Headhunter Interview Questions

Gamestyle Archive intro: an interesting oddity from September 2001. SEGA must have asked Gamestyle if we’d be interested in an interview with Amuze who were developing the delayed Headhunter that didn’t arrive until 2002. These interviews were a team effort with all the team submitting questions. I’m not sure if this interview did go ahead but here’s what the team put together. The numbering is all over the place, apologies but this is faithful to the original document.

 

  1. To many of us, Amuze is a developer that we have not heard of before, how long has the company in exsistance and is Headhunter its first game?
  1. Was the initial concept of Headhunter created by Amuze or did Sega approach you with the project?
  1. How long has the game been in development?
  1. Are you also handling the PS2 version of Headhunter and will this have any new features?
  1. In comparison to other machines how straightforward is the Dreamcast to work with?
  1. Briefly give us an outline of the plot and what we can expect from Headhunter.
  1. Other main characters include Angela Stern, Grey Wolf and Mr Stern – should we be looking out for anyone else?
  1. Several previews have compared the setting of 2019 Los Angeles to that of Robocop. Are you happy with that comparison?
  1. Most of the FMV is done in a newscast style, what were the reasons for this?
  1. Is there a set route/sequence of events in the game i.e. Resident Evil or does it involve more freedom i.e. Deus Ex?
  1. We know the plot involves the illegal trade of body parts, does that include heads?
  1. When dealing such content as bodies and violence how aware are you of the age classification system? What age rating will Headhunter have when released?
  1. The main character (Jack Wade) in the game strikes me as a young Chuck Norris, how did you decide on the look of him?
  1. At the start of the game you are just a common bounty hunter, looking for small-time criminals. Can you select your jobs/missions like in Grand Theft Auto?
  1. Will you have the option to customise your character in anyway and how much weaponry is on offer?
  1. Developers always have one feature that in a perfect world they could have included in the game but unfortunately could not due to time restraints, budget, technology etc. What would you have loved to include?
  1. You’ve tried to offer several different experiences in the game (stealth, driving) but how would you classify the genre of Headhunter?
  1. With so many different aspects to consider no doubt you’ve tried to keep the control system as simple as possible have you achieved this?
  1. Going back to the motorcycle section, Shenmue included such a feature but it was very limited. What features have you included to ensure the same doesn’t happen?
  1. Is there a chance to explore the environment or do you have to drive from point A to point B within a certain time?
  1. Apart from the villans does Headhunter have any one else to look out for on his travels?
  1. There was talk of online features for the Dreamcast version, do these still exist and in what form?
  1. The VMU has unfortunately been underused by most developers, we know that the game will take advantage of the feature but how?
  1. What features will be included to encourage repeat playing after the main game as been completed – bonus items, new levels?
  1. How realistic and intelligent are your opponents?
  1. The game seems to employ a variety of camera angles, what was the reasoning behind this?
  1. Richard Jacques has been working on the soundtrack and special attention has been given to the sound effects. How important are both in the game and can we expect anything new?
  1. Will there be a Stateside release of the game?
  1. How has it been working with Sega?
  1. What games are you playing/looking forward to playing?
  1. How are your opinions on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube?
  1. What can we expect next from Amuze, a sequel or something new?
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Crazy Taxi 2

Gamestyle Archive intro: Fond memories of the Crazy Taxi 2 sequel with more cabbie madness and stunts to enjoy for years to come. Published July 2001, Writer JJ.

VERSION: DC
DEVELOPER: Hitmaker
PUBLISHER:  Sega
GENRE: Arcade Driving
ACCESSORIES: VMU.
PLAYERS: 1

RELEASE: Out July 2001
PRESENTATION: 8
GRAPHICS: 9
SOUND: 8
GAMEPLAY: 10
LASTABILITY: 8

 crazytaxi2

 Crazy Taxi was a game only Sega could create or have the nerve to develop.   Such a strange yet simplistic idea caught the imagination of many and influenced countless other games.   Still not everything was perfect with the original, for it was an arcade conversion yet the sequel is designed purely for home consumption – more of the same or something else?

This time the game is set in the Big Apple which for a change is as sun-drenched as the West Coast setting of the original.   Landmarks and famous buildings are included such as FAO Schwartz, Statue of Liberty, City Hall, Central Park etc but the highlight is the excellent level design.   The two levels on offer are massive, full of variety and the inclusion of the crazy hop forces you to think on several levels.   Once opened you can use skyscrapers to perform some mind-blowing feats and if the traffic is grid locked you can easily take to the underground.  The first game was an almost go anywhere experience but here that motorway below or above you can be easily reached with a press of a button.   Taking to the skies or the underground is often advised because as expected in New York and in Crazy Taxi 2 the traffic is intense.   The Around Apple level Manhattan plus the option to drive across one of two bridges to the surrounding suburbs – it is really that big.   The Small Apple is based around central park and is obviously smaller but with an emphasis on blocks, short straights and plenty of traffic!

The music is similar to the previous game and will no doubt irritate and pleasure an equal number – that’s what the music volume is for.   Overall I do think that this does offer a much better pop-punk mixture but if you’re looking for hip hop or country, it isn’t for you.   Hitmaker have included a replay mode that you can save and then replay through several angles and while its fun it only lasts for 2 minutes.   It’s a shame that a full replay of your cabbie efforts could not be viewed at the end of a hard days work.   One of the most enjoyable yet often-frustrating sections of the original were the mini games that developed the necessary skills needed to achieve those big scores.   Here they have returned in the form of the Crazy Pyramid, which as you complete each level builds up to form a pyramid.   The higher the level the more difficult the games but this time Hitmaker have included bonuses for good performance.   Each level that you complete will open up an additional area on the game map for instance the section involving the subway.  Of course it’s easier said than done because anyone who lost their composure on the bowling challenge in the original will be driven round the bend by some of the challenges on offer here.

Even though the original characters are hidden in the game waiting to be unlocked I cannot help but feel disappointed with the four newly created characters: Slash, Iceman, Cinnamon and Hot-D might sound like members of a nu-metal band but New York cabbies?  I know we’re talking fiction here but each one of them looks like they’ve been plucked from the West Coast and dropped off in New York!  However the fares that you collect on your travels (especially multiple) are excellent and they move around and say more in the cab than in previous version.

Crazy Taxi 2 looks better but only marginally so than the original Dreamcast version but the most obvious thing after a few seconds is the speed.  Hitmaker have done wonders here and the slow-down that marred the original in places is a thing of the past.   I’d made the mistake of playing the painfully slow PS2 conversion before playing the sequel and people if you don’t have a Dreamcast by now then do so!   It’s all the more impressive when you consider the range of vehicles and pedestrians that you zoom past.   With the levels such as they are it would probably have been too much to ask for a pop-up free game.   New York with its large buildings no doubt caused Hitmaker new problems in comparison to the earlier California setting.   While it does not prove to be drawback or spoil the enjoyment of the game, at certain stages it can be very obvious.   Perhaps the machine has been pushed to its limits here.

Crazy Taxi 2 is very much a mixed bag of improvements that are hit and miss.   Certainly the multiple passengers are an excellent addition but you do need to be wary of the arrow.   It always points to the nearest destination for anyone of the 2-4 fares on board and because it does not fix on one it will often jump around causing you to lose valuable time.   More so than ever you need to know the layout of each map and perhaps as an admission of the problem, Hitmaker have kindly included maps of each level complete with landmarks.

For some the options will prove disappointing for here you do not have the option to change the time setting, traffic or time difficulty as you did in the original.   This version is without a doubt more challenging but then you realise the answer.   Hitmaker have shifted towards tricks and combos, fares may be harder to come by but using your skills you should more than make up for any shortfall.   If you can overcome the problems associated with the arrow then multiple fares are the way to achieve big scores, the more passengers increases the times factor.   The only problem I have with this is mainly down to the Crazy Hop, not because it’s a bad idea, far from it, but this move is achieved by pressing one button – not much skill involved in that is there?

Minor gripes aside this is a worthy sequel and a must have addition to any Dreamcast owners collection.   It may not be the longest game you’ll ever play but the increased difficulty factor and collection of mini games adds depth that most fail to offer.   Hopefully Hitmaker can include a multiplayer element in Crazy Taxi Next bound for the Xbox.   Excellent.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Crazy Taxi 2 Preview

Gamestyle Archive intro: another preview dating from 2001 which shows the expectation rising for the Crazy Taxi sequel. The archive is literally everything including previews!

Writer: JJ 

 

VERSION: Dreamcast

DEVELOPER: Hitmaker

PUBLISHER:  Sega

GENRE: Arcade

ACCESSORIES: VMU, rumble

PLAYERS: 1

RELEASE: June 2001

LINK: www.hitmaker.co.jp

Crazy_Taxi_2_cover

So its almost summer and its time to welcome back Sega’s ultimate good time racer, the game that makes every other console owner green with envy – ladies and gentlemen its Crazy Taxi 2.   This sequel promises more of the same with a few tweaks and minor alterations to the fantastic game that it already is.   Lets face it; the original was superb in almost everyway and why mess with such a winning formula?   As this version is specifically planned for the home and not the arcade we can expect Crazy Taxi 2 to play even better than the original.  So perhaps it isn’t more of a sequel rather Crazy Taxi 1.5.   Who cares, bring it on!

The most visible change is the relocation from California to the rain drenched streets of New York.   Expect the authentic shops (FAO Schwartz, Gap, HMV) and famous landmarks (Wall Street, Grand Central Station, Madison Square Garden) of the Big Apple to become very familiar.   The roads will be much busier than in the previous version and this will increase the difficulty level dramatically.   Traffic is much more a factor than before as Hitmaker have chosen to include a new move for us, the Crazy Hop and jumping will become second nature, such are the number of jumps and obstacles in your way.   The roads themselves will vary in size and will test your control and overtaking manoeuvres. New York will be much harder to navigate as there will be less blocks, less straights and roads interconnecting therefore you will have to know memorise the layout even though the friendly arrow points the way – sometimes there is a better route.   At the centre of the map will be Central Park (without drug dealers), which with no traffic will provide a good shortcut for those longer fares.   Expect to find a lake here with the usual strange fares standing around at the bottom.   The emphasis seems to be very much on exploration whether on the ground or high up on the skyscrapers.   The city this time is very much multileveled with the subway system being available to you as well.   Hopefully one day we’ll have the Crazy Taxi world tour of various cities, I’ve always wanted to jump off the North Bridge into Princess Street Gardens and then floor it.

A new addition is the prospect of multiple fares that you can collect on your trips.   One of the problems of the first game was that longer fares tended to eat up the clock and you were often better to stick with the shorter fares and thus reduced the level of exploration.   Hitmaker have addressed this by allowing you to collect up to four fares but unfortunately they never want to go to the same place.   This will put more pressure on you to reach those locations in good time and in the most effective sequence.   Those crazy passenger designs are back in force with cheerleaders, Afro dudes and convicts all waiting for a ride – any British tourists I wonder?

The taxis themselves are from the 60’s & 70’s (Taxi & Taxi Driver) and it is the developer’s intention that players experience a low rider style of drive.   The inclusion of the Crazy Hop opens up a whole new range of possibilities and allows you not to rely solely on tarmac to get to your destination.   Hopping itself won’t be a skill as it’s activated by pressing one button yet what you do when you land no doubt is.   New drivers are also on offer with different attributes such as speed and handling although it is suggested that the drivers from the original version will be hidden away somewhere in the game.   Just as before expect one from Cinnamon, Slash, Hot-D or Iceman to become your favourite cabbie.   Iceman is someone who can is cool under pressure and does not make mistakes.   Cinnamon is very much the joker who likes to pull off tricks and keep her customers amused.   Slash is very much the crazy driver, taking risks to get to the destination in time.   Hot-D is the elder statesman of the group but a retired stunt driver who loves money.

Don’t expect Crazy Taxi 2 to set new graphical levels or be an immediate improvement over its predecessor.   Hitmaker aren’t concerned with graphical awards and concentrate on gameplay like other notable firms such as Treasure.   The pop up problem that featured to a minor extent in the original seems to have been removed and the draw distance is improved.   The game engine also can handle more traffic and variety of textures and objects thereby increasing the Crazy Taxi experience.   The soundtrack will again keep the tempo high, while not offering the same amount of sun drenched cali-punk tunes we can expect the Offspring to return, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!

As someone who has experienced New York cabbies and given directions to them on more than one occasion New York is the ideal place for the sequel.  Other new additions that the developers have promised include more crazy games and challenges plus more levels on offer.  For instance the smaller track is known as the Small Apple and is larger than the original level from the first game!   This promises to be the ultimate home experience for Crazy Taxi fans and we’ll have a full review once the game is released very soon at the beginning of June.

Unreal Tournament

Gamestyle Archive intro: you’d be forgiven that Gamestyle never gave out good reviews for any Dreamcast title. Far from it in fact but we’ve just been wading our way through some real shelf fodder. Speaking of which, grab the keyboard and mouse and get set for combat!

Writer: JJ

Published: March 2001

VERSION: US DC

DEVELOPER: Secret Level

PUBLISHER:  Infogames

GENRE: First Person Shooter

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU, Keyboard, Mouse.

PLAYERS: 1-8

RELEASE: Out Now USA, Europe TBA

LINK: www.unrealtournment.com/dc

unrealtournament

The arrival of Unreal Tournament on the Dreamcast heralds a new chapter in the ongoing battle of Quake vs. Unreal which has, until recently, been the solely on the PC – soon to be seen on the PS2.  Unreal is the most suited of the two to a console release as it is not as difficult to learn and is therefore far more accessible.   Like many console owners my first experience of a quality first person shooter conversion was the amazing Quake III but you will be all asking which one is better?

Firstly we must point out that as this review copy is American we have been unable to play UT online and therefore gauge the 8 player death matches (double that offered by Quake III) or take advantage of the broadband adaptor.   Time will tell if you and I, in Europe are lucky enough to experience these delights.   From initial reports from across the pond our American friends say that UT is the better game online, which is no mean feat considering how impressive Quake III performs.

As with its rival, Unreal Tournament does not require a plot, storyline or characters, what is on offer here is fast and furious, addictive game play – pick up your gun son and go shoot something.   As you would expect there are a wide range of characters, which detour from the Quake Alien hybrid styles and instead take a more human or cyborg approach.   Throughout the game characters will taunt opponents or mock fallen enemies with sampled speech – and it does sound sampled.   This is the first noticeable minus point with Unreal Tournament as that before long the samples will become tedious, just like all those football game phrases during commentaries.   The samples and buckets of blood and gore certainly indicate that this was designed for the American market.  The weapon sound effects are excellent as are their design but the music is barely noticeable and does not add to the game.  While you can adjust the volume of the music or effects, to remove the annoying speech you need to turn of the sound effects completely.   Clearly an oversight.

Everything onscreen moves at a steady 60fps although the odd glitch is noticeable when a large area within an arena becomes very active.   The levels are well designed and offer a greater range of styles, features and hiding places than Quake III.  In fact Secret Level have stated that this version contains over 70 levels which crushes its rival plus the added bonuses which you can unlock and acquire making this the better single player game.   The game modes are mainly the same and are as expected: Domination, capture the flag, deathmatch.   An excellent Tournament mode rivals anything Perfect Dark offers; in this mode you can command three other bots while you try to control certain areas and the longer you hold these areas the more points you will acquire.   The AI of the bots can be misleading at times; just like humans some display weaknesses while others are very ruthless and efficient.   Just like the supreme N64 title your weapons have a second function that for instance may be more powerful but will use up your ammo at a quicker rate.   The range of options on all modes is excellent as you can set your skill level, bots level, the number of and so on.   The offline multiplayer modes do reduce the detail in order to keep the frame rate high but are thoroughly enjoyable but the online mode is the no doubt the real gem.

Although the levels have been reduced in size from the PC original and the textures and overall resolution lowered it does not affect the game.   There are so many levels with a considerable range of skills needed to win in everyone.   Certain levels will require excellent long range shooting skills while others that are composed of smaller rooms will test your reactions and mouse/keyboard/controller proficiency.   I could suggest that compared to the multi-coloured Quake III, Unreal Tournament is bland and in certain levels too dark plus at times the animation can be jerky but this doesn’t affect the enjoyment.   The control system in Unreal has been given special thought when it comes to the playing with the Dreamcast pad.   On Quake III you had to learn the keyboard and mouse combination as the pad design felt cramped and uncomfortable while playing.   Secret Level have not only assigned the controls better they have also given the pad a handicap in order to level the playing field as not everyone can afford to purchase a keyboard and mouse – in fact they’ve done an excellent job overall.   I doubt the PS2 version will be as smooth or quick loading as what we have here.

So with all these improvements you would expect me to conclude that Unreal Tournament is the better game?   The fact is that even with the added extras and balanced accessibility the game does not look as good as Quake III or plays as fluidly.   The sensation I got from playing Quake III is not evident here but that’s not to say Unreal Tournament isn’t a mighty fine game in its own right, which it is.   Now all we need is Half-life.

Presentation: 8

Graphics: 7

Sound: 5

Gameplay: 8

Lastability: 8

Excellent 8/10 

Iron Aces

Gamestyle Archive intro: we always had a soft spot for flying games. Fond memories of the Gamestyle crew playing as a group on the Xbox title Crimson Skies – another review sadly not within the current archives.

Writer: JJ

Published: March 2001

VERSION: US DC

DEVELOPER: Marionette

PUBLISHER: Xicat Interactive 

GENRE: Flight Simulation

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU.

PLAYERS: 1-2

RELEASE: Europe TBA

LINK: www.xicat.com

ironaces

Flight games on consoles just haven’t work in the past and even arcade efforts such as the Air Combat series or Aerowings have been hollow affairs.   Console games are very pick up and play by nature, rather than involving an instruction booklet that weighs the same as your weekly shopping and the necessary keyboard/mouse combination.    Iron Aces takes a different approach as it combines the accessibility of an arcade title while having some basis in simulation whilst not being too realistic.   Of course if you want to increase the realism upping the difficulty level can easily do this or limiting the number of bullets or bombs you can carry.

The game itself is set around a fictional conflict around a group of islands in the Pacific Theatre.   This allows the developer to include aircraft from all the main countries from World War II i.e. Germany (Blocken), Japan (Yamato), America (Valiant) and Britain (Trincer) except that the countries are renamed as to avoid complaints, possibly.   The conflict between the nations is well explained by the introduction, which combines 1940’s style footage in a Dads Army style.   The variety of aircraft on offer from all sides is impressive; you would expect such stalwarts as the Spitfire, Hurricane, Zero and Wildcat to be included but not the more obscure craft such as the Japanese Shinden, American PBJ Mitchell and the German Messerschmitt Me262 for instance.  In total there are over twenty craft on offer but apart from the visual and speed characteristics they handle and sound much the same.  The missions all form part of the same ongoing conflict and as you progress through the game, the missions become harder and more complicated.   Briefings are well worth watching before a mission starts as they do cover every aspect.   Your squadron leader is also on hand to offer advice and criticism when needed plus you can check the number of kills you have compiled.   Over the seventeen levels you will find yourself involved in a wide range missions that can vary from normal patrols to dog fighting and bombing runs.

The developers have chosen not include restrictive elements such as having to land, take off, stalling etc and this adds to the overall enjoyment.   They still have included footage of your take-off and landing for each mission that adds to the realism yet as good as the intros are, by Dreamcast standards they do seem plain and empty.  The game is far from easy as previous console games have included such wonderful weaponry as heat seeking missiles – all you have in Iron aces to rely on are your machine guns and your wits.   Hitting your bombing target is very tricky and I would recommend that anyone playing for the first time uses the Training Mode before embarking on the main game.   Although not an exact simulation, the physics are good and you will need to watch your speed, target distance and altitude when dropping your payload.

The graphics on offer are very average and as with most console games in this genre the backgrounds and landscapes can be fairly flat and devoid of detail.   The game moves at a steady rate but with the level of detail I would have expected 60fps although there is no slow down in the fun two-player mode.   Dogfights can be exciting with the sky full of allied and enemy fighters battling it out over vast areas.   The AI here isn’t the best ever but your targets will try to dodge your machine guns adding to the length of time it takes to shoot one down.   Detail on other planes and targets is basic but one feature that is spectacular are the replays of your missions – not GT3 standard but good viewing nevertheless.

Unlike most other simulations you won’t need the keyboard to play Iron Aces or a mouse as neither are supported.   Instead the developers have managed to combine everything that you require onto the Dreamcast Pad and while certain actions require a combination of buttons (dropping bombs for instance) the control method isn’t restrictive.   During the game you can access several different viewpoints and even look front, left, right and backwards from your cockpit adding to the realism.

Presentation: 5

Graphics: 5

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 5

Lastability: 6

Worth a look for those wanting something a bit different.   5/10 

European Super League

Gamestyle Archive intro: the Dreamcast needed a football title to tackle the giants of the genre and this was their great hope. Unfortunately it came up short.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: March 2001

VERSION: UK DC

DEVELOPER: Coyote/Crimson

PUBLISHER: Virgin Interactive

GENRE: Football

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU.

PLAYERS: 1-4

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: www.vie.co.uk/public/page_fast.pl/null/frame_CON/07160839346

_-European-Super-League-Dreamcast-_

We all know that the Dreamcast has lacked quality in certain genres but with the release of RPG’s such as Grandia II, Phantasy Star Online recently and the forthcoming Skies of Arcadia the only remaining genre is football.   No doubt you’ve all played the awkward UEFA Soccer, the on-the-rails Virtua Striker 2 or the continually disappointing Sega World-wide Soccer series.   Is European Super League (ESL) the ISS that all Dreamcast owners have been waiting for?

European Super League is original in the fact that it deals with a mystical league that has been discussed for the last decade.   The game contains 16 fully licensed teams and stadiums of the cream of Europe and promises to offer a high standard of competition.   There are some glaring omissions amongst the teams such as Manchester United but at least Glasgow Rangers & Celtic have not been included such are their pathetic European adventures of late.   When the promotion material for a game mentions accurate stadium advertising hoardings instead of more important game aspects you know you’ve made a bad signing.   Perhaps a bit more money spent on development instead of licenses would have been appropriate.

The options are limited with only the choice of Quick Start, Friendly, European Super League, Custom Tournament or League and training.   Although not original perhaps a challenge mode similar to ISS should have been included – there are certainly enough great games in the past to choose from.   The stadiums themselves are a disappointment with the crowds being probably the worst that I have seen in many a year.  The lack of camera options prevents anyone from actually enjoying playing in the San Siro or Anfield, if you could distinguish one stadium from another.   When the game is in progress you are unable to alter the camera – instead you need to quit the match and then select the camera in the options menu.   This trial and error method is annoying and is symptomatic of the sloppy half-hearted effort that is ESL, not to mention that you only have five camera angles to select from.   The players and graphics are very reminiscent of the Sega World-wide Series and could be mistaken as a missing instalment.

The players are bland with jerky animation, flat backgrounds and poor AI.   As the in-match screen does not have radar showing where your team-mates are on the pitch, the match often degenerates into a kick and rush affair with possession being lost frequently.   Just like watching Scottish football.   If you do not know where your team-mates are on the pitch off screen – the passing build-up play suffers as a result.   Tactical options are limited to formation only and there is no control over individual roles or style your players will adopt.   This is a shame because at times ESL can be enjoyable, although you are unable to customise the control options the range of tricks and moves available to you is excellent.

Graphically the game is below average and you will notice during the match the drop in frame rate at times.   I must mention the actual football, which moves and bounces like a lead weight – in fact it reminded me of when I used to play Match Day on the spectrum.   Other flaws include no commentary, only sixteen teams, poor crowd noises, FIFA style sweet spots, harsh referees and long loading times.  These problems overshadow some of the good elements on offer, wasting what could have been a unique opportunity but instead providing a lack of involvement.   Will the Dreamcast ever have a decent football game?

Presentation: 5

Graphics: 4

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 4

Lastability: 4

Overall: 4/10

Phantasy Star Online

Gamestyle Archive intro: very fond memories of PSO not only did it herald the online era for consoles it was so engaging with its unique experience. Being able to play the game alongside others from across the world and communicate using the in-game tools = stunning and on a 33.3k modem! Of course the game was virtual crack and took up weekends with the Gamestyle team at the time. Almost a ten.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: March 2001

VERSION: PAL DC

DEVELOPER: Sonic Team

PUBLISHER:  Sega

GENRE: Online RPG

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU, Keyboard, VGA

PLAYERS: 1-6 Billion

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: www.sonicteam.com

Phantasy Star Online PAL DC-front

You may recall the 6 Billion-player advertisement that Sega ran upon the Dreamcast launch, which met with such uproar and ridicule from the press and rivals.   Time to dig it out and run it again because finally (18 months too late) Sega have achieved the goal.  Phantasy Star Online is an online adventure where you will meet other players from around the world and together solve the mystery of Ragol.

The story is set on the planet of Ragol that has been colonised by the crew of Pioneer 1 in preparation of refuges arriving from the dying Earth.   30,000 refuges are onboard Pioneer 2 including you, which arrives in orbit at the planet only to witness a large explosion on the surface.   All contact with the crew of Pioneer 1 is lost and in the explosion the local wildlife has become rather unfriendly.   The main mission either in single or online mode is to find out what happened while facing strange creatures against ever-increasing odds.   Subplots with sinister organisations and individuals feature throughout the game and of course there are other quests but more of that later.

Before you start the game you will have to create your own character and choose from three distinct traits (Force, Hunter, Ranger) that each have their own abilities i.e. Hunter close fighting.   The beauty of this is that each type then has three subgroups and therefore the more variety on a team the better it will be.   The character design mode will provide limitless possibilities and fun.   Once you go online you will be amazed at the variety of designs and very rarely will two ever be the same.   Again this adds depth and if you have a unique character you will identify with it more and hence the game itself.

Keeping with its RPG predecessors your character is measured by the level that he or she is on and the health/magic points that they possess.   Experience can be gained through battles, which with time will increase your level, at times it can be mundane and tiring but such is the gameplay that you rarely pay attention to how many experience points you have collected.   The creatures you will encounter are unique to each level and the variety is excellent although the AI is pretty poor.   Whether you play online or off – at times the screen is full of creatures coming from all directions with no slow down.   The battles themselves are fairly routine with the run shoot, run shoot, method being most effective.

The levels are split into various areas i.e. Caves, Forest etc and within themselves they are the same layout and style but the creatures and goals change depending on your quest.   The reasoning behind this is probably to keep loading and memory to a minimum thereby improving the online experience.   Apart from the main game you also can visit the Hunters Guild on Pioneer 2 which is a bounty hunter club of sorts with various jobs on offer.   The quests can range from collecting data on creatures to escorting and protecting the press.   Sonic Team are also constantly working on new quests and these can be downloaded and vary between online and single player missions.   This provides a welcome break from the main player game and adds to the whole Phantasy Star experience especially if you cannot defeat a particular boss.   Pioneer 2 has a variety of shops (weapons, magic, armour, techniques etc) and other establishments that you can visit in either mode.

Online this game reaches another level, you don’t even need to take part in the quests, instead you can shop, trade items or talk to other players around the world.  There are three different methods of communication; symbol, shortcuts or typing which is 80 characters per message.   The latter is pretty straightforward although you do rely on others understanding English while the previous options do take practice but you can communicate with non-English speakers.   From Pioneer 2 you can either join European, American or Japanese servers and from there select which ship and block you wish to visit.  The sheer scale is impressive, as is the lack of lag with it only being occasionally noticeable on quests when you open crates.   If you make friends with others you can exchange Guild Cards that allow you to send messages directly even though you may not be online or in the same game – the next time they go online the message will be waiting for them.   Another advantage of the Guild Cards is that they allow you to search for a player amongst the thousands that may be onboard at that time.   If you prefer you can create your own team and if you wish certain players to join protect it with a password.   Apart from the phone bill the biggest single problem with the online mode is that you could easily be part of a team fighting the final boss and thus complete the game missing out on the story.   If you die online you leave your money (Meseta) and the weapon that was equipped behind.   This can lead to some unsavoury behaviour from team-mates who may take both before reviving you – yet for all the time I’ve been online this has only happened once.   Most players give advice and items freely adding to the enjoyment of the game and bad behaviour is not encouraged.

Graphically the game is very impressive especially when the action gets going and little touches such as the lighting and water effects are wonderful.   Sonic Team have their own unique visual style and Phantasy Star Online has no doubt been influenced by Burning Rangers, NiGHTS and Sonic himself.   The audio is again very Sonic Team and effective.   However not all is fine in Phantasy Star Online as I mentioned previously AI, similar levels and battles will no doubt annoy some but not the majority.  If I was to be very critical, if you look very hard you will notice the occasional pop-up in the distance but with an RPG this is not a serious flaw unlike some levels in Sonic Adventure.

The control system is good with the ability to select and use items or weapons while still controlling your character.   It does take a bit of getting used to as its very unique but worth it.   You have such a wide range of weaponry, attacks and items (plus the mag) that the Dreamcast pad struggles to cope.   Remember that you cannot pause the game while on a quest and more often than not you will find yourself running into another area, selecting the item and then returning.   The control system could have been much worse but as the chat supports the keyboard I do find it odd that you cannot make use of the keys to select items and suchlike whilst playing the game.

Overall these are minor issues and have not stopped me from returning to the game consistent basis.   The sheer thrill of the online mode and being part of something worldwide is very special and whether you’re onboard Pioneer 2 or down on the planet you feel it.   It is really two games in one and I have not covered some aspects that you will enjoy, such is the multitude of options and depth on offer.   It remains to be seen how long you can actually play the game online with the future of the machine now in doubt but I suggest that you pick up this game immediately and experience it for yourself before its too late.

Presentation: 9

Graphics: 9

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Lastability: 10

Superb. 9/10   

Charge’N Blast

Gamestyle Archive intro: another long forgotten straightforward arcade port to the Dreamcast. Just fodder to fill a thinning release schedule and it showed.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: February 2001

VERSION: US DC

DEVELOPER: Sega

PUBLISHER:  Sims/Xicat

GENRE: Arcade shooter

ACCESSORIES: Rumble, VMU.

PLAYERS: 1-2

RELEASE: Out Now USA, Europe TBA

LINK: www.xicat.com

 Charge N Blast jap - front

This title is an oddity to say the least.   Initially developed by Sega (the team who did Sega Bass Fishing) with a view to an arcade release that never materialised and instead arriving on the Dreamcast.   Although developed by Sega, they have chosen not to publish it themselves and instead sold the rights to a third party.   I wonder why?

You play the role of a member in an elite squad who check meteor crash sites when they appear.   The meteors play host to a range of aliens mostly of the insect and reptile variety (think Starship Troopers) with the occasional Godzilla look-alike.   The squad consists of three members, which you can choose from but they fulfil every cliché known to man.   Johnny Rock is the young blonde dashing hero, Pamela Hewitt is the token female and Nicholas Woods is the big strong male.   All the characters have the same 3 weapons with different characteristics however it is possible to complete the game using the same weapon.

The levels are fairly brief affairs consisting of several minor aliens before tackling the Queen or King alien and then repeat till the end.   As the crash sites are spread all over the world you will find yourself in different environments however the design of the game does not advantage of this – a shame as shooting underwater must surely have some effect?   The bosses themselves always have a shield generator that you must destroy before being able to defeat them.   Once you have mastered the control system it won’t take much effort to cruise through the levels.

The control system is one that you are either going to love or hate but everyone will struggle with it at first.   The analogue stick controls your aim, Y+B+X all relate to one weapon and A is the fire button.   The incoming bugs can be avoided by using the left and right triggers to side step them.   As the title of the game suggests you need to charge your weapon (by holding down the appropriate button) before pressing the fire button.   In a way it is refreshing, as you have to consider how charged your weapon must be to defeat a foe (bosses need a full blast) and how close they are to you.   Yet the system is very frustrating to learn and is the biggest challenge in the game.   I would have preferred an option to use the mouse and keyboard or even the underused lightgun as with the in-built D-pad and buttons it would have worked well.   You can select a first person view that raises the difficulty stakes but without the light gun it is pointless.

I enjoy retro arcade shooting games but this is very poorly implemented and will only take you 30 minutes to complete.   Once the main mode has been finished all you will have left to occupy your time is the ranking and time attack modes and nothing else.   There are no alternate routes, bonus items or skills to acquire – which added depth to House of the Dead 2.   The game graphically is very reminiscent of the infamous Sega shooter and perhaps uses the same engine.   I can’t remember HOD2 displaying slow down, yet the frame rate in Charge N Blast drops dramatically when the action picks up and you have only 3 or 4 targets to blast.

If the action was fast and furious it would have kept me interested for a while yet within two levels of this game I became bored; such is the limited game play on offer.  Do yourself a favour and avoid this.

Presentation: 4

Graphics: 5

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 3

Lastability: 1

Overall: 3/10

Mars Matrix

Gamestyle Archive intro: not every game made it across the pond to Europe on the Dreamcast. Of course all restrictions were busted wide open once the console was hacked. However Gamestyle was fortunate enough to import a Japanese console from launch at a considerable cost. The machine like the Saturn before it became a welcoming home for 2D shooters.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: February 2001 

VERSION: JAP DC

DEVELOPER: TAKUMI CORPORATION

PUBLISHER: CAPCOM

GENRE: 2D SHOOTER

ACCESSORIES: VMU, VIBRATION PACK, ARCADE STICK

RELEASE: JAP (OUT NOW) USA/UK (TBA)

LINK: www3.capcom.co.jp

Mars Matrix jap - front

The Dreamcast seems to have become a haven for all things 2D.   Perhaps the almost anti-2D stance adopted by Sony for the PSone continues on their new 3D emotion based console?   It is disappointing when you mention 2D to critics and gamers, most will frown and immediately label the game old-fashioned 80’s retro crap.   Unknown to most is that some of the most addictive, frantic and time-consuming games are in 2D.

Capcom with its arcade roots have never left the 2D genre behind, in fact recently they have embraced it.   With this in mind Mars Matrix: Hyper Solid Shooting was eagerly anticipated.   The story (not a must in these games) is given in the excellent introduction sequence; a second sequence provides more background.   It makes a refreshing change that the developers haven’t given us a manga style introduction and the quality of the FMV adds to the anticipation.   The arctic planet of Mars has been colonised but 50 years later on 8th December 2309 aliens invade and you must save the day in your Mosquito craft.

The introduction has you excited, arcade stick firmly grasped, ready to let all hell loose – then you see the dire graphics.   The resolution is very low which results in the feeling that you are playing an early PSone or Saturn game, perhaps even Commando in an arcade.   The soundtrack/effects are very minimal and don’t add anything to the experience.   If you have played the legendary Radiant Silvergun on the Saturn you will recognise that Mars Matrix is a poor second in the visual and audio stakes.   Yes a 32bit game walks all over this 128bit offering and I haven’t even mentioned the design and game-play yet.   To be fair to Takumi the screen is never empty and the pace of the game never drops.

If Mars Matrix does have one saving grace then it’s the addictive game-play, this is one tough game hence the subtitle Hyper Solid Shooting.   Even I found it tough going at times with an arcade stick and my curriculum vitae.  For some the difficulty will be off-putting, I hate to say it, but perhaps one for the hardcore?

The key to progressing through the game is mastering the offensive and defensive weaponry at your disposal.     You have several attacks, the more points and experience you earn, the more powerful they will become.   Throughout the game you will see golden blocks, you must collect these as it improves your shields for the button reflect option – a reflective force field if you will.   Once you have enough blocks you can unleash the gravity holy bomb, a devastating weapon that will destroy everything on the screen.   The key is using the correct weapons in certain situations during the game.    The two-player mode is great fun but you can become lost when the screen fills with flak, as the craft are so small and plain.

Takumi have included several options to add variety and incentive to finish the game.   Three modes are offered (arcade, arrange, score attack) which will provide a lasting challenge.   Cash to spend in the shop is earned by the amount of points you collect in the main game.   Modes and bonuses can then be bought and used, such as unlimited continues which provide an added incentive to do well.   Picture for the gallery can also be unlocked and viewed.

Mars Matrix: Solid Hyper Shooting is a basic looking game with high playability if you can come to terms with the difficult level.   It is very similar to Radiant Silvergun in many areas but is a poor relation when it comes to graphics, sound, design and weaponry.   At present no publisher has confirmed this title for release in Europe or America.   Still if you fancy a challenge or enjoyed Bangoi-o on the Dreamcast you should pick this up on import as most of the menus are in English.

Presentation: 4

Graphics: 3

Sound: 4

Gameplay: 8

Lastability: 8

Should have been much better. Overall 5/10 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

Gamestyle Archive intro: it‘s easy to forget how huge the Tony Hawk’s series was and the impact it delivered. The sequel to the massive debut just didn’t cut the mustard on the Dreamcast.

Writer: JJ

Format: Dreamcast

Published: February 2001

VERSION: PAL DC

DEVELOPER: Neversoft/Treyarch

PUBLISHER:  Activision

GENRE: Skateboarding

ACCESSORIES: VGA, Vibration, VMU.

PLAYERS: 2

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: http://www.activision.com/games/th2/

sega-dreamcast-tony-hawks-pro-skater-2

It shouldn’t work, but somehow Tony Hawks 2 is very addictive, going up those ramps and performing tricks became the must have game last year.   So the sequel to the very successful Tony Hawks is here already complete with new options but is it more of the same or something new?

The control system has been retained from the original with a few minor adjustments to what was already an excellent design.   At first the targets that you need to achieve in order to progress to the next level may seem impossible.   Using the single session/free skate modes you will be able to put in the necessary practice and pull off those rewarding and high scoring combos.   Tony Hawks isn’t easy and does require some thought and skill, which is what makes it so playable.

A new addition is the Park Editor allows you to create your own level for amusement or tailored to your preferred style.   If you prefer grinding to high jumps then you can develop and re-edit to your hearts content.   This mode has plenty of options without being too detailed and is a welcome extra to the overall package.   Adding to the sense of involvement you can now create your own skater, cool or nerd, its up to you.   You can define everything from your hometown to the colour of your pants or even hairstyle.    Cash won in the career mode can be spent on new items such as boards, trucks and sponsors at the skate shop.    The customisation of your skater isn’t purely visual, you can purchase tricks and statistics to improve amongst others your scores, speed or hang time.

While this is a good solid, playable game, some of the hype it has received has been ridiculous.   The main fault is that the game is basically a PSone conversion and it shows.   The resolution is very low and other effects such the lighting are not far removed from its 32bit cousin.   The Dreamcast can produce wonderfully detailed and coloured games but Tony Hawks 2 is dull, dull, dull in comparison and that goes for the menus as well.   The levels are well designed and can provide a variety of challenges but the level designers colour palate must have consisted of greys browns and blacks!    The sound again doesn’t take advantage of the Dreamcast’s excellent sound chip, game sounds are bland, background noise during the levels is minimal and the third rate punk wannabe’s begin to bore and annoy very quickly and I like my punk rock.

Tony Hawks 2 is unrealistic when compared to MTV Skateboarding for instance as your skateboard feels as if it has a rocket strapped to it.   The game camera can also be problematic when making tight turns and more views would have been welcome.   The two player mode is fun while it lasts, yet it is very limited but at least the developers have hidden away videos, levels, characters and boards for you to pursue.

In the end it’s the game play that saves this, I dare say, cash in sequel.   The learning curve may prove too steep for some (especially if this is your first experience of Tony Hawks) but for those who excelled at the original and want more of the same – here you go.

Presentation: 6

Graphics: 5

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 8

Lastability: 8

More Tony Hawks 1.5 than a true sequel 6/10