Unreal Engine 3 powered visuals, a ton of monsters and a Geometry Wars-style control system sounds like a recipe for a highly entertaining PS3 game, but sadly for Monster Madness: Grave Danger that's not the case at all. This enhanced version of the Xbox 360 and PC game Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia is better for the changes, but released over a year later into a more mature next-gen marketplace it seems even more dated and underwhelming than before.
There's not a great deal of subtlety to Grave Danger's plot. You play as one of four teenagers (who fall into the usual stereotypes of geek, skater, goth and cheerleader) who must battle against a seemingly endless swarm of monsters that invade their very normal town. For whatever reason it's down to these four to destroy the monster threat, using whatever weapons they come across along the way. The simple story is told via some fairly impressive comic book-style cut scenes, but it's really quite incidental. If Monster Madness was going to entertain it had to do so with its gameplay, which it sadly doesn't.
Who you choose to play as makes more or less no difference to how the game plays, but the weapons you pick up and buy do change things quite significantly. Melee weapons can be picked up from around each level, usually used to batter monsters with repeated button mashing or as projectiles. Neither is all that effective meaning you'll rely on the various guns made available over the course of the game. These are home-made weapons crafted by a van-owning vigilante who appears at certain points in each level. He also sells numerous items that you'll need to use if you're going to stop the monster invasion.
Something that has been vastly improved for this PS3 version of Monster Madness is the control scheme. Grave Danger uses a dual analogue stick overhead shooter mechanic, like Geometry Wars. This makes targeting and shooting monsters far easier than it was in the 360 game, but it's still not perfect - aiming just doesn't feel as precise as it should be. Still, it's now easier to quickly switch between shooting a shotgun and throwing a Molotov cocktail. It's just a shame the melee combat wasn't equally improved.
A solid control scheme alone isn't enough to make a good game, though, with a series of dull levels sucking the fun out of shooting monsters very quickly indeed. Saying Grave Danger is repetitive is an understatement. Although new monsters are introduced fairly regularly, the biggest change over the course of the game is the number of monsters you need to kill in order to complete each stage. Vehicle sections are interspersed into the relentless shooting with mixed success (a rocket firing swan is mildly amusing, the horribly awkward to control kart isn't) and there's a fair amount of hit and miss humour, but there's nothing to raise the game above mediocrity.
Even the four-player co-op (which is also playable online) can't save Monster Madness from its inevitable trip to bargain buckets across the country. It works as you'd expect and makes things slightly more entertaining - and a lot more action packed - but unless you've got friends round you'll struggle to get a game online. Grave Danger has been out for about a month and we had to wait for lengthy periods of time to get into co-op games on each occasion we tried. 12-player play across a number of competitive game types is also available, but the same is true here as with the co-op - there simply aren't enough people playing to make it more than a bonus feature.
Outside of the main game are a number of mini-games designed to give you something else to do and as a way to unlock various items. Most are essentially variations on what you'll be doing throughout the campaign (shooting monsters), but some try to be a little more original. Sadly most also fall short of being fun, making these additional games feel like they've been included to add another bullet point on the features list.
Monster Madness first appeared on the Xbox 360 in June 2007 and didn't exactly push the console back then. As we head into the busy Q4 2008 release window the competition has got stronger and Monster Madness has aged quite badly. When plenty of monsters are on-screen the game has its moments, and the art design is often quite impressive, but technically it's not especially great. The detail in the characters and environments is fairly basic and the frame rate suffers quite regularly. It's not an ugly game but we expect a lot better from the PS3. With a generic soundtrack and some terrible voice acting Grave Danger's audio isn't great either.
Monster Madness: Grave Danger needed to be a big improvement over the original game if it was going to compete with the PS3's best titles, but it's not. It plays better than the Xbox 360 version, but the core game is essentially what it was. Monster Madness is best played with three friends, but even then it's a very disappointing use of what was an entertaining premise. Save your money for the bigger titles coming over the busy months ahead.