In 2006, many older films were getting video game adaptations. Now that gaming hardware allowed for experiences more closely tailored towards gunplay and story, movies like The Godfather and Scarface were receiving game counterparts, but at the same time a game based on Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film Reservoir Dogs was made that didn’t quite draw as much attention as the other two examples. While a video game adaptation of a movie like 300 seems like a no-brainer, Reservoir Dogs actually actively avoided showing the diamond heist gone wrong, focusing more on character dialogue than spectacle, but at the same time, that offers a unique opportunity those other games didn’t have. The Reservoir Dogs game could potentially not only let you see that diamond heist, but have you be the one who participates in it and all the fallout that happens when it goes south.
Of course, your opinions on Reservoir Dogs may completely change whether you see this as a good thing or a bad thing. Tarantino’s film plays a lot off of the suspicion between characters based on things they do and do not know. Things they saw at the heist have colored their perception of each other and make them believe there is a rat among them, but the audience is asked to join them in that suspicion as a new observer. The movie’s non-linear structure bounces back to relevant past details after certain things are cleared up, giving you the information that matters rather than showing a flashy heist. Our ideas of what happened at the heist can only be based on the unreliable reports of the other characters, meaning their personal stakes and personalities can influence the authenticity of it all. Despite all this, while playing the game, very little focus is given to this side of things. You do play as the many characters involved in the heist, getting a turn or two with most of the central characters save Joe Cabot, but their interaction is mostly copying scenes from the film or parroting their movie lines while driving in the car. In some ways, you still don’t technically see the diamond heist, instead taking control of the characters the moment after things start going bad during it and the characters have to make their escape, even if that involves making up their ultimate fate wholesale like they did with Mr. Blue.
This does lead to one of the more objective failings of the game. While the faithfulness to the movie’s composition will be a debate that can rage on indefinitely, retreading the same area around the diamond heist as different characters plays into the game’s central flaw: repetition. You end up running through the same alleys, streets, parking garages, and so on a few times during the game, even if it does try to throw in new areas between those levels so it’s not as noticeable. However, the game’s driving portions also use the same map and often have the same destination, meaning that whenever you pop into a car you can end up just as familiar with the route as someone who was driving around a small area in real life. The game will close off routes in both the driving and escape levels to take you down new paths, but it can’t completely disguise the fact that you’re facing the same challenges in those particular stages. Rest assured it’s not all repeated environments, but the levels with different designs have a harder time carrying the game when the rest falls back too hard on identical elements.
For what you’ll be doing in those levels, the game uses a fairly simple if rigid shooting system. You lock on to point your guns at a target or can choose to free aim it, and there’s a small array of weapons to find to change your capabilities. Pistols, automatic and semiautomatic machine guns, shotguns and so on, nothing too fancy to play into the game’s grounded source material. However, that doesn’t quite apply to how the bullets effect your enemies. Almost everyone can soak up a few shots and keep on trucking, your character feeling nearly as vulnerable as the foes you’re facing… it’s just that no one is particularly vulnerable. Because of this, you’re almost always outgunned and outmatched, but Reservoir Dogs introduces a unique system that saves it from just being a game about slowly gunning down cops: hostage taking.
Civilians and officers alike can be grabbed, ordered around, and threatened in order to keep the heat off of you as you navigate, and while it seems secondary to the gunplay in the tutorial, it’s actually the most interesting thing this game has going for it. The most obvious use for the system is to raise a human shield between you and any officers or SWAT on your tail, the cops refusing to fire as long as you’re looking at them with the hostage between you. You have to drag the hostage with you to stay safe, keep in mind their health as you rough them up to get cops to drop their weapons, swap out hostages safely or order them to open things only they have the keys or codes for, and watch your back so you don’t get shot by someone who has a clear bead on you. The hostage system can lead to some tense showdowns with law enforcement, risky moments where you try to get someone to keep you safe, and complete failures as you lose the hostage or are forced to shoot yourself out of a tight spot you can’t otherwise escape. If you do start shooting, the cops won’t care if you have a hostage anymore, and the more people you kill, the more daring, numerous, and well-equipped the cops will be. The interplay of these systems can lead to many thrilling moments as you try to worm your way out of situations, the game even giving you a desperation Signature Move that makes any cops who witness it put down their guns, giving you the Bullet Festival as well that slows down time for players more inclined to shooting their way out of trouble. Sadly though, the hostage system plays into that repetition problem.
The hostage system is a bit too effective. Therefore, the easiest way to progress is to gradually chain yourself between grabbing people to use as leverage, encouraging a slow and steady play that can lose its unique appeal after its been ground down through repeated experiences. Nothing mixes things up so much that you can’t rely on it for the majority of the game, but there is an interesting system in place to try and test your resolve to its seemingly nonviolent suggestion. Your performance during the game tips you towards two sides of the spectrum: Psycho and Professional. Psychopaths kill to get the job done, and while it’s the harder route because of ammo limitations and durable enemies, it can be done by a committed player. Professionals rely heavily on the hostage system and only knock out people instead of shooting them up. The game’s only real reward for swinging either way is a marginally different end that doesn’t effect the film’s original plot, but it is interesting to try and go for either of them, potentially trying to act in character by making someone like Mr. Blonde play more towards the psychotic side of things. Committing to either one too heavily can be limiting, but choosing the approach that works best for the situation can lead to a more compelling experience if you’re open to it.
The driving segments control well enough, the player able to boost or use the handbrake for hard turns, but the game does try to sprinkle in new elements so that even if you’re driving to the same places on the same roads, there’s an unusual consideration every time you return to the car. It can be something as simple as a timer or a race, but more creative missions involve things like making sure an abducted police officer can’t escape the trunk by maintaining a consistent high speed or driving as Mr. Brown after he gets blood in his eyes and it effects his vision. While not every moment from the film is given such a nice transition into the gameplay, it is at least pretty faithful in other departments, recreating many famous scenes or worming them in where it can fit them. The story structure mimics the film’s non-linear structure, although it does a poorer job justifying the flashbacks, especially as you reach the climax and the game squeezes out a few more levels before it ends. The movie’s 70s soundtrack is present during reproduced iconic scenes and comes up on the car radio, and of course, Mr. Blonde’s famous torture scene of the cop is present with “Stuck in the Middle With You” playing, although it doesn’t do anything as hokey as making you play out that portion. Things might not be the best graphically, but it certainly gets down the style, knows what things fans of the movie want to see, and has some pretty good voice stand-ins since only Michael Madsen reprises his role.
THE VERDICT: While showing parts of one of the most important unseen scenes in movie history could turn potential players of Reservoir Dogs off, the game does still manage to capture much of the movie’s appeal, careful to put in what it knows players want to see. Unfortunately, that’s thrown off balance a bit by the game having to find things to do with a movie that was based a lot more on character interaction than character action. The driving segments are passable, but the shooting is surprisingly unpolished, playing into the game’s suggestion that it wants players to engage with its admittedly interesting hostage system. Unfortunately, while things shift around and get new parts added to the game’s DNA, the core is a bit too repetitive to fully sustain even this fairly short title.
And so, I give Reservoir Dogs for Playstation 2…
An AVERAGE rating. Reservoir Dogs will certainly ask you to do some things over and over and go through the same locations a few times, meaning the main issue with it is that things get rote and progress at too slow a pace. In the moment, hostage standoffs with huge groups of cops can be intense, but the typical progression of slowly threatening isolated opposition wears out its welcome. The psycho route isn’t too easy to go down either since even headshots aren’t guaranteed lethal, but it can have just as many satisfying moments as you break away from a hostage and go in guns blazing with cops who are caught off-guard. Both approaches would have benefited from more depth and appropriate challenges. The psycho shouldn’t find their route so hard initially, a more appropriate ramping up allowing you to indulge in it but punishing you for overreliance. The professional should also face a more pronounced curve, as the main issue currently is sometimes getting in a position where you can’t easily swap out a low health hostage for a fresh one, and even then you can usually charge mindlessly at someone hoping for the best and most often get rewarded for doing so. As it stands it can still offer moments of interesting action, but not enough to push it out of mediocrity.
Making both the psychopath and professional feel more like their titles would give the game the depth it merely flirts with at the moment. The game could have certainly had more responsive shooting, but it feels like embracing the rating system would be the proper route to take to make Reservoir Dogs stand out. While the game’s current structure and ethos means it will never quite be the best possible adaptation of the film, it could have at least transitioned more smoothly into this genre choice if it explored things more thoroughly.