Halo 2 means a great many things to many different people, and given the impending release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Halo 2: Anniversary, we had to take a look at it for this week's Blast From The Past. For some, Halo 2 was the ultimate home console multiplayer shooter experience, the Xbox Live poster boy that still kicks a sizeable amount of posterior today due to its peerless balance and superb maps. For Bungie it was a chance to flesh out their universe, turning a premise into a fully-fledged canon. For Microsoft it was a triumphant last hurrah that proved their first foray into home consoles was a success.
For me, though, it's something more special. Halo 2 released shortly after the biggest breakup of my life and my parents' divorce, providing the perfect co-op distraction for my sister and I to bond once I'd returned from university. It kept us sane, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
Unfortunately, I also can't deny that Halo 2 has the dubious distinction of being the only mediocre -- perhaps even genuinely bad -- Halo campaign. Having dipped back into the Xbox original to prepare for the Master Chief Collection, I'd like to dissect the inconsistent singleplayer experience to work out exactly why it didn't pass muster... and why that didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
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I was going to do Jet Set Radio Future this week, but with All Hallow's Eve looming, an anarchic cel-shaded romp through Tokyo-To doesn't quite fit this spooky time of year. We need something horrifying. We need the chill running down our spine, the fetid breath on the back of our necks, the cyclopean indescribable terror that lurks in the darkest corners of our psyche just beyond our perceived veil of reality. The fear. We need the fear.
Or, erm, a horror game I suppose.
So seeing as I've personally banged on about one horror game above all others over the last four years, it's high time we paid SHODAN her dues and took a lingering look back at System Shock 2. Irrational Games' Sci-Fi horror masterpiece is exactly that: a masterpiece of intricate level design, adaptive gameplay, sensational artwork and atmosphere, but by all rights it shouldn't have been scary at all.
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I've been playing a great deal of Sunset Overdrive recently. My hands are tied until our full review goes live next week, but for now, I can confirm our earlier assertions that it feels like an outrageous and anarchic mash-up of Crackdown and Jet Set Radio Future. Only twice as meta.
Ah, Crackdown and Jet Set Radio Future. Two truly excellent Xbox exclusives from generations past -- has it really been seven and twelve years?! -- that I'd dearly love to revisit. If only we had some sort of semi-regular article format where we glorify classics from yesteryear and explain why they still have a place in our hearts through rose-tinted spectacles.
Oh wait. We do. It's time to reboot Blast From The Past, and I think there's only one place to start. We'll cover Jet Set Radio Future next week... and start with one hell of a super-sandbox, agent.
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ALERT: May contain spoilers for a decade-old game. You have been warned. If you've not played this game, rectify that fault immediately and then come back and read this.
When it comes to Western RPGs, or at least those games that give you a choice in how you can affect the world around you and the characters that inhabit it, I nearly always begin by doing an initial runthrough as myself. I make the decisions that I feel I would make were they presented to me in real-life, immersing myself in the story honestly, in the hopes of a return by way of emotional or narrative payoff later on.
But you could be a absolute dick in KOTOR, and in the subsequent playthroughs that I've made (I do one every year), I've been both beatified saint and abhorrent sinner, and everything in between. It's important, I often feel, when it comes to BioWare's games in particular (and Bethesda's for that matter), that to see as much as the game has to offer, you always need to do at least three plotline runs: one for yourself, one as a good guy, and one as an utter bastard.
KOTOR was perhaps the game that made me feel really horrible about myself for the first time, when it came to some of the decisions I made. Like when I Force Persuaded Zaalbar to murder Mission, just because this 14-year old girl character's voice was getting on my nerves. Mission has been something of a Marmite character for everyone who's played the game over the last decade, but that's only because the scriptwriters and Cat Taber did such an excellent job at bringing this adolescent street urchin to life. I fired up the game last night, and within an hour I'd blackmailed a doctor helping out the poor and the helpless into giving me all of the money he had, and bounty killing a woman who's only crime was resisting the drunken advances of a would-be rapist.
Then again, two simple words made all of that manageable: Force Storm.Click here to read more...
When I hark down memory lane to consider the next BFTP addition, there are a few things that run through my mind. There are a plethora of little titbits of games gone by that flood me with waves of nostalgia. These could be a particular section of a game that was unique, the characters or comedy within the game, or indeed the recalling of memories of when I was younger and playing said games – either alone or with friends and family. It is unusual for a game’s music to play so heavily on a fondness for a game, but for me that is one of the things that separates out Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon from other games. And with it celebrating 15 years since its EU release this week, it felt like the right time to highlight to the masses a game that not only had very good, unique music, but was a game that was as mad as a box of frogs as well.
Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon was a 3D platformer / adventure game that was an N64 exclusive way back in 1998. The central protagonist was the titular Goemon, a lad from Zazen Town, who with his friend Ebisumaru set out on an adventure to stop the Peach Mountain Shoguns from travelling across Japan and turning it into some gaudy array of theatres and stages on which they can perform. Throughout the game, they will meet fellow companions Yae – a female ninja – and Sasuke – a mechanical ninja robot – who will join them on their quest. They can even summon the giant robot Impact (who comes complete with his own camp theme tune) to battle against giant bosses. Think of a cross over between 1990s TV series Power Rangers and the Rig fight scenes in the Lost Planet series and you won’t be far from the mark. So yes, completely bonkers.
The source of the craziness is born from the fact that this game is so overtly Japanese, and that’s not just because the story itself is set in the Land of the Rising Sun. The quirky fun that is so often represented in Japanese gaming culture is here in spades, and you just can’t help but fall in love with it. And the quirkiness extends not just in the random and fun nature of the story and characters but in the humour of the game as well. For example the entire point of the game is to prevent Japan from becoming a giant stage, but the game counters this by putting in canned audience laughter after character punch-lines, and cheers at the end of particular series of dialogues between key characters – as though the game itself is one big theatrical performance.Click here to read more...
There are lots of reasons why I love doing these BFTP articles, but one of the main ones is that I get the chance to take a look back at some great games that simply wouldn’t be made today. Imagine the following marketing pitch if you will:
Dev “So we’ve got this great new game idea, it involves 3 Vikings who get kidnapped by an alien”
Marketing “Vikings kidnapped by an alien?”
Dev “Yes, in his UFO”
Marketing “Er, why?”
Dev “Because the alien is looking to create an inter-galactic zoo”
Marketing “Get out!”
Thankfully for me and you, The Lost Vikings wasn’t made in today’s environment where games had to make sense. It was made back in 1992 by Developers Silicon and Synapse (who would later become Blizzard) and focussed much more on clever puzzles and its distinct brand of wacky humour – hence the intergalactic zoo.Click here to read more...
Year of Release: 1992
Original Platform(s) of Release: PC (DOS)
Due to the Easter bank holiday – and me contracting this national lurgy that’s going round – you may have noticed last week I was usurped from regular BFTP article by the loveable trio of Matt, Jon and Carl. Given Disney’s decision to close LucasArts, they mused on their favourite LucasArts games of years gone by. Luckily I’m here this week to show them all how wrong they were. In fairness to Jon, he gave this game an honourable mention, but I’m here to give it its very own BFTP, and that game is the hilarious Day of the Tentacle.
DOTT was released in 1993 as a sequel to the 1987 Commodore 64 game Maniac Mansion – which saw you play as Dave Miller in an attempt to rescue your girlfriend from the clutches of an evil scientist with the help of your friends. In that game you could select 2 friends to join you from a group of 6 – Scooby Doo style. In DOTT, you play as one of those friends – Bernard Bernouilli – but this time your 2 companions are fixed for the entire adventure, and comprise of a slightly disturbed medical student called Laverne and wannabe rocker Hoagie.
The game starts with us discovering that chemical waste is spewing from Dr Ed’s laboratory. This waste cause Purple Tentacle (One of the two tentacles created as experiments in the original game) to grow a pair of arms, and have a heightened intelligence. So naturally he now has dreams of world domination – we’ve all been there. His kinder-natured counterpart – Green Tentacle – fears what Purple might do, so enlists the help of Bernard and his friends to stop him. When they arrive, the plan of action is to time travel to the previous day (using Dr Ed’s latest time travelling machine that uses a crystal and three suspect looking porta-loos) and turn off the chemical waste before Purple got infected – hence preventing any possible world domination.Click here to read more...
So LucasArts is no more. But let's be honest, will anyone really notice? In recent years, the studio once held in the highest of esteem for pioneering a golden age of adventure games, and (dare we say it) superlative licensed titles, has become a byword for everything wrong with the industry - once dominant hive of creativity laid low by quick-buck sequels, haemorrhaging talent, and shameless greed from the parent company overlords. We've had barely a peep out of the in-house development team in years, with a hands-off presentation of Star Wars 1313 last year and a vague leak surrounding Star Wars: First Assault the only hint of life behind those closed doors.
With that in mind, there's perhaps not much to lament with the news that Disney has called time on LucasArts' existence. However, to borrow the words of High Fidelity's Barry, is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great studio for their latter day sins?
Of course not. And those sins are the reason LucasArts is now defunct. But we should take a moment to remember some of the greatness that has borne the Gold Guy logo, and recall a time long ago, when LucasArts was synonymous with awesomeness...
I think of LucasArts and I think of two very separate things: Star Wars and adventure games. The former is a given, and remember this was back in the days when licensed games didn't have to suck as a rule. As a studio, they nailed wish fulfilment. We wanted to be crack pilots in the battle between the Rebels and the Empire, and the X-Wing series provided. We wanted to be a smuggler and a Jedi, and stepping into the boots of Kyle Katarn gave us that opportunity too. Dark Forces was my very first FPS, and I loved it. When LucasArts handed their license over in these early days, too, collaborations gave us Jedi Knight and KOTOR.Click here to read more...
I heard on the grapevine that a half-decent FPS called Bioshock Infinite was released this week. And with said game being set in a city stuffed full of socio-political commentary, I thought the perfect tonic for this week’s BFTP would be a game that took the premise of serious political issues, and then rammed it full of satire and humour. Plus it seems outrageous that in the archives of BFTP history we have yet to mention one of the most famous early adventure game franchises. So to both those ends, ladies and gentlemen I present to you Zork: Grand Inquisitor.
Zork: Grand Inquisitor joins the franchise very late in its life when it was released in 1997 for PC. Way back in 1980 a quartet of MIT graduates designed and published the first Zork game under the Infocom name. The original Zork game was a text-based adventure game, and was made as a trilogy of games, with each one leading directly onto the next. For those who have not experienced the game, it is possible to play it in Call of Duty: Black Ops – just break out of the chair on the menu screen, and type in “Zork” into the computer screen and you’re all set.
But random information and stray trophies / achievements aside, we’re here to talk about a later game in the series. 17 years after the original Zork, Grand Inquisitor would see you take on the role of “AFGNCAAP” (Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally Ambiguous Adventure Person) as you delve into the depths of the Great Underground Empire, and with the help of Dalboz the Dungeon Master (unfortunately imprisoned inside a lantern) you will collect 3 legendary artifacts that will overthrow Mir “I am the boss of you!” Yannick – AKA The Grand Inquisitor.Click here to read more...
Matt relived some of his favourite FPS multiplayer maps earlier in the week, and his list contained a lot of the normal movers and shakers on the FPS scene that you would expect. But it got me thinking about FPS titles that often don’t get as much attention, which brings me nicely to this week’s BFTP – Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. Introduced to the gaming world via the Nintendo 64, Turok the character (and original protagonist) actually started out in comics as far back as the 1950s, but didn’t grace the console scene until Turok: Dinosaur Hunter in 1997. That game received positive reviews, and quickly resulted in a sequel appearing a year later – Turok 2: Seeds of Evil.
But what became apparent very quickly, was that this wasn’t just a quick reboot to cash in on an emerging successful franchise. - Turok 2 planned on bringing much more to the party.
The premise of the game is you play as the “Turok” – the one charged with maintaining the balance of the Lost Lands – attempting to overcome the threat of The Primagen, a creature which is sealed inside a space craft by numerous Energy Totems. Turok’s task is to clear out the enemies that the Primagen has sent to destroy the Totems, and then slay the Primagen itself to rid the world of evil. He is helped along this path by a woman named Adon who serves as a guide, and provides an introduction and the objectives required for each of the game’s levels. Adon herself does not affect the gameplay directly but exists in the game’s hub area in between each of the levels, leaving Turok as a lone gun against the hordes of enemies.Click here to read more...
Julian Gollop is probably most recognised in recent years for his work on the XCOM series of video games. But when it was announced late last year, that Gollop was working on a new game called “Chaos Reborn”, the industry got it’s heart in a bit of a flutter. Excitement across social media and news articles must have looked odd to those wondering why people cared about a sequel to a game launched on the ZX Spectrum over 25 years ago. That game was Chaos: Battle of the Wizards – or simply Chaos, if you’re down with the kids of the 80s.
Chaos was an early turn-based strategy game, where you took on the role of a wizard, who would compete in a duel to the death with up to 7 opponents, with the aim of being the last one left at the end of the carnage. These duels of 2-8 wizards could consists of any combination of human and AI controlled opponents, and you had the option before each bout of stating how strong you wanted your AI opponents (if any) to be.
Well a wizard wouldn’t be worth his pointy hat if he didn’t have a wealth of powerful spells at his disposal, and the wizards in Chaos were no exception. Each wizard’s selection of spells –different for each duel – provided the games main premise. All wizards involved in the duel started at pre-set places on the “board” and can cast a spell once a turn. The majority of spells are creatures that fight for your wizard – against other wizards and their creatures – and what made this game so fun was that no two creatures were the same.Click here to read more...
With one of the marketable points of Nintendo’s WiiU system being it’s asymmetrical gaming that can include up to 5 players, it got me thinking about the first time console gaming allowed for up to 5 players at a time. It may come as a surprise to some of you younger ragamuffins but back in 1993, console gaming was very much a single or two player experience. It was you and a carefully selected friend (or in some infuriating cases, a family member) against the gaming world.
So when the lovely people at Hudson Soft were developing a console sequel in their Bomberman series (the original Bomberman first released on the ZX Spectrum in 1983 under the pseudonym ‘Eric and the Floaters’), it was a good thing they were thinking outside the box. Their vision for Super Bomberman was to have up to 4 people involved in the multiplayer at one time. So along with the game, came a piece of kit that they also developed, call the Super Multitap – that would plug into Port 2 of your SNES and allow for a further 4 players to play, assuming you had enough controllers and the game supported it.Click here to read more...
Last week’s Valentine’s Day look at gaming’s most romantic moments saw me reminisce about a very poignant moment in a lesser-known Action RPG title on the SNES. That game was Illusion of Time (Illusion of Gaia in Japan and the US). Developed by Quintet, the game sees you take control of a young boy named Will who lives in the small village of South Cape with his friends Lance, Erik and Seth. Will finds out he must save the world from a comet that is due to crash into the ‘Earth’.
The reason for the inverted commas is that the world in which Will traverses is very similar to our own. In fact, the game itself feels like a brief introduction to the ancient wonders of the world. You will be traversing the Nazca Plains, Angkor Wat, Incan Ruins, the Great Wall of China; even the Great Pyramids and the Tower of Babel make an appearance. It’s definitely fair to say that this game played a small part in my passion for ancient history, and there are places on the above list that I will have to visit before I die.Click here to read more...
Aliens: Colonial Marines has finally stumbled out of its torturous development cycle, and without putting too fine a point on it, we're in for some chop. SEGA sadly didn't give us an advance review copy this time around, though considering the savage critical beating it's currently receiving from our peers, I use the word "sadly" in the most general and academic way possible. Aliens fans seem to have received short shrift yet again, this generation providing us with little of merit save a surprisingly decent DS platformer.
It's genuinely depressing, doubly so because we know that the rich Aliens universe can make for truly exceptional videogames. It's high time that we cast our Blast From The Past spotlight on one of the very best.
Back in 2001, Monolith were at the height of their powers. Atmospheric shooters were their bread and butter, long before they abandoned the likes of FEAR and Condemned for forgettable downloadable frippery, and they set their considerable skills to good use on a truly superior game. Bringing in lore and inspiration from the Aliens films, comics and even the Predator mythology, Monolith created a title that brought fear and empowerment in equal measure; three games in one that each offered unique gameplay experiences and a respectful take on a sprawling, engaging storyline.
Better yet, the second level started within a hapless human's ribcage... whereupon we fangloriously chomped our way out of his living body as a newborn Chestburster. Oh my. I'm talking, of course, about Aliens vs Predator 2.Click here to read more...
We're having a bit of a JRPG love-in this week in preparation for Ni No Kuni's release tomorrow, so we rather thought that for this week's BFTP we'd dig up one of the grand-daddies of the genre - a game to which pretty much every JRPG from 1987 onwards owes an enormous debt. A game called Dragon Quest.
Dragon Quest appeared in 1986, emerging onto the NES at a time when most games required a certain amount of dexterity and swift reactions. RPGs had been around for a little while, but mainly restricted to tabletops, home computers, and generally presented a more action-oriented affair. Epitomised by Nihon Falcom's Dragon Slayer series, which would in turn influence the likes of Ys and The Legend of Zelda, there were a number of titles offering up open-ended gameplay, some incorporated the top-down perspective that would become synonymous with JRPGs (largely thanks to 1988's RPG Maker), we already had stories involving damsels in distress, games and choose-your-own-adventure novels that gave us dialogue choices, a few even showed signs of turn-based tactical battling...but not all of those were video games, and none incorporated all of those features.
None, that is, until Dragon Quest showed up.Click here to read more...
It spread like a virus. First of all it contaminated Japan, and festered like the plague there for two years, until being unleashed upon the wider world, spawning innumerable variations, rip-offs, and wannabes. It evolved even as serious-faced analysts wrote it off as a fad, branching out in tentacular, insidious style, to infect other entertainment industries - toys, games, TV, film. It corrupted and transfixed all who stood before it with the same four word mantra, repeated ad infinitum:
Gotta catch 'em all.
I remember a kid at school who wept when it became apparent that his sparkling Charizard Pokemon card had been carried away by thieving hands, and I recall the playground uproar that bubbled over the surface as Pokemon cards, Game Boys, and trading - just as Tamagotchis, Pogs and yo-yos before them - were banned.
An enormous Nintendo fanboy at the time, not to mention a subscribed to ONM, the need to get involved was burned into my brain even before the first round of games releases. My sister had Red, and I had Blue. An enormous turtle with cannons built into its shell? Yes please.Click here to read more...
Before the time where LucasArts were desperately trying to shove Starkiller down everybody’s throats, they used to be a developer who made genre-defining games of unquestionable quality. Your Monkey Islands, your Grim Fandangos, your Tie Fighters, and your Jedi Knights get a fair bit of recognition even to this day, but one title still stands up as one of the finest First Person Shooters ever made, and that is Outlaws.
Sure, I’m something of a sucker for anything of Wild West inspiration, but Outlaws was something special that captured my attention when I first played its demo. Featuring a charming hand-drawn art style in both its animated cutscenes and in-game engine (the same one used for Dark Forces), Outlaws told the story of former US Marshall James Anderson as he rides across the Old West on a quest to save his daughter from an the clutches of villainous railroad tycoon. Fighting his way through huge numbers of outlaws and taking down a cast of devious henchmen (one of which was played by John De Lancie, I learned recently) it was one of the first games to use the Wild West as a setting, and is arguably still one of the best uses to this day.Click here to read more...
As LittleBigPlanet Karting has recently emerged, finally providing a mascot-backed karter for the current generation of Sony fans, we thought it'd be nice to look back on another game that tried to deliver a Mario Kart rival for a platform not owned by Nintendo.
Released in 1994 by Beavis Soft and Apogee, Wacky Wheels was supposed to be the PC's answer to Super Mario Kart. Of course you don't go up against the champion without some serious firepower, so Beavis Soft brought a comprehensively packed karter to the table, combined with a shareware model that often proved too enticing to pass up.
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Watching someone play Carmageddon for the first time at EGX (admittedly on iOS), it was incredibly satisfying bearing witness to the realisation that it's not your average racing game. Their first few checkpoints were meticulous - carefully driven to ensure they stayed on a good racing line, maximising the top-ups to the ticking clock. Then a monster truck with a drill for a nose came hurtling down the road the wrong way and flattened them. There was lots of swearing, a frustrated attempt to find the track again and get back on course with seconds left on the clock.
And then they realised that running over cows and screaming pedestrians filled up your time as well. After a couple of seconds he was doing sadistic donuts in a field and had smashed a fellow racer to smithereens. He was cackling like a maniac. I had to smile.
You see, that's really what Carmageddon was all about: that split-second of violent wishful thinking that everyone goes through at some point behind the wheel; the blip of road-rage that causes us to attempt reckless overtakes on the motorway, drive like a cock to nip into a space following a junction, and whisper profanities at pedestrians who suddenly walk out from beyond parked vehicles. What better way to soothe and vent our freeway fury than to retire to the PC once home, and engage in some four-wheeled, anarchic mayhem?Click here to read more...
When we think of jaw-dropping graphics squeezing every last bit of power out of the hardware of their particular generations, it's easy to think of the likes of Shadow of the Colossus and FFXII on the PS2 or Donkey Kong 64 or Battlefield 3 or Heavy Rain and so on and so forth. But back in 1989, you needed an Amiga if you wanted to play the best looking games, and there was one publisher in particular who could be relied upon to provide gamers with a retina-popping spectacle.
That publisher was Psygnosis, and perhaps their greatest early triumph came in the form of Reflections Interactive's Shadow of the Beast.
As Jon will no doubt talk about in greater depth in this weekend's Why We Love..., Psygnosis' formation was geared towards helping the best indie games out there find a home at retail. Remember, this was a time long before Steam, the PSN, or Xbox LIVE, when games were still very much a niche part of the entertainment sector rather than the industrial cultural powerhouse it is today. Marketing was everything: you had to make your game pop on the shelf, and you had to fill the box with interesting materials.Click here to read more...