Memories of SEGA: Altered Beast
The latest Memories of SEGA feature focuses on SEGA’s much loved mythological beat-em-up. Rise from your- Huh? What do you mean it’s not THAT Altered Beast?
Let’s face it, the original Altered Beast was never a particularly great game, was it? Very limited moves, repetitive gameplay, clunky controls… It was hardly SEGA’s finest hour in terms of gameplay. And yet, it remains one of their most popular titles. Maybe it’s because of the speech- it was, after all, the game where we heard the legendary “Rise from your grave!” sample. Or maybe it was the fact you could turn into a werewolf- a very novel and badass gimmick at the time. Or maybe it was the quirky ending of the arcade version, where all the main characters go out for a beer to celebrate the end of the game. Whatever the reason, there was something about Altered Beast that endeared it to the hearts of gamers everywhere. Sure, the game itself was quite poor, but it had a certain charm to it- the kind of charm only a SEGA game could deliver. But despite its popularity, it didn’t get much love in terms of sequels. Aside from an outing on the Game Boy Advance, the only other game in the series was a reboot on the Playstation 2, one which was a very different beast (no pun intended) to the original arcade classic. It’s this game that I will be focusing on in this edition of Memories of SEGA. Is it worthy of the Altered Beast legacy? Let’s find out.
The PS2 game had a few things in common with the original. It was still a Beat-em-Up, and transforming into one of a variety of creatures was still very much the main gimmick here. Some enemies were also a throwback to the first game too- the first form of the final boss even paid tribute to the first boss of the original with its use of its own heads as projectiles! However, this version was very different in one regard- the Greek mythology setting of the original was gone, and now took place in the modern day. It was now more of a Resident Evilish, genetic experiments gone horribly wrong kind of scenario. The game was also a lot bloodier than the first game as well, and not just when it came to combat. But that’s something I’ll go into further detail later… One particularly noteworthy aspect of this game is the fact it never came out in the US. It was exclusive to just Europe and Japan!
I first learned about this game when I flicked through a copy of Edge magazine in my local Virgin Megastore. There was a feature on that year’s E3, and the game got a very brief mention in there. There was barely anything about it in there, but my first impression was “Cool, a new Altered Beast game. About time!” Over time, I would learn more about the title, and I ended becoming more and more curious about it. However, as it got closer to release, previews in game magazines didn’t have a great deal positive to say about it. I wasn’t going to let that stop me buying it though- I wanted to play it, and make my own opinion. I ultimately ended up buying the game on the day of its release, back in February 2005. But would I end up enjoying it, or were the magazines spot on?
Some footage of the game in action.
The story involves one Luke Custer (That’s you, naturally), a chap who has just survived a helicopter crash and has no memory of who or where he is. Yes, it’s that old amnesia chestnut again. It doesn’t take long for him to discover he is in Foret Town, a place that has been overtaken by a nasty creation known as Genome Mist- a mist that turns everything it comes into contact with into nasty undead beasties. Luckily for Luke, he also discovers he is a Genome Cyborg (No, seriously. That’s what he’s referred as throughout the story), one who is capable of turning into a deadly beast himself. This power will prove to be his lifeline as he fights his way through the town, hoping to find out the truth behind his identity and why he’s in this hellhole to begin with. Throw in a rival Genome Cyborg named Brad, a mysterious woman, and the true nature of the research that caused this whole mess, and things are going to get rather complicated for our hero…
Though you spend much of your time beating up monsters, there is also a big exploration element, quite similar to Metroid in a way. The game is split into fifteen areas, most of which are initially inaccessible. However, after defeating bosses, you’ll either gain a new Genome Chip which gives you a new beast form, or a special gene which grants a new ability to one of your existing ones. These are all used to access new areas, as well as find secrets. In your basic human form, you can perform basic attacks, as well as jump. You can deal with individual enemies like this, but when you encounter them in groups, it’s time to get hairy. There’s no attacking those pesky blue three headed dogs and grabbing the balls they drop (oo-er) in this one- transforming in this game is just a case of holding down the Circle button to bring up a menu, choosing a form, then releasing the button. One transformation FMV later, and you’re good to go. Pressing the circle button one more time as a beast will change you back into a human.
Now's a very good time to use that ability to transform...
There are six main forms to choose from, as well as three hidden forms you can unlock after beating the game. Each has a special ability which you’ll need to progress, as well as its own unique attacks. You can also upgrade each form by collecting special genomes, then spending them in the Gene Manipulation menu. By doing this, you can increase the length of each form’s attacks, as well as increase their main attack power. In terms of combat, you also have access to a berserk meter as a beast. When it’s full, you can use a special attack by pressing the Triangle button- very useful for getting out of those tighter spots! However, there is also a serious disadvantage to being transformed. Underneath your life gauge is the spirit meter, which keeps decreasing as you stay as a beast. It can be refilled by collecting the green goo dropped by most enemies, but if you let it drop to zero, you’ll start losing health instead- a good indication to revert to your human state!
The original Altered Beast wasn’t a terribly violent game- enemies fell apart when you finished them off, but that’s about as far as it went. The PS2 game on the other hand… Hoo boy. This was a major gore fest. Combat itself saw plenty of bloodshed, with enemies being hacked to bits and blood spraying often. But that was nothing compared to the transformation FMVs. Not at all like the ones in the original, transforming in this game involved some very graphic scenes. Hands bending over in ways they really shouldn’t, eyeballs popping, arms exploding in a shower of blood… Clearly the developers were going for the body horror angle with this one. With this in mind, one thing that always baffled me about this game was its age rating. Despite all the violence and the gory transformations, it only got a PEGI 12 rating here in the UK. For those of you in the US, that’s the equivalent of a PG-13 or a T rating over there. Quite how such a gory game got such a low age rating is something I could never figure out.
Those transformations in full. Watch them if you dare!
Unfortunately, this is the least of the game’s problems. For starters, the graphics are quite poor. Everything looks very drab and drained of colour. Also not helping is the camera, which is quite loose to control, and doesn’t always give you the view you want. The monsters you face aren’t terribly interesting either, though as mentioned earlier, there are a few familiar faces from the original game towards the end. The music isn’t too bad. Each Beast form has its own theme, and while they’re not great, they at least suit each form quite nicely. The werewolf, for example, has a very fast paced theme, while the Minotaur has more of a rocky mood to it's theme.
As for the gameplay… The game really suffers here. You really don’t have much in the way of move sets- all you have are a few combos. Granted, these can be extended by using combo genomes to upgrade them, but you still only really have one basic attack and special attack per beast. That said, there is a small amount of satisfaction to be had in tearing up an army of zombies as the Werewolf. Only a small amount, though. Exploration isn’t very exciting either. Though there are quite a few secret areas, none of them have anything interesting- either a few combo genomes to pick up, or special unique enemies that you have to beat in a set time limit. These battles are dull, but winning them will net you a genome that lets you upgrade the power of any beast form’s attack. (Hint- Upgrade the Werewolf’s attack first!) Still, it’s just not much fun.
Did I mention the game is a bit on the gory side?
At the very least, the game is fairly challenging. Even on the Easy setting, enemies can quite easily overwhelm you and take a large chunk out of your health. It’s a decent length as well- about eight hours, and beating the game unlocks a new mode named Elevator of Doom. This is basically a survival mode of sorts, and completing it will net you one of the extra beast forms. There’s also a Boss mode, where you can fight any previously defeated boss at your leisure. An extra challenge here is to try and beat each boss within a par time. The quicker you beat the boss, the better your grade. However, even with the extra stuff the game still remains very dull indeed.
Strangely though, I found myself compelled to play through it. Certainly enough to get all the way to the final boss. This one was quite an undertaking- taking place over six (yes, SIX) increasingly tough rounds. This battle would ultimately prove to be my undoing, as the last form couldn’t be damaged by normal means. I couldn’t figure out how to hurt it, and in the end I gave up on it. I put the game to one side, thinking I’d never play it again. However, a rather unfortunate incident would result in me giving it another shot…
One day, I decided to trade in a few of my old PS2 games, little realising that one of them held one of my memory cards. Of course, I didn’t realise this until it was too late, and lost a ton of my old saves as a result. Some of them I’d worked quite hard on. So, I decided to play through those games again. One of them was Altered Beast. With that, I trudged through it yet again. This time however, I finally figured out how to damage the final boss in its sixth form! Turns out, it had a shield that could only be destroyed by using the Dragon form. With that down, you’re free to inflict as much damage as you can before the shield goes back up. After a few rounds, I was finally able to come out on top and win. Aside from the aforementioned Elevator of Doom mode though, there wasn't much in the way of reward. The ending was fairly brief and not very satisfying, just as the rest of the story. But at least I'd finally beaten the game, and to think it was all because I didn't think to check and make sure my games had no memory cards in them when I traded them in!
The bosses are huge, but rather dull to fight.
All in all, the PS2 version of Altered Beast is one game the United States didn’t miss out on at all when SEGA decided not to release it over there. The story is weak, the graphics are drab and the gameplay is both limited and boring. And yet… I somehow found myself strangely drawn to it. Maybe being able to turn into a werewolf and unleash all kinds of unholy heck on monsters still had that same strange appeal it had back in the day. But it just didn’t have the charm of the original, and without that, it really was just a very poor beat-em-up. Pick it up if you’re curious, but only if you’re curious.
29th November, 2014 - 22:35 GMT
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