Archive for August, 2011
After being inspired by Engadget (ripping off) I am toying with creating regular Top 3 lists.
With no further ado, I present my Top 3 Personal Computer based strategy games form the 1990′s.
3, Z (Bitmap Brothers, 1996)
Grunts reporting! Psycho’s reporting!
I remember this being billed as a rock hard by PC Zone, but after thrashing the demo and seeing the hilarious cut scenes, I knew I had to get it. Developed by the Bitmap Brothers (creators of Speedball), the game starred a couple of Californian surfer stoner robots under the command of a Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant Commander Zod. The aim is capture the entire map by balancing defence and attack simultaneously. The more of the map you controlled the quicker troops are produced . This meant that speed and cunning were the only way to get through Z.
A great game that now lives on via iOS and a PC remake. I have bought the iPad version and find it an adequate take. Whilst the controls feel clunky it is still playable and I am confident that they update the app as time goes on to improve the experience. Meanwhile the PC remake can be found at http://zod.sourceforge.net/ , it doesn’t have all the humour of the original but it does capture the core gameplay.
2, Command and Conquer : Red Alert (Westwood, 1996)
This needs no introduction.
Just a conclusion – I loved the cut scenes but hated the levels with just Tanya. Soviets will always beat boring Allies - Mammoth tanks and Tesla’s over light tanks and freedom.
1, Total Annihilation (Cavedog, 1997)
Apart from being impossible to spell, this Chris Taylor designed master piece still for me is the ultimate RTS.
Oddly, one of its big innovations was hills. You could place a turret on a hill and it would get a larger range, troops would pass over them at a slower rate, and the would be used for cover from artillery. You could build anywhere, which gave the game much more freedom. It was even great online, I used to play over a serial cable from my PC to my sisters Windows 98 laptop. I think I was more surprised I managed to make that work that anything else.
Lastly it had amazing scalability. As computers got better the unit cap was lifted, the maps got bigger and the units themselves were added to. Official expansions like Core Contingency introduced wonders like the Krogoth, however it was the online fan base that created many thousands of new wonderous units. One of my fondest memories was of getting my dad to draw a map, I would go and build it for him, using the easy to use level editor.
How do I know it was the best RTS of the 90′s ? I still play it now.
Over the weekend, my pal Daffy and myself went out touring the local gaming shops. We braved the wilds of North London and squinted through the bright lights of central London. Eventually we came away with a hodge-podge of random titles. However one theme did spring out of the quest – original Xbox games.
The original Xbox had an unusually short life span. A mere 3 years passed before its big brother the 360 took over. Coupled with being the new kid on the block and having to fight the might of the PS2, left the original Xbox with a comparatively small game catalogue. This is not to say there are not some of the all time classics lurking in there. For the time being I am going to make it my job to seek these classics out and get them into my catalogue.
A Darker Shade of Green
Xbox is great for collecting right now. Firstly the prices all ludicrously low, the most pricey game I am aware of is Steel Battalion (on the hit list!). Most games can be picked up for well under a tenner with the average prices at around £4, making them very easy to pick up on a whim.
Officially 483 titles are compatible with the Xbox 360. This means you can play the games on your current set up without having to dig out the black behemoth. Unfortunately that figure is a tad misleading. Regional differences mean that the list shrinks in PAL territories. The list shrinks further still if you plan on using VGA or HDMI as they do not allow the 50hz mode to work correctly.
Handily, exclusives are even marked with a stamp on the top of the box ‘Only on Xbox’. This lets you know that this game is likely to be rarer in the future, however it is also likely to suck a bit.
As gaming leaves its subculture roots and breaks into the mainstream, so to has game retailing.
Supermarkets are now among some of the biggest gaming retailers and sit alongside the core retailers of Gamestation, Game, HMV and CEX. All of these are great for games from the current generation, but fall short when it comes to the older or more niche titles. Since Gamestation was taken over and subsequently stripped of any character by Game, it is often easiest to to turn to the internet. However there does remain a last bastion to scratch the itch for the discerning gamer – independents.
Much like in the music scene, small one off shops dotted around the country can offer some of the most rare and interesting titles on offer. Locally to me I have two independent shops. One has just opened directly on my high street – Game XBoy. Forgetting the terrible name, they offer a decent enough selection of current generation titles, at competitive rates. Often I find that these shops are best for second hand games where they can offer decent prices. However the real fun is to be found in their last generation games on offer. In this range they stock Gamecube, Xbox and PS2. I spoke them today about the possibility of PS1 but this seemed to be off the cards for now.
Today I purchased a veritable 3 layer trifle of games on all of these systems.
Legend of Zelda Collectors Edition – Gamecube
Now, to none game fanatics this may seem a bit strange, I own all these of games on the original consoles. I also own the 2 disc version of Wind Waker that has most of these games included. For this very reason I could never bring myself to pick this version up. It is now quite rare to see this in a shop, I regret that decision. When I saw it today I knew I had to snap it up. The price was good too (£9.99) checking ebay it is currently selling for around £30 +.
The box is not in good condition (despite my arty farty photos) and has multiple scratches and tears. However the sleeve itself is in perfect condition. I will at some point switch it into a better condition box (which will be slightly trickier than normal as it is made of blue plastic and not the normal black). The manual is also a little creased but at the price point I think it is fair.
Capcom Classics Collection – PS2
Tongue twisters aside this was an unusual pick for me. It primarily caught my eye because I have seen similar emulation packs fetch very high prices (Namco collection on PS1 I am looking at you). Whether this is because they are comparatively rare or people just like them, I am not sure. Emulator compilations do sort of fly in the face of games collecting as they can never recapture the magic of the original. However at £3.99 I thought it was worth a punt. A quick google seems I may have been on the right track, there are actually 2 editions, this being the first. Both still command an unreasonable high retail value new for a dead format (~£20). Perhaps one to watch in the future.
Currently my PS2 is not set up so I cannot play this, I am however considering picking up an original PS3 so I can play PS2 games wire-free.
Magic the Gathering – Battlegrounds – Xbox
I bought this primarily as a bit of fun, my mate Daffy loves Magic and is a fan of the new incarnations on XBox Live Arcade. I thought if it works on 360 we could have a bash. To my suprise the game actually has some good reviews, I am a fan of strategy games so it may even turn out to be a good distraction. It was a mere £3, nothing ventured, nothing lost, so to speak.
That wraps up today’s purchases from Game Xboy. It’s important to keep these independents in business for games exactly like the three above – Tesco is not likely to stock them any time soon. I am going to travel up to around my area and visit a few more shops. So expect more of these updates!
Often mind blowing games will some how slip past me. The kind of games that make me say out loud – “How did I not know about this!”. El Shaddai is one of these games.
Oddly, the first thing that caught my eye was the development team, an all star cast who made the Japanese classics – Okami, Devil may Cry and Viewtiful Joe.
The premise is the usual contrived semi-meaningless excuse to plough from A to B. However what makes this game shine is it’s striking visual direction. I have added a few screen shots below but they do not do justice to the fluid nature of the action. The video below gives a better indications of what is on offer.
The demo is available on Xbox360 and PS3. I will update with my impressions once I have given it whirl.
[UPDATE] it is all sorts of awesome. Best price I can find is ShopTo – £35 . This may well become a cult classic. Though I’d think it will drop to 20 in a few months if you can wait.
The game is unmistakeably Japanese in style. The fighting USP is based around stealing the enemy’s weapons. The game is beautiful, even the pause screen has plasma effects scrolling around it. I am off to place an order
Just finished Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Needless to say it was fantastic. The game shows no sign of its age and looks stunning. Let’s do this in bullet point pro’s and con’s for the ADHD amongst us.
Sound is fantastic – music builds atmosphere, all characters fully voice acted
Length – felt suitably epic
Metroid but 3D – Arkham follows the classic level up to gain access to new areas
Insane amount of secrets and extras – you could spend another 5 hours once finished just hunting for collectables.
Punching is satisfying – backed up by an astonishing amount of animations.
Variety of characters – makes full use of the DC universe.
Stealth action – does not slow the game or make for boring sections.
Combat can lack variety – enemies can feel generic, even some later boss battles are just multiple versions of the tougher enemies.
Always in detective mode – I played 75% of the game never seeing the true colour of the world. Detective mode allows you to see things you cannot afford to miss so it rarely gets switched off.
No batman vehicles directly controlled - though a wealth of gadgets does make up for this.
Enslaved – Xbox 360 ShopTo.net – £12.85
I am going on holiday tomorrow but before I do I am going to start – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Not sure what to expect, I played the demo and found a sort of Uncharted crossed with Avatar thing going on . From the looks of these screen shots it shouldn’t disappoint.
I dipped back into the murky world of game collecting after coming across a bargain. At the weekend I picked up the immense Castlevania: Symphony of the night – Limited Edition and PlayStation launch title – Rapid Reload.
I will admit now I have never played or particularly wanted Rapid Reload but after seeing it advertised and doing a little research my head was turned.
Castlevania nocked me back £60 and Rapid reload a mere £15. My favourite thing about collecting PS1 games is that I can play them directly on my PS3. No messing about with old consoles. All the fuss that comes with wired controllers and composite connections is gone.
Rapid Reload – PS1 (1995)
Lets begin with Rapid Reload, launched in 1995 this 2D game met little applause on release. The world was moving fast into 3D and a hang over of the 2D age was not welcome on a new console. Looking back on it now it seems absurd that any of those early 3D games could have even been compared thigh quality animation / beautiful sprites on offer in RR.
Gunstar Heroes is the closest approximation, which for those who don’t know is basically a 2 player Contra with lots of explosions and mechs.
Why this game is awesome:
1, One of the characters is called ‘Axel Sonics’ -Axel is one of the all time best 80′s names for an action hero, and they combined it with Sonic the Hedgehog. Genius.
2, It isn’t oppressively hard. A lot of these games are impossible to enjoy as you are never alive long enough.
3, It is still beautiful. Games do not age well, without a strong art direction a game will very quickly look dated and dull. RR does not suffer from this, and in gameplay terms whilst simple and lacking in extra’s, takes a wining formula and deploys it perfectly.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PS1 (1997)
Not sure I need to educate any one on this one. Metroid meets Dracula. An incredible game that previously I had only played on XBLA and PSP. If you haven’t played this then pick it up (also on PSN), it is perhaps the pinnacle of 2D gaming.
The essence is to deafeat Dracula by exploring his castle unlocking extra abilities along the way to gain new levels of access. To aid you in your quest a plethora of equipment can be found and plenty of hidden extra’s are stuffed away in Dracula’s gigantic residence.
Worth the entrance fee for the iconic opening that is actually the end of the previous title – Dracula X. Player controlled Alucard exchanges the following with Dracula.
Need for Speed is now 17 years old and spans 20 titles. Like slicing open a great redwood to see the rings, let’s take a look how time has changed the racing mainstay.
Need for Speed 3DO
NFS started life as a simulator of sorts, originally a 3DO game you cruised in a rough straight line in a variety of sporty looking cars. I never owned the full title but instead played the demo over and over again, marveling at the in game dashboards with moving steering wheels!
In later years I picked up the full title on Sega Saturn. I also some how ended up with two Sega Saturn steering wheels. Surprisingly this version played pretty well.
Need for Speed: Road Challenge
Skipping ahead into the fourth title – Road Challenge (High Stakes in the US) we find the first NFS I actually bought and ranks amongst my favourite driving games. Each expertly crafted track has its own unique themes, the best being reserved once again for sunset Coastal drives.
This was the second title in the series to introduce the police mechanic after the original Hot Pursuit. The cops and robbers system gave a new urgency to racing that captured my 14 year old imagination like no other racing game.
A solid career mode on top of these features left me playing this with my 3DFX Voodoo 3 for many years.
Need for Speed Underground
In 2003 the future was upon us, driving was no longer a big enough draw. The matrix had changed action movies, and Eminem had replaced Will Smith. EA responded by taking their driving arcade/sim and turning it into an urban boy racers wet dream.
Neon under-lights, vinyl sponsorship and bass ridden tunes infected the series. The beautiful Coastal vistas were replaced with night time city tracks. A world of perpetual darkness left me feeling cold and disengaged.
Need for Speed: Shift - Shopto.net £9.85
6 long years past. History became legend. Legend became myth. Until, when chance came, the game remembered its pedigree.
Shift saw the series return to some level of normality, in a move away from the urban environment the series re-branded itself as an arcade racer. Codemaster’s (GRID) influence is seen in every aspect and a Forza style speed ribbon (I made that term up) helped give the game a sim like edge. However this was all dry humping for what was to come.
Need for Speed : Hot Pursuit (2010) – Zavvi £17.95 (or ~ £12 second hand)
Stripping away the years EA took the series speeding back to its greatest moment. Back were the coastal views, back came the Rodney King style policing. The development now safely in the hands of proven veterans Criterion (Burnout series).
The main reason I fell for this game was that is mixed my two favourite racing games of all time - Burnout and Road Challenge. The sense of speed, an often touted cliché, really is immense in this game. The difficulty just so that races can be won on the last corner. Social network interaction has also been added so you can compare your times to your friends with the game. Whilst not completely perfect, I would like to see less time trial/novelty and more straight Hot Pursuit, the series has finally come home.
It feels remiss to speak about the series and not mention the new game landing this Christmas - “The Run”. Watching the trailers I am a little concerned. It seems that whilst finding the perfect match with Burnout, EA have decided to look at another series for inspiration, Outrun. Too early to write off yet, as it is built on the very capable FrostBite Engine (Dice’s battlefield engine). The major kicker is that it is developed by wanna-be gangsters Black Box , of Underground fame…