can simply mash buttons to plow your way through the stream of enemies, or needlessly hard, in places where enemies have an unfair advantage against you through numbers and placement. The combat in Rise of the Akkadian just feels flimsy and frustrating overall.
The Scorpion King suffers from some mechanical flaws in addition to its monotonous gameplay. The camera has almost no degree of automatic adjustment--it's nearly always up to you to adjust the perspective on your own. This is accomplished with the right analog stick, and it's easy enough when you're just running around, but when you're busy trying to stave off waves of enemies, it can become very frustrating to have Mathayus facing toward the camera, obscuring oncoming attackers. The camera will also occasionally get stuck on walls or inside doorways, hiding the action entirely. The game's graphics are a little bland but serviceable, though the frame rate can degenerate into a choppy mess when there are multiple enemies hacking away at you. Finally, the music that plays while you're engaged in combat loops ad nauseam, and since you're fighting all the time, this can be enough to make you tear your hair out.
When you get down to it, there just isn't a whole lot to The Scorpion King. The great bulk of the gameplay consists of combat, and since the combat is flawed, repetitious, and ultimately unsatisfying, the game ends up sharing these traits. There is some decent window dressing in Rise of the Akkadian--for one, The Rock himself lends his voice acting, which is surprisingly passable, as do a couple of other names like Mark Hamill and Earl Boen. Alas, celebrity talent and a big-name movie license aren't enough to save The Scorpion King from the long-running curse of movie-game mediocrity.