IT'S ALWAYS a nice surprise when playing a movie-licensed videogame doesn't make us feel like headbutting the TV. We didn't expect much from Aeon Flux, especially after the awful press the film is receiving in the US.
But we were pleasantly surprised to find a fast paced platformer that's worth a look from anyone into the acrobatic action pioneered by the Prince of Persia games. But instead of a long-haired, sword wielding dude in stupid trousers, you get a young, tight leather-wearing female armed with guns to flick around your screen.
The sexy Aeon has clearly learned a few tricks from the Prince, because she knows many of the same moves. She can hang off and run along ledges, run up and along walls and leap acrobatically between suspended poles. Any POP player will be instantly familiar. Controlling Aeon is a breeze because, just like Prince of Persia, the environments have been set up so that Aeon will always leap to exactly the right spot - you just have to tell her to do it. It's cleverly done - it's not very challenging to make the jumps, yet bouncing acrobatically from one thin pole to the next feels gratifyingly skilful. Aeon's most spectacular move sees her leap off ledges attached to a sort of laser rope, and rappel down hundreds of feet to a platform below. Hold the R-trigger and she'll whip out her gun and blast at enemies as she falls. It's awesome to look at.
That's the difference between Aeon and the Prince - Aeon is even more about flair and style. She doesn't settle with rappelling down massive chasms in a sensible fashion, she spins and flips on her way down, pulling several impressive and highly flexible poses before reaching the bottom. She doesn't just run along a wall and leap off it to a platform. She runs along a wall, kicks off it and triple-somersaults to a platform in slow-motion, while the camera swoops below her for cinematic effect.
It's just a shame that the combat isn't nearly as cool as the acrobatics. Melee combat gets pretty repetitive - mash the X and Y buttons and watch Aeon flail her limbs about, hoping that she floors the suckers. There's very little depth to it. As you fight, you charge up a power bar that can be used to perform more powerful strikes. Once you hammer enemies down to near-death, you can perform an array of takedowns. These brutal moves involve Aeon sticking explosives to her victims and watching them explode, stamping on their face, throwing them off ledges or jumping onto their shoulders and using her legs to snap their necks. The neck-snap is the takedown of choice - Aeon recharges a little health each time she does it.
But the melee combat just isn't fun. You'll find yourself wishing you could skip enemy encounters and get back to the acrobatics. This is made worse by Aeon's gunplay - you have no manual control whatsoever over aiming. All targeting is automatic, with Aeon aiming at seemingly random enemies in her local proximity. When there's a single soldier or gun turret, this works fine. It becomes a problem when there are multiple hostiles charging at you. Targeting a specific enemy is impossible.
But where the game disappoints in its combat, it makes up for it in other areas. The puzzles in Aeon Flux use a clever mix of cunning acrobatic skill and impressive physics to get your brain working. For example, although the route to an important switch or key is essentially pre-set, it's not always instantly obvious, forcing you to work out the route for yourself. Another great puzzle has you destroying the support beam of a tube through which large metal orbs are transported. With the tube collapsed, these orbs roll out one by one and begin to form a pile in a depression in the floor. This pile eventually becomes large enough for Aeon to climb up, and onto a previously unreachable platform.