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When I played…Wing Commander III

February 7th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Somehow we’ve been going 15 years, and without wanting veer too much into the area of excessive self-congratulation, we figured it’d be nice to mark the occasion somehow.

As regular readers will know, we’re not the most frequently updated of sites, and so any time spent looking back at, and/or rehashing, old content is time we could be spending on something new. We’d like any anniversary content to add to what’s on the site already.

To that end, I thought it might be worth trying something a little bit different, with a series of articles that do look back at some of the games covered in the early days, but without following the traditional review format.

When we first started, our mantra was to not look back at old games with dewy-eyed nostalgia, but these pieces will pretty much be doing exactly that. To varying extents, they’ll also tend to be less about the games and a bit more about the person writing about them (i.e. me).

Viewing games through personal and life experiences is not necessarily everyone’s preferred approach, but it is a valid one and can be interesting, I think. If you like series like Gaming Made Me on Rock Paper Shotgun and Digitiser 2000’s Games of My Years, you’ll have an idea of the kind of thing we’re aiming for.

It’s possible this series – which I’ve chosen to call “When I played…” – might not be to everyone’s tastes, but let’s see how it goes. If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, we’ll have plenty of new reviews of old games to come, too.

Anyway, here’s part 1 of 5, about Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger.

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When I played…Wing Commander III continued »

You have become a cult figure with the fans; they chant your name around the ground at every game

January 30th, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hello there!

Another review for you today, and what better way to complete a hat-trick of January reviews (groan) than with a football game?

Some time ago I had a look at a mid-00s version of Football Manager. But what ever became of Championship Manager? Here’s a look at the 2006 edition.

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As Stoo mentioned last time, it’s out 15 year anniversary, and we do have some special things planned (as well as some of the usual old rubbish). More on that soon.

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future

January 23rd, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone, today we have a rare review from myself. A little while back I wrote about lesser-known first-person shooters of the 90s; so here’s an obscure title from the following decade: Warhammer 40000: Fire Warrior.

Also if you’ve not read it already: last week Rik and I discussed the 2006 adventure game Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.

I’ve got a busy year ahead so not sure what my review output will look like. However, it is our 15th anniversary this year and I intend to have at least a couple of items to contribute to mark the occasion (a cause for much celebration in the world of gaming websites, I’m sure).

They say that every story has a beginning and an end, but sometimes the two are one and the same.

January 21st, 2016

Written by: Stoo

Hello all. Several years ago I wrote about the adventure game The Longest Journey. Today, in the latest of our series of discussion reviews, we look at the sequel, Dreamfall. The mid 2000s were a quiet period in the history of adventures, and many thought the traditional point and click-based approach was dead, so this is an interesting example of how some developers tried to vary the format.

Review of the year: 2015

January 3rd, 2016

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

So 2015 is over, and it’s time to once again take a look back at the year on FFG.

This time last year, my stated intentions were to try and fulfil some old and long standing requests and also to add something of note to the strategy section. We managed to do okay on the requests front, finally adding a write up of Doom (albeit one from my own slightly warped perspective as someone who didn’t care much for it at the time) and a discussion review of Another World. I also took a look at Tron 2.0 although it must be stated at this point that this was less of a request and more “something The J Man mentioned in passing more than 5 years ago.”

On the strategy front, I was less successful, although I promise I did try. Perhaps I’ll give it another go next year. Or maybe just leave this kind of thing to the experts in future.

We covered a few FPS titles this year, and in addition to the titles mentioned above, we also had a guest review of Serious Sam 2 and a discussion of the LucasArts shooter Outlaws. I’m tempted to return to the Wild West genre at some point next year. Reviews in the discussion format will also continue: we hope to have one for you later this month.

Elsewhere, Stoo returned to the origins of the Duke Nukem series, while I continued to fill the sports and racing sections with titles of variable quality. Future hover racers seemed to be a theme at one point: at least we managed to cover Wipeout after I finally made my peace with the shoddy PC version, and I also enjoyed revisiting some old 90s techno into the bargain. There was also, uh, an admission that I sort of supported Manchester United at one point.

Who knows what next year will bring. More of the same, in all likelihood. Although it is our 15 year anniversary. Perhaps it’s time for that Klingon Honor Guard review.

I fight for the users

December 28th, 2015

Written by: Rik

Hi there.

Hope you all had a good Christmas. Now, as we all know, Disney have recently brought us a new and much-awaited entry to a beloved sci-fi franchise. Unfortunately, I’m not sure any games based on Star Wars were ever released, so here’s a review of Tron 2.0.

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lesser-known first person shooters of the 90s

December 23rd, 2015

Written by: Stoo

A couple of weeks ago I talked about what I believe to be the finest of the early first-person shooters. Then Klingon Honour Guard was mentioned, inspiring me to jot down another article dedicated to some of the lesser known titles from those days. I’ve loosened the criteria slightly, to anything released before 2000. Some of these of them I’ve not actually played, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Exhumed, aka Powerslave

An evil mummy guards some floaty lifeblood things.

When the life-giver dies, all around is laid waste!


Some unknown force has summoned legions of undead and supernatural creatures from ancient Egyptian tombs, and you’re the solider sent in to defeat them. It’s a sound enough idea for a shooter, giving you the chance to machinegun shuffling mummies and jackal-headed warriors. The game didn’t have much of an impact though. After a few levels it quickly feels a bit samey, and lacks any real standout features like Quake’s fancy 3D engine or Duke’s humour. Also despite the name (in America) there is absolutely no Iron Maiden on the soundtrack.

 

Klingon Honour Guard

pic taken from mobygames.

pic taken from Mobygames.

Most star trek games give you control of starfleet officers, be they characters from the show or ones newly invented. That’s logical enough; various starfleet ship crews have been the protagonists of every incarnation of Trek. So casting you as an alien, even one of the most famous of Trek’s races, and barely even featuring humans or starfleet was an interesting move. Honour Guard didn’t seem to make a big impression on gamers (despite, as Rik points out, our favourite Mag PC Zone loving it), and was quickly forgotten. Probably didn’t help that Half Life came out very soon after.

 

Star Trek Generations

Image taken from mobygames.

Mobygames again

More Trek. If you lost track of the movies, Generations was the one with Kirk, Picard and Malcom Mcdowell, and a message about coming to terms with the passing of time. Also Data pushes Doctor Crusher off a boat, because he’s trying to understand lolz. This game is very obscure and I know little about it. The level geometry looks a bit basic for 1997, and I’m not keen on how the interface takes up half the screen. Interestingly though, it has some space-combat sections too, where you control the Enterprise. I wonder if it’s kind of like Final Unity (also from Microprose) with FPS segments instead of point and click adventuring.

 

CyClones

Mobygames again.

Mobygames again!

I dimly recall reading about this in PC Zone. I’d dismissed it as very generic-looking scifi and one of the less interesting Doom clones of the mid 90s. However, I’ve only just realised that it was developed by Raven, who went on to be one of the big names in First Person shooters. These are the guys who gave us Hexen, Jedi Knight 2 and the 2009 Wolfenstein. So I’m kind of interested to try this early effort. In later years they tended to use iD engines, indeed they already had at this point for Shadowcaster, but apparently they created their own tech for this game.

 

Wheel of Time

Trollocs are basically Wot's version of orcs.

I took this one myself, honest.

Robert Jordan’s sprawling series of fantasy novels doesn’t have the sort of gritty drama and widespread appeal that gets you a TV adaptations on HBO. What it did inspire was this Unreal-powered shooter, which sadly turned out a little disappointing. For one thing, while it uses the setting of the books there’s no mention of the events or characters, and it doesn’t really do much to develop its own story. Also the wide array of spells (attack, defense and utility) is novel but ultimately a bit clunky and confusing to use, more suited to an RPG than the frantic pace of a shooter.

This must be that Woodstock place Mom and Dad always talk about

December 7th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

A trailer is out for the forthcoming remastered version of Day of the Tentacle.

So the artwork has been redone in a style that looks very similar to that of the original, just higher-resolution. Not sure if it’s been redrawn from scratch, or just put through some filters. It looks like it could be made out of vectors, perhaps.

In any case, I have a nagging feeling the graphics have somehow lost some of their charm. Is this just nostalgia at work? Maybe the issue is, in those old days of slightly blocky-o-vision, there was room for your imagination to fill in gaps about that pokey rural motel and the off-beat characters we met. Now we see the game with a new level of clarity and it disappointingly adds nothing, revealing only flat colour.

Of course no-one was actually trying to create pixel art in 1993. That’s a modern fashion. Back then it was just art, done to the highest standard the technology allowed. So maybe this was the original intent? I’d like to think, though, that the artists would have included more detail if they could.

Or maybe the animation, which didn’t have a whole lot of frames to it, is the issue. This was a problem with with that Monkey Island remaster from a few years back; Guybrush’s 3-frame actions were fine in ye olde VGA but just looked cheap when done in higher-def artwork.

This sounds like nerd complaining, which is something I try not to over-do here. So I should say, it’s good just to be able to buy the game once again. Despite it being my favourite of the Lucasarts adventures, I somehow never owned a legit copy. Now I can get one on the convenience of digital distribution. Also the new artwork is optional, so it’s there for people who appreciate the cleaner lines, and can be turned off for those who want to totally return to ’93.

Pre Half-Life shooters that aren’t System Shock

November 28th, 2015

Written by: Stoo

Our recent look at Outlaws had me pondering the early days of first-person shooters. The genre as we know it basically started with Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, and then went through a period of rapid advances. We progressed from the flat world of Wolf3d, to the two and a half dimension of Doom, to proper 3D graphics. We saw the first coming of hardware accelerated graphics. Multiplayer options emerged, using local networks and then the internet. There was also a lot of creative thinking, a variety of settings and themes, before the genre became dominated by grim-faced soldiers in drab contemporary battlefields or second world war settings.

There were a number of gems in these formative years, and I thought I’d list some of the ones I personally regard mostly highly.  I’ve placed the upper boundary for this period at Half Life, which through features like scripting and set-piece battles really set a whole new standard for implementing a narrative in a first-person shooter. So this is a list of the highlights up until that landmark. All of them except for System Shock, because I bang on about that one enough as it is.

Descent

The choppy green bots are more menacing.
This one put you in the controls of a little spaceship, fighting killer robots through a series of mines across the solar system. Notable for being one of the first of these games to be true 3D in all aspects. So while most games of this era used sprites for their enemies, this one used polygons. Okay, to be fair, they’re fairly simple arrangements of blocks and wedges. Also though the level geometry is fully three dimensional, as opposed to the 2D sketch with bits raised and lowered that Doom used. So you can have one floor under another. Finally, your ship has six degrees of freedom of motion The setup could lead to some confused spinning around and bumping into walls at first, but with a bit of practise you could be strafing around giant chasms and hurtling down tunnels hammering robots with your plasmaguns. Actually it may have been easier to control with the mouse; for some reason I never really tried.

Also memorable for the frantic escape sequence at the end of each level, where you have about half a minute to find an exit before the reactor blows, with much swearing and panic along the way if you didn’t memorise the route ahead of time.

 

Hexen

hexen1
Raven’s first game to use the Doom engine, Heretic, was basically the same game with new levels and the chainguns replaced with magic wands. Fun but not worth a place on the list. Their second attempt however came with a bunch of new ideas. Firstly there are three playable characters, each with their own set of weapons. The warrior is a close range brawler – unusual for the first-person gaming. The more fragile mage likes to fight stuff at long range. The Cleric is somewhere in between and also has a rather ridiculously powerful weapon that basically launches angry ghosts.

Also, levels are now grouped around hubs, allowing you to move back and forth between them. To complete each set of levels you must solve puzzles, usually based on switches or finding items, to open up new sections, until you reach the final conclusion. The puzzles could get a bit frustrating – you’d often hit a button, see a text message telling you “a door has opened in the 7 portals”, and you then spend half an hour trying to figure out where. Still this aspect added some depth to the standard Doom template; there was a bit more to it all than just shooting monsters and gathering keys.

 

Doom

I love the way these things deflate like a mouldy raspberry when you kill them.

Doom came out around the same time as System Shock, and I sometimes see the two as having been in a competition where the superior title lost. Shock was the slower paced, more intelligent one of the two. It made more of an attempt a story, and had more emphasis on exploring and interacting with the environment around you. It also featured a more advanced game engine with features like sloping walls. Yet Doom, with its minimalist run and gun approach was the more successful, and the one the followers in the genre looked to. That’s why spent several years calling them all “doom clones”.

Except, I wasn’t meant to be talking about Shock today. So let me take off my Looking Glass Fanboy goggles, Doom was successful for damn good reasons. Picking it up to play nowadays, the action still feels perfectly tuned. You have the fast, fluid motion, circle strafing and ducking in and out of cover as you battle dozens of imps and demons. The shotgun is somehow still the greatest of its kind in gaming to date. The braying hell barons and tomato-monster Cacodemons are iconic foes. The maps are still creepy and ominous. Sometimes you don’t need anything more chin-strokingly clever than that, just fighting through waves of hellspawn to the  The soundtrack is basically a tribute to Slayer and Pantera rendered in midi. Then there’s the masses of user-made levels and total conversions to consider, which along with the multiplayer greatly prolonged the game’s active life amongst shooter fans.

 

 

Blood

This situation can only end in kaboom.
I kind of feel bad for not putting Duke Nukem3D on this list. Really, I’m just more familiar with Blood, which used the same Build engine, and draws on horror movie themes the same way Duke was a tribute to action heroes. Our shadowy protagonist, caleb, starts the game literally rising from the grave, and must kill his way through all kinds of crazed cultists and horrible monsters, to find out why he was put there in the first place. It’s a game with a sense of humour, not afraid to throw in obvious movie references, and a stream of raspy-voiced one liners. Also, the game represents a time when levels were moving from the rather abstract corridors and rooms of Doom, to locations that look like they have an identifiable purpose, and thus feel more convincing. So here we have a train station, a carnival and a hotel that’s basically that one out of the Shining.

Blood was technically out of date at the time; it was one of the last not-quite-3D shooters at a time when Quake had called in a new era of actual 3D. Yet between the memorable maps, the outlandish and macabre themes, and the fun of setting monsters on fire with a flare gun, it more than compensated.

 

Outlaws

outlaws5
I’d never played this before our recent article, but it’s shot straight onto my list of favourites. It’s very much a pre-half-life, mid 90s shooter at heart – you sprint around shooting lots of fairly dimwitted goons in the face. Yet it has its own feel; you can die shockingly fast if you start taking hits, but there are no bullet sponge enemies either – they’re desperados, not cyberdemons. So the emphasis is on, suitably enough, being quick on the draw. Fast, accurate reactions are required.

Like Blood and Duke3d, the game manages some realistic looking maps despite being based on an old-fashioned engine. There’s sawmill, a fort and a small town with all the expected features like saloon and mortuary. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of the old Spaghetti westerns, the music and artwork will make you feel right at home. The intro is something straight out of the Dollars trilogy. Meanwhile the animated cutscenes still look great, basically of the same standard that Lucasarts produced with their mid-period adventures like Sam and Max.

Unreal

Stroll around a bit, enjoy the sights.
Perhaps the first shooter that truly showed me the benefits of the new generation of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. The Quake series was technically advanced yet also consisted entirely of shades of brown and sludgy green. Unreal however looked incredible – that first scene where you emerge from a crashed spaceship, into a verdant tropical paradise, is unforgettable. Looking back Unreal was a bit unsatisfying in some ways, particularly the weapons which felt more like colourful lightshows than anything substantial. Yet it’s exotic, alien, slight dreamlike world marks it as a highlight of this era.

Tell me doctor, where are we going this time?

November 21st, 2015

Written by: Rik

So I just finished Telltale’s Back to the Future game. Despite having bought it in a fit of excitement upon release, I’d only played the first episode until last Christmas, at which point I declared that the very enjoyable second episode would mean that I’d be working my way through the rest at the earliest possible opportunity.

I’m not sure what happened to that plan – it’s taken me nearly another full year to get around to revisiting it – although I do think it’s possible that the sense of closure provided by the ending of each episode does provide an excuse to put the game down, in spite of effective use of cliffhangers and during-credits teaser trailers.

tellmedoctor

Anyway, I’d say I definitely enjoyed it overall. The story isn’t without the odd misstep, but in general it feels very faithful to the spirit of the movies. One of the central tenets of the original film was the question of what your parents were like when they were your age, what it would be like to meet them, and whether you’d be friends. Cue lots of Marty hanging around with the teenage versions of his parents.

For various reasons the film sequels went in a different direction, but the game revisits similar territory by having Marty go back to the 1930s, befriend a teenage Doc Brown, and make sure that his scientific career doesn’t go astray. (While Christopher Lloyd does feature, incidentally, he only plays the 1980s version of Doc and beyond – young Doc is voice by James Arnold Taylor, and a good job he does, too).

Although the Tannen dynasty is present and correct, along with older McFlys – mainly grandfather Artie – the game does have some other ideas when it comes to the primary antagonist, meaning the trope of one Tannen or another being the main source of trouble is, thankfully, broken.

For some, it may feel a little unnecessary to keep revisiting these characters and contriving new situations for them to sort out, and not everyone’s expectations will be met. Others will complain about the low level of difficulty, although it’s definitely an exaggeration to say it’s merely a case of just pushing a button to continue the story.

However, I reckon you’d have to be particularly hard-hearted not to engage with it at all, even if only out of plain nostalgia and love for the films: I even bopped along to Huey Lewis and the News during the end credits. (Yes, I said ‘bopped’.)