Trigger Man (PS2)

Introduction

Draco holding a copy of Trigger Man.

Admiring the “nice” box art of Trigger Man.

Trigger Man is a third-person shooter that follows a lot of painfully generic tropes associated with gangsters and the mafia. You play as the titular “Trigger Man” doing jobs for the Coladangelo family, and yes their name is literally COLA-dangelo. The game is named as such because a “trigger man” is the equivalent of a hired thug whose job is to either provide security to a high-ranking mafia family member or to go out and “whack” people on their behalf. I get that it’s a real thing, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t choose this game purely because of the much more contemporary meaning of the term “trigger” that resulted from the ongoing over-saturation of social media in our culture. “Trigger” Man is the hero that Tumblr deserves, cue laughter. That’s all I’ve got, and that’s far more than this game’s got.

I spent $3 on Trigger Man, complete in box, at a used video game store. I realize the PlayStation 2 is still sort of in that weird limbo where the console and its library are functionally worthless to collectors, but as the console rapidly nears its 20th birthday it’s probably a safe bet that the PS2 will soon join its older brother as “officially collectible” to some degree. A few games have already established their collectors’ values, and Trigger Man obviously is not one of them if the three dollar price tag is any indication. As I tried peeling off the tag from my copy I found other ones underneath it revealing that the store had tried selling it for $5 and $10 and had to knock it down to $3 before someone was willing to take it off of their hands… and said “someone” was only willing to do so because that’s about the limit I’ll go to make a whole one joke about a game based purely off of its title.

Trigger Man debuted on Gatorbox hot on the tail (pun intended, you’ll see) of Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy, another game with “Trigger” in its name. However rather than double up on the same naming gag two weeks in a row, Ruff Trigger was featured because of its cast of anthropomorphic animal characters who’ve been entirely forgotten by the world and managed to establish no observable fanbase whatsoever. Ruff Trigger was a single feature, however the community seemed strangely attracted to Trigger Man and this game was ultimately beaten start to finish over the course of three consecutive features.

Presentation: 4/10

A briefcase full of diamonds.

This is supposed to be a cache of diamonds, NOT television static.

The best thing I have to say about Trigger Man is that it is mind-numbingly generic. This game is fucking boring with a capital “B” and every other letter from every alphabet in human civilization. Everything about this game feels like a checklist that somebody just ran down to make sure everything was accounted for. Gangsters? Check. Cops? Check. Guns? Check. Locales that are conventionally associated with mafia activity? Check. Trigger Man aspires to do absolutely nothing unique with the concept of organized crime and opts to present the player with eight “gangster missions” that wind up bleeding together into one massive rat king of trash.

Visually, the game is drab. Trigger Man (the man) wears all black because I presume he’s supposed to be a badass, but the downside to this is Trigger Man (the game) is very dark. I found myself having to tweak the in-game visual settings to try and brighten it up but all that did was just turn the sea of black shadows into more of a dark grey affair with no improvements on visibility. In-game textures are of such a low resolution that you can’t even tell what things are at times. The first mission has you tasked with snatching a suitcase filled with diamonds and when you get to the aforementioned suitcase it looks like it’s filled with TV static. If it’s gonna look that bad just close the fucking suitcase, don’t even show it to us if you can’t make it anywhere close to correct. The “TV static suitcase” became such a joke that a chat emoticon was designed around it specifically to make fun of bad textures in future games we play.

An enemy gets blasted in the face.

Sorry about your face, bro.

Graphics are repeated everywhere and right off the bat I found myself laughing like an idiot over the designers’ choice of picture for the monitors on Trigger Man’s computers. It is literally a default installation of Windows XP with the control panel up and a second window open to change the desktop off of the preloaded desert dunes. As inconsequential as a computer screen texture might be this dumb graphic sets the tone for Trigger Man’s hamfisted execution; you’d argue that there was zero thought or effort put into the computer desktop, though if that were the case it would just be the desktop with no windows open. Or the monitor would just be off to start with. There was some measurable modicum of effort to make it look like something was being done on these workstations, but rather than open up an Excel spreadsheet or some folders filled with random files we instead get the dialog box to change the desktop. This weird dichotomy of both “there was an effort” and “there was not an effort” permeates the entire game.

An explosion in-game.

The best graphics $3 can buy!

Trigger Man has no soundtrack to speak of. It has music, but it’s not what I would consider “a soundtrack”. Nothing in this game sounds it it belongs in Trigger Man; the entirety of this game’s music feels like it came from a catalog that somebody involved with the production of Trigger Man just so happened to have a license to. The game ping-pongs between musical styles but usually seems to hover around that weird sort of slightly uptempo generic trance that was popular during the era. Mind you, this is a game about the mafia. As hokey as something with an Italian inflection would be, especially for the stages that take place in Italian restaurants, it would at least add to the game’s central theme. In a worst case scenario they could’ve just gone with some soulless heavy metal to compliment Trigger Man’s shooting sprees. Instead we get something wholly disconnected from the action on screen that serves no purpose other than to be utterly forgettable at best and immersion-ruining at worst.

There are a lot of cutscenes in this game — usually one before and after each level — and none of them have any voiceover whatsoever. Nobody says a single fucking word throughout the course of the entire game. Even when you’re dealing with enemies nobody shouts out things like “there he is” or “get him”, they just grunt when they die and that’s it. All dialog in this game is presented to you by way of text boxes that appear during the cutscenes. It’s eerily quiet for a game that should otherwise be extremely loud.

Challenge: 2/10

Sniping a level boss.

This entire boss fight is just Whack-A-Mole with guns.

Playing through this game is an absolute chore. There are only eight missions to complete but about half of them stretch on for what feels like forever because there are so many places to go and objectives to complete in them. By saying that it may sound like I’m implying there’s a lot to do, and that should be a plus, but there really isn’t. I say “there are so many places to go” but really what I’m trying to convey is there’s a lot of “point A to point B” going on that’s broken up with a handful of loading screens. Said loading screens mercifully double as checkpoints so when you inevitably die or fuck something up and fail a mission you’ll start from there instead of the beginning. And trust me, you’ll be doing a lot of that.

There is no variety to the missions in the game. Every single one of them can be described as “go here”, “pick this up”, or “kill this person”. Er, wait, I’m sorry – “whack this person”. A lot of Trigger Man’s problems seem to be able to be solved with copious amounts of C4 because a solid half of the missions at some point require you to plant it somewhere (and then set it off in order to watch an hilariously anemic explosion effect). I didn’t realize blowing random shit up with C4 was something commonly associated with the mafia and organized crime. Not to say it isn’t, but Trigger Man seems to do it a lot more frequently than I think it probably really happens.

Boss battle with a helicopter.

This boss literally just sits here while you shoot him.

Trigger Man’s difficulty is all over the place and really it’s the elephant in the room here. The game alternates between being brainlessly easy at one point to absolutely infuriating and potentially impossible at another. Running around and shooting people is simple enough so long as you use cover often and generously lay on the trigger while praying for headshots. Usually there’s an ammo supply box relatively close by so progressing through the game is a matter of taking one step forward, two steps backward, and then three steps forward for a minor net gain that takes just a little too long to achieve and rarely ever feels satisfying. Occasionally you’ll get stuck in a firefight that winds up being pretty bullshit but once you find the “cheese” strategy for that particular scuff you’ll come out with little to no damage.

The game’s difficulty really goes to hell however when the cops show up. They are only in two of Trigger Man’s eight stages but god damn do they make an already bad game just that much fucking worse. They first appear in the latter half of the game’s opening mission; after stealing the diamonds from a casino (by way of blowing the vault open with C4, of course) the building’s alarm sounds and the police arrive as you try to make your exit. If the cops see you it’s game over. Likewise, if you decide to try and shoot one of them in the face you’ll also automatically fail the mission because naturally killing cops would just further raise suspicion. Or something. The cop doesn’t die if you shoot him by the way – because he’s not programmed to do so – he just immediately knows where you are and draws his gun to arrest you.

Game over by way of cops.

Seriously, fuck these cops.

The only way out is to sneak around the police and this is where the game falls apart. These motherfuckers have laser vision and if you can see their faces then that means they can see you. Game over. I don’t believe these characters have a “cone of vision” like the guards in Metal Gear Solid; I genuinely think their field of view has no limit to its depth. You can hide behind some roulette tables in the first mission and mostly get through with a little bit of trial and error, but when the stealth aspect rears its head again at the game’s mid-way point that’s it. It’s absolutely impossible. I must have attempted the second stealth mission at least 50 times – with a guide – and was unable to complete it. With absolutely no way to tell where the cops can and cannot see, a useless radar, and the overall ambiguity of the environment I had to resort to using a cheat code to skip the stage.

Maybe the game is beatable by normal means, but I did not have the patience for that bullshit.

(NOTE: A game’s “Challenge” score is based upon the perceived fairness of its difficulty. Higher scores translate to a fairer and more satisfying experience. A low score reflects a game whose difficulty is either too high or too low.)

Entertainment: 3/10

A "Donkey Punch" vending machine.

Top shelf humor you guys.

Usually when you’re dealing with a “bad game” there’s a certain amount of entertainment to be had from its inherent schlock value. Maybe it has bad voice acting, maybe there are some funny glitches, you get the point. Trigger Man, as I’ve pointed out, has no voice acting so there are no bad deliveries of lines to laugh at. There’s also nothing game-breaking to exploit for laughs either, at least not that I am aware of. Trigger Man’s gameplay is so boring that if you were to play it in the company of your friends I guarantee you would get tired of it and just dust off the Sega CD to pop in Wirehead or something. Perhaps if the game didn’t throw you a hook with the whole “sneaking around the cops” bit in the very first fucking level maybe there would be some sort of salvageable experience to have but as it stands this is something with little to redeem it. We completed it on Gatorbox by popular demand but I know there were times when we collectively were getting fed up with this game, the sentiment was definitely there.

If you’re looking for a single-player experience this game offers absolutely nothing. There is no reason for you to play Trigger Man because there are so many other games on the PlayStation 2 that do exactly what this game failed to achieve. Even the bad ones. As I said during the stream “I love bad games, and even I hate Trigger Man”. That should tell you all you need to know.

Defining Moment

Windows XP desktop in-game.

[Windows XP start-up sound.]

Noticing the Windows desktop was the best unintentional stage setting that could’ve happened in this game. Like I mentioned earlier it was an asset designed with the absolute minimum amount of thought put into it and in the process of making it the designer managed to achieve an effect that was overall WORSE than what would’ve happened had they just taken a screenshot of a plain desktop. Designing the asset to give the illusion that whoever was here was working on something is a really nominal thing to do but it actually does help with world building in some measurable way. Making the imaginary work “changing the fucking default desktop” and then copying that screen onto every computer in the game comes off weirdly cynical. It wraps back around to the “checklist” mentality I talked about at the beginning of this review. Whoever took that screenshot had to “make the computer look like someone was using it” and put no effort into what the concept of “doing work on a computer” looked like beyond simply having a lot of windows open. They could’ve taken a goddamned screenshot of the very computer they were designing the fucking Trigger Man game on and used that, but they went out of their way to do this instead.

Amazing.

Recommended?
Hard no. It doesn’t matter what aspect of this game may appeal to you, it’s executed extremely poorly in Trigger Man. The fact that the store I bought it from had to knock it down from $10 to $3 should be proof enough that we’re not dealing with a winner here. Again, I only bought this game because of the low-hanging joke I could make at the expense of its name. That was the selling point to me. If this game were named anything else I’m sure it would’ve wound up in the bargain bin on clearance for a dollar and would still be there to this day.

Screenshot saying "Job Complete"

lol nope

Overall: 3/10

– Draco