Blinx: The Time Sweeper

Gamestyle Archive Intro:  even after all this time I recall Blinx. A much hyped game for the newly arrived Xbox it really couldn’t meet the expectations levelled at it by the press and PR machine.

Thinking back I probably just played the demo and left it there. When piecing together this review from 2002 and Alex, I’ve just found out there was a sequel in 2004!

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Blinx, then. According to some it’s the single most important game since Halo – the Xbox equivalent of Super Mario Sunshine, or Jak and Daxter – a genre-defining time-shifting adventure of epic preportions. But behind the hype, the glossy magazine adverts and carefully-selected screenshots is Blinx really just another lifeless platformer, soon to be completely forgotten by everyone except the publisher’s accountant?

Well, yes. Blinx, sadly, is the most recent case of over-hyping a sub-standard game, the likes of which we haven’t seen since ET on the Atari, and we all know what famously happened to the thousands of copies of that, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that Blinx will fly off the shelves at your local EB, but that’s more due to some ‘favourable’ reviews in the gaming press and a lack of viable alternatives for your cash than actual merit. However, the very fact that you’re reading Gamestyle means you’re a discerning gamer who’s not easily convinced by a 100 page review, 20 large screenshots and a 90% mark, and hopefully you’ll come away from this particular review with a more balanced opinion of the game. Microsoft need a marketable mascot – there’s no secret there – the mere sight of Mario and his proud purple point-of-sale is enough to sell the game, never mind the console to play it on, but without this identity the Redmond crew are struggling to penetrate the mass-market.

Blinx is the first real attempt to do this – the game itself is little more than a vehicle for the eponymous feline’s debut on the console, but unfortunately it’s just not a good enough game to make people take notice, and any further title with the same lead character is going to face the same problems, regardless of improvements down the line. At it’s heart, Blinx is a simple platform/adventure but the unique feature is the cat’s ability to make use of various time controls along the way. The story’s not entirely relevant, displaying a disappointing lack of invention with the usual save-the-world pretext, and the way the game flows is along the same elementary lines.

With 8 differently themed areas (each with 4 sub-levels inside) the process is both linear and tired – dispatch each enemy (by sucking up trash and firing it back out at them) to move onto the next sub-level, and then defeat the boss in the 4th to move onto the next area. Repeat, ad infinitum. Not only is this an insult to gamers used to a more open path through a game, it’s also totally void of any replayability, such is the banal level design and laughable monsters, which almost entirely resemble blobs of jelly. The time manipulation aspect, however, is novel, if nothing else. It’s based around the collection of little gems – collect 4 and the game sees if you’ve got 3 of the same – if you have you get one use of the relevant time morphing ability, collect 4 of the same and you get two goes.

It’s worth mentioning that these time-powers are the single positive aspect of the entire package, and even then they grow tiresome very quickly and do little to alleviate the boredom of troughing through the game. You need to know which powers will be needed at any particular moment (the events you use them in are scripted, for the most part, and often only one time power will be of any use) but they work very much like a tape-recorder. Use a Pause power and the game temorarally slows to allow you to move, Matrix-like, undisturbed past the stationary monsters (not that you won’t still have to return and kill them anyway later), use the Record to do one thing, then play it back allowing two Blinx’s on the screen at once, and so on. Whilst undoubtedly original in concept, they don’t ever make enough of an impact to warrant the developers patenting the ideas – I seriously doubt Miyamoto’s got anything to worry about here in terms of innovation.

Technically, Blinx is also somewhat of a non-starter. Whilst those screenshots look impressive, in motion the game sloths about at a shockingly low frame rate given the pathetic AI and the not-exactly high polygon counts the Xbox has to deal with. Whilst the textures are passable, the poor level design and enemy characterisation means that the art never really comes through, and the often claustrophobic corridors and basic outdoor areas suggests the developers never really got to grips with the development kits at all. Worst of all, though, is the camera – not since Resident Evil have I been forced to battle so many enemies without actually being able to see them on screen, such is the totally amateurish camera mechanics. Sonically it’s a little better – the music is fine and the sound effects are well placed and superbly engineered within the 5.1 soundscape.

Under the surface probably lies some excellent ideas and concepts but all too often the best ideas are scrapped by the publishers as they try to work a game into something more ‘sellable’ and mass-market. Thankfully, some developers are left to make their own decisions and in some cases (Ico, Project Eden, Super Monkey Ball) a simple idea becomes something beautiful, and I can only wonder what Blinx would have played like had some of those brainstorming sessions been committed to DVD. As it is, Blinx is unrewarding, derivative, insulting and just plain dull, and worse of all, shamefully ignorant of the huge leaps forward in level design, characterisation and game structure and in the last decade, and as such is best avoided.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

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The Incredibles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Medal of Honour: Rising Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Lord of The Rings: Return of the King

Gamestyle Archive intro: 2 sources combine to restore a previously lost review. This is a technique I’m sure we’ll see more and more of over the lifespan of the archive. In this case the review dates from November 2003 and JJ. The spreadsheet backup ends suddenly right after ‘the PAL version is disappointing’ but using our resources it’s all good now.

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LOTR: Return of the King is the third and final instalment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, although Gamestyle suspects Electronic Arts is already concocting new and devious ways of ‘alchemically’ rebranding the licence. The battle for Middle Earth has finally begun, and only the Fellowship of the Ring can prevent evil from winning through.

Gamestyle will not divulge the storyline – which obviously allows players to experience parallel events – before the film reaches cinemas. All that needs to be said is that key moments from Return of the King are broken down into the form of fifteen levels. These are punctuated by in-game sequences and footage from the film itself – guaranteeing spoilers all the way. Those familiar with LOTR: The Two Towers will be on common ground, as unsurprisingly, the hack ‘n slash ethic is retained. The combat system is extremely shallow, and Gamestyle can find little in depth to favourably commend it. Chopping through waves of automatic foes is simply a means of enjoying the cinematic sequences, which inevitably lead to those valuable experience points. These can be spent between missions on special moves and combos (when you have reached the applicable level).

Of course, how the members of the Fellowship made it this far into the trilogy with only a simple spell or chopping move to call upon is something of a mystery. In spite of this, the upgrade system is enjoyable, and presents the best evidence yet of replay value; especially as each character only has ten skill levels to work through. As some character selections are forced upon the player (depending on the level), the curiosity value is piqued somewhat more than it should be.

The branching structure of the mission layout allows for some variety when approaching the grand finale. However, Gamestyle completed every level before progressing up the tree, and expects others to effectively do the same. The layout does however sprinkle some much-needed freedom of choice into a melting-pot full of constraints and repetition. The appearance of bonus extras are a welcome diversion, and given that Electronic Arts has contractual agreements with New Line Cinema, includes access to the actors and storyboards from the trilogy. It is unfortunate that such interludes are extremely brief, and The Hobbit’s interview for example is entirely risible. The levels themselves are bursting with action, movement, and the riposte of death.

The execution is a tad disappointing, given the introduction and rousing soundtrack, as you are left with a totally linear and limiting experience. Everything is very much set in stone, with a reliance on scripted events that so castrated EA’s Medal of Honour. An example would be the convenient location of explosives, placed right near the guard towers. If it wasn’t obvious enough, the camera suggestively pans around to provide the optimal view to triggering their detonation.

LOTR: Return of the King is an exceptionally dumb game, and fails to elicit any thought from the player – save for slash and stab. Some may enjoy switching off all thought processes for an hour or so, but Gamestyle expected much more, given the rich vein of source material. LOTR: Return of the King excels though when it comes to visuals, and like any Hollywood blockbuster, is loud, brash and superficial. The screenshots back up this verdict, as the game is very much like wandering through a museum. There is plenty to see, but you are unable to touch or qualitatively interact with the majority of objects on show. The main reason for this is linear constraints; no doubt needed for hitting that November release date. The camera too is likewise fixed, and its aloofness does not improve matters; always hinting at what might be possible, but never revealing the true texture of its canvas (though the implementation of backdrops is cleverly recognised). Regardless, EA’s programming proficiency is unquestioned, and does help to camouflage the shortcomings of the game to a certain degree.

The PAL version is disappointing – especially for Playstation 2 owners and should have been subtitled Hail to the Thief.  By this Gamestyle highlights the expected black border, which fills the bottom of the screen, however this is minor when pitted against its American counterpart.  The DTS soundtrack has vanished, and despite the excellent remaining Pro Logic soundtrack, a missed opportunity to experience what Xbox players take for granted.  Most devastating of all is the removal of the online co-operative mode.  This proved an opportunity to play online with another, work through the game and communicate through the USB headset.  Instead European players will have to make do with the offline version, yet still pay the full retail price.

The lifespan of Return of the King is very much debatable, as the single player mode can be completed in only a few hours, and that is sizeable chunk of this release.  The removal of the online co-operative mode, scuppers any long term interest that co-op offered potentially.  There are no exclusive levels for this mode, only the ability to play with a friend.  Why such a feature was removed is unknown – perhaps an attempt to avoid the problems that have plagued FIFA 2004 and its online mode.  Thirteen levels may sound impressive, but the actually playtime for each rarely rises above twenty minutes.  Add to this a dubious level such as King of the Dead, which is nothing more than a glorified boss encounter, and Gamestyle beings to value such things as a ten-day return policy.

Return of the King is enjoyable while it lasts, but there is little progression as the third game in a series. Without the flair of Electronic Arts presentational skills and the attached license this would be deservedly overlooked.  The tragic realisation is that at the final hurdle, the series has run dry.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Superman: Shadow of Apokolips

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Alex takes us into the dubious territory of an Atari Superman title. This dates from November 2002.

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Superman, eh? We like the films (as everyone does, right?) and even the cartoon series has it’s merits, but the games? The Nintendo 64 played host to what is widely regarded as one of the worst games in existence, and this reviewer would personally rather play ET on the Atari than relive the dire experience of said title.

Thankfully, there’s an even better option – the brand new PS2 Superman game from Infogrames, which bases itself around the aforementioned animated series and provides not only a decent representation of the Superman world, but it’s also suprisingly good game in itself. Not immediately, mind, but then that’s why you’re reading Gamestyle – the game’s clunky at first as you get used to the controls (much like Activision’s Spider-man, if you will) but once you’re a few half-hours into the game things start to even out, although the game’s numerous ‘little’ bugs will always be there niggling into the immersiveness of the adventure: there’s some horrible clipping and even worse, there’s invisible walls all over the place, and not just around the boundaries of the level causing much confusion and straining the already struggling camera. However, if you can overlook these issues, the good bits of the game will shine through.

Good bits like the inclusion of Clark Kent as a playable character (in his less Super role), Livewire Parasite, Metallo and Lex Luther as baddies and a wide variety of special powers, all of which add to the Superman-ness of the game, even though it’s mostly the Heat Vision power you’ll be used to come the end of the game such is the way the other features are played down. These powers are also finite in their use, although resting them for a little while allows them to recharge, reducing their effectiveness to a more strategic level rather than just constant use. Alongside Breath Blast (which acts as a short range weapon) and the Heat Vision (which is similar) there are other moves including Speed Dodging (complete with motion blur) and the game’s first person moves such as Super Vision (with zoom) and X-Ray Vision, although to be honest it would have been handier to have such a perspective as a more playable feature – particularly given the third person camera has some real problems inside buildings – rather than just a standing still mode.

Superman can also pull off Super Power Moves by holding down two face buttons, and there’s such a move for when he’s walking, hovering and flying. Of course, Superman can also punch, lift and throw objects (but not friendly civilians, sadly) and these can be used to solve the games puzzles and against enemies. Flying’s the best bit of the game, though, and whilst it’s not easy to track enemies and hit them as you’re required to do (especially early on) it soon becomes instinctive and chasing the bad guys around the (admittedly large) playing areas is great fun. Things turn sour when you’re back on the ground though – there’s never much more to do than run around and punch identikit robots and that horrible camera returns with a vengeance, although the game’s lock-on feature (a quick tap of L1) goes someway to help the gamer keep the screen on what’s actually attacking him.

Whilst Superman: Shadow of Apokolips often plays out slightly ignorant of the advances currently happening in the games scene (and hence resorts to almost retro-like tasks, such are the simplicity of what you’re asked to do) it’s quite pretty in places, and certainly faithful to the cartoon series it models itself around with some great cell-shaded characters, a fairly smooth 30 fps frame rate and some decent animation. It’s not all good, though – some textures are quite low resolution and there’s a fair amount of repetition, especially on the buildings and walls. Rest assured that the music’s directly taken from the TV show, though, and most of the voices retain the same level of authenticity.

One for the fans of the series, then, but to the rest of us it’s entirely average – fun for a while, and then it’s over – Shadow of Apokolips isn’t anything new; it’s not genre defining; it’s certainly flawed and there’s not a great deal to do, given the relative ease (and low number) of the missions in the game, but it’s without a doubt a far superior game to it’s N64 older brother (and it’s preferable to playing ET, too).

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Ghosthunter

Gamestyle Archive Intro: a visually strong title but beneath the luxurious hood was a Lada car crash of a game. This review is from December 2003 and JJ.

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Only a few Playstation 2 releases can hold their ground against SCEE Cambridge’s Primal, for it was a showboating and technical extravaganza. Admittedly, it did have its flaws as a playing experience, but a little frustration can make for a satisfying journey none the less. Now, only a year has elapsed and Ghosthunter has arrived from the same team; can experience make for an improved adventure?

Set in Detroit, you take the role of Lazarus Jones (originally based on Fight Club’s Tyler Durden), a young cop only on his first week of the job. Called out to a reported disturbance at an abandoned high school, Lazarus and his partner (Anna Steel) make a chilling discovery linked to the infamous murders (which had forced the school to be abandoned). Before Lazarus can comprehend events, he is forced into the role of Ghosthunter as a means to save his partner. By visiting specific locations through special gates, Lazarus has to clear each area of ghostly spirits whilst hot on the trail of Professor Richmond (see our preview for more information). This allows SCEE Cambridge to call upon a variety of unique levels, from the typical Shadowman-influenced Deep South, to the more intimate confines of a ghost ship.

Only when you see titles of this calibre in action (Primal included) do you realise what the Playstation 2 is capable of – given its escalating years. However, SCEE Cambridge proves yet again what is possible with a little talent and investment; on several occasions, Gamestyle had to stop and re-evaluate what system the game was being played on. Ghosthunter maintains the aura of a high-specification PC release that overshadows most Xbox and Gamecube titles. Detailed environments, clear surroundings, fluid animation, exceptional lighting effects and much more – this is a technical demonstration (aka ‘showboat’) of how to program for the system. Unfortunately, a videogame is not specifically designed to hang in a modern art museum; it’s an interactive tool created to stimulate, experience and enjoy. This is where the gloss of Ghosthunter begins to wear thin rapidly. As with Primal and many other releases, today it’s the basics that are poorly-implemented.

Gamestyle will begin its critique with the camera, which has been improved somewhat since the ECTS demo we’d played previously; however it is still very erratic and headache-inducing. At times, the camera doesn’t know which angle or position to take up – often veering too close to Lazarus, giving an almost first-person view. The facility to override such devious tracking is welcome, but only serves to highlight just how much (manual) salvaging is required. The problems continue apace with the control system, which is convoluted and extremely taxing – especially during confrontations. Add together the annoyance factor of controls and camera, and Gamestyle soon pines for Primal. While the levels are gloriously detailed, the route through each is the perfect depiction of linear. An example of this is the “buddy” dynamic – otherwise known as Astral – which can only be activated at predetermined points (as opposed to Soul Reaver, for example, which uses the same principle to populate two worlds). This makes for a predictable journey that fails to push the player in all but one direction.

Every so often Lazarus will reach a dead end that requires some form of action to resolve. Bizarrely, there are no real clues to each solution; the only practical way of overcoming obstacles is by calling up your gun-sights and scanning the environment (effectively looking for something that turns the sight red). SCEE Cambridge has tried to develop a more elaborate combat system than the one used in Primal, which only required a lock-on function and hit button. The move has not been successful. The difficulty not only lies in switching weapons (shoulder button and analogue stick) but in defeating the various types of ghosts – albeit some of which are exquisitely-designed. A stealth element too has been tragically realised; while Lazarus appears comfortable with slinking beside walls, most weaponry (such as the sniper rifle) requires a first-person view to be activated.

Unfortunately, this action is rendered useless, as Lazarus cannot move whilst in it – therefore, to make a shot the Ghosthunter has to expose himself to fire. With all of these elements in play, Ghosthunter can be testing even at the best of times. The limited availability of health and ghost ammunition pick-ups, combined with continent-spanning checkpoints, makes for a troubling game. The Achilles heel comes in the form of ‘transparent’ ghostly AI, which allows Lazarus to back off to a safe distance (or height) before picking off each hapless foe. Alternatively, where the game excels is through the utilisation of the Dolby Pro-Logic II soundtrack, which creates a disturbing atmosphere in perfect partnership with events on screen. Sound effects, chilling voices and passable voice-acting builds upon an engaging tale that is fraught with an air of tension.

Regardless of the strong visuals and design, Ghosthunter only feels like a half-hearted attempt, and a flawed one at that. If only SCEE Cambridge could harness a playable concept alongside its customary technical flair, then we’d have something rather special. A ‘spooky’ thought.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex

Gamestyle Archive intro: we’re back in November 2001 with a hugely popular character from the original PlayStation platform. Maybe I’m just out of touch with gaming nowadays but whatever happened to Crash? Writer JJ.

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Being with Gamestyle does have its advantages, not only do you meet some great people, go places and play games, it also provides an opportunity to experience new things. When Dean first asked me to review Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex, I thought I was in his bad books and that this was some sort of divine punishment for my previous sins. I was not looking forward to experiencing the latest Crash Bandicoot adventure and visions of console rage were foremost in my mind.

Never judge a game by its history or characters or you will be making the same mistake and miss out on something different, then again… Crash Bandicoot was one of the biggest worldwide successes on the Playstation by taking the elements that made Mario and Sonic so popular, then adding its own identity. Sequels and spin-offs soon followed while his popularity remained high. While the original creators of Crash (Naughty Dog) have moved onto something new with Jak & Daxter leaving Travellers Tales to do the honours, Crash remains and in a bizarre twist of fate his new adventure arrives just before his replacement is exposed to the world. Both look suitably impressive and come complete with slick presentation but given even the marketing muscle behind Jax & Daxter, Crash may prove to be more popular.

The story begins sees the return of Dr Neo Cortex and his ultimate weapon, this time determined to defeat Crash and spread his evil everywhere. Of course, Crash as usual is the thorn in his side, the nemesis that must be destroyed. In order to achieve this Dr Cortex awakens the Elementals, the natural power sources for earth, air, water and fire – sounds like some dodgy 70s prog-rock band. Crash must battle against each of these elements in a series of levels (over 25 in total with 5 boss levels) and at the end of each one; collect a certain item i.e. crystal before facing Dr Cortex and his ultimate weapon in the final battle. If all that sounds familiar then you’ll be glad to know that the same applies to the game itself. Given the task of continuing the success of Crash, the new developer has quite rightly followed the same formula as before.

Any fan of the series will not be disappointed as the basic objectives remain the same, reach the end, obtaining as many icons as possible and avoiding dangers such as TNT or ferocious creatures. The game features a large number of levels for you to explore, each adopting a variety of styles which was initially impressive but then given their short nature and ease of completion, fade away into obscurity. Once complete you rarely go back as there are no alternate routes or secret areas to be revealed. Levels can vary from traditional platformers where you are jumping over obstacles and destroying enemies by landing on their heads to Super Monkey Ball styled escapades to flying through the air, gunning down targets.

The adventure takes you across the world varying from the Wild West to the jungles of Africa, facing tsunami waves, tornados and stampeding herds of animals to mention but a few. Crash is now very much multi-skilled as in this latest adventure he takes control of aeroplanes, vehicles and a variety of weaponry in pursuit of his objective. The graphics shown in the game are some of the sweetest seen yet, full of detail and displayed at such a high resolution. The whole feel of the game is of a cartoon and the visuals enforce this without having to resort to cell shading. Effects such as lighting and water have been implemented and show off what the Playstation 2 can produce.

Playing the game for the first time reminded me of when I first experienced Sonic Adventure, very impressive and slick. On screen there is plenty of activity to keep you amused but a distinct lack of creativity and originality. These are things that even the greatest graphics in the world cannot disguise because after the initial levels, the graphical impact wanes, exposing the shallow game that is Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex. For the first time you also have the opportunity to play as Crash’s sister Coco that provides a welcome change of pace from the usually frantic, full-on approach of her brother. Yet given this and new touches such as Super Monkey Ball rip-offs the game lacks any new dimensions to attract new fans to the series.

This is, at heart, a straightforward 128bit version of the Psone titles that will annoy those as before and entertain the younger generation. Apart from the lack of creativity the game contains many frustrating elements that brought this reviewer to his knees. I will admit I loathe platform games but some the precision jumps necessary here shed Turok in a whole new light. The game is overall easy given the market that it is aimed at but on certain levels this is forgotten as you have to repeat the same jump, over and over again until you land it. Camera angles in the game are prefixed and this would be bearable if the camera was well implemented. On many levels you form the belief that the camera is just a touch slow and soon even paths become precarious. Annoyingly the game also includes levels where you have to run towards the camera, not knowing what lies ahead, fun in brief spurts but not for whole levels.

Crash Bandicoot The Wrath of Cortex is a game for the younger generation and an ideal Christmas present for someone who falls into that category. For the rest of us, there is nothing new or original here other than the graphical enhancements that are just eye candy.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

The Bouncer

Gamestyle Archive intro: a visually stunning game the Bouncer promised so much and well, no one is talking about it these days. Writer JJ, published June 2001.

VERSION: Pal PS2

DEVELOPER: Squaresoft
PUBLISHER:  Sony
GENRE: Fighting Adventure
ACCESSORIES: Dolby Digital.
PLAYERS: 1-4
RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: http://www.scee.com/thebouncer/
PRESENTATION: 7
GRAPHICS: 8
SOUND: 6
GAMEPLAY: 1
LASTABILITY: 1 

 thebouncer

Well it’s taken its time to reach our shores and word of mouth certainly has preceded its release in Europe.   The Bouncer is perhaps the most graphically stunning game available for the PS2 – until Final Fantasy X is released later this month.   Yet while Square have pulled out all the stops with their usual high quality presentation, designs and graphical treats they’ve overlooked the most fundamental aspect of any game.   No matter how great it looks, if it plays like a dog, no amount of eye candy is going to save it and oh boy, does it play like an old worn out mongrel!

Square has tried to tag this game as an interactive movie, due no doubt to the amount of video footage that is included and the story, which unfolds.   The plot revolves around the tiny and perfectly formed Dominique Cross who is taken by the sinister Mikado Group.   She is the missing key in a major solar power project which if successful will supply the whole world with power.   That of course equals power to the CEO of Mikado, Dauragon C. Mikado.   Three bouncers from the bar Fate where Dominique works decide to rescue her from the Mikado Building.  Normally three unarmed guys against a whole corporation of men, robots and weaponry wouldn’t stand a chance yet these three are a unique bunch.   Kou Leifoh is the joker of the bunch with some interesting connections and a bad choice in tattoos.   Sion Barzahd is the quiet reserved member of the trio but is fortunately Dominique’s boyfriend, lucky sod.   Finally Volt Krueger, the tough one, is very mysterious and has a history with the fantastic Echidna.   Whichever character you select you will find out their background and secrets while trying to rescue Dominique and stop Mikado.   Of course to see all the different side stories you’ll need to play the game three times.

The fighting itself is very much three dimensional with some wonderful backgrounds but no interaction is offered.   No matter which character you select, your two buddies will be onscreen with you throughout trying to help.   During the fighting I felt no sense of urgency, panic or involvement and this is because of a variety of reasons.   The PS2 can only put 4-5 baddies on screen against you at any one time.  The fighting is one paced throughout and you never feel in danger or under pressure.   Your opponents are so predictable and easily beaten that I could perform the same move over and over again while reading a magazine and complete the section!   Bosses are also easily defeated which makes you wonder how Echidna managed to beat Volt in the first place.   Occasionally the odd challenging section may arise forcing you to think very hard and push those gaming skills to new extremes.  For instance a corridor of automatic doors closing and you need to reach the other end of the corridor before they trap you.   The solution is fairly easy, just push forward on the analogue stick but watch out for the odd crate put in your path!   An insult to anyone who stumped up £40 for this expecting something new.   The more successful you are in the fighting sections the more Bouncer Points you will receive.  This is very much based on the experience points that Square uses in Final Fantasy but here you can spend them and improve health, power and defensive levels or purchase more powerful attacks.   Once you have acquired one of the more lethal combinations you won’t need to use another move.

The story is good and the voice acting is passable throughout but the whole structure and style of gameplay is very much of an afterthought.   The pattern will become increasingly familiar to anyone playing The Bouncer.   A nice bit of FMV, select your character, fight (anything from 30 seconds to 3 minutes), brief FMV, collect your Bouncer points, spend them, save, confirm save then onto the next section.   Most of the time you’ll spend watching the FMV or navigating the menus rather than actually fighting.  These delays as also seen in Red Faction reduce the level of interest and snap any concentration you once had.  The game camera can prove difficult at times especially in the sections that involve running around the Mikado building – it is too near your character resulting in a limited field of vision.   Also during these running sections you’ll notice how bad the animation is and how everyone runs exactly the same – as if they were on ice.  Gamestyle hopes that the animation department get their act together for Final Fantasy X fast.

The Bouncer takes advantage of the pressure sensitive buttons on the PS2 Dual Shock Controller.  If you tap a button your character will perform a weak attack, while a firm press will result in a stronger attack.   I’ve always felt that when most people fight they punch to the hardest of their abilities, weak attacks?  Don’t think so.   You can see the point of Sony introducing such a feature for racing or puzzle games but a beat ‘em up?

The Bouncer will only take around 90 minutes to complete and as your characters get stronger, this will continue to come down.   As mentioned previously you can play it again to experience the story from another viewpoint but the differences are minor at best.  You may play it again to open up new moves and characters that you can select in the multiplayer option but really do you want to?   If you want four player beat ‘em up action try Powerstone on the Dreamcast, its far more superior.

One of the reasons why I wanted to play The Bouncer was that it is the first PS2 title to make use of the optical output i.e. Dolby Digital.  So how good was the sound?  Firstly we we’re not using some tiny out of the box solution but a fully-fledged home cinema set up.   The Dolby Digital sound is only offered during certain FMV sequences while others are in standard stereo.  The sound during these moments is excellent if a little bit shallow and lacking the depth and dynamic sounds of the latest blockbuster.   If anything it detracted my enjoyment from the sequences that did not support Dolby Digital and the fighting sections.   As you expect from Square the presentation and soundtrack are excellent but jumping from stereo to Dolby Digital and back again isn’t good.   It’s a nice attempt but really the whole game should have offered the 5.1 mix for those of us who could use it however it does hint at the possibilities offered by this format.   This aspect is very indicative of The Bouncer, a missed opportunity from start to finish.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

WDL Thundertanks

Gamestyle Archive intro: one of the better 3do titles receiving 4/10. The publisher was all over the PS2 launch. Writer JJ, published March 2001.

VERSION: PS2
DEVELOPER: 3DO
PUBLISHER:  3DO
GENRE:
ACCESSORIES:
PLAYERS: 1-4
RELEASE: Out Now
LINK: www.3do.com

PRESENTATION: 3
GRAPHICS: 4
SOUND: 2
GAMEPLAY: 5
LASTABILITY: 5 

3do

Society doesn’t look kindly upon destruction, violence and carnage, which is what makes videogames such great escapism.   World Destruction League Thundertanks doesn’t hide what its about – instead it embraces and glorifies it.   You and you vehicle of choice must destroy ever opponent on your way to winning the league, which of course is live on television.

If you have ever played any of the Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 or previous 3DO instalments on the N64 you’ll know what Thundertanks is all about.   Arenas are scattered across the world and you must blast your way through any opponent or drone that gets in your way.   Although spread across the world apart from the odd local building i.e. Japan, you will be hard pushed to spot the differences between the continents.   The layouts lack variety, for instance the arenas are always set on a square layout with bases in each corner.   Add an open area in the middle and maze like corridors in between and you have your arenas for this game.   Poor design is an understatement but at least you have several modes to select from: tournament, death match, capture the flag, family, domination and frenzy.

You have a wide selection of tanks and clichéd drivers to choose from, a shame that you couldn’t customise the vehicles in some way.   Each one carries a unique type of weapon and will offer different levels of speed, armour etc.   It’s a bit hit and miss in the beginning but eventually you will find a tank suitable to your own style.   It would have been a simple idea to include the ratings of each vehicle on the selection screen but this is indicative of the poor presentation throughout.   The power ups that you can collect on the arena floor range from the mundane (grenades, health, mines) to the more exciting (air strikes, homing missiles, nuke) weapons of destruction.   Sometimes the gung ho approach doesn’t work and you are best saving the best weaponry for moments when needed.

The whole presentation of WDL is similar of that to the popular American Wrestling Federations that dominate Sky Sports on most evenings.   The commentaries are very loud and grass; full of those one-liners, which really make you wince in pain.  Thankfully we have the option such over the top commentary off.   The whole style will either delight, more likely younger gamers or wrestling fans, or make you want to reach for the eject button.   The menus are very static and boring, without music and took me back to the days of the Megadrive, sorry poor Megadrive games.   The sound is similarly weak when it does appear; it is often in varies in quality and volume level.   While the commentary is very poor it is relevant to what is happening and is well recorded.   The crowd noises and tank introductions are very poor, badly recorded and sounding like a badly sampled mono recording from your dads eight track machine.

The graphics are at a high resolution and the frame rate is constant and very quick with only a marginal slow down on the multiplayer modes.   The lighting effects are also very good but this seems to be an area where PS2 excels in.   What Thundertanks doesn’t do so well is offer a variety of textures, everything is similar, bland and very boring.   Your tank suffers from the same problem that blighted Sega Rally 2, your tanks tend to hover above the surface.   The default camera can be a problem as it is too near your vehicle, often limiting your field of vision.   Instead the aerial camera is far more effective, showing the more of the arena floor but it does reduce the game to a 2D battle tank game – a bit pointless if you’ve got a 128-bit machine.   The control system is difficult to begin with as it utilises both analogue sticks and initially you will struggle to drive over the power ups.   After some practice you will be able to drive in while direction while pointing the turret in another.

The single player mode is instantly forgettable but where Thundertanks comes alive is when your mates come round.   While offering nothing new the multiplayer mode is fast, frenzied and great fun.  Without this, WDL Thundertanks would be a very poor game indeed.   Still as there are few decent four player games currently on the PS2 you may want to consider picking this up solely for that reason.   Several of the 3DO games are on special at many retailers so shop around and pick up a bargain!

Gamestyle Score: 4/10

Silpheed: The Lost Planet

Gamestyle Archive intro: the popularity of shooters continued in Japan long after key formats like the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast had ended their lifespans. In fact the DC continued to play host to such titles for many years to come. The PS2 had to get in on the act with this title from May 2001 and the review by JJ.

VERSION: Pal

DEVELOPER: Game Art/Treasure

PUBLISHER:  Swing Entertainment

GENRE: Arcade shooter

ACCESSORIES: Memory

PLAYERS: 1

RELEASE: Out Now

LINK: http://www.workingdesigns.com/games/playstation2/silpheed-tlp/

slipheed

PRESENTATION: 5
GRAPHICS: 4
SOUND: 4
GAMEPLAY: 4
LASTABILITY: 3

 

Remember the days of going down the arcade and emptying your savings and life into those glorious scrolling shooters?   Certainly it’s one that the lads at Gamestyle all remember fondly, moments of triumphs and the lows of poor performance.   It’s a memory that never fades and a genre that never dies or unfortunately ever develops.   Of course there has been the odd exception in recent years, yet Silpheed The Lost Planet on the PS2 does nothing to push the boundaries of what has gone before.

It’s the future and Earth is under threat from a swarm of vicious monsters, a combination of metal and flesh – you are our only hope.   They’ve rampaged through the galaxy destroying the planet of Solont in 1800 seconds and nothing has managed to halt their progress.   Now only you and the top secret Silpheed craft can prevent the total destruction of earth.  No problem then.

If you’ve played any such games as Radiant Silvergun, Giga Wing, Gradius, R-Type or other similar titles you’ll know the score with Silpheed The Lost Planet.   Just like a modern equivalent such as Quake 3, you need to blast anything that moves and keep moving at all times.   No need to worry about your ammunition just keep pressing that button, rapidly all the time.   If you love this type of game then Silpheed is for you, if not, please avoid.

The introduction sequences set the story (what there is of it) and capture the mood very well, some of the FMV is quite stunning at times especially the destruction of Solont.  The voice acting isn’t bad either.   Perhaps it builds up your expectations too much because when the game itself commences you soon realise that, yes, you’ve seen it all before.   Overall the presentation is good if a little sparse and the lack of options and configurations available is very disappointing.   The game only makes use of one analogue stick and three buttons but really you can get away with hammering the same one all the time.   The ability to select a different weapon for each wing is novel and throughout the game you will have the option to change, often during refuelling.   At times the correct selection is crucial but more often than not the biggest, most powerful weapon repeated on both wings is ideal.

The PS2 handles this game very easily, at times the screen can be full of enemies but I could not help but feel more enemies and more destructible scenery should have been included.   Some buildings you will need to avoid as they will inflict damage but this does not apply to everything – very annoying.   While other games such as Radiant Silvergun offer more enemies and superior designed foes and attacks, the lighting effects on offer here are superb.   In fact I would suggest that they concentrate on the fundamentals more than the eye candy but its nice all the same.   It is probably the only graphical enhancement that reminds you this is running on a 128bit machine.   Some of the backgrounds are nice but suffer from the PS2 rough edges effect we’re becoming accustomed to.   Silpheed at times tends to slow down to a snails pace not because of slow-down but sections with few enemies and your craft flying at a minimal speed.   This is one of several bad design elements that really spoiled my enjoyment of Silpheed.  The game is very much on the rails; you have little control or direction, even something as simple as an alternate route would have be welcome.   Enemies will often attack from behind your craft yet some of the bosses are so large and therefore you need to dodge constantly while not firing because you can only fire forward!   The jury is still out on whether by continuing you should start from the point where you died or back to the beginning of the level – which Silpheed employs.

As with most games of this type the difficulty level may be too high for some, only normal and hard are on offer, no easy or are you joking? settings for PS2 owners.  Even with the difficulty set high the game will not last more than a few hours.   The replay value here is nil, as mentioned previously no alternate routes, secrets to uncover or rewards for reaching a certain points target.   Once you have collected all the weaponry on offer that is it and there is no two-player mode that must be considered as a standard requirement with games of this ilk.

Most Treasure fans will know that the involvement of the company here is minimal and it must be considered as a warm-up, practice run for the PS2.  Once Freak Out is released we’ll then have their first true PS2 title however even with this in mind I am still disappointed that more could not have been done.   I hate to say it but as a rental, quick thrill, on your own game, Silpheed is enjoyable even only for a few hours.   For anyone who is looking for more or the first true next gen title of this genre, forget it.

Gamestyle Score: 4/10