As a baseline concept, Godzilla is a prime example of a childproof idea. There’s very few ways in which someone could screw up “giant monster goes to city, destroys city, maybe fights other monster, humans destroy monster,” though Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich certainly gave it the college try back in 1998. Godzilla, unbound by the chains of physical effects and the need for characterization, should have an even easier time of getting right to its destructive business, and doing it on a massive scale that would cost billions to realize on camera. And yet, miraculously, no Godzilla video game has done less with the concept than this one.
The building blocks of a fine Godzilla game are here. In the wake of Godzilla’s last appearance, Japan has taken to harnessing the energy left over from the big guy’s attacks to power the whole country and aid with restoration. Naturally, Godzilla is displeased with this turn of events, and rises from the sea to consume the ill-gotten energy and destroy any and everything in his path, man or kaiju, while the prime minister at that moment delivers somber speeches about nature, and the folly of man, and most of the other things Blue Oyster Cult mentioned. What should follow is five or six hours of traversing the Japanese cityscape, finding new, spectacular ways to lay waste to all of man’s works. What happens instead is three or four hours of the same four ways to lay waste to the same nondescript buildings and industrial complexes, broken up occasionally by unfathomably boring kaiju fights.
In order to succeed, Godzilla must destroy a certain number of energy generators containing “G-energy,” which he can use to evolve. The only thing that changes, however, is his height. From the first stage to the last, Godzilla has the same four moves: slashing enemies with his stubby arms, a tail sweep, his fire breath, and a sparkly radioactive roar, which is labeled as a dodge for some reason. For what it’s worth, Godzilla moves the way he should. Though tank-like controls should have gone the way of the dodo after Resident Evil ditched them, here it helps add to the feeling of Godzilla as being an utterly massive, lumbering beast, dwarfing everything in his path. Once he tries to interact with anything, however, the game fails him. As Godzilla’s body clips through buildings, his attacks make things explode in one hit or feel like they have all the weight and impact of a stiff breeze. His fire breath can either sweep in front of him or directly in front, but never feels like the destructive nuclear force it should. In stages that take him to the middle of cities, a bright orange boundary keeps him from going too far out of his designated area, leaving the city to feel entirely claustrophobic the bigger he gets, and the fact that the cities are unpopulated, except by a pathetically ineffective military, somehow doesn’t help. Once you’ve played the first stage, you’ve essentially played the entire game. It is this, numerous times, until the credits roll.
The game does do a solid job bringing in kaiju from across all 60 years of Godzilla’s reign of terror, showing up during the main mode, or as playable characters after beating it, and they do give the game a bit of variety, but playing as or against them presents the same issues: limited movesets, limited interaction, and a whole lot of repetition. Compare this, a PlayStation 4 game, to Godzilla’s previous outings on Xbox and PS2, where a kaiju fight meant tossing chunks of buildings at enemies, grabbing enemies by the tail and throwing them into the skyline, and the offerings look even paltrier. What’s worse, unlocking the new monsters involves trekking through the tedious campaign over and over again, grinding for experience.
It all adds up to a sad and baffling state of affairs for Godzilla’s current-gen debut. It’s a game that would have felt lackluster and empty even if it had actually come out on the PS2. Even Hollywood managed to figure out how to make Godzilla work last year. Somehow, a medium that doesn’t have to spend $150 million to destroy San Francisco has failed at it.