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

Gamestyle Wikipedia Page

Thanks to Rogue Soul for the heads up on the Gamestyle Wikipedia page. This was a useful resource to track the history of the website and the team involved – especially the early days. Technically its gone from Wikipedia for whatever reason they want to quote (they’ve lost my pending donation)  and any future support.

However we do have the images of the page and I’ll copy the text beneath as well. That’s what an archive is all about.

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Gamestyle is a UK-based independent computer and video gaming website that was launched in 1999 by Dean Swain, under the name Dreamers128.

Gamestyle covers video game software reviews, previews, news, and other information. After starting out on its own, Gamestyle was linked with a small American media network called FanGen. Later, Gamestyle broke free of FanGen and merged with fellow independent site GameHub.

To date, Gamestyle remains independently operated.

History

Launched in 1999 by Dean Swain, the site focused exclusively on Dreamcast games, under the guise Dreamers128. Approximately a month after launch, the site rebranded to Gamestyle.co.uk, became a multi-format site, and began to cover all console systems – though coverage of other consoles was restricted to previews alone.

With sites of this stature somewhat of a rarity, Gamestyle was quickly tied to a small American media network named FanGen who covered running costs of the website. Under FanGen, Gamestyle turned to become a more humorous, ‘punky’ website which displayed images of semi-nude women on the front page.

The FanGen link remained until Gamestyle merged with another UK independent, GameHub. This merger saw an increase in visitors to the site, due to the popularity of GameHub. With each newer build of the website, Gamestyle progressively lost its attitude and tamed the humour in written articles.

To date, the site runs primarily on gamestyle.com and is now funded by Dean Swain, Dave Carlson, Matthew Cox and Jason Julier.

Main site

Gamestyle’s main page displays the latest news, reviews, previews, and links to areas for the following platforms: Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Visiting each console section shows a list of the latest articles, the most popular games on that console, and an index method for users to track down games of interest as quickly as possible.

The new version of Gamestyle launched on 11 April 2010. The main page was launched a few days earlier but the final release updated the review and preview hubs, allowing further searches and the highlighting of top scoring articles and random pieces from the archives.

Reviews and rating system

Gamestyle has a strict review policy and they themselves believe their reviews to be trustworthy and unbiased, granting a fair review score. While none of the writing team are professionals, Gamestyle delivers new content daily on weekdays and also at weekends.

Though in articles, Gamestyle refers itself in third person, staff writers are also credited. Reviews are also listed on GameRankings,[2] Metacritic,[3] Rotten Tomatoes,[4] andMobyGames.

Their reviews were considered highly enough to be included alongside IGN and Electronic Gaming Monthly on Nintendo‘s UK marketing print campaign for Metroid Prime. These adverts were printed in numerous gaming magazines, on advertising hoardings across UK towns and cities and also online.[citation needed]

Developments

Gamestyle is constantly looking to evolve and improve the site. In March 2007 a new feature was launched that connected any posted news story, with a related topic in the forum. This allowed users to discuss events and offer opinions on breaking news in the world of videogames.

2008 version

January 2 saw the launch of the latest version of the Gamestyle site. Then new modern, white look was a dramatic change from its predecessor.

Blog

On June 22, 2008 Gamestyle introduced its own blog. The aim of this extension was to attract new regulars to the site and provide an outlet for the whole team to provide extra comments on their reviews or gaming news. The blog is an open forum for staff members to post about anything from films to their latest review.

2010 Version

Arguably the best version of Gamestyle so far. The 2010 edition incorporated comment functions for the first time in years, allowing users of Facebook & Twitter to give their opinions on articles.

2010 Upgrade

As of 1 November 2010, Gamestyle started coverage of mobile phone releases with Fruit Ninja being the first review. This date also marked its arrival on the Opera portal. The front end and forum were matched under the same banner design, allowing greater ease of navigation.

Retro Gamer Magazine Website Of The Month

In issue 60 of the popular Retro Gamer magazine, Gamestyle received their website of the month award.

“Gamestyle has been around now for a staggering ten years and remains one of the most entertaining non-corporate gaming websites around. Featuring a thriving community, Gamestyle prides itself on its well-written and non-biased reviews and covers everything from the latest 360 and PS3 releases to the classics like Metroid and Football Manager.

Indeed, one of Gamestyle’s greatest strengths is that it’s able to offer something for everyone and as a result is a true gamer’s website, with polite and enthusiastic forum members and a small core team of talented writers. Oh and if you fancy a giggle then look for the Project Zero/Fatal Frame review in their massive archive.”

2012 Hack and Rebuild

In 2012 Gamestyle was the victim of an attack and had to rebuild from the very bottom again. Despite losing everything, the current team has pushed on to keep the Gamestyle name running. The focus has shifted somewhat with more reviews based around ‘Indie’ titles and has seen the site build up a solid relationship with indie developers over the months. The team is much smaller now, but by no means any less dedicated.

The reviews are still coming and the site has undergone another redesign.

2013 Back To Social Media

In 2013 Gamestyle decided to get back into the social media space. The Facebook page has become active again along with our Twitter account. All articles will be found on both and the team encourage users to interact.

Gamestyle Offline

Gamestyle also creates and hosts a downloadable PDF magazine. Now published on an infrequent basis, Gamestyle Offline[5] is intended for the visitor to print their own copy for ‘on-the-go’. Gamestyle maintains that download figures of each issue are promising, and are known to have worked with video game publishers such as Vivendi Universal to create special editions.

At the close of 2006 there are eleven issues of the magazine, three of which are special editions. Each issue contained content that one may not typically find on the main site, such as interviews with developers and features on specific subjects. Gamestyle has been known to publish reviews of various titles in Gamestyle Offline, before publishing them online, as a selling point of the PDF magazine.

As of January 9, 2008, Gamestyle began a five-part series called ‘Gamestyle Offline: The Missing Issue’. This brought together the five remaining unpublished features that were intended for Issue 10 which was put together at the end of 2005 with the intention of releasing a new issue in early 2006. Number 10 was meant to represent a new start for the series, with a new look and a new issue editor but unfortunately the project never saw the light of day.

Gamestyle Live podcast

The spirit of the Offline magazine has been carried onto a new format, the podcast. The show covers all the latest news, site developments, reviews, releases and some opinions. It is available via the website or one can subscribe with iTunes.

Community

The Gamestyle forum now has over 1000 members, many who are regular visitors. While this number is smaller than other communities, it enables a more personal level of interaction between members, many of whom take part in meet ups to share their love of video games.

Staff

Owner: Dean Swain

Development: Matthew Cox (design) and Dave Carlson (implementation)

Editor: Jason Julier

PR Contact: Bradley Marsh

Writers: Bradley Marsh, Ben Gleisner-Cooke, Mark Ford, Gareth Chappell, Stef Snell, Adam Gulliver, Simon Farrow

Previous Staff: Andrew Revell, Andy Lucas, Anna Ghislaine, Colin Whiteside, Dan Gill, Daniel James, Gareth Chappell, Garry Webber, Gopinath Chandran, Hanley, Tom Knowles, Usman Zia, Richard Meerman, Drew Middlemas

Other previous staff writers for Gamestyle have gone onto further their career, include Garnett Lee of 1UP.com,[6] Ollie Barder of The Guardian and Darren Jones, retro editor ofgamesTM and Retro Gamer.

Webarchive: http://web.archive.org/web/20151218121356/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamestyle

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

Sega GT

Gamestyle Archive: now we’re into Xbox territory and we’re kicking off with an import review from Alex who joined us from Gamehub when they decided to thrown in with Gamestyle and take on the world. This NTSC review dates from 2002.

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Sega’s last attempt to knock Gran Turismo off the top of the realistic sim-based racers was an ambitious but ultimately flawed title on the Dreamcast a few years back. Despite superiour graphics and a much better structured game progression people just couldn’t deal with the atrocious handling and sluggish first few hours.

Fast forward to 2002 and it’s looking likely that Sega’s brand new racer will suffer the same fate, but this time it really does deserve to do a whole lot better. Up against the likes of Project Gotham and Rallisport, regardless of Sega GT actually being a better game than both of them, it’s unlikely to fly off the shelves mainly due to the reputation of the original Dreamcast version. As with the original, Sega GT 2002’s main career mode features 2 distinct series of races – the Official races (which make up the majority of the game, split into several tiers of 3 races each, with license tests between each level) and Event races featuring such treats as drag racing, circuit battles and races divided up into cars from the last 3 decades, all good stuff and there’s plenty to do.

Again, the path through the game is far more structured (without necessarily being more linear) than the likes of GT3 – you certainly won’t be driving the top-end cars within a few hours in this game – you really do need to be both careful with your cash and more importantly – a good driver. Cash won from races and events can be spent in the much improved garage area – this is (at last) a fully 3 dimensional portrayal of your garage, complete with your current car selection and any medals and prizes you might have won on the walls and the desks. Another neat feature is the ability to purchase items that don’t actually affect your cars – plants, badges, guitars and amplifiers are the first few goods you’ll be able to dot around your own garage and these are in addition to the free photographs you’re able to take of replays after each race that also get pinned up on the wall.

Parts for your car can be bought brand new or for the budget concious there’s also a second hand section where mufflers and tyres can be bought cheaper, although be aware that they won’t last quite as long as the new kit would. And that’s another area where Sega GT excels – damage. Not only can you damage your car (not visibly, sadly) during the races, which then has to be repaired out of your winnings, but you also need to watch out for expensive bolt-ons actually breaking and wearing out. You might well have a highly specification turbo kit installed but if it blows on the final lap and the engine overheats you’ll be in trouble. Far from being frustrating, this just adds another dimension to the garage section of the game which offers you the chance to keep on top of the repairs as and when you need to. The engine parts do make a considerable difference to how the car handles (and sounds) – buy nothing but horsepower and you’ll find the car a nightmare to drive, but play safe with some decent tyres and suspension and a little engine tuning will pay dividends in the long run, and for the record, this version handles much, much better than the Dreamcast version.

Elsewhere there’s a superb Chronicle mode which gives you classic cars and classic challenges to overcome (complete with the colours drained from the display) from the yesteryears era of racing with points win in each stage allowing you to improves parts of the car you selected. The quick battle and time attack do exactly what they say they do and thankfully multiplayer is equally smooth as the single player mode with no noticable lack of graphical detail. It’s far to say that in game, Sega GT looks absolutely wonderful with some superb, incredibly solid car models and excellent environment mapping and whilst the courses themselves aren’t exactly expertly designed in terms of actually being all that fun to race on they are graphically rich and chock full of trackside details and high polygon features – lighting is also top notch and the heat blur from the engines is convincing too and unique to this game.

Sadly it all looks a little bit low resolution and slightly blurry (much like Wreckless) but it moves at a constant 60 frames a second without ever dropping a single frame, even when all 6 cars are on screen and with the game running in anamorphic 16:9 mode. Sega GT’s standout feature however is the sound – whilst the in game and menu music is the usual MIDI-jazz nonsense we always tend to get in these games (you can use your own soundtracks, thankfully) the actual engine sounds are second to none, surpassing even those found in GT3 on the Playstation 2. The sounds are realistic, meaty and clearly definable from one car to the next, and in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound the experience is delightfully encompassing and most definately draws you further into the game.

The sheer number of little touches in the game only serve to highlight the amount of time and effort that went into creating the game, and whilst the loading times can get in the way a little bit (even between menu screens) we have no reservation in recommending Sega GT to anyone who has the ability to play US imports on their Xbox – it’s a superb, long lasting game and one that petrol-heads will no doubt enjoy from start to finish. This review formerly appeared on Gamehub.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Shadow of the Colossus

Gamestyle Archive Intro: a game that has grown over the years in stature. That’s Ico and the follow up which Usman reviews here with much praise. I’ll have to return to Colossus, after Ico I was expecting something else; such was the impact of the original. This review dates from late 2005 being an import version.

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Everyone remembers the pre-release hype surrounding the PS2 all those years ago, with buzzwords like ‘Emotion Engine’ ringing somewhat hollow for the first generation of games – well, all except for one: Ico. Its setting, graphical style and atmosphere made it more akin to a work of art than a game. In fact, it was one of those titles where Gamestyle would just stop playing to zoom out the camera and let out a long sigh (a reaction not dissimilar to gazing upon the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo or Da Vinci’s The Last Supper).

Shadow of the Colossus is no less breathtaking; if anything, it’s more so. Imagine taking your PS2 controller to the National Gallery and plugging it into any painting – because each scene and location is like a masterpiece come to life, thanks in no small part to the wonderful animation of your horse and the living architecture of temples, ruins and fortresses. And we haven’t even touched upon the Colossi – true giants that inhabit this landscape. Indeed, their appearance makes Shadow of the Colossus one of the most technically astounding games of this generation. It’s hard to describe the impact they have when you first lay eyes upon them; because it’s not just their overwhelming size, it’s their presence. So much so that when you carry out the main premise of the game (ie, to seek out and destroy these Colossi), each one feels like an epic conquest.

First you’ll stand in awe, just observing them in bewilderment, before realising that these creatures are coming towards you – sensing you’re a threat and driven to eliminate you before you do the same to them. It’s such an overpowering joy being so small, having to evade something so big and seemingly invincible, needing to hunt for their weaknesses; their Achilles heel. The strange thing is you’ll never feel like killing a Colossus out of desire, only out of compulsion (because you need to in order to progress). They come across as a greatly-endangered species, and each time one is taken down it feels like a sin. (And a little bit of Gamestyle’s heart crumbled with every creature’s defeat.) But therein lies Shadow’s strength. It’s essentially a game about riding though barren lands on horseback while fighting enormous bosses – that’s all, and there’s no denying that.

However, it achieves this in such an entrancing and delightful manner that it feels like more; a feeling that Gamestyle has yet to experience in any other game. In fact, Shadow of the Colossus breaks the mould, and calling it a ‘game’ feels like an insult. In fact, for the very first time, the ‘Emotion Engine’ could be justified – because that’s what makes Shadow special, its transparent yet subtle impact upon your senses. For instance, the soundtrack only plays in stereo, but it is so beautiful and captivating that it doesn’t need a surround mode.

The visual beauty, as has already been suggested, is a sight to behold even when viewed through a composite lens – and is actually quite a feat considering the ageing PS2 hardware. Further, in spite of the fact that it features a complimentary widescreen and progressive scan mode (in the NTSC version), Shadow of the Colossus’ normal display output manages to mock the whole hoo-ha about high definition gaming being essential for taking things to the next level, such is the subtle artistry.

For ten magical hours (which is roughly how long the game – er, ‘transformation’ – will last), it is an eye-opener as to what can be achieved with the interactive medium (well, apart from ultra-sharp resolutions of the same old thing). It manages to enlarge its scope from being something which entertains on a functional level to becoming something that emits enchantment and appreciation on a purely ’emotional’ level. Welcome to the next real dimension of the gaming world; welcome to Shadow of the Colossus.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

Top Spin

Gamestyle Archive Intro: the joys of tennis were for all, during a brief span of a couple of years on the PS2 and Xbox. Sega of course had their own excellent series as Gopinath explains in this review dating from September 2005.

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Can a game perceived as a Virtua Tennis rip-off on Xbox still do the business on Sony’s machine more than a year after the original was released? Gamestyle takes to the courts. Top Spin plays very similarly to Virtua Tennis, the least you’d expect from a tennis game these days.

The serves are played using the usual power bar – pressing one button to start the bar going and another to play the serve. You also have the choice of different strokes, backhands, forehands and lobs, and both serves and normal shots are complemented by a risk shot. Pressing the R1 button just before you take your shot or serve activates the risk mode, and you have to aim for the centre of a moving meter. Hit the middle and you’re rewarded with a devastating serve or shot – and the further from the middle you hit, the worse the serve/shot gets (with you sometimes hitting it straight out). The better you’re playing in the match, the slower the meter moves, so when you’re playing with confidence you’re more likely to gamble and win. It’s a nice touch to the standard formula but because there’s always the chance of you horribly messing up a shot, it’s unlikely that you’ll risk using the option often.

Away from the actual tennis, Top Spin has several modes of play, although most of them are standard Virtua Tennis fare. There are the usual exhibition and tournament modes, which can be customised to a large extent (so you can play however you want – including the splendid four-player option). The game’s depth is provided by career mode – another Virtua Tennis throwback – where you can create a player and compete in different tournaments around the world, improve your player’s abilities and earn some cash. Your player can be customised to a large degree, so you can create a very good representation of yourself if you have a photo or mirror nearby; an excellent addition to the PS2 version is EyeToy compatibility, so you can map your actual face onto the avatar. The customisation even goes as far as allowing you to choose which hand your player hits with, your style of play (power, precision etc.) or whether you prefer a one- or two-handed backhand.

At the start of the career mode, you have several options: you can choose to train with different coaches to improve various stats already bolstered by the mini-games (unfortunately, the developers didn’t study Virtua Tennis enough, as the mini-games aren’t in the same league – although they are entertaining the first few times); you can also play in several tournaments (which are limited at the beginning) and the better you do the more tournaments you can enter. To stand a chance, however, you have to spend quite a bit of time playing the training games to improve your player’s stats. Lastly, you can also try and bag yourself a sponsor (including real companies like Reebok and Adidas) who will provide you with cash (to pay for those expensive coaches) as well as fame and some nifty licensed equipment. Virtua Tennis… erm, Top Spin features a good variety of stadiums to play in – and includes all of the expected playing surfaces (which range from large courts like Wimbledon down to local courts next to your car parks).

Top Spin was the first Xbox tennis game to feature online play, and although it is very similar on the PS2 version, it lacks the great support of an online environment like Live! (however, this isn’t the developers’ fault). Since online PS2 tennis games are few and far between, this feature could well prove to be a great selling point for Top Spin, and fortunately it is implemented well; you can choose to look for a particular game or you can just join wherever someone’s free. Sony’s ageing hardware has taken its toll on Top Spin, leaving this conversion with decent graphics but not much else. A lot of the court textures look flat and the players are slightly angular (although it doesn’t detract from their life-like animation and appearance). Finally, the light sources don’t always correspond to the nice-looking shadows they cast.

The sounds are perfectly acceptable, with all of the usual grunts and groans, and a point of note is that the judge sounds very similar to the one featured in the Megadrive’s Pete Sampras ’96 (or perhaps we’re having flashbacks). The biggest problems with Top Spin are the incredibly bad loading times. It takes far too long to load up a match, considering how average the presentation is, and the transitions between menus are tedious. The developers have done a decent job, but not much more than establishing this as a good Virtua Tennis rip-off (with added online play and longer loading times). The best feature and probably the biggest selling point of Top Spin (at least over Virtua Tennis) is the online mode, so unless you plan on taking this online, grab a copy of the other title – the one which Gamestyle managed to mention eight times in the course of this flattering review.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

The Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Resident Evil Outbreak File #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamestyle Score: 5/10

Golden Age of Racing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamestyle Score: 5/10