Legendary is a first person shooter where you play as Deckard, a thief who looks a lot of Crispin Glover. In the opening of the game, Deckard breaks into a museum, touches Pandora’s Box (yes, that one), and unleashes some kind of weird nexus that allows for mythical creatures to invade our world. The plot after that is mostly “go here, kill this, go there, pick up this,” which starts as boring and ends as painful.
Legendary is a sad game to play because it lives in the shadow of its contemporaries. You can feel Bioshock creeping in every time you are forced to use the “anima pulse,” a clearly stapled-on mechanic that emanates from a glowing left hand that sometimes flexes for no real reason. Enemies have zero accuracy at beyond fifty yards, but at less than that they’re pinpoint accurate every time; you’re forced to aim down sights in order to deal with them, and Modern Warfare comes calling every time that you do. Sometimes the path forward is blocked by boards over doors, and you have to break out an crowbar–wait, an axe–so you can progress forward.
Legendary is a weird construct pieced together from the first person shooter concepts from the 1990s and a greatest hits of mechanics from the earliest parts of its console generation. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the whole operation is uncanny–using a “hand power” alongside a gun or aiming down sights is something that is familiar in games, but Legendary manages to implement them in a way that makes me regret that they were ever invented.
Dan Whitehead wrote that Legendary is “hilariously bad.” This isn’t true. It is bad in the way that a dead tree is bad. It is bad in the way that time’s arrow is bad. There is nothing you can do. It doesn’t even hate you–it is, at best, totally indifferent. It exists as a machine with no heart.
What is the design core of Legendary? What makes this wheel keep turning? Wasting time. Legendary is a strange relative of the microtransaction-based game in that it does everything in its power to stretch itself out, to put as much time between events as possible. There are a great many locked doors between the player and her goals in this game, and all of them must be opened in a very specific way:
This is how you get through doors. You stand in front of a panel, hold the E key, and just wait. It probably takes a minute or more. There’s no minigame, no skill, just waiting and hoping that the game is over soon.
There are puzzles in Legendary, but they follow the same golden rule of time wasting that the keypads do. At best they give you a small room in which you have to find an arbitrary object that has to be slotted into an arbitrary hole. At worst, you have to walk ten feet to the left to hit a switch, backtrack ten feet, and walk through a door.
I’m not kidding, that is a real “puzzle.”
I know these screens are dark, but the first one shows two paths. The left has a switch, the right has a wheel you have to turn to open a gate. You go down the left path, flip the switch, come back, turn the wheel, and walk through the door. The second shot is showing the practical distance between those two objects–there’s a metal bar grate and that’s all. This puzzle takes two minutes to “solve” and impedes progress for maybe three minutes if you went down the wrong hallway first. It doesn’t add to the game. It adds to absolutely horrifying boredom. This is the most perfect encapsulation of Legendary that I can imagine.
Legendary makes a narrative move to be in line with Modern Warfare by hopping around the globe throughout. New York City, London, and some eastern European town all make appearances as levels, but that move is totally pointless because you spend 90% of your time in basements, sewers, and subway tunnels that are all infinitely replaceable for one another. This isn’t helped by the fact that you kill the same few bulletsponge enemies throughout the entire game–werewolves, fairies, fire lizards, gryphons, and enemy troops join human soldiers and a giant kraken as things that will stand in front of you animating while they’re filled full of hot metal.
The most interesting parts of Legendary are the parts that were cut from development. The ending monologue from sidekick/damsel in distress Vivian intimates that she went into hiding and started an underground resistance against the organization that betrayed her, that Deckard was kidnapped and then escaped, and that Deckard used his phaser arm to create an alliance between the mythical beasts and humans. That’s all given in non-animated stills, a la Mass Effect 3 2.0 ending, and so it doesn’t really hit.
I wasted my time playing Legendary but at least it was a mercifully short four hours.