Some people carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.
You carry it in your sights.
Welcome home, councillor.
I frequently lament how the once-mighty flight simulator genre has all but bottomed out of popular gaming culture, coupled with the near-demise of its best friend the Space Sim. Truly, the skies and the universe itself were our playthings in those heady days of the mid to late nineties, and we were free to forge our own destiny in... oh. Sorry, I'm about to repeat myself again. All you really need to know is that Space Sims are awesome, flight sims are excellent and there just aren't enough of them around any more.
The biggest problem facing these games, especially in a generation that increasingly prioritises mass market appeal, is that they can be incredibly tough to get into for new players. The likes of X-Tension, I-War and Tie Fighter shipped with enormous arcane tomes that revealed the dozens of keyboard commands, flight yoke options and advanced manoeuvres necessary just to fly in a straight line - let alone locking S-foils, switching shields to double front and prepping cannons for synchronous fire! The advent of consoles and controllers forced games to economise and compromise, and publishers soon realised that satisfying the hardcore was less profitable than pandering to the burgeoning mainstream.
But way back in the last decade of the last millennium, 3D Realms and Microsoft laid down a template that could work today: an arcade flight aim with the visceral thrills of an FPS, optional exploration and streamlined controls that feel natural on a gamepad. A blueprint that, if used properly, could give the genre a new lease of life on downloadable console marketplaces. Welcome home, councillor... to Fury3.
Of course, we'll have to talk about Terminal Velocity first. Because they're basically the same game. It's time, once again, for a little history lesson.
In 1995, 3D Realms embarked on an ambitious arcade flight project with the lead programmer of Microsoft Flight Simulator at the helm. Mark Randell wanted his baby to stand out from the pack by offering enormous external environments, tight tunnels, massive bosses to fight against and simple controls that would work on a keyboard, joystick, mouse or one a gamepad controller. Terminal Velocity was born - and released to major critical acclaim.
Rather than having to learn enormous reams of controls, manipulating your TV-202 fighter in 3D space was slick and effortless. You could intuitively yaw to turn rather than rolling and pitching, travel at remarkably slow speeds for strafing runs or engage a fierce afterburner for blistering unbelievable pace. Enormously powerful and varied weapons could be collected and instantly selected like a traditional FPS game; offering no barriers to the outrageous action. Open maps allowed us to explore the scenery at will, destroying pre-set targets or straying from the beaten track to discover hidden bunkers, secret weapons and enormous tunnel complexes bristling with powerups. And, naturally, there were massive bosses to contend with. It was the perfect balance between flight, shooting, exploration and arcade action... but the best was yet to come.
Terminal Velocity was great, but Microsoft also wanted a piece of the action. As much as anything, they wanted a native Windows 95 game to show off their new Operating System. Using the existing engine, gameplay mechanics and tone, they set to crafting a spiritual sequel - and one that still resonates with those who tried it back in the day. Fury3.
The premise was simple and satisfying, and just as importantly, it could fit on the back of a jewel case. After humanity's repressed bionic armies rebelled against their former masters, the last bastion of Earth's government - the Terran Council Of Peace - are left in a nightmarish situation. Bions had overrun the known universe, occupied important stragegic planets and even made their way to their seat of power. Luckily, one of the Council just happens to be an ace fighter pilot with a ship that can crack planets like eggshells - and so the furious, unstoppable vengeance began.
Hold on. A storyline where you're a high-flying member of an elitist government fighting to put down the repressed rabble with superior technology? How deliciously... imperialistic.
Many critics believed that Fury3 was just an incremental and lazy update of Terminal Velocity, but what really set it apart from the crowd was its outstanding and varied level design. You'd start by careening over the lush green fields of Terra and annihilating the Bion invaders - followed by a white-knuckle scorched earth genocide mission on a volatile munitions planet with the sole purpose of blowing it to smithereens. We flew under the surface of an alien ocean, dodged between organic skyscrapers in New Kroy and raided an Egyptian-themed desert world for its ancient secrets. Each planet offered different gameplay opportunities and colourful visual cues, and frankly, it's rare to see a game with such outlandish art design in this day and age.
What's more, it also had some fantastic bosses - and manages to thoroughly beat its predecessor to the punch by offering a massive robot as its final antagonist. As opposed to, and I kid you not, a massive desktop PC the size of a house. This giggling non-sequitur was a bit silly even by our standards - and we like silly.
For research purposes (and partly to slack off, I admit), I made sure to thoroughly test Fury3 again and make sure that my rose tinted spectacles aren't interfering with responsible journalism. What I played took me aback, because while the visuals may look horrendously dated, the raw gameplay is still fresh, exciting and brilliant. As I said at the beginning of the article, it provides a template for the perfect XBLA or PSN arcade flight sim: a breathtakingly slick, instantly-accessible and visceral experience that anyone can enjoy. The good old Sidewinder days may be over, but for the genre to become popular again, publishers should probably look at the past for inspiration.
Until then, right, I'm off to blow a planet up.