Katamari Damacy

Gamestyle Archive Intro: every now and again a game would slip through the grasp of the producers and marketeers that defied logic. In an era of blockbusters and tiresome adventures, rip-offs or repackaged ideas few things stood out, or even today stand the test of time. In Katamari Damacy we have a title that ticks all the boxes and is utterly bonkers yet brilliant, and original.

Remember the website Lik-Sang? A great resource for all things weird and wonderful. This review still contained the original links which used to make Gamestyle a little revenue to cover our costs. Ah, the innocent days of the internet and when the world was that little bit larger. An NTSC review by JJ from September 2004.

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Remember when gaming was meant to be fun? How many releases have you enjoyed recently? So many games and yet so very few that entertain or stimulate. Katamari Damacy is different – in fact it’s unique – and comes courtesy of Namco, a developer that has struggled to find any form of late.

The story of Katamari Damacy is pretty far out. Imagine a Monty Python styled presentation, bathed in ’60s flower power and you’re almost there. It’s certainly bizarre, and with good reason, as you and your culture are not from Earth – your king (a dominating presence) visits from time to time, and manages to ‘litter’ the terrestrial environment. However, the main reason for thrusting the young prince onto foreign soil is far more bizarre; your foolish family has managed to destroy the stars and all the constellations. The only way to repair the sky is to visit Earth and collect objects. These can be anything from creatures to everyday items. The king transports these offerings into the sky where (fingers crossed) a star or constellation is revived – and on any given night you’re released, there’s a whole load of stars up there. Yet the beauty of Katamari Damacy comes not from fighting, exploration or trading, but from rolling a ball (known as a katamari) that captures anything within its path. A brilliantly simple idea, and one that’s perfectly executed. Akin to rolling a snowball, initially larger objects will refuse to join the moving shape. The race is on at the beginning of each level to build up your katamari’s size – and as fast as possible – for only when it has reached a critical mass can you snare the larger items (thus boosting its size yet again). And with each level being timed, set against predetermined sizes to succeed, you need to keep moving and thinking.

The control system relies mainly upon the dual analogue sticks being pushed in unison: what initially seems limited gradually allows for control of the katamari with a fair degree of flair and precision. The introduction allows you to practice and memorise all the options available – as the katamari attracts bigger objects, many of these are not able to be rolled (pencils for instance), so this affects your handling. The wrong object can prove to be a major hindrance as you try to negotiate obstacles across each level, so the game rewards logical thought – as well as practical rolling. Katamari Damacy can be very challenging (and the king proves to be quite demanding). However, there is no actual way of ‘failing’ the game – you may fail to reach a prerequisite size or number of items, but the game will record your efforts nonetheless. And there is nothing stopping you from returning to a previous level to try again, locate secret areas, or just add more stardust to the sky. In a similar vein to Magic Pengel, Katamari Damacy isn’t going to win audiences through ‘minimalist’ presentation, but it does have a unique visual treatment of its own. Gamestyle has already touched upon the outrageous concept – which includes some mind-boggling cutscenes, unusual grasp of English and a truly wonderful soundtrack. Eye-gouging detail isn’t everything as the game instead opts for vibrant objects that all seem to be carved from wood. This allows each level to be coated in a range of colours (amid a ‘magical carpet’ of objects) for your katamari.

Then, as mentioned, you have the glorious soundtrack – it’s been a while since Gamestyle has enjoyed such disturbingly good tunes. So much so that we even contemplated purchasing the soundtrack on its own. In an age of orchestral overkill, it’s good to know that madness (bordering upon genius?) has a place in gaming. If The Boredoms (ie, obscure Japanese band) had to compose a videogame soundtrack, then this might well have been the result. This gem has a few negatives – yes, the camera at times can be annoying, and the collision detection a little dubious – but the main criticism is the playing time, as it concludes all too soon. You want this adventure to continue indefinitely (although, given its addictive qualities, you can always go back). And for a twenty-dollar purchase in the States, it represents outstanding value.

A major shame then, that Namco has yet to confirm a European release date. Outside of the main story mode, there are options to view all that you’ve collated, as well as competitive play against a friend. Not that Gamestyle doesn’t have friends, but we were so taken with the main mode that a versus match didn’t even get a look-in. Apologies then, but even without it, Katamari Damacy is one of those games that will hold a special place in your heart for years to come.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

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The Incredibles

Gamestyle Archive Intro: we were big fans of Pixar so looked forward to any video game tie-in but unfortunately the Incredibles from November 2004 just wasn’t up to scratch.

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The link-up between THQ, Disney and Pixar Studios has been extremely lucrative and it’s led to family-friendly releases such as Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. Each title has gone on to sell exceptionally well on the back of each successful motion picture – so it’s no surprise that history may be repeating with The Incredibles. However, could this be a swansong given the publicised falling-out between Pixar and Disney? And will the final show be its most memorable?

Go see the film, buy the novelty items and pick up the videogame to keep your kids entertained at the weekends. It’s a surefire winner for every parent, and a winning strategy that Gamestyle could adopt in the coming years. Unfortunately, the majority of licensed releases have suffered simply because of the cost-bidding (for the license) and a highly-contracted development period. This said, things have been improving steadily as Hollywood has awoken to the commercial ‘realities’ of poorly-conceived (and cobbled together) videogame properties. Monsters, Inc: Scream Arena may have performed well, but it was shallow, short and very repetitive. The Incredibles has been produced with input from Pixar Studios – so the central characters are all faithfully-represented, as is the overall flavour and stylistic bent of the film.

Without question, the ‘licensed’ game is spot on, and the cut-sequences are flawlessly directed and equally memorable (particularly with regards to voice direction – something of a rarity in all but a few videogames). Things begin to go pear-shaped when it comes to the actual gameplay. Gamestyle will return to this point later, but for those unfamiliar with the cinema version you should be forewarned that the game follows onscreen events precisely. In some ways this can be a little shortsighted – given the talent at Pixar, one would have hoped the official game could’ve provided an expansion pack at least. Instead, the kids will be one step shy of the action (and one step removed from the magic).

In a nutshell, The Incredibles is set around a family who each have unique superhero abilities. Whilst trying to live a normal suburban existence, and avoiding the media scrutiny which previously grew out of hand, there is alas no ‘escaping’ the unwritten superhero rule – which states: there is no such thing as retirement or normality. So, when a new threat to the world materialises, the family must dust off those costumes and make a return. Set across eighteen levels, you will alternately take control of family members; there is no freedom to choose either mom, dad, sis or bro, as each level is specifically tailored for special abilities. Likewise, any opportunity for free-roaming adventure (a la Spider-Man 2) is absent, as this essentially is a linear and rudimentary platform experience – a shame, given the licence and bountiful possibilities it presents. Instead, these have been frittered away to corresponding pieces which all conveniently fit into a gameplaying ‘groove’.

Adding to the despair is the reliance on a constant stream of enemies, regardless of which family member you’re playing as. While the father is equipped for close-quarters combat, the rest of the family could have benefitted from far greater variety or a little ‘escapism’ of their own. The mother, with her elastic ability, is restricted to picking off enemies from a distance and to swinging over obstacles. In a city of skyscrapers, more could have been done to incorporate the environment – as each character is essentially playing to type (read: caricatures), there is no escaping the droll repetition in their levels. This feeling is further enhanced by ropey controls, the lack of believable collision, and a difficulty curve shaped like a rollercoaster. The camera, too, is a major hindrance as it fails to respond to changes in direction. You can control it yourself, but dabbling with the right stick while in the middle of a streetfight isn’t the ideal solution.

If nothing else, The Incredibles certainly ‘looks’ reasonable enough to play (and matches the animated yardstick of the film) – but it certainly won’t pip Ratchet & Clank for playability or for novel interpretation. However visually, it’s a close-run thing. So, the videogame of the albeit excellent film is anything but incredible. For unsuspecting parents, it will entertain the wee ones for a few hours – but given how fast they grow up these days, you certainly can’t afford to play down to wizened expectations. There are far better games out there (without a licence attached) that will yield far broader smiles.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Spider-man 2

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Daniel takes us on a unique perspective tour of New York as Spider-man in this game sequel. This review dates from September 2004.

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To be honest, Spider-man 2 surprised Gamestyle. It isn’t every day a developer puts their best effort into a licensed videogame (knowing fans will soak it up regardless). But Activision brought their ‘A’ game for the web-slinger’s latest outing and in so doing went above and beyond the call of duty. Adopting an open approach, you are free to swing, jump and climb your way around an impressively huge rendition of New York City.

You ARE Spider-man; the city is yours to explore as you wish. And thanks to an absolutely superb web swinging system, getting around the city is one of the most enjoyable, exciting and downright addictive experiences Gamestyle has ever had. In spite of the seemingly complex nature of the web swinging (particularly if you choose ‘Manual Swinging’) a single button controls the whole thing. Pressing R2 fires out a web (assuming there is something for it to latch onto) and Spidey swoops into his swinging; pressing and holding the web button again fires a second web line, suspending you in mid-air. Release the button and you swing off ready to fire your web again and continue on like a pendulum. The result looks and feels exactly how it should – just like the movies. You can also jump between web lines to alter direction more quickly, use webs as zip lines to pull yourself forwards or hit the sprint button mid-swing for that extra burst of speed needed to find the upper reaches of the rooftops.

Spider-man’s super physical abilities also allow you to jump exceptionally high (with a charged-up jump); and it’s easy (not to mention controllable) to leap from rooftop to rooftop. Should you ever miss, slip or even fall you can quickly zip off a web to catch yourself or swing to safety at the last second. Spidey will receive damage if your fall to street level is too severe, but he can survive some pretty stomach-churning drops. In order to not infuriate the player, Spider-man 2 puts no limit on the amount of webbing you use. However, a limitation is put on a Matrix-like slow-motion gauge that fills up over time so you cannot abuse it. Alongside your ‘Spider-sense’ (which will warn you of impending attacks and allow you to dodge them by tapping the Circle button) this Matrix-like feature slows everything down around you, giving you time to dodge punches and bullets while making your own attacks more effective.

The technical aspects of Spider-man 2 both disappoint and intrigue in equal measure. On first glance, the city looks aesthetically appalling. Buildings look like cardboard; traffic fades in and out; pedestrians have numerous clones of themselves all over the place. But the draw distance is incredible. It’s the lack of detail that keeps everything running smoothly. Textures are applied as they’re needed; far away scenery is blocky until you reach it. Actually, the entire city is streamed into view as and when it is needed. More impressively the 3-dimensional nature of the game world dictates that this stream-in flows upwards as well as horizontally. Likewise, from a great height traffic is rendered flat; but when you get down nearer to street level cars transition to ‘true’ 3D versions. A clever motion blur effect does a reasonable job of convincing you that it is all happening in real-time. The cityscape is far more visually impressive once day fades into night (those bland textures are less obvious amongst the twinkling lights). Of course if you really want to top off an evening of adventure nothing beats watching the sun rise the next morning perched high atop a skyscraper.

The game is split into chapters each of which requires completion of certain mission objectives to advance. Usually these are simply a matter of getting somewhere in the city or buying an upgraded ability; but within each chapter you also have to acquire a certain amount of Hero Points. These Hero Points are what ensure that along with (your) great power comes great responsibility, because they are awarded for completing good deeds. Around the city opportunities to stop crime on the streets, chase down bank robbers, rescue people falling from buildings and generally clean up the city wait – all of which will award you Hero Points. Other than setting a required total of points to earn for each chapter you are free to pursue your crime fighting career in any way you want. If you don’t want to push the story along, you don’t have to. The only disadvantage to this is that you won’t be able to buy the new ability upgrades as they become available. Sooner or later you will probably end up going where it tells you to, if only to improve Spider-man’s powers.

Predictably enough, it is the story that forms the weakest link of the game. Loosely based on the events of the movie, you go up against Doctor Octopus as well as some other notorious villains chosen to give some variety. Voice work by Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Alfred Molina (as well as helpful hints by Bruce Campbell) help complete the movie to game connection. The Indoor ‘boss fights’ that are the centrepiece of the story hardly make use of the strengths of the swing system (it suddenly becomes quite fiddly in enclosed areas). A weak camera system only compounds the problem making targeting and fighting repetitive and dull. The only story sections that feel worthwhile take place out in the city again. Surely it would have been better not to shove unnecessary indoor bits into the game with such brilliant city-swinging possible. (Un)Fortunately the main plot of the game is all over pretty quickly; but even after this the city itself offers much to see and do. In addition to criminals to bust and citizens to save there are secret items hidden all over the city, on top of buildings, down alleyways and in obscure corners of the map.

A GTA-inspired status menu keeps stats on everything you’ve done: items collected, combat moves learned, upgrades received, criminals thwarted, pizzas delivered (Spidey as the pizza guy ranks high amongst the all-time mini-game list) and secrets found. The brilliance of it all is you can have fun just trying to be the best super-hero you can and always improving. There’s very little pressure and so much pleasure. It’s a dip-in/dip-out kind of game; the loading times are rarely of major concern and you can play for as long or as little as you like. Sadly that turned out to be less than Gamestyle had expected due to a lack variety in the random missions around town. Chasing a car down a highway might be fun, but how many times can you take the same man to a hospital or stop the exact same police shoot-out before you get bored with it? Similarly, Spidey’s wisecracks and banter with the pedestrians can begin to grate too. But these turn out to be the worst of the problems.

It doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights that the likes of Goldeneye and Bladerunner achieved as film/game tie-ins, but what Spider-man 2 does is create one of the best super-hero games of all time. If you can forgive the rough around the edges presentation and look past the repetition and occasional frustration, Spider-man 2 will not disappoint. It is literally leaps and bounds ahead of the first game and fully deserves all the success it will no doubt receive.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy

Gamestyle Archive Intro: hard to believe this review is over 10 years old debuting in the summer of 2004. I do remember this game fondly as it was a fun experience with a different slant than all of the other combat based games that were swamping the formats. I ask myself now, have games evolved much in the meantime? Frankly not much.

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In the rush to deliver the first extra sensory video game of the summer, Midway has beaten Free Radical to land the first blow. For now the promising Second Sight, will have to be just that; but is Psi-Ops (formerly known as ESPionage) a justified knockout or nothing more than a minor scratch?

Last year’s vogue was rag doll physics, and this was exploited fully by both the Splinter Cell and Hitman series to name but two. The infamous Half Life 2 footage has shown what is possible with a special weapon, but what if the main character had a unique physic ability to control and manoeuvre objects? What gaming possibilities could such a feature create? The answer forms the core experience of The Mindgate Conspiracy thanks to the Havoc physics engine. You take the role of Nick Scryer, a Psi-Operative who is captured by The Movement – a terrorist organisation that uses mind control techniques. Unknown to his captors, Nick’s abilities have not been removed, but rather lie dormant, awaiting reactivation. Aided by a provocative double agent, escaping from captivity is only the beginning of the fight against The Movement. It’s a journey of discover for Nick, as his powers slowly return to him and old friends turn out to be anything but friendly.

The story for what it is will not win any nominations for originality or execution. However it merely acts as an introduction and sideshow, for what becomes a flying ballet of boxes, bodies and photocopiers – yes, potentially anything can become a lethal weapon. A new maxim for a new age: if moves, throw it. This skill of lifting objects is known as telekinesis, but Nick is much more than a weight lifter – he can become the puppeteer through the ability to mind control opponents – and other skills besides. At first The Mindgate Conspiracy comes across very much like Freedom Fighters, with the emphasis on plenty of opponents, action and overriding sense of fun. Then as the special abilities are returned to your arsenal, you can really begin to play with the dynamics and experiment. Take for instance a crowded courtyard. That sniper above could be a victim of mind control, turning on his opponents and picking them off one by one.

Like many releases, crates and boxes litter the environments of the game, but these can be lifted and thrown across in a game of soldier bowling. And at the end of the day you can still rely on your gun, but exploring the options offered by the special abilities is what makes The Mindgate Conspiracy wonderful to play, and sets it apart from the rest. Often the bane of most releases, the puzzles have been carefully pieced together, and require the player to cast aside those overused guns, and actually think. Thankfully these are spaced out in such a way that highlights the solid design of the game. Even the abilities are restored piece by piece, slowly introducing the player to their range of possibilities. This game has been put together efficiently, and with a degree of skill rarely seen in such third person blasters. Considering that you have two means of attack (normal combat and physic abilities) the control system could have become a total shambles. However the layout and execution is intuitive, and really allows you to command Nick with authority. The shining example is that after a few minute with the flashback-training missions, you will be running headlong into environments, using objects and taking on The Movement without a second thought.

Visually the game is extremely slick, with brief loading times, above average textures and a good exponent of lighting. While the environments you find yourself in lack any real imagination (and are taken from a grotty and grungy palate) this is certainly one of the most appealing releases recently seen on the Playstation 2. Yet this is not a total thoroughbred, as there are issues with the game. The initial negative is the butch voice acting, which is nothing but original. A surprise when you actually open up some of the extras, and see how much work has gone into designing the game. The co-operative mode is anything but, as a friend can control the physic abilities of Nick, while you run around playing soldier. It’s not what Gamestyle would call a proper co-operative mode, and it is unfortunate that a proper multi-player option could not have been included.

The length may be an issue to some, but while it lasts The Mindgate Conspiracy is immensely enjoyable, and in retrospect ideally pitched. Midway has included a raft of hidden extras for those who enjoy opening up such options. The value of these is debateable, but the incentive is there to play again, and examine environments a little more closely second time around. Midway is very much a publisher in ascendancy, after several poor years it is emerging from the shadows with some quality titles, and Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy is yet another example.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Champions of Norrath

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Garnett Lee took us online with this addictive Sony offering from February 2004. 

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Legions of PC gamers know Norrath as the expansive homeland for Everquest, the grand-daddy of massively-multiplayer online role playing games. Released by Sony Online in 1999 it still captivates thousands to a degree only hinted at by affectionate fan nicknames like “Never-rest”. That success made a Playstation 2 version to accompany the console’s online capability not only a forgone assumption; it built expectations of a compelling title for which people would add the online adapter. While not a failure, neither that original PS2 version nor a subsequent expansion ever approached capturing either the audience or magic of its PC kin.

Champions of Norrath (CON) opens a new door to the world of Everquest for a more personal scale role-playing adventure (hopefully) better in-tune with console players. Not surprisingly the halls of PC legends again provide inspiration, but not from the expected title. Skipping over massively-multiplayer entirely, the quest for a broader appeal led to one of gaming’s all time most popular (and imitated) titles – Diablo, the game that took goblin slashing from geek to chic. Its refined formula for hack-n-slash fantasy action – guide characters in exploring beautiful fantasy worlds from a god-like overhead view, kill everything in sight and save the world while collecting a veritable fashion show of arms, armor and accoutrements – became the definitive model for action RPG’s.

Followed with masterful precision in CON it once again creates a riveting game while providing a testament to the greatness of the original. Most of Champions’ tale is written on the field of battle, but there is at least enough story for a bard’s chorus. Like many a fantasy world before it Norrath has sent out the call for a hero to stave off a spreading darkness as Goblins and Orcs overrun the countryside. Introduction aside the remaining story advancing cut scenes primarily serve to introduce (and give some personality) the next evil doer before setting them to the sword. Long before reaching the end of the quest a lack of elaborate schemes or dramatic plot twists make saving the world a fait accompli; but that does not detract from the enjoyment of seeing the journey through to completion. Fortunately the hero ark happened to be nearby when trouble arrived and conveniently dropped off five male-female pairs of willing adventurers.

A cross-section of role-playing workhorses the group includes a warrior, ranger, cleric, wizard or shadowknight from which to choose. Character selection depends mostly on the desired style of play, an important consideration since their natural penchant for the sword, spells or a little bit of both determines much of what the game experience will be like. Development of the chosen avatar throughout the game follows a typical (to role-playing games) approach of spending experience points earned in battle to fine-tune character traits and skills. In a page lifted almost verbatim from Diablo, each character has a unique set of skills arranged in a tree system. The two or three skills available initially form the base with branching choices to others that open as levels increase. Specialized sub-classes develop depending on the upgrade path taken (such as fire mage) completing each character. For at least the first play-through of the game, the slow (but steady) flow of experience necessitates focusing growth along one path to keep pace with the increasingly difficult monsters. Training provides only part of the battle preparation.

These medieval monster mashing mavens show they know a thing or two about the value of dressing for success. Every different suit of armor, pair of gloves or boots, set of leggings, helm, shield or weapon offers a distinctive look; and between shops and plundered loot expect to accumulate enough to keep the Paris runways busy for months. All that gear proves to be more than just pretty window dressing. Along with their basic attack and defense qualities each piece of equipment has four slots for enhancement. These can be filled with a variety of items to produce effects ranging from adding elemental attack or defense properties to improving attributes and skills. A complete outfit affords enough slots to mix a formidable array of augmentations. Speaking of looking good at work CON arrives for its shift on the PS2 sporting the best graphics seen on the console for this type game. Richly saturated colors and natural lighting give environments a particularly vibrant quality. Impeccable attention to the fine details, both in the characteristic subtleties given the texture of every surface and the little things like the fine fletching on a shaft protruding from a fallen foe bring the scenes to life.

Likewise story advancing cut scenes spare no expense to deliver a visual treat. Unfortunately all this graphical excellence comes at a cost paid in painfully long load times, so long in fact that “loading, please wait” could be mistaken for the game’s subtitle. Aside from this technical distraction CON delivers a smooth, if nonetheless predictable, adventure across five chapters. The otherwise comfortable flow suffers a slight hiccup as the last two chapters sharply contract into an onrush to the conclusion; but once savoring that final victory no doubt exists that this has been one immensely satisfying trek. For the stalwart this marks only part of the game experience as completion unlocks the next higher difficulty level; and for the especially resolute an extreme level awaits beyond that. Lack of any new twist other than significantly stronger enemies during these return visits undermines their replay value despite the allure of tantalizingly powerful uber gear.

What will keep the disk spinning in many a PS2 is the fiendishly addictive multiplayer. Joining forces with up to three other players intensifies everything appealing about the game. Nothing beats getting to show off a swanky new piece of equipment. Well nothing that is except then giving a practical demonstration of just how powerful that new sword is on a goblin’s head. Playing with friends also adds a rewarding sense of depth to the action with the opportunity for the party to use tactics that take advantage of individual strengths. The multi-tap supports gathering a group the traditional way around one Playstation but the real news is the online play for those with a broadband connection. Hobbled by a lack of critical features to build a community the implementation feels tacked-on. Without any type of pregame communication choosing a good one to join from the simple listing of those available in the lobby depends on the luck of the draw. On the other hand the system offers a welcome alternative for planned adventures when everyone can not be in the same place. Happily voice chat (with a supported USB headset) kicks in once inside the game world but even after much tweaking quality fell well short of that found on Microsoft’s Live service.

The fact that Gamestyle can only highlight a few shortcomings shows how high the bar sits for action RPG’s. A familiar mark to developer Snowblind, as they set it themselves two years ago with the creation of the current standard for the genre; Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance. Champions of Norrath deviates very little from that formula for success instead taking the approach of masters refining each ingredient to perfection. While the result stumbles just short of enshrinement as a legend, the defining bar has been raised, again.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Medal of Honour: Rising Sun

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Medal of Honour had a few ups and downs during its initial years. After an initial burst of interest those scripted events and on-rails-feeling torpedoed any long lasting gameplay. This review is from JJ and 2003.

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Once Medal of Honour had ravaged Europe, the logical next chapter on its pilgrimage of destruction was the Far East.  And so Medal of Honour: Rising Sun arrived, promising more of the same but with enhanced features and online support for Playstation 2 owners.  However is this one release too far?

This time you take the role of (yet another) All-American white hero.  The pride and joy of his hometown, this young soldier finds himself thrust into the fierce conflict, and soon begins to shine.  Introductions aside, as ever this marks the beginning of several levels conveniently scattered across the conflict timetable.  Medal of Honour releases are predominantly known for their knockout first level, and Rising Sun is no different.  Taking place at Pearl Harbour the opening salvo is a roller coaster ride of emotions and locked doors.  However on reflection Gamestyle soon realises that it is a piece of magnificent trickery and deception.

The previous incumbent (Frontline) despite the widespread acclaim was home to several fundamental gameplay issues, which Gamestyle could not overlook.  The preference for linear levels and Hollywood glitz (this time featuring the THX logo) over any real game play were the most damming of all.  The cynics may claim that it was enjoyable, but in retrospect how many have returned?

Unfortunately things have not improved with the next instalment – as any glimpse of creativity is soon taken out and shot at dawn in favour of a concrete release date.  Electronic Arts may pride itself on hitting its targets in terms of release dates, but surely any project management must allow for ideas to improve the package?  If you set out to create a bog-standard first person shooter, then that is all you will produce, and no amount of glitz can distil such a fact.

Pearl Harbour is the ideal example of how badly this series is relying on old habits, and failing gamers.  It is as linear as a one-way street in a car with no reverse gear; once experienced there is no need to return.  Again and again the player must do as the developer commands to trigger the next event.  Take for instance the sequence in a baseball stadium.  This could have been a fine set piece as you crawled through seating areas taking out guards and sniping distant targets.  Instead Gamestyle took out its targets in gung-ho fashion, and then nothing.  Backtracking through the level did not reveal any solution.  Unfortunately one sniper remained unnoticed in the stadium, and only when he was dispatched did this trigger the next sequence.  Soon enough enemy troops appeared from nowhere (amazing how Japanese soldiers can teleport themselves) complete with poorly scripted AI, and then the doors opened.

Oh, how EA has tried to butter up this game with various bonuses for good performance and hidden extras. The medal system has been used previously in the genre to reward great play, not as an excuse to “beef-up” a shallow and unbelievably short £40 release.  Unfortunately the levels are indicative of the problems prevalent throughout the whole of this release.  The game feels rushed, the graphics in many places are substandard, and make the jungle levels in Turok Evolution seem positively Halo-like in comparison.  At times Rising Sun can get messy, really messy (think pop-up, poor textures, slow down, blocky graphics etc) and it’s hard not to think that it was rushed out for the Christmas market.

The emphasis on realism has been retained but now the game feels decidedly unbalanced.  Many of the weapons handle badly, but combine this with the poor implementation of control and you realise why your opponents resort to banzai charges; sometimes it’s the only way to hit the target.  Rising Sun is also dowsed in sentimentalism, which Gamestyle believes oversteps the mark.  This isn’t a tribute or appreciation society, rather a cheap ploy to earn a few dollars more.  This time around Medal of Honour has gone too far.

Surely a commercial release such as this must contain some positive aspects?  Well, its certainly not the loading which is the longest yet on the Playstation 2, and frighteningly so.  Few releases have allowed Gamestyle to obtain a brew during loading and return with time to spare.  However the music and accompanying effects are superbly replicated on the soundtrack, continuing the solid work in Frontline.

Casting aside all this negativity leaves only the co-operative, multiplayer and online modes.  Thankfully these manage to deliver entertainment if you have a multi-tap or online connection.  The offline multi-player mode is enjoyable fare, despite those ugly textures and too many pickups.  The online aspect is even more entertaining, as Rising Sun provides several well implemented maps and voice support.  Admittedly the actual online experience is basic with only a few servers and players available, but Gamestyle experienced intense combat, consistent victory and little lag.  This could all change if Rogue Soul goes online, so Gamestyle will enjoy victory while it lasts.

Humour aside there is nothing worthwhile about Medal of Honour: Rising Sun, as it marks the lowest point in the series.  Time has finally caught up with the old fashioned game dynamics, limited ambition, compromises and the release date has proved its undoing.    Electronic Arts are proudly driving up sales and profits, but in the case of Rising Sun at the expense of the game and consumer.  Whether this release has caused long term damage remains to be seen, but do not even consider it as a worthwhile purchase.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10