#542 Freedom Fighters

Posted: 19th March 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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939th played so far

Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: IO Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Somehow I seem to have left all my IO Interactive games until the end – I played both Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman: Blood Money pretty recently. I mean, on an 11 year schedule (now confirmed, look forward to the end of this in eight months!) two years is pretty recent. Freedom Fighters is another game of theirs, released between these two, and sets you up in a different way by turning you in a freedom fighter fighting Soviets who invade New York. Oh man, how’s that for an on the nose plot?

Our Thoughts

Plot aside, though, the idea of moving around a city to free your city is done pretty well. You don’t follow a linear map progression (sort of) but get to move between unlocked maps. Even better is that in the first two maps, the two influence each other. On one you need to infiltrate a police station, but you can’t do that until you take out the gas station on the other map to distract them. It feels like there’s a really neat link of progression here to get through the missions.

Supposedly these missions also help you build charisma, which is a point system that as you go along lets you gather a group around you that follows you, growing larger as you get more fame and charisma. There’s a neat idea here, but unfortunately you  start off not having any help and it takes a while to get to the point where the system kicks in.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy getting to that point and was already ready to give up. For a game focused on its shooting, the controls feel inaccurate and floaty, meaning that I was mostly trying to gamble to get it right, rather than feeling that I was in control of what I was doing. It’s quite frustrating and goes against the point of what you’re meant to be doing. It would have been a world to really enjoy and explore if it worked, but as it stands taking down the police station was an exercise in frustration that I mostly just wanted to skip.

Final Thoughts

While the supporting systems of Freedom Fighters works well, the core shooting is so far off that I struggled to get to a point where I felt I could enjoy the bigger game. It feels like a remake would do wonders here, giving you that control and feel you need, but until then I would prefer a way to skip the actual shooting and see the world.

#271 Samurai Shodown II

Posted: 15th March 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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938th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Arcade/Neo Geo
Year of Release: 1994
Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK

We’ve covered a number of SNK fighters at this point, including The King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and even card game ‘adaptation’ SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters Clash. Samurai Shodown II (sic) is another, a series that based itself on speed rather than combos. That’s not as good news for a relatively inexperienced player like myself, but it’s not entirely unlike Bushido Blade‘s focus on a few realistic hits that really worked for me.

Our Thoughts

To a casual player, Samurai Shodown II feels like a standard 2D fighter. The book describes how the game focuses on precise timing to avoid exposing your weaknesses, which fits in with the focus on speed that’s apparently a part of the design goals of the series.

Given that, as I said, I’m not a great player of these games. The only experience I’ve had of the genre outside of this blog (which, to be fair, fills my desire to explore genres beyond my favourites) has been Super Smash Bros Ultimate which goes for something easier than perfect reactions. I struggled, then, to really get into this game and get anything special out of it. It looks fine, but I struggle to consistently play a part and any wins I did get were more down to luck than actual work.

Final Thoughts

I can see how Samurai Shodown II would appeal to people really getting into the timing needed to play the game. However, there’s a barrier here to people who don’t get it and I didn’t find my way in.

937th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

It feels like Microsoft has had the lead in racing games for the past fifteen years, if not more. We’ve played a few Forza games, which are Xbox or Microsoft platform exclusive, and the Project Gotham Racing comes in set in real cities – starting with Metropolis Street Racer, one of those situations where the developers move to a different console, doing the same thing without being able to say that.

The series hasn’t lasted past the fourth installment, which I guess isn’t quite as good as it was released in time for the list but didn’t make it on after all.

Our Thoughts

I don’t know where the world is by the time this post goes up or even more when you read this, but as I write this we are deep in another Covid lockdown and even living in outer London, I haven’t seen the city itself in ages. The one time we went it was for a shopping trip (as was allowed) but the sights we did see came from deserted streets. It made the first city you visit in this game, London, a lot more interesting. I know it recently got a great recreation in Watch Dogs Legion and got a historical one in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but seeing it in a list game felt suitably impressive.

And sure, I’ve tried to drive up Wardour Street as an alternative to Piccadilly Circus, but there’s something quite reassuring driving through parts of Westminster down streets I’ve walked down regularly. The speeds at which I was racing down were still too much for me to make sure I did so safely, but it was a weirdly nice feeling when I was able to cover part of a past daily commute in the game. It’s obviously not quite the same, but it feels close enough to work. Even nicer was that the game has a custom race mode that allows you to plot your own races through, which helped both with some sightseeing and to see some different modes for myself.

Now, I can’t judge the other cities’ accuracy quite as well, as I’m not as familiar with the parts of New York that were modeled and our time in Tokyo wasn’t spent on the same level as where the races take place, but they, too, feel right.

The game itself feels quite accessible. The easier difficulties actually feel easier and accessible – not to the extent that you pass everything, but you get a good enough shot at making your goals, and enough wiggle room so you can continue with the occasional failure or mode you struggle to beat. While the game obviously has standard races, it also has other challenges. We’ve seen reaching speeds at the right point in other games like Test Drive Unlimited, but I don’t recall seeing an overtaking challenge before – where the number of cars you overtake is what matters, and overtaking the ‘leader’ wins you the challenge. It’s a nice variation on the way these games play.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, Project Gotham Racing 3‘s representation of London isn’t the main thing that happens, but at the moment it felt like a nice extra thing to have. What the game really provides is a solid racing game that caters to multiple skill levels and feels fun to play, with a variety you might not think you’d see in the relatively constrained maps. The fact that you can build your own races in these areas quite easily helps with that, and I can see how a larger community feel can grow around that.

#150 Sid Meier’s Pirates

Posted: 8th March 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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936th played so far

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1987
Developer: MicroProse
Publisher: MicroProse

Sid Meier is of course most known for the Civilization series that bears his name, although even from Civilization II he has not been the lead designer on the game, seemingly spending as much time exploring other game ideas instead. You can argue that his work on the first Railroad Tycoon game is just as notable for this list. Today’s game, though, is Sid Meier’s Pirates, which takes some influence from management sims but seems to be more of an action based game. Considering that he originally focused on flight simulators, the mix makes more sense, but having his name on it does give lead you to think in the simulation direction and I’ll see how much of this is a simulation versus an action game.

Our Thoughts

There is a lot to unpack in this game, with a number of gameplay options and variants that are immense, while all feel like they are an important part of the whole. There’s a big manual with the game (that I had in PDF form, perhaps not the best way to get it but these days the GOG version is the best way to play this game) and I tried to refer to it with each different element so I could get it – but even then it was tricky to play the game.

At every point, the game starts with you in a sword fight with a captain. When you win it – pretty much guaranteed on this attempt – you take ownership of the ship and it is yours to sail the Caribbean with. From that point on, the choices are yours. You can try to attack other ships to board them, steal their wares or take control of the ship in your fleet. You can travel between ports to sell your goods or trade between them. You can try to attack those ports to take control for your side – from land or from sea. And if you want to get off your ship, you even have the chance to go treasure hunting.

It feels immensely open, and with it simulating various different eras with different relationships between the nations taking over the area – down to the Dutch only coming in after their independence. Seeing Piet Hein referenced – now a slightly controversial figure, but a hero of the era – did immediately make me feel that at least some research went into the scenarios, which is quite neat. I have to admit that seeing the Dutch referenced in these games is always a bit neat, in a group of nations that were all quite bad at the time.

Anyway, with the historical context that will shift between you get quite a varied open world with a lot of difficulty options that mean you have a lot to do here. The one thing that lets it down is its age – the controls are awkward and slightly different for each section, with some features that can get annoying – there was one point where the controls wouldn’t let me sail out of a bay because I couldn’t turn quick enough, and hitting the edge made you do a 180 degree turn. I assume the remake improves a lot of it, which would really tune this game to be a fun one to keep getting lost in.

Final Thoughts

Sid Meier’s Pirates is a game that had time catch up with it, with controls that feel awkward now. I didn’t play the remake for the blog, but assuming it keeps how open the original is, it feels like a fun, really playable experience.

#469 Frequency

Posted: 4th March 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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935th played so far

Genre: Music
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I think I can safely say that I’ve explored Harmonix’ library in reverse – first the Rock Band franchise, then early Guitar Hero, recently Amplitude and now it’s time for their very first game. I’ve seen how the different games influenced each other, with the Amplitude DNA clear in the instrument based series that came after. I understand that Amplitude also built on Frequency‘s mechanics and so I expect a game that’s a step down from that game – which makes me worry if it will stand on its own. We’ll see whether Frequency deserves its own spot.

Our Thoughts

I have to be honest – I ran into some technical difficulties while playing Frequency since the input lag felt pretty bad – worse than it was when I was playing Amplitude. I suspect there’s a display lag issue here, similar to how PaRappa the Rapper was unplayable on our modern TV because the timing assumed your TV didn’t need time to decode the signal. I could get bits right here and there, but even the tutorial was impossible to get through.

With that said, Frequency is similar enough to Amplitude that I got the idea behind the game. The presentation was a bit more primitive and I feel Amplitude‘s improvements make that the better game. Still, there’s a good list of songs – different from the previous ones – and as we’ve seen with all the Rock Band and Guitar Hero sequels, sometimes that’s seen to be enough.

Final Thoughts

I feel I couldn’t give Frequency a fair shot because of these technical difficulties, but at the same time there’s not much pointing towards this having that much to offer over Amplitude. That’s not to say this wouldn’t be fun to play as I enjoyed Amplitude and more of that is always good, but you don’t generally get these big innovations between music games.

#360 Interstate ’76

Posted: 28th February 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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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
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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
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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
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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.