Animal cruelty is one of those issues that can get people just as riled up as abortion or politics. As the owner of two rabbits, one of which was adopted from an animal shelter after being abandoned in a parking lot, it's certainly an issue that is close to my heart.
It was with a sort of bemused interest that I sat down with Whiplash, which is supposedly about two lab animals who escape their captors and run amok through the corporation testing facilities, hitting man where it hurts the most by "breaking all his stuff," and freeing fellow captives from the torments of scientist and dull-witted guards.
The game has an eye for the absurd. The Genron Corporation is an over-the-top exaggeration of the evil big business stepping on the little guy, (or in this case, little critters), by running all sorts of frivolous experiments on animals. Monkeys are given bad haircuts and lowered into electrified water, hamsters are fired out of cannons onto Velcro walls to see how long they'll stick, and so on.
The protagonists are a twitchy weasel named Spanx, and a white rabbit named Redmond, who due to his years spent in the cosmetics testing facility now sports blobs of blue make-up and an invulnerable skin. Having outlived their usefulness to the corporation, Spanx and Redmond are about to become the subjects of a twisted new experiment whereby they are chained together and melded into a single animal.
Spanx and Redmond manage to escape, and are contacted by a mysterious voice who speaks to them through the electrodes that remain wired into their brains from previous experiments. This omniscient presence claims to be a disgruntled Genron employee and promises to help them escape the facility.
The rabbit and weasel are chained together, and the irony of the situation is that in order to liberate themselves and their comrades from the cruel animal experiments, Spanx must inflict all manner of humiliating and sadistic things on Redmond. As the smaller of the two animals, the rabbit gets dragged along by Spanx and swung around as the primary weapon - a kind of fluffy, sentitent version of Rygar's diskarmor.
Besides being used to pummel human adversaries, Redmond is stuffed into fuse boxes and electrocuted, shoved into gearboxes to open doors, frozen, set on fire, and blown up like a balloon, among other things. Though past experiments have rendered his body indestructible, he can apparently still feel pain, and protests his treatment every so often - to no avail, of course.
There are several instances where Spanx operates a chicken cannon to take out enemies as the birds go splat against the wall with a squawk and a tuft of feathers. Should I be laughing at this point? Wincing? Wasn't I supposed to be helping the animals? In a game that both encourages the player to take revenge on Genron, and then kill chickens and use hamsters as grenades, the message seems to run no deeper than making stuff blow up real good-like using any means necessary, just like a thousand games before.
That said, I wasn't as horribly offended by Whiplash as animal rights activists in the U.K., who aggressively protested the game's release several months ago I didn't find it funny to watch Redmond squirming inside the tube of raw electricity, though I acknowledge that there are people out there who would: my cousin, for example, who would sooner feed rabbits to his snake than ever keep them as pets. The satire wasn't biting enough to be either funny or offensive, and thus failed to provoke a response from me either way. It was like the Monty Python pet store sketches gone horribly wrong, with tepid humor and jokes that fell flat, unlike Giant: Citizen Kabuto, a game that employs the same style of absurd, slightly mean humor with successful results.
Nor is Whiplash's cause helped by the fact that much of the game is spent running through long, gray corridors populated by the occasional low-powered enemy or security barrier. The Genron facility is a multi-leveled complex linked by elevators and air ducts, and a next-to-useless 3-dimensional map makes it difficult to navigate and stay oriented. Unfortunately getting outside Genron isn't as simple as opening the front door, and Spanx and Redmond have to flip switches, activate power generators, operate elevators, and basically explore the entire facility before it's all over.
There's nothing spectacular about Spanx's move-list, and button-mashing is the most effective way to dispatch enemies. The idea of going on a mindless rampage against The Man was appealing, but the way the destructable environments fell apart was an utter let-down. Spanx hurls Redmond at a bookcase, for example, and the bookcase simply goes dark after a few hits to signify that it is "broken." I wanted the shelf to collapse; I wanted to see books flying everywhere, their spines cracking, pages fluttering. That would have made trashing stuff a satisfying experience instead of the drudgery that it often was.
It's a shame that given such a potentially provocative issue as the premise of the game, Whiplash chooses to take it nowhere and instead falls back on ineffectual humor, cartoonish violence, and an unimaginative interface.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.