Friday, 31 December 2010

Posting from... new netbook. Hurrah!

Once I get everything I want on here, programs-wise, I should be able to write my updates quite a bit more often. Doesn't mean I'll be able to play more games, necessarily, but at least I have my own little tool for writing and uploading. Quite happy about that.

And yes, I'm aware that I've got unfinished business here...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

The ghost of Christmas past.

Well, Christmas Day 2010 has been and gone... and I'm still behind on my advent calendar. Unbelievably, I was unwell on Christmas Day, but twelve hours of sleep have put me in the mood for a catch-up.

That said, my missus is working from 2 till 10 both today and tomorrow, so I'm rather stuck with childcare duties, but I'll be fitting in whatever I can so you can see what the rest of the advent calendar had lined up for you.

I hope you've all enjoyed it so far. Once I've got it finished and up-to-date, I'm going to have a wee break, and then in the new year I'm going to do a rundown of my ten favourite games from 2010...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

You never know what's around the corner.

Well. Just when I got myself caught up with the blog and back on track, my inconsiderate father went and had what is known as a "mini-stroke". How dare he?

I can joke because he's alright... probably at about 97% as of today. When you hear the word "stroke" you can't help but think the worst. So as a family, we're very lucky on this occasion.

So, with that said, I hope you can excuse me getting behind again. I still intend to have twenty-five games up by Christmas Day, though...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 19th.

19 Part One - Boot Camp (Commodore 64)

There can't have been many video games made that were based on music. I remember there was a Blade Runner game on the Commodore 64 that was based on the soundtrack rather than the game... that was a weird idea. But at least that was a film soundtrack so technically they had something of a story to tie it in with. In the case of 19 Part One: Boot Camp, the game is based entirely on a hit single.

Oh, stop monkeying around...

With that in mind, I can't help but wonder if the game was written first, and it was then decided that it might be a good idea to attach a licence to it. Whether there's anything in that or not, 19 Part One: Boot Camp is set the era of the Vietnam war. Rather than play through the horrors of that war though, you're dumped into a Combat School-style training camp. Odd decision.

Now, I really enjoyed Combat School. In the arcades, I can't tell you how many times I got my skin caught after a particularly vigorous effort with the trackball. By Christ that hurt, and didn't half put you off your game and make your opponent crease up with laughter. The Commodore 64 version, whilst stripped of its trackball controls, used the good old waggling technique to good effect and provided a large dollop of fun.

I've got him... in my sights.

19 Part One: Boot Camp doesn't reach those heights. It's split into four events. The first is an assault course, which is most in the spirit of Combat School... except it plays horribly. You hold the joystick right to run, and then when obstacles appear, hold down the fire button then let go at the right time to pass the obstacle. It's cack, but it kind of works... until you reach the monkey bars, at which point I think you have to waggle the joystick. I couldn't get past that because I'm playing on an emulator and I'm using a D-pad... waggling ain't easy on that"

After that is a weird target shooting stage. Your gun stays in the middle of the screen, with the zoomed-in scope section visible. The shooting area scrolls around in the scope sight, but it feels wrong because the gun itself never moves. Don't like it. Following that is a jeep training course, where you drive a jeep down an obstacle-littered Buggy Boy-style course. It's not too bad... as long as you don't try and go fast. Finally, you get to take out your frustrations on your drill instructor in a one-on-one fight. It's no International Karate, that's for sure.

On the road again... I just can't wait to get on the road again...

Generally speaking, I like games that try and add a bit of variety. Unfortunately, in the case of 19 Part One: Boot Camp, none of the parts is any good. There was supposed to be a 19 Part Two, in which you'd take your player and the skills he'd learned into battle, but that never made it to the market. It's probably just as well, given how lacklustre this game turned out. It's not something I'll be playing again.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 18th

Firefighter F.D. 18 (PS2)

This was a brave move from Konami. I don't mean in terms of the game's scenario... video games live or die on their heroes and villains, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone more heroic than firefighters. No, I mean in the choice to actually make a game that's filled with fire. What were they thinking? In a world where so many people seem to prefer graphics over gameplay, with fire being so notoriously difficult to recreate, that was almost commercial suicide!

Firefighter F.D. 18 is, apparently, heavily influenced by Backdraft, which is a film I've never seen. Having read up on it, I see that the fire engine in that film is Engine 17, so I wonder if Konami saw this as a kind of video game sequel?

Wonder if real firefighters get trained like this?

The game starts off with a massive fire in a tunnel, and people are trapped. Naturally, you want to rescue them all. You have to fight your way through the tunnel, putting out fires strategically so that you can reach everybody in time. It's impossible to extinguish all the fire, so really you're clearing a route for yourself, whilst avoiding injury as much as possible.

Fires are dangerous enough in themselves, but they cause other problems as well. As you're moving through the tunnel, cars explode and rubble drops from the ceiling. This can have a couple of effects... obviously, you could get injured, but your path to survivors can be blocked at any time by any of these obstacles, meaning you might have to find another way around. Fortunately, you have the world's longest fire hose at your disposal, so it doesn't matter how far you travel, you never run out of water. And you have your axe, so certain obstacles can be overcome.

If you're strong you will survive, you'll feel the fire, burning on forever more.

One obstacle that can't be overcome is the terribly cheesy dialogue and voice acting. Right from the start, where there's a novice, over-eager female reporter covering the fire, we're in bad script and cheap actor hell. Just to give you an example, here's some actual dialogue from when you rescue the last survivor at the end of level one:

"Oh my God, it's Blackwell!"
"Do you know him?"
"He's an upcoming senator, young and prominent! Didn't you see him on TV?"

It's a bit crap, but luckily, although the game is story-based, you don't have to put up with the chatter too much. The biggest problem really is that the gameplay is repetitive. Stroll around, out out some fire, rescue a useless incapable survivor, rinse, repeat. They've thrown in interesting elements to try and help with that... smoke lessens visibilty, so you have to crouch and get around, for example. And there are actually boss fights, with each end-of-level having a particularly vicious fire to tackle. Cleverly, they've portrayed them as monsters... not in terms of how they look, but they roar and spew out fireballs and the like... it's pretty well done.

Mmmmmm, this one's got a smashing orangey bit.

Firefighter F.D. 18 is an interesting game. If you break it down and think about it, it's actually a twin-stick shooting game, but it's different to almost anything else you've played. It can get pretty intense, especially when a survivor's health bar is draining and you're struggling to get through to them. That extra human element really adds weight to proceedings. It's a shame in a way that the repetitive nature of the game overshadows things to a degree, but if you keep sessions limited to fairly short bursts, Firefighter F.D. 18 could be a very welcome addition to your games library.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 17th.

Gorky 17 (PC)

One of the great things about this blog, whether it's just the normal version where I'm digging through boxes of games or this special festive version where I'm purposely hunting out games for a specific reason, is that I've found and played games that I've never even heard of before. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're not, but either way, my gaming knowledge and horizons are broadened.

I think we all would, Captain State The Obvious.

I'd certainly never heard of Gorky 17. Nor had I heard of Odium, the title it was given for its US release. I didn't think I would be playing it, either... there were a few issues to overcome. I bought it from, but had problems downloading it. Then, once I had it installed, I couldn't run it. Eventually I worked out that the game's intro movies don't work properly on modern PCs. So with that problem overcome, it was on to the game.

Gorky 17 sees you in control of a group of NATO soldiers sent in to investigate the appearance of strange creatures in a small Polish city. You're not the first group to try this... the original group disappeared, so you'll have to see if there's any trace of them while you're at it. And there's more to this place than meets the eye...

Ganging up on that poor little dog-tiger thing? Shame on you!

It's a really interesting premise. You control a group of three soldiers using the mouse. It's quite a bit simpler to control the team than I'd expected... just point to a position on the screen, and the three will follow each other to that point. There's none of that drawing a circle around them to select them rubbish that so irritates me about strategy games.

When it comes to combat, the screen zooms in a little, and it reverts to turn-based strategy. In other words, you choose where to move a player, he moves there, then shoots/heals/whatever. Then the enemy monster moves and attacks. And you all keep doing this until either the attacking group is all dead, or one of your players dies. Because you're playing soldiers and not wizards, death means Game Over.

Aaaargh! Oooyah! Come on lads, a little help here!

That's a bit of a problem for me. I applaud the game for sticking within the borders of reality, but that makes it a bit on the hard side for me. If you're attacked by a reasonable number of monsters... say, four... then you're going to use a fair bit of ammo to kill them. Fights last a long time, and the creatures take a fair bit of killing. And you're going to be hard-pressed to find enough ammo to replace what you've used before you're attacked again.

Still, if you like games like this and you love a challenge then I reckon you could probably do a lot worse than Gorky 17. I love the sci-fi-meets-real-world scenario, and for a game that's now over ten years old it doesn't look all that bad. The ease of use makes it all the more appealing, so if you're any good at turn-based strategy games and like the sound of this one, check it out.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 16th.

Mary-Kate and Ashley - Sweet 16: Licensed to Drive (PS2)

Wait a minute. Stop right there. Rub your eyes. Now look again. Yes... you are reading that right.

By way of explanation, let me outline my self-imposed rules for the Advent Calendar. As you must have guessed by now, for each date on the calendar I'm playing a game with the corresponding number in the title. Now, wherever possible, I will not play a directly numbered sequel or a game with a year in the title (such as FIFA 10). I'm also trying to avoid flight simulators... not just because I don't like them, but because once you get into the teens it's hard to find games that aren't flight simulators but that have numbers in the title. I tried finding something else for the number 16... but all I could find was reference to a Sega game called 16t, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find that game.

So I was left with this.

Like, omigosh, I'm totally driving!

This game features cartoon versions of America's favourite twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. They're really excited, because they've just turned sixteen, which means they can... get their driving licenses! Although, if they only knew, that's not why half the internet was waiting for them to turn sixteen...

There are three game modes in Licensed to Drive, although you really only need one, that one being Adventure mode... which according to the instructions "offers a diverting dreamland of driving fun". Well, doesn't that just sound peachy!

You might be disappointed to discover you don't actually do any driving. Instead, the game is played like a boardgame. Aaaahhhh... might have been better if I'd taken the hit of embarrassment and got someone else to play. When you hit X, you stop the spinning counter. The first go determines the order in which everyone plays, and the second determines how many moves you get to make. Oh, if you play a one-player game, you have to sit and watch all your computer-controlled friends tootling around the board...

If they were doing this in bikinis, like most other female American college girls, they'd have a lot more money...

Once you're actually going, you "park" on the appropriate spot for the number you've rolled. This opens up one of a number of mini-games. The first one I played, believe it or not, was a Guitar Hero clone... where you decorate cupcakes. Yes, as each cupcake passes by, you hit the right button at the right time to land a splodge of icing on it. Awesome.

There's a good number and variety of mini-games. Some are kind-of racing games... for instance, there's a jetski game which is a little bit like Super Sprint, or a windsurfing game where you race a friend up the screen, a bit like a reverse Toobin'. Others are dafter, like a game of tag on the beach, or a game where fans blow clothes around and you have to collect the ones that match your colour. I can't believe I've just written that.

Don't smile at me like that. It's creepy.

Obviously, as the it's the twins' birthday, there's going to be a party, so as you're driving round you have to pick up as many friends as possible. They're hanging out by the spaces you land on, so if you hit the right number your car will start to fill up.

If you happen to land on a space already occupied by a friend, then you have a one-on-one lez-off. Sorry, one-on-one battle. Just checking you were really reading. Anyway, in this mode you play a mini-game against whichever friend it is to see who wins the space on the board, with the loser being sent backwards. Simple, but in keeping with a lot of board games.

Yes. This is probably what you'd expect from this game.

There are a few mini-games that do let you get behind the wheel of a car... sort of. One is a weird Frogger-esque effort, for instance, that has you in your car "hopping" across busy roads to get to the off-ramp. Another sees the four girls driving up the screen and all you have to do is hit left or right to avoid cones and collect keys. Very simple, but I guess it's effective in its aim.

Before I even loaded up Mary-Kate and Ashley - Sweet 16: Licensed to Drive, I feared the worst and expected it to be absolute shit. And you know what? It isn't. I mean, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone here... I'm not the target audience and neither, I suspect, is anyone that reads this... but for what it is, it does the job well enough. It's pretty well polished, the mini-games are at least playable and even fun on occasions, and if you had a few eleven-year-old girls around for a sleepover, I can imagine that this would keep them reasonably well entertained for a while.

I'm shocked. But I won't be playing it again. Anyone want it? Free of charge.

Advent Calendar - December 15th.

Fifteen (iPhone/iPod Touch)

Sorry folks, you're not getting much out of me with this one. I tried to find something decent for today, really I did.

Fifteen is a sliding block puzzle. You have a 4x4 grid, with fifteen numbered tiles and a space. You shuffle the grid, and then waste hours of your life trying to get them back in order. That's it. No thrills. No surprises.

Sigh. Here we go, then...

I used to quite enjoy playing with a plastic one of these at my grandmother's house. But that was thirty years ago, and those were simpler times. Now, I really can't be bothered. I haven't got the patience any more.

To be honest, that's probably as good as I'll get...

I said you weren't getting much... but there's really not much anyone can write about this game. Oh well. Maybe I should have played a flight simulator. Maybe I'll have better luck tomorrow...

Advent Calendar - December 14th.

Spacewrecked: 14 Billion Light Years From Earth (PC)

I'm willing to bet that most people haven't heard of this game... at least, not under this title. In the U.K., it was released as B.S.S. Jane Seymour. So I've cheated a bit here, because obviously it wouldn't have fit the theme if I'd used that title. Hey, I'll try anything to avoid playing a flight simulator!

Yeah, sorry Guv, you're missing your energy flux decoupler. It'll be weeks till we've got one of those in.

Needless to say, I had no idea what this one was about myself. So it was with no little intrigue that I loaded it up... and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was obviously on a spaceship, and the basic controls were simple enough to figure out, but beyond that... clueless.

After some exploring and trial and error, I can say that Spacewrecked appears to be some kind of cross between Dungeon Master and Paradroid. Wait a minute - that sounds about as good as gaming can possibly get! But just hold on a minute before you go getting too excited and spending fortunes on eBay to play it.

Aaaaarrgh! Jesus! Why would you keep one of them on board? Hope I don't find one...

As the story goes, you're among a fleet of twenty spaceships heading back to Earth when the voyage is stalled by radiation damage to the ships. Unfortunately, your ship hasn't got enough fuel to complete the trip even if it gets repaired, and due to the complicated nature of the fleet you can't just transfer everybody to another one and whizz off home. Besides, all have sustained an amount of damage and will need to be patched up. You have to work through them in order, starting with the B.S.S. Jane Seymour, and once all twenty ships are repaired to at least eighty per cent efficiency, you're in business.

That would be a tall order at the best of times, but the computer estimates that only five per cent of the crew are fully fit across all twenty ships. The rest are liable to be either physically or mentally incapacitated. To make things more difficult still, alien lifeforms are liable to be roaming the ship...

Now, where was it we needed this again...?

If you've ever played a game like this, the layout will be familiar. The ship's corridors are displayed in a small part of the screen, with icons and status messages taking up the rest. As you wander around, you'll find a number of items lying around. These are likely to prove useful, and luckily your inventory, although limited, is sizeable. The main thing you're looking for is liquid coolant, as a deficiency in the stuff is causing the majority of malfunctions. Oh, and you'll need things to carry the liquid...

An interesting aspect of the game is the ability to use the ship's robots to your advantage. You don't have to, but doing so will make your task a fair bit easier. There's a variety of useful droids, including combat droids, repair droids and computer droids. The droids can also perform life-saving healing duties, if properly equipped.

The Rolling Stones' Tour had gone to more places than ever this year.

Spacewrecked/B.S.S. Jane Seymour is obviously a massive game... twenty ships to repair, each with three decks, will take a long, long time to play through. It'll take even longer if you're as rubbish at it as I am. Despite my inadequacies, though, I found this game really intriguing. I'd love to make the time to have a proper crack at it... having a PC version (it's also available on the Amiga and ST) and not needing to swap disks every five minutes means I'm more inclined to have a go. It's been a good find, this one.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 13th.


I've tried not to make obvious picks where possible... but, fair enough, I've failed this time. No matter... XIII is a game I almost played once, so I've quite fancied giving it another go sometime, and this is the ideal opportunity.

How did I almost play it, you might wonder? Well, I had it when I lived in America. I can't remember if I rented it or bought it, but I got about five minutes in only to find the disc was scratched, and I couldn't get any further. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Thankfully, nowadays you can pick up most old games for a couple of quid, so here we go again...

Oh, that's a bit of a shame...

XIII is based on an Eighties comic book, which I haven't read... probably because it's Belgian. The only Belgian thing I usually have anything to do with is chocolate. Mmmmm... chocolate... what? Oh, the game. Yeah.

Well, it's a first-person shooter. Oh joy. It's a conspiracy-laden affair which finds you waking up, injured and with no memory, in the wake of the assassination of the American President. In true Jason Bourne style, you must set about finding what was your part in proceedings, if any, and get to the bottom of the devious goings-on.

Up a bit... left a bit...

Well, I say true Jason Bourne style... that's not entirely true. Jason Bourne is a bit on the hard side, with some awesome fighting and martial arts abilities. You, as XIII, are voiced by dull sex addict Hollywood legend David Duchovny. You have an arsenal of weaponry at your disposal... all of which is a bit shit.

It's a funny beast, XIII. It's one of the most stylish FPS games you'll find... astonishing in its time, it still stands out today. It's not just the cel-shaded graphics (and it was one of the first games to employ that style)... it's the way it stays true to its origins with comic-book panels and cutouts... especially effective when it shows the viewpoint of the person you've just shot, so you get your view and his view on the same screen.

It's a long way down. So let's look at it twice!

But on the other hand, the action is generic and, dare I say it... dull. It's all very well having the looks, but if there's nothing going on under there, people get bored pretty quickly. XIII isn't awful by any means, but when the gameplay is so by-the-numbers it's pretty difficult to play through to the end, no matter what the graphics or storyline are like.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 12th.

XII Stag (Playstation 2)

I love a good shooter, me, even if the only ones I'm half decent at were in the arcades 20-25 years ago. I find modern shmups a lot more difficult... whether that's because I wear glasses or as a result of reflexes diminishing through age, who knows? I still enjoy the bullet hell games, though... in the main. Some are just too much for me, even with infinite continues.

XII Stag is one of my large and, if I do say so myself, fairly impressive collection of PS2 PAL shmups. I haven't got a Japanese PS2 so I haven't got any of the imports, but I've bought most of the other ones that are available. I even wrote about them for Way of the Rodent.. That was a fun task! So, this is one of those games that I have played before, but it fits in perfectly with the advent calendar, so here we go again...

Cloudy out, innit? Oh... that's just the smoke from wrecked metal ships.

In a world of vertically-scrolling shooters, XII Stag tries to be a little bit different. In the main, it's same old, same old... you fly up the screen, enemies swarm onto the screen spewing trillions of bullets, you die. Rinse and repeat until game's end. So in order to distinguish itself from other vertical scrollers, XII Stag introduces a completely different weapons system.

"Great!", I hear you cry, "Tell me about these marvellous innovations!". Well, don't get too carried away just yet...

As you'd expect for a game like this, your ship is pretty handy at lashing out umpteen forward-firing projectiles per minute. There are no extra weapons to be picked up, although you can power up. There's no bomb either. Instead, you have a barrier which, when activated, opens a bubble around the ship for a short time, and as long as you stay there you can't be destroyed. You have a limited supply of these per ship, so if you choose the right moments to use them you'll maximise their effectiveness.

The green, green, grass of death.

The real difference, and the reason for the name XII Stag, is the side-shooting weapon. If you emply that, rather than your forward-firing weapon, you start up a score multiplier, which climbs until it reaches a maximum of 12X the normal score. The rewards are lucrative, but as is always the case, they don't come without risks...

And here's where the problem lies. The side shooting is only activated by sideways movement. And as the game is designed to throw stuff at you to take advantage of that, you end up doing as much waggling as in the Activision Decathlon. In fact, it brought to mind the days of activating power-ups in Wizball, way back in the Commodore 64 days. Which is fine if the pace isn't too ramped-up, but XII Stag is a bullet hell shooter, and the last thing you need when you're trying to navigate a screen full of laser death is to be waggling left and right to shoot the stuff that's dispensing it.

Of course, you can fire forwards as well, and the power-ups add more and more bullets to that directional firepower. But considering the amount of stuff you chuck out, it's surprisingly feeble. There's not much point in getting behind stuff and blasting them when it's like chucking paper darts at a tank. So you have to go into spinning whirligig of doom mode, regardless. What a bind.

I don't know of an arcade on the planet that had a XII Stag machine in it, and if there'd been one near me it would have probably only got one ten out of me. That's not because it's a bad game... it's perfectly alright. It's just too complicated and difficult for an aging gamer like me.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 11th.

The 11th Hour (PC)

Can you remember the days when Full Motion Video was going to be THE FUTURE? Games companies shot hours of footage then compressed them badly and tacked a "game" around them. People saw the amazing graphics and ran out to buy them in their tens. Yeah, they never really caught on, did they? Perhaps the best known or most infamous was Sega's 32X game, Night Trap, which the press would have you believe featured naked teenagers being raped by masked filth. This was far from the truth, as the game had you protecting a group of teenage girls having a sleepover at a somewhat unusual house. It was more like an interactive ghost story than a game... and most FMV games find themselves a bit short in the actual game department.

Night Trap. Ban this sick filth!

The 11th Hour is the sequel to The 7th Guest... a game I considered playing for this very advent calendar just a few days ago. Killer7 won out there, but I decided one of those two games had to make it in. That, and I had a hard job finding another game with 11 in the title (although I did find something on the PS2... too late, though...).

At first I thought the game was broken, as I sat looking at a screen with four skulls and a cryptic message. "Come on", I yelled inwardly, "Come oooooonnnn". Then I read the instructions, which said "Click on the X in the skull on the right to start". What? How the hell are you supposed to know that? And it's so dim I could barely even see the thing! No fair!

Come on... surely you can see how I had problems here?

Still, I got past that in the end, but as I sat through the lengthy FMV opening, I wondered if someone had accidentally given me a dodgy porn movie. It was all video with real actors and that, and the female was showing a grand amount of cleavage (very fine cleavage, as it happens) as she clambered over the bloke. Eventually, though, this sequence came to an end and we did actually get to the game.

Once you get started, you uncover one of those games that I hate - the first person point-and-clicker with obscure nonsensical puzzles. I like point-and-clickers where you play an onscreen character, like the Syberia games or the Lucasarts adventures, but stuff like Myst tends to leave me cold for some reason or other.

You what, now.

In The 11th Hour you wander around, led by a bony hand which tells you where you can go and, more often, where you can't. You have a sort of early laptop thing which looks like what I can only describe as a Sinclair ZX DS. This contraption displays cryptic clues that you must use to find things that will progress the story, but they're pretty obscure so good luck with that.

If you come across anything you can play with, the hand turns into an eyeball, and clicking on the object in question might play a short video or open up a puzzle to solve. That's unfortunate, because I'm rubbish at puzzles. One that I found early on was in a library, and involved clicking on books to try and get them sorted into red and green. I must have tried half a dozen times without getting anywhere near. And you have to solve them if you want to progress.

Can't I just take all the red ones out, then all the green ones, then put them back?

The 11th Hour isn't a game I got on with terribly well. I didn't do well at it and I didn't get very far. But to be fair, I was tired when I played it and probably didn't give it the fairest shake. I actually feel more like playing the original game, The 7th Guest, before going back to this. I feel that there's probably something different and decent in here, and I might enjoy discovering that. It's going to have to wait a while, though.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 10th.

America's 10 Most Wanted (Playstation 2)

I had this one almost written. The weather has played a bit of havoc with my calendar, with parcels that should have arrived ages ago still not being here. There's been some re-juggling, some re-playing and some re-writing, with new games being chosen, mainly as safety backups, but sometimes as replacements. The game for December 10th was going to be 10th Frame, a ten-pin bowling game by Epyx on the Commodore 64. I'd looked forward to playing that for quite some time, but I couldn't help thinking it seemed a bit of an obvious choice.

But then, on my first random shopping trip for three weeks, I spotted America's 10 Most Wanted.

Look, put that thing away. You'll have someone's eye out.

Before I say anything else, I will just mention that on the game's own website it states, quite boldly and proudly, that "In game music is provided by members of So Solid Crew who will also make guest appearances in the game.". Can you tell which direction this article's heading in?

America's 10 Most Wanted (Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror in the US) is (mostly - more on that later) a first person shooter. Now, if you know me through this blog, you're probably aware that the FPS is not my favourite type of game, but a good one will catch and hold my attention. This one... shall we say, it's not a good one.

The game starts in 1999, with you being sent into Afghanistan on a mission to fuck with Osama Bin Laden's shit. Your helicopter is shot down by a terrorist, the bastard, and you're the only one to survive, so you have to fight your way to an area where another helicopter can pick you up. This won't be easy though, because Afghanistan, in case you hadn't heard, is crawling with bad guys, and they'll stop at nothing to make sure you don't get away!

"You go first." "No, you go first."

Fortunately they're a pretty careless bunch, and they dish out weapons, armour and health like sweets. Most accommodating. It's very difficult to fail to make it to the end of the level, unless you blow yourself up. The game has a lock-on system so you really can't miss an enemy, and you'll absolutely never, ever run out of ammunition, what with all those terrorist guns lying around waiting to be picked up. And occasionally you'll find a US flag... picking this up grants you a temporary period of invincibility. Fuck, yeah!

In the first level, once you get to the end, you'll see Osama Bin Laden! Yep, he's there, waving a gun in the air and shouting abuse. And then, rather than stand there and accept justice, he runs off into a cave, leaving one of his henchmen to stand in your way. And that's when the game gets really bizarre, and is why I said this is mostly a FPS. It turns into a fighting game.

That's why we haven't wrapped this up yet. Our Boys aren't using Super Combos.

You probably don't believe me, because that doesn't make any sense. But it's true... having shot to death all his comrades, you resort to the spirit of fair play and mixed martial arts, and square off against each end level boss in a Virtua Fighter-type brawl, complete with energy bars at the top of the screen. Actually, that's unfair... to mention Virtua Fighter is to imply there's a level of quality here. There isn't... your moves are; left punch, right punch, kick, block. Mash the buttons and run away occasionally, and you'll win, at which point you have ten seconds to hit the X button fast enough to subdue and capture the guy. It really is that mental.

Is that... a ninja? Oh well, no matter... DIIIIIIEEEE!!!

If you beat the guy at the end of the first level, you... run to the waiting helicopter. No matter that Bin Laden was there just two minutes ago and can't have got far... you're off. So because this is 1999, the World Trade Center attacks are YOUR FAULT. If only you'd gone after him when you had the chance...

Because you let him escape, you have to capture America's 10 Most Wanted fugitives before you're allowed to go after him again... I'm sure some of them are made up, but the one before Bin Laden is Saddam Hussein... I know he was a real guy. Anyway, you start off in Miami. Actually, no you don't, you start off in a shit-looking generic city. Your first couple of fugitives are holed up there, and from then there's no stopping you, baby! You'll take in such terrorist hotbeds as Paris, the Caribbean and, umm... Utah.

You have to take this guy down. You don't know what he's hiding in his cardboard pants.

As if the whole premise wasn't offensive enough, you actually get points for kills, and bonuses for headshots, “Splats” (close-up shots or messy grenade/rocket deaths), and so on. So they've turned global terrorism into a high score battle. There was one moment where a guy said he'd give me the key to the warehouse where a fugitive was hiding, if I paid him instead of shooting him. My guy just said, “Here's some cash. Now get outta here”, at which point the cutscene ended. But instead of getting outta there, the bloke just stood, rooted to the spot, while I emptied my shotgun into his stupid face over and over again, racking up the Splat points.

Sneaky, these terrorists. Absolutely anybody could be one.

What else? As you'd expect, the music is shit. Some of the lyrics to one song, playing as you're running around Miami, go, "It's America's Most Wanted, baby. Osama Bin Laden, you're next". Now, that's how to set an atmosphere.

There's some choice dialogue in the game, too. If you can imagine Duke Nukem without the irony, you'd be on the right track. Mostly, your dumb guy pretty much states the obvious about what he picks up. But I'm not entirely sure how many soldiers or special operatives would, whilst using a flame thrower in the general direction of the enemy, shout "Time to torch you up". Doesn't seem like something you'd say in the heat of the moment (did you see what I did there?). Pull off a headshot, you might say "See ya". Or in the fighting bit, you might come out with "How's your ribs?" I don't know if it's an attempt at James Bond-style humour, but it really doesn't work.

Simon Cowell decided that Bin Laden wouldn't make it past judges' houses.

America's 10 Most Wanted is a shocking game in every respect. I mean, it's a really poor game in terms of quality, and if it's trying to make a statement or offer American teens some kind of revenge or closure, then it's horribly misguided at best. If they'd gone for all-out satire in a World Police-type affair, it might have been better thought of. Instead it's a waste of money in every aspect, unless you want one last ditch try at getting rid of a case of lockjaw.

Advent Calendar - December 9th.

Bottom of the Ninth (arcade/MAME)

I've got a soft spot for baseball... it started with HardBall! on the Commodore 64, dropped off for a while then returned with a vengeance while I was living in the States. Now that I'm back in England, I like to keep tabs on the game, and I've got ESPN America and like to watch games when I can, particularly when it's the Detroit Tigers playing.

Enough of the gymnastics, just throw the ball!

I do like videogame baseball as well... it's always difficult to play well, but you can just step up to the plate as a slugger and get in the odd satisfying hit every now and again. There have been so many efforts of varying quality over the years, but despite it being a small world these days, it remains mostly an American game and can be hard to get hold of in the UK. To that end, and despite it apparently being something of a franchise, I'd never heard of Bottom of the Ninth before.

The first thing I noticed was that, for an arcade game, this is very naughty indeed. What's the first thing you do with an arcade game? You drop your money in for a credit. Normally, you'd then play until your skills meant you were beaten, at which point you'd either chuck in some more money or walk off and find another game. Bottom of the Ninth gives you ninety seconds for your 25 cents (I doubt any found their way over here for anyone to put 10p into). Ninety seconds, in a game that lasts nine innings? What a rip-off! But I suppose it's the only way they could make much money... baseball games can last ages!

No point chasing that one... it's gone!

I would imagine that there are ways in which you can win extra time, although I didn't see any evidence of that while I was playing. The game itself is relatively simple, but it's possible to get into it to the point where you can't help adding more credits. That's easy enough to say, though... playing on MAME, you've effectively got an arcade machine set to free play. But although 1989, the year this was released, wasn't a vintage year for arcade games, I'd probably have preferred to save my cash for other games in the arcade than blow it all on this.

As for the game itself... it's baseball. You get a turn batting, where you get three outs, and then you get a turn pitching, where you have to get three opposing batters out. There's very little strategy involved... less even than the classic HardBall! But it's presented fairly well, and there's always a thrill in any baseball game whenever you belt the ball out of the park for a home run.

If you've read any of my other accounts of American sports games, you might see a pattern emerging in the scoring...

Bottom of the Ninth is an arcade baseball game, simple as that. I enjoyed my time with it (all two matches worth), but it's utterly disposable and less than memorable, and if I fancy playing an old basebal video game, I'm more likely to go back to HardBall! than this one.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 8th.

Alien8 (ZX Spectrum)

I loved my Commodore 64, and not for a moment did I wish I'd got a Spectrum instead. But if there was one way I was jealous of my Speccy-owning mates, it can be summed up in four words: Ultimate: Play The Game.

No point walking on eggshells... get a move on!

What a company they were. Of course, they went on to become Rare in later years, but it was as Ultimate that they made a hell of a name for themselves. And they made that name with awesome games. Atic Atac, Underwurlde, JetPac, Knight Lore... and they went on, with seemingly not a single misfire. I was envious, because although Ultimate had a presence on the C64, they released far fewer games and the quality just wasn't there. And those marquee titles never made the leap...

I often played JetPac and Knight Lore on friends' Spectrums, but I have to say I never got a chance to play Alien8. The sequel to Knight Lore, it sees you as a robot on a spaceship... a spaceship carrying the inhabitants of a dying planet to safety, a new life, a new beginning...

The purple spike room was not Alien8's favourite.

You're just there as housekeeping, making sure everything keeps running as it's meant to. So as you approach your destination, it's a bit of a shocker to have the ship attacked by aliens and to see all life support systems damaged... Your job is to get all the life support systems back online and restore the cryogenic systems to operation, so that the ship can reach its destination with the inhabitants intact and alive.

If there's one common thread that runs through these isometric 3D games, it's that they're rock hard, and Alien8 is no exception. I played half a dozen games before I found anything interesting at all, but once I'd got a bit more to grips with it, I started to make some kind of progress, and then I started to enjoy it. That's the thing... they can be very frustrating games when you're just seeing the first half a dozen screens over and over again, although the fact you have a pool of different start screens helps.

OK, now this room is just a cluttered mess.

Alien8 is probably a better game than Knight Lore, even if just marginally. There's no "change" animation in this game, which serves for the better... in the original game, too much of your time was wasted watching your character become a werewolf. That said, this game has less character, less personality than Knight Lore. But it's a massive challenge, a real test of your platforming skills and a really good example of the early days of arcade adventures.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

See you two-morrow

Today has been a tricky day... a long work day, followed by rubbish and hugely delayed public transport, followed by a one-year-old that wouldn't go to sleep, have all combined to stop me from having enough time to finish day seven on day seven. I've started it, so when I post it it'll pop up underneath this post.

So, sorry about that, but just like a chocolate advent calendar you'll be able to gorge yourself on two days' worth tomorrow!

Advent Calendar - December 7th.

killer7 (Nintendo Gamecube)

As soon as I'd hit on this advent calendar concept, I knew exactly what game I'd be playing on December 7th. It didn't matter that I've played it before; it didn't matter if there were other games out there that would fit. I was going to play killer7, simple as that.

I wrote a review of this for Way of the Rodent. I thought I'd have a quick re-read of it before writing this, and was stunned to see that I wrote it in August 2005. Is it really that long since I first played this? Apparently so, but it still feels as fresh every time I play it as it did then.

Hey, where are you going? Wait for me, I'm lost!

killer7 is in the top three most mental games I've ever played. It really grabbed me the first time I played it, but although I've had a copy sitting here for a while, it's been a fair bit of time since I played it. And that's just wrong, because a game as entertaining, intriguing and insane as killer7 demands to be played, or more accurately, demands to be experienced.

Well, you certainly are. I'm not hanging from the ceiling in a gimp sui, so I'm a bit better off.

It's very much a Marmite game, is killer7. Nobody thinks "it's alright". They either love it or hate it. I've learned this from many a discussion over the years. For me, everything hangs together in such a brilliant, freaky fashion that it makes for a videogame experience like no other.

Mmmm, blood. Very useful stuff, you're going to need as much as you can get...

The plot is mental. I'm not going to roll it out here, but if I say that you play as the physical embodiment of an old man's seven assassin personalities, you know you're not dealing with a conventional videogame. And when a man in a gimp suit, a man that you killed on a previous assignment, drops down and offers advice, it's obvious that you've gone way, way off the wall.

... although you're not supposed to spill it down your dress, Kaede!

killer7 is not set up in a way that is immediately accessible. Gameplay-wise, it's pretty much an on-rails shooter with something of a choice of routes. That doesn't sound too exciting, but it's the way it's presented that makes it stand out. The graphic style is stunning and unique, all strange angles and odd colours. It's tense... when the creepy "Heaven Smile" enemies are closing in on you and you're struggling to get a shot on target, you'll feel your nerves start to go. The game itself is bizarre... part shooter, part detective story, with its crazy characters it's interesting from the off and never lets its grip loosen.

You OK, old man? How'd you like a nice cup of tea?

There's so much more I could say about the game's plot and the storyline, but that makes for dull reading when you could be playing and experiencing it for yourself... by far the best way to get the flavour of it. As far as I'm concerned, killer7 is a twisted classic. It's a game that I'll never sell... I'll always want to pick it up for another play at some point. It's not for everyone... there's no way it could be. But it's original, funny, dark, bizarre and, if you do get into it, great fun. Playing it again for the blog has been a joy, and has reaffirmed my love for this intelligent, arty masterpiece.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Advent Calendar - December 6th.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas (XBox 360)

I have only ever played one Tom Clancy game before today. That was the original Splinter Cell on the PC, and I only played that once. I quickly decided that all that sneaking about wasn't for me, and since then I haven't so much as looked at a Tom Clancy game. So that makes today's choice particularly interesting to me... what on Earth is going on in Tom Clancy's world today, I wonder?

Rainbow Six Vegas is, apparently, a tactical squad-based first person shooter. I say "apparently", because in all the time I played the game I never got far enough to find that out.


Wow. This bit looks awesome. Pity I didn't get to play it.

The game starts with you being dropped from a helicopter into a terrorist-infested part of a Mexican border town. You have to fight your way through the town to regroup with your team. Why you couldn't have just been dropped off where your team was is beyond me, but then I guess you wouldn't have had an introductory level.

And it looks quite pretty, as Mexican border towns go. Even for its age, Rainbow Six Vegas has some pretty good graphics. The intention is to use the walls as cover and poke your head around corners to see what lies ahead. But this doesn't work well for me. It's actually quite jarring when you pull away from your cover, enough to be annoying enough for me to do it as little as possible.

Lads! Has anyone got any tokens? I just need to hold two and I'll win ten grand!

Shooting from cover is also more or less impossible. You can do it, but of course you're not accurate and so you might as well not bother. I'll credit the game for building some real tension as you're trapped by terrorist gunfire, sitting there trying to work out your next action. Unfortunately, I'm too feeble to execute whatever that action might be, and I found myself hearing the main character's death sigh again and again.

I did at least manage to get to a checkpoint, which is something. It took me about 40 minutes and multiple tries, but at least it meant I wasn't stuck playing the very beginning of the game the whole time. No, I actually managed to play the second part of the first level over and over again, making pretty much no progress from game to game. I never did get to see Vegas... just as well I've been there before.

Ocean's 11, this ain't.

I don't like too many FPS games, and I don't like tactical squad-based games, either. But in the spirit of the blog and discovering new games, I thought I'd give this one a fair shot. Sadly, it hasn't worked out. It might not have helped that the copy I bought from eBay came without instructions, but I honestly don't think it would have made any difference if it came with instructions, cheat codes and Tom Clancy himself to sit and hold my hand while I played. I'm just not very good at games like this, and while I perservered with Call of Duty 4 and enjoyed that a lot, Rainbow Six Vegas just left me utterly frustrated. I'm sure it's fantastic if you like this kind of game, and apparently the multiplayer is excellent but I didn't play that. And I won't be either... I'm donating Rainbow Six Vegas to somebody else's gaming pile.