Midnight Club: Street Racing

Gamestyle Archive Intro: a really fun review from Dan Kelly of the Rockstar Midnight Club title that locked into the growing popularity of boyracers. A really early review dating from around December 2000. I  know its an old piece as the bold and italic html code is inserted within the text and has to be taken out for this restoration!

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Its midnight, its always midnight, your alone sitting in your car. You’ve got your compilation of your most bangin “choons” thumping out of your speakers. Your window is down so you can hear the menacing growl of your finely tuned engine as you squeeze the accelerator. But all of a sudden your ears twitch as you hear an unfamiliar bass-line. You know it’s not off one of your carefully selected tracks. You look right and you see the spoilers, lowered suspension, bad boy bonnet and tinted windows. In your eyes you are THE boy racer. You both know what happens now, you’re just waiting for the go.

Welcome to Midnight Club, if this is your first night, you have to race!! Rockstar Games, responsible for the crime infested Grand Theft Auto series, bring you yet another game where you can freely cruise around the city mowing down pedestrians. Except this time you don’t steal the cars, you win them. One of the first things you’ll notice about Midnight Club as you cruise around New York and London, is that the cities are pretty accurate to the real thing. You’ll drive around, you’ll point at familiar landmarks, and you’ll take photos. But accurate as it is, the buildings which aren’t the centre of attention in these cities, can seem bland and very similar to one another, and the cities themselves don’t quite achieve the level of realism compared to what we’ve so far seen of The Getaway. But despite that it’s still a damn good effort.

The second thing you’ll notice after mincing around for a few hours is, where the hell is the friggin sun? Well, the truth is you’ll never know, because urrrm it never rises, ever! The main aim of the game is to drive around New York City, searching for fellow Midnight Club members. When you find one, you’ll be challenged to a way-point race against the leader and his homeboys. A way-point race mainly consists of pelting it around the city, going through checkpoints in order. If you make it to the designated finish before all the others you’ve won. The leader of the opposition gang then gives you his/her cell phone number, and you’ll be given the chance to win their car by calling this number, and challenging them head to head. Each racer has three cars, which you win one after another, each car better than the previous one. When you win all the head to heads and way-point races of most of the other members around the city, the boss type character will appear. After you’ve spent hours trying to catch the bugger he’ll eventually challenge you and all the other members to a race where you have a finish, a lot of check points which can be done in any order, and a time limit.

You’ll spend about 4 days trying to beat him, and when you eventually do you’ll be given the opportunity to go to London. Here the cars are faster, the races are harder, and the roads are, well, stingier. The same chain of events pretty much occurs here till eventually the very mysterious World Champion shows up and beats the living hell out of you and everyone else, leaving you wondering how in god’s name are you gonna beat this person. You will, one day, I promise.

Graphically it’s nice. The cities are accurate, the rain effects make you pull your hood up, and the vehicles are sleek and shiny. You will easily be able to recognise which real life cars the ones in the game are based on. There’s the Mini’s, the Evolution’s and the muscle cars. Roughly, there’s about 30 cars to attain. But it all seems a bit bland, nice, but bland. Also there’s the occasional pop-up in two-player mode, and it looks a bit PSOney. Despite all these problems in two-player, there’s nothing that brings a bigger smile to your face than thrashing your mates, or proving that his car will get destroyed before yours as you reinact those Matchbox car head on collisions. And that’s another nice thing, unlike GT3 running your car into a lamp post or wall brings a tear to your eye as your beautiful new car’s bodywork is buckled, scratched and crumpled beyond recognition.

Enough of this kind of pitiful driving will eventually cause you to write-off your car. But don’t worry, a brand new one will appear from the night sky above. Riiiight. Real boy racers amongst us will be able to recognise all the familiar company names which are plastered all over the cars. There’s the likes of Dimma and GReddy along with many others.

The musical score fits well with the fast pace of the game and will put you in the mood for driving at rediculous velocities around Trafalgar Square. It mainly consists of drum and bass with the odd bit of house, mint! Its very arcadey in the way the game handles. The cars are fun to drive, and you’ll be able to pick up the controller and perform 360-degree spins over the finish line in no time. Much satisfaction is gained through tapping the handbrake, sliding into the turn and counter-steering the car as it perfectly fishtails around the corner as gracefully as a Russian ballerina. It’s much like SSX in that you can go anywhere during the race, and also due to the fact that finding the right shortcuts is the key to success.

Although the cities are big, it won’t take you that long to finish the game. There are quite a few races, with the odd one here and there taking a bit of time and effort to win. But other than that most of the races are relatively short and easy provided you select the right car. And although I know its midnight, the streets often seem empty and a lot of the time you can feel lonely. It could’ve done with more people to run down, and a few more cars and buses to get in your way. I mean these are two major cities in two pretty economically developed countries, the streets will be non-stop hustle and bustle no matter what time it is. But if you’re a bit of a boy racer, then this might be a game worth checkin out to fulfil all those fantasies.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

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Madden NFL 2002

Gamestyle Archive Intro: a videogame series that continues today and dominates by virtue of its license – never a healthy scenario. I always enjoyed the odd American Football title on the ZX Spectrum that offered a more managerial experience. Madden always wanted to put you on the field rather than the sidelines and still does even to this day. Published October 2001, writer JJ.

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Remember when it was cool to follow American football? Back when it was on Channel 4 interest in the sport was at it peak, since the jump to satellite it has dwindled even though we have a European version but I’ve recently regained an interest. Perfect timing to pick up Madden and see how it plays but why should we care – its another annual EA update?

The attraction of this version is that you can play it on several levels from the practice or exhibition modes to the in-depth franchise option. If you tire of playing a game you can even let the console play it for you and amazingly its just like watching television coverage with no loading times or annoying advert breaks. The franchise option allows you to control a team for up to 50 seasons. In this period you can control the roster, make trades, create players and plays, do the college draft and all while ensuring your team is successful and you keep within the salary cap. All the statistics you will ever need are here but they don’t infringe on the game play. As this is from EA the presentation is of the highest quality with user friendly menus and a simple control system. All the teams, stadiums, players and coaches tactics are here with another 200 hidden for you to discover as you progress.

Graphically this game is very impressive from the resolution and lighting of the players to the animation. This is probably the closest yet we’ve come to a realistic simulation due to the game tackles being calculated on a real physics engine i.e. size, speed and power of players. Unlike previous games, players cannot suddenly change direction at full speed adding to the realism. Injuries can occur and you can take pleasure in seeing your target rolling around in agony, nice. The surround sound is very impressive with the crowd; announcer and player noises creating a realistic match day feel. The commentary is good compared to other sports games that I have played but during the season and franchise modes it can begin to grate if you hear the same Madden quote about you star player for the 152nd time!

To add more depth with a touch of Pokemon, EA have added the clever Madden card bonuses. These cards can be collected and will open up cheats, special options, stadiums etc. They are judged on a rarity value and are bought with points earned during the game, for instance the gain 100 yards running you’ll 10 points but 150 equals 15 and so on. Often during a game you may find you decisions influenced by what points you can earn and certain cards can be played during a game to boost performance. Just like Pokemon the Madden cards can be traded in order to acquire a full set and then used as you see fit. As with most American Football games the most enjoyable way is to play with friends and here you can play with up to seven others. Although who actually has two multi-taps and a stack of controllers? Don’t expect to win very often if you play against the console but the chaotic mess that we endured was great fun.

Once you become more accomplished you can turn off the various Easy play options for passing, running, clock penalties etc. For all of its gloss there are some annoying faults with Madden that EA should have sorted before it’s release. During games players will often walk through one another and when the action is at its peak the speed will drop. The kick meter is red on a brown background; surely the game testers must have noticed that this is very hard to follow? The 40-second play clock is an important feature if you wish to run down the game clock and avoid penalties but in certain stadiums it isn’t clearly visible or even shown! No doubt Madden 2002 will correct these but the main flaw is that an American Football game can be perceived by the public to be long, boring and complex. Give it a go and you may be surprised.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec Review

Gamestyle Archive intro: we’re back in July 2001 and the expectation and hype around the latest Gran Turismo is at fever pitch. Mike Bather takes the latest incarnation for a spin and isn’t blown away. This is a perfect example of the Gamestyle ethic. An average game received 5/10 as that is the average – for some reason some sites and PR types believe 7/10 is where an average should start.  It is a mockery really and our honest scoring attracted some abuse and fanboy nonsense from those that couldn’t count.

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On the starting grid a Ford Focus and a Ford Escort sit patiently, engines grumbling like some vindaloo stricken polar bear. As the starting grid lights flicker from yellow to green, short bursts of petrol ignite in metal chambers, pushing exhaust fumes exit from a big hollow steel tube at the rear of each vehicle promptly making large gassy parrrp noises as they rocket from the starting line, spraying up clouds of dust. Welcome to Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec: the real driving simulator.

As driving simulators go, nothing has so far matched the might of tuning, suspension altering and gear lengthening that Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo offered. GT2 was an unlucky step back in the series that fell slightly with too much ambition, it unfortunately just never seemed as finished or as polished as the first game. GT3 is now here to entertain us in this third instalment and after owning 1and 2 we want something nice and special. And we mean nice and special. So, the ‘special’ looking all-silver DVD goes in the slick black machine and the intro commences, nothing short of the visual splendour that you have come to expect. The intro is fantastic, with growling GT cars writhing for first place on the all too familiar back drops of the tracks we are all to familiar of.

Already, you should not need an intro, as this is GT through and through even down to the way the opponent’s race. Same options, similar layout to the menu system, although rabidly overhauled to make it all simpler and easier to navigate through. Initially we are given the choice of the well-known Gran Turismo mode, where you buy, tune, race and sell cars or the arcade mode where you just race for fun or some competition with up to six friends with I-Link, complete with the ability to import players’ garages. The arcade mode gives you access to most of the top-flight GT cars like the Nismo and Mugen creations and also the lesser bhp-ridden Celicas, Minis and general road goers. Two player mode works well with only a very small amount of pop up visible that affects proceedings very little, if at all. But enough of the pretty impressive arcade mode, the GT mode is where this game is at. GT mode is the game in where you are given an amount of cash (18,000 in GT3) to buy a car, and then pit yourself against the various races that are suited to its class and type. You then build up your car from money earned through winning races, selling unwanted cars that you accumulate from winning race series’ hoping that one day you’ll have the money, time and the right car to take you through the long haul 200 mile races. Immediately noticeable is the thankful drop of the shopping trolleys of the prequel games, which leave the new player with a relatively small choice of about five vehicles to start off with. Chose your car and away you go to glory, wasted champagne, fireproof suites and women-a-plenty.

All is not so though, as a series of intuitive driving tests stand in your way. After all it is obvious: You didn’t really think that they would let you on a racetrack unqualified, did you? As a player of the first two GT games, this comes as all too familiar territory and is indicative of the game series limits. Although everything you could possibly want from a Polyphony Digital-produced driving game is here, there are serious shortcomings in the series, and the 128bit ages brings them glaring forth. Minus the car damage of other racers these seemingly perfect mechanical fire-breathing monsters are brought kicking and screaming into videogame territory. They remain perfect through race after race, as a testimony to the creators of the vehicles and also the mind’s behind this game for sticking to what they know best: Exceptional game play complete with amazing graphics.

Never have such lifelike vehicles been placed on ROM storage before, but Gamestyle choose to ignore the sheen and try to find the shine. You spend a few hours building up your initial, carefully chosen first car for the first couple of races and you finally have every upgrade on it, from tyres to the exhaust right through to the excellent alloy choice. You’ve re-mastered each track from the previous games and the player then decides to complete the change from normal road-going car to full-on racer. It doesn’t happen as this option has unfortunately been removed. Upon realising this, most players wont be too bothered but some players may have been relishing the thought of having their own race prepped Toyota Yaris to run in an all-Yaris GT final. This has been the biggest disappointment so far in playing the game as it was, in a way, a fundamental step from being one of the Sunday Cup Lada drivers and moving on up to the big league of the insane Grand Tourers. Having gotten the most out of your car, little pleasure is taken in keeping it on the road with no race spec upgrade so down to Barry’s Banger Bargain’s you go and sell it off. For a pittance, too as it’ll probably just pay for your sports suspension on your newly acquired sportster or whatever. And this is where the game takes a rapid cruse-control style.

Once you make it to the GT spec monster cars for probably the first time ever in the series, you can control them. And really control them. One of GT3’s biggest assets to the joypad user is the analogue pressure sensitive buttons that work great and coupled with the super smooth graphics you can brake later and still make the corner as everything happens now. No delays at all like in the prequels and coupled with what we can see as perfect handling it brings the whole game down to a point of, well, not very challenging. There’s so many challenges and races it will take you time to plough through them but whether or not you’ll actually bother to do so is up to you and is more depending on your ‘hot’ spot for GT cars.

Sonically the game has improved fairly well especially the different tones in the equipped parts on the car. Applying a sports exhaust gently beefs up the exhaust sounds and applying a better gearbox changes the whole sound of the car as the engine, depending on how the gearbox is set up, runs at different speeds. Regarding the soundtrack, using real life musicians it all down to personal choice but it’s all pretty average stuff and it is also in Dolby Surround as well which is nice to hear. Nice additions are a good tunnel noise, excellent tyre noise and crowd cheers which create a nice ambient sound by themselves. It is all pretty much standard fare for the GT series and there are other things that can be mentioned such as stupid 2D people for the crowd that is made up in the excellent car and track graphics, but they are easily forgotten and less of a glaring hindsight as in Metropolis Street Racer’s unpopulated cities.

The main act of criminality is the feeling of ‘nothing new’ that you get and at the start of the game it really does seem slow, but stick with it until you get to the 1000bhp+ monster vehicles and it soon speeds up and offers the most compulsive car tuning game available. This is due to the realism of the game, the super smooth framerate and the excellent and highly responsive control that make playability the no.1 issue and that’s why it shouldn’t be faulted. For absolute playability this game, although in a different style, is on a par with MSR, both are great games in their own rights. GT3 is by far the most crafted and exceptional driving game around, but something or even anything new wouldn’t go amiss.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Devil May Cry Preview

Gamestyle Archive intro: It is clear from this preview of Capcom’s forthcoming franchise, we didn’t know what to expect from Devil May Cry. Of course nowadays such surprises are few and far between – you feel like you’ve already experienced the title before making the purchase. Writer JJ, published July 2001.

Devil May Cry
Version: PAL PS2
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Genre: Adventure
Players: 1
Accessories: Memory Card
Release: Winter 2001
Link: www.capcom.com

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Although it could be considered a meatloaf song title – certainly the way the main character dresses – Devil May Cry is the first true PS2 title from survival horror masters Capcom.    What about Onimusha I hear you cry? Well its Psone roots were painfully obvious to us and everyone else we hope.  A nice bit of FMV doesn’t make a true next generation title no matter what they say.   Devil May Cry promises to be the real deal and Capcom hope is a much-needed breath of fresh air in a going exceptionally stale genre.   In fact the Japanese giant have claimed this game is the first in a new genre, to be known as “stylish hard action” so are we talking Hard Boiled with or Exit Wounds?   Then again reading press releases its also tagged “gothic horror” so, which one is it?

The plot and outlining scenario are familiar to most that have played this type of game before.   Devil May Cry is a game from Shinji Mikami who created the long-winded Resident Evil series and Dino Crisis.   The story begins two millenniums ago where a legendary swordsman called Sparda defended the human race against the Dark Raid lead by Mundus.  Yet Sparda was himself a demon but he defeated the demon army and imprisoned its leader.   The time has come for the Dark Raid lead by the evil Mundus to rise once again and seize control but the son of Sparda (Dante) is waiting for the demons with his father’s sword.   This cool, dashing hero likes nothing better than creating carnage and demon slaying.   As a day job he is a supernatural private investigator and seeks revenge for the death of his mother and brother.   Due to the DNA of his father, Dante is part demon and has special abilities, which become activated when his health bar is full.   Dante’s attacks become even more devastating and increase in range when in this state.   This man may have no dress sense but with his pistols he can pack a punch.  For all their success, control of the characters in Resident Evil was fairly limited.  In Devil May Cry again you are offered a barrack full of weaponry but you also have the ability to learn new moves and attacks.

The emphasis is very much on gun toting action this time around and certainly has an arcade feel about it.    This is very much a full on blast fest from start to finish with puzzles remaining in the background.   In this game you do not need to rely on ammo conservation as it is unlimited making it a tad easy and dare we say straightforward? Press R1 to lock on the nearest enemy and fire away.   Even with the increased reliance on action, Devil May Cry does not (so far) really bring anything new to the 128bit format.   The gameplay is firmly entrenched in what has gone before, perhaps even more shallow, as after a few hours of blasting you soon become bored.

Puzzles are involved but items that you do need to collect still glow brightly on the pre-rendered backdrop thereby diminishing any adventure element.   Yet again we have puzzles which involve statues and jewels, not very original is it?   The increased power of the PS2 has allowed Capcom to put more enemies on screen and increase the frame rate.   It has allowed Capcom to incorporate a jump feature into the game thereby providing you with the opportunity to jump several feet.   It does not end there however, when Dante is in his demon state, wings will allow you to climb to even greater heights.

The most disappointing element of Devil May Cry is that once again it features static, featureless backgrounds but in real time.   The backdrops are stunning, from everything we’ve seen but they’re just that, backdrops.   Gamestyle begin to wonder if this is a ploy from Capcom to speed up production time and thereby entice the public enough to follow with a sequel 6-12 months later i.e. Onimusha.   Capcom are fast becoming the Stock, Aitken and Waterman of the gaming world.  The backdrops in places are fantastic and ooze gothic and nightmare qualities but using this method brings once again the same familiar problems.      After the success of Resident Evil Code Veronica, why did they not stick with this feature?   The ability to jump and fly often places a strain on the camera and those problems are still there!

As we’d expect the presentation is flawless but will there be enough underneath to justify shelling out for another game in Resident Evil clothing?   We’ll have to wait till the end of the year to find out but we do hope that Capcom can include some original features and add to what little depth currently exists.

EPSN Winter Games X Snowboarding

 Gamestyle Archive intro: there was a time when snowboarding was the happening genre in videogames following on from skating. So many entries slipped through the cracks never to be seen again until now, as this is one example. Published July 2001, Writer JJ.

Version: PAL PS2
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Sports
Accessories: Memory Card
Players: 1-2
Release: Out Now
Link: www.konami-europe.com

Presentation: 8
Graphics: 7
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 5
Lastability: 7
Overall: 6

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What do we know about Snowboarding?  Even though I often get snow up here, very little.  For all the coolness of the sport it still looks like they’re surfing on an ironing board, why not just go down the beach?   I have never really understood the need to go up a hill only to come back down – repeat till sunset.

Here we have the latest instalment of the Konami ESPN series that is gaining popularity and respect from many.  If the rate of progress and dedication continues this will eventually surpass the bulk that EA toss out on an annual basis.   Along with the official ESPN tag you have several stars of the snowboarding world.   Prepare yourself to be dazzled: big names from the sport such as Garrett Christy, Todd Richards and Kevin Jones.   Also adding to the realism is the amount of sponsors that decorate the tracks and riders.  I’ve never watched a snowboarding event but no doubt it looks very similar to what we have in this game.

The first thing that struck me about this game (apart from the slow saving) was the stack of options on offer, which are varied and impressive.   Konami have researched the sport and it shows from the amount that they’ve managed to put into this game.  Amongst all menus you can go for time attack, career mode, free ride, slope style, big air and an X games mode.   These are great but there is one mode that raises this game above most of the other boring extreme sports games of late.   The snowboard mode is where you can create your own snowboarder and in great detail as well.  Within moments you will have created your own radical or bogus snowboarder to hit the slopes with.   Then you enter the stickman cartoon style section of the game that is wonderful mad Jap shit.   Anyone who played the most recent instalment of ISS on the N64 will remember the career mode, this is similar only much better.   Here you can talk with other boarders, make money, enter events and move up the ratings or you can just take a helicopter ride and hit those remote slopes.  All of this is wrapped up in a great unique visual style that you will come back to more often than any other section of the game.

One of the highlights is the graphics on show that do the PS2 justice, everything here is well presented from the animation to those little touches you don’t often see in games and the top notch replays.   Not all is great graphically as on some levels fogging is very evident; glitches and rough edges are obvious throughout.   The camera will at times limit you view as it tends to get stuck when you do as well and if not as responsive as I would expect.   The game sounds good but has that generic sub punk music that other titles have done so much better.   Don’t get me wrong I do like the odd bit of skate punk or whatever its called today but can games not offer some alternative?  Please?  Nice bit of country mate?

The main problem with the game is the controls, which are awkward to say the least, and this limits the enjoyment that the player has.  Well-designed games have controls, which are easy to pick up and utilise during the game.   ESPN Snowboarding often feels like you are fighting against the pad and at first you’ll even struggle to keep the boarder going in the direction that you wish.   It can be so infuriating that you may just give up altogether which would be a shame as this one has a lot of hidden depth.   While I found tricks easy to learn, actually putting them into practice is something else.   I would recommend that anyone spend sometime in the free ride section learning how to pull these off.  The learning curve will be a bit steep for most who decide to take this game on but please stick with it.

Adding to the control problems are that this game doesn’t feel like a game at times, more like a simulation of the sport.   I respect realism but one of the joys of SSX or 1080 Snowboarding is that you didn’t spend half the time on your backside.   The tracks or should I say slopes?  On the whole are pretty bland, boring and lack some of the flair showed in SSX but perhaps that’s realism for you.  Snow does only really come in one colour doesn’t it?   So EPSN Winter Games X Snowboarding is a more realistic challenge but if you prefer your arcade thrills stick with SSX.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits within Review

Gamestyle Archive intro: here is another movie-videogame review which followed on the back of Tomb Raider originally in July 2001, so we might as well repeat it here again. Maybe time has been kind? I haven’t seen this film in many years. Writer JJ.

Version: Pal
Developer: Squaresoft Films
Publisher: Columbia Tristar
Accessories: Popcorn, Beer
Players: 0
Release: August 10th
Link: www.finalfantasy.com
 
Presentation: 9  
Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 0
Lastability: 105 minutes

Final Fantasy the movie represents a huge gamble for Squaresoft and one that could have huge implications for the Japanese giant, videogame and film industries as a whole.  This film is a first in several ways as not only does it mark a transition from videogame brand to the big screen but also if successful will no doubt be the first of many.

If anything I did find the visuals to be refreshing, as until recently CGI movies were primarily the domain of children’s films such as Shrek.   Very nice for the family but for us who like the odd bit of violence topped with gigantic explosions and sprinkled with sex, its been a no satisfaction area.   Final Fantasy changes all that; well two out of three isn’t bad!

The story is set in 2065 where earth has been ridden with an alien race known as the Phantoms.   These arrived on earth inside a giant meteor and soon after a war began that resulted in the destruction of all known life forms including human.   The Phantoms come in many different shapes and sizes but their method of killing is the same, by coming into contact with one, your life is literally sucked from you.   Pockets of resistance in the form of cities surrounded by shields exist but they cannot agree on a method to destroy the meteorite.

A team of scientists much to the disgust of the military are pursuing the theory that by collecting eight spirits they can create a spirit wave which will effectively cancel out the Phantoms.   The military believe that by bombarding the meteor from outer space where their Zeus gun is located, they can destroy the alien infestation.   With support from the governing council Dr Ross seeks out the eight life forms needed to create the wave however this means visiting long since abandoned areas now crawling with Phantoms.   The struggle for power continues with the military taking action resulting in disastrous consequences for New York and perhaps the earth.   I won’t divulge anymore as I wouldn’t want to spoil the film.

I found it quiet surreal at first; I was finally being able to view a film that we had been waiting on for so long however the introduction soon brought me to my senses.  For those who have been playing PSO a bit too much recently, the whole film is computer generated.

The biggest compliment that I can pay to the visuals is that soon enough you forget that these are computer images but in the wake of Shrek I found the characters to lack any visual emotion.   In general the characters were all wooden with little depth especially the central character (Dr Aki Ross) and without the stunning effects on show this film would have been straight to rental fodder.   Overall the voiceovers were good with the exception of dumb generic one-liners, which in fairness is down to the script.   With such big names as James Woods, Donald Sutherland and Steve Buscemi contributing their vocal talents it seems odd that the producers chose Ming Na (who?) to play Dr Ross.   Surely a well-known name and therefore recognisable voice might have improved the weakest link so to say.

The director is Hironobu Sakaguchi who has a background in videogames and not films.   This type of film is a director’s dream, they have total control over everything as the elements and impossible angles do not come into the equation.   Sakaguchi tends to keep the camera position fixed and scenes remain static, overstaying their welcome and are predictable.   Perhaps he was under the impression that he was creating a Playstation RPG and not an actual film.   An experienced director with a more dynamic style and faster editing would have been far more suited to such a project, I doubt David Fincher would have take up the offer but someone in a similar vain would have improved the product even as a consultant.

The lack of experience in creating films is easily recognisable in the script, which does not possess the depth needed to capture the audience’s imagination.   The destruction of earth, aliens and lots of carnage should be more than enough to achieve this and the action sequences are the highlight of the film.   The dialogue at times is very weak, the actors in places sound as if they spat it out in disgust and it shows that creators of videogames still have someway to go before they can rival good film makers.   While the introduction is eye catching you cannot help feel that you’ve been dropped into the middle of the story with no explanation.   I would have liked to have seen the initial battle between the human race and the Phantoms, more about the creation of the Giga theory and finding the other spirits, and the suffering that resulted in earth becoming a wasteland.

My final criticism is the use of the Final Fantasy name.  The movie has nothing to do with the long running series except that it comes from the same parent company as the role-play epics.   I do think it was a cynical ploy to attract the fans of the series just in case the film did not find an audience with the mainstream.   The story just isn’t up to the standard set by series, especially VII.   No doubt someone will mistake Final Fantasy for something else!

In conclusion a great visual and audio film with little depth but lacking originality, emotion and believable characters.   As a first attempt Squaresoft can be fairly pleased but some simple measures would have made it so much better.

Still it’s better than Tomb Raider even if Angelia Jolie is in it.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Piracy The Early Years

Gamestyle Archive intro: well I wrote this but cannot remember doing so, a real oddity pulled out. I guess the site was a constant stream of reviews and we were fully aware of that. Reviews, previews the endless debate whether we should do news and if we did, that we had to support it fully. Keeping that fun without it becoming a chore was difficult as with any hobby that slowly takes over.

This feature dates from August 2001 and was probably thrown together to break up the review production line. Plus any excuse to write about the Spectrum days!

 

Piracy has been around since the days of the Spectrum in Britain and has grown into our gaming culture ever since.   The lads at Gamestyle have been through it time and time again but this taboo subject is worthy of an article, as everyone seems to have a different opinion of the pros and cons.

We all have our first memories of pirate games, at school it was a blessing to have this option as pocket money was probably only enough to splash out on booze nevermind videogames.   I rarely saw an original game in my Spectrum era at school and on average for everyone sold perhaps ten copies were made.   The only original games that I can recall owning during this period were Skooldaze, Booty and Elite, the rest being spread across a pile of C10 cassettes.   Did Clive realise the ease of which you could copy games on his system?  Was a blind eye turned to the problem back then?  I would think so as it no doubt contributed to the sales of machines and blank cassettes and the problem was left squarely at the publisher’s feet.   Perhaps that is too harsh at a time when a universal and cheap format such as cassette most likely seemed the only was to release videogames.

The knock on effect of the widespread piracy was the increase in retail prices with many games rising to the £9.99 price point.  Don’t laugh kids, that was a fairly large wedge in those days.   Publishers reacted in different ways and with no universal body to represent them everything seemed hit or miss.   The only attempt that I can recall combating the problem can with Elite when it was released in 1985.  The publishers were a company called Firebrand who was part of British Telecom.  Anyone opening the box for the first time was in for a shock because they had to use the Lenslok device.   The idea was novel but the execution was very poor, from my own Elite boxset, follow these instructions complete with emphases words:

1.      Once the program has loaded, press ENTER, the screen will change and you will see three vertical lines appear on the screen – don’t worry about anything else on the screen at this time.

2. Place the UNFOLDED LENSLOK holder length ways on the screen, between the two outmost vertical lines. Using the cursor keys “5” and “8”, adjust the two outermost vertical lines until they are the same as the LE

3. Fold the LENSLOK holder back (as indicated on the holder) place the holder on the screen, (with TOP on the holder, uppermost) and align the centre line of the lens with the vertical centre line on the screen. Now by closing one eye and looking directly at the screen through the lens, you will see the letters “O” and “K” appear.

4. If you are unable to see the letters clearly, use the adjustment keys to “fine tune” the display until “O” and “K” are seen more clearly.

5. When you are satisfied that you can see the “OK” message properly and whilst keeping the holder in the same position, press ENTER. Two more characters will be displayed.   Type these in and the protected program will run as normal.

If, however you make a mistake, two more characters will be generated and you should type these two new characters in. You are allowed three attempts before the computer will reset, making it necessary to re-load the program.

Right is that clear enough?   Ask anyone who played Elite back then to name the two most annoying features of the game and it’s a cert. that their reply will include docking a ship and the Lenslok.   The lens itself was 3.5cm by 2cm, imagine trying to square it up between your much larger television and your squinting eye, with one finger on the keyboard.   More often than not you blew the three chances and had to reload the game again.  Not so bad if it was a cart or one of the recent consoles but the Spectrum was infamous for its loading times.   Clearly Lenslok was not the answer.

Freak Out Review

Gamestyle Archive Intro: One of the more overlooked Treasure titles this arrived in the UK without too much fanfare and offered a unique experience away from the onslaught of big franchise titles on the PS2. From memory Swing Games PR were really pleased with the effort of the GS team. Writer JJ, published August 2001.

VERSION: PS2
DEVELOPER: Treasure
PUBLISHER: Virgin
GENRE: Adventure
ACCESSORIES: Memory Card
PLAYERS: 1
RELEASE: Out Now
LINK: www.swing-games.com

PRESENTATION: 8
GRAPHICS: 8
SOUND: 8
GAMEPLAY: 9
LASTABILITY: 8

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There are a handful of games developers that need no introduction and even fewer that exist by doing their own thing regardless of current trends.   Japanese developer Treasure have been doing such ever since their first game for the Mega Drive and have given us some classics including Radiant Silvergun, Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes and Sin & Punishment.   In today’s gaming world they are fairly unique in as when they have a project for a particular console they will approach the company in question i.e. Sony.   However if that company insists on any changes then Treasure will not release the game on that format.   Over recent years having a Treasure game has been a mark of respect for most consoles and even now their reputation grows amongst gamers.

Having been a fan of the developer for many years and constantly driving my Gamestyle colleagues mad with praise about Treasure, it’s probably best that I took a look at their latest release.   I can fully appreciate that many of their titles will not appeal to the mass public as their distinctive looks; designs and hidden gameplay do not gather favourable reviews.   Two of the most recent releases (Bangoi-O, Mischief Makers) while good games have struggled because of this and Freak Out certainly isn’t a pick up and play game by nature.   Unbiased and critical as ever, welcome to the mad, truly bizarre game that is Freak Out.

The story is strange even by Treasure standards and is as unique as the implementation of the game itself.   The main character is Linda, a young girl who has to live in a big house on the outskirts of town with her twelve sisters.   Like Cinderella all her sisters are incredibly vain and rude to Linda, always commentating on her poor appearance.   The sisters are so involved with themselves that they are not aware of the outside world and exist only to pamper their looks and egos.    Linda often gets sent on chores to the shops to collect beauty products and clothes.  During these trips she enjoys being free of all twelve sisters and looking at the beauty of the outside world.   On one such occasion as Linda is returning home she sees a van delivering a package to her sister’s house.   Inside the house the sisters gather around the box that opens by itself to reveal a doorway.   They all hear a voice promising them beauty beyond reason for all eternity if they step through the door way to the Museum of Agony.

As Linda approaches the house a white light engulfs everything, spreading outwards, smashing windows and then silence.   Upon entering the house Linda sees the doorway and is given an ultimatum by the evil voice – if she wishes to save them she must go through the doorway.   Linda has a friend in her scarf that has become possessed because of the white light and is a fearsome weapon against the Zako.

The first thing that you notice about Freak Out upon entering are the Museum of Agony are the unique visuals which can be described as being influenced by Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas.     The black stencil marks that cover the screen as you move create a surreal almost dreamlike atmosphere.  Immediately at this point you release that Freak Out is going to play like no other game before.   This room acts as the central hub to the twelve sisters and options such as save and the Gallery of Shame.  It’s a good place to learn about your scarf and what it can do to objects.  The control system utilises the shoulder buttons and analogue sticks only and will require some practice but soon becomes second nature.

The scarf is controlled by using the right analogue stick and with buttons you can grab a hold of anything on the screen stretching, snapping, twisting – bend me, shape me, anyway you want me, if you please.   Apart from the visuals this is Freak Out’s most inspired feature and in my experience a totally new one.   While Red Faction’s game engine was hyped more than the game, ultimately it proved to be limited and not as groundbreaking as we would have hoped.   I find the one employed by Freak Out to be far more exciting because it allows you to interact with the scenery and characters more so than ever before.   In this game the scenery is your weapon.   Not bad for a company which has only just began exploring the possibilities of 3D engines and have only one previous 3D release to their credit.   Games such as Zelda through its hook weapon allowed you to reach places like never before, Freak Out takes this to a whole new level.   At first this is what most will struggle to come to terms with, as the levels may seem very barren and similar to Mario 64 in places.   Soon you realise that this is not the case, everything on screen game be grabbed and pulled including the ground, trees and buildings.   More often than not I found myself ignoring the Zako’s (minions of the demons) that are scattered around the levels and indulged in seeing what the scarf could do.

Everything that the scarf grabs onto has a tension level and the indicator on the bottom right corner will show how much tension has been built up.   A simple attack is the Snap Attack achieved by grabbing a Zako, pulling on it then letting go this snap will cause minimal damage but is handy for when you are in tricky situations i.e. on a cliff or bridge.  More devastating attacks such as the torpedo attack and scarf bomb result in major damage and a fantastic shower of lighting effects and visuals.   Your scarf is not only limited to attacks as it can throw items, help you jump or climb distances and even exorcise the possessed sisters.   Points are awarded for good attacks and these prove invaluable as they open new, previously locked doors and once you have five points you can use the scarf bomb attack.

The game is relatively short due to the unique structure that it employs, rather than having twelve levels followed by a boss battle the game has twelve boss rooms.   There are also four large landscape rooms that you can visit throughout the game and use to build up points and practise your scarf techniques.  The shortness of the game may be disappointing to some but as mentioned previously there is plenty to do on every level so take it at face value and you will miss out on so much.   With the exception of playing games for reviewing purposes my PS2 does not see much activity but even after completing Freak Out I find myself going back all the time.   Apart from the joys to be found on each level the Gallery of Shame allows you to gain revenge on your sisters once you have defeated them.

Freak Out isn’t the fastest game you will ever play but at least it does run at a constant frame rate and even picks up during the attack sequences.   Visually you will struggle to describe Freak Out but if a Japanese anime maker decided to create a cartoon based on a little girl stuck in nightmare state after watching a series of Tim Burton films then this would be it.   Some of the character designs are inspired, particularly the Zako who are vain women with breasts so big and deformed its surprising they can even stand up.   Overall the game looks fantastic and is a credit to the machine – thankfully the jagged edges are less intrusive than witnessed on other releases.  Treasure has created some excellent soundtracks over the years and Freak Out including sound effects does not disappoint in this regard.

While I find this game excellent and perhaps the most original on the system since Fantavision many will overlook it, which is a great shame.  The PS2 needs more originality rather than the usual endless flurry of sequels containing only graphical enhancements i.e. GT3.   Gamestyle can only recommend that if you fancy something original, daring and eventually great fun to play that you give Freak Out a try.   Games this original deserve to be rewarded in some way and who knows, you may just love it.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Smash Bros. Melee Preview

 Gamestyle Archive Intro: another GS preview from August 2001 when we were all waiting for this new Nintendo series. Writer JJ.

Smash Bros. Melee
Version: Gamecube
Developer: Nintendo/HAL
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Beat ’em up
Players: 1-4
Accessories: TBA
Release: November 2001
Link: http://e3.nintendo.com/gallery/supersmashbros/
 

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One thing that is for sure about the video games industry is that it is far from predictable.   Certainly some firms are more painfully obvious than others i.e. Electronic Arts but once in a while a developer will surprise us all.   Super Smash Bros. on the N64 was a big surprise, Nintendo doing a beat ‘em up, involving their most famous characters?   Unbelievable and frankly stupid were my first thoughts when I first heard this amazing news.   Rather than go down the Way of the Exploding Fist style of fighting, Nintendo took a different approach.

For a machine that lacked a single decent fighting game for most of its life, Super Smash Bros. on the N64 was its only shining light and showed that when Nintendo decide to make a game, more often than not it is excellent – no matter what genre they choose.   Smash Bros. Melee continues the Nintendo practice of exploiting their back catalogue through sequels or side projects.   For some a sequel on launch day is an unusual choice, given the range of games that they had to pick from.   Yet perhaps it’s an admission that not having a decent fighting game blighted the N64 and the Gamecube must have a decent fighter from day one.

The most important aspect of any fighting game is the control system deployed by the developer.  Arguments ensue about which fighting game has the best method but Gamestyle just doesn’t care.   The ideal system is one that is firmly of a pick up and play nature but has enough depth to keep the fighting fans occupied and offer combinations.   The Gamecube controller is far more suited to this genre than the N64 version ever was.   This is perhaps a reason why the developer has upgraded the fighting system as the amount of control is greatly improved.   The original was very much offensive with little time for tactical or defensive fighting styles.   Now you can block by using moves of your own or have the ability to evade and deflect opponent’s attacks.   This will no doubt result in longer battles with the most skilful player being victorious rather than the first to pull off a special move but will it affect the offensive hungry American market?  No more Attack! Attack! Attack! Kill! Kill! Kill! But instead tactical, stylish, cunning and skilful – just like Gamestyle UK!

Along with the excellent Powerstone series, Super Smash Bros. was the only fighting game to achieve a playable four-player mode.   The fighting genre needed some fresh ideas and both these titles found new fans amongst gamers.   The intense battles to be had in the original are only perhaps equalled by 2D fighting games for their speed and ferocity.   For the 128bit version Nintendo are once again plundering their back catalogue to bring us new characters.   Each character will have new multiplayer levels and this includes the hidden characters.   While new characters are included several old ones will be available once again (as Mario, DK, Link, Yoshi, Ness, and Pikachu) complete with new special moves.   Unlike the single player mode the multiplayer has been tweaked rather than radically altered.  More options are available to allow you create the game you wish to play including Tournament and custom rules – standard options in first person shooters for sometime now.   Settings can be altered on handicap, stages, damage percentage and more items to choose from.

The game promises to offer plenty of modes to give the fighting fans happy for many months to come.   While not much is known about the Tournament mode it we expect that it will include a league championship format with player records ongoing – 64 players in total!  I wonder how they came to the number 64?   The Melee mode is a straightforward hit anything that moves option with the victor being the last person standing.  The Decision and Coin modes offer new gameplay elements that do not involve beating your opponents senseless.   Decision mode introduces tactical elements into the game.   Whereas before characters could use their special attacks whenever possible this mode places a limit on the number of times the effective moves can be implemented.   The mode is scored on the basis points given for combo moves rather than kills.   The advantage of this is that it forces the player to become experienced with a character of their choice.   The Coin Mode has coins raining down from the top of the screen and in this game the winner is the player with most coins.   Whether the rumoured Sonic character is actually in the game, the coin mode is perhaps a nod to the Sega mascot otherwise why not use gold rings?           

As with most fighting games the single player mode on the original was limited and only useful to unlock the hidden characters.   To address this problem the developers have made the levels more interactive by including platform elements.   Perhaps we can expect this to be a Nintendo version of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with the fighters flying across the screen.   Each level as mentioned previously will be true to your opponent character.  Link will found in an underground maze but before you can take on the Nintendo hero you will have to fight your way past several Redead and Octorocks.   Of course no Zelda level would be complete without platforms and playing each level should bring back memories (good and bad) of the original Nintendo games.

So far this is one of the best looking games on the Gamecube that we have seen, in fact it is stunning.   Everything has been given an overhaul including the animation and character details.   The Gamecube has provided some excellent 3D and lighting demos so far and this game delivers on both.   Nintendo want you to beat up their flagship characters but want them to look good in the process.  The only drawback that we can note is perhaps the game camera focuses too closely to the characters making them appear too big.   Perhaps this is just a setting to show the game off rather than an actual problem we will have to wait and see.

It will be interesting to see how the game compares graphically to the forthcoming PS2 duo of Virtua Fighter 4 and Tekken 4.   While all are firmly placed in the fighting genre, Nintendo have taken a more fun approach combined with the four-player madness, which makes it such an exciting title and once again a refreshing change.     

Gamestyle Retro

Gamestyle Archive into: we’re reaching the end of our Gamestyle Offline Magazine special edition issues with a release that came towards the end of the series; retro. With a distinctive look harking back to the classic Spectrum magazine of the 80’s this is the team’s homage to retro. The last page also hints at GSO Issue 9. I’m sad to say I cannot even remember if we reached issue 9, material was certainly submitted for a 9 or 10 and this formed the part of the ‘missing edition’ series that was published online during 2008.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the GSO issues that have stood the test of time rather well. In this era of instant downloads and reading on the move there does seem to be an opportunity to revive this sleeping giant.

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