For those of us old enough to remember, shopping has changed a lot in the last thirty years. Some of the experience is still the same, but gone are the Wednesday’s of half-day closing, nearly everywhere is open on a Sunday (albeit at slightly reduced hours), and shops can stay open as late as 8pm during the week, all to satisfy our diverse lifestyles and thirst for consumer goods.
One area of retailing that has changed significantly since the mid-1980s is the experience of purchasing the humble video game. I recall, as a kid, being able to pick up a new Spectrum game almost anywhere, even my local newspaper shop could supply me the latest Joe Blade game for £2.99 or the newest shovel-wear to escape out of Codemasters. Oh yes, I didn’t need to scroll down the information super-highway, oh no, long before the mass accessibility to the internet, it was a stroll down the local high-street to get my gaming fix. WH Smith and Boots were brilliant for games in those days, and my town even had a very good independent just outside the town centre – Software City.
Software City was a goldmine. Not only did they stock all the latest releases at prices competitive with the major chains, but they also had some of the less recent titles at really good prices. I regularly walked up to their shop from Sainsbury’s car park whilst my mum did the weekly shop, and more often than not walked away with a purchase. I’ll always remember going in with my mate and seeing Ocean Software’s The Biz compilation (R-Type, Double Dragon, Operation Wolf and Batman: The Caped Crusader) on the shelf for a mere £4.99… it was supposed to retail for £14.99! Software City was a mecca to me for a good few years, right through until about 1992/’93 when more and more retailers were jumping on to the home console boom as gamers switched to Mega Drive’s and Super Nintendo’s and ditched the Amiga and Atari ST as gaming formats. Today, Software City is no more, their presence long since replaced by a hair salon. How the times have changed…
Whilst 8-Bit computer titles were an easy score twenty five years ago, console games were not. In the late 1980s video game consoles were very expensive compared to the popular Commodore, Amstrad, Atari and Sinclair home computers, and nowhere near as popular.
In the Christmas of 1988 I was very fortunate to receive a Nintendo Entertainment System Deluxe pack (the one with R.O.B the robot), to which I was delighted, and played it constantly over the Christmas holidays much to the annoyance of my parents. However, two factors that did not particularly endear me to the system soon came to light. The first was availability. There was nowhere local that stocked NES games, the nearest place was Toys-R-Us, and that was a good forty minute drive away, assuming I could persuade my mother or father to take me there in the first place. The second issue was price. In 1988 / ’89 the average full price title for one of the 8-bit computers was £8.99, and for those who had an ST or Amiga between £14.95 and £19.95. Now, back then £10.00 for a game was a lot of money, and you didn’t want to spend that and then get home and find out it was a load of pants. NES games on the other hand were usually priced between £29.99 and £49.99 – an eye watering amount of cash for a video game back then and over £100.00 in today’s money!! Subsequently, my NES collection was very modest (at best), and I pretty much gave up on it within a few years as it was just too expensive and inconvenient to shop for.
I believe it was a copy of Mean Machines that I picked up at random one day that first altered me to the imminent arrival of the new, and powerful, 16-Bit home consoles from Sega and Nintendo. In the previews section I looked at the first screenshots I had seen of Super Mario World and Capcom’s port of Final Fight, and my jaw hit the floor at the stunning graphics. I eventually picked up a Sega Megadrive for cheap off a friend at school, but by now consoles were moving into the main stream and I didn’t have to travel to the other side of the county to buy games.
Software City stocked the latest PAL Megadrive and SNES games, and a new competitor shop, A R Computers had also opened selling console titles. The high street retailers had also jumped on the band wagon, with Dixons, Woolworths and Argos all stocking the major 16-Bit formats in the UK. I stayed loyal to Software City, other than when they didn’t have the game I wanted. I think the last title I got from them was Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition if I recall correctly. They closed down a short time later.
Later with the Playstation I finally got fed up with stunted PAL conversions and six-to-twelve month lead times to see the UK version of a new release, and so bought a NTSC/J Dual Shock Playstation package from Another World in Stoke-on-Trent. This heralded the last of the real games buying experiences for me.
Between 1997 and 2001 I would regularly go into Another World to see the latest import offerings, and they would generally not disappoint. It was a great shop, hidden at the back of a rundown shopping arcade in central Hanley and just a few doors away from the legendary (and by then defunct) Console Concepts store. The downstairs was tiny, and filled with comic related stuff, but go up the narrow wooden stair case and you entered import heaven! All the latest Playstation and Saturn games from Japan, and the odd US title as well, plus some Neo-Geo and PC Engine stuff too. It was a great place, I really miss its musty smell and grubby building it sat in (now demolished). I really hate to think about how much money I spent there, but, you can’t take it with you, right? At least that’s what I tell my wife nowadays.
Do you remember Tottenham Court Road Computer Exchange? Today they’re better known as CEX, but in the late 90s they had some brilliant shops in London, stocking all the latest import games for all the formats you could think of. I remember going into their, sadly, short lived retro shop and seeing the display of Neo-Geo AES games – I had never seen so many in one place before, and the price tags were wallet busting back then too (comparatively to today).
As we moved into the Playstation 2 and Gamecube eras, the international release dates for major titles began to standardise, and letterbox PAL games were replaced with proper full screen releases, and the import market started to rapidly contract. Who wanted to play the latest Resident Evil game in Japanese when you could go to Game and pick it up cheaper and in English?
As the sun has set over the Twentieth Century and the New Millennium marches on, the internet dominates the way we buy our games today. While some of the great names of ’80s gaming like Boots and WH Smith still permeate the Great British High Street, they have both abandoned video games retailing; Game has had some very serious issues and downsized considerably; and the independents have all but disappeared. CEX has changed beyond all recognition, almost becoming like a personal electronics (only) version of Cash Convertors peppered with a smattering of Xbox 360 & PS3 titles.
While video game nostalgia may only be a quick eBay click away, it could never replace cherished memories of going into WH Smith and picking up my copy of Elite’s Paperboy, the buying experience today is just so soulless.
Following on from the hours lost at Christmas to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (see my last blog post), I’ve continued rekindling my relationship with the Resident Evil series by importing a copy of Biohazard HD (aka Resident Evil HD) for PlayStation 3.
For those unfamiliar with the earlier entries in the series, in 2002 Capcom completely re-engineered the original 1996 Resident Evil by using the then new technology provided by Nintendo’s Gamecube to not only update the graphics, but to subtly expand the original game and storyline so that it encompassed some of the plot elements of the sequels. Capcom did a fantastic job, the game had all the hallmarks of the original in a new package, and the release was met with universal critical acclaim.
In the lead up to the release of Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Capcom have published a HD update of the Gamecube game.
The HD update has been nicely done – graphics are crisp and show great detail, and the lighting has been improved adding further character to the environments. One thing that struck me is actually how well the game has aged visually. The 1996 PlayStation game is coming up for twenty years old now and while the graphics are still palatable, they do date the game. For what is, essentially, a 13 year old Gamecube game, the visuals on the HD remaster are really good! Obviously they do not quite have the depth of detail of a modern video-game, but you could certainly mistake it for a game that was a little more contemporary than 2002.
Outside of the HD enhancement, the game remains identical to the original Gamecube release. Capcom have added a few extra alternate costumes that were not previously available, and have added in trophies to help motivate the completists`amongst you all.
I won’t engage in a full review here, but I will post a full retrospective on the 2002 release soon.
For those who missed the original Resident Evil: REmake when it was first released on the Gamecube then I highly recommend picking this up. The game is still highly entertaining, and will remind many of the great roots this series has, and what Survival Horror really meant before things went slightly awry with Resident Evil 5, and then totally derailed in Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil HD is available to download now on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Physical copies are available through Japanese import, exclusively, for PlayStation 3 (where the series goes by the (much better) name of Biohazard).
Now, if only Capcom would do a REmaster of Resident Evil 2….
Resident Evil HD
Version tested: PlayStation 3 (NTSC/J)
Also available on: Xbox Live Arcade / PlayStation Network
A Happy New Year to you all, and I thought I would start the New Year with a fresh look at an old favourite of mine, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. I actually spent a large chunk of my spare time over Christmas playing through the game (again), so that I could finally fully complete it – a feat that has taken me the modest period of a mere fifteen years…
Through the late-1990’s Resident Evil was fast becoming one of the most anticipated series on home-consoles. The zombie and mutant infested tales of Raccoon City’s legendary Special Tactics and Rescue Service’s fight against the corrupt Umbrella Corporation were gripping gamers everywhere. While recent entries from Capcom have divided opinion starkly among fans, between 1996 and 2000 four Resident Evil games were launched, and all were well received, firmly establishing the “survival horror” genre.
RE3 is set around the events of Resident Evil 2, and sees you picking up control of S.T.A.R.S member Jill Valentine as she tries to escape the now zombie infested Raccoon City. The game essentially splits its story into two parts – action set before the events of RE2, and then action set immediately after RE2. However, throughout both segments you will encounter the infamous Nemesis – a bio-engineered assassin from Umbrella who will stop at nothing until all S.T.A.R.S members are eliminated.
Along the way you will meet up with Carlos, a member of Umbrella’s Biohazard Countermeasure Service – a team of ex-mercernaries Umbrella has assembled under the guise of an evacuation force for the remaining human survivors of Raccoon City. Not that you’ll come across many survivors. Zombies are now the primary inhabitants of Raccoon City’s streets; and you’ll also come across the familiar giant spiders, zombie dogs, Hunters, and the occasional new mutant.
Controls are not immediately different to the previous two RE games, save for three exceptions. The first is the introduction of the “quick turn” feature. On the GameCube, simply flick the C-stick and Jill will perform a quick 180 degree turn, a move that is a god-send to improving the “tank” controls of the playable character(s). The second, more minor change, is that you now no longer have to press the action button to climb stairs – you do so automatically on approach. The third feature is a “dodge” manoeuvre, whereby pressing the R button just prior to attack will see you evade your attacker and allow you to ready for a counter attack.
The “quick turn” and climb features make the controls a lot smoother over the previous two games, however, the “dodge” feature can be a bit hit and miss, and I certainly wouldn’t rely on it to survive any given situation.
Another new element to the game is the ability to craft ammunition. Using various gun powders found around the game areas, you can create everything from regular bullets to explosive incendiary grenades and high-powered magnum ammo. Additional weapons do still need to be sought out, and you will only start the game with the standard hand gun. If you’re brave enough to take on Nemesis at the points he attacks you, and you put him down (temporarily though that will be), he will reward you with some pretty helpful weapon upgrades. Whereas ammunition conservation was very much the order of the day in previous outings, RE3 does all it can to insure you’ve got the tools to complete your mission.
Graphically I don’t feel the game has aged too badly considering this title is sixteen years old now. The pre-rendered backgrounds do their job, and the character graphics are pretty good for a game developed for 32-Bit hardware. I’ve certainly experienced worse (I recently took a look back at Tomb Raider 2 on PSN, and the graphics are horrible). The animated cut scenes are showing their age somewhat, but given the original hardware specs the game was designed to run on, they’re still watchable.
The scripting is as cheesy as ever, but it wouldn’t be a proper Resident Evil game without a good dollop of cheese laden dialogue. Music is good, sets the atmosphere well, but is fairly unmemorable, while the sound effects do their job.
Despite its relatively short length, (once you’re familiar with the game, it can be easily completed in under 4 hours), there is stacks of replay value. There are in-game extras to be unlocked when certain criteria are met, a challenging set of Mercenaries campaigns, and the game will rank you on your performance (based on completion time and in-game decisions taken); and there are multiple ways you can tackle in-game decisions and routes to completion. There’s also plenty of stuff hidden around the city to find if you’re inclined to look – it’ll certainly take a few play throughs before you find everything Capcom has thrown in. For fans of the series there are also eight different epilogue endings, each one giving a brief update on individual characters from the Resident Evil series helping to pre-empt the story lines for Code:Veronica and RE4.
I have been a big Resident Evil fan since the launch of the original on the Sony PlayStation, and while the first game and sequel always seem to be fondly remembered, there never seems to be much time given to the third instalment. Perhaps its release was slightly overshadowed by the (then) prospect of Resident Evil: Code: Veronica on Dreamcast, but for me it is a worthy edition to the series and still seriously good fun to play. For those who prefer their zombie action over the puzzle elements and slightly slower pace of the previous games, then Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is a real treat.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Version tested: Nintendo GameCube
Also available on: Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation Network, Microsoft Windows