Th3 Plan

May 25, 2007

Capers are interesting. They’re fun to watch (Ocean’s 11, The Thomas Crown Affair, etc.), and they’re fun to play (Sly Cooper). Making a movie or game about a crime is a no-brainer. There are nifty gadgets to keep the player’s attention, interesting locations to visit, and best of all there is a sense of teamwork – even in a single-player game – because no thief ever did it all alone. Danny Ocean needs Basher to blow stuff up, Sly needs Murray to drive the van, and Th3 Plan needs to decide whether or not it’s going to take itself seriously. It could also stand to sit in on a few courses covering spelling. 3 is not a letter. 3 has never been a letter. Replacing letters with numbers is stupid, and it makes those that do it look stupid. Besides, your legacy, especially when replacing e with 3 is that of Driv3r. Nobody wants to be associated with the worst installment of the Driver franchise so just stop it. It’s okay to call your game The Plan. If there are three main characters then feature them on the box. If it’s the third installment of a series then put the three at the end. We’re not in algebra class here so let’s start acting like it.

Heist stories live and die by one thing and one thing alone. Writing. If I don’t care about the people involved – or, at the very least, find them interesting – then why do I care what they’re stealing and why? I don’t. This is Th3 Plan’s first mistake. I don’t care about any of the characters, and since I don’t care about the characters I don’t care whether they win or lose. This makes it difficult to get into the game. Failing a mission doesn’t make me sad that I screwed up, and it doesn’t make me frustrated that I wasted my time. It doesn’t do anything. All it means is that to move the story forward I have to play though the same bland level using the same clunky controls one more time. And the worst part? I didn’t fail because the mission was hard. I failed because the nonsensical controls combined with the timed missions result in failure due to figuring out how to use the new gadgets.

The controls for Th3 Plan are terrible. They make little sense and things don’t work the way that the game implies. For example, when you acquire the night vision goggles you’ll be looking at the inventory screen. Common sense and logic would dictate that you could equip those same goggles from that inventory screen, but you can’t. You just press down on the directional pad while playing the game. That’s all well and good, but there is no in-game indication that that’s how equipping the night-vision goggles works. If I’m going to be penalized for taking too long then I shouldn’t have to spend a load of time figuring out the controls. And why can’t I equip from the inventory screen? Following in the clunky footsteps of the night-vision goggles are the multi-character controls. I appreciate what the developer is trying to do here – to create a sense of teamwork – but it just doesn’t work. It’s difficult to get all three members of the team to work as one cohesive unit. Let me assign them commands or give them competent AI. Hell, give them competent scripting, but don’t make me control three clunky characters when I’m racing against the clock. That’s just cruel.

After we get team members with competent AI, give some to the guards, too. They don’t pull alarms, they get tired of chasing you, and they don’t care when their cohorts fall out of radio contact. The guard AI is reminiscent of Sneak King – a game I bought for $3… from Burger King. The guards don’t even change their security codes after you waltz into their museum, shoot them all, leave a trail of bodies in your wake, and walk out with the codes. Those same codes work the next day and the museum has no additional security posted. Whatever you’re after must be important.

When pitted against the current generation of consoles, the PS2 is easily the worst-looking contender of the bunch. The aging platform continues to survive, however, and some stunning games have been released for the it. Shadow of the Colossus, God of War II, and Odin Sphere are testaments to the PS2’s graphical capabilities. Sure, these games are no Gears of War, but they’re certainly beautiful. And after seeing such beauty pushed from the weakest console of the previous generation, it’s a little off-putting to play a game that looks like it belongs on the PS1. Th3 Plan features bland environments, aliased models, minimal lighting effects, and no particle work (that I could see). Not everything needs to be bleeding edge, but the PS2 is over five years old. If developers are going to continue programming for it then they’re going to have to step up their efforts to compete with the current crop of consoles. Fun factor is certainly what’s most important in a game, but that doesn’t mean that boring environments are okay. Graphics used to look like this because we couldn’t do any better. Now they look like this because developers are being lazy.

Even at an MSRP of $15, I can’t recommend that you pick up Th3 Plan. Throw down an extra $5 and pick up a classic from the PS2’s huge Greatest Hits library. And if you really want a heist game, pick up Sly Cooper instead; it’s one of the games in that Greatest Hits lineup.

Score: 1/5

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