Ring of Red

Gamestyle Archive intro: one of the great overlooked PS2 games and one I still own today. Really enjoyable despite its limitations and delivers loads of fun – it made a later appearance on the PlayStation Network if you want to experience it for yourself and cannot find the original release. Mike Bather agreed and scored this an 8 in June 2001.

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Red rings usually point to Sunday mornings after a dodgy Alsatian meat Vindaloo from a rat-ridden take away, but Ring of Red by Konami is nothing about the impending Sunday morning doom of fire contaminated faeces. The game has a plotline based around what may have happened if WW2 hadn’t ceased in 1946 when Hiroshima was levelled with American atomic weaponry. The year is 1964 and Japan, war torn and Nuke scarred with a severe lack of neon and J-pop, is split into three areas controlled by three factions: – North Japan, South Japan and on the extreme north of the archipelago, those pesky bleedin’ Russians, slowly but surely importing their own extreme brand of Vodka.

Since the 1950’s, manufacturers of military equipment in Russia, the US and Germany have been working on the latest and best combat equipment available: – Walking battle tanks, made for war, not peace. Straight away, you know this isn’t going to be a large hit with the mass market consumer due to the fact that it’s a pretty hardcore, in-depth strategic war sim with battles lasting so long that most players have a chance of getting trenchfoot whilst playing. Yup, another strategy RPG to fall asleep to! So we have a strategic war fest involving walking battle tanks, in some ways similar to last years SquareSoft release, Front Mission 3 but instead of following the norm for a mech based combat game with upgradeable units, Ring of Red in more ways than one turns the genre on its head as a more historically tuned game with the inclusion of fixed specification units complete with the ever so useful, although sometimes suicidal, foot soldiers.

The main character is in the form of a young man called Masami Von Weizegger who is the child of a Japanese woman and a German father, who is more than proud of his German heritage. Like Kazuki in Front Mission 3, Masami is a test pilot of the AFW’s (Armoured Fighting Walkers) and he’s also a bit of an arsehole. Characters within the game (NPC’s and PC’s) are depicted in hand drawn 2D pictures and conversation is written in text, but without any kind of animation to get a feel of the characters current emotion all the in game characters and their personalities are left rather emotionless and flat even if they do look good in an old skool hand drawn way. To reinforce the fact that it’s a good style, it is very similar to the style that Square used for their classic game Final Fantasy Tactics, even down to the inclusion of the ‘less important’ male and female ground troop and crew characters.

The main character development throughout the game looks to have been well done, but there seems to have been something lost in the translation due to some of the grammar used, and diabolical questions such as this; “Hey, Masame, why did you come all the way to Japan to fight?” To this you have the options of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ as an answer, and it plainly shows a certain lack of conversion finesse, something that Konami are usually pretty good at. Not only does it leave you feeling indifferent and not a part of the game, it also causes some head scratching and confusion, detracting from the overall involvement. The characters are also a stereotypical bunch: You have the butch and macho American, a young kid trying to prove his manhood after his parent’s where killed, the confused lady and the veteran commander who thinks he is the dogs bollocks. A highly amusing team indeed, especially as they are supposed to be some kind of elite unit employed to crush the North Japan army.

Each mission in Ring of Red is played out on an impressively sized map that is split up into squares and each couple of missions set in a chapter. The land underfoot, or the robots legs in this case, is well detailed with ‘real’ looking hills and a neat and positive factor here is that different ground types either aid or inhibit the robots movement capabilities. Each type of robot has different walking capabilities with respect to the terrain underfoot, for example the 4 legged AFW’s are good across hard and rocky terrain whereas the two legged, high mobility scouting AFW’s are better on the open fields. Each of the units also has a different attack range that is reflected in the battles themselves where you will find using a short range AFW at long range is about effective in dealing damage as wrapping a foam baseball bat around a steroid dependant bouncer’s head. To get the correct range you have to rely on attacking from the right squares that are adjacent to the enemy; attacking from the front, rear and to the side of the enemy starts a battle at close range, attacking from any of the diagonally adjacent squares starts a battle at medium range and two squares away starts a long rang battle. To get into close combat with an Anti-AFW means steaming towards the enemy, then choosing a nice hefty body blow.

In addition to this, the AI is pretty good with enemy AFW’s advancing or retreating when they see the need to, launching attacks to disable your legs so they can get to the correct range and you never seem to question what the PS2 is actually up to as it proves to be pretty seamless. The battles look nothing short of amazing with great detail on the AFW’s, backgrounds and characters. Depending on the time of day a battle or mission is carried out you are treated to some excellent lighting effects on the surrounding scenery. When the sun goes down, battles are fought during the day or night and the time changes according to the current move being undertaken. Night time visibility is also a factor that affects the game play, as well as gradient of the ground underneath. Both have to be taken into account quite seriously as fighting in the dark halves your accuracy until your AFW or ground troops fire a flare. The gradient of the ground effects where you want to aim; if the enemy is on a higher level than yourself, you’ll have to aim slightly high or face the consequences and this is an aspect that should not be ignored.

In battle, the ground troops are an essential asset to your AFW, and should be defended at all costs as they provide some pretty essential and nifty services. Weapons such as the wire and adhesive mines halt the approaching AFW effectively, but the mines can be useless against a 4 legged AFW whose priority is to retreat to a long range. Tactical aspects such as these enhance the game play tenfold and even though the skirmishes seem a little short on the timer, the tactical elements are essential nonetheless with good troop management cutting the time it takes for a mission to be completed. Every move that you make is shown in a neat ‘cinematic’ style and watching as your sniper troops fire a much needed bullet straight into the head of the opposing troops is infinitely pleasing with a nice gush of blood flowing forth. Sonically the game is of a standard affair with some nice militaristic tunes to accompany the action sequences and diary entries of Weizeggar.

The sound effects are top notch though with machine gun fire and cannon fire positively booming with the essential added feature of actually vibrating the floor of the Barret built modern day house. The effects of the troops dieing is limited to a brief death rattle, and in conjunction to a lack of any voice overs whatsoever in the whole game this is a slight disappointment, no matter how much you hate bad voice acting. Overall Ring of Red proves to be a step in the right direction for mech-based strategy RPG’s with the addition of ground forces (taking the place of upgradeable AFW’s) and the highly original setting of an alternate mid 1960’s Japan. The battles are well presented, the AI is good and the ability to gain ground forces by occupying villages and cities on the in game map is an act of greatness. Unfortunately, the lack of care in the translation from Japanese to English shows up like a sore thumb and the lack of animated characters with personality is a severe oversight on behalf of the developers, even though the style of it is nice.

This is a game that with a few minor enhancements would have been an amazing strategy RPG, but the lack of shelf space for this type of niche game seems to have taken effect on the finished product. Ring of Red is essential for anyone who has a love for Strategy war games and I found it to be a highly enjoyable game with some great qualities, even with it’s minor underlying faults.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Resident Evil Code: Veronica X

Gamestyle Archive intro: a newly packaged Code: Veronica for the PlayStation 2 market went down a treat for the PS crowd who made the series the popular franchise it is today. Published March 2001, writer JJ.

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The Resident Evil series and Playstation went together like fish & chips – it is therefore no surprise that Code Veronica has appeared on the PS2. The Dreamcast version was released to positive reviews but as with many titles on the system met with poor sales. Capcom have added new sequences for the PS2 version making it a Directors Cut of the original but instead adding an X. Bundled with the game should be a playable demo of Devil May Cry which unfortunately is not available for review at the time of writing. Konami used this tactic with Zone Of Enders and it certainly helped sales and improved the value of the package. Whatever we may think of this tactic the main meat in the sandwich is Code Veronica X and we’ll begin there and score accordingly.

Unlike most Dreamcast owners the majority of their PS2 counterparts will be well versed in the Resident Evil series. This game takes place after the Raccoon city nightmare and sees Claire Redfield in Europe. Redfield along with her brother Chris, were trying to infiltrate the Umbrella headquarters in Paris. Claire unfortunately was captured during the attempt. Of course such behaviour is not tolerated by Umbrella and she is sent to a secret facility where she is imprisoned. This is no tropical paradise, the exact opposite to be precise, as a testing facility the abundance of prisoners is gladly welcome but no one ever leaves regardless of good behaviour or parole.

An attack on the facility by forces unknown results in Claire being freed but also the T-virus as well. The secret base has lost all communication with the outside world and apparently there is no escape. Claire however never takes no for an answer and sets out to escape and discover the true purpose of the facility. I won’t reveal anymore of the plot to avoid spoiling the surprises but it certainly is worth discovering and the stunning FMV introduction will have you gasping for more. As with all Resident Evil games you expect new monsters and characters (mostly bad) to cross your path during the proceedings.

Code Veronica X is different as it perhaps introduces more than ever before plus a few old favourites including Albert Wesker. No doubt Chris Redfield would like to discuss old times with Albert! Resident Evil has set the standard when it comes to monsters and bosses in the survival horror genre and again it sets the trend. Fans of survival horror will know what to expect when it comes to the gameplay involved, yes puzzles, icons and herbs all feature once again. At times playing the game was like meeting an old friend, you know what to expect but at the same time it’s a good thing. Those who did not enjoy the previous releases won’t find anything here to change their opinion. I just wish some inventive puzzles or problems could be introduced rather than running back and forth between points A & C via B. The recent Zelda games have more on their first level than in the whole of this game.

A change that may put many off it that Code Veronica X is that it is without a doubt the hardest game in the series. More enemies appear on screen at the same time and everything moves at a faster pace, adding to the horror experience. The game certainly is the biggest Resident Evil so far and a welcome relief after the repetitive Resident Evil 2. Claire certainly keeps herself trim and no wonder, with all the running around she has to do. The most important thing to remember when playing Code Veronica (apart from staying alive) is conserving your ammunition. Everything is in short supply throughout and against zombies it is always worth using the knife in a low slashing movement. Every arrow or bullet you save will prove useful for the harder challenges that lie ahead. There is no option to change the difficulty level to easy or anything else for that matter as only the toughest will survive.

As I was in the position of having played the Dreamcast version I did look for any graphical enhancements or problems. The fact of the matter is that the game is an exact port of the original (you can use a Dreamcast guide) with perhaps the loading times slightly longer and the odd jagged edge but apart from that the PS2 shows the game off very well indeed. A positive change is the control method which feels more at home on the Dual Shock Controller than the Dreamcast pad. At times I found the analogue stick to be a touch too sensitive but that is very much a minor quibble. Fans of the series will be more than happy with the backdrops and lighting effects employed by Capcom. With it being a straight conversion the problems that plagued the original unfortunately appear here also. While they have no doubt contributed to the success of the series I do feel that it is time to move on from pre-rendered backgrounds, loading times, fixed camera angles and limited character control. The higher resolution and detail on offer results in some exceptional backdrops but glowing objects or random searching by pressing X limits the adventure.

Fixed camera angles do help create the wonderful atmosphere that we associate with the Resident Evil series but they also limit your view and can prove frustrating during encounters with the undead. I do find it ironic at times that in a gaming environment with adaptable and easily controllable characters such as Mario that the Resident Evil characters handle like zombies. While this is the best game yet in the series it is time to move things forward and a bit more could have been done for the PS2 version.

What the game does well, it does exceptionally well. The sense of atmosphere is heightened thanks to the improved graphics and lighting on the PS2. The situations you find yourself in are perfectly staged and hopefully the forthcoming film will feature this. A special mention must go to the soundtrack and effects – perhaps the best yet alongside Silent Hill in this genre. The voice acting is an improvement on the original Resident Evil but lets be honest, could it get any worse? Some of the characters have voices and dialogue that belong in a comedy festival but it does not detract from the overall experience, one day perhaps they’ll get it right.

Overall Code Veronica X is as before an excellent game and is sure to please fans of the series. It does have its drawbacks as previously mentioned but on a system that is crying out for quality games it is very much welcome. For all those who played the Dreamcast version I would suggest that you wait till the release of Devil May Cry or Silent Hill 2. The extras bundled with the game will make for many hours of enjoyment and there are plenty of bonuses to unlock if you are good enough.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Warriors of Might and Magic

Gamestyle Archive intro: this review comes from a dark period in the website history as 3DO were sending up review code for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g and while freebies may have their attractions, after a while it becomes a vicious circle. For Dan Kelly this review from April 2001 was a step too far as you can tell from below!

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Have you ever heard the joke, why did the boy throw the clock out the window? Because he wanted to see time fly. Well here’s a good one, why did I throw Warriors of Might and Magic out of the window? Because its utter crap!!!

It’s as mighty as Mr. Muscle, and about as magical as pulling a rabbit out of a rabbit hutch. It reminds me of one of those English essays you used to get at school where the teacher told you to describe a day out. The teacher always told you to talk about a bad day because you would have more to say. Well sit back, relax, this could be a veeeeeeeery long review. But I’ll try and keep it short because I have to go get a psychological examination after this.

When you turn this on and start playing, one of the first things you’ll do is look at your PSOne and make sure the power light isn’t on, because in terms of graphical beauty, its about as pretty as the elephant man. Then when you see the blue and green lights from your lovely black console, you’ll have to accept the fact that it is a PS2 game. The story is as follows. You play He-Man lookalike Alleron, who is accused of Necromancy. His punishment, he has a mask with quite gnarly looking claws attached to his face, called the Mask of the Accused. It would be nice if it was a cool mask, but unfortunately for Alleron it’s a rather gimp-esque looking thing, that bears a resemblance to that worn by Captain America. But with the addition of Alleron’s golden locks flowing out of the top, and without the little wings protruding from the sides. He is then condemned to the world under the city, where it is rather unpleasant, to try and fight his way back to the surface. Voila.

The controls are fairly simple. You have 3 attack buttons, two for your weapons, and one for a rather lame looking magic attack. The other buttons are used for performing various other simple tasks, such as jumping, crouching and picking things up. But what will really get on your nerves is constantly faffing around with the menus, looking for the life-saving health potions, that when you do eventually find and drink, leave you open for attack to the surrounding baddies, subsequently leaving you with less energy than you had before you drank the potion. Then there’s the irritating camera angles and poor character animation. I’ve tried to think of something that reminds me of Alleron’s running technique, but in all honesty, I’ve never seen anything run quite like that. The only good comparison I can make is that his run is similar to that of Tanner from Driver 2, who himself looks like he’s had too many large things inserted into his rectum.

You’ll spend a lot of time wandering around the level, finding weapons, armour, magic spells, and potions. You tend to get lost sometimes although the levels themselves are fairly uncomplicated, simply because most of the corridors and rooms can sometimes bare an uncanny resemblance to one you have just visited. Occasionally during your hours of wandering you’ll be treated to a puzzle to test your mental capabilities, but more often than not its just a case of, pull the switch, or push the button, which isn’t really that much of a challenge to even the most mentally inept chimp. During your peaceful mince around the level, you’ll hear a noise, and instinctively turn around to punch your sibling for being so disgusting, but you’ll soon realise its not the fault of your falsely accused brother or sister, but more surprisingly the enemies attempt at trying to convince you that he’s a fearsome monster, intent on devouring you whole. And when you do eventually catch sight of the evil fiend, you’ll spend more time looking at it wondering what its supposed to be, rather than trying to figure out a way to destroy it. But usually, no enemy you’ll come across will take more than a couple of Alleron’s sluggish attacks before hitting the deck with a pathetic grunt. “But there must be one thing good about it!” I hear you say.

Well yes there are some things good about it I’m ashamed to say. A small almost non-existent smile sometimes surprisingly appears on your face as you emerge from a room that was until a minute ago infested with enemies, untouched. One thing that may keep some you going through the game, is the fact that when you equip a different piece of armour, Alleron’s actual appearance will change. This may, or may not, drive some of you further with ambition of making your character look like the dog’s gonads, with shiny, big armour and a large sword. But this is one of the only things about this game that kept me sane. One thing I praise about this game is the ability to save anywhere, anytime, which means that you don’t have to play through a whole level before given the option to save, saving me from having to play more than 5 minutes of this game a night.

It really amazes me that games like this sell. It’s a poor game, full stop. It would take me a very long time, if not eternity to think of something I genuinely like about this game…. hold on the occasional appearance of a voluptuous lady is nice, but not enough to salvage Warriors of Might and Magic. They say every cigarette takes 5 minutes off your life, I might as well start smoking, because it already seems I have wasted enough of my life playing THIS, so why stop now?

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Timesplitters

Gamestyle Archive intro: words cannot put into context how rare a review from Dean Swain was at Gamestyle. The overlord soon settled into his throne whilst the faithful team contributed so much material at times there was a 2 week queue before going live. 

Now Timesplitters was a fun if limited experience with its appeal increased due to the CV of the developers. It really shows where first person gaming was heading and had a strong visual design. This review is an early Gamestyle piece dating from around November 2000.

Timesplitters

The game that I was most looking forward too on the PlayStation 2… And why? Because the people behind Timesplitters are a splinter group from the team behind the legendary N64 games, GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. And maybe that’s why I can’t help but feel disappointed with this release, I guess I was expecting a game that would be even better than those two classic first-person shooters, to be fair Timesplitters is a great game but it’s a very simple game compared to GoldenEye, in story mode there is basically no story, yes I know this sounds strange but that’s how this game is.

Free Radical (the team who produced the game) have tried to go back to the game play strategies of games like doom, the basic idea is this – make your way through the level by shooting down the local baddies of that time zone, collect an object which is at the hidden somewhere and then once you have that, then you must make your way back to where you started – by which time the alien scum that is chasing you across the galaxy appear (ok there is a bit of a story) and these little bas#*ds can only be killed by shooting their heads off.

For a Playstation 2 game, the graphics are rather plain (take a look at the sky for starters – it’s just blue – no clouds – no nothing) but the way they move is something special, very fast and very smooth. The only thing that lets it down is the jagged edges, but I guess this is something that PS2 owners will have to get used too (the lack of automatic anti analysing of the PS2 proves annoying) Another thing that players may find annoying are the controls, the left analog stick controls the walking while the right stick controls looking around from left to right & up and down. After you have mastered these strange controls (bring back the N64 controller!) then this game can be very playable – if a little boring on one player mode – it comes alive on multiplayer.

Timesplitters is a return to the old school games of the late eighties, leaving out the cut scenes and getting straight to the point – game play, just don’t expect the stealth and style of GoldenEye.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Theme Park World

Gamestyle Archive intro: A really old PS2 review from December 2000 from JJ. Management games never really made a successful jump to the next generation of consoles.

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You either love or hate these types of games. For the record I find them a welcome relief after the intense action of Quake III, Daytona 2001 and Timesplitters. Theme Park has appeared on almost every known format to man and then some. The cartoonish nature and gameplay of the original introduced many to the whole management genre.

Theme Park World has already been out on the PSone for sometime and I had high hopes that its PS2 cousin would provide the definitive version with more options, variety and depth. The leap from 32 to 128 bit isn’t represented here and for that fact I’ve marked it down one overall. The graphics do look nice in places but they are rather flat (almost N64) even though the game is in 3D. Slow-down also rears its ugly head when your park becomes busy and the camera can be jerky at times. Theme Park World does have some good points such as the presentation which is first class although we come to expect this from an EA game. The sound is another highlight especially if you have a surround set up, it does help the park come to life.

The control system is excellent and easily picked up and with the help of the advisor you’ll be winning those gold tickets in no time. This brings me to another problem, its too easy and repetition soon sets in. While there are several different types of parks available the only difference between them is purely visual. More goals or tasks such as those in Theme Hospital would have added to the depth and lastability of the game.

As with most PS2 titles to date, expect long loading times. I can’t help but feel that EA and Bullfrog haven’t built on the foundations of the original. This perhaps isn’t surprising with all those FIFA games but then again Madden seems to have been devoted plenty of respect. This version should have featured more options such as designing your own sideshows, arcades, rides and shops. Building the rollercoaster is nice while it lasts but it is limited in options and after its been perfected you’ll loose interest. Sub-games have been included but have less gameplay than any Spectrum or Atari title.

Anyone who suffers from motion sickness will be well advised not to visit some of the rides or anyone who has just eaten. In conclusion then its a disappointment that lacks the charm of the original and fails to provide new challenges. If there is a third incarnation (knowing EA there must be) perhaps then we’ll see the true sequel fans were hoping for.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Star Wars Jedi Starfighter

Gamestyle Archive Intro: another early PS2 review dating from February 2001. The N64 had some great Star Wars themed titles and Lucas Arts was determined to expand the universe with a new trilogy and make lots of cash. Writer JJ.

 

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Lets be honest, we’ve all played some terrible Star Wars games recently and here comes the debut PS2 offering from Lucas Arts. Before you moan and groan with the memories of past experiences fresh in your mind please take note because as of now we have finally have a decent Episode One The Phantom Menace release.

In Star Wars Starfighter you engage in various missions while trying to save the planet Naboo from the nasty Trade Federation. Is it a return to the classic PC Star Wars games? The story follows three pilots each with their own agenda and background. You have the rookie and know-it-all (Rhys Dallows), the experienced and mercenary (Vana Sage) and finally the alien pirate (Nym). Each character has their own ship: Rhys flying the Naboo N-1 (easily recognisable) is a quick fighter carrying several types of weaponry. Vana is a Naboo expatriate offering her services to the highest bidder and her ship (the Guardian) is more suited to seek and destroy missions. Finally the pirate Nym, his ship the Havoc is built to dish out and receive heavy punishment.

By employing this mission structure it allows Lucas Arts to offer a wide range of locations and situations throughout the game and expand on what was seen during Episode One. In total you will explore 14 different environments and fight over 50 vehicles which includes Trade Federation craft and Naboo weaponry. For all you Star Wars fans the game gives debuts to three never seen before craft known as the Dagger, Scarab and Protector. The stories of the characters are given throughout the game mostly in the form of some excellent FMV and pre-mission briefings, the latter using the game engine to good effect. Shadows of the Empire on the N64 sold well but the only redeeming qualities were the flying levels and Rogue Squadron soon followed raising the stakes higher.

No doubt gauged on feedback Lucas Arts planned Starfighter but in fact Starfighter started life as a PC title several years ago. It comes as no surprise therefore that the game, while offering nothing new, is very enjoyable although quite straightforward. To add more of a challenge for us experienced Starfighter pilots out there, they have included a medal system. In order to progress you do need to complete the mission objectives however three bonus medals are available on each level if you achieve certain goals i.e. finishing the level in a certain time. This brings you back to a previously completed level as medals open up the various extra secrets that are hidden in the game. A good job too, as otherwise this game would offer little challenge or durability. The training level will allow you to come to terms with the control system, which uses both analogue sticks. The ravines and valleys are a perfect place to learn what your ship can do – you prefer flying upside down? Not a problem in Starwars Fighter.

While the control system is excellent I cannot help but feel that the differences between the three craft on offer mean nothing as they all handle exactly the same. This adds to the ease of each level when really subtle little differences should have been included. The game offers two different views points (first and third person) however you’ll be forced to use the former as the third person viewpoint renders the game unplayable. Your field of vision is very restricted as the camera is just too close to your ship. Also available is the option to zoom onto your intended target and it does have its uses mainly for surface targeting. This is a welcome addition and is useful during the enjoyable dogfights thereby ensuring quick kills and little sustained damage.

The graphics on show are certainly bright and vibrant with wonderful laser fire and explosions all around you however they are not as wonderful as other reviews have stated. Perhaps I’ve made the mistake of playing a couple of space titles on the Dreamcast (Bang Gunship Elite & Starlancer) which not only look better but are also smoother – that problem of PS2 jaggy edges yet again. Still what we have on show here is eye catching and the sheer amount of vessels that are involved in the dogfights is very impressive. Space is not very hard to render in a game, the true test of the graphics engine is on the surface levels where draw distance is shown to be limited. A similar problem was obvious on ZOE however on both games it does not hamper the enjoyment. The frame rate throughout is fairly constant even when the action is at its peak but I did notice slight lapses when using the third person viewpoint.

My first impression of Starfighter was the actual speed of game, as it seemed far too slow however by using the boost button constantly this improves the situation. I do have to mention that this is one of the better loading games on the system so far and is fairly quick compared to other titles such as Timesplitters. As you would expect the sounds of the film are faithfully replicated in Star Wars Starfighter. The music, sound effects and dialogue all combine to bring the experience of Episode One to your console. The plot is based around events that happened in the film but is more of a side-story and although predictable helps the game. I admit I’m not much of a Star Wars fan but without the story, the game would have been reduced to a series of shooting levels rapidly becoming very boring. The dogfights are the attraction here however by level 8 you crave something new. Missions that perhaps involved rescuing personnel, stealing an enemy craft or obtaining intelligence would have broken up the constant fighting and destruction of targets. Such moments as flying out of the hanger on level 7 then immediately having to pull up to zoom out of the crater aren’t that bad.

Until the harder level settings you won’t find any challenge with the enemy fighters, such is the poor AI on offer. Another consideration is that of your allies who can be given orders via the d-pad yet they do posses one annoying flaw. I am no American fighter pilot who fires indiscriminately but allies have the tendency to cross your line of fire. This can lead to problems as once they have received a certain amount of hits, they announce that you have become a traitor and turn on you. Never since Goldeneye have I cursed a character so much who is actually on my side. I won’t spoil any of the surprises that you will experience or the bonus items and missions that you will acquire. Some of these are very good yet the two player mode is once again very much of an afterthought and surely if Iron Aces can provide such a solid option then Starfighter can do the same. I don’t really want a 2 player mini game or competition, rather the option to tool up, take off and blow them to kingdom come or Naboo – whichever is furthest away.

The action is stunning but with no option to sit back and enjoy a replay, you are missing out on so much. Something as simple as the number of kills on a level or in total displayed on a leader board would have added more some much needed replay factor. Star Wars Starfighter is a good game that succeeds in putting you into the Star Wars universe. If you are a fan of the series then you will lap this up and love it till the very end. For those who are more into games than Jedi you’ll enjoy it until the story concludes and then wish you’d borrowed or hired it from someone. It is a great improvement over the previous Star Wars console games and hopefully signals the beginning of a trend. Super Bombad Racing is the next up so we’ll soon know if that is the case.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Smuggler’s Run

Gamestyle Archive intro: hilarious isn’t it? You would be forgiven for believing this was an incomplete review but no this is a very early short and sweet Gamestyle review dating from November 2000 and JJ. A launch PS2 title, it is most likely the first review we had for Sony’s new format during the launch window.

It was a fun game but more than anything seeing this now takes me back to the PS2 launch where a lucky few were rewarded with a console. The amount of checks, deposits and forms you had to go through to finally confirm you’d been successful and a console was allocated to you. This was the era of DVD and sheer power. Unfortunately the funniest aspect for me was that after a few days my console suffered a power unit fault and Sony had to courier me a replacement. Thankfully they had one otherwise I would have gone to back of the queue!

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This game was recommended to me by a local store manager who knows his games. Not another off-the-road racer I thought – what a tired genre that is, to Smugglers credit they’ve tried to add mission’s ala GTA but although the difficulty level cranks up later in the game, it’s just a case of going from A to B to C to D etc etc.

The real word to describe this game is “fun” because it certainly is, handling is more arcade and flying over the wonderful terrain is a joy but watch out as damage affects your vehicle. Your opponents either another player, the fuzz or rival gangs will try to stop you and this results in a Dukes of Hazard feel with a touch of John Woo for amazing stunts. The graphics are excellent and the sheer size of the levels created the need for an option where you can just drive. The box claims each is 15 square miles and it does seem so with minimal pop-up to boot. I do feel that this game was rushed out for launch day. More options and better presentation would have added to what is an enjoyable game but which had the basis to be great. Still it gives an indication of the PS2 power and its fun in short blasts. Gimmie some sugar baby.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Shadow of Memories

Gamestyle Archive intro: it’s funny what games you remember over the years not for their quality but some unusual characteristic. Shadow of Memories is such a game. Hugely flawed it offered something very different and has since faded into obscurity. We now revive the review from March 2001 and Mike Bather/

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Preventative measures are fairly common in real life, revolving around such issues as Health and Safety at work, looking before you cross the road and not accepting a cigarette from a ‘friend’ when in your teens. But what if you are stabbed in the back, die and are offered a chance to try and prevent your own death?

This is the issue dealt with in Shadow of Memories and our hero Eike Kusch has just had a particularly bad day. The game starts off with the David Hasselhoff legged and brain dead Eike leaving a coffee shop, resulting with him being stabbed and left to die in one of the back alleys of a German town called Lebensbaum. Meeting Homunculus as he passes to the other side, Eike is left confused having been given the opportunity to prevent his own death. Anyone not accepting an offer like this would be labelled a fool in heaven or hell, so he accepts, receiving a time travel device called a Digipad to aid his mission, awakening in the coffee shop 30 minutes before his fatal attack.

Immediately, it must be made clear that this isn’t really a game as such, more of a sequence of events triggered by communicating with the residents of the town, similar to Shenmue on the Dreamcast. The aim of the game is, you guessed it, to prevent Eike’s death by various foul means using the Digipad or various items at the appropriate moments and to find out just who is behind it all. In other words this is vague incarnation of the interactive movie, not the most favourite of genre and certainly not the most successful in years gone by. But where Shadow of Memories succeeds above the past attempts is the fact that it actually does it quite well, with an engaging storyline, a fresh plot and some very novel twists incorporating the previously little-used time travel subject and a bit of a ‘thriller’ storyline. To say that this game didn’t thrill us would be an understatement, but it does have a strange allurement that keeps you hooked, albeit giving you the ability to get an early night or a few hours sleep. Yes, it can be so boring at times that falling asleep whilst playing will probably be a common occurrence.

The game itself is split into chapters, just like a novel, with eight chapters between the prologue and epilogue. It plays using a 3D engine having you walk around speaking to the right people whilst unknowingly solving the chapter, swiftly moving on to the next. The town itself is very detailed and the graphics do the game justice with some excellent detail on the (unfortunately) plastic-looking NPC’s with plastic voice-overs, but throughout the game you only ever come across around eight or nine distinctive character models. This just isn’t enough for a town and in comparison to Shenmue you are left pretty disappointed with the overall feeling of emptiness within the game. The rest of the characters are just ancestors or inbreeds looking very similar throughout the games four times zones, the 1500’s, 1800’s, 1970’s and present day. Each of the time zones has its own colour that gives a bizarre picture book look to the whole game and it works really well, kindling the imagination like an old photograph found in your grandparents attic would.

The most bizarre thing about this ‘game’, beating the storyline even, is that it is very bad but very good at the same time and it has found its way into my PS2 disk tray an unnerving amount of times. The odds are that you will be getting probably the D or E ending first time around and by this point you will either be hating it and running back to Game to attack one of their employees in a fit of “I’ve been ripped off!” rage, or placing the disk back into the tray for more. It’s such a severe split between love and hate that you are really going to hate this, or lap up every moment whilst it lasts. And it doesn’t last long, to say the least. The first completion time was in under four hours and second clocked in around the three hour mark, so to get through all of the different endings would take about thirteen to twenty hours (maximum) unless you play the same game twice, which is possible. In a way this isn’t too bad as some video shops do offer a four-night rental, which is just enough time to get the game done and dusted.

The control set up and menu system are alarmingly simple as the dazzlingly thin instruction manual, made up mostly of pictures, testifies. Movement is taken care of using the left analog stick which sometimes feels a little unrefined at times, especially when you get caught in the furniture when indoors and stuck against the posts. If you line Eike up on the edge of a kerb, he can even walk about three inches above the floor, which is an even more amazing feat than the time travel element! Conversations with characters are initiated by pressing the X button and in the first chapter after doing this for 15 minutes or so you are suddenly faced with chapter two. Triangle brings up a map and the Square button brings up the minimalist item menu that appears on the left hand of the screen, giving you access to the Digipad’s functions and any other items that you may want to look at.

This brings on a vastly over simplified feel and makes you wonder whether or not this game was actually designed with experienced gamers in mind. Death is a mysterious thing here due to the frequency that it happens in the first half of the game, and you have absolutely no way to stop it. Story deaths are the ones that involve a mystery attacker dropping a plant pot on you or stabbing you in the back, but forget any kind of defence or evasive action as Eike’s actions are limited to use item (this doesn’t happen much) and talk (this happens too much). The main character meeting himself or running out of time prompts his real death and game over, but this isn’t much to worry about as Eike is given more than enough time and you only seem to get the chance to meet yourself once. This gives the game the game very little lastability, if any at all.

Musically the game is fine and the ambient sound effects are pretty good too, with some haunting tunes to accompany the main characters gentle stroll around the town. The voiceovers previously mentioned aren’t too great with some being really horrendous, especially the little girl and her mother who crop up in most time zones of the game. Eike’s voice is just plain bland, but it is by no means the worst.

Here at Gamestyle, we are beginning to wonder when a development company will eventually bother to pay out for some decent voice actors. To some this title up isn’t easy but the main feeling you are left with is disappointment as there are some truly excellent ideas in this title, it really could have been so much more and it unfortunately falls flat on its face. The control of the main character could be so much better and the lack of population cannot be forgiven as Shenmue proves, even if the character models are excellently detailed.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Red Faction

Gamestyle Archive intro: this Red Faction review from Dan Kelly is incomplete. It’s fair to say we have quite a few incomplete reviews on the various format spreadsheets that remain in existence. In this case, I’d say we almost have a full review so its better to restore what we have rather than keep it hidden away. If the full version is found then this page will be updated.

There are varying degrees of incomplete reviews – literally we have some that are just a line or even 2 words. So we’re proceeding here with what will be one of the early PS2 reviews. Around this era the review page had a series of icons that confirmed whether the game supported 60hz, multiplayer etc. Such features are default now but its amazing how times change. Published June 2001.

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Three things pop into mind when most people think of Mars, the colour red, Total Recall and scientists getting excited about the monumental discovery of fossilised bacteria up there finally proving we are not alone. So there’s not exactly a lot going for it. Let’s hope THQ can change that with the release of their First Person Shooter (FPS) based on the lovely red planet Mars, titled Red Faction, which boasts 25 hours of storyline.

There a few FPS’s around on the PS2, Quake III Revolution, Unreal Tournament, Timesplitters and so on. But these titles heavily rely on multi-player modes to keep you coming back for more, and if you’re anything like me then a social life disappeared around the same time you stopped combing your hair, washing your clothes and brushing twice a day. Also, due to the fact that there is no online gaming available on the PS2 as yet, I’m afraid there will be many people sitting in there curtain drawn, clothes ridden, goat odoured bedrooms having to resort to playing the single player modes, where, unfortunately, most FPS’s tend to fall flat on their face.

Storyline? What is that? Games like Unreal Tournament and Quake don’t have the single player addictiveness of games like Half-Life and Goldeneye, which will cause lonely PS2 players to become bored quickly. That was until THQ decided to extend the in-game vocabulary beyond EAT THIS! And GETSUM! But original good FPS storylines are about as abundant as ginger haired Chinamen.

So, what is the storyline? Well, you play Parker, who like most spoilt rich kids, wants to escape from his world of private schools, beluga caviar and smoked salmon, and decides to hop on the first shuttle bound for Mars to become a miner for the Ultor Corporation. Earth now relies on Mars to supply its insatiable needs for minerals, in the form of Noachite, due to the depletion of its own resources. But like most package holidays it isn’t quite what it says in the brochure, and you’ve got a lot more to worry about than dodgy light fittings, and cockroaches. The conditions in which the miners work are awful, food is often questioned of its edibility, and the Ultor corporations guards often decide to practice their kung-fu upon the more than unfortunate miners. If that didn’t already seem bad enough, there’s also a mysterious plague going around killing off quite a few of the miners. All this inevitably leads to an underground organisation, who obviously dislike more than Ultor’s lunchtime menu, lead by the mysterious Eos, who urges the miners to rebel and strike out against the corporate slime.

The miners are ready to blow like a 35 year old Trekky in an Asian massage parlour. But during a routine shift change a miner is assaulted. That’s when all hell breaks loose, and Parker is forced to defend himself, which inadvertently leads to him becoming a rebel in the eyes of the Ultor corporation, and rebels aren’t liked around these parts. It’s now a case of kill or be killed my friend, and for god’s sake don’t shoot the windows.

There are a lot of nice things about this game. The vast array of weapons, ranging from riot batons to fusion rocket launchers, all serving their own purpose. The riot baton is there so you can have fun with the civilians and scientists. The sniper rifle and precision rifle are there to hit distant switches, or to help that guard in the tower remove the bit of spinach that’s been stuck in his teeth for days. But only through progression can you unlock the more fun weapons like the rail driver, which can both shoot and see through walls, which is a great asset in some of the infuriatingly hard later levels.

Along with the weapons there are also vehicles and gun turrets to get your mitts on throughout the game. The submarines are essential for the underwater levels, the Aesir Fighter for the flying levels, the driller drills, the Armoured Personnel Carrier kicks the crap out of everything, and the All terrain Vehicle is there to run over the porridge men who think they are god’s gift to breakfast nourishment. There aren’t a lot of games that condone the slaughter of civilians, but THQ know how much fun it is to kill that poor office worker who’s hiding under the desk, and actually give you much needed medi-kits for doing so. Also as your notoriety grows as a rebel your wanted posters will boast larger sums of money and there will eventually be a picture to accommodate it. This will lead to you becoming more easily recognised by the guards. A lot of time was spent facing into a corner, looking into a plant pot desperately trying to avoid detection on the stealth levels.

But what really makes this game stand out from the rest is the Geo-Mod system, which lets you destroy everything and anything. If there’s a door you can’t get through, get out your rocket launcher and make another door. Unfortunately there is a limit to where you can go with your remote mines and rocket launchers, after all it would be a bit too easy to just make your own path to the end of the level. But there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your carefully placed remote mines explode and cause the bridge to collapse taking everything and everyone with it.

If you want to have some fun with the Geo-Mod system, you can try and create your own Mt. Rushmore, or go looking for a rock that looks like your mum and let loose with the fusion rocket launcher. It might not sound like much, but it adds a lot to the enjoyment. But no game is perfect, and it is not without its flaws. As said before, the later levels are infuriatingly hard and will eventually force you to go out toup

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Onimusha Warlords

Gamestyle Score Intro: we’re now moving into the PS2 excel spreadsheet we have documenting many early reviews from the site. This one comes from July 2001 and Mike Bather

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The udders of Capcom’s cash cow are once again lovingly squeezed and caressed bringing forth Onimusha Warlords, a game that was originally conceived for the PSone. Given that there is only a fifty-fifty chance of guessing the genre of this game wrong, for a second you could mistake Onimusha Warlords by name for a 2D beat ’em up. But hell no, it’s a 3rd person action adventure using pre-rendered backdrops and polygon made playable characters killing polygon enemies with polygon swords sprinkled gently on top.

In English, it’s a Resident Evil clone set in ancient Japan, complete with Samurai’s and a lot more brutal hand-to-hand combat, with a remarkably hefty production cost that no other Capcom game has ever met to date. The story is your basic and long putrefied ‘save the innocent virgin princess from the monsters’ type plot and the hero, Samanosuke Akechi (modelled on actor Takeshi Kaneshiro), is determined to save her from a horrid and gruesome death in what is to become the ‘dark ceremony’. The game’s plotline is set in the Feudal Japan era in the mid-1500’s, when the warlord Nobunaga Oda was almost in complete control of Japan and the amazing introductory FMV sequence shows him defeating Yoshimoto Imagawa’s army then taking an arrow in the neck as comeuppance. Nobunaga in his death makes a pact with the leader of the demons, Fortinbras, to complete his domination of Japan by defeating Yoshitatsu Saito and the games story then begins as Samanosuke, whilst trying to save the princess, gets whipped by a rather large red demon. Realising that he hasn’t got the power, the leader of the Clan of Ogres kits him out with a pretty ugly looking gauntlet that allows Samanosuke to devour the demon souls and wield a elementally equipped weapon.

Highly original plotline aside (shudder), it does manage to entertain, dragging you along to see what happens next. Plot progression is dealt with in FMV cut scenes that blend in and out of the action, most of the sequences using the in-game engine, but the ‘real’ FMV is excellently animated and graphically stunning except for the noticeable jerkiness, that may have appeared during the PAL conversion. The way the in game cut scene sequences blend into the action would be impressive but due to the limitations of the disk-based storage format (DVD), the screen pauses in a manner that could be off putting to some. Even though the large influences from the RE series are apparent Onimusha Warlords tends to be a great deal closer in game play to the second Dino Crisis game, relying on sword-slashing combo’s and magic instead of the usual gun usage.

Graphically it’s the most impressive of them all with excellent pre-rendered backdrops forming a good, atmospheric locale with some very impressive motion captured animation. Another point to mention is some of the excellent graphical touches that can be easily missed by the lesser eagle eyed players. The lighting effects from the various weapons’ special attacks are nothing less than excellent with convincing lighting reflecting off nearby walls and just wait until you see the fog swirling around in some of the later rooms. One easily missed graphical touch is the water effect in the West Area which is randomly generated and so realistic that I would actually urge people to play through the game just to witness this one effect, it is that remarkable. Slashing through the imaginative hoards of mindless demonic enemies is excellent fun and the motion captured animation looks spot on in battle, with Samanosuke and his female ninja companion Kaede (complete with a somersault-to-throat-slit attack) performing swift moves of attack and defence using the well set up, tried and tested ‘survival horror’ directional controls with the D-pad. Why there is no analogue control is beyond me, but it works well in practice and is immediately responsive. Here we have forward for forward, back for (now a swift skip) back complete with the requisite attack, special attack, defend and soul suck actions mapped to the square, triangle, L1 and circle buttons. In addition to these there is also the essential ‘draw weapon’ button that is applied to the R1 shoulder button that allows the character to strafe from side to side, and move swiftly forward and backward. There is even a floor attack where you can kill or seriously maim an enemy by stabbing them whilst they are on the floor. These elements alone set the combat in a totally different league from previous games in this genre and is the most pleasing and playable to date.

The difficulty level and length of the game (about 7 hours) are a slight disappointment in comparison with the previous survival horror games of past. Any of our readers that have played all of the RE and Dino Crisis games will no doubt be able to hack their way through fairly easily as there are enough herbs and medicine packs to last the duration. This, coupled with the ability to increase their potency with the energy gathered from fallen foes, makes the game a pretty rapid walk-through. Unless you’re daft enough to get stuck on any of the puzzles, which is something that I myself encountered. The puzzles, all being pretty simple and in a way familiar, range from quick and easy number puzzles through to the horrifically annoying water trap puzzle which maybe should have been introduced later on in the game. An easy challenge to most but getting stuck and having to re-start five minutes of cut-scene and three puzzles prior to the (timed) water trap drove this player to despair. Running through the game you’ll find books that offer translation’s of the background story and using these, you can backtrack and open boxes that contain items that increase your health and magic energy limit. Health, magic and experience points are gained through sucking the souls from defeated foes and there are three colours to represent each, Yellow for energy, purple for experience and blue for magic. The amounts you earn are dependent on the class of demon slain; for example lower classed enemies give away only a small amount of one or two differing kinds. The magic and health boost what amount you currently have, whilst the experience can be used to improve your weapon and elemental orb strength, up to a maximum level of 3.

Elemental orbs are the items gained at the end of the boss encounters and allow a different weapon to be used. Improving a weapon’s level also brings on a change of looks and they get more twisted and powerful as the game progresses. Increasing the power of your collected orbs is an integral part of the games progression as they open doors that are locked by a magic barrier, the barriers depicting up to three blobs that can only be opened if you have the matching orb level of the corresponding element. Onimusha Warlords includes an excellent musical score that excels the atmosphere tenfold. Haunting themes and traditionally styled Japanese music add to the overall atmosphere very well and with Capcom commissioning the New Japan Philharmonic orchestra to perform the soundtrack, you can’t go wrong at all. Complete with scenes such as Samanosuke’s rooftop boss encounter this is excellent stuff indeed.

The major downfall is within the English voice acting. Some voices are well performed, mainly Samanosuke and Kaede but some are bordering on the worst I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately the original Japanese voiceovers have been removed for the EU audience and to top the insult off, the lip-synch is none existent. As with all 3rd person adventure games with pre-rendered backdrops Onimusha Warlords is not without its underlying fault of camera angles which is apparent in every game. After playing Onimusha for quite a while I felt a growing despair at not being able to actually see Samanosuke when in some tricky situations with multiple enemies. This more often than not led to energy wasted and much frustration and getting hit by arrows coming from off-screen demon archers just may push you too far towards an anger zone.

Another major downside is the apparent lack of effort to produce a decent PAL conversion with the game running in line with any SquareSoft PAL release. 2-3 inches of black borders just isn’t acceptable in the year 2001 and is highly disappointing. Capcom, we slap your wrists! After spending month after month of playing quality NTSC Dreamcast conversions that offer a 60hz option, Gamestyle are dumbfounded that so far there has been almost zero effort to recreate this for the PS2 market.

Overall Onimusha Warlords is an excellent and very enjoyable game but the score given is reflective of the game’s un-originality status, apparent in the scoring of GT3. It is ultimately a very well produced and highly playable game and the best example of the genre we have seen so far, but when playing the feeling of having ‘been there, done that’ is severe, even with the graphical and combat differences. As basically a PSone title improved graphically it shows just how much Capcom have perfected this genre of game over the last few years in the playability, graphical and musical aspects. Unoriginality of game style and an unforgivable PAL conversion are what ultimately hold Onimusha Warlords’ overall score down.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10