Monthly Archives: July 2010

Vintage Review: Fatal Racing

I’m not a huge fan of racing games generally, but back in the day there was one game that I absolutely loved. It was called Fatal Racing (Americans might remember it as Whiplash) and it was just epic.

I remember the first time I played it, I was like speeding around the first track thinking “oh okay. It’s nothing special except that you can try to smack the other cars to death.” Then the second track came along, and it was starting to get crazy with lots of dips, banks and uneven terrain, and I was like “wow this is pretty gnarly!” Bear in mind, that this was the 90’s and most racing games at the time had pretty much flat tracks.

Then came a track called the Tsunami Twister, and racing games would never be the same again! Basically, you would hit an angled ramp, fly over a gap and then barrel roll 360 degrees in the air before landing on the other side. I’ve never even imagined that kind of racing game up until this.

The Tsunami Twister, just one of the many whacky stunts in Fatal Racing.

Later on, there were tracks with loop to loops, corkscrews, and lots of gaps and jumps to knock rivals off. And if I thought the default tracks were crazy, then I was totally unprepared when I completed the game the first time… and unlocked a whole new set of tracks. These new tracks were like extreme versions of the original tracks, with double corkscrews, and an inverted Tsunami Twister.

Check out the Tsunami Twister at 1:40

The game had a cars from different teams, and each team’s cars would not only have different stats, but their AI behaved noticeable differently from one another. Cars from certain teams would aggressively try to run you off the track, while others would concentrate on winning races. This went well with the gameplay, as there were two basic ways of winning a race: coming in first, or making sure that you were the only one who could finish the race. In a regular racing game, winning by destroying all the cars might be a rarity, but with all the crazy track designs (and the heavy damage you receive from falling over the edge of the track) it was entirely possible to do so in this game.

Bet you never thought you'd see this word in a racing game!

Another thing that was so awesome about this game was the ability to play splitscreen multiplayer. After all, this was before the Internet, so multiplayer was usually reserved for complicated null-modem cable setups and LAN (though we could never figure out the network play). But since you only needed four keys each (left/right/accelerate/brake), you and a friend can play off the same keyboard. And it was fun. You could play in the same team and block for each other, or try to destroy each other, or play in the same team but still try to destroy one another. I can only imagine that with more players it would be infinitely more awesome.

Just remember that this playable without a videocard, so excuse the graphics.

Oh, and there was a tournament mode so you and your friends can play a full tournament and rack up points. I can think of much worse ways to spend an afternoon!

One last thing: the soundtrack was pretty catchy too. You can listen to the music over at KH Insider. Now if I can only figure out a way to play this game again…


Red Dead Repetition

I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption lately. A bit late, yes, but I borrowed it off a friend after he was done with it. I wasn’t the biggest fan of GTA4, but all the reviews of Red Dead Redemption were pretty positive, so I figured why not give it a shot? Anyway, I don’t think I’m close to finish the game, but I’m pretty much done with it too.

Red Dead Redemption

After a while, I wanted to point that gun at my own head

You know how in TV shows like Supernatural, it’s episodic but there’s still some kinda over-arching storyline that each episode contributes a bit to? Like, in an episode the two brothers would fight some random demon and win, and then get rewarded with a clue to help them get to the big boss demon, right? Now imagine if there still was a major story arc, but every episode has nothing to do with it whatsoever. In fact, entire seasons go past where the major story is left untouched. This is the essence of Red Dead Redemption.

Here’s a standard section of RDR:

1) You meet a Quest-Giver. He says he can help you with information about your major quest, but you gotta do him a favor first.
2) You do him that favor, which is a boring-assed mission (most of the time).
3) You go back to him, and then he says he couldn’t dig up anything, but check back later and he might have more.

Repeat 9 times.

4) At the end of the 10th mission, he says “Sorry, dude. Can’t help you at all. But go see this other guy, and maybe he can help.”

You go see the other guy, and the vicious cycle starts again. If I wanted to put in a lot of effort to go nowhere, I’d have stayed at that magazine where the management Plays more than they Work. And the worst part is, you’re supposed to be a real bad-assed cowboy! Almost every single time, your character will threaten the NPC with violence if they don’t cough up the information, but he never does anything to them. He just gets used, and crawls back to them every time. Talk about Battered Cowboy Syndrome!

"You scratch my back, and I'll... probably just jerk you around for about 10 missions."

Now maybe this would work if the missions were particularly exciting, but mostly they’re not. The first two quest-giving NPCs were interesting, but after that you get really fucking pissed off that the story is not progressing along at all. You go to this town, you cross the border into Mexico, but ultimately you may as well have just planted your ass down because the plot goes nowhere. The NPCs (especially that old fuck in the screenshot above) are really, really annoying, cougars (the killer-cats, not the Courtney Cox variety) randomly pop out of nowhere to ambush you and kill your really expensive horse, and you have the swimming ability of Altair.

"What? Were you seriously expecting me to reveal something that drives the plot forward?"

Which is a real shame, because the gaming world is really awesome. The flora and fauna is awesome. Hunting animals is really cool and awesome, but because it’s so realistic I have a really hard time shooting deer because I feel guilty. One time I accidentally shot a raccoon, and I felt like loading a game because of the guilt. So I found myself mostly doing the side quests like the hunting and survival tasks, but even those get repetitive after a while (not to mention ridiculously hard).

So yeah. Red Dead Redemption. Fucking boring.

Two is Better than One! (Part 2)

Last week, we started our list of the 10 best videogame sequels that were actually more than just the original game slapped with new graphics and some new features. These were sequels that greatly expanded upon the original premise, and took things to the next level.

So without further adieu, here’s the second part of that list.

#5 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 was a pretty amazing game that took skateboarding and made it fun in a videogame. Before THPS came along, you could only skateboard in games like California Games, and that was pretty nasty! But THPS did it right, and it made virtual skateboarding fun. It even made a household name out of Tony Hawk, and re-popularized skateboarding for a new generation of kids.

But the skating in THPS was rather limited, and was centered around vert-skating (basically going up and down a half-pipe). The only way to get a good score in the game was to get massive air off a half-pipe and then either pull off a few flip tricks or a 720 grab trick… and that was only a small part of real skateboarding.

Street skating FTW!

THPS 2 had more tricks and bigger locations to skate in, but the key difference was the humble manual (basically a wheelie on a skateboard). By introducing the manual, tricks can now be chained together for larger combos. Now you can kickflip into a grind, flip out into a manual, and then head over to another railing for another grind to maximize those combos! Street-skating was finally a viable method to score in THPS 2, and to date no single addition to the THPS gameplay has had as big an impact as this tiny trick.

#4 – Halo 2
Halo was a huge hit for the original Xbox, and redefined what a console FPS should be. On top of the epic storyline with a great cast of aliens and allies, it also had an incredibly fun multiplayer mode that caught the attention of gamers everywhere and soon “Halo parties” were being thrown in geek households everywhere.

How do you top that? You deepen the storyline by including a sub-plot that reveals the story from the aliens’ point of view (and even includes missions where you play as a Covenant warrior), and throw in some John Woo action and allow some dual-wielding gunplay. But these are just small potatoes compared to the big new addition.

That's a handsome fellow

You see, the biggest impact would be the inclusion of Xbox Live-enabled multiplayer. While 16 player battles were supported in Halo 1, that meant connecting at least four TVs and four Xboxes together, and that’s just pretty damned inconvenient. 4-8 player matches were far more common, and that’s not quite a large enough match to get team games going. With Xbox Live support, you can now go online and whack 15 other players without needing to tweak your spine lugging TVs around. And that means multiplayer is taken to a whole new level, in a way that’s accessible to all.

Halo 2 was not only the most popular game on Xbox Live, but was a huge reason for Xbox Live’s success, and Internet-based console gaming in general has benefited from this classic game.

#3 – Street Fighter II
Most people think that Street Fighter 1 is a lot like Leisure Suit Larry 4, in the sense that it never existed and the game developers merely chose to skip one number. But while LSL 4 really didn’t exist, there actually was a Street Fighter 1 back in the late 80’s that just didn’t have the impact that its sequel would four years later.

SF1 really laid the foundations for SFII, with the familiar joystick and six attack button configuration. The now industry-standard joystick movements for the Hadouken and Shoryuken special moves were already present, and the best of 3 rounds format was in place, but the game was limited in the sense that you can only play as Ryu (or Ken if you’re challenging player one). There were the other opponents to defeat (including Sagat and a bunch of other faces that would reappear in the later sequels), but they weren’t playable so players could never really get acquainted to them.

Both Chun Li and Honda provide some upskirt action!

What did SFII do differently? It gave the player not just one but eight different characters to choose from, each with their own distinct special moves and fighting styles (well, except for Ken and Ryu, that is). It tightened up the fighting engine to be a bit faster and led to the first appearance of “combo attacks” (though they weren’t an intentional addition at the time). These seemingly minor changes made all the difference needed for the game, and SFII become a worldwide hit and brought fighting games to the forefront, with many derivatives spawning from the woodwork (some good, but most were horrendous).

#2 – Dune II
It was actually quite hard to decide which of the top two would be number one, but eventually I went with Dune II to take second place. The first Dune game was an adventure game that had players assume the role of Paul Atreides, going around the planet and befriending the local fremen. The second game, however, was completely different and bore little to no resemblence to the first game (probably because it was done by a different studio).

Grandfather of the modern RTS

Instead of being put into the role of House Atreides, players can now choose between three different Houses to control, each with their own unique set of units. Each mission would the player gather spice for money, and the money can be spent on building up a base or constructing new tanks and weapons of war. The interface was a simple mouse-driven affair, where you can quickly click on a unit and then click on where you want it to go or attack.

If it sounds a lot like a RTS, then it’s because it is. But this wasn’t just any other RTS, because Dune II was the RTS that defined the genre for decades to come. All the modern RTS conventions that we take for granted these days like base-building, resource gathering, fog of war, and faction-specific super weapons were all institutionalized in this ground-breaking game. Just as SFII championed the fighting game genre, Dune II championed the RTS genre, solely from the sequel’s merit.

#1 – Star Control II
Star Control was a pretty fun and colorful game, but it was little more than a prettier version of the ancient SpaceWar! game. Basically, two spaceships would duel in space, with a simple five button setup (turn left/right, thrust, main weapon and special weapon). You could choose between 14 different alien races, each with their own unique spacecraft that had differing speeds, firepower, and special abilities. It also had a simple strategic component, and the storyline (about a war between two factions in space) was mostly non-existent, except for some bio screens of the aliens and their spacecraft.

You can never get enough Syreen screenshots

Then two years later, the sequel came out, and it was a whole new game altogether. Instead of a simple combat game, it was now an epic adventure about a young human captain trying to liberate the entire galaxy from an evil alien armada. All of the storylines that were hinted at in the original came out in full force, and were fully fleshed out through a whole lot of interactions with the various alien species. And the interaction was great! You would zoom about the stars and meet all of these wild and whacky aliens, each with their own distinct personalities. And none of the aliens were cookie-cutter species either, as they all had their deep and varying histories and back stories, some that would be important for the upcoming war, and others are there just so you can immerse yourself into a living and breathing alternate universe.

The gameplay was highly open-ended, and you could zoom around where ever you pleased, and your actions could greatly influence what goes on during the war. In most games, when a major alien civilization is destroyed, it is a pre-scripted plot device and there’ll be little you can do to prevent it. In this game, if an alien civilization is destroyed, it will be due to your actions (or inaction), and not only will it gravely affect the balance of power in the galaxy, but you will probably miss them because they had such infectious personalities.

The dialogue and story in the game was the perfect balance between sci-fi drama and comedy, the combat was simple and addictive, and the aliens will endear themselves to you, long after you complete the game. This isn’t just a great sequel; this is a great game, period.

PS If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing this game, you can download an open-source version here.

Honorable mentions:
Resident Evil 2
Baldur’s Gate II
Eye of the Beholder II
Mortal Kombat II

Random Factoid:
Of the 10 sequels featured in this story, four used the numerical 2 in their titles, five used the roman II, and SimCity bucked the trend by jumping to 2000.

Conan the Musical!

If Hollywood can recycle old movies and sell the remakes as “re-imagined” new blockbusters, why can’t Broadway do the same thing, right? Here’s a snippet from the new Conan Musical. It’s awesome!

This comes from a site by these two guys Jon and Al, and they’ve got a ton of other musical renditions of movies and TV shows. Check it out! Just to convince you, here’s Fatal Attraction – The Musical!

%d bloggers like this: