Sunday, 15 September 2013

Returning from the Gwave: Flashback (XBLA, Ubisoft)

Format: XBLA, PSN (?)
Price: 1200pts (or £9.99)
Publisher: Ubisoft

They erased his memory. They took him prisoner. Now, he's on a mission to regain his identity, and stop an invasion before it's begun.

The original version of Flashback arrived in 1993 to much fanfare. It boasted gorgeous graphics, rotoscoped animation, clever level design and intuitive puzzles, and was released on most of the formats of the time, with a remastered version on the 3DO. It's storyline is thus:

Conrad Hart, special agent is captured by aliens, and, after recording a message to himself in his holocube, has his memory erased, so that he cannot tell the rest of the human race of an impending alien invasion. After escaping from his cell, he manages to steal a SkyBike and escape the alien installation in the jungle. However, the aliens give chase in their patrol cruiser, and shoot him down. Crashing into the jungle, Conrad must now find a way back to civilisation, regain his memory, and thwart the aliens plans for world domination.

Cool, huh? Well, the original was an absolute classic. It played well, sounded good, and looked beautiful. So, Ubisoft thought that the time was right to release an updated version for the modern market, with improved visuals, level designs, added features and gameplay elements, voice acting and lots of other whistles and bells. And, it also includes the original game! So, what under the bonnet?

Firstly, the graphics have been completely overhauled. They look pretty neat, and Conrad now looks like a Nathan Drake rip off. Which I suppose isn't really bad. The whole game is now 2.5D, like many side scrolling games nowadays, but as I said earlier, it does look good. The locales are as lush as you could ever see them, especially in glorious HD.
It also sounds as good as it looks, with an update of the original Flashback theme playing on the title menu. However, some of the voice acting & script is just awful. Who the hell says 'awesome sauce'? Really. It makes me cringe every time I hear it. Even some of the voice acting is terrible. I'd have just rather the characters remain mute than this.

Control-wise, it's easy to pick up and play. The controls are nice and fluid. After aquiring your gun, you aim with the right stick for more precision, which is a nice touch, as you have enemies above and below, and the button layout is quite easy to use also. The level layouts are roughly the same, but with some added areas that keep it fresh. But, the problem is, the game is now a bit more ho-hum. The first level, as I remember it, was actually quite tough, and quite long. This one, however, is quite short, and even though I'm playing it on normal, I'm finding it quite easy, and here in lies the problem. Even after playing the first level, I never found it a challenge. Sure, the first game gave you a challenge, but it wasnt to the point of infuriating. This is just stupidly easy, and, if I'm honest, a little boring.

But, wait! There's more! Also included from the off is the 1993 original! Surely, this should redeem it. Ummm, no. Not really. It's a very nice and cool idea, however (and it's a big one), the game is played as though it's in an arcade cabinet. Not a problem, I hear you cry. But, there is. The screen mode is forever played with an arcade screen surround, and the main game area is just a small square in the middle, making the game hard to see. And no, you can't change it. Not now. Not ever. So, you're forever squinting. And, where's the goddamn music??? There's no music on the menu screen, no music on the cut screens, no music at all! And the game is made harder with the fact that you cannot remap the controls to suit you, so most of the time, instead of whipping out your gun for a firefight, you're looking at your holocube for the umpteenth time, and promptly get shot. It totally ruins this classic in every way shape and form. If they're going to ruin a classic, they shouldn't have added it as a feature.

I can see what they were attempting, and I applaud them for trying it. It does have some nice ideas, some good controls (on the remake, anyway) and it looks great. But, I can't help but feel as though it should have been a little tougher. It's a case of style over substance, and it's a shame, as it's a classic that was crying out for a rerelease in today's market, as it had all the ingredients of a corker. And being worked on by the original team, they should really have known better.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Crap Movie Corner Triple Strike Editon: Lavathian, Deepstar Six & The Dark Side of the Moon

Some crap movies can be entertaining (take Lifeforce for example), but some can be just downright terrible. Here I present three that are just awful, they just shouldn't even be watched.

Laviathian (MGM, 1989)
Starring Peter Weller & Richard Crenna, the story centres on a deep sea team who stumble upon a sunken Russian ship. One of the team finds a hip flask of vodka and, sharing it with another crew mate, they start to mutate. Cue lots of elements stolen from The Thing, blood, assimilations and Peter Weller running around with the worlds fattest barrelled Flame-Thrower. Also, cue lots of monster special effects (which I suppose aren't too bad), some rubbish dialogue and lots of crap acting (especially from Ernie Hudson). The story is a shameless The Thing rip off, and doesn't even hide it. I couldn't wait for it to end.

Deepstar Six (Carolco, 1989)
Again, an underwater adventure, this one sees a team sent by the navy to recover nuclear missiles. After blasting a cave closed, a monster that is the weirdest looking in movie history, is iunleashed, ripping Matt McCoy in half, pulling Nia Peeples under the water and eating her, seeing Miguel Ferrer decompress and explode and the captain of the expedition get trapped in a door and drowns himself. The monster is shit, the script is shit, the storyline of one of the characters expecting a baby is mentioned then forgot about, but it does have gore on its side.....and that's it. Pure crap.

The Dark Side Of The Moon (Vidmark, 1989)

An expedition to the moon ends in disaster when a space shuttle is found, and an ancient evil, dispelled from Earth is unleashed. Sounds good, yeah? It's actually very bad. It has gore and blood in, but that can't save a poorly executed plot, no-one knowing who is who (another stolen The Thing idea), cheap special effects and slow pacing. And how can anyone be controlled by a demon by pushing their face into a cut open stomach? Saying that, there are breasts in it (always a winner), it's a shame the bird is as ugly as the bottom of a bucket.

All in all, a selection of crap films, of which only.....well, only Deepstar Six is any cop. And it's still crap.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Speccy Capers: OutRun (Sega/Probe/US Gold - 1987)

Awesome titlescreen. If only they could have animated that ingame.

OutRun is one of those games that's a milestone of 80's arcade gaming. Sega's magnum opus, OutRun saw you drive a bloody fast Ferrari Testarossa across 16 varying tracks, that range from a beach, to English countryside to a desert. At the end of the current track, the road splits, letting you choose whether to go left (and make the game easy), or go right (and make the game harder).  Also on the track with you are other road users, that vary from Porsche's to little hatchbacks to full on juggernaut trucks. A crash with one of these will cost you valuable time, which is constantly ticking down. If you found the full deluxe sit-down cab, you were in for a treat. In the headrest of the seat were two speakers, which pumped out the awesome music and sound effects to help immerse you in the atmosphere of the game. And, if I remember correctly, it's also hydraulic as well!
The lovely Speccy version....

 The music is another of the games trademarks, none moreso than Magical Sound Shower. I don't think it's possible to find an OutRun machine and not choose it as your driving track. But, the other music is also sublime, but MSS was in my honest opinion the pinnacle. So, how did Probe manage to compact it from full on 16bit, 3D scaling road midi gorgeousness, to 128k, sprite-based AY chip goodness? I don't bloody know, but they did it.
...and the rather groovy Arcade original.

First up, the graphics are quite faithful representations of the original. All lovingly detailed, and whizz past at a great speed on Uncle Clive's humble little machine. It also has the scaling roads, although the game can only produce two colours on screen at a time, it's a relatively small price to pay to for the awesome graphics. The status at the top isn't cluttered, and you even get the split road at the end of the track you're on.

Even the music is here too, brilliantly recreated in AY chip lovelyness. You don't get the engine noise, unfortunately, but you get the sound the car makes when you skid off the road, so I suppose that makes up for it. The car controls well, considering your using a joystick and not a wheel. The only thing that's not recreated is the hydraulic cab, sadly.
And here's the rubbish Amiga version. *sigh* 

Still, I give this port a hearty thumbs up. Just don't play the fucking awful Amiga port. It looks and plays like it was coded by a child, and don't push the machine to it's potential.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Speccy Capers: Ghouls 'n' Ghosts (US Gold, 1988)

Originally released under the name Daimakamura in Japan, Ghouls N Ghosts sees our hero Sir Arthur off to rescue Princess Prin Prin from the clutches of a demon. Along the way, he must face skeleton warriors, tornado devils and Firebrand (who got his own game in the shape of Gargoyles Quest on Game Boy). If hit, his armour shatters and you spend most of your time in your under crackers. One more hit, and you lose a life and get reduced to a pile of bones. The arcade original is widely known as one of the best games of the 80s, and is also one of the hardest, with enemies flying at you thick and fast. Luckily, to help fend them off, you get a variety of pick ups like replacement armour, a weapon charge upgrade, and various weapons like axes, blade discs and fire bombs. On occasion, chests pop up, and once opened either grant you said armour, or a magician appears and turns you into either a duck or an old man. The spell wears off after five seconds, meaning you can go in your merry way, slaying monsters and wotnot.

There are 5 stages in total, with an end of level boss on each. The levels vary, with one being set first of all in  graveyard, then on a cliff, the next level sees you running through a village, which then goes up in flames, and the graphics change as the levels progress. If you thought the arcade graphics were awesome, the Spectrum version has some of the best I've seen. Highly detailed, and with minimal colour clash, US Gold came up trumps with how this looks. Yes, they might be monochrome at some points, but when it requires other colours, it works really well.

There's hardly any music, except on the title screen and the map screen, which is a faithful rendition of the arcade version. It does, however, have some great spot effects, like the driving rain on the second half of the first level, and sounds like proper driving rain.

Controls are simple, and are very responsive. Just make sure if you're emulating on the DS, that you use keyboard, and can remap jump to one of the other buttons, as it will help a lot. The status bar at the bottom is a huge step up from Ghosts 'n' Goblins, which was just a yellow bar with writing. Overall, a great effort which retains the playability, and difficulty, of the arcade original, while injecting some Spectrum charm into the proceedings. Highly recommended. Also, check out the remade title screen from Ghosts N Goblins, taken from a hand drawn picture (see above), as it's pretty awesome, and should have been the loading screen.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Classic Movie Corner; Outland (Warner Bros., 1981)

Name: Outland
Year: 1981
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Executive Producer: Stanley O'Toole
Starring: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle, James B. Sikking

On Jupiter's moon, he's the only law.

On the Con-Am operated mining colony on Io, Jupiter's moon, strange things are happening. The miners are slowly going psychotic, after breaking mining records, and increasing production ten fold. Upon investigating, new Federal Marshall William T. O'Niell (Connery) soon finds out why: a synthetic drug making people do 14 hours worth of work inside of 6 hours, and after 11 months of exposure , makes the taker go crazy. Now, the general manager of the colony, Sheppard has grown desperate at O'Niell's meddling, and has asked his superior for help in the form of two hitmen. With clock ticking until the shuttle arrives, O'Niell must find a why of overcoming the incoming threat, and even threats from within is own ranks.

Definitely one of Connery's best movies, Outland is a sci-fi retooling of the Gary Cooper classic High Noon, directed with panache by Hyams, who clearly has an eye for this sort of thing, and even does justice to the source material. Connery excels at the tough, no nonsense marshall who doesn't back down, and even brings some of his Bond-esque toughness to the role. Sternhagen plays the icy cool doctor  Lazarus, who becomes his only friend, and later partner throughout the whole film, and is a surprising contrast to O'Niell. Peter Boyle plays the corporate bad guy Sheppard who's as corrupt as the day is long, supplying the drugs to the workers, while turning  blind eye to the carnage.

Jerry Goldsmith supplies the music, and helps keep the film going at a cracking pace, and is a very stark contrast to his scores for the Star Trek movies. You could probably mistake it for a score from ALIEN, but it does it's job well. Definitely worth watching for it's space-western like themes, the action and the fact it's just awesome.