Saturday 20 December 2008

The worst games I ever played #1

A common theme among those who review games for a living (and indeed those who don't) is to talk at great length about the games they hold in highest esteem. Rare are those who talk about the mediocre games in their collection, and rarer still are those that go into detail about those games that they infinitely regret purchasing (at least not beyond "OMG this game suxxxxxx!!1111")

I thought since I have this medium of communication now, I would devote some time to the games that fell into one of two categories. Eventually I will have talked about a few of the games I hated instantly *and* the games I enjoyed at the time but now regret ever owning. As far as the second category is concerned, blame the retro gaming phenomenon that's so popular nowadays.

What is it about older games that we find so appealing, anyway? We have these epic, movie-like stories and open-ended game worlds, and instead we obsess over 10 year old games on outdated consoles. That said, I have been clamouring for the original Banjo Kazooie since it came out on Xbox Live Arcade, so I'm no better.

Anyway, a bit of history before I begin. I was a very lucky child in that every few years, my parents were quite happy for me to have the latest generation games console (or at least until I was about 16, and was old enough to have a job and my own money - big mistake incidentally, I now own two out of this generation's three consoles and 5 guitars). On the plus side, I own a SEXY guitar in the form of my Fender Stratocaster in Alpine White with a maple fretboard.

Look, mortals, and become moist.

Anyway, my first entry in the annals of E14 history takes the form of a flight simulator. Now, generally flight simulators are a genre of game (if you can indeed apply the word "game" to something where you do absolutely fuck-all at 30,000 feet). This one, slightly more redeemingly, was a combat flight simulator. The game was F29 Retaliator, for my old 286 PC.

Let's get something out of the way straightaway: I'm well aware that old PCs were nowhere near as capable as new PCs at doing even the most basic tasks. To illustrate this, let me tell you about a particular feature (read: limitation) of the first PC I ever owned. The PC ran in MS-DOS, and had 3 games, one of which was a stretch to call a game. The 2 games, the aforementioned F29 Retaliator and a game called Beyond Columns, a Tetris-like puzzler, served their purpose as far as we needed at the time (I also had a Super Nintendo at the time to keep me busy for good games).

The third item, because of how loathe I am to call it a game, was a virtual Jukebox. The sad thing about it was the fact that you could only play about 5 songs, mostly license-free stuff like 'Peter and the Wolf', in glorious MIDI.

A less awesome version of this used to pass for a game! Who knew?

Anyway, to F29 Retaliator. While doing research for this game, I came across this snippet from the game's Wikipedia article, which I think gives both a sad insight into game quality in those days as well as pretty much spoiling the entire excitement of the game:

The cockpit was pretty exciting, with 3 Multi-function displays

Mmm. Exactly. What I look for with games is the beauty of the heads-up display within the game world. Often, conversations between myself and game store sales assistants go as follows:

"Hi, I'm interested in this game, but I'm not too sure it's for me. Is there anything you can say that'll sway it for me?"
"What would you like to know?"
"Does the game display the health of your character in the top right corner?"

For those who say "oh, this game can't be that bad, trust an Emotionally Fourteen cynic to grumble so much about old technology", shut your stupid face. To demonstrate my prowess at observing those things which are noticeable, I bestow upon your visage a screenshot from the game in question. When looking at this picture, note that the game was intended to provide a detailed flight simulator experience.

That's right. I spent hours playing what essentially amounts to the shit round from the Krypton Factor, except there was no prize at the end of the round, only a sharp pang of sadness when I realise now that those hours could have been spent asleep. In fact, I had ten times more fun ejecting the pilot from the plane and watching him descend to the floor at a rate of metres per hour.

Incidentally, the game was bugged to the point that in certain situations, you could control the plane after eject and slam it into the pilot. That softened the blow, but it wasn't quite enough to keep the game from this list. I'll be back with another game shortly, but for now I'm bailing out.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Kung-Fu Thursday Christmas Special

I...can't comment on this awesomeness:

Wednesday 17 December 2008

The games of Christmas

I hadn't planned on writing anything anytime soon, thanks to the inevitable retail sector rush at this time of year. However, I caught an article over on the BBC's news website today about which games you should be picking up this Christmas, and it just made me so darned mad that I felt compelled. Firstly, the article didn't do enough to separate the various demographics of gamers, only catering to children and World of Warcraft players. Granted, ten million WOW players is a large demographic, and living in the Medway Towns I can fully appreciate that children are becoming a majority as well.

However, when an article about which games to buy this Christmas shows two screenshots, that of Wii Music and WOW, and one of the reviewers manages to start with a conversation about games and end in a conversation about binary watches (no, I'm not kidding - look for yourself), one would be forgiven for suspecting that the reviewer is not precisely on the pulse of gamers. To the credit of the article, the second reviewer makes a bold attempt to salvage the credibility of the article by talking about games for around 80% of his article, but by then the damage is done.

So in the spirit of not criticising unless I feel I can do better, here's a gamer-friendly list of games across all formats that you can feel justified in blowing your hard-scrounged money on this Christmas, or fine gifts for other people who fall into our very special E14 demographic.

Dead Space (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Dead Space's influences are clearer than a vegan's piss. Drawing from such cinematic influences as Alien and The Thing, players are thrown into the shows of Isaac Clarke, an engineer aboard a derelict space vessel. Quite why the ship is derelict is anyone's guess at the start of the game.

As you may guess from the screenshot above, it's not a pleasant reason, but then I suppose there's never a good reason for a spaceship to be derelict. I imagine surprise birthday parties can be handled aboard an intergalactic spacecraft without the need for the entire crew to abandon ship indefinitely.

What makes this game so impressive is that it takes existing conventions - the third person over-the-shoulder aim made famous and done so well in Resident Evil 4, being in a non-combat character's shoes like Silent Hill, and still manages to put new twists on the ideas. The player has very few weapons to speak of, and must instead rely on engineering tools to aid them in their travels. This game even does atmosphere well. If you don't carve up an enemy into small bite-sized pieces (think the size of a Kinder Egg) it can come back to life later on, travelling through air-vents rather than along the corridor so you might not even know it's coming. Even WRITING about this game is making me want to crap my pants.

Prince of Persia (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, DS)

There's something quite depressing about looking at concept art and feeling completely inadequate, but the agile *and* strong Prince of Persia manages to have that happen to me on a semi-regular basis.

Of course, Prince of Persia is a series that needs no introduction unless you've lived in a cave on Mars with your fingers in your ears. In which case, you'd be dead through the lack of breathable atmosphere, and you'd have died deaf. For shame. The series made its debut as a side-scrolling 2D platform with sword-fighting elements. Since this inception, it is one of the few franchises that has successfully translated into 3D, due largely to the fact that most of the 3D games have been bollocking awesome.

Guitar Hero World Tour (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

First, a story. When I went down to see my sister for her birthday one year, she had Singstar for her Playstation 2. She was looking for someone to play with, as her friends weren't up for it due to being, I suspect, shit singers. However, if there's one thing I'm proud of (besides my extensive first playthrough of Fallout 3 and all the robot faces I punched off as a result) it's my singing voice, so I thought I'd give her a go. I wasn't into it for the first song, as I'd been told that you could attain a perfect score simply by matching the notes and not the pitch, and so did that.

Then she started winning, and I went all out. If anyone should ever give you cause to doubt the appeal of singing games, tell them that story.

Guitar Hero: World Tour represents everything that people have enjoyed doing since prehistoric man clubbed his first cutesy animal to death, those things being screaming, hitting things with sticks and...playing a plastic guitar along to music. Ok, I'll admit that maybe I didn't think it through all the way.

In all seriousness, this game is amazing. The track list, while not perhaps as cool as Rock Band's, is enough to keep any budding rock star satisfied, and the instruments are far more sturdily built than Harmonix's equivalents. The only stumbling block is the price, at 180 GBP the bundle is pretty pricey, but to answer this, I will simply let a picture of the guitar do the talking.

That's right, it has a touchpad. Commence becoming moist.

One last one, and I think I speak for all gamers everywhere when I say that no collection is complete without this gem.

Baby Life (Nintendo DS)

Oh, ho ho ho! Ok, I got that out of my system. I just saw this advertised on Play, and thought I'd weigh in on it. Apparently this game has a "rich and complex mood and behaviour engine that has a mental profile for each baby and each evolution". I don't even think real children are that complex. I've been around babies a lot recently (I'll rephrase, that sounds dodgy). I've got many friends with new babies, so I've spent quite a bit of time in their company, and all they seem to do is gurgle and cry initially. How does that qualify as a "rich and complex mood and behaviour engine"? Besides, since when do children "evolve"? Trust videogames to take the blessed act of childbirth and cheapen it by making it sound like Pokémon.

So there you have it, some of the games to be picking up this Christmas. Remember the inevitable truths of gaming.

1: If a game says "Online Multiplayer", it essentially is saying "prepare to be insulted by 10 year olds".
2: If a 360 game is also being released on PS3, and you own a PS3, prepare to be underwhelmed.
3: If it's on PS2, it's probably coming to Wii with enhanced controls.