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Hot action cop

October 7th, 2017

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Today’s review is of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2.

Featuring the origins of the phrase ‘road trousers’, and for some reason a world record number of links to other reviews of racing games on the site.

See you next time!

25 years of Championship Manager (and Football Manager)

October 1st, 2017

Written by: Rik

It’s been 25 years since the original Championship Manager came out. I didn’t remember this myself, of course, it was in The Guardian, along with this collection of stories from fans of the series. Despite never quite hitting the mad 20-season, multiple-Champions-League-winning heights of many hardcore players, I’ve certainly fallen victim to its time-sucking charms on numerous occasions over the years, so here are some memories of my own.


25 years of Championship Manager (and Football Manager) continued »

I hate you, Class 1 Drillers

September 29th, 2017

Written by: Stoo

Before we get into my nonsense, this week have some proper content from Rik, a review of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion! So go read that first.

Anyways in this occasional series I complain about getting my ass handed to me by the monsters and enemies in various games. Today’s entry is Descent, created by Parallax Software in 1995.

Some gamers class this one as a space-sim. It’s true that you pilot a little spacecraft, but I always thought it was better described as a first-person shooter. Or doom-clone, as we called them back then. The controls and action are much more like a shooter than a sim, except there’s no gravity and you have a full six degrees of motion. (move in three directions, rotate around three axes).

It was famous for being a bit disorienting. The freedom of movement meant gameplay stood out from other doom-clones, but it also made it harder to keep your bearings as you spun, pivoted and traversed to keep the enemy in your sights. Distinctions between walls, ceilings and floors often disappeared and it was common to be a bit confused as to how to get out of a chamber you only flew into 30 seconds ago.

The game is set in a series of mines across the solar system. In each one you must fight past hordes of robots, destroy a reactor and make a hasty exit. The game provided me with many hours intense action, hurtling through claustrophic tunnels and circle-strafing robots across huge caverns. Also, dying a lot.

Class 1 Driller

Image from mobygames.

Let’s talk about the Vulcan minigun for a second. It’s the game’s one and only hitscan weapon. That means, there’s zero time between firing and impact of the bullet on a surface or enemy. Every other weapon fires some sort of blob or energy pulse that takes some amount of time to travel impact. That may just be a second or two, but hitscan still gives an advantage, since you don’t have to lead a moving target in your crosshairs. That is, you can fire where the target is right now, not try and aim for where it will be in a moment’s time.

So the vulcan is an important part of your arsenal. Unfortunately, these little bastards have it too. It doesn’t help that being kind of small and grey, they can be hard to spot at a distance. Your first warning they are present could well be that characteristic shriek that means they’ve seen you and are about to open fire. Dive for cover immediately.


Medium Lifter

You’re making your way along some tunnel, thinking all is clear, when suddenly these horrendous things appear from a side passage and start chopping at you with huge metal claws. Oh and they screech at you like the drillers. The best way to handle the lifters is to put some distance between you and them. The entirely wrong and much more common way is to
1: panic
2: emit an un-manly crying noise
3: lose all mastery of the controls
4: throw yourself into the nearest wall and fire in random directions until dead.


Heavy Hulk

These ponderous, blocky machines don’t move much; they generally don’t need to. Insteady, they continuously launch homing missiles. Fighting the hulks is a matter of sliding in and out of cover, squeezing off brief bursts of fire then immediately hiding again before another missile smashes into you.


The big F&*!er

Mobygames again.

This enormous, cyclopean monstrosity is the boss found on level 7 (the end of the shareware portion of Descent). It has a similar profile to other missile-firing hulks but dwarfs them in size, and it gives off an unsettling rumbling noise.

It fires smart missiles, a variant on the homing theme. The missile itself doesn’t steer towards you, but on impact it launches a bunch of bright green energy bolts in your direction. If these hit you, you’re toast. While you’re avoiding these the BF can both cloak, and teleport. So by the time you’re ready to return fire, he’s behind you. And firing another missile.

I don’t know if it has any sort of official name other than “first boss”. My first encounter with it began with loading a savegame on a friend’s PC, that he had titled simply “the big fucker”. I think that’s quite appropriate.


Blowing the Reactor

This one too.

Okay this isn’t a specific enemy, so much a scenarion that occurs at the end of most levels. Upon destroying the reactor a countdown begins. You have somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds to find the exit, before the entire place blows up.

You did study the map beforehand, right? Even then the game is liable to lock doors, forcing you to find a new route. Moreenemies may also appear, blocking your path. Not to mention the entire place is shaking around you, adding to the sense of urgency.

It’s all pretty intense, setting the heart racing as you hurtle down tunnels. You don’t even really try to fight enemies properly, just haphazardly spray them with fire while trying to dodge around. The situation can easily descend into sheer panic if you take the wrong path, as the seconds tick down.

So the escape runs are something I came to both dread, and also appreciate as one of the signature features of the game.

Through faith, your afflictions are banished

September 24th, 2017

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

It’s been a bit quiet on the reviews front recently, but I’ve been quietly chugging my way through this one for a while.

Some 10 years after Stoo speculated that I might one day play an Elder Scrolls game, we have a look at The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

all available hands to the guns!

August 31st, 2017

Written by: Stoo

Homeworld and its sequel have been available on gog and steam for a couple of years now. Both games have been remastered and put together in a bundle that also includes their original versions.

Today I found myself idly wondering if Cataclysm was also available in some form. Turns out it appeared on gog back in June, under the new name Emergence. The “Cataclysm” trademark now belongs to Blizzard, who used it for a Warcraft expansion back in 2010.

I’m glad to see Cataclysm isn’t forgotten, since I always thought it was just as greatgame as the original. Using the same engine it’s very similar in many regards; it was regarded as more a standalone expansion than a true sequel. That’s why the next Homeworld, not this one, got a “2” in the title.

However Cataclysm very much establishes its own identity, with the underpinning concept of a rag-tag fleet put together by miners. Unlike the efficient professional military of the main games in the series, here you command a motley collection of converted industrial ships, purchased technology and improvised weapons.

So you get kamikaze fighters that disguise themselves as enemy ships, and insidious little drones that clamp onto enemy vessels and chew through the hull. The destroyer is ugly and boxy but brings three different weapon systems, ready for any battle. The most entertaining unit though is a frigate that rams into ships and shunts them through space, great for disrupting formations and putting enemy capital ships out of a fight for a minute.

Also rather than being a big static factory, here your mothership can move and shoot stufft. It’s not a match for a dedicated battlecruiser, and you’re screwed if you lose it, so you still have to be cautious with how you deploy it. Yet its increased utility plays into that idea of everyone having to get their hands dirty, in any ship that can fight.

Cataclysm hasn’t had the remastering treatment, since Gearbox can’t find the source code. I’m not sure that’s a terrible thing though. My attempt to play the remaster of HW1 was brought to a screeching halt by balancing issues (that early mission to save the cryo trays was far tougher than it used to be). Even without the any modern enhancements there’s still something particularly graceful about the graphics, with the fluid 3d motion of ships, flickering laser beams and missile trails against a backdrop of stars and nebulae.

So this still carries my recommendation, and it’s well worth $10 on gog.

PC Zone: an incomplete and subjective history, part 8

August 19th, 2017

Written by: Rik

It’s Part 8, and from the bright and breezy complacency of the mid-00s, we come to 2008: the era of Mock the Week and the global financial crisis.

Part 8: 2008-10 – The Bitter End

Just as I was getting used to the new Zone family (I blame the mildly disturbing Zone Christmas card from 2006 for that particular characterisation of the team) there was more change afoot. Jamie Sefton’s tenure as editor came to an end; Suzy Wallace pursued her love of racing sims by going to work for Blimey! Games (later Slightly Mad Studios) and serving as producer on games such as Need for Speed: Shift.

PC Zone: an incomplete and subjective history, part 8 continued »

PC Zone: an incomplete and subjective history, part 7

August 12th, 2017

Written by: Rik

We’re into the penultimate part of our history of PC Zone magazine. Having missed a significant chunk of it out (sorry), we rejoin Zone in the mid-late 00s.

Part 7: 2006-2007 – A Bright Future

Sadly, I can’t tell you much about Zone between 2003-2005. I never bought or read the magazine, and I can’t find any old scans online either. What I do know is that Dave Woods remained editor for a while before handing over to Jamie Sefton, first spotted in Zone towards the end of 2002. In 2004 Zone was acquired by Future Publishing, responsible for Zone’s long-time rival PC Gamer. It seemed only a matter of time before Future shut Zone down, but incredibly it kept going for another six years.

PC Zone: an incomplete and subjective history, part 7 continued »

PC Zone: an incomplete and subjective history, part 6

August 5th, 2017

Written by: Rik

We’re into part 6 of our history of PC Zone. Here are the previous instalments, if you haven’t read them already. This is the part where those looking forward to detailed coverage of the magazine during the early-mid 00s are likely to be disappointed.

Part 6: 2002-2005 – The Zone-less Years

I think I bought every single issue of PC Zone between mid-1998 and the end of the year 2000, and kept fairly up to date throughout 2001. In 2002 I downgraded from being a regular to an occasional reader, and then stopped buying it altogether. It was a gradual thing, really: I don’t have any feeling that anything in particular caused me to stop reading, except (as mentioned earlier) a slight feeling that the old Zone spirit wasn’t quite there anymore. That’s quite a vague and subjective statement: what is true is that virtually all of my favourite writers (apart from Steve Hill, and Paul Presley, who seemed to be appearing in the Zone pages more regularly again) had departed, and I guess the fairest way I can put it is that the 2002 me didn’t like the 2002 version of Zone as much as the teenage me liked the Zone of the 90s.

PC Zone: an incomplete and subjective history, part 6 continued »

construct additional pylons

July 27th, 2017

Written by: Stoo

If I were to pick my favourite realtime strategy game of the 90s than Homeworld wins by quite a wide margine, but Starcraft is up there in the top few. So I’ve been reading up on the remastered edition, due out on August 14th.

I think the aspect of Starcraft that particularly appeased was its range of three different armies, each with a different sort of sci-fi theme. The terrans are the most conventional, all about space marines, tanks and battleships. The Zerg are a swarm of horrific creatures, for little yappy bugs to big monsters, that claw at their foes, or spit spines and acid. The Protoss have sleeker, shinier war machines than the terrans, but in fact they’re so advanced they’ve gone full circle and use swords and magic powers too. Also big floating crystals, because that always says “magical technology”.

It does look a bit like warhammer40k sometimes but… there’s an old, well worn argument that I’d rather not revisit. It’s true that the Zerg look an awful lot like Tyranids. The Marines look like 40k marines too, but they at least talk more like guys from Alabama than heresy-chasing warrior monks. The plot is dark and ominous, but it’s not bleak at the level of 40k’s relentless grimdark.

For the Emperor you wanna piece of me, boy?

The game can be pretty intense due to the fast pace and the micromanagement involved, becoming at times a frantic exercise in plate-spinning. Apart from just moving your units around and attacking, you also have to manage the special powers that some of them posses. They have abilities like slowing down enemies, or shielding friends, that can only be used every few minutes. So you have to time these correctly, amidst all the chaos. Oh, and also don’t forget to pay attention to what’s going on back at base! Keep those build queues going.

That said, it’s really multiplayer that looks particularly-stressful, and I know myself well enough to have never seriously tried beyond a few LAN games. It was enormously successful though, and responsible (along with good support from Blizz) for the game’s great longevity. So clearly Blizzard did a lot right.

The single player campaign meanwhile is one step more relaxed. I made it through the Terran and Zerg missions fine, the former generally going by the subtle and cunning tactic known as “enormous formation of Siege tanks”. Set them up, watch stuff explode, hope to god the zerglings dont’ get close. I finally got stuck in the Protoss campaign when you find yourself fighting other Protoss. Those damn robot-woodlouse things kept demolishing my base. Then there’s the Brood War expansion, which I recall getting pretty tough in places.

The story is fairly standard “dark tide overwhelms civillisation” space-opera, although you do get to play as the dark tide itself. It’s helped along by a memorable cast of characters – represented as “hero” units in game. You’ve got reliable Jim Raynor, brooding Protoss templars and then Sarah Kerrigan and her awful fate. There are also some cutscenes that were rather spectacular at the time. While a bit plastic nowadays, they’ve aged better than a lot of 90s pre-rendered stuff.

Anyway, the remake offers sharper graphics, so you can enjoy seeing those battlecruisers and zerg ultralisks in greater detail. The promo site also says “comic book interludes tell the original story with a fresh coat of paint.” I wonder if those are replacing the original talking-head briefings, and\or the cutscenes. Just flicking through the list of other changes, cloud saves are moderately useful I suppose. Matchmaking and Leaderboards are features multiplayer fans will welcome.

Blizzard are also giving the original away for free, and I’m not sure if that’s good publicity for the remaster, or undermining it. You’re not getting much new beyond cosmetic ugprades, but on the other hand, £13 isn’t a lot either. I suspect plenty of fans will decide it’s a reasonable price to pay, and I’ll probably get it myself at some point.

Let’s Go 8 Bit

July 23rd, 2017

Written by: Rik

As the second series has just come to an end, I thought it might be worth sharing a few brief thoughts about Dara O’Briain’s Go 8 Bit. I haven’t watched a games-based TV programme since the early 90s heyday of GamesMaster and Games World, and though there have been a few since then, they haven’t quite had the mainstream heft of Go 8 Bit. When the show was first announced, I was excited about seeing it, and hoped it would be a success.

However, the prospect of a new TV show based around their favoured hobby seemed to arouse a wave of pre-emptive cynicism and negativity amongst gamers, with the common consensus being that television was itself outdated, and that such an endeavour was pointless when there was so much great gaming content on YouTube. And this was in the comments section of Eurogamer, the site to which Go 8 Bit’s co-presenter Ellie Gibson contributed for many years (which you might hope would earn you a little goodwill from readers).

As Ellie put it herself: “Some of the people in the production office – I was in the office when the story went up – some of the people in the production office who haven’t worked in game journalism were quite shocked. Not offended, but kind of mystified. Like, why is there all this hate? Why have people decided they don’t like it when they haven’t even seen a trailer? And I was like, welcome to video games!”

Go 8 Bit isn’t really aimed at the self-important hardcore, though, it’s a mainstream TV show for, er, people who like to watch mainstream TV shows. It takes an accessible, “games are for everyone” angle, of which I’m entirely in favour, although I must admit this position was sorely tested when they let Vernon Kay on the show (of course, his favourite game was Call of Duty – how dreadful!)

The format is a mixture of panel show and watching celebs play games. Line up regulars are the host Dara, team captains Steve McNeill and Sam Pamphilon (who originated the format) and the aforementioned Ms Gibson, who introduces each round. The two teams each welcome a celebrity guest and they face off against each other over four rounds of gaming action: a classic game, a favourite of each celebrity guest, an indie title, then a double points finale featuring some kind of novelty prop, costume or oversized controller. There are jokes, chat and gaming, and though there is a competitive moment or two, the importance of the final result isn’t taken much more seriously than it would be on any other comedy panel show.

Some challenges are more interesting to watch than others, and if one player happens to be particularly terrible at the game in question, it can get rather one-sided. Some of the celebrity guests have let themselves down on occasion, prompting the inevitable claims that some are bandwagon hopping fake gamers who have pretended to like games in order to get on a TV show. But, you know, people who like games can be bad at games. Particularly if they’re playing a particular one for the first time in years in front of a studio audience. (Also: just because the show is called Go 8 Bit, it doesn’t mean all the games have to be on 8-bit systems. It’s just the name if the show, right? They know what 8-bit is, it’s not a mistake you’ve spotted. Eight Out of Ten Cats doesn’t have any cats in it.)

It’s not perfect – as with many of these shows, not all of the pre-written autocue jokes land, and I’m not entirely sure about Ellie’s introductory monologues, either. I loved her writing on Eurogamer and wonder if she could be better served by joining in with the main action a bit more. Equally, the captains seem like they might have a bit more to offer, and they mainly have to act as a foil for their celebrity team-mates. (To an extent these criticisms are addressed by the companion DLC show, introduced at the beginning of the second series, which allows the three of them a bit more space to do their thing).

Still, I found myself looking forward to watching Go 8 Bit each week. It’s probably aimed at someone like me – I’ve heard of most of the games they play, except the indie ones (although one or two of those featured have piqued my interest), and might not be for everyone. But for the old timers who still watch television, I’d recommend checking it out, if you haven’t already.