Let's Play Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance
Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance is a masterpiece of creativity, open-world gameplay, and obtuse mechanics. Sadly, on the surface, and to most everyone who played the game, it just seems like a below-average beat 'em up. You receive your story objectives at the start of every chapter, you go to the next location, participate in messy group-style fights and the occasional Tekken-style boss encounter, and eventually the game ends.
It leaves you with a strange taste. A lingering thought of, "where did all the budget go?" And there is an answer, but few people bothered to find it.
In spite of initial appearances, Beat Down is foremost an RPG, and contrary to the glowing red arrow on your map, you want to go everywhere BUT the story objectives. You see, the glory and creativity in Beat Down comes from its insane, meticulously detailed web of sidequests and character progression mechanics.
Let's start with the numbers, and what they mean.
There are around 80 NPCs with names in the game. These 80 named NPCs appear at different chapters, in different areas of the city, and are triggered by different events. Some of them are just standing around, waiting to be interacted with, some of them are part of spontaneous sidequests, and some are quite actively angry with you.
Each named NPC has their own personality, design, move-set, and specialities. A grappler will noticeably fair better in, well, grappling, for example. Every named NPC also has their own wallet, their own experience level, and their own relationships. Why do all these minute details matter? Well, therein lies the big hook. The most important thing about all these named NPCs is that every single one of them can be recruited, robbed, interrogated, and murdered.
This means there are about 80 playable characters in total, and their relationships, items, stats, and specialities in combat create an incredible level of diversity in potential partners and enemies. Many of the named NPCs only appear if you're playing as a specific character, and some of them are even capable of teaching the player new moves. It's impossible to obtain every ally and every move in a single playthrough.
Speaking of which, are you ready for more numbers? There are a total of 50 side-missions available in the game, while the main story consists of only 7 missions. These 50 side-missions each have their own cutscenes, unique characters, dialogue, and world-building.
These 50 side-missions are so much larger than the main game that it's absurd. We're talking an extra 10+ hours of gameplay that may as well act as its own campaign. These side-missions go a long way toward fleshing out the world and characters of Beat Down, in addition to providing far more variety.
The trick with these side-missions though, is that much like the named NPCs, none of them are available all at once. Some of them only unlock on repeated playthroughs, and some even depend on the sex of the player character you're using. Experiencing all 50 missions and finding all of the named NPCs is a greater collectathon challenge than any 3D platformer you could possibly think of.
An astonishing, baffling amount of effort has gone into creating enough side-content to last several playthroughs, rivaling many traditional JRPGs of the era in sheer magnitude.
Finally, there's the matter of how all these extra-curricular activities tie into the main story. True to Beat Down fashion, the main story, while seemingly simplistic on the surface, turns out to be a complex web that can only be untangled by the most dedicated of players, or through the purchase of the official strategy guide.
Throughout the game, you are ranked on three factors. They are as follows:
Firstly, Cash Flow and Items: This score increases based on the amount of money you obtain and spend. It's virtually impossible to make the score decrease, but to make it increase a significant amount, you'll have to rob countless hapless bystanders and beat the money out of hardened street thugs. Easily the most simplistic of the three factors.
Secondly, Leadership: This score increases as you recruit more members into your gang and use them in combat. It seems simple enough, but the score also decreases if one of your allies is sent to the hospital or gets fed up with you. Seeking out named NPCs and grabbing them like Pokemon is the most efficient way to fill this up, but it increases slowly regardless.
Thirdly, Charisma: This is by far the most vague and confusing score. As near I can tell, charisma increases when you threaten, rob, or kill named NPCs. The last one is not advisable, as you need to recruit said NPCs if you want your leadership score to rise. Charisma seems to decrease when you get your ass handed to you, so at least that part is simple.
All three of these scores add up to form your rank, of which there is quite a variety, ranging from "Big Brother" to "Czar".
At first these rankings may seem entirely arbitrary, and nothing more than a cute distraction, but they have a sinister purpose. Your ranking has a direct influence on which ending you ultimately receive.
There are a total of 4 endings available for each character. A bad ending, a neutral ending, a good ending, and a godfather ending. Only the good and godfather endings have profound or unique dialogue, so that's 10 endings in total. However, some of the requirements are far easier to meet than others.
If all three of your scores are over halfway full, then you're most likely to obtain the good ending for your character.
However, if you want to see the Godfather ending, all three of your scores must be entirely maxed out. This means you have to amass obscene amounts of wealth, recruit and co-operate with well over 30 named NPCs, as well as keep up your appearances as a powerful ganglord by beating and threatening the tar out of people.
Obtaining a character's godfather ending is a herculean challenge, and few people seem aware that such a thing exists at all.
It deeply pains me to see so few people uncover the madness that lies beneath Beat Down's superficial exterior, and instead write the game off as a generic, soulless button masher that is best left forgotten.
Beat Down belongs in a museum somewhere, next to Deadly Premonition. It may not have Deadly Premonition's deeply emotional narrative, but it certainly has all the shameless confidence.
About the LP
We'll be playing through most of the game as Raven, then switching off to another character for the last couple of chapters to get the Godfather Ending. No spoilers.