Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller

Gamestyle Archive Intro: great game, well the first was. Certainly one of those franchises gamers without a Dreamcast wanted to experience on their own machine. The 2nd release was bigger and better with more challenges and games. By the time the third came around, well, the taxi was in need of an overhaul.

This review is from Alex and will date from 2002. As you can see it ends abruptly and is technically incomplete although I suspect we know how that last few words went…

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Despite being a big fan of the first game on Dreamcast I didn’t feel the need to play the exact same game again on Playstation 2. And then it arrived on Gamecube, and although it’s still fun, it was exactly the same, with nothing new. And guess what, now that the franchise has made it to the Xbox, it’s still basically an identical experience.

Split into 4 sections, High Roller presents eager gamers with the original West Coast course, the Little Apple level from Crazy Taxi 2 (slightly remixed, and at night), a brand new night-time course called Glitter Oasis, and, surprise surprise, some more crazy box minigames, this time arranged in the shape of an X. The Original and Around Apple levels are also completely absent…

The game plays just as it always has – pick up passengers and dash around the level until you get to their destination and collect the fare. Repeat until you’re out of time. In Crazy Taxi 3 you get all the ‘additions’ from the 2nd game, such as the Crazy Jump and multiple passengers (even on the West Coast course) and some pretty fire effects every time you do something crazy. There are a few new bits on the earlier levels, usually reached with the jump. The multiple passengers offers a new twist on the gameplay but the repetitive yapping from the back-seat drivers is irritating enough to make you drive past them most of the time, and the crazy jump only serves to confuse the perfect level design from the first in the series and make the others more maze-like, which is a shame as the 2 harder levels really aren’t as playable and as fun as the first ever was, and is.

Shockingly, there’s still no multiplayer. Even on a machine as powerful as Microsoft’s Sega still haven’t managed to get in a split screen mode. Even more disturbing is the fact that there’s still horrendous pop-up and slowdown all over the place, although the textures and polygon counts have been upped slightly. Load-times are also longer than the Gamecube’s, seemingly making no practical use of the Xbox hard disk. And although Sega have added a few new songs to the tracklist, you can’t use your own soundtracks, so if you’re not a fan of The Offspring et al, it’s tough.

A disappointing release, for sure. If Hitmaker can rectify some of these problems for the PAL release we’ll take another look, but in the meantime don’t waste your

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Gopinath takes on the thankless gig of reviewing Charlie and the Chocolate factory in 2005.

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A game based on the enigmatic, zany and (when played by Mr Depp) dark Willy Wonka could have been great, but developers High Voltage have chosen to focus instead on Charlie for this videogame cash-in, unlike the film. Have they created a delicious gaming morsel, possibly worthy of the great Willy’s factory, or have we instead ended up with another film cash-in more at home on Electronic Arts’ factory line?

The first thing that should be made clear is that this game, plot wise, has nothing to do with Tim Burton’s film. There’s no eccentric Johnny Depp Willy Wonka and no Oompa Loompa songs about mischievous children – instead, the plot revolves around Charlie. The game begins with you chasing a ten dollar note (yes, dollar; unfortunately the game fails to keep to the book’s original British setting). This then eventually leads to Charlie winning one of the famed Golden Tickets – an invitation to tour Willy Wonka’s famous Chocolate Factory. The game changes Charlie’s role in the plot completely: unlike in the book, once one of the greedy children have performed their naughty deeds and are reaping their just desserts (intended pun), the player, as Charlie, is then expected to try and rescue them or clean up the mess they leave behind, aided by a band of Oompa Loompas. Therefore, the game’s levels consist of having to clean up the machinery that sucks Augustus Gloop up the chocolate river, or stopping Veruca Salt from being incinerated. There are different types of Oompa Loompas, each conveniently fitting the role required for each of the tasks set before you.

The player has to choose when they should use a ‘gatherer’ Oompa Loompa or a ‘welder’ Oompa Loompa, etc. The correct selection of Oompa Loompa determines the success or failure of the task. Far from being a complaint about the game not following the original plot, the above comments should instead be taken as praise for the developers’ initiative to explore a different side of the license; however, what High Voltage have failed to do is to take an interesting concept then apply it in an interesting way. Each level requires the player to follow a sequence of tasks to achieve an end goal, and then repeat those tasks several times to finish the level. Having to do the sequence twice is boring and repetitive: the player often has to do them four times.

The controls also don’t help: you’ll often find yourself pressing buttons several times in frustration, trying to get an Oompa Loompa to do your bidding, while he just stands there shrugging his shoulders. Once you’ve finally got your Oompa Loompa to carry out your orders, your patience is then tested again as you have to watch them trying to navigate their way around (but most often into) the scenery. Unfortunately you can’t tell them exactly how to get to their destination, you just have to sit back and hope they work it out for themselves. The poor controls, including the feeling of unresponsiveness, flow over into the platform sections too: you may end up button bashing in the hope that, for instance, Charlie will eventually understand that he’s supposed to be jumping now.

The camera is also poorly implemented and moves around a lot, then gets stuck behind scenery. The plot is presented by stylish cartoon movies that narrate the story very well and in an interesting way; these are definitely one of the few plus points of the game. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the in-game graphics, as they don’t seem inspired at all by either the distinctive visuals of the film, or the imaginative descriptions of the book. Instead of a busy and vibrant factory, you are often presented with levels that are devoid of detail, and one of the game’s main stars, the sweets themselves, only come in two generic types – bars of chocolate or power dots. Another of the game’s few highlights are the music and sound.

Considering the general disappointed tone of the review so far, it may be a surprise to find that the entire cast (minus Johnny Depp) is included in the game’s voiceovers, and they do a very good job of bringing their characters to life. The addition of some Oompa Loompa music would have done wonders for the game, so it’s a shame that they’re completely missing. Unfortunately, despite the great effort that seems to have been put in the sound department, the rest of the game is very poor. The game play is too repetitive and a combination of poor controls and poor visuals make it frustrating to complete the levels.

It’s hard to imagine many people, whatever their ages, having the supreme patience to actually sit through more than a few hours of this game. If you really do have to buy this game, the Xbox version would be the console version to go for (the PC version was made by a different developer and is quite different to the console versions), as it features Dolby Digital sound and support for high resolution video. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is potentially a great licence for a game, but unfortunately High Voltage have failed to live up to that potential.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Altered Beast

Gamestyle Archive Intro:  the pain of Altered Beast still exists within. It marked a frustrating period as a Dreamcast and Sega supporter with periods of no releases or titles put together in quick fashion (often arcade ports) to fill such holes. Altered Beast was a painful infliction on PlayStation 2 owners who may have wondered what all the Sega fuss was? This release dates from February 2005.

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If Altered Beast is a blueprint of Sega’s newfound direction, then the next few years are going to be an uphill struggle. This release is indicative of so many Dreamcast titles – not the magical releases – but the games that lacked any conviction or spark and merely added a few more nails to the console’s coffin.  How could Gamestyle ever forget such efforts as Fighting Vipers 2, Charge ‘N’ Blast and OutTrigger (to name but a few)?

Thankfully we did, but Altered Beast has let loose those demons once again. The original Altered Beast is perhaps one of the most overrated releases in retrospect, as its legacy has built up over the years. Yet when you actually discuss the memorable and influential games of the Mega Drive era, it is rarely – if ever – mentioned. The gameplay in the original was extremely limited, and more often than not you just bypassed the incidental enemies to dash towards the next boss encounter (and many simply recall the game because it was given away free when you bought the machine). The Mega Drive version was simplistic, repetitive and shortlived – which begs the question: why the remake?

The modern take on proceedings is that you are a member of a special government unit, sent into a nameless town to investigate an outbreak. Yes, it’s more akin to a Resident Evil ‘remake’, but this version fails to share any of the mythology from Altered Beast. Instead of relying on shotguns or a traditional arsenal, these operatives control their own DNA sequence (courtesy of a specialist microchip). Yet their gory transformations are not limited to one type of monster; you can select from several which have unique abilities and killing moves. The first problem is there is no viable alternative to fighting except transforming (as in human form you are extremely vulnerable and unarmed). Whilst in monster mode it is important to kill, as you can receive health and sanity points that fill your health meters (the latter controls how long you can remain as a monster before changing back). So, predictably, levels are populated with various monsters that surround any survivors (cue lots of painful dicing and impaling of enemies).

Moving into a three-dimensional arena just highlights how bland this once-popular type of release has become – a decent fighting system can only compensate for so much, but there’s simply nothing new or entertaining about the battles offered in Altered Beast. And this is only the beginning of the game’s problems (incidentally, Sega of America decided not to release this title in its own territory). Gamestyle really is struggling to find any positive regard for Altered Beast – although it does have a 60Hz option, which in itself is confusing (given its profile). The camera needs constant adjusting, as it fails to keep up with characters or provide a satisfactory viewpoint when engaged in mass brawls. Further, the cut sequences have a grainy quality which is normally associated with Sega Saturn or early Playstation releases (and the transformation footage becomes irritating, kicking in every time you make the DNA change). These segments do try to inject variety by focusing on different parts of the body, but after a while even gore-hungry teenagers will tire of the interruptions.

Each level consists of a few rooms where progress is defined by a linear path. Conveniently-placed invisible walls will prevent anyone from dashing ahead (and thus hoping to avoid the minions beyond the next doorway). So progress is dictated by killing everything – which again just highlights the bland nature of combat. And things fails to improve as you delve deeper into the town (which consists of yet more rooms and more generic monsters). Despite the linearity, there are moments of confusion for the player as the next step (or action needed to move on) is seldom defined. For example, after killing the first boss – a giant rat – another action will be required, or else you must continue to fight the underlings as they appear from the catacombs. These lapses in design continually pop up, and with no help or training modes provided, it’s a dismal process of trial and error.

Visually, matters are hardly improved by muddy textures and sloppy graphics which fail to satisfy the player. Environmental detail is poor, and bereft of any incidental objects that might’ve at least provided variety. The voice-acting is dire – truly matching Resident Evil in at least one department – and the musical accompaniment barely enough. There are options to view details on monsters and their appearance, but the only option Gamestyle suggests is that you select ‘Quit’.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Resident Evil Survivor 2 Code: Veronica

Gamestyle Archive intro: the survival horror coverage continues with another spin-off in the Resident Evil series. This one has been relegated to the backwaters of civilisation for good reason. Dating from March 2002 and from JJ.

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When Resident Evil Survivor was released for the Psone it was the lowest point in the successful horror survival series. A terrible attempt to translate the story into an arcade gun game to match Sega’s House Of The Dead suffered from poor design and graphics. For some strange reason Capcom have decided to try again, this time with Resident Evil Survivor 2 Code: Veronica, based on the Playstation 2 and Dreamcast game.

I expected the game to be poor given the fact that it was rushed out onto the shelves last week before any reviews were published and little pre-release publicity. However I did not expect something that ranks below the terrible Saturn port of House Of The Dead and believe me, that was bad. Just like Code Veronica and the earlier Resident Evil 2, you can play as either two characters namely Steve Burnside or Clare Redfield. The main mode is set on Rockfort Island and the aim is to stay alive whilst trying to escape from the clutches of the undead, which include zombies, bandersnatch and surprisingly Nemesis.

The level design is familiar to any light gun player, shoot anything that moves, kill the boss and progress to the next area but set against a timer. If you haven’t killed the boss before it reaches zero then Nemesis will appear. As you cannot kill Nemesis you have to leg it in comical fashion and speed. So tell me what is the point of Nemesis given that you cannot kill him and the timer factor? Don’t expect the game to offer you much freedom, it may boast multiple routes but in reality this is more on the rails than an Intercity 125. The route that you need to go is highlighted by large arrows and glowing doors. The need to explore Rockfort Island is instantly removed by the poor design. You can play this either by yourself or with a friend and if you don’t have a friend then you can select a computer-controlled partner. Having a partner that you cannot communicate with brings obvious problems and wastes ammunition and time to put it mildly.

The other mode is the Dungeon mode and again you need to shoot anything that moves on the screen. The design here is odd as you are given an overall mission score but this is dependent on how many enemies you have killed. Each time you kill one of the enemies a combo gauge appears, giving you a brief moment to kill another. If you manage to do this within its limited time, the combo continues allowing you to build up some impressive scores. There is little skill involved in this as you just keep firing away machine gun style. Enemies move slowly and do not present difficult targets and as everything is up close and personal – your long-range skills will be untested. This mode is strictly for one player only; even excluding the computer controlled partner. The level design is once again predictable and uninspired. As with the game on which it is based your character can carry several weapons throughout although here it’s limited to three. Adding to the variety is that each character will prefer certain types of weaponry while ignoring others, leaving you to experiment to find the most suitable.

The game supports the dual shock controller and the best available gun i. e. G-Con 2 from Namco. Neither control method works well as trying to use the D-pad on the gun is a jerky experience nor why would you use a controller to play a gun game? Zombies may come in greater numbers thanks to the power of the Playstation 2 and from all sides but this creates a problem. Being a first person game you can only see what is in front of you. Enemies approaching from other angles will gladly inflict damage while you try to locate them, highly frustrating and not an inspired piece of game design.

Resident Evil Survivor 2 Code: Veronica will take you through familiar locations first seen in the original game however they did not look as poor as this. Survivor 2 is certainly not a great looking game or fast paced and after experiencing Time Crisis 2 or House Of The Dead 2 you realise how drab and boring it is graphically. This is highlighted after playing Maximo a fantastic looking game; you know that Capcom are capable of much more so why does Survivor 2 look pale in comparison? Light gun games by nature appeal to only a select few even though anyone can grasp what is required of them within moments. Whether it is the perceived short life or extra cost of peripherals I’m not sure but some of my best moments in front of a console have come from Time Crisis or House Of The Dead 2.

It is hard to judge the life span of a game such as this; some will have finished the game in one sitting whilst others will return time and time again. Even with all the extras the developer has included I could not see myself playing the game beyond the time it takes you to read this review. The simple reason is that if the game is bad, it does not matter how many extras you bundle with it. During your first play you will think to yourself, is this it? Before bundling the game back into the case and returning it to where it came from. There are few gun games available for the Playstation 2 at present but this is set to change in the coming months with several titles due for release. In the next month alone we are expecting Vampire Night from Sega/Namco, 24/7 from Konami and Time Crisis 2 is already on sale.

Given the standard of the competition it is easy to state that Resident Evil Survivor 2 Code: Veronica is the worst light gun game for the system and will take some beating to lose that tag. As a hidden extra (on a full Resident Evil release) the game would have been passable but as a stand-alone product it is just a cynical attempt to make you part with your hard earned cash. Let us hope that Capcom do not try to attempt a third version.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

The Mummy Returns

Gamestyle Archive Intro: I cannot remember anything about this game whatsoever but it is one you’ll often see in bargain bins or charity shops. Another to file in the disappointing film license category. Dating from November 2001 and reviewed by JJ.

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One of the biggest films of the year arrives on the Playstation 2 in the form of a two-part adventure following the storyline closely. Developed by Blitz Games the game has been created with support from Universal Interactive and the cast of the film, ensuring that this really is the official Mummy game.

A disappointing sequel to the fun, if predictable original, the Mummy license is highly regarded even after the bland Psone game. Not only does the film contain memorable characters and visuals, it appeals to all ages without entering kiddie’s territory or horror. Now for anyone who actually missed the summer and therefore the movie, I will provide a brief introduction to the plot and the game. The hero from the first film (Rick O’Donnell) has settled down to raise and still try his hand in exploration of ancient Egypt and discovers artefacts relating the legend of the Scorpion King.

The story revolves around this Scorpion King, formally a good guy gone bad and the quest to unleash his unstoppable armies on the world. Amongst all of this, Imhotep is resurrected to race Rick in a roller coaster ride to find and command the Scorpion King. The unique feature of the game is that you can choose to play the part of the hero or villain on two separate adventures. Rick as the hero must rescue his family from Imhotep before then facing the Scorpion King. As Imhotep you must regain your powers by collecting various items before trying to resurrect the Scorpion King and his armies, then ensuring world domination. Both adventures feature different locations and follow the script of the film, proving to be rewarding for any fan of the epic. Disappointingly any fans of the film expecting to fight the Anubis armies or flee from the ever-hungry scarabs will be left wondering why such fantastic opportunities were not included in the game. When such enemies do arise, they are in single numbers, losing the epic nature of the film and robbing the game of some key sequences.

While many videogames are graphically solid but lacking a plot, The Mummy Returns is an exact opposite. True, the film may have been a series of fantastic special effect sequences linked together by a threadbare plot but in the videogames unfortunately, the plot and characters are good enough. The execution is frankly, very poor and not worthy of such an official license but how often have we experienced similar scenarios?

Graphically the game is standard fare, never really doing anything to harness the power of the hardware or capture the imagination of the player. Sucking the life from hapless victims as Imhotep is the highlight but the effect never changes throughout. All the characters in the game are faithful reproductions of those from the film however in cut scenes the effect is ruined by the lack of facial expressions or moving lips. The game uses Tomb Raider as a reference as you have to explore locations while figuring straightforward puzzles and fighting regenerating enemies. If there is one thing that can really annoy it’s the inclusion of regenerating enemies never mind with non-existent intelligence. Quite simply they are lining up to be hacked, punched, drained or vanquished to another dimension. Your companions as well as enemies will wander around aimlessly, often becoming stuck in walls or continue to run around in circles, somehow lost in a world of their own. As they regenerate as soon as you leave the room (and often chase after you) the game soon becomes a tedious button bashing of epic proportions. Help is on hand throughout from your supporting cast but more often than not, these prove to be a liability but at least you can take frustrations out on their lifeless bodies. Puzzles form the basis of most levels, reach a certain location, collect the item and return to where you came from. Repeat till end.

I would have hoped to experience at least a snippet of variety between the two different adventures, but sadly this is not the case. This is standard fare that we have all seen a million times before. Levels are nicely recreated from the film and the size is quadrupled thanks to the worst map feature ever. The on-screen icons will feature a traditional compass, totally useless for buildings that are on several levels. The compass also occurs on a map, which you can only view from one angle (zoomed in or out) making navigation far time consuming and annoying that it should have ever been. The bad design does not stop there as it continues to the control method, which is far from friendly. The triangle button will activate your weapon, which you can collect on every level and with several available it is an important feature. Yet, this button will also bring up your inventory therefore at times when you require a weapon, something else will happen causing loss of life. Controlling your character feels sluggish and not as responsive as you would have hoped for. Bad enough? I haven’t even mentioned the camera that at times needs constant correcting or becomes stuck in ceilings almost every time that you enter a new room.

In conclusion The Mummy Returns is a disappointment to anyone who plays the game whether it be a fan of the film or gamer. Only children may forgive its faults and enjoy the limited nature of it all.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Warriors of Might and Magic

Gamestyle Archive intro: this review comes from a dark period in the website history as 3DO were sending up review code for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g and while freebies may have their attractions, after a while it becomes a vicious circle. For Dan Kelly this review from April 2001 was a step too far as you can tell from below!

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Have you ever heard the joke, why did the boy throw the clock out the window? Because he wanted to see time fly. Well here’s a good one, why did I throw Warriors of Might and Magic out of the window? Because its utter crap!!!

It’s as mighty as Mr. Muscle, and about as magical as pulling a rabbit out of a rabbit hutch. It reminds me of one of those English essays you used to get at school where the teacher told you to describe a day out. The teacher always told you to talk about a bad day because you would have more to say. Well sit back, relax, this could be a veeeeeeeery long review. But I’ll try and keep it short because I have to go get a psychological examination after this.

When you turn this on and start playing, one of the first things you’ll do is look at your PSOne and make sure the power light isn’t on, because in terms of graphical beauty, its about as pretty as the elephant man. Then when you see the blue and green lights from your lovely black console, you’ll have to accept the fact that it is a PS2 game. The story is as follows. You play He-Man lookalike Alleron, who is accused of Necromancy. His punishment, he has a mask with quite gnarly looking claws attached to his face, called the Mask of the Accused. It would be nice if it was a cool mask, but unfortunately for Alleron it’s a rather gimp-esque looking thing, that bears a resemblance to that worn by Captain America. But with the addition of Alleron’s golden locks flowing out of the top, and without the little wings protruding from the sides. He is then condemned to the world under the city, where it is rather unpleasant, to try and fight his way back to the surface. Voila.

The controls are fairly simple. You have 3 attack buttons, two for your weapons, and one for a rather lame looking magic attack. The other buttons are used for performing various other simple tasks, such as jumping, crouching and picking things up. But what will really get on your nerves is constantly faffing around with the menus, looking for the life-saving health potions, that when you do eventually find and drink, leave you open for attack to the surrounding baddies, subsequently leaving you with less energy than you had before you drank the potion. Then there’s the irritating camera angles and poor character animation. I’ve tried to think of something that reminds me of Alleron’s running technique, but in all honesty, I’ve never seen anything run quite like that. The only good comparison I can make is that his run is similar to that of Tanner from Driver 2, who himself looks like he’s had too many large things inserted into his rectum.

You’ll spend a lot of time wandering around the level, finding weapons, armour, magic spells, and potions. You tend to get lost sometimes although the levels themselves are fairly uncomplicated, simply because most of the corridors and rooms can sometimes bare an uncanny resemblance to one you have just visited. Occasionally during your hours of wandering you’ll be treated to a puzzle to test your mental capabilities, but more often than not its just a case of, pull the switch, or push the button, which isn’t really that much of a challenge to even the most mentally inept chimp. During your peaceful mince around the level, you’ll hear a noise, and instinctively turn around to punch your sibling for being so disgusting, but you’ll soon realise its not the fault of your falsely accused brother or sister, but more surprisingly the enemies attempt at trying to convince you that he’s a fearsome monster, intent on devouring you whole. And when you do eventually catch sight of the evil fiend, you’ll spend more time looking at it wondering what its supposed to be, rather than trying to figure out a way to destroy it. But usually, no enemy you’ll come across will take more than a couple of Alleron’s sluggish attacks before hitting the deck with a pathetic grunt. “But there must be one thing good about it!” I hear you say.

Well yes there are some things good about it I’m ashamed to say. A small almost non-existent smile sometimes surprisingly appears on your face as you emerge from a room that was until a minute ago infested with enemies, untouched. One thing that may keep some you going through the game, is the fact that when you equip a different piece of armour, Alleron’s actual appearance will change. This may, or may not, drive some of you further with ambition of making your character look like the dog’s gonads, with shiny, big armour and a large sword. But this is one of the only things about this game that kept me sane. One thing I praise about this game is the ability to save anywhere, anytime, which means that you don’t have to play through a whole level before given the option to save, saving me from having to play more than 5 minutes of this game a night.

It really amazes me that games like this sell. It’s a poor game, full stop. It would take me a very long time, if not eternity to think of something I genuinely like about this game…. hold on the occasional appearance of a voluptuous lady is nice, but not enough to salvage Warriors of Might and Magic. They say every cigarette takes 5 minutes off your life, I might as well start smoking, because it already seems I have wasted enough of my life playing THIS, so why stop now?

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Shadow of Memories

Gamestyle Archive intro: it’s funny what games you remember over the years not for their quality but some unusual characteristic. Shadow of Memories is such a game. Hugely flawed it offered something very different and has since faded into obscurity. We now revive the review from March 2001 and Mike Bather/

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Preventative measures are fairly common in real life, revolving around such issues as Health and Safety at work, looking before you cross the road and not accepting a cigarette from a ‘friend’ when in your teens. But what if you are stabbed in the back, die and are offered a chance to try and prevent your own death?

This is the issue dealt with in Shadow of Memories and our hero Eike Kusch has just had a particularly bad day. The game starts off with the David Hasselhoff legged and brain dead Eike leaving a coffee shop, resulting with him being stabbed and left to die in one of the back alleys of a German town called Lebensbaum. Meeting Homunculus as he passes to the other side, Eike is left confused having been given the opportunity to prevent his own death. Anyone not accepting an offer like this would be labelled a fool in heaven or hell, so he accepts, receiving a time travel device called a Digipad to aid his mission, awakening in the coffee shop 30 minutes before his fatal attack.

Immediately, it must be made clear that this isn’t really a game as such, more of a sequence of events triggered by communicating with the residents of the town, similar to Shenmue on the Dreamcast. The aim of the game is, you guessed it, to prevent Eike’s death by various foul means using the Digipad or various items at the appropriate moments and to find out just who is behind it all. In other words this is vague incarnation of the interactive movie, not the most favourite of genre and certainly not the most successful in years gone by. But where Shadow of Memories succeeds above the past attempts is the fact that it actually does it quite well, with an engaging storyline, a fresh plot and some very novel twists incorporating the previously little-used time travel subject and a bit of a ‘thriller’ storyline. To say that this game didn’t thrill us would be an understatement, but it does have a strange allurement that keeps you hooked, albeit giving you the ability to get an early night or a few hours sleep. Yes, it can be so boring at times that falling asleep whilst playing will probably be a common occurrence.

The game itself is split into chapters, just like a novel, with eight chapters between the prologue and epilogue. It plays using a 3D engine having you walk around speaking to the right people whilst unknowingly solving the chapter, swiftly moving on to the next. The town itself is very detailed and the graphics do the game justice with some excellent detail on the (unfortunately) plastic-looking NPC’s with plastic voice-overs, but throughout the game you only ever come across around eight or nine distinctive character models. This just isn’t enough for a town and in comparison to Shenmue you are left pretty disappointed with the overall feeling of emptiness within the game. The rest of the characters are just ancestors or inbreeds looking very similar throughout the games four times zones, the 1500’s, 1800’s, 1970’s and present day. Each of the time zones has its own colour that gives a bizarre picture book look to the whole game and it works really well, kindling the imagination like an old photograph found in your grandparents attic would.

The most bizarre thing about this ‘game’, beating the storyline even, is that it is very bad but very good at the same time and it has found its way into my PS2 disk tray an unnerving amount of times. The odds are that you will be getting probably the D or E ending first time around and by this point you will either be hating it and running back to Game to attack one of their employees in a fit of “I’ve been ripped off!” rage, or placing the disk back into the tray for more. It’s such a severe split between love and hate that you are really going to hate this, or lap up every moment whilst it lasts. And it doesn’t last long, to say the least. The first completion time was in under four hours and second clocked in around the three hour mark, so to get through all of the different endings would take about thirteen to twenty hours (maximum) unless you play the same game twice, which is possible. In a way this isn’t too bad as some video shops do offer a four-night rental, which is just enough time to get the game done and dusted.

The control set up and menu system are alarmingly simple as the dazzlingly thin instruction manual, made up mostly of pictures, testifies. Movement is taken care of using the left analog stick which sometimes feels a little unrefined at times, especially when you get caught in the furniture when indoors and stuck against the posts. If you line Eike up on the edge of a kerb, he can even walk about three inches above the floor, which is an even more amazing feat than the time travel element! Conversations with characters are initiated by pressing the X button and in the first chapter after doing this for 15 minutes or so you are suddenly faced with chapter two. Triangle brings up a map and the Square button brings up the minimalist item menu that appears on the left hand of the screen, giving you access to the Digipad’s functions and any other items that you may want to look at.

This brings on a vastly over simplified feel and makes you wonder whether or not this game was actually designed with experienced gamers in mind. Death is a mysterious thing here due to the frequency that it happens in the first half of the game, and you have absolutely no way to stop it. Story deaths are the ones that involve a mystery attacker dropping a plant pot on you or stabbing you in the back, but forget any kind of defence or evasive action as Eike’s actions are limited to use item (this doesn’t happen much) and talk (this happens too much). The main character meeting himself or running out of time prompts his real death and game over, but this isn’t much to worry about as Eike is given more than enough time and you only seem to get the chance to meet yourself once. This gives the game the game very little lastability, if any at all.

Musically the game is fine and the ambient sound effects are pretty good too, with some haunting tunes to accompany the main characters gentle stroll around the town. The voiceovers previously mentioned aren’t too great with some being really horrendous, especially the little girl and her mother who crop up in most time zones of the game. Eike’s voice is just plain bland, but it is by no means the worst.

Here at Gamestyle, we are beginning to wonder when a development company will eventually bother to pay out for some decent voice actors. To some this title up isn’t easy but the main feeling you are left with is disappointment as there are some truly excellent ideas in this title, it really could have been so much more and it unfortunately falls flat on its face. The control of the main character could be so much better and the lack of population cannot be forgiven as Shenmue proves, even if the character models are excellently detailed.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

Tomb Raider The Movie

Gamestyle Archive intro: video game coverage also meant taking a regular look at the influx of big screen adaptations with mixed success. This one was the first of the Tomb Raider films and dates from June 2001. Writer JJ.

VERSION: Big Screen
DEVELOPER: Core
PUBLISHER: Paramount Pictures 
GENRE: Action/Adventure
ACCESSORIES: Popcorn, Beer, and Girlfriend.
PLAYERS: 0
RELEASE: July 6th
LINK: www.tombraidermovie.com

PRESENTATION: 6
GRAPHICS: 5
SOUND: 8
GAMEPLAY: 0
LASTABILITY: 0
OVERALL: 3

Try to think of a decent film based on a video game.  Still thinking?  So am I.   This is why I approached Lara Croft Tomb Raider with extreme caution whilst sitting down preparing myself for another turkey.   Yet I was pleasantly surprised.  Its not bad just plain awful.

The plot is simpler than a Resident Evil game and as there are no plot twists I won’t be spoiling anything by explaining most of it here.   In fact you could probably predict everything within the first 10 minutes.  No bad thing when you consider most of the stuff that Hollywood shoves down our throats these days, still we can walk out when we have had enough.   However the power of marketing and the thought of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft will get most males into the cinemas.   It worked for me.

If you have the misfortune to play any of the series (except the first game) then you’ll know something about the phenomenon that is Miss Croft.   The film introduces us to her mansion, which is suitably murky and traditional with the more technological rooms hidden away.   The lack of character depth or development is shocking; this film is truly based on a video game character and no more.   Only the baddies and her two sidekicks keep Lara interesting as they can be summed up in one word, nothing.  A shame as it starts off quite atmospherically and 6 minutes in, we have a wonderful but criminally short shower scene.  Truly a PG film all the way.  Lara sleeps in bed with a knife – I’d never thought I be jealous of a metallic object but there’s always a first time for everything.

Right plot time.   A planetary alignment is occurring and this provides the sinister cult/organisation (not sure which as we only see them once) known as the Luminate to complete the ancient legend that they believe in.   An ancient civilisation that they are descended from once had the power of a god thanks to the Triangle of Light.   Yet this power was abused resulting in their civilisation and whole city being destroyed.   The triangle was deemed to powerful for man to possess and was split in two and hidden on either ends of the earth.   Why not just destroy the thing completely?   To make matters worse a special timepiece was created to help locate and open each hidden area where parts of the triangle were hidden.  Now this is really taking the piss.   Pass the popcorn doll.

Lara’s deceased father possessed the timepiece that she soon discovers in a secret room in her mansion.   You’re not much of a Tomb Raider if a relic can be hidden away in your own home for a few years without you knowing!   Upon its discovery and after receiving a letter from lawyers under instruction from her fathers will, Lara becomes involved.   The timepiece soon becomes stolen from the mansion resulting in one of highlights for me.  Lara bouncing up and down on a bungee rope, kicking intruder ass and looking amazingly sexy in her nightdress.   Mark that scene down guys, 28 minutes in – then you have another 20 to kill before it gets interesting again.

Mr West is someone who Lara has a thing for yet he is an archaeologist of amazing stupidity.   She constantly helps him along throughout the film with even offering the glimpse of a sex scene.  The main baddie is Mr Powell who is into everything eastern and can be seen relaxing on his sofa in the middle of the jungle, I kid ye not.   Not much competition for our heroine.

The first temple known as the Temple of Dancing Light is in Cambodia and is where the first piece of the triangle is hidden and easily found thanks to Lara helping out the baddies.  Just why isn’t known – either stop them or join in and rule the world, women huh?   Of course once the triangle is discovered everything comes to life except stone creatures aren’t much help against heavily armed guards.  Even the guys at Core could have come up with better designs.  Lara soon escapes with half of the triangle much to the baddies disgust well not really; they let her get away easily.  Still the action is good and for a brief moment helps you forget how shite the film is.

For some unknown reason Lara teams up with the baddies to help find the final piece of the triangle (even handing over her piece of the relic in the process) located in the dead lands of the temple where the extinct civilisation once ruled.  Pretty clever hiding one half of the most power object known to man in the temple where the pieces must be joined together.  Fooled me.   No need to tell you who wins in the end but stay put for a sidesplitting reunion with Lara’s deceased father.  Thought the ending of Armageddon couldn’t be bettered?  Think again.

Its saying something when you finish watching the film and know the video games offered more depth.   There are some good moments in Tomb Raider mostly involving action scenes but these are too short and few in number.   The tombs themselves offer little challenge, just pull down a statue and enter, no traps en route.   Lara herself seems confused, helping the baddies one moment and them killing them the next.   We should have seen this coming as even the director Simon West apparently tried to remove his name from the credits thanks to some excessive editing.  It’s obvious that the script was frankly awful and a waste of good paper.  At times the dialogue would make even Steven Segal cringe and the film has the depth of an eggcup.

The success of The Mummy has spawned such films as Tomb Raider.  What most of these forget apart from the entertainment value is the humour, characters and special effects that paper over the cracks in the script.   The only good thing about Tomb Raider apart from some excellent locations (that are under-exploited) is Angelina Jolie, oh and it’s not a 3-hour epic like Pearl Harbour.  Lets hope Resident Evil is a little bit better.

Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This at Home

Gamestyle Archive intro: Now here is a mysterious review originally published from the tail end of 2003. Backyard wrestling comes from a reviews1 folder I found mostly of my own work. However I’ve never reviewed this release, nor can recall playing it. Maybe by putting this online we’ll solve the mystery?

The score is also unknown but for categorisation purposes I reckon this reads along the lines of a 3/10.

Backyard-Wrestling-Cheats-IV-PS2-2

Backyard Wrestling is apparently one of those American obsessions – there’s a whole organisation behind it and everything. It takes the likes of WWE to the extremes, removes the rules (and the ceiling), and features grown men in scary costumes beating seven shades of faeces out of each other…whilst in the open air of someone’s backyard. Although the concept may be lost on the likes of Europeans, there’s a universal appeal to releasing your pent-up rage by using heavy objects (preferably upon sturdy heads).

Enter Backyard Wrestling then, for the Playstation 2, which takes this ‘serious’ (cough) ‘sport’ (cough) and removes yet more rules. Fights take place not in special fighting rings (a la the genuine sport) but in small, poorly-rendered locales – such as Actual Backyard 3, and Gas Station 1.

So, first impressions are not good. The menu screen offers a career-type mode (presented via talkshow-styled TV interviews) where you take on opponents stage-by-stage; a single (exhibition) fight mode against either another player or the CPU; a survival mode and other fighting-based ‘minigames’; and some pointless options – including the customary ‘create your own fighter’, stitched together from – wait for it – fifteen full bodies and twelve costumes. Gamestyle attempted to get stuck in with the main career mode; selecting a character was made needlessly-difficult by a loading message that insisted on displaying the selected fighter in full (and frankly awful) 3D – thus stopping them from being chosen until it had finished. After which the stage introduction followed, with some poorly pre-rendered FMV and a 27-second loading bar before the level started.

The graphics are staggeringly dire; totally uninspired, low-res, blocky 3D models with ripped seams and disjointed animations – and totally aliased (jagged) edges on everything. The environments too are bland, and although featuring a fair amount of dynamic obstacles, the areas are so small (and the collision detection so weak) that both fighters will consistently walk through things; their body parts materialising through supposedly solid objects. Just looking at it is almost as painful as some of the brutal moves depicted within. With no tutorial mode to speak of, beginning a new game is like a punch to the face – literally. The fights are extremely fast, and are primarily based around a system whereby the first person to approach the other fighter (and press either Square or X first) wins. At least it initially feels that way.

Controlling your fighter is simplified and yet still awkward. The analogue stick will swiftly manoeuvre them in any direction within the environment, but a single punch from the opposition will stop you in your tracks. And therein lies the fundamental flaw with this game; the attacks and actions are uninterruptible sequences where you have no choice but to watch in horror. You’ll probably regain control over your character for a grand total of some 10% of the time that you are ‘playing’. If you’re hit, you’ll fall to the floor and have to wait until you can move again. Annoyingly, this is also true of any move you perform that sees you on the floor afterwards. If you’re dazed by a strong attack (e.g. Punch Drunk), you cannot move. You are then open to more attacks – and grabs, and throws, and dives – until your AI-controlled opponent’s ‘fairness’ routine kicks in, and gives you a second or two to get to your bloodied and bruised feet. At which point the floor is open for the next sack of meat to be chosen – decided (yet again) by the first person to initiate an attack and get the other fighter to the floor.

Of course, being the cowards that we are, Gamestyle decided to run for it. To be honest, seeing our skinny fighter ‘MDogg 20’ being chased around a barbecue table by the chunky brute ‘Rudeboy’ was a comical moment indeed – some Benny Hill music would have capped the moment quite nicely. But of course, running away results in objects being thrown at your cranium. Not a difficult action to trigger; the Triangle button will pick up/drop any usable object you happen to be standing over, and the X button will throw it. Here’s the catch though – you know that thing that makes games enjoyable? What’s it called, fair play? There’s none of that distraction here. Because, if you’re attempting to escape an incoming projectile, your movement will actually attract it (in mid-air, mind) towards your position! Run away, and it’ll simply turn and aim straight for your head anyway – knocking you to the floor and leaving you defenseless against those bone-crunching elbow-diving attacks. Lovely.

And so, knocked to the ground, our face covered in ‘blood’ (or pixel vomit), we further suffered the indignity of a 17-second loading screen simply to get back to the main menu (no option to immediately retry the stage) – followed by the ‘double whammy’ of a 27-second loading screen to restart the (same) level. But wait, there’s more! The difficulty curve is steep, and the learning process as shallow as they come. What you learn early on is that there’s nothing much to learn other than how to lose – repeatedly. You may also learn that the default setting for the game is ‘Hard’ mode (the one in between ‘Normal’ and ‘Porn Star’, naturally), so a quick adjustment here saw Gamestyle less afraid to be back in the (yard); with the rather predictable response of the dumbed-down AI being to stand around for longer periods of time doing nothing. Not that this makes things any easier, of course. Even if you down one foe and make him cry like a little girl, you’ll then have to face more in the same stage. If you fail to beat them all, you’ll reset back to the main menu again and have to start over. Such a design flaw would be crippling even if there were some rhyme or reason (or consistent strategy) to the fights, but there isn’t. It’s like being forced into watching the same scene of a bad action movie on DVD over and over again – because you can’t find the remote.

Speaking of movies, there are several unlockable clips to discover, showing – yep, you’ve guessed it – grown men in scary costumes beating seven shades of faeces out of each other. Oh, and talking about how much they ‘rock’ too, of course. The soundtrack featured also has an angry rock/metal/attitude to it. Generic punk and thrashy songs about ‘breaking up’ (hoho!) and beating stuff up…you get the idea. Repetitive music is looped over and over during all menu screens and is enough to drive any sane individual to the brink. Production values are low (to say the least), and yet, surprisingly, amongst the Backyard Garbage is a 60Hz mode – meaning you can suffer 17.5% faster than you’d otherwise have to.

The one saving grace of such a disgustingly-vile piece of software is the two player Versus mode. Which is just that, and nothing more. Two characters; one sandbox full of toys; and two equally-terrible control interfaces through which you can vent your rage. Of course, all the earlier problems are shared, including the magical homing attacks upon everything. Even diving from a height (there are one or two ladders) onto a fallen opponent below ignores any sense of distance; you could roll away to the other side of the level and the move would still connect. A shame really, as the game almost – almost – has a Thrill Kill (PSone) feel to it. Only that wasn’t as rubbish. But the graphic violence is certainly there (hence the [18] certificate) with cuts and bruises (appearing, as you’d imagine, as red splotches on the drab, untextured surfaces of the characters’ exteriors), and limbs and bodies bending in all manner of unnatural ways. This is a game for adults, right? Not likely. It all seems to be pointing at the lowest common denominator, with scantily-clad ‘Backyard Chicks’ featuring in the menu backgrounds, the bonus videos and even as playable characters in the game itself (the female form has never looked so undesirable).

So, take heed of the warning on the box: Don’t Try This At Home, because you’re better off not bothering. Try hitting your head against a brick wall for about half an hour instead.

Gamestyle Score: 3/10

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