Tagged: gaming

Time Crisis 2

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Walk into any decent arcade, bowling alley or Quasar during the late 1980’s through to the late 1990’s, and before the Dance Dance Revolution machines started to take over, and you were guaranteed to find at least one gun game taking up a few square feet of floor space. Operation Wolf, Beast Busters, Alien 3: The Gun, Virtua Cop, Area 51… and that’s just naming a few of them! Konami, Sega, Atari, Taito… all the major arcade developers were churning out a light-gun shooter of one variety or another. One such arcade developer to jump on the band-wagon was Pac-Man producer, Namco.

Namco were on something of a roll in the mid-90’s and hit commercial and critical success with 1995’s Time Crisis arcade machine which took the now tiring gun game genre and added in some refreshing new mechanics in the way of the “duck” feature, tight time limits to clear area’s (and build scores), and the blowback feature of the actual hand-gun the player wields during play. A successful port to Sony’s PlayStation followed in 1997, accompanied by an all new light gun peripheral – the Gun-Con 45 – a very accurate and balanced light gun, that very much helped bring the arcade experience of Time Crisis into your home.

Namco were not shy on recognising the success of their IP’s during this period, and among the sequels to Tekken and Ridge Racer that were hitting the arcades and Sony’s PlayStation, they also launched a sequel to Time Crisis into arcades in the Spring of ’97.

Now with an all new two-player simultaneous option, Time Crisis 2 offered alternate positioning and views during repeat plays, a feature to occasionally upgrade your handgun to a sub-machine gun, and the battle environments were much more bold and varied from the first game –  you fought through city streets,  down a canal on a speedboat, on a train to name some of the situations the game presents. The plot is a wafer thin affair about your typical CEO megalomaniac who has managed to get hold of a nuclear armed satellite, and it’s your job (and that of your partner if you’re  going two player) to stop him and his henchmen before time runs out.

Time Crisis 2 is set across three well paced and action packed stages, each having its own boss fight at the end. Standard enemies follow a similar pattern to the first game with blue suited soldiers rarely firing on target, white suited soldiers being a little more accurate and red suited soldiers being deadly accurate. There are also soldiers with machine guns, RPG’s, knives, swords and grenades… basically you’re not very popular with the opposition and they want you dead any which way they can. Time is also against you, and if you cannot complete stages within the allotted time then it is game over for you. So, the more accurate you are and the quicker you dispatch your foes, the more likely it is you’ll get to toward the end. Again you must press a foot pedal to duck & reload, a feature which needs to be used quickly and wisely if you’re going to have any sustained success.

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At a casual approach the game is entertaining enough, and if you’re good enough, or have access to enough continues, you’ll be pleasantly occupied for the 15 minutes or so it takes to complete the game. However, if you play for high scores then this is where some of the game’s more subtle mechanics come into force; it’s one thing to complete the game quickly, but this may not necessarily grant you a place particularly high up the score board. No, to get high scores you need to score multiple hits on enemies and then chain those hits to the next enemy, and so on, while combining in an effective reloading technique so that you do not break your hit chain. These techniques are what brings the game its tremendous replay value as you not only try to improve your chaining, but also try to cut your time down to get the best score/time ratios. Time Crisis 2 really is more than just your average light-gun shooter.

Time Crisis 2 was ported to the PlayStation 2 in 2001 and brought with it not only compatibility with the brilliant Gun-Con from the PlayStation, but also introduced the even better Gun-Con 2 controller. The port not only gave you a graphically enhanced version of the arcade game, but also carried over the two-player option (either on a split screen or via console link, which obviously required extra copies of the game as well as two Gun-Con 2’s), allowed for one-player dual gun use and added in several sub games and challenges to keep players entertained once the main arcade story mode was exhausted. The graphics and animation are very good, and even today the PS2 port has not aged badly at all, tied in with an excellent score to drive along the action in the background, and you have yourself another competent Namco release.
Time Crisis 2 came packed either on it’s own or in a box set with a shiny new Gun-Con 2 light gun; and the PS2 port has kept me entertained pretty regularly since its release, indeed, so much so, that I have bought additional Gun-Con 2 controllers over the years in case one packs up!

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For any self-respecting light-gun game fan, Time Crisis 2 is a must have, and even those who only have a passing interest in this type of game will find it supremely entertaining. Along with the simultaneous two-player mode, there are a plethora of additional options that can be unlocked to sustain the titles longevity as mentioned above. Pick the game up with the Gun-Con 2 and you’ll also allow yourself to fully enjoy Namco’s other arcade light-gun ports of the late ’90’s early ’00’s such as direct sequel Time Crisis 3, the loosely related Crisis Zone, Vampire Night, and if you have an import console, the PlayStation 2 exclusive GunVari Collection – a Japanese only port of the Point Blank trilogy and the original Time Crisis. Oh, and for those of you who may be fans of Sega’s seminal Virtua Cop games, the Gun-Con 2 also works with Virtua Cop: Elite Edition!

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Time Crisis 2
Version tested: PlayStation 2 (PAL) with Gun-Con 2 light-gun
Also available on: PlayStation 2 NTSC/J & NTSC/U/C, Arcade

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Harmful Park – Sony PlayStation

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The late 1990’s saw a slew of shoot-’em-ups hit both the arcades and home consoles, some good, some bad and some truly awful. The Sega Saturn is renowned for its comprehensive shoot-’em-up library and saw many of the era’s best arcade shmups successfully ported over. The Sony PlayStation also saw some of these arcade titles ported, but, by-and-large saw more in the way of exclusive console only titles to pack out its shmup library, arguably the most famous of which is SquareSoft’s one and only foray into the genre – Einhander.

However, Einhander benefited from securing a release in both North America as well as Japan, ensuring that it did not just become another Japanese only curio for hardcore gamers to “discover” later on down the line. Still, many of the PlayStation’s “exclusive” shoot-’em-ups do fall into the category of a Japan only release and have thus fallen into general obscurity. Mentioning games like Stahlfeder, Two-Tenkaku and Air Grave will probably bring blank responses from many a gamer, as will bringing up Sky Think System’s 1997 release – Harmful Park.

That’s right, that Japanese powerhouse of arcade action Sky Think System, the geniuses behind games like Harmful Park, and, um, Harmful Park. Okay, so they released a couple of obscure puzzle games prior to this, but otherwise Sky Think System’s legacy kind of begins and ends with Harmful Park, which is a damn shame really considering how good Harmful Park is. For what appears to be, on the face of it, Sky Think System’s one and only foray into shmup territory, this is really up there with Einhander as a truly awesome one-hit shoot-’em-up wonder for any given developer.

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Harmful Park is split into six stages, with each stage representing a different area of a large theme park which has been invaded and taken over by a mad-scientist type. Each stage is filled with a variety of wacky enemies to shoot down, with some stages having a mid-stage boss, before reaching the main boss fight for that particular level. There is an incredible number of different enemies that will approach you on your quest, many with their own unique way of attacking you, and each superbly animated and drawn. Some of the larger enemies are very well presented, and very memorable. You certainly won’t forget fighting the giant gorilla, eating bananas, riding on the rear of a train which looks like a cow in a hurry!

To help you defeat the weird and wonderful opposition thrown at you, your character comes armed with no less than four different weapons – a potato gun, a jelly gun, an ice cream laser and a gun that throws pies. No, I am not making this up. Honest.
At the beginning of the game all four weapons are set at level 1 power, and each will level up to a maximum of four when you collect on screen power-up icons. Each weapon must be levelled up individually, adding a bit of strategy into the mix, and if you die the weapon you were using at the time will reset to level one, the other weapons not affected. Each weapon also has its own smart bomb, each of which has a different effect, again adding to the strategy element of the game.

One of the nice things about Harmful Park is its simplicity. You can play for score, there is a score multiplier for chaining successful enemy hits, plus a hefty end of level bonus if you clear 100 per cent of enemies for that particular stage, and there are also green gems and hidden icons to pick up to increase score too. Alternatively, you can just play for fun and enjoy the amazing detail of the sprites and backgrounds while the cheerful background music plays. The only on-going strategy you need to employ is deciding which of the four weapons you wield and how you wish to power them up. After each stage a small animation plays detailing your progress through the “story”, but sadly this is all in Japanese, so I have no idea what they’re saying!

The game defaults to easy difficulty setting, upon which most proficient gamers will glide through the game on a 1CC; however, once you up the difficulty the game starts to bite back, and on the harder settings Harmful Park presents a stern challenge. I quite enjoying playing on easy, it’s an entertaining challenge (nothing more), and it gives you more opportunity to enjoy many of the site gags and little quirks that have been lovingly programmed into the game rather than having to focus on dodging waves of bullets. The sound is of a good quality too, sound effects are spot on with the action unfolding before you, and the background music fits each stage’s area character perfectly.

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In many ways it is a perfect shmup for the more casual shoot-’em-up fan, but the high price for the PlayStation original is likely to shut out this type of gamer, leaving the game to either more hardcore fans of the genre who don’t think twice about dropping big bucks for good games, or the collector who is just going to buy it to fill another space on a dusty shelf. There are, of course, many “rare” and “obscure” games out there that are expensive for just being one or either of those two descriptions, and the games themselves are far from enjoyable to play. Thankfully Harmful Park does not fall into that category, because all though the price of admission is steep, it is worth every penny. However, if you happen to own a PlayStation 3 and can get your hands on a Japanese PSN voucher, you can download Harmful Park from the Japanese PlayStation Store for next to nothing – comparatively of course!

Once you have finished with the main game, there is an in-game option to go back to play for score, and there are also three mini-games also thrown in aimed at multiplayer competition, including support for Sony’s four-player adaptor. Sky Think System certainly try and give you plenty of game for your money!

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Overall this is a cracking horizontal shooter, which is very often, and sadly, overlooked when people look back on the late ’90’s era of shmups. The level of sheer detail, not only in the main on-screen sprites but the backgrounds as well, oozes a quality rarely seen in late 90’s 2D shmups; the love and affection with which this game has been created is very evident, and the gameplay is there to go with it. From my own recollection, this is easily one of the most detailed 2D games I have seen outside of a Neo-Geo game. I would certainly rate Harmful Park above and beyond many of the games it is often compared to such as Konami’s Parodious series, and even the excellent Star Parodier on NEC’s PC Engine CD-ROM.

Harmful Park is easy to get into and enjoy, it will present a good challenge when the difficulty level is cranked up and I would highly recommend it to any fan of the genre if you can look past the price tag.

Harmful Park
Version tested: PlayStation NTSC/J
Also available on: PlayStation 3 (PSN download – Japan only)

Welcome To Last Week… The Last of Us

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PlayStation developer Naughty Dog was once best known for its part in foisting the PSX’s answer to Sonic The Hedgehog upon us with the Crash Bandicoot series of games. While not being my thing, the Crash games were well produced, sold well, and generally received favourable reviews from critics back in the day. However, in the last 5 or 6 years Naughty Dog has somewhat reinvented itself as a developer of high quality cinematic action adventure games with the critically and commercially successful Uncharted series on PS3.

The Uncharted games certainly provided a very good reason to consider buying a PS3 over the Xbox 360 at retail with their exclusivity to Sony’s console, and to my mind, while there are some good 360 exclusives out there, Microsoft’s console never really came up with a serious rebuttal to Nathan Drake’s modern-day take on Indiana Jones. Nevertheless, I do not think that Uncharted alone would have been the tipping point in most gamer’s decisions over which console to pick up, assuming one was initially ambivalent over which of the seventh generation consoles to buy. I had already long bought a 360 by the time Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released in late 2007, and while I admit that it looked quite good, and sounded promising from the coverage I caught in Edge at the time, I wasn’t tempted to break out my old flexible friend and pick up a PS3 for this alone. However, you cannot deny the quality of production values that Naughty Dog have been injecting into their PS3 releases and the impressive way they have moved away from pseudo-“kiddies” games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter to the mature content of the releases we’ve seen since (and including) Uncharted.

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In the Spring of 2013, with the next generation of consoles only months away from launch, Naughty Dog delivered what could be rightly described as the PlayStation 3’s swan song – The Last of Us.

The back drop to the game is nothing that we haven’t seen before.
A global pandemic has all but wiped out modern civilisation, and those that have survived are living in heavily fortified zones protected by the military. Outside of these zones are other remains of humanity, pocketed in small areas of once thriving towns and cities surviving to live amongst the decay and detritus, but away from the order laid down by the military. The virus that has wrecked humanity starts life as spores getting into the brain and then developing into a fungus that turns the host into violent zombie. Over time the fungus grows deforming the head and other parts of the body, and there is no cure. These poor souls are referred to as the “Infected“, and there are a lot of them still out there looking for fresh victims as the virus can also be spread by being bitten.

After a short prologue to the main game, which sees the last hours of our world before the virus begins to spread, you take control of one of the survivors, Joel. Set twenty years later, Joel has become a smuggler of guns and pharmaceuticals with his partner, Tess, and through a twist of events get involved with a resistance movement called the Firefly’s, whereby they are entrusted to escort a young girl, Ellie, across country to a Firefly stronghold. As the game progress a strong relationship between Joel and Ellie forms which helps them drive forward, against the odds, to their ultimate destination.

The action elements are formulated of confrontations either with hostile human opponents, or the Infected. Weapons are not available in abundance, so fortunately Joel can look after himself, and many enemies can be dispatched by hand in ways not entirely dissimilar to what you would expect in Uncharted. Weapons that are available come in the form of small arms and cruder weapons such as shiv’s or baseball bats. To make matters more interesting not only are bullets in short supply, but non-ballistic weapons can only be used a few times before they will break and become useless. Therefore scavenging becomes a key part of the game process when not engaging in combat or avoiding enemies. You will find yourself searching high and low for the parts to make a shiv or Molotov cocktail, if you’re lucky you may find some bullets, but you’ll search everywhere for items so that you can survive.

The game requires you to think, and in many cases will allow you the opportunity to squirrel yourself away to one side while you consider what the best plan of attack will be, if indeed attack is a genuine option. Early on in the game, when ammunition and weapons are probably at their most scant, if you decide to become a one-man zombie-Terminator you are going to come unstuck very quickly indeed. As in real life, you use your intelligence to pick and choose your battles. Do it wisely and you’ll progress; the alternative usually results in death or making the next encounter ever the more tricky. The computer AI is excellent, and you will be quickly hunted down should you even accidentally give your position away. There are a few battles where a direct approach is required, but they are few and far between, and thus generally the action is of a cerebral variety as you eliminate those that block your path. The game is not easy, and there will be plenty of deaths before you pass certain areas. Indeed, some encounters really crank up the tension as you potentially face being overwhelmed if you do not enact a suitable strategy or respond quickly enough.

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Of course the action is not entirely the primary driver of the game; it is the narrative and the relationship that forms between Joel and Ellie, and the action constantly plays second fiddle to the story being told. This cannot be highlighted more than in the dying minutes of the game where you would be rightly expecting one thing to happen, and your resilience is rewarded with something else entirely. In fact the game’s concluding minutes are very clever and I applaud Naughty Dog for taking the route they took to bring the story to a close.

The graphics are of the highest quality, well drawn, everything has character, and the lighting effects are just beautiful. The animation is some of the best I have seen, with lots of detail in facial expressions bringing the characters more to life and further enhancing the relationship building that goes on between them and between you and them. Sound, both music and audio, is first rate as you would expect if you’ve ever played any of the Uncharted games. Technically this must be pushing the PS3 to its limits, and it’s doubtful we’ll see anything of this quality launched on the system again now that the PS4 is centre of Sony’s attention.

The Last of Us is not perfect (criticisms I do have are all very minor), but within the genre that it sits in, it comes as close as one can get to gaming perfection in my opinion, and it will be interesting to see which developers try to copy or surpass the game, within its kind, as time moves on.

One developer who should take note of The Last of Us gameplay and narrative is Capcom. In many ways Capcom have spear headed the zombie genre’s rise to prominence in modern media with the Biohazard (aka Resident Evil) series, but they have lost their way considerably since the brilliant Biohazard 4, and perhaps ever more so since Biohazard 5 as Biohazard 6 is just a complete mess. Biohazard 5 has many redeeming qualities for me, even if it is not as good as its predecessor. I cannot say the same for the abomination that is Biohazard 6. If Capcom can extract just some of the essence of The Last of Us, combine that with the characters and story strands of Biohazard, and refocus on the one player element instead of fixating on the need to pander to multi-player, then they may be able to inject some credibility back into the franchise. After all, Naughty Dog have gone on record as saying that Biohazard 4 was a big inspiration to them during the development of The Last of Us.

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With the cost of PS3 hardware now plummeting as retailers look to clear their shelves for additional space for PS4, there has never been a better time to pick up a brand new PS3 on the cheap so that one can play this game. While it may seem a bit extreme, the investment will be worth the experience that will unfold and you can then of course take in many of the other PS3 exclusives like the aforementioned Uncharted, plus Gran Turismo and others. I have no idea how many individual video games I have played since I was born, but there aren’t that many I really wanted to sit down and play through again immediately after completing them for the first time. With The Last of Us I did not get that feeling. The feeling I got was sadness, I was actual sad that I had completed the game, that my journey with Joel and Ellie had come to an end and there was no more story left to tell. I do not think I can say that about any game I have ever played or completed before; and I think that, more than anything else, that sums up the emotional impact of the thoroughly good story told by The Last of Us.

I shall, of course, be returning shortly to experience this epic once more, and I look forward to the forth coming single player DLC. I can only hope that if Naughty Dog decide to continue Joel & Ellie’s adventure, that the game is every bit as good as this; they have left themselves a mighty high mountain to climb… indeed a part of me would like to see the game as a stand alone title. Alas, I am sure commercial pressures will dictate otherwise. Still if any developer can trump their previous lofty achievements, on their record so far, it would be Naughty Dog.

Metal Slug X

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When discussing SNK’s powerful Neo-Geo hardware, several titles will inevitably crop up in the conversation – King of Fighters, Samurai Spirits and Metal Slug will undoubtedly be mentioned. Having had an AES console in the distant past I have become pretty familiar with the titles in these three series and many of the other games that appeared on the system during its run. I was never a particularly big fan of run-n-gun games of the Contra mould in the past, although I did enjoy Data East’s Midnight Resistance when it came out.  Yet, when I first started playing Metal Slug I fell in love with the detailed and well animated sprites, the cartoon style action and superb music and sound… oh yeah, and the gameplay was pretty good too!

As I recall it was around 1998 when I first got introduced to the Metal Slug series and became a keen follower of the series up when it pretty much went off the rails with Metal Slug 4 in 2002. I have devoted much time to the first three Metal Slug games over the years on AES, and other formats, but the one game in the set that has received the most love is Metal Slug X.

Metal Slug X  (MSX) was released in the early spring of 1999 on the MVS arcade hardware and a little later that year on the AES home console system (both in the USA and Japan).

For those not totally familiar with MSX, the gameplay is good, old-fashioned, run-n-gun. You have four characters to choose from at the start (although you can change character at any credit continue point), and then you battle your way through six action packed stages as you attempt to defeat series regular, the evil  General Morden and his allies. There are hostages to rescue, a variety of different weapons to collect, vehicles and animals (yes, you read that right) to utilise, and numerous different enemies to defeat. Even for its time it wasn’t a particularly original premise, but the sheer quality of the game is what sets it apart.

MSX is also a re-tooled version of Metal Slug 2 (originally released the previous year), and to the cynical, and/or those who do not know what they’re talking about, “is MS2 with the slowdown fixed”.  Yes, sadly, MS2 does suffer with slowdown. Not horrendous slowdown, nor even protracted slowdown, but there are a few points during the game where there are basically too many sprites on screen. From memory, there is an issue on Stage 1, an issue toward the latter part of Stage 4, and at the end of Stage 6 when you fight the end of game “boss”. Those three examples are not meant to be exhaustive, and MS2 is still an eminently playable romp even with the slowdown, but some people just do not like it because of this issue. MSX does a lot more than just address the slowdown, and while saying “it’s a totally different game to MS2” would be stretching it a bit (a lot actually), it is significantly reworked to warrant being praised as a release in its own right. I guess you could call it the “Director’s Cut” version of Metal Slug 2.

So what is it that I like so much about it? Well, aside from the classic Metal Slug gameplay, it is the sheer detail that has gone into this game. A lot of time has been spent adding tiny details in, that on a casual play through, you would just not notice, or perhaps think to notice. There are obvious differences between the 2 and X as well. Although the Stages are the same in setting, some are set at different times of the day, enemies can be more prolific in number or a different type entirely, and some of the bosses have been altered, and on some levels a mid-Stage boss is also included. Remixed music, new weapons, new Metal Slugs and a different end-credit sequence are also thrown into the blend.

There are a lot of, new, hidden, elements in MSX for scoring opportunities, especially in the first few levels, and if you like playing for score or you’re trying to rescue all the hostages, you need to find out where these items are, because many are well hidden. In fact it took me ages to find many of the hidden point collectables and hostages, and I’m still not certain I’ve found them all on every level now! The backgrounds and sprites are highly detailed, the sprites in particular have a number of different animations unique to each character. Clearly a lot of time, and love, has gone into crafting this game and to make it stand out from its predecessor, and I, for one, am highly appreciative of this work as you just do not see it often enough in sprite based video games of this kind. In many ways, it is sad, that after Metal Slug 3 was released, the later entries in the series seemed more of a cynical way of generating cash from the name of the franchise rather than building on the quality that was laid down here.

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Many of you will already know that on home cart Metal Slug X can cost an arm and a leg such is the collector demand for Metal Slug AES titles. The MVS cartridge can be picked up loose for reasonable money (complete kits will not be particularly cheap), and the game has been ported to several mainstream home consoles over the years including PSX, PS2, Xbox and more recently Nintendo’s Wii download service – Virtual Console.  Having been thoroughly disappointed with the emulation used in the Wii version of Metal Slug Anthology, I was very pleased to find that the Virtual Console port is spot on and plays great with the Wii Classic Controller. So, if you haven’t got the Monopoly money required to purchase the AES version, nor a home-Jamma set up needed for MVS, then I would highly recommend the VC port whole-heartedly.  Put simply Metal Slug X is run-n-gun at its finest and most enjoyable.

Metal Slug X
Version tested: Neo Geo AES
Also available on: Neo Geo MVS, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation, PlayStation Portable, PC, iOS, Android

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Who needs PG Tips when you’ve got soup, fags, and Metal Slug X???!!!

Welcome To Last Week… Gears of War 3

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Been off the ball a bit recently with the ole blog… Have been a bit under the weather and have had much of my spare time sucked from me by the awesome The Last of Us on PS3… I will most certainly share my thoughts on this brilliant game in due course. I had hoped to originally put all the posts on the 7th gen consoles systems and the new 8th gen in the Nottro section, but it will end up reading like one big post… so Welcome To Last Week! This will be a regular post article when I’ll discuss some of the 7th & 8th gen games I’ve had the pleasure of playing.

Whatever the game being discussed will be, you can rest easy that IGN, C+VG, GameFAQs, Edge, Kotaku etc etc, will all have done and dusted with whatever it is I’m bleating about… but I’m sure I’m not the only gamer out there who, for whatever reason (time? money? life? family? put your excuse here), cannot be queuing up at Game at midnight every time there is a major release, dashing home on a cocktail of ProPlus and Red Bull, playing through the game and then posting a blog and/or You Tube video before most of us have even had breakfast and put our underpants on.

With the image of breakfast and underpants lodged firmly in your minds we’ll swiftly move on to something that, frankly, has very little in the way of either – Gears of War 3. Released just over two years ago on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, this is, thus far, the final chapter in the original Gears of War story (last year’s GoW: Judgement is not part of the main story arc).

I really enjoyed the first Gears of War, and GoW 2 was a worthy sequel, expanding and improving on the original. I purchased both either at, or shortly after, their original release dates, so even I was a little surprised that I had not jumped on the GoW 3 band wagon a lot sooner. Why it took me so long to purchase it I’ll never know, but at the seemingly give-away price of £11.00 on Amazon for a new, sealed, copy, it looked like a bargain in the making.

Fortunately, the game delivered plenty of bangs for my bucks.

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Gears of War 3 throws you straight into the action, as you once again assume the role of Marcus Fenix, partnered with his bunch of motely crusaders, in the fight to save the planet Sera from the clutches of the Locust Horde.

The first half of the game has you mainly dispatching waves of Lambent, mutated forms of Locust, who have similar attack AI to the Locust but also have some new tricks up their sleeves too. There is also a section of the game where you have to face a new type of enemy (I’ll keep that bit quiet so as not to ruin the story), which helps throw a good twist into the plot and also sees a rather poignant end to one of the series’ main characters. New weapons also make an appearance to help you vary your attack strategies, my favourite being the awesome Vulcan. The duck and cover mechanic the series has become renowned for, remains as accomplished as ever – many have tried to imitate Epic Games combat system, but few can get close to the masters of this style.

The action is fairly relentless at times, which wouldn’t be so much of a criticism if the game was just a little shorter than what it is and therefore the action a little more varied. Although there are now the Lambent to deal with as well as the Locust, once you’ve hit your umpteenth wave of either you pretty much know what to expect. Now, if you’re going to end a popular trilogy you want to do it with some style, so GoW 3 does not fail on that count, but I do feel that making it like the sci-fi version of Ben Hur in scope makes it a little bit of a chore occasionally. The dialogue is also a bit naff, but seeing as the game was, for me, sandwiched between stints on Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us I am perhaps being a little snobbish… you’re not going to get Oscar winning material in a game of this ilk, but perhaps the dialogue is a bit too coarse for its own good.

The graphics are excellent throughout with some superb lighting effects and fluid animation, certainly some of the finest visuals I have seen so far on the 360, and well worth taking in when you’re not too busy dodging bullets. The musical score is also of a very high quality when the cinematics are called for at various intervals. The AI is also of a high standard, meaning that not only are the enemies no push over to defeat, but that the console controlled members of your team generally react in an intelligent and logical way to whatever you’re doing rather than running round like headless chickens and getting slain every five seconds, much to your own chagrin.
There is also, of course, a healthy dose of multi-player content, which really is not my thing, and therefore I won’t be going into further details on this. Suffice to say, those of you who like your multi-player action will not be disappointed; and there’s DLC map packs to add into the mix too.

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If you enjoyed either of the first two entries in the series then GoW 3 is a real no brainer. While not quite faultless, GoW 3 does provides a substantial and entertaining one player campaign, offers plenty of re-play value for Achievements or to best personal goals from previous runs, and has strong multi-player content to boot. Certainly one of the finest Xbox 360 action games you can buy, and overall the best game in the original trilogy – never easy to keep besting yourself, but, Epic have done a damn good job of achieving this. I just wonder how long it will be before Epic/Microsoft make an announcement about the franchise crossing over to Xbox One…

Read All About It!

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Times they are a changing. Go back 15 years or more, and if you wanted up to the minute news, reviews and previews of everything that was going on in videogame land then you would have to wait for your monthly rag of choice to either drop through the front door or land at your local newsagent or WH Smith. Now we can access everything at the click of a button either at home or on the move. However, I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who still read videogame magazine’s; and probably just as many who have been regular readers of the various tomes over the years that have adorned news racks across the country; and fondly remember some of those that are no longer in print.

My first foray into gaming magazines was back in March 1988 when I persuaded my mum to pick me up a copy of Your Sinclair while we were in the local newsagent’s. US Gold’s conversion of Rolling Thunder was the featured cover game and amongst the games reviewed were Karnov, OutRun, Gryzor (aka Contra), IK+ and a good number of other well known titles.

Your Sinclair (YS) was witty, irreverent, and above all, entertaining. While they may have had their own unique content, neither Sinclair User nor Crash, came close to the continuity of quality and amusement YS provided. Pssst, Slots of Fun, Future Shocks, Trainspotter Award, Tipshop, I looked forward to reading them all; even Programme Pitstop (and I had no interest in BASIC whatsoever!).

I pretty much faithfully stuck with YS for over two years, buying my final issue in late 1990 before unceremoniously abandoning the Spectrum era in favour of that of the Atari ST. However, I never really settled on a dedicated ST magazine. I picked up the odd copy of ST Format and ST Action, but neither were as enjoyable as YS in terms of overall content and “feel”. Fortunately, salvation was at hand in the form of Zero.

As some of you may remember, Zero was launched by ex-Your Sinclair staffers, (no surprise as both were published by Dennis Publishing, although YS was later sold to Future Publishing), and was very much in the YS mould, but aimed at the newly burgeoning 16-Bit home computer scene.

Zero had the irreverent feel that YS so successfully conveyed, yet managed to keep its own identity and distinctness rather than just being a 16-Bit clone of the 8-Bit classic. Cleanly presented, with some very memorable content, Zero was once the UK’s best selling 16-Bit magazine, won an Indin Award and very kindly gave me a free copy of Robocop 3 for my Atari ST when I finally decided to fork out for my first ever magazine subscription! With regular pieces from Dave Excellent, Black Shape and the Zero ST; contributions from the likes of David “Whistlin’ Rick” Wilson, Jane Goldman, David “Macca” McCandless, Duncan McDonald, Mike Gerrard et al; plus articles and interviews on all that was relevant to the Amiga, PC and ST gaming scene in the early 1990’s, it seemed Zero could do no wrong.

Sadly, Zero was not to have the longevity of its legendary 8-Bit progenitor, despite its awards, droll style and well written copy.

Videogame consoles had never been overly popular in the UK during the 1980’s. The scene was dominated by the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC; and consoles like the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System were seen as niche, probably due to the cost of the games (£30 – £40) and in-part, poor distribution (only a select few stores stocked these consoles & games back in the ’80’s). However, with the launch of the Sega Megadrive in late 1990, and an aggressive marketing campaign for the system, home computers started to lose ground to this new breed of home entertainment and its “arcade” quality graphics. Plus, at £199 it was cheaper than the 16-Bit home computers of the day and, it has to be argued, did offer an experience closer to the arcade than any home conversion the Amiga or ST could muster.

With the shift in games moving from home computers to home consoles came a shift in our reading habits, and with the UK launch of the Super Nintendo, the year 1992 became something of a watershed moment for videogame magazines in the UK.

After 55 issues, ACE was discontinued by EMAP, and the first magazine to really embrace the 16-bit home computers of the late 1980’s faded into history during the spring of ’92. My beloved Zero was axed in the Autumn to be replaced by Sega Zone and, the now Nintendo only, Game Zone. The brilliant Mean Machines, (launched by Julian Rignall), which really captured the new 16-bit home console and early ’90’s import scene so well, was also axed; replaced by Mean Machines Sega and Nintendo Magazine System.

Ironically, while all this upheaval was going on, Your Sinclair soldiered on to the Autumn of 1993 when Future decided to finally put the legendary Spectrum mag out to pasture after a run of 93 issues.

1993 also saw the launch of Edge. Intrigued by the plastic bag masking the magazine within, Edge was very different to the other videogame magazines about at the time. With an almost industry like slant on its editorial, clean precise presentation and a mature style Edge was a videogame magazine for adults, and I loved it! With the 32-Bit era dawning, Edge really captured the exciting technological changes superbly, as we said “goodbye” to sprites and “hello” to polygons. Perfectly encapsulating the end of the 16-Bit era, the swift arrivals and departures of the CD-32, Jaguar and 3DO, while showcasing the rise to dominance of the Sony PlayStation and Sega’s fumbling of the Saturn. Those first few years of Edge were brilliant, and make a fascinating read today of the rise to prominence of the 32-Bit machines and how videogames became more culturally acceptable and not just the domain of children and nerds.

With the launch of the PlayStation in the UK in 1995 I started reading the Official PlayStation Magazine (OPM), but my interest with this tailed off as I started getting more and more into importing. OPM was a good read, and the cover disc was always useful for the demo’s included, but it catered strictly for the UK domestic market, and to be honest, I completely lost interest in the magazine the moment the Japanese PlayStation scene became more important to me.

OPM was the last (to date, anyway) dedicated games magazine that I’ve read on a regular basis. Edge continued to be pretty much my staple read until 2012, when, after a 12 year subscription, I reluctantly cancelled my sub and stopped reading the magazine. Edge was, and still is, a very well written magazine, but for me the articles were either becoming too heavily industry focused (in a way I just did not find interesting as I, sadly, do not work in the games industry), or were becoming re-hashes of themes and articles written years previously. Too often I was finding myself just flicking through the pages and then tossing the magazine to one side until the next issue arrived in the post. A great shame really, but for me, editorially speaking, Edge’s heyday was the mid-late nineties where by it covered the games scene in a way that no magazine had really done before, or since. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but, it’s only an opinion and I do hope Edge goes on for another twenty years or more!

Today, print media is slowly becoming a dying trend. Why wait once a month for the latest videogame news and reviews when you can go online and get it now? Still, I look forward to the postman bringing me my monthly dose of videogame retrospectives from Retro Gamer, and with the console market entering its eighth generation, there’ll be no shortage of games and systems to cover as Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Gamecube and Xbox all now qualify for “retro” status.

All I got for Christmas was…

Another Christmas over and done with! I hope “Santa” brought you all you hoped for, I was certainly quite pleased with my modest “haul” of games this year.

Playing catch up with Xbox 360 and PS3 and I managed to snag The Last of Us, Uncharted 2 and Killzone 2 for the latter, and Gears of War 3 for the former. I’ve felt that the release line up for Europe this Christmas has been a little lacklustre, but undoubtedly the whole industry has been overshadowed by the launch of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. I’m sure a lot of you have been enjoying Call of Duty: Ghosts, but, to be honest I do not go in for the whole online multi-player thing, and I find the one-player campaigns to be fun but generally uninspiring… I think once you’ve played one COD, you’ve pretty much played them all. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I even bothered to complete last years Call of Duty: Black Ops II

I hope those of you that picked up or, better still, were bought PS4’s or Xbox One’s for Christmas are enjoying their new consoles, and I look forward to joining you some time into the New Year when the software line ups are a little stronger than they are now.

Anyway, more importantly are the Christmas retro additions, and to that end along with the previously mentioned Salamander Deluxe Pack for Saturn, I’ve also seen in the arrival of Arkanoid 2000 R and Super Pang Collection for PSX. That will most likely mark a hiatus on all things fresh into the household for the time being, but that certainly will not mean a dearth of new topics for me to over!

Retro Gamer Inspired

Well, it probably won’t come as a surprise to many reading this that I am a regular reader of Retro Gamer magazine. I have been inspired to make several purchases over the years from articles published in some of my regular video-gaming reads, and this months copy of Retro Gamer (issue 123) has certainly had an effect.

I am a big shoot-’em-up addict, and although I have not been a big fan of Konami’s Gradius series, I have long had an interest to try out its distant cousin – Salamander. With Salamander featuring on the cover of this month’s Retro Gamer, (with a very good article to go with it inside), I finally decided to pick up the Saturn version of Salamander Deluxe Pack; which then promptly arrived on my desk from Japan the other day. More on Salamander Deluxe in a future post.

This month’s Retro Gamer also has an excellent feature on classic late 80’s software publisher Cinemaware… I loved Rocket Ranger back in the day, and have long been interested in seeing how it still plays all these years later.

So, last Sunday, after it has sat atop a wardrobe at my parents house for nearly 20 years, I decided to recover my once faithful Atari ST.
I have long toyed with the idea of bringing the old girl back to life, but procrastination has often got the better of me. However, with the idea of playing Rocket Ranger buzzing around in the back of my mind, and also keen to revisit the classic Carrier Command, I finally dusted off the Atari (literally), and went scouring in the loft of the garage to find what was left of my ST back catalogue.
Soon, with a handful of diskettes and my old ST, I was back at my own house, into the Games Room, and hooking the ST up to the TV. To my pleasant surprise it fired straight into life; and using a copy of Activision’s Ghostbusters 2 as a tester, was even happier to see that the machine seemed to be working fine.
I will report more on my re-established connection with the world of Atari later on – need to find a joystick, and waiting for a new mouse to arrive courtesy of eBay. One thing that did put a smile on my face during all this was, amongst a small wad of loose diskettes, I found a copy of Jeff Minter’s seminal Lllamatron! No copy of Rocket Ranger though… looks like that’s going to be another eBay job!

The Real Chase HQ… almost

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Not every day that videogames enter into real life… saw this in the car park at work the other day and was instantly reminded of Taito’s classic Special Criminal Investigation: Chase HQ 2 (or SCI as it’s often referred to). Ahhh, good times!

For those not familiar with the game, or the car, Chase HQ 2 dispensed with the Porsche 928 from the first game, and instead placed you in a red Nissan 300ZX Z32, just like the car in the photo above. A rare sight in the UK, the car featured is a 1990 model, a year younger than the 1989 Taito game it’s featured in (the Nissan 300ZX Z32 was only just launching at the time of SCI’s arcade release). Just need to find myself a partner, and go chase down some perps…

Let’s go Mr Driver!!

Power Drift

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Well, I’m back! A little longer than I anticipated, but nevertheless, I have returned to the world of retro! Not that I ever left… really…

Anyway, back in the mid-1980’s Sega was really beginning to make a name for itself outside of Japan, thanks, by and large, to Yu Suzuki and his AM2 team. Starting in 1985 with Space Harrier, the first of Sega’s “Super Scaler’s”, wowed arcade goers with it’s amazing sprites and its large sit down cabinet. I remember the first time I saw Space Harrier in the arcades, my jaw literally hit the floor! The sprite scaling, huge sprites, colourful graphics and awesome sound really made it hard to miss…

Space Harrier was followed by the legendary AM2 titles Out Run and After Burner, and in 1988, by Power Drift.

With 12 different drivers to choose from, Power Drift offers 5 different courses, split into a further 5 stages; finish in the top three and you’ll qualify for the next stage of the course you’ve chosen, any lower and it’s game over! Pure arcade simplicity; and in true arcade fashion, the stages get increasingly difficult as you progress through your chosen course.

Not too long after its release in the arcades Power Drift was converted to the popular home formats of the day, mainly handled and published through Activison. The first home console port was on to the PC Engine in 1990 and it doesn’t look too bad, but still a long way from truly capturing the arcade original’s graphics and sprite handling. You have to remember the limitations of the hardware available at the time, and perhaps this is why Sega themselves never released a port on to the Mega Drive or Mega CD, despite releasing decent ports of AM2’s other Super Scaler’s, Out Run and After Burner.

In 1998 with the Saturn and its impressive sprite handling abilities at its disposal, Sega released an arcade perfect port of Power Drift on its Sega Ages label, and it is this port that I find myself happily glued to my seat playing. I just love the big bold graphics, pumping synth soundtrack and the pure simplicity of the gameplay. Even today, I think it still looks really impressive when you see the way the screen rotates, tilts, and throws the sprites around at such speed and so smoothly. No wonder, really, that Sega waited until there was a home system capable of doing the arcade original justice!

The Saturn port contains the original arcade game in all its glory, plus a Grand Prix mode, whereby you race across all 5 courses racking up race points based on your finish position. The game is just such a big nostalgia kick for me, they just do not make games like this anymore! With the choice of courses and driver’s, there is more variety than in Out Run, and from the time of original release, I cannot think of anything else that really offers what Power Drift does and how it does it. The sheer sprite handling is so impressive, with the course fly-by at the beginning of every race, to the roller coaster style layout of many of the stages, down to the scaling and rotation of your buggy when you crash… even SNK’s venerable Neo-Geo hardware would struggle to deal with the sprite handling on this game! The Saturn takes it all in it’s stride, and it’s a real testament to the arcade hardware that impressed so much all those years ago.

I’ve long felt that Power Drift has been left a bit under-rated by the years that have gone by since its original release. Remembered by many when you mention it, but otherwise rarely talked about; perhaps brought up as a footnote now and then when people are discussing other late ’80 Sega / AM2 games. The game was last featured on the Yu Suzuki Game Works compilation for the Dreamcast, which, although I’ve not played it, I assume is a further port of the Saturn version.

Many people recommend picking up a Saturn nowadays so that you can enjoy its impressive back catalogue of shoot-’em-ups, however, I would just as whole heartedly recommend getting a Saturn so that you can sit down and take yourself back to the ’80’s and Sega’s arcade heyday with perfect ports of Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, and of course, Power Drift.