The Warriors

Gamestyle Archive intro: Andy takes us back to the video game of the classic film the Warriors. I know the film, but never played the game so maybe an overdue return myself? I do recall Manhunt though and those folks at Rockstar were never afraid of pushing boundaries.

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It’s true. Gamestyle misses the beat ’em up – the halcyon days of Final Fight, Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. The genre was unable to make the transition to three dimensions without being marred by technical issues, and the few attempts to revive it have been badly received – both critically and commercially.

How odd, then, that one of today’s most influential publishers and developers, Rockstar (normally renowned for having their fingers on the pulse of gaming culture), have attempted to resurrect this near-dead genre. Even more curious is the fact that Rockstar’s latest effort is saddled to a film licence (think Catwoman or Bad Boys II). Oh dear. Can Rockstar breathe new life into two dead horses? Those who have seen the film (the viewing of which is by no means necessary to enjoy this title) will be impressed with the translation provided: given its fairly meagre 90-minute running time, the events of the film have had to be fleshed out to provide enough substance for a game and it’s here that Rockstar have excelled.

The developers have woven a compelling backstory which charts the rise of The Warriors through New York’s gang hierarchy, and which takes place three months prior to the events of the film. In addition, a number of ‘flashback’ missions are unlockable – which allows you to trace the very origins of the gang. This new material makes up for nearly half of the available missions, with the events of the film proper reserved for the last third of the game. Perhaps the best thing about The Warriors though is that Rockstar have succeeded in capturing the spirit of the celluloid original, perhaps more so than any previous film licence. The film’s opening intro is matched almost shot-for-shot in-game: the characters look just like their on-screen counterparts (even if their mouths do look like duck bills) and sound even better, thanks to nearly all of the film’s original cast reprising their roles.

The film’s unnerving score is also used to great effect, and the radio stations that provide commentary throughout can be listened to in The Warriors’ hideout (for example, to hear which ‘boppers’ – or gangs – are causing havoc). New York itself is almost as important stylistically as The Warriors. The city is portrayed as being dark and brooding: litter fills the streets, trains and buildings are daubed with graffiti, undesirable characters loiter throughout the levels; shops, car stereos and people’s wallets are all there for the taking, and passers-by will run for the police (or the local gang) when they see you misbehaving – but fear not as the streets offer plenty of secluded areas to hide until the heat dies down. However, regardless of how good the story and settings are, all good beat ’em ups need a decent control scheme. The Warriors doesn’t disappoint: the controls are deceptively simple, with only light and strong attacks and a grapple (although you can string together combos for added devastation and there’s a tutorial provided). Even better is that attacks are context-sensitive, so instead of executing a throw for example, you can smash your opponent’s face into a wall if you are close enough. It’s also possible to perform tag-team attacks with your fellow Warriors, as well as wield a variety of weapons – no guns though, although you might come across a knife (not to mention the assorted bricks, bottles and pieces of wood that are strewn about levels).

Sadly, there aren’t any whole roast chickens or hamburgers hidden in oil drums, but buying ‘flash’ can restore your health. Other Warriors will accompany you throughout your journey and they can be issued with commands – such as attack everyone nearby, or watch your back. Fortunately, their AI is pretty good and they can look after themselves in a fight (or handily destroy everything, should the mood arise). Of course, this being a Rockstar title, certain compulsory traits have exchanged hands: courtesy of Manhunt is the ability to hide in the shadows and use lures such as bottles and bricks to distract sentries (executing a particularly brutal attack induces a slow-motion close-up).

Courtesy of San Andreas, there’s a gym in The Warriors’ hideout – the use of which brings small stat bonuses – and completing the bonus missions scattered throughout the game earns you extra power-ups and items. It’s not all good news though. Inevitably, even with all of the attacks available, the action can become repetitive by the latter stages of the game, and the camera often struggles to keep up with the action (although it’s fully-adjustable by the player). And the two-player mode isn’t all that it could’ve been: the screen splits if you move away from each other and whilst this is a good idea, the execution is flawed (with the split being too small and the screens failing to merge quickly enough when players team up again). Still, at least the option is provided.

Despite these flaws, The Warriors is a joy to play. Yes, it’s incredibly brutal and vicious, but then what did you expect from a beat ’em up – especially one from Rockstar, who have never shied away from copious amounts of violence in their games? It might not be the deepest experience, but for a shot of pure action, you can’t go wrong. And yes, apparently Rockstar can revive two fallen genres with an almighty kiss of life and in doing so prove once again that they have the Midas touch. (Oh, and be sure to finish the game for an extra-special scrolling treat!)

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Resident Evil Outbreak File #2

Gamestyle Archive Intro: once the online gates were opened titles appeared eager to take advantage of this new avenue. Ultimately these rookies were trial and error with some interesting results including this Resident Evil adventure. The review dates from August 2005 and from Jason.

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While Resident Evil Outbreak: File #2 represents the second instalment in the series, for PAL gamers it is the first opportunity to go online. The first European release was stripped of its online functions, and this unquestionably detracted from its appeal – thankfully, Capcom have put things right with the sequel and included online compatibility that’s not dissimilar to its Monster Hunter experience; of course this means navigating menus and options before going online, but given the alternative, this is something that Gamestyle can live with.

Once again you find yourself in Raccoon City, desperately trying to escape the havok caused by the T-virus outbreak. The attraction of this breakaway series is that the story is demoted in favour of various scenarios that you must overcome to escape the city limits. For instance, you may choose to venture into the Raccoon City Zoo (in the hope of being rescued by helicopter or using the underground transport network). Certainly, the city environs have been used to good effect, and Capcom have pieced together an imaginative choice of locations to terrorise fans of the series. The online experience doesn’t deviate too much from the successful recipe created by SEGA’s Phantasy Star Online: teamwork, communication and item management are the key to good gameplay. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line the formula has been diluted and served up with remarkable ineffectiveness. Whilst zombies are typically slow-moving and predictable, the pace has been livened up with some more unusual creatures. However, there is little character exposition or biographical information provided for the eight characters on offer: each has their own unique talent (strong melee, lock-picking etc.) and each carries their own signature item (which may or may not prove useful).

It is disappointing that Capcom have failed to introduce any new characters to Resident Evil Outbreak: File #2, as those featured were all in the first game. They have also tried to invigorate the narrative by placing files and documents around each area – but these lack the intimacy of the transcripts found in Doom 3, for example, and can easily be ignored. The lack of voice communication is a shame, given that the online portion relies heavily on teamwork and communication. At times the action can erupt quickly, and the last thing that any player wants to do is type messages (using a USB keyboard or the cumbersome virtual keyboard). Capcom have utilised the right analogue stick to allow helpful commands – such as ‘follow me’ or ‘help’ – to be uttered instantly; it’s a patchwork solution to a problem easily remedied by the SOCOM headset (as supported by other games). Resident Evil just wouldn’t be the same without the infuriating control system, and File #2 is just as inflexible as those that have come before: imagine the aforementioned difficulties of communication, but merged with one of the most despised control systems of modern times – it’s far from an ideal combination, and with noticeable load times and lag during expeditions, Resident Evil Outbreak: File #2 is not the slick and intuitive experience Gamestyle had hoped for.

Another major fault with the series is fixed camera angles: these online environments are expansive and contain dangers that often linger off screen until you stumble straight into their welcoming arms. Many camera angles are employed simply to show off the environment and hardly of benefit to players. Games such as PSO were spread across sizeable levels, but used natural or artificial barriers to allow you to follow, assist and defend teammates with ease; this benefit is lost as teams of four can run off in all directions – only coming together when the game calls for teamwork. And it’s these moments when you have to push an obstacle or open a door (in unison) that the only glimmer of satisfaction appears. There are some good ideas within the game, such as being able to swim during certain stages, but these asides are never exploited – they simply exist to get the player to the next point, and for no other reason.

The ‘virus infection’ meter shows how badly you are infected, and if the virus begins to spread the inevitable occurs. It’s a nice touch that is complimented by the on-screen quirks of your character (who slowly begins to lose pace before sinking to the ground). Resident Evil Outbreak: File #2 often plays and feels like a solo adventure, albeit with a few mates tacked on for laughs. This is its biggest drawback as the game has been touted as an online ‘multiplayer’ experience – but it just doesn’t deliver. In truth, Resident Evil was always single-player-focused, and somehow the atmosphere was more intriguing and unsettling because of it. Online you’re either left to guide rookies or follow experienced pros going through the level for the twenty-fifth time. Capcom have tried to inject some community feeling by organising special events where unique items can be collected – but all too often this just encourages greed and self-interest, particularly as the game is loaded with unique items for each scenario (and some specific to each character, although many verge on the ridiculous).

In summation, the game can only be seen as a disappointment for those expecting an online extravaganza (or for series veterans looking for something new). Gamestyle could argue that an online multiplayer Resident Evil game should never work – but File #2 suggests that with a solid design and grasp of what makes online games so enjoyable, the series could well thrive in the next online generation. However, if Capcom persists with the same cumbersome control system and predictable dynamics, then Resident Evil will remain true to form – best enjoyed on your own, and offline.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10

Golden Age of Racing

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Andy takes us back to a golden age of racing on the PlayStation 2 for this budget historical release. Ready, set, GO!

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Something is happening on the PS2; something that usually only occurs in the PC games market – that something is a veritable explosion of budget titles. Not only are budget re-releases of the platform’s most popular titles selling like hot cakes, but there also exists a thriving market for new games from smaller independent studios and publishers.

Golden Age of Racing falls into this latter category and, as the title suggests, harks back to a time when the Grand Prix was just that (and not the two-hour yawnfest it has become). Men were men and didn’t need things like ‘aerodynamics’ or ‘downforce’ – just a bloody great big engine strapped into a fibreglass tube. Golden Age ditches arcade-style action in favour of a more realistic approach, and whilst the game doesn’t feature any licensed cars or tracks, what it does do is successfully evoke the spirit of one of motorsport’s bygone eras.

First impressions of Golden Age of Racing aren’t particularly good, as the presentation has a distinctly ‘low rent’ feel about it. There’s none of the usual introductions we’ve become accustomed to, just a loading screen followed by a menu screen. The bare minimum of game modes are on offer: time trials, exhibition, championship, and two-player split-screen (although this mode was disabled in the code provided to Gamestyle). There’s also a trophy room where you can gloat over your silverware – or more likely shed a tear at your inability to win any meaningful trophies.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start racing is that there’s no map of the circuit – that’s right, apparently ‘proper’ Grand Prix drivers didn’t need puny reminders of where they were going. It takes mere moments to realise what a dreadful omission this is, as corners are poorly defined or not signposted. This means that more often than not you’ll carry too much speed into a bend and find yourself hitting the gravel (or a wall). This is frustrating, to say the least, and until you’ve really learnt the tracks, there’s little option but to slow almost to a complete stop when attempting corners.

The handling of the cars can also prove to be exasperating. The overpowered rear-wheel beasts fly in a straight line, but try and manoeuvre them at any sort of speed without first-hand knowlege of their handling, and you’ll find yourself spinning off the circuit – a lot. There’s a handful of different cars on offer, but there’s very little between them (except for the predictable variations in top speed and handling ability). It’s also possible to visibly damage your car, inasmuch as you can smash the front or back suspension – making cornering more difficult or reducing your car’s top speed, depending on what you break. These two flaws combined mean there is virtually nothing here by way of a ‘quick-fix’ (as one might expect from a racing game, or indeed for the novice racer).

Hours of practice are required to really get to grips with the game and to mount a credible challenge in championship mode. Of course, this also means that by the time you get to the championship, you’ve probably seen more or less everything the game has to offer (save for a handful of unlockable extras). The championship mode does have a variable difficulty setting, but this only extends to the AI of the other drivers. Bizarrely, for a game pitching itself as a realistic interpretation of Grand Prix racing, the crash physics are almost improbable; after some collisions (where carnage is expected), nothing else happens. At other times, low-speed impact results in cars flying wildly into the air, only to land and continue racing.

Gamestyle suspects that this provides fuel for Golden Age’s replay feature (which allows you to stop and review the action at any point in the race). Whilst amusing the first couple of times you use it, the novelty soon wears off. At first glance, the game looks pretty enough; the cars are realistic and well-detailed – skidding round a corner results in tyre tracks being left on the road and smoke coming from the tyres. Look a little deeper though and you’ll soon notice that the backgrounds are very unconvincing, replete with cardboard crowds and abhorrent trees. Everything’s very jaggy as well and when things get busy on screen the framerate drops – not good.

Sonically, Golden Age of Racing also fails to convince: there’s only one short loop of lounge-styled music played ad infinitum over the menu screen, and that’s it. The cars mostly make the right noises in all the right places, although there’s a peculiar ‘knocking’ noise too; Gamestyle has been unable to determine if this constitutes suspension rattling or the brakes being applied. Golden Age of Racing ultimately disappoints with its difficulty. Whilst Gamestyle agrees that games should provide a sound challenge, that challenge shouldn’t come at the cost of excluding all those who haven’t already sunk hours of practice into the game.

Worst still, a budget price tag shouldn’t equate to cut-down graphics and presentation. Nevertheless, there is something here for hardcore racing fanatics or those truly willing to put the hours in. For the rest us however, this game is best given a miss – because the cheap price point doesn’t compensate for the control pads you’ll destroy in frustration.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10