Ocean seem to be raiding a different style of game every time they do a movie licence these days - but they don't stop having hits. Here's more proof...
Hook, hook, hook-ability, that's the beauty of this game. Or at least, it is in theory. Ocean seem to be going for a completely different game design every time they convert a film property these days, and you've probably all heard the Monkey Island comparisons about this one several thousand times already. I won't say anything else on the matter for the time being, then, but prepare yourself for a few Lucasfilm references later on in this review, because they really are valid. Not only that - they give me a good reference point for explaining just where Hook is coming from, and where it's going.
Background guff out the way first though - many of you will have seen Hook the movie, and I guess most of you would agree it was a fairly typical piece of Spielberg schmaltz.
Though undeniably rather fun, I found it a little shallow and unwilling to really stretch itself, despite and unwilling to really stretch itself, despite the presence of such class acts as Robin Williams as Peter Pan and Dustin Hoffman as the ubiquitous Captain Hook himself. It was also an all-action type of film, which made it quite a surprise when we heard that Ocean were intending to put together a pseudo adventure for their conversion, rather than some sort of platform leaparound. We had our doubts about the wisdom of this, but it looks very much like they've pulled it off - this is one game that managed to follow the plot and, indeed, the visual style of the original (but without giving those who've seen the movie an unfair advantage) while, at the same time, working exceptionally well as a game.
Load up the game then, and the first thing that strikes you is one of those neat animated intros which everybody loves using to fill up disk space. It looks nice, and it fills up disk space. It looks nice, and it fills in the story for those who haven't seen the movie, but the really interesting stuff comes when the game itself starts, dropping the player into a Monkey Island-style graphic adventure, complete with character interaction, multiple choice conversations and a similar piratical theme. Hell, there are even the underwater scenes you got in Monkey Island in here!
Anyway, back to the plot. The grown up Peter Pan - now called Peter Banning (so grown-up, grouchy and yuppie-fied that he doesn't believe he really is Peter Pan) - stands bewildered in the pirate village in Never Neverland. A glowing, shimmering light flits around overhead - this is the ever-present Tinkerbell, who's always good for a laugh or a snog (in the movie anyway). Movement is simply a matter of clicking the mouse cursor on an area of the screen - Peter will find his own way there - a la Monkey Island. Using the icons below the main screen, Peter can talk to people, pick up objects, use objects (or combinations of objects), and give them to others. Communication is simply a matter of clicking on the talk icon, choosing a character, then using the right mouse button to cycle through a list of possible phrases. These are all context-sensitive, just as they are in Monkey Island. Initially the player finds that nobody will stop for a chat because Peter isn't a pirate, so mission number one is to get yourself a decent pirate's outfit.
And So The Fantasy Unfolds
Peter meets the Lost Boys, re-discovers his old tree hideout, and... but wait a minute, I don't want to spoil the story for all you Hook-less types out there. Suffice to say that it follows the film pretty well, without making all the puzzles too obvious.
Where Hook really scores, however, is in the atmosphere stakes. The sound is particularly gorgeous. The spot FX - the Lost Boys eating, the crickets cricketing - are ace, and although the music used isn't the same as the soundtrack we heard in the movie, it's damned effective, recalling the epic, emotional, and lighthearted moments of the movie surprisingly, and equally, well. The way Hook shakes his, um, hook in anger whenever a puzzle is successfully solved is also pretty cool.
Puzzle-wize, however, Hook is occasionally a little predictable, sometimes a bit on the obtuse side, and just a tad too linear. It's very rigidly structured, with the solution of one problem leading into the next all too surely. It's just too limiting and organised, particularly given Hook's diminutive size - and no, I'm not making a Dustin Hoffman joke there, just pointing out that the game is rather small. What's there is nice, if only there was more of it.
And that just about rounds off what I want to say about it all really - I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. I must confess to going to the movie Hook deliberately not wanting to like it - quite perverse, I know - and I wasn't exactly looking forward to the game version either. It's nice to be proved wrong sometimes, isn't it?
The conclusion, then. Where Hook falls down, it's mainly through the subject matter. As I said before, the movie was somewhat shallow and lacking in plot, and the result is that Hook the game is short on humour - and short in length too. Although Ocean claim that their game has almost exactly the same number of locations as the first Monkey Island, I'm not convinced. And even if it has, it was the convoluted - and rib-achingly funny - storylines of the Monkey Island games which make them such winners.
In some ways it's not fair to compare the game to Lucasfilm's masterwork, I know - even if, with the pirate locations and very similar presentation. Ocean are rather begging the comparison. Let us instead treat it in its own right, in which case it's fun, it's slick and it stays true to its subject matter (as true as the film did anyway). More suited to the younger adventurer, maybe, but it's another success for Ocean. Keep it up, guys.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: Beautiful sound, relevant plot, nice shiny-smooth graphics, and lashings of creamy goodness. The story of the film Hook - which is Peter Pan, presented Spielberg style - is captured perfectly.
Downers: Despite the look, this is a much shallower game that Lucasfilm's. There isn't really all that much to it, and some of the trite sentiments expressed (a carry over from the film) might grate a bit.
Small, perhaps, but still jolly nicely formed. I guess I'm just an old sortie at heart (that's what all the other reviewers say, anyway) but I'll give it 84%