DECEMBER 06

05

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Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories or Glorious Return?

edit.
The games industry seems to come alive at this time of year and 2006 has been no exception. We’ve been treated to two console launches in the past couple of months, unless you’re from Europe that is, because we love to wait another 4 months and get charged twice as much. We did get the Wii just in time for Christmas though so it’s not all doom and gloom. As for the Wii launch, it wasn’t bad as far as launches go. There was the usual disappointment for a few people concerning the availability of consoles and the launch titles were far from impressive but this is something we’ve come to expect from console launches. 2007 should be an interesting year for the big three and with all this competition for our hard earned cash, it should certainly be a very good year for us gamers as well. Tom Bennett tom@playd.co.uk Editor

contents

PREVIEWS 09 Alan Wake (360) 11 Far Cry Vengeance (Wii) 12 Lair (PS3) 14 Supreme Commander (PC) 16 Too Human (360) FEATURES 18 Girls in the Game? 23 Collection Builder REVIEWS 28 Archlord (PC) 30 Blade Dancer Lineage of Light (PSP) 32 Defcon (PC) 34 Disgaea (PS2) 37 Family Guy (Multi) 38 Gears of War (360) 40 Gitaroo Man Lives! (PSP) 42 King Of Fighters Neowave (PS2) 43 Mercury Meltdown Remix (PS2) 44 Need For Speed Carbon (Multi) 47 Okami (PS2) 50 Starfox Command (DS) 52 Why don’t you own... Deus Ex? (PC) 55 The Vault... Advent Rising (Xbox) REPLAYD 60 Magic Carpet (Multi) 62 Breath of Fire IV (PSone) 65 Turtles in Time (SNES) 68 Silent Hill (PSone) 72 A Breed Apart - Team17

staff
Editor Tom Bennett
tom@playd.co.uk

vacancies
Due to expansion, we are currently looking for people to fill a number of positions here at playd. Replayd Editor - must possess a deep knowledge of and enthusiastic about the retro scene as well as possessing a high degree of writing skill. Must also be able to make deadlines and co-ordinate the replayd section of the magazine with our other writers and the Art Editor. General Writers - must be familiar with and enthusiastic about videogames culture. It is crucial that you are able to make deadlines. Technical ability and a high degree of accuracy with regard to spelling and grammar is a must, as is the ability to understand and take on board feedback and criticism of your work. How to apply - to apply for any of the above positions send an email to tom@playd.co.uk and tell us why you think you should be considered for the position and what sets you apart from the opposition. For all positions, please include a 1,200 word review or article on any subject (as long as it’s game-related, naturally). All positions are currently voluntary. Designer/Illustrator - must be able to work to a high standard and meet deadlines. The ability to work with a distinctive style on a variety of themes with equal enthusiasm would be welcomed. How to apply - to apply for the above position send an email to james@playd.co.uk attaching relevant examples of your work in jpg or pdf format. This position is currently voluntary.

Art Editor James Cooper News Editor Chris Waring Staff Writer Sean Bonner Staff Writer Emily Knox

james@playd.co.uk

chris@playd.co.uk

sean@playd.co.uk

emily@playd.co.uk

Contributor Yussry Houson

All text and layout is the copyright of Playd Magazine. Nothing in this publication may be reproduced in whole or part without the written permission of the Editor. All copyrights are recognised and usd specifically for the purpose of criticism and review. If we have failed to acknowledge your copyright, please contact us so that we can remedy the situation. Although we have endeavoured to ensure all information is correct at the time of publication, prices and availability may change. Playd is fully independent and in no way affiliated with any companies mentioned herein.

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Due to circumstance beyond our control, part two of our ‘Dreamcast’ feature will appear in the next issue of Playd. We apologise for any gnashing of teeth this may cause.
6 December 06

at the forum
We’ve teamed up with www.nowloading.co.uk, a haven for gamers, to bring you the latest musings on the world of videogames. This month’s chosen topic, the fifth anniversary of the original xbox...
Jusatsushi: I picked up the £200 pack that came with JSR, Sega GT and bought Halo too... I remember playing Halo for the first time and landing on the planet... OMFG I can see individual blades of grass! The machine packed a hell of a punch and to be honest still does when you see it pushed (Strangers Wrath/Splinter Cell). Never took it online though, but it was worth buying just for KOTOR, Jade Empire and SW... Smurph: A little known game that doesn’t get the credit but was an amazing game for mates round the TV was Kung Fu Chaos. Hilarious. Plus, link up Halo was brilliant too. And like Xeph, I was a fan of Otogi. Panzer Dragoon Orta! How I miss thee! MS, get it backwards compatible now! And I also loved their answer to Wipeout, Quantum Redshift. Pedro: Funnily enough, I bought mine after the 360 was released. Was an ebay purchase, and a good one. I basically joined it for the Live shenanigans- and they’ve lived up to every utopian promise. I managed to get a fair few games for it too, inbetween january and End of May- I managed to stir up some old classics, Halo, Crimson skies (still have, still would like to play at some point soon). Porky Lent me a few aces as well, and it was marvellous (I Still Have them, BTW, when do you want them back?). It did die a little early to be honest, but c’est la vie. Xephon: One of the reasons I waited to get an Xbox was to play games I couldn’t get anywhere else. Early on, there were too many PS2 ports for my liking (some better, some not so good). But I wanted games that were designed for the Xbox, only for the Xbox. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Otogi. That was it. I wanted one. TwinHype: I got one at launch and funnily enough split up with my girlfriend of 4 years the night before so I took some time off work because of ‘personal issues’ - of course everyone new at work about the split and were very supportive but what they didn’t know was my recuperation over the next 2 (yes 2) weeks was a shit load of Halo and Oddworld!! Hurrah. Some quality quite time with a brand new console, and your family bringing you pizza because they’re worried about you (suckers) what more can you ask for. redman: I got mine very late, November 2004 and got Halo 1 and 2. Loved and played through both, with Outrun 2 they were my faves. However the absolute best thing about the box was LIVE. Truely awsome. I got a mad thrill out of even hearing the voices for the first time: Japanese ones playing Outrun 2. Quite a few all night sessions with Halo 2 followed. Happy days.
7 June 06

previews

09 11 12 14 16

Alan Wake (360) Far Cry Vengeance (Wii) Lair (PS3) Supreme Commander (PC) Too Human (360)

PREVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: Microsoft • Developer: Remedy • Available: TBA • Systems: 360 / PC

Alan Wake
The future of survival horror is called Alan. How odd...

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urvival horror has come a long way. From the tight, austere and horribly tense rooms of Alone in The Dark and Resident Evil’s mansions to vicious energy of Resident Evil 4 and the dank, sprawling hell of Silent Hill, Condemned and Dead Rising, it’s a genre that seems to be constantly reinventing itself. It’s easy to see why. After all, once you’ve experienced a scare in a game, it’s almost impossible for the same thing to scare you again (dogs bursting through windows aside). Therefore, Remedy are promising another redirection with their latest title, Alan Wake. The player assumes the role of Alan - a best-selling

suspense author - as he flees to a small town to recover from the disappearance of his fiancée. The small town in question is ‘Bright Falls’ in Washington, and it seems that it has been horribly misnamed. Never has a town appeared less bright. As you delve deeper into the mysterious happenings in the town, it becomes clear there is something really very wrong. Horrid creatures, an intense psychological plot and a massive openworld environment have all been promised as Remedy attempt to make Alan Wake the next ‘big thing’ in survival horror. However, just two elements in particular have really caught our imagination. Firstly, the light engine. It’s looking quite splendid, and extremely realistic. But this is no mere window dressing (even if it is stunning), Remedy are claiming that light is your greatest ally and weapon as you progress. As the game progresses days get shorter and nights get longer, forcing the player to seriously think about how they use their light sources and

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conventional weapons - especially as your enemies seem to gain strength from the shadows. If this is implemented well, and not just an ‘inverse-Splinter Cell’ gimmick, this could lend itself very well to the visceral shock and panic that this genre always seeks to inflict upon its victims. Who can forget the horrors of half-seen enemies in Silent Hill or the sudden, vicious attacks from complete darkness in Condemned? The second factor that has piqued our interest is the promise of an “Episodic Narrative”. Developers have for some time been looking to free us from the shackles of a traditional level structure by giving us open-worlds to play in. However, the resulting wealth of choice and dearth of direction is not really suitable to the survival horror genre - a genre that, almost more than any other, relies on a strong story and progressive element to drive the player further into a world that he doesn’t really want to see. As the story progresses, apparently in a similar way to a dramatic television series, new abilities, gameplay elements and characters become available, hopefully providing the player with both choice of how to play and narrative direction. There’s no doubt that it’ll be a difficult balancing act, but if Remedy can pull it off then the signs are they could have a real hit on their hands. We can’t wait to help our hero explore the dark recesses of Bright Falls. Even if he is called ‘Alan’.

“the resulting wealth of choice and dearth of direction is not really suitable to the survival horror genre - a genre that, almost more than any other, relies on a strong story”

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December 06

PREVIEW
by Sean Bonner
Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: In-House • Available: Q1 ‘07 • Systems: Wii

Far Cry Vengeance
Will it be a far cry from it’s predecessors?
ue to be released in America on December 12th, Far Cry: Vengeance looks set to be one of the more interesting titles available for the Wii. Although it will essentially be an enhanced remake of the Xbox version, it is the Wii remote’s unique control system that sets it apart from its older brother. There will be three new maps available to play on, which have also been included in the single player storyline. There will also be new weapons and a handful of new vehicles for you to play with. Jack Carver, the game’s main character, isn’t looking at his best however, from the videos and screenshots released so far, his arms look equivalent to those in the allconquering online multiplayer game Counter Strike. Hopefully this can be rectified before release, although it’s not a major issue. Nevertheless, as stated before, it will be how the game handles that will make or break it. What’s the point in buying a new game that is identical to the one that came before it, except for a few new weapons and levels? As with all games for the Wii, it will be the unique control system that will be the main selling point. For example, when players are dual wielding weapons the Wii remote and the nunchuk allow them to have greater control over your ammo usage,

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by separately firing each one. Also, it will allow greater control over when reloading. No longer will players have to reload both weapons at the same time and be caught standing in the crossfire being shot to high heaven by every nearby enemy. As of yet there is no option to aim each one independently, with both weapons using the same crosshair. Independent aiming is on the wish list, but with the release date looming, there may not be the time to implement it. Another feature of the game that may be enhanced by the Wii remote is the vehicles. With a wide range available, from boats to jeeps and everything in between, it opens up a whole new method of play. Independently aiming your gun with the Wii remote while driving the car with the nunchuk is one option. Given that the Wii remote is a new concept though, will people be able to pick up and play like Nintendo has aimed for with its other games? Will this version of what is, essentially, an Xbox game be worth forking out £40 for? There will be other original games available that may deserve your attention first, but hopefully it will be worth a look. Keep your eye on this one as it has the potential to be one of the better Wii games.

5 Visually, Vengeance is looking quite basic, certainly nowhere near the Xbox version.

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December 06

PREVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: SCEA • Developer: Factor 5 • Available: TBA • Systems: PS3

Lair
Fiery death from above. Oh, the joy.
As anyone that knows us will readily tell you, we’re big fans of dragons. Leathery, flying, giant scaly beasts with napalm-breath and the strength of a small army are inherently great video game characters. Even when the game in which they appear is weak, dragons are rarely less than exhilarating (barring Spyro, naturally). It’s with trembling hands, crossed fingers and quaking breath then that we introduce Factor 5’s launch title for the PS3 - Lair. At it’s most basic, Lair comes across as a cross between Factor 5’s ‘Rebel Assault’ series and ‘Dynasty Warriors’. To say that, however, is to do the game a great disservice. Lair is ripe with potential. Promising to put you in control of a dragonrider whose steed is trained for aerial and land-based warfare, Lair tasks you with taking on armies of hundreds, thousands even, with nothing but your sword. Oh yes, and the small matter of a two-hundred ton, armoured behemoth with breath like a sun-flare and claws that could reduce the number 9 from Exeter to component parts in a matter of seconds. Excellent.

“the small matter of a two-hundred ton, armoured behemoth”
The biggest problem with dragons is conveying an appropriate sense of weight. We are, after all, dealing with a creature the size of a whale that the laws of physics say can’t exist (power to weight ratio and all that). Can Factor 5
5 Fulfill all your ‘Nazgul on the Pelennor Fields’ fantasies. Or maybe that’s just us...

5 The feeling of weight is crucial to the game’s success. Hopefully it’ll be implemented well.
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5 Dragons fighting dragons, miles up in the air. We fail to see how this is not ‘A Very Good Thing’.

convince us that we’re really in control of a couple of hundred tons of viciousness? To be honest, we’re not sure. The biggest problem comes from the game’s ‘big sell’ - the fact that it utilises the PS3 controller’s recently announced motion control system. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be conveying the sense of weight and inertia that you would expect. Granted, it’s not an easy thing to get right - you want the feeling of mass and power without having to fight to turn the thing mid-air - but we can’t help worrying that the finished effect will be more eagle than giant war-lizard.

“visceral gameplay”. All of which can’t be a bad thing - even if they only manage to come through with half of them. One thing we can certainly say is that Lair is looking splendid, easily as good as the early renders suggested, yet in real-time. Models are extremely well rendered, the draw distance is vast and the proliferation of next-gen effects such as HDR, bumpmapping and a myriad other effects, have given Lair a strong, consistent and well-developed art style. Frankly, if the frame-rate can be kept consistent and the physics model doesn’t let the side down, we can see Lair being one of our favourite early PS3 titles. We’ve already pencilled it in on our shopping list for next spring, and we think you should too.

“huge ground campaigns against armies of opponents”
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Nevertheless, we are promised huge ground campaigns against armies of opponents, epic air-battles against other dragonriders and a “deep storyline” with

December 06

PREVIEW
by Sean Bonner
Publisher: THQ • Developer: Gas Powered Games • Available: 2007 • Systems: PC

Supreme Commander
Crush your enemies with giant spider mechs. Excellent.

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rom the guys that brought you Total Annihilation comes a whole now type of Real Time Strategy game. Chris Taylor, one of the masterminds behind one of the most popular games of all time, finally returns to the RTS genre with what is being hailed as the ‘spiritual successor’ to Total Annihilation. At its core, Supreme Commander promises to be epic with maps up to (and over) six thousand square kilometres in size. That’s more than twice the size of Luxembourg. Yes that’s right, some maps will be twice the size of a country. But why so big, is it really necessary? Well, the idea is to give players a feel for war. Previous RTS games have pitted two adversaries with a base against each other, eventually culminating in a large all-out battle to decide who emerges victorious. It is here that Supreme Commander’s similarity with conventional RTS titles ends. Supreme Commander is set in the future and sees the human race split into three warring factions, the United Earth Federation, the Cybran and the Aeon. The UEF are regular humans armed with all manner of futuristic weapons, the Cybran are humans with microchips implanted in them and mainly use mech type vehicles, and finally there is the Aeon, who after adopting alien technology, believe they have to cleanse the world of the other two races. While

each race is human, we are promised that they will all have a completely different feel to them. However, having three different races is pretty standard and it is how these races actually fight it out that is truly different. Taylor finds other RTS games lacking in that they don’t give a proper feel of the battle, their scale is too small.

Here Taylor aims to change things for the better with epically large maps. With the maps being so vast, there will be a number of battles taking place, all at the same time. Supreme Commander is all about distance and time. For example, in a naval engagement, where numerous battleships and destroyer are fighting it out against an enemy force,

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when zoomed out you can see the whole battle, but when you zoom in to a particular ship, players can’t see the enemy due to the distances involved. Players do get a real sense of scale, especially when it is realised that this battle is taking place on a remote part of the map. In fact players could have many large-scale engagements and still have plenty of room to manoeuvre their troops. As expected though, the standard RTS gameplay elements will be present, for instance players will need to build a base to supply and construct your armies. However, there are some differences. If you order a couple of different troops to converge on the same target, they will automatically adjust their

“Who doesn’t want to see their fleet... sprout legs and walk inland?”
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speed to ensure they arrive at the same time. This a unique feature to Supreme Commander as users will no longer have to rally your troops at a certain point and then send them to battle all at the same time. Additionally, attacks can be launched quickly and easily from different sides at the same time. This is not the only new feature in Supreme Commander. Due to the large scale of most of the maps, it will be difficult and time consuming to scroll around to different sections of the map as you would in other RTS games. To combat this, players can use dual screens, using one to display a zoomed out view of the whole battlefield and the other to zoom up close, directing your troops personally. But, if you’re not lucky enough to have an extra monitor, then you can split one screen into two and use each side asif it were a separate screen. It’s a pretty handy addition and could come in very useful when trying to co-ordinate an attack on the enemy. Overall Supreme Commander is looking very promising and from what we’ve seen so far, we are getting quite excited about this one. Who doesn’t want to see their fleet of destroyers saunter up to the coast, sprout legs and walk inland to join another battle? However, one of the most striking aspects of this game is the sheer scale of it. No RTS has ever attempted this epic scale before and if Gas Powered Games can pull it off, then they’re onto a winner. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

December 06

PREVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: Microsoft • Developer: Silicon Knights • Available: TBA • Systems: 360

Too Human
Too ambitious?

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ake the award-winning developers of Eternal Darkness, add a next-gen system, the Unreal Engine 3, a sci-fi setting and a sweeping, epic storyline to be told over a trilogy, and what do you get? You should arrive at something like ‘Too Human’, a terrifically ambitious project from the Canadian development studio. The player must step into the shoes of Baldur, a cybernetic god charged with protecting the human race, who are on the verge of being wiped out by an assault from ancient machine forces (if anyone says “Matrix”, there’ll be trouble). Too Human’s real selling point is the fluidity of the combat. Combining melee and ranged firearm combat into unique combo strings and complex moves that

drag any enemies within reach - and some in the distance - into the fray, it’s currently looking like the hybrid offspring of God of War and Devil May Cry, but with the art direction and realised world of Warhammer 40,000. That’s no bad thing, especially when the developer is promising “fluid grace of heroes and enemies in battle”. In fact, Silicon Knights are promising that the combat system will be so complex and deep that with “the press of a button” the player will be able to “chain together hundreds of rapid-fire attacks and combos with ease”. Could this really be possible? Can we really expect an action-title with the tactical

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depth and move-set of a 2D fighter like Street Fighter 3? We doubt it, we’re far more convinced that Too Human will fall firmly into God of War territory. Of course, that would be a very good thing anyway, and a real feather in Microsoft’s cap as the 360 doesn’t really have an exclusive action-IP to directly rival either of Sony’s heavy hitters yet. As you would expect of any title that uses the Unreal Engine 3, Too Human is looking technically very accomplished, with a unique style that seems neither traditional sci-fi nor fantasy. It’s certainly refreshing to see a developer making a break from the ‘gothic-noir’ or ‘space marine’ staples that have for too long saturated the action genre.

NEXT-GEN GOODIES
As well as the splendid visual treatment, Too Human will benefit from a number of other ‘next-gen- features. We’re told that the final game will feature “pulse-pounding battles against hundreds of on-screen enemies”; a sweeping orchestral score, motion-capture by the acclaimed group F.A.S.T. and fourplayer online co-op gameplay through Xbox Live. Four player online co-op? Now that really does sound special...

Microsoft and Silicon Knights clearly have very high hopes for Too Human - they have already announced that it is the first part in an intended trilogy. This is certainly a brave move, if the game is a huge success - a la God of War - then all the hype and pre-amble can be judged entirely worthwhile. If, however, it turns out to be just another action game, then they are left in the sticky situation of having a game on their hands that they have promised two sequels for, yet may not be financially viable. It’s too early to call at the moment, but we’re confident that the bones of an excellent game are there. Once we’ve been able to get a real ‘hands-on’ we’ll have a better idea of Too Human’s potential, until then we’ll file this one under “promising”.

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G

Girls

in the Game?
by Emily Knox
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irls in the currently male-dominated games industry has become a subject that one should approach carefully today. I cannot count the number of guesses and ideas have been put forward about why the games industry has always tended to have a male focus. Does it genuinely have anything to do with most characters being male? Is it the typical shoot ‘em up, beat ‘em up, destructive car crashing, racing and sports games that puts females off from the beginning? I’m sure we’ve all read articles, opinions and comments that finish off without coming to any useful, factual conclusion and although the number of women connected to video games may have no baring on your virtual hobby, women still have a presence; be it within the production of a game, the sexually provocative and argued-over Booth Babes, the girls who go about their own hobby or those placed within the public spotlight. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) states that 38% of gamers in America are female, which is a fairly large proportion to what you might predict. Perhaps more surprisingly, when it comes to online gaming the difference between male and female participants is even closer, despite the unnecessary abuse some women claim to receive from, what has to be said, a minority of males who cannot grasp the concept of woman plus computer game. Another interesting statistic is that women over 18 make up 30% of the game playing population, while boys aged 17 or younger are just 23%. It’s not a new fact to all of us that the socially inept, spotty male teenager stereotype is wholly inaccurate. In reality, the average age of a gamer is 33, and he spends triple the

amount of time playing sport, following creative endeavours, volunteering in the community or doing religious activities, than he does gaming. Go back to an early Christmas, or childhood birthday, and you can bet that most of today’s gamers began their hobby from an innocent video game console bought as a present. Calling on my own experiences, I vividly remember swapping Game Boy games with my female group of friends, but today I wouldn’t think of it. As I grew up, I discovered gaming became a kind of social taboo for girls. Video games were never marketed towards women, and I felt like I was supposed to be “weaned” off them to become ordinary for my gender (evidently, I was not), so, can marketing and the pressures of society be the factors that cause most girls to either ditch gaming, or never dip into it at all? Vixen, part of an independent female gaming duo “VersuS”, seems to agree. “As I was growing up I often felt ashamed to admit my hobby but it does not mean that I wasn’t into video games. I kept it quiet even though I have been playing pretty much all platforms since the age of about six years old.” Vixen certainly isn’t the only gamer I have come across describing a period where she may segregate herself from her social peers because of the hobby she pursues, which she chooses to continue almost in secret. If this behaviour is true of most female gamers, then a huge amount of women are not accounted for when it comes to the surveys and statistics we see. It is most admirable to find there are infact a large number of female gaming clans and communities available for all girls (and sometimes the boys) to join in with, from the largest all-girl, widely-known
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and competitive PMS group, to the independent and friendly gamer pair that create VersuS. The sheer range of video and computer games available right now, expanded by the arrival of the Nintendo Wii (aimed at people not normally considered gamers) and Playstation 3, surely shows that the so-called lack of female gamers cannot be down to the games themselves. There is a strong selection of the ‘pink and fluffy’ games, The Sims for example is a quality title and evolves some girls into hardcore gamers because of the sheer amount of time they put into creating their Sims, living their own virtual lives and designing their surroundings as they please. Eyetoy on Playstation 2 has provided a wealth of slightly different games, making fun use of waving your arms at a camera, as long as you are happy to endure Sports, ‘Dancing’ or guiding Lemmings. There is an abundance of dancing and karaoke games on Sony’s console, Singstar being a notable example. If that’s too much like hard work, Nintendo’s DS provides instant, pick up and play fun in something simple such as Zoo Keeper, or perhaps more engaging like Nintendogs. Of course, this is merely speculation on what female gamers are imagined to love. It could be completely wrong. Maybe they would rather partake in a violent guns-blazing bloodbath? The problem is that no-one actually knows, because curious females rarely dip into the social pool of gamers that populate game discussion forums and say, “Actually, I would quite like this in a game.”, and when said in the wrong place (or even the right place), girls will be greeted by a flood of comments, one of which cannot resist saying the word ‘boobies’ or a crude request for

‘pics’. Having established that there is in fact a wealth of titles you might consider feminine, everyone knows that the (possibly overused) opposing genres of action, beat ‘em up, FPS, RPG and racing are never hard to come by. In the not too distant future, we will be witnessing the sixth instalment of

“It’s doubtful that Lara will age in the same way as the rest of us.”
Tekken, Final Fantasy XIII, a new Tomb Raider game, a new Rainbow Six outing in Vegas… for some characters and brands, there really is no end. With publishers still keen on securing the fanboy dollar, a saggy-breasted Lara Croft with false teeth, still shooting generic rottweilers and bad guys, while leaping around historic buildings looks highly unlikely, the franchise wouldn’t survive such a drastic change. It’s doubtful that Lara will age in the same way as the rest of us, although it would be nice to imagine she will pass the torch on some day. “It’s a win-win situation – we get a better variety of products, and the industry gets bigger revenues by appealing to this relatively untapped market”, describes Jam from the UK Frag Dolls. There are games of all variety available, and the range only grows wider. This strange, mythical ‘lack’ of variety for female gamers is absurd, maybe the problem, which has tended to be perceived by males, is due to the majority of programmers being male? In 2005, a lecturer for computer games programming at the University of
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Formed with the launch of Xbox Live, the PMS clan (or “Psycho Men Slayerz”) was initially a get together of girl gamers seeking out other girls to play with, partially due to the harassment that female players can receive online. The group also established itself within Playstation 2 online, facing the same problems and also looking for female friends. When the two groups were merged in January 2005, the largest and apparently first all-female gaming clan was born.

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Derby commented that; “Girls do want to play games but no-one is making games for them.” While in that year the computer programming course running at Derby had 106 applicants, all of which were men. Perhaps the only real shortage within the industry is that of women behind the process of creating a game, programming in particular, therefore following with “The industry sees this big untapped market but they don’t know what to do”, does make sense. What is ironic is that the only statements claiming shortages of female gamers and games for women are coming from men and the general consensus is that the women playing the games are in fact suited

recent phenomenon. The forum alone proves the existence of passionate female gamers, not just through the Dolls themselves, but with many other regular female members who use the site, and regarding the usual ratio of males to females on a games discussion forum, this is quite special. Going from the information given, the purpose of the (UK) Frag Dolls is “to promote their (Ubisoft’s) games whilst encouraging anybody and everybody to pick up a pad and play.” It’s a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. No effort is made to hide the fact that Ubisoft sponsors them and although they are paid to promote a product, the girls are dedicated gamers with both

the games laid out before us. The socalled “intense day of deathmatching” involved one friendly match of Halo 2 we played with the US Frag Dolls over Xbox Live. After mulling it over, the pretence over the actual day was quite necessary if Ubisoft wanted gamers to take these girls seriously. “After having a laugh with Bomberman on PS2, drinking coke and eating crisps, while chatting to each other and various magazine editors, we picked these 5 girls”, simply would not work. It’s a shame that the interview day wasn’t what the magazines said, as I fully believe if it was down to the same 15 girls, everyone could have impressed with skills, knowledge and passion in one

“When you look at the creation of a game, women are generally more often found in the role of artwork, or marketing, whereas programming is definitely a male dominated role.”
and satisfied with the games on offer, otherwise they wouldn’t play them in the first place. I am myself in the midst of preparations for a university placement, possibly in the field of programming and I can vouch for the shortage of other girls applying to similar courses. I attended a talk on the computer games programming course at Teesside University and found myself in a large room, entirely of boys and yet I do not consider this a problem, as the novelty of coming across another girl I would merely consider strange and lucky. When you look at the creation of a game, women are generally more often found in the role of artwork, or marketing, whereas programming is definitely a male dominated role. The Frag Doll community is another broad and different tastes in games, not restricted simply to the ones produced or developed by Ubisoft. Having taken part in the recruitment for the UK Frag Dolls myself in ‘05, I paid extreme attention to the goings-on both at the interview day and the way the final selection was received in online communities and magazines OPS2 and OXM. However, the events at the interview day were worded somewhat differently to how I remembered them. The first line in the article in OXM 47 read; “After weeks of interviews, auditions, photo sessions and, of course, hardcore games playing” - which in reality was filling in a prior questionnaire, sending one photo, and writing a small essay, to the interview day, which consisted of being interviewed and casually playing
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game or another, because I do not doubt the genuine gamer in any of them. Abuse and fuss is hurled at the Frag Dolls in all their divisions (especially in America and the UK) for their appearance; some people dislike them both for looking ‘too good’ and being ‘ugly’ at the same time, and arguing that they are merely a marketing ploy. Despite the negativity that has been received, Frag Doll Sarin comments “One of the great things about Frag Dolls is how unintimidated people feel by us. We seem able to game with just about anyone in a pleasant and relaxed way.” On the subject of the Frag Dolls being a strictly all-female team, she continues, “I think it is important that our group is all women to maintain this approachable feeling and welcoming ethos.” While no-one

5 Are character designs like this exploitative, or the sign of strong, sexually aware female leads? We know where our money is...

December 06

denies the girls are most definitely in the PR department of Ubisoft, at least they aren’t dancing around a pole in bikinis, at least they really do play games and most importantly, you can chat to them about games, you can play games online with or against them, and what they look like is not a factor in the close community the Frag Dolls have brought together. On the other hand, it is unlikely you could have a conversation with depth about gaming to a booth babe at any games convention, their role is marketing purely and simply with their face and body, and this is

enough to lure some people into playing a game. This, however, can be strikingly similar to the task of a main female character in a game. Obviously to anyone with sense the quality and playability of a game is integral to its enjoyment, but the reasoning behind such things as Ivy’s bum cheeks on display in Soul Calibur 2, and most other typical fighters with giant breasts, short skirts, and armoured bikini’s is simple. Or, on the other hand, is it a demonstration of the strength behind virtual, beautiful, and powerful women? The entrance

of Prince of Persia’s Shahdee in Warrior Within is a prime example. In the middle of the sea, amidst dark stormy and treacherous weather, she confidently begins the assault on the prince’s ship, whilst blatantly being leered at by her army of minions. Despite the apparent inadequacy of her revealing attire, she goes on to defeat the prince in battle with ease; surely this is a display of the

may be, the case can easily apply to most video game heroes as well as the heroines; they usually have perfectly constructed and admirable bodies, being slender, muscular, handsome and talented in one area or another. Male characters could present man’s ideals of what his perfect model is, while the all the women are constructed to be aesthetically pleasing. It is rare to stumble

“they’re [women] supposedly being portrayed in a sympathetic light... [but] they’re still mostly just being objectified” - Greg Kasavin, Executive Editor of GameSpot
t, uestioned from the star been scrutinised and q although since s Game.com girls have The Watch U WUG’s online gallery, ce of its members in the es more on simply for the appearan ade, and today it focus have been m riting articles. icked off, many changes the site k ed in fan art and w emale members involv stead acts as a creative input form the f to a WUG clan, the site in re do not conform being focused The girls who unite he , with it’s main speciality ll and any female gamers themselves, make gathering point for a gaming issues amongst e opportunity to discuss on giving women th ustry. rn about the gaming ind new friends, and also lea
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strong female character that some claim we need more of. On this subject Greg Kasavin, executive editor of GameSpot comments, “they’re [women] supposedly being portrayed in a sympathetic light or cast as strong, respectable characters, they’re still mostly just being objectified and are presented to suit an adolescent male audience.” However true this

across a genuine Olga, as seen in Metal Gear Solid 2, with tomboyish hair, military attire, and no obvious attempt made to appear dashingly sexy. Women can and continue to suitably play any role within a game, from the innocent hopelessness of Yorda in the tear-jerking Ico, to the enduring strength and near complete independence of
December 06

WOMEN IN GAMES CONFERENCE Voicing the opinions of women since 2004, this is a conference attended by both men and women from all areas of the games industry, to discuss the ways in which women can progress forwards. There is particular focus on the conference being a useful provider of insight for women in the process of developing and researching games. The 2007 conference will take place in April at the University of Wales in Newport, and as with every year, will have a wide range of speakers from different gaming aspects.

Lara Croft. Strong and talented female roles are also prominent throughout the aforementioned Metal Gear series, be it the brainy yet fated Emma Emmerich, or Eva of MGS3 who must endure abuse from Ocelot and Volgin before she can complete her mission. The Boss is also the most obvious female figure of strength, her code name speaks for itself, as does the story being interspersed with her providing experienced musings to all, and regularly laying the smack on Snake. Although it’s typical for films and books to portray women in need of help from a chivalrous male, many well-known video game series provide a strong female character, who can both assist and disrupt the gamers’ line of tasks without needing to be rescued. But therein lies a problem. Most of the strong female roles are unplayable external characters, and although there are games with female leads, these titles are often not up to the sublime quality of God of War, Half Life, Zelda, and other strong titles. Instead the shelves are dogged lacklustre outings such as Alias, Catwoman, Death by Degrees, Haunting Ground, and Rogue Ops, which rely mainly on the popularity and beauty of their female lead to sell a game that leaves a great deal to be desired in the areas that make it fun to play. Namely, quality of the gameplay, with suitable and easy to use controls, a storyline which exists and makes sense, and features that aren’t poorly copied from popular games. Despite the tat that a title using a female lead usually turns out to be, a select number of games have created one successfully. The Silent Hill series had ‘Heather’ as the main protagonist in the third instalment of the game, and at no expense to the twisted, nightmarish world created, which tends to play on
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the gamers mind more so due to the (initial) normality of the character, and the situations beginning in ordinary surroundings; in Heathers’ case, an innocent visit to the mall. Primal, a gaming gem similar to Beyond Good and Evil, is another good example, the main character, Jennifer, does grow in strength, and although assisted by a freely switchable gargoyle, she must ultimately overthrow her male equivalent in battle alone. The future for girls in the gaming industry is bright, open, and becoming increasingly noticed throughout all areas. Girls are being actively encouraged to partake in the creation of games, and provide fresh ideas, and perhaps some more popular titles for the ladies. A fairly recent Nintendo DS Lite advert features a woman playing her DS everywhere throughout her day, an encouraging sign that women are a market that can and is being targeted, and can be more adequately provided for. On the horizon, Heavenly Sword’s Nariko will set the standard for a wave of positive new heroines for the latest console gamers, from a title which looks nothing short of amazing, with Nariko herself hopefully taking centre stage throughout the game. Women are, and probably will always be the minority in the world of video games. While gaming generally grows and reaches out to more people with time, even the minorities will grow. The arrival of the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and one day for the UK, the Playstation 3, with the new capabilities in power and features can only allow the scope of future genres to grow, and this is good news for gamers from all walks of life.

December 06

Collection Builder
latform games have, for many years, been the staple of gamers everywhere. From Super Mario Brothers on the NES to modern genre-benders like Psychonauts, Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, they have enjoyed massive sales success and cultivated a loyal and vocal fanbase along the way.

As if your shelves weren’t already bowing under the weight of gaming goodness, here’s another collection of titles that you really should own. At least you should if you enjoy jumping on turtles and suchlike...

System: SNES Developer: Nintendo Leaps and bounds: HHHHH

SUPER MARIO WORLD

P

Sadly, many developers have moved away from the traditional platform game. The advent of 3D has undoubtedly damaged the genre, for every Mario64 that gets things just right, there are a dozen Vexx’s that barely get anything right. The fact that many movie tieins, especially those aimed at children, take the form of platform games and are almost universally shoddy in execution hasn’t helped things. It’s got to the point where many gamers view platform games as ‘for kids’ and quality titles often get ignored or not taken seriously. Well, here at playd we love our platformers, so without further ado, here’s a list of a few of our favourites. Give them a whirl, you’ll be jumping for joy if you do...

The greatest Mario game ever made? In a word, yes. This is the game that introduced a number of excellent additions to the Mario universe - a world map (first seen in Super Mario Bros. 3) gave access to 72 levels with 96 exits (not the 96 levels the box claims - naughty Nintendo). The visuals are spectacular - far and away the best seen up to that point. Level design is nigh-on perfect and refinements to the traditional Mario gameplay (such as having to Jump Spin to destroy certain blocks) made the title something new and exciting, even for veterans.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
System: Megadrive / Master System Developer: Sega Leaps and bounds: HHHHH

It may be an obvious choice, but the original, and in our minds the best, Sonic game really should be something everyone experiences. Before a plethora of extraneous characters and mundane tasks and bonus levels tore the heart out of our spikey blue hero, Sonic was all about speed and perfect timing. The Green Hill Zone in particular is the quitessential Sonic level - perfectly capturing the essence of the game. A wonderful, joyous game that has stood the test of time surprisingly well.
23 December 06

PUTTY

System: Amiga Developer: System 3 Software Leaps and bounds: HHHH One of the oddest and most original platform games we’ve ever seen, Putty veers from the sublime (hopping carrots dressed as Arnie, replete with Uzi 9mm) to the ridiculous (cats bursting through the background and laughing when you die). The basic premise is that you are a blob of putty with the ability to stretch, inflate, float, flatten and burst. Using these abilities to traverse each level is a joy - and a lesson for game designers. Odd, brilliant, essential.

EARTHWORM JIM

System: Megadrive / SNES / Amiga / PC Developer: Shiny Entertainment Leaps and bounds: HHHHH Putty is odd. Earthworm Jim is a bad LSD trip on top of a night on the mushrooms. Where else would a cow hurtling through the air be an integral part of the first level? In what other game do you take the role of a humble annelid imbued with super-human powers by a mysterious cybernetic suit? How many games do you know where you use yourself as a whip? Wonderfully drawn and animated with hilarious sight gagas, superb sound production and wilfully bizarre levels, you owe it to yourself to experience this.

RATCHET & CLANK
System: PS2 Developer: Insomniac Leaps and bounds: HHH

The ‘run and gun’ platform game turned up to ‘11’. While there are strong elements of traditional platforming, jumping and exploration, Ratchet and Clank’s raison d’etre is the weapon system. Deep, cunning, utterly over the top and frankly one of the best things to come out of the last generation, it’s like nothing you’ve played before. The interplay between the two main characters is very well done, and the tone of the game manages to tread the fine line between accessible fun and immaturity perfectly.
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SUPER MARIO64

System: Nintendo 64 / DS Developer: Nintendo Leaps and bounds: HHHHH The first time that 3D platforming was done really well, and as far as many gamers are concerned, the pinnacle of the genre. We wouldn’t agree with them, but there’s no doubting the excellence of the title. The camera - so often the bane of 3D third-person titles - is beautifully implemented, never getting stuck or leaving you with the old ‘impossible jump’ scenario. Nintendo’s experience of crafting balanced and enjoyable mission-structures and tight level design was carried over from the SNES titles, and the whole game really is an unmitigated joy to play. Oh, and while the DS version is good, but the original N64 version is better.
December 06

System: PSone / Xbox Live Arcade Developer: Konami Leaps and bounds: HHHH

CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT

CASTLE OF ILLUSION
System: Megadrive Developer: Sega Leaps and bounds: HHHHH

The Castlevania games have always been held in awed respect by gamers in the know. However, Symphony of The Night manages to eclipse all the titles that had gone before with an open-ended structure and RPG elements that veered it away from previous entries ion the series and provided a deeper, more thoughtful and ultimately much better game. These aspects, along with the fact it tied up a number of loose ends that had developed in the series’ plot - and of course the splendid 2D visuals - helped to give the title a special place in many gamers hearts.

Was there a better animated Megadrive title than Castle of Illusion? If there was, we never saw it. As part of a series of Disney tie-ins, Castle of Illusion surprised everyone by being not rubbish. In fact, it’s utterly compelling and stands out as not only one of the best platformers on the Megadrive - a system blessed with more than its fair share - but one of the best games for the system, full stop. Succulent animation, a perfectly pitched difficulty level and the finest, catchiest music we’ve heard in ages combine to make Mickey’s adventure a must.

NiGHTS INTO DREAMS ROCKET KNIGHT ADVENTURES
System: Megadrive Developer: Konami Leaps and bounds: HHHH System: Saturn Developer: Sega (Sonic Team) Leaps and bounds: HHHH

Coming at the height of the ‘Sonic vs Mario’ debate of the late 80s and early 90s, Rocket Knight was sadly ignored as a ‘wannabe’ title. It was far more than that. While not as instantly cool or recognisable as Nintendo and Sega’s mascots, Sparkster stands as a jewel in Konami’s crown. Traditional platform levels mixed with eight-way scrolling rocket-pack levels, Gradius-style side-scrolling levels, strong design and excellent visuals to make the game a real treasure. Incidentally, ‘easy’ mode drops the final level - making it impossible to complete, while ‘hard’ mode is almost impossible with a single life, one hit kills and no continues. Fiendish.
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Ah, good old NiGHTS. When you ask people which Sega titles they want to see return from grave of the Saturn, there’s only ever two answers; Panzer Dragoon Saga and NiGHTS. Without wishing to sound contrived and corny, NiGHTS is a dream to play. The games highlight is the unique flying system which allows moves to be smoothly and seamlessly strung together. The use of the packaged Analog pad (one of the first available) made it as easy and accurate as it was imaginative. An evolving music system and very clever high score system further distance it from the realms of the ‘standard’ platform title. Beautiful, unique and hugely addictive, we can’t recommend it enough.
December 06

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reviews
28 30 32 34 37 38 40 42 43 44 47 50 52 55 Archlord (PC) Blade Dancer Lineage of Light (PSP) Defcon (PC) Disgaea 2 (PS2) Family Guy (Multi) Gears of War (360) Gitaroo Man Lives! (PSP) King of Fighters Neowave (PS2) Mercury Meltdown Remix (PS2) Need For Speed Carbon (Multi) Okami (PS2) Starfox Command (DS) Why don’t you own... Dues Ex? (PC) The Vault... Advent Rising (Xbox)

REVIEW
by Sean Bonner
Publisher: Codemasters • Developer: In-House • Available: Now • Systems: PC • Price: £29.99

Archlord
‘Arch’ means ‘first’ or ‘chief’. Yeah, right...
nitially promising, Archlord is a major let down in many areas. Taking its cues from the standard MMORPG, it offers very little in the way of innovation or imagination. The premise of the game is an interesting one. One player with sufficient experience and strength can eventually rise - after devoting a significant amount of time - to become the Archlord, the ruler of the universe and lord of the land, so to speak. However, to get anywhere close to this goal, you will need to have or be a member of a strong guild and even then there will be competition over who becomes number one. Its lack of originality means sacrificing your social life to become the king of a fictitious land won’t endear the game to those who aren’t fans of the genre already. As is the standard for fantasy MMORPG’s, you can pick from a choice of three races: Human, Elf and Orc. Each of these races are in turn divided into classes. Humans have Knight, Archer and Sorcerer, Elves have Archer and Sorcerer and Orc’s have Berserker, Hunter and Sorcerer. Unortunately, despite the subtle differences in the three races, it is fairly standard fare and there is actually little difference between the classes - beyond a few health points and different weapons, an Orc Berserker is the equivalent of a Human Knight .

I

Character customisation is also disappointing . As a result, pretty many new players look almost exactly the same, with only their names to tell them apart. Players can of course purchase new cloths from the stylist, but it’s not really enough, especially considering what other MMORPG’s offer. When it comes to arming your avatar there are some unnecessary restrictions, such as requiring you to be of a certain level to wear a higher class armour or equip better weapons. Regardless of whether you have the money for the kit, you won’t be able to use it. It would be better to allow players to use whatever weapons they can afford to buy, regardless of their current level. It’s quite frustrating trying to fight off higher level monsters with lower level weaponry when players can in fact afford to buy better ones. The quest system that has been put in place is lacklustre at best. Often only requiring players to deliver a letter to someone else in the village or to the next town, or killing a set amount of monsters that are apparently over running the area. These side quests don’t offer much in the way of diversion, especially to a veteran MMO player. The graphics are, like the rest of the game, rather poor. Even at its best settings they don’t really offer any competition to the genre leaders. They
28 December 06

REVIEW

do the job, but that’s it. During play whilst running across a field, a lot of green and blue strands would flash on the screen, but it became apparent that fully grown bushes were flying through the air, not the sort of thing to be expected in a finished game. This was far from an isolated incident and marred any enjoyment of the game. On the bright side of things though, Codemasters have opted for free play, which is good news in any gamer’s book. This coupled with the upcoming ‘Archlord Episode 2’ expansion pack, which will also be free to download, will hopefully make it a more bearable game to play. The worst aspect of Archlord is the levelling up system, or lack thereof. When players first start out it’s standard fare. But after a few levels, repeitition kicks in and you’lll find yourself doing the same thing as you were ten levels ago, albeit with tougher enemies. It is incredibly boring to level up and after ten or eleven re-runs of the same events, you’ll begin to look elsewhere for your MMO fix.

Considering the competition in the MMORPG market, such as World of Warcraft, Guildwars and Everquest, Archlord falls way short of the mark. There is almost nothing to entice players away from the other top games in the genre and make them switch to Archlord.

5 There are positive aspects to Archlord. For instance, this armour looks quite nice.
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2
December 06

REVIEW
by Chris Waring
Publisher: NIS America • Developer: Hitmaker/SCE Studios Japan • Available: Now • Systems: PSP • Price: £29.99

Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light
Great RPG’s on the PSP are rare. Can this redress the balance?

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verything about this game says “average”. Despite the lovely anime opening, the game goes quickly downhill from there. It’s not that it’s a really bad game it’s just so unerringly dull for the first hour. It’s odd that game developers don’t make their games more interesting during the opening levels if they really want to hold a player’s attention, they really need to make games a little less bland than this one is. Bland levels, bland people, bland design, bland targeting, bland missions…you get the idea. Our spiky haired hero this time is a young man called Lance and we join

him aboard a ship on his way to the island of Foo (best not to ask) looking for adventure. Drawn from the generic pool of RPG heroes, there’s not much about Lance to distinguish him from the numerous other spiky haired dogooders that have appeared down the years. The companions he picks up later aren’t much better. Arriving on the island, we are introduced to the brilliant notion of targeting people to talk to them. This also applies to opening doors. The idea that you could just walk up to someone/something and press X to interact seems to have bypassed the

5 “I can give you the name of a good dentist if you like...”

developers. It quickly becomes tedious. Cycling through targets is another novel idea seemingly designed to bore us half to death. It usually goes something like this – target door, select and enter building, cycle through people, select, talk, cycle though again, select, talk, receive mind numbing retrieval mission, die of boredom. Dull, dull, dull. Character animation is limited – faces look flat and emotionless – and special attacks are functional rather than flashy. Draw
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distance is another bone of contention. Deserts, grasslands and forest are misty more often than not, with the blandness affecting the lack of detail in the landscape. Usually the only things of interest are the skulls floating about. Get outside to the countryside and take part in battles and the game suddenly comes to life. Groups of enemies are represented by floating skulls and can be avoided if players wish to do so, even running away is an option,
December 06

REVIEW

but nobody ever levelled up their party by running away. Weaker enemies will try to get away, while stronger creatures will harass players until they get out of range although this isn’t always possible. The back of the box promises a “completey (sic) real-time battle system”, although if the action is as bad as the spelling, it might be best to give that a miss too. The system isn’t real-time in any sense that’s recognisable, instead a Lunar Clock counts down the seconds to when a move can be made. Each character has his (or her) own countdown, so while inputting commands is in real-time, the

5 A shop. Where you can buy swords and other weapons. Will the originality never begin?

“To say this is one of the two highlights says much about it.”
resulting moves are most definitely not. Players are left counting the seconds they could have been doing something far more interesting. Things are saved somewhat by the Lunar Gauge, representing the magic shared by all the members of the party. As a battle progresses, the gauge will fill until it can be used with special attacks. Strategy plays a part as enemies can use this gauge too, completely wiping out a party. Also, while attacking an enemy as they are powering up will return the points to the gauge, they can do the same to you. Blade Dancer’s main selling point that distinguishes it from the run of the mill, however, is its crafting of weapons, armour and handy items like potions.
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While players can still buy weapons in shops, those discovered during the course of play are often stronger. Here’s the nifty bit – taking them to an appraiser will reveal the recipe needed to make such weapons, as after repeated use they will shatter. This item creation is highly useful when out in the middle of nowhere as it saves trekking back to town through hordes of enemies. To say this one of the two highlights in the game says much about it. The other? The wireless multiplayer. More copies of the game are required, but character levels can be adjusted to match another player’s and secret items and weapons can be discovered together that can be used in the single player game. In truth, this isn’t so much a bad RPG, as an average one, but in this day and age when the likes of Disgaea are coming to the PSP, it’s a major criticism. Maybe game designers should stop chasing the idea that games should look realistic on the PSP and try for a more original artistic aesthetic.

If an average RPG, item creation and relentless level grinding are your thing, then this is the game for you. In reality, the PSP has games of a higher calibre than this. Titles like this don’t help the consoles’ reputation.

5 You may have noticed the screens look rather grey. There’s a good reason - it’s a very grey game.

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December 06

REVIEW
by Chris Waring
Publisher: Introversion • Developer: Introversion • Available: Now • Systems: PC • Price: £10

Defcon
Wargames. Minus Matthew Broderick.

A

t first glance, the most obvious influence on Defcon is the scene in 1983 movie War Games, in which a super computer controlling the nuclear warheads has the futility of war taught to it by Ferris Beuller (or Matthew Broderick if you prefer). The game looks like it may have missed its true era by about 15 years, global thermonuclear war is a term not in use much these days - the Cold War is long gone and the world has only one real super power, albeit in the hands of an idiot. Looking at recent events it’s

obvious that Defcon really is of it’s time, more relevant now than it ever could have been. Smaller countries claim to have their hands on nuclear capabilities, terrorism is on the increase and now Introversion has given us the chance to blow stuff up too. The title is from the same brains behind the genius of Darwinia and Uplink and is decked out in what has become the team’s signature retromodern minimal design. While their previous games may have needed
5 Somehow the minimalist presentation just makes the mass slaughter even more chilling.

“it’s obvious that Defcon really is of its time, more relevant now than it ever could have been.”
some explanation, even to the most ardent non-gamer it must be obvious what this is all about – waging nuclear war. With a map of the world laid out before them, players must decide where to place their forces and defensive capabilities and players not only have silos, but radar posts as well to detect incoming attacks. The silos can take a bit of punishment before they crumble, but the radar stations are rather more delicate. In addition to these, players have aerial and naval forces. From their airbases, bombers fly to their destination and nuke the targets, while fighters
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take down opposition bombers and attack naval forces. The navy consists of the undetectable submarines, although they must surface to launch attacks; undefended carriers, which can launch planes and hunt for subs; and battleships, which can take on anything they find. The game begins at Defcon 5, with players deciding where to place units. At Defcon 4, radar begins to give information on enemy units in range. Once Defcon 3 and 2 are reached, normal defensive and attacking options are involved and units mobilized, before
December 06

REVIEW

Defcon 1 when the nuclear missiles are unleashed. This all takes place against the clock, which counts up, at varying speeds that can be set by the player (apart from two modes, where the speed is locked). This is when all of players’ previous tactical decisions are laid bare. Right clicking over an icon, players can direct their defences to do as they wish. For example, in defence mode the silos will attempt to take down incoming attacks from planes and missiles, although they can be overwhelmed by many nuclear attacks. Ordering them to fire one of their ten ICBM’s at a target within range has to be chosen, but also reveals their position to other players. The airbases can be ordered to send fighters up to take out incoming missiles or attack nearby fleets. Bombers are a sneakier option to deliver nuclear weapons, but even so, only carry one bomb and can be taken down by anti aircraft fire. Sitting

back and watching the action is never really an option, as orders have to be consistently dished out in order to win. Or rather, to survive the destruction and have more survivors than the opposition, for players score two for every enemy kill and one for every hit taken. Although the scoring mechanism can be altered – Survivor gives every player 100 points and the only way is down. Defcon has a wealth of modes beyond the single player. In Bigworld for example, the world map is twice the size, the ranges of all weapons and radar are halved and it runs at half the speed of a normal game, at it’s opposite is Speed Defcon, running for all of 15 minutes. In Office mode, players can hide their games from roving bosses, as it’s easy to drop the game into the background quickly and lasts only six hours. It is online in the multiplayer and alliance making that the game shows its true

depth. Up to five players can form an alliance, but only one player can win the game. Forming an alliance will expand radar coverage and planes can fly over more territory, but players need to watch their backs, as alliances can be broken without warning. Rarely does such modest presentation look so cool. That it evokes the minimalist Cold War era computers, with a stylish, modern production is a triumph in itself. Watching as the white blooms smother a map, with mournful music playing that Brian Eno would be proud of, as casualty numbers mount in familiar European cities for example, it’s hard not to be moved. That they have managed to produce games as varied as Uplink to Darwinia and now Defcon, surely rates Introversion as one of the few development teams worth keeping an eye on. Long may their independence continue.

To enjoy an original (and very cheap!) gaming experience, this can be downloaded from Steam right now. Both fans of Introversion’s productions and those new to their gaming output will find much to enjoy here. Quite simply, this is one of the essential games of the year.

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33 December 06

REVIEW
by Chris Waring
Publisher: Koei • Developer: Nippon Ichi • Available: Now • Systems: PS2 • Price: £34.99

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories
Time to clear the calendar and get ready for the prinnies.
ow do you follow a best selling and universally acclaimed title? Do you listen to the fans and critics and not trust to your own judgement, or stay true to the original ideas that made the first game so highly regarded? Remember, this is a game that not only gained deserved recognition across the industry, but is rightly held in high esteem as a genre defining title of its generation. It seemingly set an impossibly high standard for any sequel to follow, glowing praise from the multi-format mags, adored by those who know a good strategy RPG when they see one and now so hard to find it’s a bona fide collector’s item. Well, if you’re the clever chaps at Nippon Ichi you tweak, hone and polish an almost perfect game to create something that feels familiar and at the same time add enough to make it fresh - a difficult balancing act to achieve. Despite similar forays into the genre with Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom, Disgaea remains the title Nippon Ichi is best known for. Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories arrives with the weight of expectation upon it. Can they produce the same magic twice? Those familiar with the first game will find little has changed. The game uses Adell’s home town as a central hub where there are familiar stops like the Netherworld Hospital, where players can

H

restore health and pick up prizes, plus the weapon, item and clothing merchants are present too. A player’s customer rating climbs higher the more they buy from the merchants, so better items become available. The Dark Assembly returns, albeit with some minor changes. A characters mana is used to create new companions for the team, including monsters and enemies that have been

“getting into a spot of bother with the courts isn’t necessarily bad...”
defeated in the course of play. Another cool feature is the Dark Court. The court issues subpoenas that can either be ignored (at no penalty) or picked up to be defended. As this is a world of demons, getting into a spot of bother with the courts isn’t necessarily a bad thing – being found guilty brings rewards, while being found innocent brings punishments. Even if players have never encountered the first game, the tutorial manages to explain battle basics very well. Very little has changed from the first game however and goes much like this – choosing who to arrange on the field within a grid system, then moving
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5 Total damage ‘0’? Look at it! How can that be ‘0’ damage?!

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REVIEW

them to engage enemies. Fighting from the side or back increases the damage inflicted and keeping mages, healers and ranged weapon users back is just as important as having heavy duty fighters up front. Also making a return are the Geo Nodes. Colouring an area to influence a party (both player and enemy), they can increase an enemy attack or increase Mana. They can be moved and destroyed, although later in the game they move under the influence of Geo Monsters and are as capable of helping a player, as they are an enemy. Annoyingly, they can wipe out a carefully planned attack, but it does make players more aware of the level they are playing on. Mastering the Geo Nodes brings its own benefits, in greater rewards at the end of a skirmish and can make the difference in winning and losing as the game progresses. As to the story, it’s a more straightforward affair then the first. Adell is a man with a mission - he is the last human left after a curse turned everyone, including his family, into demons 15 years previously. Now he wishes to take revenge on Overlord Zenon as the curse leaves these demons unable to remember their former human lives and strips away all conscience. Zenon, known as the God of all Overlords after he destroyed more than a thousand of them, has a daughter, Rozalin and it is she who is mistakenly summoned at the beginning of the game binding her to Adell, much to her disgust. There’s an uncanny similarity between the two leads in this game and the first title – both male

Skyscraper, I Love You
Characters can pick each other up and throw them farther than they might have been able to move on their own. Throwing them closer to enemies and Geo Nodes can make up plenty of ground and give players an advantage. This actually allows one of the quirkier battle attacks – the stacking of a team to create a tower. An enemy will get knocked up all the way up to the top where an awesome attack is unleashed. One of the more fun moves in the game.

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“There’s an uncanny similarity between the two leads in this game and the first title - both suffer from duplicitous female followers.”

protagonists suffer from duplicitous female followers. The game’s humour is still present, with the television reports providing some of the better moments and it’s a player with a stone cold heart that finds little to entertain here. While much of this can seem daunting, becoming immersed in the gameplay is what attracts many players to these games. The usual camera issues found in games of this type are still here, but this is nothing that would ever deter an avid SRPG player. Perhaps the titles biggest fault lies in its overwhelming similarity to the first, but when a game as great as Disgaea comes along, it’s hard to not want more of the same. Nippon Ichi has managed to create such a title – it’s a fun, engrossing game that requires players to use their brains and give up much of their time. There won’t be many complaints.

Pirates of Penance
Some of the deadlier foes that pop up now and again are the pirates. They can wipe out a party member in one turn and are to be avoided at all costs. Carefully calculated attacks can take a turn for the worse if they appear and it’s likely that a great number of a player’s characters will be lost. Fighting through to the nearest exit is the best option.
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How does Nippon Ichi do it? Another awesome SRPG full of humour, engaging characters and enough gameplay to ensure you need never play another game all year. More please!

5 Total damage ‘0’? Look at it! How can that be ‘0’ damage?!

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December 06

REVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: 2K Games • Developer: High Voltage • Available: Now • Systems: PS2 / Xbox / PSP • Version reviewed: PS2 • Price: £29.99

Family Guy
At least it’ll be funny, right? Right?
ideogames of popular TV shows nearly always fall into two categories: the average and the terrible. I say ‘nearly’ because there have been exceptions; the first Buffy game springs instantly to mind, as do one or two of the Simpsons titles. So, how does Family Guy - based on the hilarious hit TV show - fare then? Not well. One of the problems facing developers creating this sort of game is how to work an ensemble cast into a videogame. High Voltage have chosen the path of allowing you control over the three most popular characters (Peter, Stewie and Brian), giving each a specific style of gameplay and a seperate storyline and interspersing the whole think with the flashbacks and random moments the show is famous for. Unfortunately, it’s all a bit of a mess. Peter’s sections are akin to a flawed, poorly executed beat ‘em up from the mid-eighties - you pound buttons, executing limited two and three move combos on passers-by and try not to tear your hair out in frustration as the lock-on feature fails again and you lose track of the enemy you were fighting. Who may or may not be affected by your punches and kicks - it appears to be utterly random. To say that this is annoying is an understatement. I very nearly put my head through the television.

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Then comes Stewie, whose missions take the form of basic platforming action with a dash of ‘run and gun’ thrown in for good measure. While in places they are quite enjoyable (comparatively), poor level design, vague controls and slippy-slidey levels (what is this, 1988?) which frustrate to the point of apoplexy, combine to hamstring them before they’ve really begun. So it’s left to Brian, the faithful hound, to maintain the family honour. And how will he do this? By the use of basic stealth missions, of course! If you haven’t lost the will to live by this point then you soon will when you realise all the advances in stealth games (especially enemy AI and random routes) have been completely ignored. Enemies move on pre-arranged, non-negotiable paths, reducing these levels to a by the numbers memory test. Hang the whole thing together with a dash of gross-out humour - with non of the show’s subtlety - utterly mediocre presentation, an utterly stupid plot, some fatally inept attempts at humour and basic sound design and you have all the hall marks of a cash-in. I had hopes that this might be quite good. I should have known better.

Stylistically bland with poor controls and - bizarrely for a game based on such a funny TV show - a belief that random weirdness can replace humour, Family Guy takes the path most trodden and treads it badly. As Peter might say, “this sucks”.

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REVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: Microsoft • Developer: Epic Games • Available: Now • Systems: 360 • Price: £49.99

Gears of War
Lock, load and prepare to drop that jaw.

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ou don’t need us to tell you about Gears of War. By the time you read this it will have been out for a little over six weeks and you’ll already doubtless have played it to death (in fact, as of 15th December it’s sold 2 million copies worldwide). So why, you may ask, are we reviewing a game that most of our readership probably already own. Well, quite simply, it’s too important to ignore. Believe the hype, Gears of War is everything we’ve been told it could be and everything we could reasonably expect - apart from one of two minor problems, but more on them later. Inevitably, the first thing that hits you with Gears of War is the visual treatment. Stunning, amazing, gob-smacking, pick an adjective, none of them can prepare you for the first time you see this game running in High Definition. The texture detail, modelling, art direction and effects are absolutely spot on, giving the game a familiar yet alien style. Monochrome ruined cities, dying flora and fauna, smoke, fire and tarnished metal are captured perfectly. As far as ‘photorealism’ in games goes, this is far and away the best example we’ve yet seen. Yet it still maintains a distinct, super-real, almost comic book feel due to the über-macho styling of the central characters. Which brings us neatly to the first

problem the game faces, it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste. The art direction will be enough to put some people off immediately, and there’s no denying that the shallow story and two dimensional characters give the game all the emotion and depth of a late-80s Arnie film. However, to hold this against Gears is to miss its purpose. It’s not meant to connect emotionally in any other way then by tapping straight into your addrenal gland. It’s not here to tell a big, important story and address adult themes. It’s here to let you play with guns, pretend to be the big hero and shoot, eviscerate and generally eliminate with extreme prejudice any nasty aliens that get in your way. And it succeeds. One thing to note - this is a very violent game. Epic has pulled no punches and definitely hasn’t spared the claret. Headshots and chainsaw executions are greeted with fountains of bodily juices, splattering the player and even the game camera. It really does earn that little red ‘18’ sticker on the box. Not one for the kids then. The enemies you face - also know as the Locust hordes - are quite a varied bunch and they display some fine AI, nipping behind cover and waiting for opportunities to attack or take you out with a well-timed headshot. This brings us to the game’s USP,
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“It’s not here to tell a big, important story... it’s here to let you play with guns...”

5 Each level is littered with hiding places and cover to crouch behind. Make sure you use it.
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the ‘cover and shoot’ mechanic. It’s very well implemented, so well that you can traverse an entire area and rarely have to leave cover for more than a few moments. The controls make ducking, diving and blind-shooting child’s play, and soon become second nature. By the end of the first level you be diving between cover, blindfiring, taking headshots and chainsawing unfortunate Locust sentries like a seasoned pro. It’s a good job too, because if you don’t get used to using the cover the game provides, you’ll last seconds. Just like in real life, gung-ho run and gun action will only get you killed, and killed quickly. If you want to survive, you need to constantly be scanning each area for cover and opportunities for safe progression and firing positions. Herein lies the games one real fault though. Yes, the levels are beautifully designed, the weapons are visceral and grea fun to use and the game never loses its grip or excitement factor. However, you’ll find that after the first three or four hours, apart from a few spectacular set-

pieces, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. This isn’t to say it loses its appeal, just that it’s a little disappointing that the entire game is effectively approached in the same manner as the first couple of levels. The other real criticism is that the single player game is a little short. Eight to ten hours will see you complete it without too much effort. Yes, there are tougher difficulties to tackle, but the real long-term appeal lies elsewhere. This game feels as if it was made for its online multiplayer and co-operative modes. That’s how good they are. Nothing we’ve played since Halo 2 comes close to the thrill of playing Gears online, especially if you can get a group of close-knit and evenly matched players together. Fun, bloody, back-biting, addrenaline fuelled whimsy it may be, but when it’s done this well, we really don’t care. In all it makes what was already a very good game into a great game.

“Fun, bloody, back-biting, addrenaline fuelled whimsy it may be, but when it’s done this well, we really don’t care.”

Gears is not the best game we’ve ever played. It is the best game on the 360 though, and certainly one of the best games of the last few years. Technically astounding, brutal in its execution and with online play to die for, Gears of War is an essential purchase for 360 owners.

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39 December 06

REVIEW
by Chris Waring
Publisher: Koei • Developer: Inis • Available: Now • Systems: PSP • Price: £29.99

Gitaroo Man Lives!
It’s Gitaroo Man, but on the bus.

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irst, the bad news - Gitaroo Man is as thumb-bustingly hard as it ever was on the PlayStation 2. The game still requires players have to have the handeye coordination of a superhuman on amphetamines to master some of the more dastardly levels. To some that might actually be the good news. For many this is the epitome of rhythm action games, with an idiosyncratic style all of its own, both visually and musically and was an ideal candidate for conversion to the PSP. In fact, apart from a few minor additions,

this is essentially the same game as the PlayStation 2 release. The star of the show is U-1, a whiney loser, constantly bullied and ridiculed by a fellow classmate and ignored by his dream girl, Pico. Things change when his talking dog Puma informs him he is the last of the Gitaroo Men, a long line of musically gifted heroes. From there it only gets more bizarre. Teaching U-1 his true path in life sets him up to be the target of many foes, not something he truly wishes for himself, longing instead to prove worthy for Pico. When Puma

5 Yes that’s right, a hammerhead shark. In a rhythm action game. Just go with it...

“once players become accustomed to the feel of this, it becomes extremely satisfying to hit even the most staccato of riffs.”
hurls the Gitaroo at U-1 for the first time, it triggers a tutorial that teaches players the game basics and later transforms U-1 into Gitaroo Man and Puma into AC-30, ready to do battle. This is where Gitaroo Man really shines. Instead of the usual simplistic button presses in time to the music, a trace line will approach from any side of the screen, which players have to direct the analog nub towards. Guitar chords then appear as various lengths of icon and are played by pressing and releasing the circle button for as long as
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5 Putting new meaning to the term ‘Mad Axeman’.

they appear over the dot in the centre of the screen. These are usually in rhythm with the music and once players become accustomed to the feel of this, it becomes extremely satisfying to hit even the most staccato of riffs. All of this effort builds the charge at the top of the screen, essentially the Gitaroo Man’s life bar. It should be said that the nub is a better tool than the PlayStation 2’s analog stick at this and makes for a more pleasurable playing experience. This leads into the battle mode proper, where the enemy can now take
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REVIEW

“if players have previously owned the game, there’s little here to tempt them to part with their cash for what amounts to a straight port.”
damage from well played solos. However, Gitaroo Man can also take damage if riffs are missed, or during the guard phase of the battle. Guarding involves pressing the face buttons as they cross the central dot, for example, Mojo King Bee’s (a funky dude in a giant bee costume playing trumpet like Herp Albert) attacks are in time with the notes he plays on his trumpet, so hitting them becomes a simple matter of listening to the tune he plays. Manage to get through this and players enter the Final mode, where damage is dealt with an intense guitar solo. Dexterity and memory are tested to the limit right through the game as there will often be more than one trip through a battle. As well as finding the nub superior to the pad’s analog, the face buttons on the PSP actually lend themselves to the frantic gameplay. Placed close enough together to allow a thumb to be rested in the middle of the buttons and then “rolled” onto the required selection. Well, perhaps apart from the infamous Ben-K (the hammer headed shark) level, frustration and confusion on a monumental scale. The only place the game falls down is the lack of additional modes and material for this edition of the game, with an English version of the second level song and two multiplayer modes, Versus and Duet, the only new added extras.
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Both are what you might imagine. Via the ad-hoc set up, two players can battle away though songs from the main game, but Duet is more of a disappointment as it contains all of two songs. More songs from the game would have been appreciated. All of which might suggest if players have previously owned the game, there’s little here to tempt them to part with their cash for what amounts to a straight port. However, this is one of those games that slipped under many gamers’ radar the first time around and, as is the fashion these days, it’s one of a growing list of titles most often held up as a standard bearer for all that’s right in original gaming. Don’t let it get away again.

Gitaroo Man is one of those games that the hardcore love, as much for the difficulty as for the daft story, quirky design and sheer determination it takes to complete it, but first timers shouldn’t let that put them off. A game that’s as likely to have you cussing loudly and frequently as enjoying yourself.

5 Ming Ming, a truly terrifying name for a truly terrifying, er... cat. We think.

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December 06

REVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: Ignition • Developer: SNK • Available: Now • Systems: PS2 / Xbox • Version reviewed: PS2 • Price: £29.99

King of Fighters: Neowave
So many characters, so little time...

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omething described as ‘Neo’ is something that is new, or a revived, rejuvenated form of a classic design. Here we immediately come to the crux of the matter when addressing King of Fighters Neowave’s worth - it feels, looks and plays in almost exactly the same way as every King of Fighters game that has gone before. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing - the series has always produced solid, playable games with a balanced

While these modes to offer a variety of gameplay options, they really don’t expand on the fighting engine that has been refined throughout the years. Make no mistake about it, this is classical King of Fighters with bells and whistles. From a technical perpective, character animation and detail has actually been improved from the arcade version, and the hi-res backgrounds are a world away from the flat backdrops of previous incarnations. It really does look

“character animation and detail has actually been improved from the arcade version...”
and tight fighting system and a dedicated fanbase. The trouble is, this latest release promised us “an all new fighting system” and a game built from the ground up for new arcade architecture. We can’t help but feel a little disappointed. However, there are additions to the gameplay - for instance there are now three fighting ‘styles’ to choose from. ‘Max 2 Mode’ allows you to pull off special moves once your health is dangerously low, ‘Super Cancel’ allows you to cancel moves in progress and wrong-foot your opponent and ‘Guard Break’ allows the player to exchange on ‘super bar’ for the opportunity to break through their opponent’s block. quite beautiful at times. Add to this a simply enormous roster of 43 characters (with more to unlock), one-on-one and team battles and the return of some old favourites from the series’ history, and King of Fighters fans will no doubt find much in Neowave to satisfy them. For the rest of us though, while it’s a fun and challenging game with a deep fighting system and almost limitless potential for learning and refining your technique, there’s simply not enough new material here to justify it being an obligatory puchase.

Sumptuous visuals and a wealth of options hide a fighting system that’s really getting on and needs an injection of imagnation of it’s to survive for much longer. For now though, Neowave is a worthy, but by no means essential, fighting game.

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42 December 06

REVIEW
by Emily Knox
Publisher: Ignition • Developer: In-House • Available: Now • Systems: PS2 • Price: £29.99

Mercury Meltdown Remix
Mercury Meltdown, minus the PSP.
o you fondly remember being shown a warmed up little blob of mercury in a chemistry lesson? Looking completely smooth in perfect shining silver, and acting unlike anything you’ve seen before as it slides around in a sealed test tube? Mercury Meltdown: Remix captures the element perfectly and makes it 100% safe to play with. In a similar style to PSP’s Loco Roco, you guide a blob of mercury from A to B by tilting the surroundings in over 200 levels, avoiding and utilising a wealth of special objects to reach your goal, involving hammers, guillotines, magnets and more. Remix is an extension of the PSP version of Mercury Meltdown, with the improved graphics and extra levels that the PS2 can easily cater for. The mercury itself is rendered wonderfully, and can be pleasingly altered from its usual appearance, outlined by a thick black line, to a more realistic style, which makes a surprising difference to how easy it is watching your mercury upon the brightly coloured levels. The behaviour of the mercury is excellently done; tilt your blob into a spike or corner and it splits in two, heat it up and the blob spreads outwards, sliding faster and separating more easily. The mercury can also be cooled into a sphere to roll down slides and ramps as though you were playing with marbles, and even

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painted and mixed with different colours to open specific doors and activate switches. Indeed, simply playing with the mercury for no real purpose is fun in itself, it’s just a pity the ‘playground’ area is rather small and limiting, and cannot be changed for your own amusement. Gameplay, which is mostly quick, fun and puzzling, suffers with the regular ‘Saving… Do not remove memory card in PS2 Slot 1 or reset/turn off console’ after every level, which disrupts the speed and flow of this style of game. The unlockable Party Games are a fun distraction from the main game, and involve five different tasks, such as racing your mercury round a track, and attempting to remain on a platform for as long as possible while being aggressed by a fan. Although the word ‘Party’ in a game tends to imply multiple players, these are still single player games that challenge the AI, rather than the more fun possibility of human opposition that was possible in PSP format. Remix is a fresh slice of simple fun, assisted by an unusual blend of both dance music and guitar riffs. Although, in our opinion, it’s overpriced for what it is.

5 The movement and physics of the mercury blob are extremely well implemented, giving you real confidence that when things do go wrong, it really is your own fault.

Puzzle games don’t come much simpler, or more addictive, than this. Technically proficient with plenty of content and mini-games to unlock, fans of the genre are sure to enjoy this. However, we can’t help but feel it’s a better mobile game that home game. Still, it’s great fun either way.

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43 December 06

REVIEW
by James Cooper
Publisher: EA • Developer: In-House • Available: Now • Systems: 360 / Wii / PS3 / PS2 / Xbox / Gcube / GBA / DS / PSP / PC • Version reviewed: PS2 • Price: £34.99

Need For Speed Carbon
It’s that time of year again...

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he Need For Speed franchise has become something of the commercial-darling. Ever since EA took the reins, it’s gone from strength to strength, selling copies by the lorry-load and providing yet another annual revenue stream for the all-powerful publisher. Unlike EA’s other yearly updates, however, the quality has always been fairly consistent. Each title has been a

and collecting, but otherwise it’s all very familiar. Taking the form of a free-to-roam city divided into four main ‘territories’ each divided into regions, you acquire territory by winning races and challenges. The race types are all very familiar - point to point, circuit, drift etc. - but well implemented and, when added to the challenges of roaming racers around the

“the physics of the handling models doesn’t convince, the muscle cars in particular varying between power oversteer and rampant understeer.”
solid, playable, if a little lightweight and unexciting, diversion. Which brings us neatly to ‘Carbon’, EA’s latest addition to the series. And it does everything you expect from the series, yet oddly also does a few things we hadn’t expected. First things first, the basic game really hasn’t changed that much. Despite the window-dressing of ‘canyon racing’ and battling other ‘crews’ for territory, essentially this is the same arcade racer you’ve been playing for the last three years. EA have tweaked the general methods of play - boss battles and other important races now take place in the breakneck world of canyon racing - and made a few additions to the car-tweaking city and the host of unlockable content, make this a title that at the very least gives you plenty of game for your money. As with all driving games though, no amount of options and content can make up for a poor driving model, and this is where Carbon falls down. Yes, it’s all very solid and arcade-like, but the physics of the handling models doesn’t convince, the muscle cars in particular varying spectacularly between power oversteer and rampant understeer. While the ‘Tuning’ and ‘Exotic’ models fare much better, there is still a distinct lack of weight to the cars. Even when you’ve earned a plethora of money and tuned your ride to the hilt, it never feels
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5 You too can make a good sports car look like a dog’s dinner. Er... hooray!

5 The titular ‘Carbon Canyon’ races are a real pain, the road undulating too quickly for the controls.
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REVIEW

SO YOU WANNA BE AN AUTOSCLUPTOR?
The ‘Autosculpt’ technology that EA are shouting about is actually remarkably limited in its scope. Basically, you can alter the various visual enhancements of your cars in preset areas. For instance, a bonnet scoop may be able to be altered in width and height bu not depth. While you can create some truly unique machines, it’s not the licence to create Batmobiles that we were hoping for...

like a fire-breathing, rip-roaring racer, maintaining a strange float-away feeling. It’s very odd. Of course, this problem has always afflicted the Need For Speed series, and this iteration has, if anything, improved the driving model. However, next to the prancing stallions and roaring bulls of Project Gotham and Burnout, Carbon is something of a lame rabbit.

most ridiculous in a game of caricatures has plenty of entertainment value. The ‘Autosculpt’ feature that allows you to mould the various parts of your car to create a more individual look, while by no means as versatile as EA have made out, is a good feature and if expanded upon shows real promise for future titles. In general the customisation aspect has been deepened and remains as shallow

“the physics of the handling models doesn’t convince, the muscle cars in particular varying between power oversteer and rampant understeer.”
It’s not helped by the tecnical issues that afflict it either. We tested the PS2 version, and the framerate regularly stutters and slowdown is almost always in evidence when there’s any kind of on-screen action. Also, bear in mind that the screens you see here are from the 360 version (the only screens EA would release) - the PS2 version looks significantly worse with some slightly ropey textures and a distinctly ‘gloomy’ look. In an effort to deepen the ‘urban’ feel of the game, EA have veered a little further away from the bright neon excesses of previous games in the series. I think this is a mistake, as the over the top nature of the game needs to be reflected in its visuals, this is never going to be a realistic racing game after all. That’s not to say that Carbon offers no fun though. There’s a strange satisfaction to tuning and racing your ‘rides’, trying to make your car the
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as ever - although depth has been added via a vinyl creation system that seems to have been lifted almost wholesale from Forza. The drift races are, as ever, a real highlight of the series. Stringing together utterly ridiculous drifts into vast combochains as you attempt to beat your own high-score is almost endlessly entertaining, and I found myself playing these more than any other races in the game. The new-fangled boss battles, which take place in the titular ‘Carbon Canyon’ outside the city limits, are a real pain in the neck. First you have to beat them on the streets of the city, then you have to race them twice in the canyon - first time you have to pursue them as closely as possible, on the second stage you take the lead and have to finish as far in front as possible. While EA may be trying something new here, it smacks of lazily
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REVIEW

extending the game by making the player complete the same race more than once. It certainly acts as an artificial difficulty ramp as the Canyon tracks are the most difficult and frustrating of the game - particularly if you have chosen to attack them in one of the game’s muscle cars. Having a crew that races along with you has been something EA have pushed and emphasised in all their PR and advertising for this game too. While it’s an interesting and nice addition, it doesn’t really alter the core gameplay. The idea is that you are able to maintain a ‘crew’ of up to three wingmen that come in three guises: Blockers (who’ll take out rivals at your command), Scouts (they find shortcuts and alleys for you) and Drifters (you can use their slipstream to get a speed boost). While this should in theory be very useful, in practise there’s little use in using anything other than a Blocker, as once you’re in front they can cause havoc in the pursuing ranks, giving you a few precious seconds lead. If you can look beneath the fauxgangster attitude, ludicrously over-acted

(and horribly intrusive) cutscenes and the lightweight arcade handling, there’s plenty to enjoy with this game. It provides a real challenge, there’s plenty to do with dozens of cars to unlock, it looks quite nice if you can excuse the wayward framerate, the soundtrack suits the game perfectly and the customisation aspect gives proceedings a degree of personality and attraction that might otherwise be missing. All in all, it’s a better than average driving game, but I find it difficult to recommend when luminaries such as the Burnout, PGR, Forza and GT franchises offer so much more ‘bang for your buck’. Still, there are worse ways to spend £40, and if you enjoyed previous installments, I’ve no doubt this’ll be right up your alley. It’s a horribly lazy piece of journalistic shorthand, but if you like this sort of thing, then you’ll like this. If, on the other hand, you’ve never like the Need For Speed franchise, then this won’t change your mind. It really is that simple.

EA continues to incrementally improve its Need For Speed franchise. At the current rate, we should see a truly ‘must-have’ variant in a few years time. For now, however, it remains an average arcade racer with some nice ideas tacked on.

5 Some of the concept cars you can unlock are lovely. We like this Camaro. Mmm, candy apple red.
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December 06

REVIEW
by Chris Waring
Publisher: Capcom • Developer: Clover • Available: January ‘07 • Systems: PS2 • Price: £39.99

Okami
A wolf in Link’s clothing, or something more?

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here are very few games that become so intuitive that it is easy to forget that there is any input on the player’s part, where what is happening on screen bares little relation to a button press or a turn of an analog stick, as ordinary actions become extraordinary visuals. Any screens simply do not do this game justice, it has to be seen in motion to be fully appreciated and even then, playing is better than watching. It has continued to receive positive press in the west during development, with favourable comparisons to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and from the minds at the soon to close Clover, Okami has much to live up to. Amaterasu is a white wolf, sporting red tattoos and carrying a weapon on its back, not a usual lead, but this is as far from a usual game as it’s likely to get. The wolf is the representation of the sun god on earth and the reincarnation of Shiranui, a god thought long dead, its powers lost over time – the Celestial Paintbrush techniques – and the original slayer of Orochi. Brought back due to the havoc wrought by the return of Orochi, all of the lost powers have to be rediscovered to defeat not only this major foe, but to progress through the game. Each of the thirteen moves is held by another animal-god, whose constellations have to be revealed

and restored. It’s a deft touch that constantly moves things forward and reveals the true nature of the game - Okami is really an RPG in disguise, albeit as a supernatural adventure, with random battles that can be avoided (the demon scrolls) and weapons that can be upgraded. Amaterasu is not alone on its travels; a miniature wandering artist named Issun wants to see all the

“this is as far from a usual game as it’s likely to get...”
paintbrush techniques. He provides a running commentary, drops hints on what players should do next and injects a healthy dose of humour. His bug-like stature causes him much consternation; even so, he has quite an eye for the ladies. All of the characters are beautifully realised with plenty of personality. Their stylised reactions range from steam literally coming from their ears or even question marks appearing over their heads. The game’s most unique feature is this Celestial Paintbrush, with its pauseand-paint method. Games stand or fall by their implementation of unusual features and the fact that this becomes
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Tales of the Unexpected
There’s a tale in Japanese folklore of an old woman so desperate for a child, she’d have one even if it was one inch tall. Her wish is granted. The character of the wandering artist Issun is based on this tale, although it’s doubtful that the boy from the original tale was as obsessed with women (or “babes”) as Issun apparently is. And while deliberately portrayed as genderless in the game, Amaterasu is based on a goddess from the Japanese Shinto religion with Nagi (originally Izanagi) and Nami (Izanami) taken from the same stories.
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REVIEW

second nature within minutes says much about the intuitive input. With a press of R1, the action pauses and takes us into a sepia toned canvas, then a sweep of the right analog in the required movement to produce the desired effect - a circle can restore cherry blossom to trees and a simple line inflict damage on enemies. In fact, circles and lines form most of the shapes used and even though the action has been stopped, the frozen frame can be moved to achieve the best angles. Greater powers are discovered as players travel further across Nippon, drawing bombs and slowing down time amongst others. As with most games of this nature, discovering what lies within is half the fun and many hours can be lost simply running across the landscape.

Music for the Masses
Mention should be made of the in game soundtrack. Ranging from the tense to the lightly comical, from the subdued to the epic, it never disappoints. As expected in a game such as this, the music and instruments are heavily influenced by traditional Japanese instruments and music, with some of the major themes receiving full orchestration. Comparable to the much loved Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack and even some of the major movies to appear from the east, players will find themselves humming the tunes before too long.

Doing battle with demons brings financial and karmic rewards. Demons are found in the open countryside, represented by floating demon scrolls usually, but also by portals that once beaten will restore the surrounding countryside to its former glory. Once a scroll has been touched, a wall will spring up (some can be pierced to escape) and battle is joined within this confined space. Despite the amount of fighting in the game, it’s actually quite difficult to die as a result. With most of the early incidental battles a simple case of repeating the same move later additions to the arsenal prevent these encounters from becoming stale. The major challenges come during the epic boss fights. These creatures often are so huge in scale that the camera has to pull back and an element of puzzle solving is involved in their defeat. Even here, dying rarely looks like being on the cards. An increased difficulty level would have been a nice option. The money from these battles (the amount of which varies on the time taken and damage received) can be used at
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roadside merchants to buy items and at dojos to learn new moves, the perennial double jump for example, new moves for battles and weapon upgrades. Praise Orbs are released by restoring the countryside to its former glory and ridding an area of poisoned parts and, perhaps one of the most visually stunning set pieces in a game for quite some time, sees flowers and vegetation sweep across hills and valleys accompanied by glorious music. It’s a shame there aren’t more of them. More orbs can be found by feeding the animals that return and from digging up the four leafed clovers.

Restoring the clover is an irony that should not be lost on many. The orbs can then be used to increase the amount of life and ink available and how much money can be carried. Items can also be found by digging and locations are identified by a glowing column. These lights vary in location from day to night, so it’s worth revisiting a location more than once. Beyond its fantastic playability, Okami’s other main calling card is its visual style. Originally envisaged as a realistic sim, the switch to the cel shaded was due to the limitations of the ageing
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hardware of the PlayStation 2. Never have the limitations of a console led to a game as beautiful as this and not since Shadow of the Colossus’ other leading character, Argo, has an animal been so realistically and attractively animated. Although far from unique, the cel shaded look here is a luscious experience, not something that was expected from Sony’s console, joining as it does an

expanding list of games arriving late in the console’s life that have opened many gamers’ eyes as to what can be achieved. No matter how beautiful or enjoyable a game, there are some flaws. Slowdown in some areas is the most noticeable, but never occurs for long enough for it to become a game breaking fault. Paintbrush strokes can be frustratingly

“Slowdown, in some areas is the most noticeable, but never occurs for long enough for it to become a game breaking fault.”
Legend of Clover
Some have commented on the likenesses with Nintendo’s Wind Waker chapter in The Legend of Zelda series. Beyond the obvious cel shaded style of each game, those players familiar with this episode may be struck by déjà vu upon entering the Tsutamaki Ruins within Agata Forest. While not as detailed as the GameCube game, the atmosphere bears a remarkable resemblance to The Forbidden Forest Link enters after meeting the Deku Tree. Okami also features flowers that will pull Amaterasu to it after having a line drawn from one to the other. Any similarity to The Wind Waker’s Baba Buds is surely cosmetic. Despite this, the art style used in Okami is unlike any game before, steeped in Japanese influences as it is.
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imprecise, especially drawing a line from one point to another. In one of the major boss battles for example, drawing such a line from a flower to a hook on the back of a huge spider with anger management issues, becomes a lesson in patience. Some of the brush strokes are infuriatingly similar to each other – attempting to return the blossom to a tree can easily produce a gust of wind instead or even turn night to day – requiring a steadier hand and a less cavalier drawing technique. These are minor concerns however, in a game that is so successful otherwise and are only so obvious because the rest of the game is a joy to play. Rarely has a game promised so much and delivered so well. That this will be one of the only major titles from Clover is very sad, sadder still the fact that we may never see a sequel. It is one of the PlayStation 2’s most glorious titles and deserves your attention as one of the last great games to arrive on the console.

Is it original? Yes. Does it do what it does well? Yes. Is it an essential game? Yes. Is it the most beautiful game on the PlayStation 2? Quite possibly.

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REVIEW
by Yussry Houson
Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: In-House • Available: 26 January ‘07 • Systems: DS • Price: £29.99

Starfox Command
Can it really live up to its glorious ancestors?
ormally a review for this will start with an introductory paragraph about nostalgic memories of Lylat Wars. The difference in this case is that I have not played it. This means that comparisons between the two games cannot be made. On the other hand, it means that I should be able to review this without judging it against one of the N64’s classics (or so I have been told). To begin with, this is more than just a space blaster game, hence the ‘Command’ part of the title. The game starts off with an RTS-style map, where you use the touch screen to select which group of enemies to attack in each mission. This initially appears to work

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after trial and error. There have been numerous occasions where I was able to get near the end of the strategy section, only to run out of the limited turns given and have to start over again. With no mid-level save function, there is a lot of restarting the same levels over and over again. That said, it is a nice diversion from the main game, and it would be harsh to try to compare it with the mighty Advance Wars. After tracking down an enemy you get to the meat of the game, the space combat. Each level gives you a time limit, extendable by collecting pick-ups or blocking enemy lasers and the main goal of these is to destroy a set number of a

“The issue in question is that, while you are free to formulate a strategy as you see fit, these often fail.”
very well. The touch screen works well and the strategy, while basic, proves to be an interesting little diversion from the main game. There is, however, a problem with the strategy element which is most noticeable with extended play. The issue in question is that, while you are free to formulate a strategy as you see fit, these often fail. There seems to be one correct way of completing the level, which is usually only apparent specific type of enemy as determined at the start of the level. There is a distinct lack of variety in objectives within this, and one cannot help but feel that it could have been so much better with more variety. The battles for the most part play quite smoothly, and are basically dogfights against the enemy within a small open environment. Here we can see the limitations of the DS hardware,
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“The touch screen works surprisingly well here, being smooth and accurate to use. The only fault... is that sharp turns are not really possible.”
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as the environments seem very similar with not much by way of background detail. There are very few instances, for example, where one can fly and dogfight amongst buildings, or any other scenery for that matter. The controls for the battles on the other hand, are quite impressive. First of all, hand cramp is at a minimum after playing, as all controls are on the touch screen except for the ‘fire’ button, which is in fact every main button on the handheld. The touch screen works surprisingly well here, being smooth and accurate to use. The only fault with this method of control is that sharp turns are not really possible. That said the enemy ships fly so slowly that it is not much of an issue. This does, however, mean that intense, fast-paced dogfights just do not happen. The last thing of note is the lifespan of the game. Single player seems quite short lived, and it is possible to get to the end of story mode within a few hours. Upon completion thought there are alternating paths through the story, with a total of nine potential endings. That’s not too shabby, but it does mean replaying large chunks of already completed plot lines just to get to the interesting alternative levels and endings. These alternate routes seem tacked on to increase the length of the game, but based on the length of story mode they are essential to making the game approach anything close to being value for money. The lifespan is boosted further by the multiplayer. Link up play and Wi-Fi are

both available, but things do not start well. There are very few people online to play against (hopefully this will be remedied by the time it gets released in Europe) and when one can finally locate enough competitors, there seems to be a high dropout rate. What makes matters worse is the lack of options. There are none. All games are four player dogfights with no choice as to duration or vehicle types. The actual games are quite fun and even a no-hoper such as myself was able to get a few victories in with a little practice. Looking back at this review there are plenty more negatives than there are positives. However, while the game as a whole experience is quite good, one is left with the feeling that with a little bit more effort this could have been something special. As it is, it just makes me eager to see what the sequel will be like, if there ever is one. For fans of Lylat Wars, it probably won’t live up to expectations, but it is definitely well worth a play.

Taken as a standalone product, Starfox Command is an above average action game that many will find perfectly adequate. When its heritage is taken into account, however, the final product is all the more disappointing. Roll on the improved sequel.

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December 06

WHY DON’T YOU OWN?
by Sean Bonner
Publisher: Sold Out (PC) / Eidos (PS2) • Developer: Ion Storm • Systems: PC / PS2

A game that crossed genres like no other before. Enormous, amibitious and, for the most part, very successful. Why don’t you own...
eus Ex is a Latin term used to describe a person or thing that appears out of nowhere and unexpectedly solves a great conflict. The very meaning of this game’s name describes it perfectly. From the creator of such excellent games as Thief, System Shock and Ultima Underworld comes another hit. Deus Ex is a first-person role playing game. Yes that was intentional, confused? Don’t be. For this game is much more than a run-of-the-mill, go there, unlock that door, complete this objective, kill the boss and complete the mission title. Warren Spector certainly lived up to his reputation as one of the elite games developers with this game. Deus Ex is set in the near future when a deadly plague is ravaging the earth (mostly in the US) and the only known cure is a manufactured vaccine called Ambrosia which is in desperately short supply. So, if you’re not rich, famous or important then you will effectively die in the gutter. It is unclear as to the exact date in which the game takes place as numerous newspapers and ‘infocasts’ give conflicting dates. However, in Deus Ex: Invisible war, the second instalment in the series, the date was fixed at 2052. In the years from now until then, several factions have emerged as leading powers. You begin the game as JC Denton, an elite agent of the United

Deus Ex
Every decision changes the world...
Nations Anti Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO). The main opposition to UNATCO is the National Secessionist Forces (NSF), a so-called terrorist force who have taken it upon themselves to steal Ambrosia shipments and redistribute them to the people. However, as you progress through the game you will soon realise that not all is as it seems. You will eventually switch sides and

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“as you progress... you will soon realise that not all is as it seems.”
begin to unravel a tapestry of deceit and conspiracy theories culminating in one of three different endings. Yes, this game has three different endings depending on the choices you make as you progress through it. There was a rumour once that there was also a fourth ending, but this is only accessed by editing a file in the Deus Ex system folder to enable cheats. But doing this is complete pointless as using any cheats will completely sap the fun from the game. As you begin the game you will probably find it much the same as most FPS games out there. Play through a level to achieve some set objective, while killing any henchmen along the way.
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You have to enter the now blown up statue of liberty and eliminate the NSF leader who has barricaded himself in the building. However, even at this very early stage the games begins to differ from the standard genre fare. For starters you have to choose your first weapon, and thus determine how you will approach the task at hand. For example, you could pick the arm-mounted crossbow and opt for the stealth approach and try to find the back entrance, or you could choose the pistol and try and fight your way in the front door. This choice of how to complete your objective is a recurring theme through the game, yet it never gets old. You will always end up second guessing your self thinking “but what if I did it this way”. Also, another factor that influences the type of player you will be is that at the beginning and throughout the game you can upgrade skills such as lock picking (for the more stealthy player), hacking, environmental expertise, and numerous others. While JC will be able to use every item immediately, his proficiency with each of them will increase depending on which skills you decide to upgrade. So, for example, if you upgraded lock picking you can unlock doors much quicker and thus avoid a sticky situation. On top of this, you can further tailor your character to your playing style with the use of Augmentations. Although I don’t want to give away any spoilers, your character is a bio-engineered agent who can use nanites to give him special abilities. At first you have none of these abilities and must collect augmentation

“the essecnce of the game is not in how it plays... the most interesting and engrossing part of Deus Ex by far is the storyline.”

canisters in order to upgrade. Also, you can only have one augmentation per body part, leaving you with the difficult decision of what ability to choose, especially considering there are many more augmentations than body parts. So if you decide to enhance your eyes you can choose to have better targeting or enhance your eyes to have night vision. With so many different ways to customise your character’s abilities you could conceiveably have a veritable tank of a man, or even the complete opposite - a light-footed, stealthy, ninja-esque agent. It really is up to you. Although this sort of customisation may be somewhat standard these days, back in 2000 it wasn’t and it gave the game a real RPG feel, despite clearly being an FPS. Even still, the essence of the game is not in how it plays or the mechanics of it, the most interesting and engrossing part of Deus Ex by far is the storyline. It’s quite difficult to describe without giving away what is going on. Actually scratch that, its difficult to give away the storyline full stop, due to how complicated it is. At first you begin as the bog standard super agent that can complete almost any mission, but you will soon come to realise that there is a lot more going on than just the outbreak of the Grey Death and shortage of its cure, Ambrosia. There is actually a huge conspiracy by a number of factions all vying to take power and rule the world, some more benevolent than others. The Illuminati, specifically refers to an elitist Bavarian secret society, but more
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WHY DON’T YOU OWN?

often, as it does in Deus Ex, it refers to a group that is reputed to control world affairs. As JC Denton, you come to meet the Iluminati in Paris after which they ask you to restore their weaning power to rule the world with an invisible hand. However, other factions, individuals and computer systems are intent on preventing this. And no, that was not a mistake. The Helios AI aims to merge with JC Denton and rule the world as a benevolent dictator with infinite knowledge and reason. The final and third ending sees Trace Tong, another character in one of the game’s factions, want to destroy the global communications hub and plunge the world into a new dark age, thus never allowing one person to gain so much power as to control the world. Although I may have basically told you the endings of the game, there is so much more than just seeing the endings. The progression of the storyline as you

continue through the game, seeing what results from the decisions you make, is what really makes this game unique. To date there have been many games that have tried to reproduce the success of this title, they have tried to make another first-person RPG and, to date, none have succeeded. There have been valiant attempts, but none have the tremendous storyline, interaction, character development and excellent customisation offerd by this title. Deus Ex: Invisible War, the sequel to Deus Ex, tried to build on the success of its predecessor, but due to the phenomenal success of Deus Ex, it could not live up to the hype. Also, the fact that there were three endings hampered Invisible War’s storyline as it tried to assume that all three had happened. Even so, the game was by no means terrible, it just may have been better to have the first iteration of the series as a standalone game, rather than attempting to continue an already finished story.

Although visually Deus Ex is by no benchmark, the excellent character development, interaction and customisation more than make up for this. However, it is the storyline, and how the decisions you make affect the outcome, that truly makes this game worthy of 35 game of the year awards.

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54 December 06

THE VAULT
by James Cooper
Publisher: Majesco Entertainment • Developer: GlyphX Games • Systems: Xbox / PC • Version reviewed: Xbox

Another game that needs locking in our gaming vault, never again to see the light of day. Need we remind you of the horrors of...
hen I was a lad, I used to love climbing trees. I would imagine most youngsters do. One of the very first things you learn when climbing our bark encrusted friends is the principal of reach, or more specifically, where your reach ends. Over-ambitious? Reaching too far? Then it’ll be a few weeks in plaster for you. After your first big fall, you soon learn that the branch you thought you could reach might as well have been the moon. So, you set yor sights a little lower and concentrate on having fun. Personally, I don’t think anyone at GlyphX Games has ever climbed a tree, as the principal of not over-reaching oneself seems to have passed them by with a whooshing sound. Advent Rising was supposed to be an epic. A sweeping space-opera concerned with the future of mankind, told over a trilogy and promising production values to match its ambitious storyline, GlyphX were always reaching for the stars. Sadly, they missed. That’s not to say that the intent was misplaced, the bare bones of a very good game are there, however, there are so many technical and gameplay issues that what could have been a very good sci-fi shooter has turned out a bit of a mess. Perhaps the best way to explain what went wrong is to look at Majesco’s press release for the game, and analyse some

Advent Rising
The only thing rising is our bile...
of the promises they made concerning it. “Unprecedented single-player gameplay that allows gamers to play through the thrilling action sequences of a blockbuster movie or game, rather than just watch them” It plays like any every other thirdperson sci-fi shooter you’ve played. There’s nothing ‘unprecedented’ or ‘thrilling’ about it. In fact, only thing I found ‘unprecedented’ were the number of bugs I enountered, but more on that later. Also, contrary to the press release, all the best action and set-pieces happen in cutscenes. So you do “just watch them”. “Built using next-generation Unreal technology, integrated with the Karma physics engine” If by ‘next-generation’ you mean “has ropey AI that means enemies leave you alone as soon as you go past them, can’t find cover and regularly bug and get hitched on the scenery”, then yes, this is ‘next-generation’. The physics engine in particular throws up some wonderful bugs and appears to be completely, utterly broken. “Unprecedented collaboration with award-winning, sci-fi author Orson Scott Card on sweeping storyline” Supposedly, acclaimed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card was involved with the script. The question I feel
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5 Bob completely lost it when his mates suggested another game of Advent Rising...
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compelled to ask is “where exactly”? The game takes the form of a bog-standard third-person sci-fi shooter with a few scripted set-pieces thrown in for good measure. Hackneyed and derivative in the extreme (the human race is under attack from an evil alien race and only you can stop them), the story wears its influences pretty boldly on its sleeve

anything is quite well implemented. Still, it doesn’t make up for the unimaginative, lacklustre weapon set. “Command a vast array of incredible vehicles including human and alien assault vehicles, hover tanks and flying vehicles” I’d have loved to command them, if only the control system wasn’t so

IF IN DOUBT - OFFER MONEY
In a shameless attempt to get people to buy a game they obviously knew was broken beyond repair, Majesco decided to offer gamers the chance to win $1,000,000, in exchange for purchasing Advent Rising, naturally. Applying only to the first 500,000 copies sold, each week an ‘easter egg’ was downloaded via LIVE that hid the letter ‘A’ somewher in the game. Clues were published on Majesco’s website and it was then a race for gamers to find the ‘A’ and enter the unique code they were give on Majesco’s site. With rewards ranging from $10,000 in the first week to the promised $1,000,000 in week six, it was too tempting a proposition for many gamers. Although the contest was only open to residents of the US and Canada, it was a clever marketing ploy - one that ensured many gamers bought Advent Rising despite the horrendous technical issues.

“I’d have loved to command them, if only the control system wasn’t so fundamentally flawed...”
while at the same time trying to present them as something new. Fans of Halo, Star Wars and every other sci-fi movie or game in existence will have seen this all before. Many times. “Develop amazing superhuman powers including energy blasts, levitation and energy shields” Or “develop amazing superhuman powers that make the game far too easy”. By the time you get a little way into the game, you psychic abilities are so powerful that they render the entire experience moot. It becomes a walkthrough. “Wield an arsenal of awesome weapons, all with unique alternate fire abilities” “Awesome weapons” like machine guns, pistols, lasers and rocket launchers. Wow. I’ve never seen those in a videogame before. Although, to be fair, they all work well, they feel quite meaty in operation and the ability to pick up weapons on the fly and dual-wield almost
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fundamentally flawed that it feels like everything has a mind of its own. Which brings me neatly to my major ‘picked bone’... “Versatile control scheme that allows for acrobatic movement and precise targeting of enemies while quickly switching between weapons and powers” Oh, how I laugh. Yes, the targetting is precise, but then it should be as the game utilizes an auto-targetting system. The thing I particularly enjoyed about the ‘versatile control cheme’ was the way it latched automatically onto anything I could interect with (such as ammo or health packs) when all I really wanted to do was attack the twenty enemies that had surrounded me. Then there’s the fact that the dodge and pick up actions are assigned to the same button. Picture the scenario - an enemy attacks, you go to dodge but failed to notice the ammo clp by your feet. Your avatar goes to pick it up, and
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REVIEW

“Oh my word, the frame-rate issues...”

you die. Frustrating to say the least. Then you encounter the genius decision that assigning and switching weapons and psychic powers in the middle of a firefight (surely when you need to do it the most) should take a couple of seconds too long. Just long enough, in fact, to ensure your enemies can get a few cheap shots in. If their atrocious AI picks you up, of course. On occasion I stood behind enemies that just completely ignored me, even when I started pumping bullets into their backs. Brilliant. Then there’s the frame-rate issues. Oh my word, the frame-rate issues. To say the game slows down a little is like saying that running through brambles naked ‘might scratch a bit’. Sometimes the game drops to single figure frame-rates, chugging along and making it unplayable. The worst thing is, this happens at completely random times, no necessarily when there is a lot going on, you could just be walking through an empty area and the game will suddenly hitch-up and limp along for a few seconds. It’s not as if the developers have the excuse that the game is visually astounding either - it’s average in the extreme, bordering on bland. “Soundtrack performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Los Angeles Orchestra” The soundtrack is excellent - atmospheric and beautifully orchestrated. Unfortunately, while most games have had ‘dynamic soundtracks’ for some time, GlyphX seem to have missed the point somewhat. Sometimes, you’ll be in
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the middle of a huge action sequence, and the music will fade out or stop entirely. Other times, entering a perfectly non-descript and empty room will result in a choral fanfare of the mightiest proportions. Frankly, it’s bizarre. Added to all of these technical issues, the compromised aesthetic of the game - many enemies and areas being horribly reminiscent of Halo, the laughably overacted cutscenes, derivative storyline, glitches, bugs and general shoddiness of the finished product make me think that GlyphX didn’t just reach a branch too far, but that they should have stayed out of the tree altogether. There are one or two nice ideas here, and in the hands of an accomplished developer maybe it could have been a very good game - possibly even the epic trilogy it was purported to be. Nevertheless, after the complete hash that was made of this titles, I doubt we’ll ever see any more ‘Advent’ games. In all honesty, that’s a blessed relief.

Advent Rising is a classic example of a game that over-reaches itself without ever getting the basics right. Never has the expression “all mouth and no trousers” been so apt. A technical mess that will be remembered only as a lesson in misplaced ambition.

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December 06

Looking for cutting-edge design? Look no further.

pixelninja@btinternet.com

60 62 65 68 72

Magic Carpet Breath of Fire IV Turtles in Time Silent Hill A Breed Apart - Team 17

by James Cooper

Magic Carpet
agic carpets have been a staple of any videogame set in the Far East since time immemorial. There’s a very good reason for this, and that’s that they are a whole heap of fun. Bullfrog realised this and set about providing us with one of the most original (and sadly ignored) games of the midnineties. In Magic Carpet, you take the role of a young Mage whose aim is to restore order to the devastated worlds through which you fly, destroying the hideous monsters - giant worms, griffons and crustaceans to name a few -and rival wizards that populate the land. The unusual aspect of the game was the fact that you used magic and spells to combat your enemies. This power could be increased by collecting ‘mana’ which was stored in the player’s castle. The more mana you had in store, the more powerful your spells became. Completing each level was a matter of defeating enemies and collecting mana until a required percentage of the world’s total mana had been captured. But it was the manner in which you accomplished this that was so much fun. Spells were varied and visually extravagant, taking the form of everything from basic fireballs to lightning bolts and meteor showers. Some spells, such as volcanoes or earthquakes, even affected the terrain in real-time, something that was truly

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amazing at the time. As well as the offensive spells, your character had the ability to use defensive and healing spells, adding to the variety and strategies available to the player. These were vital as the enemies were powerful and intelligent - some even able to absorb loose mana and use the player’s own spells against them. The mix of wonder and frustration as a giant crab took you out with your own fireball spell had to be experienced to be understood. Another aspect of Magic Carpet that amazed many gamers at the time was it’s 3D engine and physics engine. Still in its infancy, 3D rendering techniques were very basic by today’s standards, yet somehow Bullfrog managed to incorporate dynamic lighting and music, terrain that morphed in real-time, reflective water effects, transparency effects and even particle systems. Make no mistake - this game was a real technical achievement, yet it still flew along at a right old pace. While it picked up many awards and some glowing reviews, the Magic Carpet experience wasn’t all peaches and cream. While the 3D engine was impressive, the same texture-set was used throughout the game, creating a title that became visually quite monotonous after a while. The lack of a ‘quick-save’ until you had acquired a

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December 06

FREE HEADACHES
Magic Carpet utilised a unique technology that used red and blue glasses to produce 3D visuals. It even supported VR headsets that were quite popular for a short while with PC gamers. Needless to say, it was a feature that very few saw as anything other than a gimmick. Extended play (more than about ten minutes) using either of these visual ‘enhancements’ resulted in the traditional nausea and migraine associated with 3D and VR. Which isn’t really a selling point.

“Technically excellent, great fun to play and far deeper than its ‘3D shooter’ tag suggests”

the KNOWLEDGE
Game: Magic Carpet Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: Bullfrog Year: 1994 Version: PC Also available: Amiga / PlayStation / Saturn

castle in each world meant that if you died before you got your castle, you had to start the level over again. The most amusing bug had to be the enemy Mages that would occasionally freeze in mid-air and become invincible, forcing the player to restart the level. However, these faults really don’t ruin the game, and multiplayer matches for up eight players (on PC) rounded off a package that deserves to be remembered. Technically excellent, great fun to play and far deeper than it’s ‘3D shooter’ tag suggests, we heartily recommend you pick up a copy of Magic Carpet if you see it. We have a feeling that in the future it’ll be rightly regarded as a classic.

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December 06

by Chris Waring

Breath of Fire IV
apcom have rightly become recognised as one of the leading publishing and development houses in the industry, not afraid to take risks with original ideas and with established franchises. Think of Capcom and more often than not Devil May Cry, Okami, Resident Evil and Viewtiful Joe will be some of the first titles to come to mind. In the heyday of the PlayStation, they had one other successful franchise on their hands, in a genre it has rarely ventured

A JRPG with dragons and such? Yes, please.

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into before or since with such success on home consoles – the RPG. With Breath of Fire, they had a strategy RPG that was well loved by those players willing to try out this highly original series. After the first two games debuted on the SNES the series jumped ship to the PlayStation and with Breath of Fire IV, everything fell into place. While this is a role playing game definitely of the “old school” – isometric view point, pixel perfect visuals, a
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convoluted and absorbing story, good versus evil, a world to be saved, a rural/ pre-industrial setting – the game has aged far better than many of its siblings and stands up to close scrutiny today. From the delightful anime opening, to the beautifully crafted sprites, the game is as striking now as any of the more recent offerings in the genre. Although it isn’t as deep or as complex as some of the latest titles from Nippon Ichi, what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in playability, humour and great characterisation. We join Nina and Cray aboard their flyer as it crosses a broad expanse of desert, during their search for Nina’s missing sister, Elina. Suddenly, a huge dragon rises from the sandy depths and begins to chase down the fragile vehicle. They evade the creature for as long as they can, but it deceives them - without warning, it leaps salmon-like from below and then with a well aimed dive, it disables their transport. They find themselves stranded in the middle of the desert with no means of repairing their flyer. Nina volunteers to go to the nearest town to pick up some spares, leaving Cray to guard the ship. It’s not long before Nina’s adventures begin. She stumbles across (then into!) a crater, meets a dragon that she feels no fear of, then a naked boy with no memory of who he is. This sort of thing is not unexpected in a Japanese RPG. The naked boy with the memory loss is Ryu and he can not only command Dragons to do his bidding, but also transform into a Dragon himself. In the

Breath of Fire series, Ryu is a recurring character in the games, as is Nina, although they are not the same person in each game. What is unusual is that initially he has no idea of his powers and as opposed to previous games, the dragons are set rather than the arbitrary choices made in previous games. This talent makes him the target of the Fou Empire and its forces as they seek to halt the realisation of an ancient prophecy. The empire was founded by one FouLu, who claimed on his demise that he would be resurrected. This resurrection

the KNOWLEDGE
Game: Breath of Fire IV Publisher: Capcom Developer: In-House Year: 1990 Version: PlayStation Genre: RPG

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forms part of the story that we witness and we come to learn that Fou and Ryu are not only connected by their talents but on a deeper level that won’t be spoiled here. The game stays with Ryu and his adventure for the most part, but occasionally we join Fou-Lu on his journey to awaken his potential and reclaim his Empire. Nina and Ryu are joined in their quest by Nina’s protector,

Cray, a member of the tribal Woren, a half man, half cat-like warrior race. Later they add the odd and eccentric Ershin to the group. It’s a steam-punk version of R2-D2, whose idiosyncrasies conceal its true identity and purpose. It always refers to itself in the third person, but is later revealed to be a vessel for a series regular; the mercenary Scias, who initially joins with ulterior motives but soon becomes a valued friend; and finally Ursula, a general in the Imperial Army, sent to capture Ryu, but who is persuaded that since they are all going that way anyway, she should go with the team. These six then are the team that players travel with across the world. While previous Breath of Fire games had limited the number of combatants to three, all available members of the group can be used at any time in this fourth instalment. Some characters could recover AP by resting and some would even restore the AP of those characters in play. If one became too injured to continue they could be swapped out, or if one team mate had an attack that
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“While previous Breath of Fire games had limited the number of combatants to three, all available members of the group can be used at any time in this fourth installment.”

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would come in handy they could be used instead. Swapping characters in and out became useful for building up attacks and amplifying them, to spectacular effect. If for example, Ryu’s Burn is followed by Nina’s Cyclone then that is magnified into what’s called a Simoon, an attack combining fire and wind. Similarly, if Cray’s Rock Blast is followed by Ryu’s Burn, then the attack magnifies into Eruption – the ground parts and a column of lava rises and then falls on each enemy. The most powerful results from chaining three moves together, for example, Stone Pillar (Cray), Burn (Ryu) then Fireblast (Ursula) will result in the two fire based attacks becoming deadlier, with Ursula’s Fireblast amplified into a Magma Attack, hot boulders raining down from above. Certain enemies were also susceptible to certain attacks, a

Fire Ant to an Ice attack for example. Learning enemy weaknesses for many battles was essential. Enemy spells and attacks could also be learned during the course of the game, simply by guarding during one turn. Into this mix were thrown the Dragons, not just any Dragons, but creatures of such fearsome grace, you can be forgiven for forgetting for just a second, that this game is running on a 64-bit console. Drawn from both the Eastern and Western mythology, these creatures were the alter egos of Ryu and each had a special attack of their own, plus each Dragon had its own cut scene when utilized in battle. The Dragons that the team went in search of also bestowed particular moves that Ryu could use without changing into his dragon forms. The music was created by Yoshino Aoki, also responsible for Mega Man X3 (Capcom sound team) and Breath of Fire III (with Akari Kaida) and was an unusual mix of eastern vocals and instruments

and the more usual orchestration, with one standout track featuring a sitar. The music, while sometimes repetitive, is never irritating and with themes for each town, a fantastic battle theme and a beautiful opening song, this is one of the better RPG soundtracks. There is very little vocal work in the game with the original Japanese expressions left intact and conversations handled via subtitles. All the good hallmarks of a turn-based Japanese RPG were present and correct in Breath of Fire IV - a world to be saved, beautifully designed and realised characters, a wonderful fantasy setting, all built around a gripping story. As well received as the PlayStation 2 iteration Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter was, perhaps it’s time Capcom had a look at how well Nippon Ichi are doing with their RPG series and make another Breath of Fire game in the old isometric style. In the meantime, this pinnacle of the series deserves to be played still and remains to this day, a highlight of the PlayStation’s extensive RPG library.

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December 06

by James Cooper

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES IV

TURTLES IN TIME

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he scrolling beat ‘em up has been an arcade staple since the days of Double Dragon and Final Fight. Apart from the two aforementioned giants however, few have managed to capture the fun and prowess of Konami’s ‘Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles’ arcade game and it’s sequel. Allowing up to four players to combat the forces of the Foot Clan simultaneously, they are superb games, both technically and in play. They came along at just the right time too, riding the wave of popularity the IP was generating thanks to its ubiquitous TV show and marketing campaign. While many of the home conversions failed to capture the spirit of the original arcade titles (probably something to do with only having two players on screen) the SNES conversion of the second arcade title is a classic. Forget the “IV” moniker - which was dropped in Japan for the sake of clarity - this is the best home conversion of Konami’s second ‘Turtles’ arcade title. Plot-wise, it’s as mad as the TV series. Krang has stolen the Statue of Liberty and when the Turtles battle their way to the Technodrome to confront him,
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Shredder sends them through a timewarp. Bouncing around in time, you have to fight Shredder’s forces to make your way back to the present day and stop him and Krang. The Turtles licence always lent itself particularly well to the scrolling beat ‘em up genre, the characters giving a range of fighting styles and balancing each other well. You had Donatello (slow but huge range), Raphael (very fast with short range), Michaelangelo (see Raphael) and Leonardo (the ‘all-rounder’), giving gamers the ability to experiment with different combinations of joint attack, and some combinations were certainly

the KNOWLEDGE
Game: Turtles in Time Publisher: Konami Developer: In-House Year: 1992 Version: SNES Genre: Scrolling beat ‘em up

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“The only problem we ever had... settling the old ‘who’s going to be Leonardo’ argument...”
much better than others - our favourite was Donatello and Leonardo, who were almost unstoppable in the hands of two capable players. The only problem we ever had with the character choice was settling the old ‘who’s going to be Leonardo’ argument - which regularly ended in a game of ‘slaps’ to decide. Our hands hurt just thinking about it. Once past the initial stages, the game soon threw up all manner of historical settings which were all very good-humoured, bright and wonderfully realised. From pre-history to a 16th century pirate ship, the wild west and eventually the future, the scenarios were varied and really helped the game hold your interest. In fact, the visuals in general were of a very high standard with large, smoothly animated characters and detailed backgrounds. Naturally, some of the visual features of the more powerful arcade hardware had to be excluded - such as weather effects and some of the background detail - but the SNES certainly acquits itself very well and is the best-looking of the home conversions by a country mile. A particular standout of the SNES version has the be the “Neon NightRiders” stage. This sees the Turtles zooming through a futuristic setting on hover-surfboards while battling Foot soldiers, robots and even helipcopters. While in the arcade this took the form of a side-scrolling section, Konami took the
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unusual step of completely redesigning it for the SNES. It became an F-Zero style extravaganza of Mode 7 effects - at least until the boss character appeared, when it switched back to the standard side-on viewpoint. To say this was a nice surprise is something of an understatement, and is a good indicator of the love and attention that was clearly lavished on this conversion by the developers. Something also demonstrated in some of the lovely little touches and changes from the arcade game that graced the SNES version. For example, in the SNES version you could choose to use either the animation colour scheme (where all the Turtles have the same colour skin) or comic colour scheme (each Turtle has their own skin tone). A small touch maybe, but it’s further evidence of the

KNOW YOUR ENEMY!
Coming in all manner of varieties, from the purple weakling to the pink shuriken throwers and fiendish yellow bomb and boomerang hurlers (oh, how we hate them!), the Foot Clan soldiers are the common enemy you’ll face time and time again. Other you’ll ‘lay the beat down upon’ during your travels include Pizza Monsters, Boxing Robots, Stone Warriors and, of course, the Turtles’ nemeses; Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang and Shredder.
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lengths Konami went to to ensure that Turtles In Time was more than the usual cheap arcade conversion. The only criticism we can level at Turtles in Time is the fact that it didn’t take advantage of the SNES controller when optimizing the control system. Why the arcade’s original two-button system is maintained on a controller that had six is beyond us. Some have accused the game of being too short - which we can understand, but find a little unfair given the work that Konami clearly put into making the SNES version a bigger and better experience than it’s arcade cousin. Also, the game can become a little repetitive, sticking quite rigidly to the age old ‘left to right, hit some guys’ formula of scrolling beat ‘em ups. While this is more a fault of the genre rather than Turtles In Time, a little more variation in enemy design and type wouldn’t have gone

HE SOUNDS FAMILIAR
In something of a coup for the time, Turtles In Time’s soundtrack was composed by Kozo Nakamura, the very man who’d composed the TV series’ music. The coups didn’t end there though, the voices of the characters in the cut-scenes were recorded by the same actors as the TV series too (except Shredder). Along with the extremely faithful visual treatment, this helped the game maintain a truly authentic feel. As an example of how to tie a game in with a TV show and not squander the licence, it’s superb. amiss. Still, none of these criticisms are game breakers, and they certainly don’t detract from the overall experience. Visual splendour and variety, balanced gameplay, extra levels over the arcade game, new boss battles and extra play modes make this the best Turtles game available in our opinion, and a shining example of how a very good arcade title can be made into a truly stellar home experience. Turtles In Time (or ‘TIT’ for short - oh, how our 13 year old selves laughed) is not just a fine beat ‘em up, it’s one of the best games on the SNES, and that qualifies it as one of the best games of the nineties. Not bad for four mutated, amphibious pizza eaters and their giant rat Sensei. Cowabunga, indeed.

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December 06

by Chris Waring

“The resort of Silent Hill slips into quiet desolation, now that the peak of development and growth has passed by…”

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ilent Hill was not the first of its kind, but it was the first to do what it did the way it did. Arriving on the PlayStation in 1999, it was as much a psychological horror as one of survival and gamers who had become used to the schlock horror of Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark were left wholly unprepared for what lay within the environs of the town of Silent Hill. Actually, we were all unprepared for the deeply unsettling events, characters and creatures that were discovered in this fog-bound, former tourist resort. The game took many of its cues from movies and literature that present horror from a psychological perspective, scaring players on an instinctive level, rather than

trying to just make them jump. The game succeeded in creating an unsettling experience like no other had before it. The mantle of fog covering the town was as much a limitation of the hardware as a design decision, becoming a significant part of the Silent Hill mystique and a fine manner in which to increase the dramatic tension within the game and the player’s disorientation within the labyrinth of the town’s streets. Running down these roads and alleyways, chased and harassed by the sound of leathery flapping wings, suddenly stumbling across a skinless, slavering dog, finding deep chasms where roads used to lie, the fog hid all of this from the player and
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was integral to the horror that slowly built around Mason’s search for his daughter Cheryl. This initial basis for emotional attachment was later found to be based on a tale of abandonment, Mason and his wife found this child by the road side and raised her as their own. The tale opens with a journey by Mason and his adopted daughter driving to Silent Hill. They are passed by a female cop, whose bike Mason later sees abandoned by the road side. Moments later, he swerves to avoid a small figure in the road and crashes his car, causing him to lose consciousness. Coming to, he finds his daughter has disappeared from his side and looking at his surroundings,

he discovers a strange town smothered in fog. Taking his first faltering steps, he follows what he believes to be his daughter into an alleyway, one that is strewn with mutilated carcasses, hospital gurneys with sheets draped over unknown shapes and an abandoned wheelchair. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this opening section of the game is the attack that takes place at the end of the alleyway, for Mason has no way to protect himself and cannot run away. Collapsing, he dies…it’s a horrifying way to introduce the player to the game, suddenly taking away the main character within the first few minutes. He’s not dead for long however, awaking with a start in a diner with the female cop he’d seen previously. Cybil introduces herself and they discuss what is going on in the town. This somewhat stilted conversation has not aged well, but should not be taken as an indication of the game as a whole. The player is further bewildered by the momentarily fixed camera angles during play, one of the most dramatic of which suddenly occurs in this opening scene as Mason pursues his daughter. It pulls up into the air at an odd angle to follow Harry as he walks around a corner, then drops down again as he passes by. For even though the player can fully rotate the camera around Mason, at times the game will take back control and either swing the camera around in such a way to obscure danger from the player, or it will fix it in a cinematic position to further underline the lack of control
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Who’s who?
Who is Cheryl really? Well, this is where it gets complicated. She’s actually one half of Alessa. It gets worse. Her mother, Dahlia, is part of a sect trying to have a God reborn and Alessa was supposed to follow in her mother’s path in the sect, but refused. She was also due to give birth to the God that her mother’s sect worshipped. This too she refused so her mother burned down the house where she was living to bring about the birth. Still with us? She split herself in half and the other half was the baby Mason and his wife found. Alessa herself fell into a coma and her nightmares began to affect the town, leading to the hell that Silent Hill finds itself in. When Mason crashes, the two girls merge back into one person. The story of Alessa and Cheryl would not be finally resolved until Silent Hill 3.
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the player finds the main protagonist in with any given situation. This can happen when danger is just around a corner and heightens the peril players find themselves in. One small piece of equipment that gives the player some slight power over what’s happening is the radio. With line of sight restricted by the fog and the camera sometimes lurching out of control, the static produced was often as frightening as any of the creatures about to be encountered. More often than not, running was a more sensible option than standing and fighting. Mason is an awkward and tricky character to control. His very obvious lack of shooting skills and the situation he finds himself in, all contribute to the deliberately poor handling players find in steering him from one point to another. He can turn on the spot, but aiming with accuracy at any great distance is beyond him, leaving him open to attack if shots aren’t fired off in rapid succession when an enemy gets very close. His night vision isn’t up to much either and when fog is swapped for night-time, the only

“Mason is an awkward and tricky character to control.”
aid is a small pocket torch and players can only see as far as the small circle of light and even inside, the reach is limited, throwing shapes and shadows across walls. Add to this his need to catch his breath after running for any length of time and it creates a feeling in the player of sympathy for his predicament – “would I be able to do any better in a similar situation?” The town of Silent Hill was once a bustling tourist resort - a set piece battle on a merry-go-round one of the highlights - although this wouldn’t be explored further until the second and third games in the series. This makes the horror all the more disconcerting as the action takes place (in the early part of the game at least) in such an ordinary New England town, the exact location is unknown and would shift states in subsequent games. The nondescript looking buildings are at striking odds with the situation Mason finds himself in. This “normalcy” doesn’t last. The layers that Mason and later characters travel through are a journey into a personal hell. From an ordinary town, to fog filled nightmare then finally into the terrifying, troubling, dark and surreal version of Silent Hill. This final version of the town in the first game features raised and rusted metal walkways, along which new monsters stalk Mason, like the grunting,

the KNOWLEDGE
Game: Silent Hill Publisher: Konami Developer: Konami Year: 1999 Version: PlayStation Genre: Horror

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“The most evident influence on the series however, was the movie Jacob’s Ladder...”
gorilla-like creatures that hunt in packs, blood stained interiors with silent, babyghosts and is always the place where the final scenarios are played out. The game also sets the scene for later games by piling on the imagery and subtle influences that would become the hallmarks of the series. As previously mentioned, the abandoned wheelchair is one such motif that appears, as do several institutions and locations – schools, hospitals, fairgrounds, public toilets. Toilets in particular feature heavily in Japanese horror tales. Stories told to scare children would tell how the unwary could fall in and disappear forever, this from a time when open toilets were still common. The most evident influence on the series however, was the movie Jacob’s Ladder. Following a Vietnam soldier through his own personal purgatory, things become progressively more surreal as he discovers what is really going on around and to him, a recurring theme in each of the games. And although the film’s visual influence wouldn’t be felt until the second and third games, this journey from the ordinary, through the unreal to the gruesome is mirrored in Mason’s efforts to reclaim his adopted daughter. Looking at the map of the streets in this first game reveals a literary influence, leaning towards horror and science fiction. Older gamers may remember the work of John Wyndham, he was responsible for end of the world
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What was that?
Whether it was the static from the radio, or the sounds from the murkiest recesses, the sounds in the game play an important part in making players afraid of the dark, of an empty corridor or of what’s around the next corner, from the animalistic sounds of the creatures to the random metallic sounds that fall just beyond the reach of the torchlight. These contributed to the oppressive atmosphere as much as any of the visual effects.

scenarios in titles such as The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes, but it’s The Midwich Cuckoos from which the elementary school takes its name. Other writers have their work and names referenced here too. Stephen King and his alter ego, Richard Bachman, are also alluded to – there’s a Bachman Road and some of King’s books get name checked on posters around town. Other authors whose names are used include Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Dan Simmons, James Ellroy and Robert Bloch amongst others. Despite the bewildering amount of influences and imagery, the game is easy to enjoy without all of the baggage. Playing the game now arouses mixed emotions. Initially play will confound rather than terrify, amuse rather than chill, the “shifting sands” of the in game graphics can distract from the atmosphere the game so diligently builds from the outset. The vocal acting leaves a lot to be desired and the FMV is looking decidedly plastic these days. But allow yourself to be drawn into the mad, mad world of Silent Hill and such concerns are soon forgotten and as play progresses survival becomes the utmost priority. What Silent Hill manages to do is draw players into its world by wanting to survive the monsters, by the strength of the story and the sympathy the player feels for Mason, but most of all to try to understand just what the hell is going on. With four different endings available,
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Riddle Me This...
Another staple of the horror genre are the impenetrable puzzles. In Silent Hill they also came in the shape of clues left around for players to find. More often than not, they were essential to progress in the game. One such was a poem about five birds which had to be deciphered in order to correctly play the keys on a faulty piano keyboard. All to get a silver medallion. Another uses colours to help unlock a door: “Clouds flowing over a hill. Sky on a sunny day. Tangerines that are bitter. Lucky four-leaf-clover. Violets in the garden. Dandelions along a path. Unavoidable sleeping time. Liquid flowing from a slashed wrist.” Correctly placing coloured plates (clouds are white, sky is blue, etc) unlocks a door. Most were uses of logic, but if pieces of the puzzle were missing, exploring further or backtracking were sometimes the only option. Turning to a guide was a last resort.

rated from good to bad and the joke “UFO” conclusion, which one a player received depended on actions at critical points in the game. We wouldn’t know which one was the “real” ending until the first sequel proper, Silent Hill 3. So is it worth playing now? Absolutely. This is the beginning of a series like no other, a horror series that takes its’ influences from as many western sources as Japanese, to make something wholly original. Some games age well, some games age poorly, but despite its limitations, even after all this time, this game still has the power to unnerve and disturb unlike many of its contemporaries.

Creature Feature
The variations in monsters between games are easily explained by the fact that they are a manifestation of the inner demons of the main characters, although in the first game they are usually related to Alessa and her childhood in some way. For example, the pterodactyl-like creatures Mason sees are because Alessa’s favourite book is The Lost World. Similarly, the Puppet Nurses and Doctors represent Alessa’s fear of Hospitals and medical staff in general, the skinless dogs are her fear of large dogs and the rompers (the gorilla-like creatures) are her fear of adults. Later games would relate the creatures to the protagonists themselves.
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“This is the beginning of a series like no other... something wholly original.”

by James Cooper

FEATURE

A BREED APART
THE STORY OF TEAM 17 - A VERY BRITISH DEVELOPER...
remember my first encounter with a Team17 title well. It was 1992 and I was just 14. There I was sat in my bedroom, lights off, cruiser joystick gripped firmly in my sweaty palms, and I was panicking. Why? Well, the game was Alien Breed on the Amiga and I had just completed the first level. Or so I thought. As I destroyed the reactor, the screen started flashing red and a countdown started. A rather alluring female voice began to calmly inform me that not exiting the level at the earliest opportunity would probably be a very bad thing for my future prospects. Scrambling for the exit lift, I desperately tried to remember the path I had taken through the level. Just to make things even more interesting, the alien hordes seemed to think this was a good time to launch a full-on attack. The cherry on the parfait was that I was nearly out of ammo. And health. Needless to say, I died. Horribly. But it was the first time that a game had
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I

really panicked me. The first time I’d felt such a visceral surge of adrenaline while gaming. In fact, the first time I’d experienced a real, honest-to-goodness emotion while playing. Sure, I’d been a gamer for years and had been excited by lots of games, but this was different. This had made me break out in a sweat, made my heart pound until I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. Everything about this game just felt right. It was technically superb, atmospherically spoton and fiendishly difficult, but never unfair. Well, mostly never unfair - there was the odd moment when the lack of a key or ammo and seemingly never-ending supply of aliens conspired to have me hurling my joystick against the floor, wall, window or anything else within reach. Despite the fear and difficulty, did I continue to play? You’re damn right I did. My brother and I spent more time than could possibly be healthy playing cooperative Alien Breed. Then along came

FEATURE
Alien Breed 2 and Alien Breed: Tower Assault, upping the horror/panic action, ramping up the difficulty and amazing gamers and reviewers alike with their stupendous technical achievements. A social life was suddenly a thing of the past, my compulsion became an addiction. In fact, my brother and I were so impressed with the first Alien Breed game that we purchased just about every single title that Team17 published on the Amiga. After the Alien Breed games came Assassin, Project X, Superfrog, Body Blows, Arcade Pool, Super Stardust and more. Whichever genre they entered, Team17 brought with them their innate ability to look at what was already available and push it a little further to create something truly impressive, both in a technical way and with regard to their tight gameplay mechanic. Thus it was that they entered into the pantheon of hallowed Amiga developers, and were mentioned in the same breath as the Bitmap Brothers, Core Design and Sensible Software - companies that in the early to mid nineties, just could not put a foot wrong. Starting life in 1987 as 17-bit Software, they specialised in producing and publishing games for the extensive public domain scene that thrived in the Amiga community. By 1990, however, they were ready to release their first commercial title, the car chase game ‘Miami Chase’. While this first game was released under the moniker ‘Team 7’, they quickly adopted the Team17 name and went on to develop and publish Full

Below are someof the highlights from Team17’s history, both as a developer and as a publisher: Miami Chase Full Contact Alien Breed Assassin Alien Breed Special Edition Project X Alien Breed 2 SuperFrog Project X Special Edition Apidya Overdrive Body Blows Arcade Pool Super Stardus Body Blows Galactic Alien Breed - Tower Assault Assassin Special Edition Ultimate Body Blows ATR - All Terrain Racing Worms Alien Breed 3D Alien Breed 3D II X2 Arcade Pool II Worms Armageddon Worms Blast Worms 3D Worms Forts: Under Siege Worms 4: Mayhem Worms: Open Warfare 1990 1991 1991 1992 1992 1992 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1994 1994 1994 1994 1994 1994 1995 1995 1995 1996 1996 1999 1998 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
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Contact - a very respectable fighting game for the Amiga that is still highly regarded today. They swiftly built a reputation for developing and publishing technically adept games that pushed the Amiga hardware to its limits while still providing fun yet challenging gameplay. In fact, many of their early titles are rightly regarded as classics not just of the Amiga scene, but of the 16-bit era in general. Alien Breed and its sequels, Assassin, Project-X, Body Blows, Superfrog, Apidya and Super Stardust
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are still heralded by Amiga gamers as some of hte best titles available for the system. Unfortunately, in 1995 and 1996, Team17 released Alien Breed 3D and Alien Breed 3D 2: The Killing Grounds, respectively. Ahead of their time in many ways, they were victims of the limitations of the hardware. Even the Amiga 1200 AGA chipset just wasn’t up to the task of running the game that the team obviously had in their heads. To be fair, the games were not a complete failure, and captured much of the Alien Breed atmosphere. But with ropey controls, a small viewable window and low resolution semi-3D environments, the 3D Alien Breed games just didn’t fulfill the hopes of many fans - especially now that Sony’s PlayStation had hit the market and true 3D environments were becoming common. Of all of Team17’s Amiga games, the Alien Breed 3D titles have aged the worst, being almost unplayable by modern standards. Strange then that the 2D games still feel so well put together and

FEATURE
stand up to a critical eye, even today. If the team had made their first 3D attempt on the original Playstation, it could well have been a very different story. Nevertheless, Team17 found their golden goose when, in 1995, Worms happened. I say that it ‘happened’ because Worms was not just a product. It wasn’t another sequel or game that fitted into a well known genre. It was that rarest of things - a completely original idea. Frankly it was an event, and the speed with which it flew off the shelves and spread onto a number of other systems was frightening. As Team 17’s flagship product, it has continued it’s meteoric rise through various incarnations (Worms 2, World Party, Armageddon, 3D, Forts) until reaching the stage we are at today, where it has sold many millions of copies and a version of the game has appeared on just about every major games system and handheld device, from mobiles and the GBA to the SNES, Saturn, PS2, PC and Mac. Along the way, however, Worms has evolved into a very different animal (invertebrate, whatever). Now a completely 3D game, the team has come in for some fairly vocal criticism from their fans for moving the series away from it’s 2D roots. The move into 3D brought with it a slowing of the game speed, necessary due to the limitations of the camera system, but frustrating to those that had followed the series from its inception and become used to swiftly swinging across the screen with the ninja rope, dropping dynamite upon their opponent AND making good their

HANDBAGS AT TEN PACES
One of the darkest periods in Team17’s history has to be the Amiga Power debacle of the mid-nineties. Amiga Power was one of the best-selling Amiga magazines, and certainly the most controversial in terms of content and reviewing style. Often they were criticized for being arrogant and hating their readership and even the Amiga. While these accusations were plainly ridiculous, there’s no doubt that Amiga Power did their fair share of baiting - especially with Team 17. Despite the fact that early Team17 titles such as Alien Breed were warmly received by Amiga Power, Team 17 poked fun at the magazine and criticized their reviewing policy using in-jokes in their games. It all came to a head in 1995 after Amiga Power negatively reviewed Kingpin and ATR - quite fairly to be honest as the games were below average. Unfortunately, the developer took umbrage and their response was to file a lawsuit. They demanded that Amiga Power ceased “lying about their games”, contended that the reviewer of Kingpin had not properly played the game, and that the review for ATR had been completed “in a style not affording the gravity demanded by a racing game”. The result of the lawsuit was never announced. However, Team17 refused to send any more review code to Amiga Power - forcing the reviewers to go out and buy their own copies upon each games release. This certainly affected Amiga Power’s reviewing policy with regard to Team17 products, with Worms (probably one of the best games released on the Amiga) scoring an unfair and meagre 60%. This ill feeling continued to fester between the two parties, Team17 even going so far as to demand that other magazines within Future Publishing did not share review code with Amiga Power staff. Despite alleged attempts to mend the rift by successive editors of the magazine, the feud continued until the demise of the magazine. A shame really as, despite occasional touches of arrogance, Amiga Power were the best of the Amiga games magazines, their inability to maintain a good relationship with one of the most loved Amiga developers can only have contributed to their downfall.

5 Arcade Pool (top) was a fantastic little game, with some of the best ball physics that had been seen at that point. Super Stardust (above) was a tremendous, and vastly underrated game in the vein of Asteroids.

6 You don’t need us to tell you what this is...

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December 06

FEATURE
escape - all in less than 30 seconds. You try doing that in 3D. The vagaries of the added dimension also brought with them problems of accurately aiming (especially with the effects of wind), and judging distances and power - all integral features of Worms’ gameplay. Despite these shortcomings, Worms is still a good game, maintaining much of the trademark irreverent humour and twisted cynicism that fans of the series have come to both love and expect, Assassin is a great (if a little cheeky) title. Clearly a ‘homage’ to Strider, even down to the main character looking virtually identical, it quickly went on to become an Amiga classic. As usual for a Team17 title, it excelled visually, but it was in the excellent level design and well judged learning curve that Assassin excelled. While many games of this type from the early nineties punished the player, Assassin never felt like it was too hard. You always managed to get that little bit further, and that was what kept you coming back for more.

ASSASSIN

“I don’t think you’ll find another game where the most deadly weapon is a prodding finger...”
while adding some wonderfully fresh graphics and far more detailed animation. I don’t think you’ll find another game where the most deadly weapon (and the one that causes the most annoyance to your adversary) is a prodding finger. Anyone annihilating your last Worm using this technique is sure to become the object of swift and terrible retribution. Worms is now onto it’s third incarnation as a 3D game, and is still selling extremely well. The recent announcement that Worms, in its original 2D form, will be coming to Microsoft’s Live Arcade service has also thrilled fans. Although, as of writing this, there’s no word on which version of the game will
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FEATURE
“A well balanced and fun game with some nice characters...”
One on one beat ‘em ups were incredibly difficult to implement well on the Amiga. The lack of a guaranteed multibutton pad (although many Amiga owners used the Megadrive pad or other similar models) meant that developers had to map complicated move-sets into eight directions and a single button - no mean feat - and many failed horribly (see the Amiga version of SF2). IK+ is probably the perfect example of a single-button control method in a fighter, but Body Blows runs it a close second. A well balanced and fun game with some nice characters, excellent visuals and responsive controls, Body Blows certainly deserves its reputation as one of the best fighting games on the Amiga.

BODY BLOWS

Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic and the Amiga had Superfrog. While not reaching the dizzying heights of the fat plumber of hs spiky nemesis, Team17’s platformer is a solidly playable, visually imaginative title that deserves more respect than it gets. It suffers from a lead character that isn’t the easiest to identify with (a frog in a cape), and the usual afflictions of the platform genre are present and correct (life-or-death leaps, staid level design), but there’s something innately lovable about the whole thing that just makes us want to forgive all its faults. Give it a try.

SUPERFROG

“there’s something innately loveable about the whole thing that just makes us want to forgive all its faults...”

Improving on the previous incarnations in almost every way, Tower Assault is by far the best of the Alien Breed Titles. A panicstricken, horrific atmosphere combines with hordes of tough enemies, spectaular graphics and some of the finest sound design seen on the Amiga, to provide gamers with a truly atmospheric game. It’s challenging too, there are 50 levels with multiple exits, resulting in a not inconsiderable 250 different routes through the game. Tower Assault is a contender not only for the title of greatest Amiga game ever made, but for the title of one of the greatest games ever made.
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ALIEN BREED: TOWER ASSAULT

FEATURE
lack of publisher interest. Today, Team17 - still one of the largest independent developers in Britain with more than 70 staff - are actively looking for people with experience of the Unreal Engine 3, again raising hopes among fans that the Alien Breed franchise is due for a dusting off. It would certainly fit in with the current vogue for sci-fi based action games such as ‘Resistance: Fall of Man’ and ‘Gears of War’. With Team17 stating that they are not working on an FPS, however, many question what form the game would take. Could a top down, isometric viewpoint still work in this modern age of gaming, or would Team17 choose to take the third-person approach seen in Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War? Whatever the answer, there’s no doubt that there is still plenty of interest in the Alien Breed titles. Throughout the 16-bit era, Team17 deservedly earned a reputation for creating technically impressive titles that played very well. While their current emphasis on the Worms franchise is completely understandable in the current economic climate, it would be nice to see them branching out into some of the genres they previously worked in. Hopefully, we will eventually see a resurrection of Alien Breed (without a doubt the strongest of their IP’s after Worms), then a whole new generation of gamers will learn to dread the klaxon call of the Reactor Countdown and be very, very afraid of the dark...

“Throughout the 16-bit era, Team17 deservedly earned a reputation for creating technically impressive titles that played very well.”
be making the leap to Live, you can be sure that we’ll be spending an inordinate amount of time perfecting our ninja rope and cluster bomb grenades over the next few weeks - ready to take on the world. Recapturing some of the speed and exhilaration of the 2D game will be a difficult task, but one that certainly isn’t beyond them. In fact, it’s not the first of their franchises that they have tried to move into a new generation. In 1999 Team17 were apparently working on a continuation of their Alien Breed games called ‘Alien Breed Conflict’. Destined for release on the PC, sadly the project was cancelled quite early on and never saw the light of day. However, in 2003 another attempt was made to resurrect the series when Alien Breed 2004 was announced as being in production for the PS2. Rumoured to be using the ‘Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance’ game engine - which we think would have been perfect - the game was eventually dropped due to a
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December 06

Rolling Thunder (ZX Spectrum)

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December 06

Continue?
by James Cooper

All opinions and comments expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Play.d magazine. So don’t you go giving us evils.

A nice, big cup of ‘shut the hell up’.

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amers, eh? What’s their problem? Honestly, sometimes they make me weep for the species, they really do. This week (at least, the week I’m writing this) has seen the launch of the PS3 in Japan and has provided a boatload of evidence for those that wish to continue expounding the view that videogames are for children and children only. Pick a games website, any games website with a discussion forum, and I’ll guarantee that you’ll find at least one thread that expounds some area in which Sony have “failed”, “lied”, “conned”, “cheated” or generally misled the gaming community. People have been shouting things like “there’s no games ready”; “it scratches too easily”; “they’ve sold less than one game per console which shows they’re doomed” and other such hyperbolic nonsense.

need to proliferate (we’ll discuss that another time). What it does mean is that the community needs to grow up. Games ARE a mature medium. They can handle serious issues well, they can entertain, delight, sadden, enrage and ask questions almost as well as any other medium. The immature and jeuvenile content of many games merely reflects the attitudes and mental age that many gamers project to the wider world, the very same gamers than moan and whinge constantly about the industry not being taken seriously next to film, music and literature. How can the wider world take us seriously when too many of us are willing to argue for a week (or five) over the vaguest of press releases or the most incredulous of rumours? Our problem seems to be that we just don’t appreciate how good we’ve got it at the moment. Just look at the machines we have available to us. Between the 360, Wii and PS3 we’re being offered an unparalleled level of interaction, immersion, depth, visual quality and sound design. Gameplay features we dreamed of during the eighties and nineties are now standards. We take customisation, online play, freeform gameplay, real-world physics and surround sound for granted now. If a game doesn’t tick at least two or three of those boxes, we want to know why - and rightly so. The thing is, fourteen years ago £150 would have bought you a Super Nintendo at launch with the ability to play
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fairly simple 2D games, none of which would have offered any of the features modern consoles now do as standard. You’d have also had to pay in the region of £50 for a game. Whereas today even the Wii - the most basic of the ‘nextgen’ consoles - offers games with many advanced features. If you adjust for inflation, it’s also significantly cheaper than the SNES was at launch. In fact, the equivalent cost of a SNES in 1992 will now get you a 360 - a console with a world of features and potential that we couldn’t have even dreamed of back in the early nineties. I know people that paid much more than the PS3’s highly contentious £425 price tag for a console called the ‘NeoGeo’, which if I remember correctly, offered better graphics than the SNES and not much else. Heck, I know people that paid more than £400 for the original PlayStation, whose sole ‘feature’ (other than playing games) was its capability to emulate a really cheap CD player.

Yet these very same people are up in arms and screaming at the top of their voices about the cost of the PS3, which offers about a million times (may be a guess) more functionality for just over half the comparative cost! If we want people to take the industry seriously, if we want people to accept our hobby as appropriate for adult consumption, then we all need to grow up a bit. Let’s show a bit more appreciation for what we have. Let’s remember how little we used to get, and how much we paid for it. We all need to take a step back and realise that we’ve really never had it better, or been given such choice and innovation for so little expense. In short, let’s all have a nice, big cup of “shut the hell up”

The worst part is, most of this ‘discussion’ masquerades as serious and informed opinion. In reality it is little more than malicious gossip and over-reaction. Usually by the vociferous Nintendo and Microsoft community. However, that’s not to say that the Sony community has been any better. Like fish on a line, Sony ‘fans’ the world over have been drawn into the pathetic cycle of defending lies and rumour with even more unsubstantiable drivel. It’s really very sad. The one thing that almost every gamer seems to agree on is the fact that games need to grow up, and no that doesn’t mean that guns, gore and breasts

December 06

even monkeys fall from trees
by Chris Waring

All opinions and comments expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Play.d magazine. So don’t you go giving us evils.

It’s not like the old days.
Some time ago, a friend of mine told me there was no imagination left in games anymore. No originality, no weirdness, nothing to challenge our idea of what a game can be and should do. Being a fan of the current gen, I naturally disagreed. He said that games from the 32-bit era and even before had more imagination in them than any game of the 128-bit era you might care to mention. They had strangeness, oddness, pure innovation and inventiveness, as if beamed in from another world, which games these days just couldn’t posses. We never did agree. With the advent of consoles capable of creating gameplay in 3-D worlds, I really fell in love with the whole idea of losing yourself in someone’s else’s creation, play with an avatar that could do things and go places on screen that you could not in real life, sometimes in a stylised version of reality, sometimes planet hopping. One that let you do what you wanted, within the confines of those invisible walls, island-bound cities and the limitations of the hardware itself, but let you believe all the time that anything was possible. Those older games held little attraction for me anymore, when I could lose hours to the likes of GTA III or Ico. For Christmas 2004 a couple of friends treated me to a Mega Drive, with Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2. I enjoyed them hugely for a few weeks, but having a living room full of current gen loveliness, it was eventually relegated to the bedroom and hooked up to a portable T.V. where it simply gathered dust. Titles like Devil May Cry 3, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Katamari Damacy had me hooked. Good times. Now it’s nearly the end of 2006 and I finally managed to get some more games for the Mega Drive. Titles like Dynamite Headdy, Strider, Rocket Knight Adventures and Cosmic Spacehead. Games that are so left field, it’s hard to imagine anything like them appearing now, outside of a limited release in Japan. Nowadays film tie-ins, yearly updates to sports titles and the relentless march towards realism are the norm and seemingly a requirement for publishers who wish to break even and stay afloat. Take Cosmic Spacehead. It’s a point and click type affair linked by platforming sections. Early on, there’s a scary monster that players have to figure out how to get around. It can’t be fought or spoken to. In another area, a balloon had been acquired. If players gave the balloon to the monster, it floats away and the adventure continues. Could you
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imagine anything as simple or odd happening in any game today? If it was to happen anywhere, it would most likely happen on a Nintendo console (oh Sega, do the right thing), highly probable on the PlayStation 2, but I doubt anything like this would even get a sniff of a Microsoft console. I know they do retro on Live Arcade, but as far as the Xbox brand is concerned, a peculiar game, with surreal gameplay and a hefty dollop of oddness? I really don’t think so. The Xbox brand is far too American to see games of that ilk. Giving enemies balloons to float them out of the way isn’t how the Americans like to do it.

Even stranger, Cosmic Spacehead is actually British! Yes, you read that right - it was created in Britain by Codemasters. The British game development scene in those days was as fertile a place for games as Japan ever was, but then business concerns became paramount and we all know what Codemasters do now, as many others do. Now don’t get me wrong, there are games out there right now that are quite bizarre, hugely original in terms of gameplay and visuals or just so downright original that they beggar belief. How about Katamari Damacy, or Freak Out, or Pikmin, or Doshin the Giant, Okami, Paper Mario, Killer 7 and Magic Pengel? They’re all fantastic games and all on one Japanese console or another and all sadly the exception rather than the rule. This is an argument that will ever go away and it’s as much about the hardcore gamers versus the mainstream. One can’t exist without the other. But as for my Mega Drive, that’s still being fired up to play Dynamite Headdy as much as the PlayStation 2 is for Okami is right now. I think my friend may have had a point. I’d better find him to tell him he was right.
December 06

The Misanthropic Guide to Gaming
by Yussry Houson

All opinions and comments expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Play.d magazine. So don’t you go giving us evils.

Jingle all the way (to hell)...
elcome back. It has been a while since I vented my spleen about the irritating things about being a gamer. As you may have guessed from the subtitle, this column is about Christmas, being quite relevant for the time of year. Christmas used to be great. I’d write a long list of games on a piece of paper, and feign surprise at the ones I ended up getting, having already searched under my parents’ bed for them. Some may say that this takes all the fun out of Christmas. My family thinks that it is better to get someone something they like rather than having to find the receipt that no doubt was consigned to the bin in July when the present was first purchased. Ah, happier times. This was a good five years or so ago now, so presents aren’t a big deal, what with being all grown up and having a job. This is where gamer hell begins. No doubt we all bemoan the lack of games for months over the summer, but the reason for this is not that the developers are on holiday, its that they think all of us should be. They don’t seem to take into account that I, like many gamers, have an aversion to sunlight. So this is partly why we have to wait until September for anything new (and half decent) to play. However, the biggest reason for the lack of summer games is that publishers want to save them for the Christmas rush. I don’t blame publishers of rubbish games trying to make a quick buck from parents who do not know the difference between a poor movie tie-in and a genuinely good action game. For the

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rest of us it’s a case of all the good games we’ve been tracking the development of for years being released at once - meaning we have to buy multiple ‘Triple A’ titles at around the same time. Of course this only hurts your wallet what with having to buy things for other people as well, usually people you don’t like or rarely see. So the poor simpletons like me end up with nothing. Of course we could avoid buying things on release day, but ours is a hobby where being first is important. There are still plenty of great games on the old Xbox I never got round to playing, but who really wants to when the likes of Gears of War have just come out on the 360? So we’ve looked at the availability of games at Christmas (sort of), but now onto the most angrifying (yes, I made the word up, and no I’m not changing it) thing about Christmas. Shopping. An obvious point granted, but one that gets me so angry I dream of taking a chain-gun to the high street with me and clearing a path ahead littered with shredded corpses just so I can get into a shop without having to touch the great unwashed. Of course this is a problem that is not specific to gaming, but it is perhaps worse for us than any other consumer. Game shops are generally quite busy, what with many a bored teenager and jilted partner wandering aimlessly around the store. Christmas just multiplies this ten-fold. We have the added bonus of the Holy Trinity of irritating shoppers thrown into the usually tiny game retailer: Parents, Pushchairs
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and Pensioners. All three seem to conspire to make browsing for a bargain that much more difficult. These days if a member of one of these groups is in my line of sight I’ll rush to the nearest exit. Not for my benefit, but for theirs, to save them from an ear-bashing at least, or a Daily Mail baiting ‘games make people violent’ campaign because I ripped off a little old lady’s arms and beat several children to death with them. I could just shop online, what with it being cheaper and all, but I’ll be searching for an old Xbox game from last Christmas that you can only get second hand, or for a fortune on eBay. Now don’t get me started on eBay... Last couple of points: firstly, I misquoted last issues film quote. It was from Clerks by the way. And secondly, I’d like to congratulate whoever did the art for my last column. It was inspired. I’m hoping for Dead Rising this time. (All out of Dead Rising pictures. Will a chain gun do? - Art Ed)

next issue February
Marching to deliverance