Jaws was the first summer blockbuster, attracting over 67 million viewers to the theaters in the year of its release. Jaws: Unleashed is unlikely to make as big of a splash, but who can deny the carnal pleasure of ramming a sailboat and devouring its hapless crew whole? Like a more violent and bloody Ecco the Dolphin, there are advantages and disadvantages that come along with playing a fish – speedy in the water but lacking the physical aptitude we land-dwellers enjoy.
This leads to one of the game's most evident flaws as the control scheme has suffered under the attempt to give Jaws a respectable set of moves. The world's most notable shark can bite, drag, head bash, slap with his tail, and execute several specials that require the awkward manipulation of several buttons as once. Accessing these new moves requires you to upgrade your stats to a certain degree, which is done with points gained from completing objectives or finding hidden collectibles in the game's story environments. Still, none of it changes the fact that you're controlling a shark and shark's can't do very much at all. They're good at killing and, well, there's plenty of that, but many of the game's goals require flinging things into the air or dragging them halfway across the level. Some items (such as exploding barrels) blend into the background, making your task even harder. The game's ready to give you your objective, but no clue as to how to complete it and there's nowhere in the pause menu to confirm it if you lose track of what you're supposed to be doing. Add on top of all this the near useless "shark vision" and horrible excuse for a lock-on feature and you've got some pretty bastardized game mechanics.
These minor flaws add up to some major ones and lead certain levels to be unnecessarily difficult. The fourth stage in the story tasks the player with destroying a few oil platforms. Once you get frustrated enough to look online and figure out that you're supposed to make use of the torpedoes near the downed sub (they look more like coral formations to the naked eye), you'll have fun trying to attack the rigs without killing yourself – ramming them with one torpedo will take off about 95% of your life. From there, you're a diver's harpoon away from death and you'll have to start over again. It's just one example of the bad game design infesting Jaws: Unleashed.
But I'm at odds with myself and as hypocritical as it may seem, I think the game is also great for some light fun. In between story levels you can cruise around the ill-fated Amity Island and just randomly attack people. Being able to take down a police boat with a belly flop and then devouring the unlucky officers as they try to swim away is really quite satisfying. As mentioned, the level design and game mechanics don't always go together, but all the while, they do present some rather creative scenarios for a shark game. You'll do just about everything from getting lost in some jellyfish infested underwater caves to destroying coast guard cutters and attacking toxic waste dumps. Essentially, the very use of the Jaws license both makes and breaks this game.
Unleashed is a really strange mix of the good and the bad, right down to the graphics. Jaws and other fish look and animate surprisingly well. Even the underwater environment is surprisingly pretty. But human and boat models are almost sub-GTA3 quality and the cinematics are just a poor excuse for trying to inject some plot into the game. Audio fares similarly – the game makes use of the movies' soundtrack which is bar-none quality based on that alone, but the voice acting is the pits; no emotion or anything. It doesn't do the best job of creating the atmosphere of fear that the films do.
Jaws: Unleashed features some cool little presentational touches with surprisingly quick loading times and movie facts scrolling across the bottom of the screen during interstitial screens. You can also unlock some extras like clips from the film and profiles of all the fish/animals in the game (of which there are quite a few). It still doesn't excuse the fact that it's been in development for some time. It's a reasonable amount of fun at a budget price, but as Martin Brody might say, "I think we're gonna need a better game."