Altered Beast was one of those games that defined an earlier generation of gaming. When it was released on the Sega Megadrive in the early 1990s, players snapped it up in droves. The game was a near perfect port of the arcade version (a very big deal at the time) and it gave players a simple yet fun button mashing 2D experience.
Sega's modern take on Altered Beast for the PlayStation 2 ditches the Greek mythology-based storyline of the original but retains its core dynamic -- the ability to transform into a variety of creatures as you take on hoardes of evil beasties. Unfortunately, the gameplay of the new Altered Beast isn't much of a step up from the original game -- what was a 2D button masher has simply become a 3D one, and the game fails to shine as a result.
The main protagonist of the PS2 Altered Beast is an unnamed character who, after surviving a military helicopter crash landing, finds he has the ability to change into various different animal forms at will. He quickly finds that this is a handy ability to have in the mysterious area he's crashed in, as he's soon set upon by lumbering zombie-like creatures. The rest of the game takes place in various different environments as the unnamed hero tries to find out exactly where he is and why he has this strange ability in the first place.
Changing into beast form is a simple matter - just press the circle button to select whichever beast you want to transform to and you're treated to a quick transformation cut scene. While at the beginning you'll only be able to change into a werewolf, there will eventually be 10 different forms to select from including a great ape and fire dragon. You'll want to be in a beast form as often as possible throughout the game, as your human form is pretty weak and will get quickly mauled by most of the enemies you encounter.
You can't be a beast indefinitely, however. The amount of time you can hulk up is dictated by how much spirit energy you have - stay in beast form without any spirit energy and your health bar slowly depletes. Luckily, all enemies you defeat will carry some spirit energy, so as long as you keep the carnage up you should be able to stay hairy most of the time.
Attacking is pretty straightforward - there's Square for a normal attack, Triangle for a special move and X for jump. While you can improve your attacks later on in the game by constructing combos, mindlessly thumping the Square attack button will easily suffice for most of the enemies you'll encounter.
Unfortunately for Altered Beast, this simplicity leads to a rather repetitive gameplay experience. Level after level sees you facing hordes of enemies, bashing the one attack button and
. well, that's about it. Difficulty obviously increases as you move forward, but the basic formula stays the same throughout the game.
You'll also get frustrated by the fact that you can only save at certain points in a level. There are several times that, after a difficult boss fight, you'll be sent straight to the next level with the same low health you managed to survive the boss with. Without a save point in sight, you'll immediately be set upon by enemies again, which means that death results in having to fight that same tough boss one more time.
Graphics in the game are respectable, although some of the monsters you'll face lack real detail and personality. The game's camera also struggles to keep up with the action.
A word of warning, though: Altered Beast is quite a gory game, particularly with the beast transformation cut scenes which show graphic images of tendons bursting, jaws being ripped apart, eyeballs exploding, and more. It's nothing the Mortal Kombat series hasn't shown before, but very young kiddies may need to be in the other room when you're playing it.
Sega obviously tried hard to come up with a new Altered Beast game that reminded fans of the original while still appealing to new gamers. Unfortunately, the 2005 Altered Beast is far too similar in gameplay to the original. Tough and repetitive may have been fine for what was originally an arcade game 15 years ago, but many today may just find it a frustrating slog.
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