Rampage may be unique among videogame franchises in that, across six titles and twenty years, not a single one of them has ever actually been a good game. No, Rampage has squeaked by on the strength of its premise alone. Of course, it's pretty darn good premise. Moderately large monsters (more King Kong sized than Godzilla sized) wander around a city, destroying every building they pass for no particular reason. It sounds like it ought to be a lot of fun. But it's not. Nor, I'd argue, has it ever been.
The game is structured simply enough, with players being placed in the role of one of thirty possible giant monsters, and offered the chance to roam around one of eight cities, destroying each one before moving on. Unfortunately, the novelty of wrecking those cities wears off around twenty minutes into the game, leaving the player with another six hours of tedium stretched out in front of them if they're at all interested in completing the game.
This problem is rooted in the excessively simplistic and repetitive nature of the gameplay. As players enter each city they're asked to do little more than wreck a few buildings, which wouldn't be so terrible, if they weren't so limited in the ways they were allowed to do it. Twenty years later, and still all the monsters know how to do is climb on buildings and punch out windows. And no, I'm not particularly impressed by the fact that monsters can now climb on the front of the buildings as well as the sides—all that accomplishes is to make it take that much longer to knock the buildings down and move on to the next city block.
This repetitiveness even stretches to the game's thirty different monsters. Although they differ in speed, health, and ability to fight bosses, each of them attack buildings in the exact same way, and take the same amount of time to destroy them. There are four 'special abilities' that can be unlocked, but again, they don't change the way the game is played, and since every monster shares the same four abilities, the novelty of screaming to shatter windows wears off extremely quickly. Also, the method for unlocking these abilities is one of the most ridiculously convoluted I've ever come across. The player has to punch out a certain window on a certain building while playing as a certain monster. Of course, there's no way to know which monster or which building is correct, which forces players to replay a game that was tedious the first time around.
Adding a third dimension should have been a step in the right direction, but it's so poorly implemented that it might as well not have been added at all. The camera is always looking at the 'front' side of the block, and the monsters can't circle the buildings, leaving the ability to move up and down onscreen limited to allowing players to walk out into the middle of traffic—the only concrete effect the change has on gameplay is to make it nearly impossible to swat helicopters out of the sky. In order to hit a helicopter the monster has to be standing directly below it—unfortunately, because the helicopters don't cast shadows, it's almost impossible to determine just where the 'directly under' is.
As someone with a history of skepticism towards "Next Generation" gaming and the endless push towards graphical improvement, I find myself blaming the game's failure equally on creative and technological limitations. It hurts the game that there aren't any notable buildings or landmarks to destroy—I went to Chicago and wasn't allowed to destroy the Sears Tower, then I went to New York and couldn't destroy the Empire state building. Heck, I was in Las Vegas and I couldn't even destroy that ridiculous fake Space Needle thing that has the rollercoaster on top of it. As frustrtaing as not being able to destroy landmarks was, what really killed the game was the inability to destroy any buildings in an interesting fashion.
There's hope on the horizon, though. Seeing what the modern consoles are capable of, it's impossible not to imagine a future where physics engines allow buildings to collapse dynamically based on the damage they've received, rather than sinking straight into the ground, and a giant squid throwing three tons worth of garbage truck into the side of a building does more than break a few windows. It seems to me like this generation, or maybe the next one at the latest, we're finally due for a good Rampage game. It's just not fun yet. Sure, playing against people is a mild diversion, and it has a small amount of nostalgic appeal, but if they want to come up with something that's sold entirely on the basis of the fun of destruction, destruction has to be more fun than this.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PS2 version of the game.