Los Sombras is a rough city. Not only are there gangs ruling the streets, but also the gangs themselves are screwing each other over, trying to set members up and get them killed off. There's nothing like friendship huh? Upon starting the game, you have to choose a character from a selection of five; Raven, Jason G, Aaron, Lola, and finally Gina. Each have their own specific special moves, default weapons and abilities. I went for Raven, who is quite a hard looking guy with an amusing Irish accent who loves to say “shite” after every sentence.
You soon discover that one of your so-called friends has betrayed you, and you find yourself in the middle of a fight down at the docks where you were told a huge drug deal was going down. This level serves as the game's tutorial, showing you the basic combat system in the game. At the end of the level, you fight a guy called Eugene who is supposed to be your friend. You discover that he hates you (it's presumably a name-envy thing), but he knows you’re loyal to the gang, and wants you to find out who the traitor is. Confused as to whether the whole thing is a setup by old Eugene, or if one of your pals really is doing the dirty, the game starts proper and you hit the streets.
What you have to do now is find and talk to various people in the city, trying to get information out of them, to find out where the other members of your gang have got to. Sometimes the NPCs (non-player characters) will just give you information about the game, and sometimes they might want to help you out, so you can use them when fighting other NPCs in the game. What you have to do first however, is find a friendly pub you have been told about, and talk to the man in charge. He lets you hide out there, and basically puts you in contact with some more characters, who further assist in your quest. In the pub you can change clothes to disguise yourself, and you can also save the game etc.
The combat system in the game is easy to learn, with loads of attacks and combos to get to grips with. You of course have basic kick, punch and guard moves, but you can also pick weapons up like knives, pipes and even metal girders to whack enemies with. In addition to this, you have special moves which can attack multiple enemies at once, and cause lots of damage.
There are two fighting systems in the game. The first is where you go up to an NPC, and choose to fight them. Here the camera will stay the same, giving you a 3D view of the area, and you can run around where you like, finding weapons to pick up etc. However if you come across an important character in the game, you’ll be presented with a more traditional fighting game setup, with a side view camera, and on-screen displays giving you character names etc, just like in Street Fighter or Tekken.
After each fight you gain experience, which increases your overall health, but also gives you points where you can increase your Stamina, Attack and Technique performance. You can search every body for money and new items, and with cash you can get new gear in the "pub", such as new clothing.
Graphically Beat Down is reasonably nice, with the main characters being quite well detailed. However the regular enemies are rather basic, and you tend to see too many similar-looking characters throughout the streets. The camera in the game is poor, and it’s almost like it's purposely not showing you what you need, to make the game more difficult. You can of course adjust it, but it soon snaps back into its set place, and starts giving you views that are no help to you at all. Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks really nailed the camera system, by making the game side scrolling. It worked really well, and going back to an unfriendly camera system like this afterwards is disappointing.
The story in the game is rather weak to be honest, and running around the streets trying to find the right person to speak to is no match for just going into a level and beating people up. That’s what this genre is about after all. Final Fight is a classic 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up, and that didn’t need a story and missions to complete to be able to continue with the game, so why should this? Again, Midway’s game has out-performed Capcom here too. It’s just a straight up scrolling beat ‘em up, with no fussy mission system to get into. What we have here is a non-linear scrolling fighting game, and I am afraid to say, what might have been intended as 'freedom' really failed to impress me. Some game genres don’t need to be messed with, and maybe the fighting game is one of them.
There are far better fighting games out there than Beat Down, and there are other mission-based city adventure games too, all of which perform much better than this disappointing offering from Capcom.