#360 Interstate ’76

Posted: 28th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

934th played so far

Genre: Driving/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision

That’s right – it’s taking until the last 100 on the list to play the only driving/shoot ’em up game on the list. Where other games have been okay to let you shoot while driving sometimes – I’m thinking of a Grand Theft Auto series type thing where you try to take out your pursuers while driving – I honestly can’t think of one that has you focus on a more complex driving simulations. You might move your fighter plane around or something, but that has always been more associated with a flight simulator setup rather than a car based game.

That’s all to say that this is all I know the game for, as it never entered my awareness before the list. I can add to it that the ’76’ in the title refers to the year in which the game it’s set, rather than one of the two numbered this way in the US. I’m expecting some nice vintage cars in exchange – it feels like the least to expect here!

Our Thoughts

With those elements, you can get a decent idea of what this game is. It starts off with an early 3D intro where you meet your main character, taking over the role of car based vigilante, with some very 70s stereotype characters – shades of blaxplotation, hippies, the whole thing, taking place in a wide open mountainous desert in the (south west) US.

You race around these different open levels, large areas that are mostly featureless with occasional points of interest that are the ones that matter to you the most. The game’s ambitions have to fit the time it was created, and the size of the area helps make it feel bigger, but the graphics are clearly not the best and they can’t pull off filling it – there is basically no vegetation or too much of interest there. Even your map, such as it is, works the same. Rather than an interactive map, you just get a drawing of the area highlighting some of the important areas. Even those can be deceptive – I’ve had to doubt whether two crossroads near each other were those on the map, or if some were left off to simplify the map. Still, once you get used to it, it adds to that feeling of exploration and of taking a long road trip to get somewehre.

And then as you get to a place or catch up on cars, you get to the shooting. If there’s anything where the age shows, it’s here. You have boxy cars fighting each other, while the physics aren’t tuned yet. Everything is jumpy – put the camera at the wrong angle and it’s bad – and the cars jitter as you drive along. The shooting really means it doesn’t feel realistic, but when you get used to lining it up the game becomes fun there too.

Final Thoughts

Interstate ’76 is a product from 1997, for good and bad. It doesn’t work or look that great, but there’s something fun in the janky gameplay it has. It gets frustrating often enough that I wouldn’t necessarily play through the whole thing, but it’s decent fun regardless.

#612 Puyo Pop Fever

Posted: 24th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

933rd played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega

Oh man, here we’ve got another version of the block dropping puzzle genre. Not to say that they’re bad – the popularity of Tetris is obvious and I’ve enjoyed many other games in the area. It’s just that at this point, a lot of them look the same – would Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo be at all interesting without its theme?

So while I’m sure Puyo Pop Fever can do its own thing, I don’t think I’ve got much to say to introduce it. At least we only have a handful of its kind left.

Our Thoughts

The gameplay for Puyo Pop Fever follows known colour matching systems – you drop blocks, and if four or more of the same colour meet, they disappear, you get some points and charge up some attack against your opponent – the game is always competetive. You get a fairly big mix of different combinations of tiles as well that nicely mix up gameplay. It all plays fairly well. The competition makes it more interesting and really adds the challenge, as scoring plenty of combinations – especially the fancy ones, as always – has garbage blank tiles block that won’t link, but need to be made to disappear by forming matches next to them.

So yeah, they’re standard rules executed mostly in a playable way. There are some annoyances though, and the main one comes in gameplay. When you get a bigger combination, the game actually pauses, seemingly to work out what needs to happen. It looks like that might not be all editions, but when I played it really took me out of the flow of the game.

The other downside is the story. There is one, it’s a “make your way through this magical tournament” type story. It’s incredibly childish and I really got annoyed with having to sit through it. It’s so perfunctory that the game feels like it would have been better if they skipped it – you know how it all works and you’re just there to play the puzzles anyway.

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit that part of my feelings for the game are influenced by how so much of it has been done before and since. There’s nothing bad about it, it just becomes a bit uninspiring and the game’s story is a part of that. It’s worth trying if you’re into these games or don’t have a variant of it, but don’t necessarily expect too much novelty

#520 Shinobi

Posted: 20th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

932th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Overworks
Publisher: Sega

We’ve covered a lot of games that made the jump from 2D to 3D – Super Mario 64 is the obvious example, while Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time did so around the same time of today’s game.

The difference is that while I enjoyed the Super Mario Bros. series and played Prince of Persia long before Sands of Time was even thought of by anyone, I played the Shinobi series for the blog and didn’t enjoy them as much, which makes me dread today’s game far more. For once, the game being that different may be an upside, but I’m not entirely sure what to expect.

Our Thoughts

On some level, it feels like Shinobi made the transition to 3D quite well… by having a fairly linear game that starts by taking place on rooftops with bottomless pits to die in. You do get the extra dimension to move around the arenas in, but in too many cases you can only go in one direction and are gated until you beat a bunch of enemies. There are some secrets in each stage, but there’s not that much exploration to get there, mostly doing it through a few action puzzles. Even so, they’re fairly minimal.

The second level moves away rooftops into a temple environment – with pits still occasionally falling in the ground, so you end up guessing whether the black is a shadow or an infinite pit. It means that a single jumping mistake sends you back to the start of the stage, something quite harsh in the game considering how hard it is.

The second stage also introduces the main gameplay mechanic, with your sword needing to feed on life as you kill your enemies, or else it’ll start to drain your own health. It means you have to keep pushing forward so you can get your kills in, which helps explain the linear nature of the game. Combat is plenty and made to look quite good – especially with the cinematic death shots after defeating some groups – but again it feels a bit much, especially when you have to keep repeating the same fights.

Final Thoughts

While Shinobi is a pretty good adaptation of the series, it also has the flaws of the original games in its platforming and linear set up. The additional mechanics are somewhat interesting, but in the end the entire system just doesn’t really elevate the game to the point it could be.

#184 Out Zone

Posted: 16th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

931st played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1990
Developer: Toaplan
Publisher: Tecmo/Romstar/Toaplan

While I admit I’ve never heard of them, it sounds like the main reason Out Zone is on this list is because it is one of the bigger games from its developer, Toaplan, who were apparently a big player in the shoot ’em up genre in the eighties and early nineties. While their other claim to fame is Zero Wing‘s “All Your Base Are Belong To Us”, it’s Out Zone that the book touts as their great, slightly out there entry. Even so, I don’t think there’s a title that directly compares in my head – looking at it, Commando might be one of the closest in gameplay as a shooter that deliberately puts you on the ground rather than flying over your surroundings.

Our Thoughts

The reason I mention that is because it’s the one thing that really changes the dynamic in Out Zone. You have a far more restrained set of movement with even some simple platforming to jump over gaps and handle floor falling away. It adds an element of the environment mattering, rather than just being something visual to lend a story or setting to what you’re doing as you’re shooting your enemies.

To be fair though, beyond that Out Zone needs it. It’s a fairly standard shooter after that, looking fine, but it’s the one thing that really sets it apart from a bunch of other games that do the same thing. It’s nice and fun the way it is, butat this point it doesn’t really offer anything that exceptional.

930th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: PC/Xbox 360/Playstation 3
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft

Another FPS, another Tom Clancy game. I’ve gone into my issues with the series before, like when we covered Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, and recent releases have not made that any better – in the world as we know it today they still feel quite uncomfortable. I’m glad, then, that now we’re in that final stretch, it’s one series I can say goodbye to – they’re decent stealth shooters, but then again, that’s not exactly an unknown concept and others have done fine with it as well.

For Rainbow Six Vegas 2, we go into the Rainbow Six sub series, which is focused around a counter terrorist unit called Rainbow. Other than theme, there don’t seem to be any specific parts of the gameplay that set it apart, so I’ll need to judge the game on its own.

Our Thoughts

So what you get is a pretty standard stealth-ish military shooter, with the requisite tactical elements, including positioning your team at different doors to break in and such. Those team controls are pretty decent and they work quite well as support, without always making it feel like they can do without you.

It looks decent, as you’d expect from a 2008 game, even if the levels tend to have quite a bit of variety in what’s in there. The first mountain level feels more like set pieces you go through rather than an actual area, but we’re used to that, and as your character moves to the second level that changes to be a bit more realistic.

The plot has a bit more criticism of the gung ho approach in places compared to others, but even so I forgot most of what happened even with the betrayal edge.

Final Thoughts

In the end, that story just didn’t grab me, while the gameplay didn’t give me much I cared for either – other games do this as well, if not better. It was just that middle of the road.

#954 Swords & Soldiers

Posted: 8th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

929th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Ronimo Games
Publisher: Ronimo Games

Did you know that the only physical release of Swords & Soldiers seems to have been the German version? It’s the only one I could find, at least, which worried me a bit at first. It was still playable in English though, so I’m fine.

Ronimo Games’ previous game, again for the Wii, was the bizarre but fun de Blob, a fun and quite different action/adventure. It looks like Swords & Soldiers is quite different as a side scrolling strategy game. Not playing to type then, even though this at least gained a sequel, so I will see how it works out.

Our Thoughts

It feels like Swords & Soldiers sits between a few genres. On one hand, there’s the base building and upgrading at the end of the map, from the gold you collect while playing – not unlike Plants vs. Zombies building and upgrading, except that you’re creating and guiding the zombies rather than setting up your defense. On the other hand, you direct the one dimensional approach from your base to the enemy’s, not unlike Patapon‘s set up. It’s an effective combination – you create the units and set them off. With the different velocities and abilities, you have to set them off at the right time, and you can sometimes influence their behaviour to help that further.

You also build and fortify towers as advanced outposts that can then be guarded as additional waypoints. They’re obviously there as barriers for your defending opponent, but they work nicely in both directions and I quite liked them as additional defense mechanism that works both ways. Added to that, the game has a simple magic system using mana. It works pretty much as you expect, adding some different strategies to the game as a whole.

The game’s not too difficult and looks similarly cartoon-like. As you might expect, it feels like it would work perfectly as a phone game, but there’s a bit more length and depth in it than you’d expect from those games. Here it’s the perfect smaller bite game.

#643 Fahrenheit

Posted: 4th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

928th played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: Xbox/PC/Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Atari Inc

Fahrenheit or Indigo Prophecy is another game in video game auteur David Cage’s list of works, which would be followed by Heavy Rain and a bunch of non-list games that are similarly acclaimed.

Now, with the events of the past few years, I feel I can’t just start that without mentioning the issues surrounding the studio, with a sexist and racist culture at its core. These are somewhat alleged, but there are certainly issues here, including some content that slipped through the net in some games – some may know what happened in Beyond: Two Souls. Now, there is a matter, sometimes, of separating the art from the artist, but as we’ve seen with the Tom Clancy games, it can often feel like their views slip through regardless.

Our Thoughts

The tutorial of this game feels like it’s almost unnecessarily trying to push that edginess in the way it sets itself up, down to explaining how it has a mood meter and if you get too sad, you’ll apparently commit suicide. I mean, that might make some thematic sense for some characters and scenes, but it’s clear they’re just trying to set a tone that feels unnecessary.

The mood system itself is interesting, as it’s a bar that carries through scenes that you need to manage. It’s usually plot events that make it worse that you need to handle, while exploring and doing other things help make up for those losses a lot of the time – even just something like drinking some water. It’s a good way to reward exploration and experimentation. So far it didn’t seem that difficult to maintain it either.

After that, Fahrenheit‘s structure isn’t too dissimilar from Heavy Rain, in that you control different characters as you move through the plot, the different viewpoints of the characters combining to tell a single story. In this case, it’s the story of two police officers and the murderer they are chasing, which works well as the core whodunnit mystery isn’t there, but it’s more about how they deal with their actions and how it comes across to the officer. There are of course more complex forces at work, but it is an interesting tale.

Sadly, the control don’t help as much. By 2005, we knew that tank controls aren’t great and they really get in your way here – as even Resident Evil 4 had started to figure out by this point. The fact that it’s still here is one of those annoyances that detract from the game. Similarly, there are plenty of ‘mini games’ to go through and while I guess it added a bit of variety, I wish the game had the confidence to trust its story. I was happy enough to play through the adventure without having those elements in to keep my attention.

Final Thoughts

As you’d expect, Fahrenheit creates a compelling story with plenty of mysteries to go through while creating interesting characters. I wish it didn’t have the mini games or attempts to be edgy, as it feels like the game don’t need them, and the controls still feel off, but the core of the game here is good.

#288 Descent

Posted: 31st January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

927th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1995
Developer: Parallax Software
Publisher: Interplay Productions

Sorry, I guess there was another game waiting that I was familiar with – although I never ended up playing it myself, I had friends get into Descent before and watched it being played. I think I remember it fully benefiting from the early 3D cards at the time too, which would have made the graphics seem even more impressive. This playthrough is the first time I’ll be touching it myself, and I’ve been weirdly looking forward to exploring these asteroid cavern.

As a side note, Red Faction Guerilla, the previous game, was in fact made by the same studio – Volition Studio was previously Parallax Software, and they renamed after Descent‘s sequel was released. That was not intentional, but it’s a nice coincidence.

Our Thoughts

Shall we start at the beginning? The briefing you get at the start of your game not only has someone talking you through your mission, it also has your pilot’s thoughts mixed in there, sarcastically commenting on the statements made and how stupid the whole situation is – that contrast to the cleanly painted picture of the official briefing. It’s a nice touch to the game that works incredibly well in context and starts everything off really well.

Then you end up in the game. Now, as a full 3D game, the controls aren’t far off (for example) the Star Wars Tie Fighter series, but where those drop you in a large open space, Descent keeps you inside an asteroid or meteor, usually mines, as you look for keycards and other items to get to the core you need to destroy, then get out through an escape hatch which may or may not be nearby – you’d better find it before you attack that core.

Those corridors have multiple effects then. Aside from obviously making it harder to find your way around, you also get a lot more guidance on where you can go. When the corridors are straight forward that’s fine – rooms really open up and give you a lot more to maneuver, which feel like a treat even if it’s easy to get turned around. When it gets confusing is when the corridor you need to take is below and your ‘up’ and ‘down’ changes – which gets especially confusing when one of the enemy ships come in following what you think of as a wall. It really messes with your sense of direction, but at least the corridors help you keep that control.

Final Thoughts

Sure, Descent does look like a 1995 3D game – something that predates Quake in looks, but has you really able to move in three directions anywhere you want. It’s a straight forward corridor shooter, but that sense of freedom it gives you works wonders.

#974 Red Faction Guerilla

Posted: 27th January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

926th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ

I’ve really enjoyed the Saints Row series stylings, both the aggressive glee of the second games and the over the top feeling of its sequels even after it descends into hell, and weirdly Red Faction Guerrilla is repeatedly referenced in the series as the evil corporation Ultor corporation is shared between both series, while the science fiction levels of this game come back in some bonus content.

So what I know is that this game is set in the distant future on Mars and that there is a lot of focus on the destructability of buildings – it was the engine’s main selling point. Crackdown did something similar a few years before this game, but some time after the first game in the series.

Our Thoughts

I suspect this installment in the game specifically was because it was the most recent game in the series when the book was written, but its sequel didn’t seem to have done that well and ended the series with the exception of some recent remakes. I haven’t played other entries in the series yet (perhaps once I finish this list I’ll have time), but aside from story references they don’t seem to be that important to get.

Early on, you’re told that the main way to get money and resources on the planet are by breaking down old buildings, gathering the dropped items and trading them for the upgrades and such you expect from a game like this. There’s something quite fun about this – having been on a Train Station Renovation obsession as a quiet game to relax, this feels similarly therapeutic. There’s a real satisfaction in destroying things, seeing numbers go up and seeing everything slowly break down.

In comparison, the gunplay is the weak part of the game. It wouldn’t be a shooter without it, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying, a bit loose, relying a lot, for me, on the backup of my allies.

What helps hit those dopamine rushes though is the control system, where you perform missions to increase your standing and take over, with the usual extra assistance as you do better. There are some story missions involved in each as well, but it feels a lot like the same system in Saints Row 2 – one that works, even if it can get a bit repetitive. Still, it felt like a good driver to keep going.

Final Thoughts

The unique points of this game – the district system and especially the destruction of buildings – feel really good and those feel like enough to make me want to try more Red Faction games. It also avoids the slapstick humour Saints Row got stuck in, and that works out here – the tone is darker, more grim, and it creates for a more desolate planet to explore. With that said, I feel like the shooting in the game still lets it down and I never got to the point where I actually enjoyed that part. It stopped the game dead in its tracks for me early on, especially when it’s required in places where you can’t make up for it as much. Without the support you get during this missions, it feels like it would be impossible.

#411 Homeworld

Posted: 23rd January 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

925th played so far

Genre: Strategy
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1999
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: Sierra Studios

While I’ve played plenty of grand tactics games set in space – Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire come to mind, as well as Stellaris which I really need to dive further into. I don’t remember covering many RTS games that have that setting, though – Star Wars avoids the genre and the Star Trek Armada series isn’t on the list. Beyond that, it feels like all these games have some sort of ground based opponent, or else work on a different strategy level.

Homeworld is a game that offers that, though, a RTS game set in space with at least some additional verticality. It could be a reskin of the same mechanics, but it sounds like it isn’t all that.

Our Thoughts

On the surface, Homeworld is that strategy game set in space. As it should be, it also adds a third dimension to the game – rather than a flat map, Homeworld levels are a 3D sphere, where your space crafts can also move up and down. The interface is mostly good enough not to let that get in your way, as you can usually direct your ships to attack or investigate specific places. There are some times where it doesn’t when you’re just exploring, at which point it mostly just gets confusing. It’s still very playable and easy enough to control, but it takes a second to adjust every once in a while.

Then there’s the story. As you test a colony ship, you jump away from your homeworld and explore movement elsewhere – basically a tutorial on controlling the game. As you come back, your world has been destroyed and you travel around the galaxy to track down the group that destroyed your world and to find a place to settle. It’s pretty decent, giving you an explanation for what you’re doing that threads through everything you do in the level, including some plot-only levels that work well being this in-engine as you explore what happened. It also ties into a neat mechanic where your units carry over between missions. You’re expected to collect them as you go through and, if you’ve got resources left over, it makes sense to use them to build what you can at the end. It’s an anti-climatic end when you’ve otherwise won and could otherwise move on to actually move further.

Final Thoughts

Homeworld is a fun RTS, with the 3D elements making a nice difference in how the game plays. There’s something a bit more dynamic about it, without it ever really getting in the way – a bunch of attack formations make a lot more sense now. With that, the story is intriguing so far and while I’m not expecting major surprises, so far it’s been good to be along for the ride.