Friday, 30 September 2011

Amiga Capers: Syndicate (1993, Bullfrog/E.A)

Los Angeles. The year 2024. Mega corporations are waging secret battles for corporate control of the entire globe on the streets. One such company, is yours: EuroCorp. You have a selection of different agents, al with cyborg implants, and robotic limbs at your disposal, out of which you have to select a group of four. Their first mission: eliminate a chief of police on the payroll of a rival corp in a small suburb using any means necessary. Your team are dispatched, but are quickly overpowered by agents from a rival corp on a mission to protect him. Three are under fire, with one dead and with ammo running low, do you make them retreat, or push on through?
Say hello to our little friends!!

Syndicate was released in 1993 on both the Amiga and PC. Being an isometric strategy-cum-shooter, you control the team of 4 cybernetically enhanced agents doing the different missions aroutnd the world, be it an assassination mission in New York, to Persuading a scientist to join your corp, the missions vary from locale to locale. After selecting the mission you want to tackle, you select the four agents who will undertake the mission. After which, you then select the appropriate weaponry, which ranges from UZI's, to Miniguns, to flamethrowers right up to timebombs and the Persuazertron, which manipulates the mind waves of the individual you wish to "Persuade" to join your corp. Then, its off to the mission. Your team starts off a fair distance away from the target, and have to make your way there. But, there is the chance you'll run into a rival corporation's agents, who will either want to protect your target, or kill them. When you dispatch the enemy, they drop their weapons which you can pick up and use yourself. You also have to contend with the local police forces who will persue you if they see you with your weapons drawn or see you kill an enemy agent or a pedestrian by accident (collateral damage).
Original recipe, or extra crispy?

The graphics on the Amiga version are simply superb. The amount of detail on the buildings in particular is second to none. The game controls competently with the mouse, although sometimes they don't respond to your mouse presses, particularly if you have to enter buildings. They either go around the building or just stand still. It's a small bug that hasn't been rectified, but it doesn't detract from an otherwise great game. The amount of weapons you can use isn't an enormous list, but there are some great toys to play with, especially if you put one agent with a minigun and another with a flamethrower. The missions are plentyful and will take a long time to traverse.
Bugger! I left my Uzi in the car!

If you've never played Syndicate before, grab a copy and load it up. A great mix of strategy with shooting action which no-one should miss.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Crap Game Corner kicks ass!: F.E.A.R Files (Monolith, 2007 - 360)

The first F.E.A.R game had you chasing down a bad guy called Paxton Fettel, whilst dodging the presence of Alma, a girl with supernatural powers (uninhibited supernatural powers) who pops up to scare the main character. It sold so well, they released an expansion pack called Extraction Point, which took place directly after the original game. Afterwards, they released the second mission pack called Perseus Mandate, which runs parallel with said first game. After selling well on PC, and after releasing the first game on the 360, they released the expansions on one, stand alone disc for the console. So, being a person who loves FPS's, I snapped this up recently. Now I wish I didn't bother. Come gather around the camp fire, roast your marshmellows and open your ears, for a tale of woe, bollocks graphics and utter rubbish gameplay.
Well.....this effect is quite good at least.

Extraction Point:
Starting off straight after F.E.A.R, your character gets caught in a large blast in the city. After being picked up, your helicopter crashes with the appearance of Alma on board. You start off weaponless, and so after 20 seconds, you find a pistol. Going through the burning building, you do notice the rather ugly graphics, shoddy textures and dire level design. Even the weapon textures are quite rubbish, and in the case of the shotgun, the model looks really squashed up. The shadows aren't bad, but the hand graphics look rather blocky. I know this was released in 2007, but compare this with the release of Forza 2 and Bioshock which still look lush, this looks anything but. After a few more minutes play, I encountered the first lot of enemies (after they've been reactivated by the antagonist), in a firefight that goes with a whimper instead of a bang, and it's all over. Expecting it to get better as it goes along, it only gets worse. More ugly textures, stupid A.I which just stands there as you shoot them and scares which are anything but awaited me until I gave up and tried the second expansion.
Oh, look. Lots more drab textures! Joy!

Perseus Mandate:
More of the same, I couldn't even be bothered to play more than five minutes of this.

The cutscenes are about the only best thing, but even then they are full of ugly textures and, when in the helicopter, instead of a few buildings poking up from the ground, nothing. It's as flat as a pancake with coloured squares. Saying that, the slo-mo effect is quite nifty, so that's  plus point. Well, the only plus point, really.
One of the many...erm...'scares'...*sigh*

I thought it'd be better than this, having thought the first game was good: full of scares, awesome set-pieces and big explosions. This is full of crap scares, rubbish set pieces and explosions that go with a pop.
Leave it alone and just play something else instead, like the aforementioned Bioshock, or even the recently released Gears of War 3. ANYTHING, but this!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Sci-Fi Movie Capers: Event Horizon (Paramount, 1997)

It is the year 2047. In the orbit of Neptune, lies the ship the Event Horizon, thought to have been missing for years, suddenly reappearing from nowhere. The USAC vessel Lewis & Clark is sent to investigate, and bring back any survivors that may be aboard. The ragtag crew, led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), consists of the ships Trauma Doctor D.J (Jason Isaacs), pilot Smith (Sean Pertwee), Lieutenant Stark (Joely Richardson), Engineer Ensign Justin (Jack Noseworthy), Medical Technician Peters (Kathleen Quinlan), and Rescue Technician Cooper (Richard T. Jones). Joining the crew is Dr. William Weir (Sam Niell), who helped to build the ship, and it's Gravity Drive, which bridges two points in space using an artificial black hole created by the drive's gravitational power. Upon arrival, the ship's orbit is decaying, and most of the crew go aboard. But, one by one, they succumb to the powerful force that has inhabited the ship when it left the artificial black hole. Where it went is a mystery. What it has brought back will rip the life from them.

Directed by Paul Anderson, Event Horizon isn't a film you'd associate with the director, who has made a name adapting video games to movies, like the Resident Evil series and Mortal Kombat, as it's an original tale in the mould of ALIEN mixed with The Haunting. The story is an original one: a ship thought lost returns, bringing with it a malevolent force of pure evil which made the original crew kill each other in violent, and sadistic even masochistic ways. It does sound like something associated with a haunted house movie, but that was something Anderson was aiming for.

Originally, he had made a rough cut of just over two hours, that was more gory, and added some back story to the characters. Unfortunately, Paramount ordered the more violent, and gory, parts, as well as said backstory, cut from the film because of the audience reaction at test screenings. This footage has been lost, which is a shame as I'd love to see the film as Anderson intended. But, as it stands, it is a great movie with no boring bits, it just goes straight into the meat of the film. The music actually fits the film perfectly, and the special effects are awesome, with some excellent model work. There is a disappointment, though, and it comes at the start. When we first see the Lewis & Clark and it zooms in on the cockpit, the image where they've imposed it on the model is a bit iffy. Even Anderson has admitted this in the commentary on the 2 disc dvd, and wished he'd gone back and fixed it.

Still, it's a top movie, with some great performances. It unfairly got left behind at the box office, but picked up on video rentals which is where I found out about it, and I enjoyed every bloodsoaked moment of it!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mega Drive Capers: Comix Zone (Sega Technical Institute, 1995)

Sketch Turner is a starving artist, and freelance rock musician. Working on a comic book called Comix Zone in his New York apartment, a bolt of lightning from a storm outside hits the paper, making his evil creation, Mortus, come to life, bursting out of the comic, and throwing Sketch into the comic itself! Now, Sketch has to work with Alissa Cyan, General of the New World Empire who believes Sketch to be a prophesied super hero (the chosen one), to overthrow Mortus and his alien army from inside the comic, and restore peace to the post apocalyptic world.

Comix Zone is like nothing else thats come before. Set inside a comic book, Sketch can punch, kick, jump and make use of the comic itself to get rid of his enemies. To do this, you hold down the punch button, and Sketch rips away part of the comic, and uses it like a paper airplane, ridding himself of any bad guys who get in it's way. But, it can also hurt Sketch. You can also string together a combo of punches and kicks to great effect, or use power ups, like dynamite and a Power Blast (which transforms Sketch into his alter-ego), sending a devastating rip across the page, killing all the enemies in the panel. Another cool feature is if the panels are weak, you can punch an enemy through them, ripping the side of the panels. Also helping Sketch in his quest is his pet rat, Roadkill, who has also been zapped into the comic, and can help Sketch by sniffing out hidden power ups, and zapping enemies with his Tail Shock.

To start with, the graphics are outstanding. Sketch himself looks cool, with his round shades, and rolled up sleeves. The worlds themselves look like they could be right out of a comic book, and are coloured and drawn to that effect. The bad guys are awesomely designed, especially Styx, who is a right bastard himself, having a massive staff, that he uses to block all the time (until you find the right spot). The music is all rocky (the kind I like :D), and doesn't feel out of place. The controls are responsive, and never require a boat load of presses for a response. I will say that maybe it is a tad too short, and some places are unfairly hard, but the overall product is a fitting near swan song for the trusty Mega Drive, as there will never be a game with this much originality.

A different kind of beat-em-up with some interesting elements that everyone should at least have a bash at. If you can't source a copy on the old Mega Drive, pick up Sega Mega Drive Classics on the 360 or PS3, as it is faithfully emulated, and comes with loads of other Sega classics (like Streets of Rage II) to boot.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Speccy Capers: Batman The Movie (Ocean, 1989)

The DC character of Batman was the creation of Bob Kane in May 1939, first appearing in Detective Stories #27, before going on to starring in his own comic, along with his sidekick Robin, in April 1940. He first appeared on our screens in the 60's, in a camp TV series of the same name staring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo. But, when Warner Bros. released the movie Batman in 1989, the movie was a critical and commercial success, earning millions at the box office. Meanwhile, in sunny old Manchester, a little software house called Ocean eyed up the prospect of developing the smash hit movie into a smash hit game. And, with a name like Batman, what can go wrong?

Nothing, actually, as it turned out to be bloody good. You start off at the Axis Chemical Factory, fighting off the henchmen of Jack Napier, second in command of Carl Grissom. You climb ladders, throw baterangs at the henchmen and use your bat-rope to ascend to levels that are not accessible by ladder. As well as bad guys, there are acid drops to dodge and steam vents to avoid. Of course, being an Ocean game, there is a time limit and you must try to get to the end and face off against the evil Napier before then. At the bottom, as well as the timer, there is a face of Batman, which represents your energy. As you take hits, the face will turn into that of The Joker, and you'll lose a life. Once you've taken care of Napier, it's off to the next level, which sees you driving the Batmobile and trying to reach the Batcave. As you drive, you must use the Batrope on the car to turn sharp corners, all whilst trying to avoid The Joker's henchmen. Once you've found the cave, the next level is a puzzle which sees you working out which products have The Joker's deadly Smilex poison inside, again all within a time limit. Afterwards, you fly the Batplane, and have to cut the lines to balloons that are filled with the deadly Smilex gas, that they do not give off the gas on the crowd below. Then, it's off to Gotham Cathedral, and the final showdown with The Joker.

Ocean should have been commended for this. Alongside Chase HQ, The Untouchables and Robocop, this is one of the best looking Spectrum version licensed games from the software house I've seen. The status bar at the bottom of the screen is just awesome, with a good replica of the Batbelt adorning the box around the screen. The idea of Batman's face as the energy bar that slowly turns to the face of The Joker was a bloody good touch. The main graphics of the levels, the characters themselves and the Batmobile in general are all of the high quality you'd get from the later Ocean games. Batman's cape even flaps behind him when you drop from one level to the next. Also about the levels, they are fiendishly designed, with many dead ends to baffle you.

The music plays well from the old 128K machine, while the sound effects are merely just 'puut' when you throw a batarang, but thats no bad thing when the music is this good.

All in all, much better than Batman Returns on the Amiga by Denton Designs. It looks better, plays better and sounds better. Bravo!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Original Star Wars Trilogy pt I: Star Wars

George Lucas had a vision. He envisioned the space operas and serials of the 30's up to the 50's on a grander scale, with villains everyone hated, heroes everyone loved, a heroine everyone fell in love with, huge battles and a grandious story of good vs. evil, light vs.dark. He crafted his vision in 1974, under the name of The Star Wars, with the main character called Luke Starkiller, the 'Force' was in the shape of a crystal called the 'Khyber Crystal' and Yoda was taller!! Initially, it was to be a 9 part saga, with him filming 4, 5 and 6 first, as they would be the least technically demanding, and 1, 2 and 3 coming later. 7, 8 and 9 seem to have vanished. About two yeas later, he had a rough copy, and took the story around the different studios, like Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros., hoping they would be as enthusiatic about his story as he was. Unfortunately, they weren't, and he was about to give up, until he took it to Alan Ladd, Jr at 20th Century Fox. He read it, loved it an green lit it straight away. Alan Ladd, Jr must have seen it's potential, as it's become one of the biggest Science Fiction franchises of all time (alongside Star Trek), and was the first movie to bring about the little item called merchendising, like games, soundtrack cd's, figures, the list is endless. It shows how much influence the movie series has. Anyway, enough of the backstory behind the story, lets press on, shall we?

Episode IV A New Hope

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Princess Leia is rushing home on her blockade runner ship, Tantive IV, with plans on the Galactic Empire's secret weapon, an armoured space station with enough firepower to destroy entire worlds, The Death Star. Hiding the plans inside the trusty droid R2-D2, she gets captured by the Empire. Both droids stow away inside an escape pod and they make their escape and crashland on the planet Tattooine. Eventually, and through a series of events, they find themselves the property of Owen and Beru Lars, and their nephew, Luke Skywalker. Whilst cleaning the little droind, Luke hears part of a message meant for a person named Ben Kenobi: 'Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope'. After finding the old hermit, and agreeing to help Old Ben, little does Luke know that the upcoming adventure will forever change his destiny.

The first time I saw this movie, it blew me away. To me, it was perfect escapism. Space battles, lightsaber duels, blaster fights and an asthmatic bad guy, they all add up to the perfect combination. Being 4 years old, and watching it on an old Beta Max video recorder, I practically wore the tape out.
The story is superbly crafted, with a great scipt. Lucas had a bit flair and creativity in his his writing back then, and it shows, right through to the finished product, with the words flowing through the actos as they go through every scene. The special Effects still hold up well, even after 34 years. The model work is excellent, and the way they filmed the various shots of ships blowing up around the Death Star at the the final battle is something else, and is complemented perfectly by John William's epic score throughout. There is so much talent put into this, it's a real labour of love.

If you're discovering Episode IV for the first time, or the 101st time, pop it in your Blu Ray player, turn down the lights, turn up the volume and immerse yourself in one of the best Sci-Fi experiences ever created.

Coming soon: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Speccy Capers: Afterburner (Sega/Activision, 1988)

The arcade original was released in 1987 in two flavors: stand up cab, and full rotating sit down cab, which was not only cool, but made people be sick everywhere. The game was great, if a little limited, but it's still a great game. Activision rightly thought so, and decided to port it to the Speccy, Amiga, C64 and Amstrad.

You start off on an aircraft carrier, and fight over water with other aircraft, namely MIG-24's. Your rockets are limited, but your machine gun isn't, and is always firing. Every once in a while, a refueling plane with refill your rockets to maximum for you to continue your fight against the enemy. You'll fight over deserts, forests and other terrain, and there's even a cheeky cameo by the Ferrari from OutRun, including the driver and his blond friend on one of the ground refuel stops, which is quite cool.

To start off with, the graphics aren't bad, even though they are monochrome, and the colour changes depending on the level. There is also some missions that take place at night as well, with the ground being yellow to go with the black for night. The game whips along at a cracking pace, with the humble 128K machine managing to keep up, while still having quite a lot of detail on the aircraft, and there is also some scenery that pops up a lot of the time. As with all arcade conversions on the cassette based machines, it's a multiload (groan!), which is a pain in the arse. Meaning that when you lose your last life, you have to rewind the tape to the beginning of side two to load up the first level. But, unfortunately, it's unavoidable. The controls are great with this conversion, and you'll never find yourself fighting them, and you'll constantly find yourself on the move, what with the enemy missiles coming towards you. The only snag is that sometimes it's quite difficult to pull off the barrel roll, but it's only a minor niggle, and when you pull it off, it will make you feel nauseous. The title screen is great, and resembles the box nigh on perfectly. As with the Speccy version of Thunderblade, there is a boarder, but it doubles as the status bars, and isn't bad really, and you get the red lights from the cab at the top which flash when you're hit as well. The sound is very minimal, with some sort of fart noise for when you destroy enemy fighters and when you fire your missiles. It would have been nice for more sounds, but it'll do.

After a good conversion of OutRun which blew away the abysmal Amiga version, here the Spectrum pisses all over the Amiga version again. Yes, the playing area might be small, but good things come in small packages, and here it doesn't disappoint. This conversion is rather competent, and is good fun to play.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Have We Got A Vacation for You! - Westworld (1973, MGM)

Imagine a theme park, filled with robots to indulge your every whim. Imagine that theme park was split into three 'worlds': RomanWorld, MedievalWorld andWest World. Now, imagine that the robots hit a glitch and started to kill all the guests, while the technicians who are trying to stop them suffocate, thereby unable to do anything. Thats Westworld in a nutshell. And was Michael Crichton's first directorial feature, which is a cracker.

Starring Richard Benjamin, James Brolin and Yul Brinner, Westworld sees two friends, Peter Martin (Benjamin) and John Blane (Brolin) take a boys vacation to Westworld, to get drunk, engage in bar room brawls and have shootouts with The Gunslinger (Brinner), a robot programmed to be constantly shot at. In this park, none of the guests can be harmed through failsafes, like the guns not firing at humans through temperature sensors. But, when a woman robot refuses the advances of one of the guests in MedievalWold, the technicians notice this along with other glitches, and try to pull the plug, only for the systems to not come back on, and suffocate them all. With no help to control the rampaging robots, one by one the guests get slain, with only Martin and Blane being left alive, until the Gunslinger comes a calling.

Crichton's first directorial job is a great one. It is superbly directed, with a great performances from Brolin, Brinner and Benjamin, especially Brinner as the psychotic Gunslinger, and is a blueprint for what was to come from the author turned director and, beings this was not based on one of Crichton's books, it's hard to not envision it starting out as a book. It's also the first film to have digital image processing to pixelate the view point of the androids. And it's a trick that still works well some 38 years after it's initial release.

Well worth watching more than once, just for the awesome Brinner playing against type as the bad guy.

Third Cousin Twice Removed of Crap Game Corner - Murder! (ZX Spectrum, Central Solutions)

You are staying at a hotel, and one of the guests has been murdered. You only have a limited amount of time before the police arrive to solve the murder yourself. Everybody in the hotel is a suspect. Can you clear your name before before the keystone cops arrive?

Sounds good, doesn't it? It did to me when I bought it, as I thought it was a platform game. Imagine my horror when it turned out to be a .......*shudder* TEXT ADVENTURE!! Now, I can't stand text adventures. One of the reasons is the very small list of words you can use. In this game, the list is even smaller. You might as well just type 'bollocks' for every turn. One of the things you have to do is eat, otherwise you starve to death, which does add a bit of suspense to the game, but that doesn't make it any better. So, you go to the kitchen, and see a sandwich, upon which you'd type in something like 'eat sandwich', whereupon your caracter whould eat it, right? Wrong. You get a response 'I dont know how to do that'. WHAT??? You have to be joking me. Really? I even tried 'consume sandwich'. 'Pick up sandwich' works, but you still can't eat it, and thus die of hunger. Wow, what a great game (I don't bloody well think so!). So, no matter what you do, you still die.

So, how it plays is a load of arse. There's no graphics, just text. Lots and lots of text. No sound either. The game is just utter cobblers. Same as the other games by Central Solutions: Father of Darkness, Desperado and Curse of the Shaleth. All use the same small vocabulary and all are crap. Some people like text adventures. Me? These games make me want to gauge out my eyes and feed them to pigs.

Burn them at the stake!!!!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Power Up!: Top 5 platofrmers

Alongside shooters, platformers have had a bit of a small resurgance of late, mainly from independant developers. From Super Mario Bros., right down to Braid, there's a platformer to suit everyone. Here's mine, and it's only a top 5.

5: Braid - Xbox Live
Hand painted lushness

A platformer with a difference, Braid sees you saving a princess, while finding puzzle pieces, and rewinding time if things go tits up. It's great take on the old genre which makes it fresh, and it looks great, with it's painted backgrounds and jaunty music. A must.

4: James Bond: The Duel - MD/GG/SMS

The namsh Bond. Jamsh Bond. Lishensh to kill. Ok, enough of the crap Sean Connery impressions, but this corker from Domark sees our tuxedo'ed hero save women, kill bad guys, and defuse bombs. Typical day for our super spy, then.

3: Flashback: The Quest for Identity - Various formats
Mega Drive/Mega CD

CBM Amiga

Conrad has been captured by some unsavory types, who have wiped his memory. So, carrying a holo-cube (which contains himself talking about what has happened to...himself), he escapes only be shot down in a jungle, and has to find out who the hell he is, and save the universe. Blimey! A top game, with top graphics and top music. Top all round I say.

2: Wonderboy - Various formats
ZX Spectrum

There's a certain charm to this game. It's hard, but it has that one more go factor, and is a jolly little game. Even the sequel Monster Land is quite good, but the first one is the best by far. Even now, it still looks a cracker, even on the old 128K.

1: Aladdin - Various formats

Mega Drive/Amiga

Ok, I'm cheating with this one, as the SNES version was by Capcom, with the MD and Amiga one by Virgin. Both versions are good, but the MD version has the edge by being more fairer, and has a more gradial learning curve, unlike the SNES version, which is bloody tough. But, each version has great graphics, so they both get points for that.

Three Way Shot: Top 5 Run 'n' Gunners

From Gryzor (Contra) to Atomic Runner to Gunstar Heroes, Run 'n' Gun games were a staple of retro gaming in the 80's and 90's. Here's my top 5 spread across a number of formats.

5: Contra (aka Gryzor aka Probotector) - Arc/Spec/Nes/Snes/MD/C64/CPC

Take Predator, add more aliens that look like they're rejects from Aliens, add another selectable character with loads of different power ups, and you have Contra. Why they renamed the game to Gryzor and Probotector for us I'll never know. Mind you, Gryzor is a pretty good name.....

4: Gunstar Heroes - Sega Mega Drive

Developed by Treasure, GH starts off as your normal run 'n' gunner, until you get to the final level, and a massive board game which determines who you face. Mad? yes. A novel idea? absolutely. Does it work? in leaps and bounds. And who doesn't want to face off against a boss called Curry & Rice?

3: Aliens - Arcade

To date, I think, only the second of Konami's licensed cabs alongside Asterix, Aliens takes liberties with its source material, like introducing a host of other alien types (flying alien, anyone?). Still, it does make for an excellent game (more info in an earlier blog post).

2: Ikari Warriors - Arc/Spec/A500/ST/C64

A top-down shooter scrolling top to bottom, Ikari Warriors saw you, as a character that looks a lot like Rambo, take on an endless amount of bad guys, by gunning them down or throwing a limited supply of grenades at buildings or gun emplacements. Plus, it's great to play and look at.

1: Rambo III - Sega Mega Drive

This version by Sega, has a suedo top-down perspective, and sees you running and...erm...gunning lots of Russian troops, freeing prisoners and placing bombs at gun walls. Plus, you can use explosive arrows to blow up trucks. Looks great, plays great, sounds awesome.