Portal Runner

Gamestyle Archive intro: this early review from 2001 is incomplete but I think we’re only missing the last couple of lines from Mike Bather – from the general feel of things I reckon we know exactly where he was going with this 3DO title. Maybe straight to the bin?

portalrunner

There are some things that various individuals or companies are famed for failing at; Tommy Cooper was never any good at magic, Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards was never any good at skiing and Trip Hawkins’ company, 3DO have never been much cop with games.

So with much dismay the DVD-Rom containing the latest 3DO game, Portal Runner, took the place of DMA’s Grand Theft Auto 3 and I began to play…… As we all know by now, 3DO don’t seem capable to make a game without basing it on those green plastic fool’s but in Portal Runner they take a back seat and we get to know Sarge’s missus Vikki G a little bit better. Vikki, being a modern woman and an intrepid news reporter, likes to look after her man and that she does, occasionally landing herself in trouble with her father, Colonel Grimm. Unfortunately, being a modern woman also means defying her father after being grounded and this spirals her into a plot fabricated by her arch nemesis, Brigette Bleu.

Now, Brigette Bleu needs a man for some good, fast and hard lovin’ and in a toy shop the choice is pretty limited so she opts out for our Heroine’s fella, Sarge. First of all though, this requires trapping Vikki on the other side of the Dinosaur world’s portal and that’s where the full game begins. Portal Runner plays with the usual action adventure/ 3D platformer third person perspective and contains three graphically distinctive styled levels; The Swamp, containing vicious Raptors, the Medieval World containing Knights in shining armour and finally, the Alien Spaceship, complete with crazy aliens. All of which are tied in together with fairly good FMV cut scenes to help the plotline and portal running to progress.

Each level contains a number of sub-levels where certain objectives and puzzles need to be overcome by Vikki, her bow and arrow and her newfound friend, Leonardo the Lion. At the end of each level the token boss can be found, the bosses being well thought out featuring a certain way to successfully overcome the enemy. A number of gems are dotted around to boost the player’s score and health. Each of the levels is (surprisingly) well designed with initially unreachable gems made obtainable by secret moving platforms and platforms triggered by hidden buttons, accessed by a carefully aimed arrow shot. A number of Vista points are dotted across each level and these open up a pre-rendered gallery of pictures from the levels, accessible from the title screen. Graphically, you can tell that 3DO have made an effort in improving upon their dire track record and that a positive effort has been made in the overall design, look and ambience of the game. Game play, a much lauded and needed commodity in any game; some companies grasp the concept, either by skill, suggestions and tweaks from their testing team or just plain luck.

Portal Runner’s creation has been ruled by the developer using the tools and libraries supplied by Sony themselves and we all know by now that quality games come with the effort of a development team writing, from scratch, their own tools or using quality 3rd party software such as Criterion’s Renderware. Unfortunately for 3DO, they seem to have kept and tweaked the game mechanics of Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes 2 instead of ripping it apart and starting all over again and this shows. Some of the greatest problems with the aforementioned game where control problems such as Sarge stopping midway whilst running in an arc and even though this has now been rectified fundamental game play issues still arise. It’s like the player never feels fully in control of what is happening onscreen and this is an unforgivable error, especially when precision platform jumping is required; To fall and die repeatedly from bad controls rather than lack of playing skill is unforgivable, especially from a full priced title.

Things can only get better, right? Wrong. The latter levels require the control of Leonardo and where 3DO have been successful in implementing the feel of trying to control a ferocious lion, it just doesn’t convert to good game play. Sonically the game has an atrocious title track but each of the levels has its own tune styled towards the graphical setting. A most memorable would be the second level, set in the medieval castle which features a nice track, reminiscent of all those ‘olde wurlde’ RPG’s. But no Dolby digital or 5.1 support I’m afraid! Voice-overs make their fateful return and in the opening scenes prove rather gritty with a lack of quality, but do improve as the game progresses, but the sound effects are nothing to shout from tall buildings about.

Overall, after completing the game within eight hours on the normal setting (with only expert above that, with ‘dream’ and easy below) I did find the story to be entertaining and amusing although aimed at a younger audience and maybe toward a more female audience too. But the biggest problem remains in the realm of playability and at times I felt the urge to hurl the controller at the screen, not due to difficulty but due to the fact that I had died through no fault of my own. At

Gamestyle Score: 2/10

Big Air Freestyle

Gamestyle Archive intro: Alex reviews Big Air Freestyle which is apparently crap. Perfectly example of the Gamestyle honesty that won so many fans.

Writer: AC

Published: November 2002

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Super Monkey Ball, Super Mario Sunshine, Star Fox Adventures, Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness, Metroid Prime, Big Air Freestyle. All exclusive to Nintendo, all brilliantly playable, graphically attractive and filled to the very top with fun and enjoyment. Except, of course, Big Air Freestyle, which is truly rubbish in every single way. So, if you’re reading this review hoping that Big Air Freestyle might be worth the cash, you can stop reading now.

No matter how desperate you are for a motorcross racing game (which, to be honest, have been largely poor across the board for ages now) you do not want to splash out the 40 notes on this one, and unfortunately I’ve been chosen to tell you why, which means I actually had to play the game for some time, desperately hoping that the initial shock of the appalling graphics would make way for a decent game. It didn’t come. Once.

Big Air Freestyle is basically the same game as those other motorcross games from Acclaim and THQ. They’ve all big a bit rubbish, and all pretty much identical. There’s your freestyle mode that involved racing around a large arena doing tricks, and there’s your race mode that involves 5 different bike disciplines (and engine sizes) but is essentially the same experience regardless, and there’s a bit of a 2 player game bolted on that’s even worse than the 1 player game, in which you can play either of the above modes. There’s also a challenge mode, but I’ll leave that particular treat for later. But the first thing that hits you is the dire graphics. If you’ve played V Rally 3 on the Gameboy Advance you’ll have no doubt been highly impressed with the smooth framerate and the true 3d polygonal graphics. Well, it would appear that Paradigm have used the exact same graphics engine, which on a big TV running on a Gamecube is frankly disgusting – the frame rate sits at around a frightening 15-20 frames a second (which makes it impossible to get any sense of motion at all) and the environment, like the aforementioned GBA game, is made of just a few hundred polygons, half of them with the same textures. It’s also incredibly low resolution, blurry, washed out and void of any sort of graphical effects – this isn’t a Gamecube fault, look at any of the other games in the first line of this review – this is just pathetic, inexcusable and a downright insult.

The animation is also shocking – fall off your bike (which you’ll do even if you’re nowhere near anything else such is the collision-detection) and your ride will stutter terrifyingly towards the ground as you catapult in the other direction in about 3 repeated frames, until either of the falling objects melts into the ground like it’s suddenly transformed into quicksand. So, with that out of the way, what’s left? Well, there’s the sound effects, of course, surely they’re better? Er, no. There’s one engine sound and one ‘oh I’ve crashed’ sound, and they’re muffled so much that every bike seems to merge into one huge indistinguisable hive of angry bees, and that’s only if you turn the music down first. I say music, but I don’t really mean it – it’s 17 identical slices of horrible trashy noise from the likes of MxPx, Jolt 45 and Five and Dime. Exactly.

And it gets worse. Partly due to the game using about 5% of the Gamecube’s graphics processor and partly because Paradigm seem to have written the actual game engine in BASIC, the game moves horrendously sluggishly and without any sense of handling to the controls at all. It’s not fun, and that applies to both the freestyle and the race modes – mainly because it becomes impossible to judge turns and you just try getting up a ramp with any sort of speed. Or rather, don’t. There are tricks, too, and the manual proudly puts them into categories of difficulty. The hardest ones involve you holding L and tapping A three times, and takes a split second to execute because the animation is so poor. Hardly challenging, then, unless of course you’re trying to do them after jumping a big ramp, because there are nasty signs everywhere that knock you off as you jump – and then it’s back to watching your bike shamble spasmodically back towards (and through) the ground. Excellent fun, those tricks.

Even the much trumpeted Championship mode doesn’t offer anything remotely exciting apart from having to win cash and pay to enter tournaments which needs a little bit of thought, but the tuning offered is limited to 3 on-off toggles (yes, really) and the challenge mode (which offers Hawk-like tasks) only really expands as far as stuff you would normally manage in the other two modes anyway, such as placing 4th or better in a race, or getting a fast lap time. It’s this lack of imagination, polish and fun that hurts Big Air Freestyle more than the other parts of the game – you might be able to look past the graphics (and I wish you luck) and switch off the sound, but the game’s still crap.

Gamestyle Score: 2/10