Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | March 23, 2015

Homeworld Remastered Review

Amid the recent glut of HD remakes and updated versions of last-gen games, it would have been easy to overlook the Homeworld Remastered Collection. After all, since the first Homeworld was released way back in the mists of 1999, gamers are likely to barely remember it, right?

Wrong.

At the time, Homeworld garnered almost universal acclaim – and for good reason. With its sweeping, operatic story, great graphics and addictive gameplay, Homeworld managed to capture both the sense of commanding a vast space fleet and micromanaging each engagement in real time.

Detailing the continuing adventures of a people known as the Kushan, Homeworld is the tale of their exodus across the stars, in search for a new home – the mythical planet of Hiigara. Fighting back against the horrors of darkest space, the exiles form new alliances, discover new technologies and find their place in a changing universe.

Building on this sweeping story was a fantastically implemented 3D space strategy game – the first of its kind, and one that is still considered a genre-leading title.

This success was soon followed by add-on pack Homeworld: Cataclysm, and then Homeworld 2. The second game picks up the story years later, as the exiles are once again forced to the stars to battle a new and terrifying menace.

Homeworld 2 is when I first discovered the series, in my first year of university, playing on a crap laptop I picked up on the cheap. So enthralling was the gameplay, and so addictive the sight of your battle formations demolishing the foe, that I basically spent a week playing the game in every free moment.

So, naturally, when I heard that both Homeworld and Homeworld 2 were being remastered, I was first in line to return to the depths of space and rediscover a classic worthy of the word.

Back in black

Many HD remakes can fall short of their promises, but Homeworld Remastered hits previous attempts for six. Both Homeworld and Homeworld 2 Remastered look incredible – even on my fairly average gaming PC – and the inclusion of the original versions of both games allows a startling comparison of the graphical fidelity improvements 16 years have done for gaming.

While the lack of a remastered Cataclysm is a shame, the two core games offer up over 45 missions between them, ranging from small-scale scouting to immense battles featuring dozens of massive warships. Admittedly, a few missions are duds – the one forcing you to guide the immense Mothership through an asteroid field being a low point – but most hit that fine line between challenging and enthralling.

Homeworld Remastered has also had more than just a facelift. Some of the streamlined gameplay from Homeworld 2 has been coded into the first game in the series, such as resources auto-collecting from the entire mission map as you hyper-jump away. However, the necessity to build interceptors one at a time instead of in squadrons, as in Homeworld 2, is still an irritation.

On the grid

While learning to control the Kushan fleet can be a considerable challenge at first, mastering use of the 3D strategic overlay and steering your battle fleets through obstacles both above and below the galactic plane becomes second nature after a while.

Zooming in from the overlay offers up a visual delight in both titles, as Remastered allows the gamer to zoom in on formations or even individual fighter craft, as they wheel and strafe through the dense dust clouds of stellar nebulae. Zoom out slightly and you can take in the graceful movements of frigates and larger warships, all of which boast independently tracking turrets for the huge variety of beam weapons and solid slug cannons of the slowly expanding Kushan/Hiigaran forces.

In fact, I’d thoroughly recommend turning the user interface off entirely when larger fleets meet in combat, as the spectacle is something to behold in full.

The beautiful, black and white cutscenes have also been lovingly restored, and battling your way through the sweeping adventure once again feels like playing a whole new game.

The sound design is of a similar quality, with screaming engines, weapons fire and explosions all present and spectacular, while the series’ tribal, pulsating score has also been restored with the same love and care as that applied to the graphics and gameplay.

Also included in the package is a multiplayer option, and though this is currently in beta, it plays well enough. I’d recommend working through the single player campaign first, however, as human players are a tougher nut to crack than the AI, which sadly lacks the tactical acumen to put up too much of a fight once you’ve earned your stripes as Fleet Command.

Conclusion

The Homeworld Remastered Collection is a masterclass in HD remakes. Building from the already strong base presented by the original titles, Remastered turns everything up to 11, reskinning every ship, from the smallest interceptor to the largest battlecruiser, and offering a beautiful galaxy to fight your way through. With two games for the price of one, it’s a package that long-term fans and newbies alike are sure to love.

8.5/10

Pros:

  • Stunning graphical fidelity (especially as it’s an update!)
  • Sweeping, story-driven campaign
  • Varied missions
  • Great ship design

Cons:

  • Some dud missions
  • Multiplayer is still in beta
  • No Cataclysm

Article written for Pass the Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | March 17, 2015

Retro Reboot: G-Police

Games, these days, are easy. Sure, there’s the occasional indie platformer that can lead to controller-hurling incidents, and anything involving online play can often leave me foaming at the mouth, yelling about lag – but compared to the games I grew up with, today’s titles are easy.

Not so in 1997, when Psygnosis’ G-Police first span in my massive 90s-computer’s noisy disk drive.
G-Police was hard. Really hard. And I loved it.

Welcome to Callisto

Stepping into the former-army boots of a pilot called Slater, the gamer joins the ‘Government Police’, enforcing the law on the lawless colony world of Callisto, while also working to solve the unexplained death of Slater’s sister – another G-Police officer.

Over the course of a long single-player campaign, Slater and his compatriots uncover a corporate conspiracy to seize power, battle in the skies of Callisto’s massive hab-domes and – if you’re anything like me – fail missions over and over and spend the majority of your time running into buildings.

Taking control of a G-Police Havoc gunship (a cross between a fighter jet and a kickass helicopter), the gamer is tasked with a series of missions that escalate fast in complexity and fun. At first, it’s as simple as scanning cargo and shooting down the occasional drug runner, but before long you’re busily fending off waves of robots, fighter craft and crazed mercenaries – and it’s awesome.

The Havoc proved surprisingly difficult to master for a then-11-year-old. Using an analogue joystick (remember those?), I spent many an hour trying to figure out how to strafe around my targets, while also busily selecting weapons to fire clumsily at targets in the distance, or scanning every crate for a secret objective.

However, piloting the gunship became second nature after a while, and whipping between Callisto’s many Mega City-like domes was a joy.

(c) mobygames

To Serve and Protect… sort of…

 

Granted, the low ceilings were something of a problem – but it was the 90s, and decent draw distance (a ‘la Grand Theft Auto 5) was years off.

Rhapsody in neon

Although the 90s graphics seem laughably bad by today’s standards, G-Police’s Blade Runner-inspired colony domes were a delight to coast through at the time. The neon-lit buildings and elevated roads made each mission feel like a tense chase through a crowded city, and though the tricky control system and high difficulty made each assignment a difficult proposition, over time, Callisto became familiar – somewhere you wanted to protect… when you weren’t accidentally running into parts of it.

As the events of the game became less ‘bobby on the beat’ and more like a warzone, the missions and assignments arose amid a deep web of lies, as rival corporations battled for dominance, and the desperate G-Police fought only to defence Callisto – dragging the gamer into the story and fast-paced action.

Admittedly, the missions occasionally smacked of repetition, and the crushing and often unfair difficulty made the game a grind at points, but as a whole, G-Police was an absolute riot – a riot brutally put down by rockets from a police gunship.

Bring it back

So, with Psygnosis long dead (rest easy, and thanks for Colony Wars, Lemmings and WipeOut), who would be best placed to revitalise Slater and the G-Police?

Well, my first choice would have to be Gaijin Entertainment – and if you haven’t heard of them, that’s no surprise.

Bring it back!

Bring it back!

Gaijin is best known for cross-platform World War 2 MMO shooter War Thunder, but my first encounter with the Russian company was in the little-known title Apache Air Assault – one of the best combat flight simulator games I’ve ever played, and also a gem worth your time if you like helicopters and things that explode.

Since the core of any reborn G-Police title would be flying a police gunship, a good control system is key – and although Apache Air Assault’s controls were difficult to master, once you had a feel for flying, zipping about the skies became a joy.

However, while I could trust Gaijin with the flight controls of a refurbished Havoc gunship, the other key parts of G-Police lie in story and environment.

So, when it comes to world-building, while big names like Bethesda and Ubisoft would be a comfortable choice, I’d be inclined to call in the folks at the curiously named Dontnod Entertainment, whose first game, Remember Me, was as immersive as it was a diamond in the rough.

Remember Me’s Neo-Paris was a standout example of world-building, and the combination of old-world charm and sweeping, metallic futurescape gelled perfectly. Given free reign to develop a new Callisto (with a decent draw distance) Dontnod would do a great job, I’m sure.

Plus, as Remember Me’s story was pretty good for a new IP, I’d trust the company to do justice to G-Police’s tale of corporate infighting and murder on the streets.

So come on, people, bring it back!

Andy Hemphill

Article written for Pass the Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | March 12, 2015

Retro Reboot: Golden Axe

When I was a kid, I earned pocket money from my parents by doing chores.
I remember struggling to vacuum the house – my small form lacking the strength to handle the huge 90s-scale Hoover they owned – before I tidied my room, and helped in the garden.

For this, my folks would give me £20 a month – and once a month, on a trip into the quaint Midlands town of Tamworth, I’d spend that hard-earned cash at the second-hand game stall in the market.
Jungle Strike, Altered Beast, Sonic 2… over the early years of my life, I acquired so many now-classic games from that stall. Then, I bought Golden Axe – the Megadrive port of a popular arcade hack-and-slasher.

At the time, I was a fan of fantasy – I read the choose-your-own fantasy books, I watched the awful movies, and I could have been described as a nerd (nothing new there then).

So, when I bought Golden Axe, I knew I’d acquired something special – my first favourite game.

Muscles and mayhem

Deep in the lands of Yuria, the populace are living in terror.
The evil warlord Death Adder and his army of magical monsters have invaded and overrun the many towns dotting its mountainous terrain and, with the royal family captured and the fabled Golden Axe stolen, Death Adder is holding the known world to ransom.

Into the melee steps axe-toting dwarf Gilius Thunderhead, Amazon warrior woman (and bikini-fan) Tyris Flare, and irritatingly well-built barbarian Ax Battler. The trio proceed to kick ass across the many battlefields of Yuria, before felling Death Adder and saving the known world.

Also, they spend their evenings punching magic-stealing elves.

 

While my gaming interests have since broadened, and I’ve become far more a sci-fi nut than a fantasy nerd, my memories of playing Golden Axe with my father and friends remain as strong as ever.

With its crushing difficulty and high-fantasy setting, each time you booted up the (admittedly very short) game felt like you were setting off on yet another heroic quest – even though it was the same one every time

Someone's a gym bunny...

Someone’s a gym bunny…

There was just something special about beating your foes through teamwork, swordplay and spells, and the magical creatures dotted around – including fire-breathing dragons and stumpy-legged reptilian monsters – were hilariously fun to use.

Granted, this was mostly because you could punch your teammate off the beast and steal it for yourself.

16bit bombastic

While later Megadrive games would perfect the side-scrolling beat-em-up co-op gameplay Golden Axe boasted – with 1991’s Streets of Rage and its sequels being a particular highlight – Golden Axe’s addictive but simple gameplay was great for its time.

Admittedly, the game hasn’t aged well. The graphics are poor, the music laughable and the sound effects leave much to be desired (I remember being horribly unnerved by the ‘death’ sound effects that interrupted the MIDI music), but as any good fantasy fan knows, half the adventure is in the mind’s eye.

Then there’s the spelling and grammar – always a sore point with 90s games – which was just… awful.
Thankfully, the gameplay more than made up for Golden Axe’s shortcomings.

 

The series was vaguely rebooted in 2008’s Golden Axe: Beast Rider, but it was universally panned as a buggy mess – including by me.

Since then, little has been heard from the lands of Yuria – but there’s always hope that the legions of Death Adder and his allies will return, and a trio of brave warriors will again take to the steppes… and punch elves in the face.

Article commissioned for Pass the Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | February 26, 2015

Top Five: Things I want to see in the next Deus Ex

Four years ago, Deus Ex: Human Revolution stealthed onto the scene, punched through a wall and brought a new generation of gamers into the dystopian world first seen in 2000’s seminal Deus Ex.
With little in the way of new information circulating about the future of the series, other than a maddeningly vague blog post from last year, I thinking about what we’d like to see from the next game in the series – and no, we don’t need any more Safety Dancing.

Multiplayer
As much as Deus Ex has been and always should be a single-player experience at its core, there’s a lot to be said for a multiplayer mode that fits neatly into the canon, and doesn’t detract from the main campaign.

Take The Last of Us for example. As well as a stellar single-player adventure, the game’s multiplayer mode was nothing to sniff at either – and crucially, adding it in didn’t cheapen or take away from the core single-player mode’s length or depth.

There are so many factions fighting for dominance in the darker corners of Deus Ex’s world that there’s bound to be a great multiplayer game in there. Ideally it would play along the same lines as the single-player campaign – players would select augmentations they like, and save them on a soldier (ala loadouts from Call of Duty) – then battle it out in one of the game’s ‘hub’ areas.
Developers could make use of ‘verticality’ and have teams using all their augmentations to the maximum, turning invisible at will, jumping to obscene heights and punching through walls.

Plus, keep the team sizes small, and working together to snatch victory from your similarly augmented enemies would become a tense game of cat and mouse – especially if you fill the hubs with NPCs, like Assassin’s Creed’s excellent multiplayer offering.

Such a mode should force gamers to think creatively to flush out and kill enemy agents – much like the core game, Deus Ex’s multiplayer should feel free to play outside the lines.
Plus, you could create maps drawn from the series’ deep lore, such as Area 51, Hell’s Kitchen or the vertical city of Hengsha.

Proper boss battles
If there was one criticism that appeared in every review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it was the boss battles. Farmed out to a company outside Square-Enix for some unknown reason, DE:HR’s final encounters broke the flow of the action completely, and committed a cardinal sin of Deus Ex: denying the player choice.

Ideally, the next Deus Ex should still feature climatic boss fights, but you should be allowed to use your brain, guile, luck and augmentations to avoid them, or win them in a way other than by repeatedly shooting your foe.
Take Anna Navarre and Gunther Hermann, for example. This pair – mechanically augmented and embittered UNATCO agents – could be killed in the original Deus Ex by discovering their ‘killphrase’, which upon being spoken would cause them to self destruct, saving you valuable bullets and time. Alternatively, they could simply be avoided entirely, if your stealth skill was high enough.

This kind of freedom to choose is at the heart of Deus Ex, and should certainly extend to the boss battles too.

Rechargeable batteries…
Deus Ex and Human Revolution both suffered from the same issue when it comes to the awesome augmentation technology the series is built around – power.
Both JC Denton and Adam Jensen boasted an amazing selection of cool augmentations, from the ability to see through walls to a tiny spy drone deployed from the eye, to powerful, strength-boosting muscles – but if you ran out of bioelectric cells (DE), or candy bars (DE:HR), then you were essentially buggered.

Many a gamer no doubt found themselves in a firefight after discovering they couldn’t punch an enemy down in Human Revolution because they ran out of bloody Mars Bars.
No, what’s needed is a rechargeable battery system built into the hero’s torso – one that charges the batteries beyond the first ‘bar’, and won’t leave you gasping when you need to make a quick escape.

A good example would be the Crysis series’ Nanosuit which, while powerful, required careful monitoring at all times, and had you walk a line between all-powerful superhero and crawling failure.
Make the more powerful augmentations suck power like an Xbox One power brick, certainly – but don’t make us beat up a vending machine to use them more than once a level.

Interlinked and unpredictable storylines
The Deus Ex storyline spans many decades now, from the bleak early years of augmentation in Human Revolution in the 2020s, to Deus Ex’s cyberpunk 2052 dystopia and Invisible War’s neon-lit 2072. Throughout it all, a decent storyline filled with betrayal, conspiracy and rebellion runs – and we’d like to see the next chapter bring them all closer together.

While details on the next game in the series, and the ‘Universe’ concept alluded to in Square-Enix’s October 2014 blog post, are vague, we suspect the next game will be set somewhere between the events of Human Revolution and Deus Ex.

While Human Revolution did an adequate job of revealing the early years of some of Deus Ex’s characters, this time period would allow a deeper exploration of the events that defined the original title. (Deus Ex nerdgasm/spoiler alert ahead).

I’d love to see an exploration of the birth of UNATCO and the schism between the Illuminati and Bob Page’s Majestic 12. Then, what about the nanoaugmentation project? What about the creation of JC Denton and his brother – were there failed attempts before the ill-fated pair?

Keep us guessing, SquEnix, and you’d be on to a winner.

‘Dynamic’ hubs
With the ‘next’ Deus Ex featuring “trans-humanism segregation”, and “a “ghetto-city’ voluntarily built in order to separate the classes”, the stage is set for some truly spectacular ‘hubs’ to play in.
All three Deus Ex titles were at their best in their respective ‘hubs’. Deus Ex’s New York, Hong Kong and Paris hubs were a delight to explore, rammed with side missions and things to see and do.

Similarly, Human Revolution and Invisible War’s hubs had a magic of their own, and all three allowed the gamer to explore and enjoy the feel of moving as an augmented human in a changing world.

With the next title, we’d like to see more made of these hubs. They need to be bigger, and boast more activities than ever before. Give us side missions, mysteries and murders until we never want to leave, and harness the power of next-gen consoles to populate them with a mass of NPCs going about their business.

The not-so-distant future...

The not-so-distant future…

For example, imagine a multi-tiered ‘ghetto-city’ filled with NPCs, moving and rioting and fighting – all of which the player can move through and influence. As the story advances, the hub will change dynamically around the player, showing day by day the effects of the player’s interaction and choices made.

Deus Ex’s brand of conspiracy works best in such environments, as the knowledge of events influencing the game world empowers the player – and makes every decision matter all the more when they can see the effects first-hand.

What do you want to see in the next Deus Ex game? Leave a comment below.

Article first written for Pass The Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | February 20, 2015

Retrospective: Warhammer Games

The war-torn battlefields of the 41st millennium have found more fans through the medium of mainstream gaming than it ever did on the 28mm tabletop.

In fact, Nottingham-based ‘world’s best plastic miniatures’ producer Games Workshop is making good use of its 25-year-old licence to bring in ancillary revenues (arguably to the detriment of the actual tabletop game) – but that’s not to say all the games with GW’s logo on are actually any good.

Now, with the trailer for GW’s latest cash-grab, Warhammer 40,000: Regicide (essentially 3D chess with Space Marines…) doing the rounds, it’s worth looking back on some of the tiles in the company’s Warhammer-licenced stable which – like Star Wars – often vary massively in quality.

Dawn of War(hammer)

Chances are, if you’ve owned a PC capable of running a 3D strategy game, you’ve played Dawn of War – or one of its 3.2 million add-on packs. Or the sequel. Or the sequel’s add-on packs.
Relic Entertainment’s original 2004 release: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, was a masterclass in video game design. Drawing heavily on GW’s lore, the title placed the gamer in the power armoured boots of a commander in the Blood Ravens chapter of Space Marines, and tasked him or her with liberating the planet of Tartarus from a horde of invading Orks. It also featured this fantastic intro cutscene, which probably sold more than a few boxes of Space Marines on its own:

 

Fans of the tabletop game, critics and video gamers new to the series were all almost universally delighted with Dawn of War, which brought the crunching battles once only in their mind’s eye to life on the screen – a dynamic which GW and Relic then milked to death, releasing add-on pack after add-on pack. Then came the sequels – and more add-on packs – all of which cheapened the base-building battles of the original down to a squad-based skirmish game.

However, before Dawn of War, Games Workshop’s licence had been used to make many a strategy game – strategy being at the heart of the company’s long history in 28mm.

Long before Dawn of War, the 1995 Mindscape title Shadow of the Horned Rat was bringing the bloody battlefields of the medieval-styled Warhammer universe to life in blocky graphics, and the fondly remembered Final Liberation brought the 1900s’ obsession with FMV video into the gaming sphere.
Shockingly bad voice acting aside, Final Liberation was a pretty amazing title for its time, and worked on a scale that even Dawn of War failed to capture, drawing as it was from the ‘Epic’ line of really-miniature miniatures GW was pumping out at the time.

Similar strategy titles in later years include the entirely underwhelming Warhammer: Battle March in 2008, which failed spectacularly to capture either the grim nature of Warhammer’s world, or even what it takes to be a good game – one of Namco Bandai’s many failed enterprises.

‘My bolter’s jammed!’

However, aside from strategy titles, a number of excellent (and not so excellent) first- and third-person shooters have carried Games Workshop’s splash screen.

One of the earliest, 1993’s Space Hulk, is memorable for its tense atmosphere, tight controls and incredibly tough difficulty. Space Hulk‘s sequel, Vengeance of the Blood Angels, was even tougher and often pant-wettingly scary – especially when the alien (and deadly) Genestealers morphed from sprites to gun down in the distance to slickly animated and very much in-your-face monsters which would kill you if you slipped up once in close combat.

 

Years after Vengeance, 2011’s Space Marine – one of now-defunct publisher THQ’s stable – was a very enjoyable, if laughably shallow hack-and-slasher, with a pretty kickass multiplayer and a half-decent storyline (notable because Games Workshop titles typically lack a decent storyline…) However, despite a cliffhanger ending, the chances of a sequel are pretty much nil, owing to THQ’s dramatic fall from grace.

The Space Hulk series is currently undergoing something of a renaissance, in fact, with Full Control’s 2013 title Space Hulk returning to the series’ roots as a tactical – and often unbearably tense – skirmish game, while Focus Home Interactive’s Space Hulk: Deathwing is set to bring Left 4 Dead-style co-operative shooters into the 40K universe with a bang – it certainly looks good so far, in as much as you can trust a pre-alpha trailer…

 

And it’s not just mainstream consoles and the PC crowd that are suffering under the barrage of GW-branded titles. Mobile title Squad Command reviewed well back in 2007, but suffered on the back of lacklustre Western sales of Sony’s £400 PSP paperweight.
More recently, Storm of Vengeance and Drop Assault have brought the brutality and betrayal of GW’s ‘Horus Heresy’ storyline to Android and tablets – but both are shallow, repetitive and fairly dull lane- and tactical-strategy titles, respectively, and aren’t likely to enjoy the same popularity of earlier titles in the company’s stable.

In the grim darkness of the far future…

As for future games bearing Games Workshop’s Aquila logo, things are looking up. Alongside the aforementioned Genestealer-kill-a-thon Deathwing, another mobile developer, Pixel Hero Games, is working on a 3D action/adventure title based on the excellent Black Library novel Eisenhorn: Xenos, by Dan Abnett.
Details are sketchy at the moment, but drawing from 25 years of lore – and Abnett’s excellent fiction – one can only hope the title will do Eisenhorn’s sweeping tale of betrayal, adventure and danger justice.

Similarly vague on details is Tindalos Interactive’s Battlefleet Gothic – Armada. Although the initial screenshots look great, exactly what is going to be involved in a videogame adaptation of a now-defunct GW tabletop space strategy game remains to be seen. However, with Gothic being an aspect of the Warhammer 40,000 universe beloved by longtime fans, hopes are high for a title crossing the deep lore and ridiculously large warships of 40K with a gameplay style similar to Relic’s excellent Homeworld series.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, 25 years on from the opening of a small shop in Nottingham, Games Workshop – and the many tales of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes – have spread across the world through every almost medium available in entertainment.
Sure, there’s been a number of duff titles in the past, but with the likes of Armada and Deathwing leading the way in coming years – and rumours of an MMORPG refusing to die, despite Square Enix’s Eternal Crusade seemingly mired in development hell – things can only get better.

Article commissioned for Pass The Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | February 12, 2015

Retro Reboot: MDK

Any game that features an item known as the ‘world’s smallest nuclear explosion’, and allows you to fire a sniper rifle attached to your head, shortly before hurtling off a tower block and landing using your infinite (and completely aerodynamically useless) ‘ribbon chute’ deserves a remake.

I am, of course, talking about Shiny Entertainment’s 1997 shooter MDK – a gloriously crazy title with a unique sense of humour that I know to be fondly remembered by many a 20-something gamer.

Kurt Hectic, lured to his boss’ space station ‘Jim Dandy’ by a promise of Hungarian goulash, is humanity’s last line of defence against the machinations of a brutal alien race known as ‘Streamriders’.

These thuggish aliens have invaded Earth in a number of massive ‘Minecrawlers’, and are merrily overrunning human cities and stripping the planet bare of its valuable natural resources.

Stuffed into Dr Fluke Hawkins’s innovative ‘coil suit’ (which is capable of repelling “bullets, bees, and small but very hard sticks”), Kurt is unceremoniously kicked out of the station to plummet to Earth, aiming to destroy each Minecrawler and redeem his batshit-crazy boss.

 

And so does MDK begin. Alone on the decks of a vast, city-sized death machine, Kurt must use a combination of wacky physics, implausible gadgets, his arm /head mounted weapons and a snarky attitude to stop the alien menace – and so did gamers everywhere fell in love with MDK immediately.

There’s just something about MDK’s combination of over-the-top humour, solid platforming and tight shooting action that makes for a stand-out game. While tricky, MDK never steps over the line into irritation – the enemies are a delightful mix of idiot goons and dumb robots, and their one strength lies in numbers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The third-person animation is still slick and mesmeric, even after 18 years, and I fondly remember running all over the place, merrily blasting enemies with Kurt’s unlimited-ammo chaingun, while also bouncing around using the game’s hilariously light physics system.

The characterisation of friend and foe is also excellent, with the chunky aliens just as likely to moon you as they are to shoot at you. This is especially true of the sniping sections, when Kurt mounts his implausibly lightweight sniper rifle on his head – the aliens are even more ugly/amusing close up, and taking them down with the selection of interesting rifle rounds on offer simply never got old.

As for the Minecrawlers, each is very different in aspect – varying from standard industrial to something akin to a five-year-old’s ballpit – and was a joy to explore… right before you blow it to shreds in an amusingly implemented ‘boss fight’.

 

Bring it back

So, with Shiny Entertainment long gone, who would be best placed to revive such a precious gaming memory?

A decent choice would be Rockstar, as Max Payne 3 (despite its sadly lacklustre sales) was a fantastically fun third-person shooter. I’m confident the company could bring back Kurt and his incredibly stupid way of fighting – and probably throw in a damn fun multiplayer mode at the same time. Plus, Rockstar’s sense of humour would be right at home with MDK’s madcap antics.

Alternatively, amid the latest trend for HD remakes, one may have slipped your notice – MDK 2 HD.

Yes, MDK had a sequel, and it was just as wacky as the first game in the series (although I’ll always prefer the first for its more single-minded approach). As a result – and following fairly good reviews – I’d hand over the rights to the original and best MDK to Overhaul Games (a division of Beamdog).

They did a decent job with the sequel, so why not give them a shot at the original? Granted it would be more of a tarting-up than a full reboot, but it’s better than nothing!

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | January 30, 2015

Videogame Real Estate

I was looking in the window of an estate agent the other day, studying the hilariously expensive properties for rent in London, and then I wondered – what if videogame estate agents existed? How would they sell some of the most famous videogame locations? 

So, may I present the Hemphill and Hemphill Estate Agents, and their new properties to buy in your area…

NEW PROPERTIES TO BUY IN YOUR AREA
HEMPHILL AND HEMPHILL REAL ESTATE

Spencer Mansion - A wonderland of gothic adventure!

Spencer Mansion – A wonderland of gothic adventure!

Spencer Mansion

A well-appointed building in the Arklay Mountains, Spencer Mansion is as much a historical icon as it is a comfortable home for your loved ones. You are sure to love the columned exterior of the venerable building, which is best viewed at night, through a thunderstorm.

With baroque woodwork throughout and beautiful, easy-clean flooring – for those little spills – you can be sure of pleasant evenings in with friends as you have run of the mansion’s many long hallways and delightfully characterful creaking doors.

A charming chapel/graveyard combination is no cause for alarm, as the site has been deconsecrated, and there’s absolutely no chance of the dead rising from the grave, now is there.

Explore the Mansion's thrilling past. (Pistol optional)

Explore the Mansion’s thrilling past. (Pistol optional)

With a delightfully roomy cellar and many exciting nooks and crannies to explore, every aspect of Spencer Mansion is sure to excite and thrill the prospective homeowner.

Spacious, pet-friendly grounds
Dog-proof windows
Excellent sandwich-making facilities

Price: $670,000 (tax breaks available for mega-corporations)

————————————————————————————————————————

blackmesa1©atthebuzzerpodcast

Black Mesa – Adventures in science await!

Black Mesa

This sprawling industrial location boasts excellent rail links and a wide variety of laboratory space for research purposes. A central computer system will keep everything on time – even the teleportation labs, which are currently engaged in research sure to expand the minds of all humankind. You’re sure to find your Xen here.

The facility’s ventilation is excellent, and although the high ceilings can make it difficult to get to the vents for maintenance, a good crowbar goes a long way to keeping things running smoothly. The base’s excellent maintenance staff are all outfitted with the very latest in Hazard Suit technology, although helmets are currently suffering something of a shortage. Or not. It’s difficult to tell.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Equipped with a fully stocked armoury and airbase, Black Mesa is the ideal location for more dangerous research projects – and for peace of mind, in the unlikely event of an alien invasion, there’s plenty of surface access for government-deployed rescue units.
If you enjoy tinkering with engines, the facility also boasts a fully-equipped rocket testing silo, and provided nothing is blocking the thrust outlet, you’re sure to have a blast.

The staff are friendly – provided you don’t play with the settings on the microwave – and will be happy to talk you through any problems. Apart from the mute one.

Addendum: Rumours of a sinister, grey-suited man haunting the facility are entirely fabricated.

Hydroelectric dam for unlimited power
Lambda lab offers instant worldwide (and further) travel
Large swimming pool with exciting sea creatures to meet

Price: $11.7bn

————————————————————————————————————————

The_Bowser_Castle©nocookie

Bowser’s Castle – Warm and inviting!

Bowser’s Castle

One of a number of castles owned by the charmingly mysterious ‘Bowser’, this magnificently-appointed, 1500s-era castle is the ideal place to hide your Princess – unless you would prefer to amuse any would-be rescuers by hiding her in another one.

Warmed throughout by lakes of boiling lava, this wonderful location boasts excellent views from its crumbling battlements, and also features a tennis court, go-karting track, jogging circuit, battle arena and many other nonsensical and money-grabbing additions.

You’re sure to return to Bowser’s Castle time and time again as you examine your investment options, or maybe that’s just the unimaginative writing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You will enjoy hours of fun as you explore the castle’s many open spaces and narrow corridors, such as the disused barracks – and please excuse the sentient mushroom infestation, we’ll have that sorted by the time the castle is made available thanks to a ready supply of Fire Flowers.

For your housework needs, there’s a wide selection of ways to pound any offending nails into wood, for example – or possibly crush any guests you’d rather not come back for a return visit.

The plumbing is excellent, and is maintained exclusively by a reliable and experienced Italian firm.

Excellent location for end-level boss fights. All of them. Over and over.
Delight your guests with challenging and not at all infuriating jumping sections over boiling lava
Statue polish included as standard

Price: $2.8bn

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | January 13, 2015

Top Five Games To Watch In 2015

After an arguably lacklustre 2014 for games, 2015 looks to be shaping up well for great titles. Here’s my top five most-anticipated games for 2015 – and a few that didn’t quite make the list.

Number Five: Assassin’s Creed: Victory

Accidentally leaked and promptly spread all over the interwebs, Assassin’s Creed: Victory is the next title in the long-running (and much-milked) Ubisoft series.
However, while the previous title, Unity, failed to even draw my attention – and the game has gone down in infamy for being incredibly buggy and badly broken, Victory looks set to break the mould somewhat – a move much needed to ensure Ubisoft’s disgruntled fans don’t head off elsewhere.

*Makes an excited squealing noise*

*Makes an excited squealing noise*

Victorian London would be a fascinating setting for an Assassin’s Creed game. That period of history saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the gradual decline of the English Empire. Could the titular Assassin find him/herself working alongside a great inventor such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel? Perhaps we could see an assassination in the midst of the Houses of Parliament?
What about Guy Fawkes?
There’s a lot of potential here, Ubisoft. Don’t cock it up.

Number Four: Mario Maker

Long-time readers of my site will know I’m no Nintendo fan. In fact, I tend to look down (as much as anyone can ever look down on a multinational, hugely successful corporation) on Nintendo for constantly releasing the same old game in a new box.
So, when I saw Mario Maker, I couldn’t help but be a little impressed by Ninty finally pushing the boat out and trying something new – and I guarantee it’ll be a real laugh to build and share classic Mario levels with your friends.

 

Admittedly, Sony did this before with the excellent Little Big Planet – but there’s going to be something special about reliving your early gaming memories (or designing the most dastardly challenge) with your friends.

Number Three: No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky inspires two emotions in me: fear and utter excitement.

 

A while back, I said how great it would be to see a return of space simulator games. While No Man’s Sky isn’t a remake of TIE Fighter (goddamn you, Disney, remake TIE Fighter!), I’m keen to see what the crew behind this highly ambitious title can create.
No Man’s Sky, with its procedurally generated worlds, beautiful cell-shaded graphics and potential for endless exploration, blew everyone away last year – critics included – but whether or not the development team can deliver on their promises remains to be seen.

But, I hear you ask, why describe yourself as feeling ‘fear’ over No Man’s Sky, Andy? Well, take the recent release of Elite: Dangerous – the very pretty but ultimately shallow return of the well-remembered series. The reviews have been fair-to-middling so far – and for good reason, as Elite lacks much in the way of plot, and without a decent plot, all the planets in the galaxy won’t matter.

It is this fear that makes me concerned No Man’s Sky will fall short of its ambitious – and of fan expectations. It’s all well and good creating vast, detailed worlds to explore and fully realised economies to invest your time (and probably real-world money) in, but there needs to be an overarching plot behind the action – a faction to fight for, a mystery to unravel – something to believe in.

Then again, look at EVE Online. That gets by just fine without a decent plot. Perhaps I’m jumping at shadows…

Number Two: Batman: Arkham Knight

I’ll let this trailer do the talking. Rocksteady Studios is back to finish their excellent ‘Arkham’ trilogy, and I’m confident they’re going to deliver once again with slick gameplay that puts ‘Bats’ himself to shame:

 

Number One: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

“Metal Gear… it can’t be…”
I have two words for industry icon Hideo Kojima: Release. Date.
The visionary behind gaming’s most explosive soap opera is back in 2015, with a new take on the Metal Gear saga that’s got long-time fans like myself and those new to the series alike foaming at the mouth.

 

Sure, he may have annoyed/delighted any number of fans with his £40 Ground Zeros demo disk, but if the early gameplay offered by that little slice of action is anything to judge by, we’re in for a treat.

The idea of the tight Metal Gear gameplay combined with open world environments to explore and any number of ways to complete your mission is simply thrilling to fans of the series. Plus, with promises of multiplayer and the delightful base building dynamics pinched from Peace Walker seemingly making an appearance in Phantom Pain, I’m sure I’m going to sucked into the world of Metal Gear all over again.

Honourable mentions:

Star Wars: Battlefront

I’ve been waiting years for a new Battlefront game – in fact, I’ve put my demands to Disney in a previous article – but despite the intense interest in the next Battlefront, EA/DICE have been maddeningly vague on the progress of development. It’s all very well putting out a pretty tech demo, and I know you’ll want to get it right (gamers won’t forgive you if you don’t…), but let’s see some more information, please. Maybe even a gameplay video. STAT. As punishment for being so slow, Battlefront is off the list.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

It’s pretty, it’ll be a best-seller, here’s a gameplay trailer – we’ve seen most of it before.
Job done.

 

Halo 5: Guardians

Beyond mysterious box art and a few scattered videos, little information has emerged about Master Chief’s next big walkabout. While it all looks very shiny, I’m not certain Guardians is going to break any new ground – although it might help a certain entertainment giant sell a few of its next-generation consoles now they’ve dropped the price and tossed out the flail-tastic Kinect peripheral.

Dying Light

Parkour and zombie-bashing in a beautifully realised world where you’re constantly battling not only the undead, but your own infection? Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yes. But, Dying Light’s developers – Techland – managed only fair-to-middling games in both Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide (with Riptide being the worst offender, as they made the same mistakes twice).
Time will tell if Dying Light can break the cycle.

A very happy new year to all my readers!

Article originally published at 6aming.com

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | December 11, 2014

Alien: Isolation – Sleeper hit of the year?

I’d heard of Alien: Isolation, but I had no intention of buying it. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a joke of a game, and only went on to prove my conviction that movie tie-in games – and games set in the same universe as a movie – rarely hit the right note.

So, when I spotted Isolation on the shelves for the princely sum of £25, I hesitated before parting with my hard-earned cash.
Thank goodness I did.

Isolation is a double-whammy of gaming excellence – it redefines survival horror and redeems the Alien franchise in one fell swoop, and is a damn good game to boot.

Its 15-hour runtime (plus DLC) may have been accused of being “too long” by other critics, but I couldn’t disagree more – Isolation never overstayed its welcome, and left me with only the urge to play it again once I finally completed the task at hand.
The last game to give me that urge was The Last of Us – and that’s an accolade worth noting.

So, as we come to the inevitable ream of ‘game of the year’ nominations being put out by the other news sites, spare a moment for what I believe to be the sleeper hit of the year – a title which tried something new and unexpected, and pulled it off with aplomb.

In space…

Picking up some 15 years after Ridley Scott’s Alien, Isolation sees Ellen Ripley’s daughter – Weyland-Yutani engineer Amanda Ripley – dispatched as part of a team to recover the Nostromo’s flight recorder. The recorder has been brought to Sevastopol – a space station owned by a competing mega-corporation which has fallen on hard times.

Naturally, everything goes to hell real fast – and within 30 minutes of the opening cutscene, I was hooked.

My natural inclination as a critic is to scoff at everything, but The Creative Assembly (they of Total War fame) have perfectly captured the look and feel of Scott’s 1979 blockbuster – even down to the ‘retro-sci fi’ feel of the technology on show in the station (and the loading screens…).

Unlike Colonial Marines, which was a by-the-book shooter with some awful AI, Isolation takes pains to ramp up the tension and terror one experiences in facing a horrible situation alone.

Beforelong you find yourself working your way through the decrepit depths of the station, crawling down abandoned maintenance tunnels, dodging broken electrics and wondering what the hell happened.

The walls are smeared with graffiti, and the mindless automatons tasked with the station’s upkeep have stopped caring about their jobs – or their responsibilities towards the station’s human crew.

In fact, the first couple of hours on Sevastopol are a study in tension, as Ripley gradually uncovers the events which so doomed the station, and encounters the survivors desperately scrabbling to escape.

While it would be easy to dismiss this tension-building as dull, Creative Assembly took pains to pull the gamer into the world of Isolation, spreading tidbits of information about and gradually teaching Amanda the skills she needs to survive.

…no-one can hear you scream…

And then the Alien shows up, and the game is turned on its head. From being a mission of cautious exploration, Isolation suddenly becomes a heart-pounding race to survive.

With little more than a useless revolver, some flares and a motion sensor, Amanda has to survive against Creative Assembly’s incredibly well-realised version of the titular xenomorph – and its shockingly good AI.

The Alien hunts the player as any predator does its prey – it listens for sound, looks for movement and can even smell you, if it gets close enough. Sure, you can cower under a desk or hide in a locker, but that won’t stop the Alien – it keeps coming.

Completing your objectives as you scramble to escape becomes a study in patience, caution and fear – even the save points take a few seconds to work – and though the Alien can be distracted or fooled, most ploys only work once.

You get a flamethrower later on, but that only pisses it off.

However, despite the steep learning curve and often crushing difficulty, a savvy gamer quickly discovers that defeating the extra-galactic menace can be done – and this is where Isolation finds its stride.

Get away from her, you bitch!

Isolation redefines survival horror. Like Dead Space before it, the game’s objectives can be a little grating and repetitive, but the constant threat of the Alien – and the deranged survivors on the station – make each area a trial and a struggle. Every goal achieved and every save point reached is a small victory to be savoured, and as the story starts to spiral deeper you find yourself becoming more and more capable of coping with the trials ahead – like Ripley, you know how to fight back.

It helps that the game world is so well realised, and the graphics so defined, that you can’t help but be sucked into both Sevastopol and Ripley’s desperate rush for survival against the odds.

Game of the year?

So, while many other reviewers will likely put paper-thin grind-em-up Destiny at the top of their list, I humbly submit Alien: Isolation as my pick for Game of the Year.

Sure, it’s not without its faults, but rarely has a game so absorbed me and had me coming back for more – despite my utter terror each time I heard the distinctive rattle and growl of the Alien’s approach through the vents above me.

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | November 18, 2014

Space Hulk: Ascension Review

When I was nine, I played a game I really had no right to be playing. A friend’s big brother introduced me to the then-PC game Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, teleporting me and my squad of Space Marine Terminators into the heart of darkness – an immense, drifting morass of smashed spaceship hulls, infested with horrors from beyond our galaxy.

I lasted about eight seconds.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Vengeance was the latest in a number of video games emulating a tabletop game – Games Workshop’s Space Hulk – which was popular among the spottier of my fellow schoolchildren.

I also didn’t know that that brief brush with the horror of the Genestealers would open a door into my own discovery of Games Workshop’s 28mm Warhammer 40,000 science fiction action – but that’s another story.

Scanners Online

Space Hulk: Ascension – the latest in a long line of Space Hulk-based, Games Workshop-branded titles – is as true to the tabletop version as it’s possible to be on a PC monitor. The game reflects the tension of the 28mm battles with admirable skill, and though certain aspects of the title could use a little polish, I had a whale of a time nonetheless.

 

The turn-based game mostly centres around small teams of Terminators (genetically enhanced post-humans in suits of powered armour) taking on the Genestealer infestation (six-limbed, chitin-coated monstrosities with huge claws) in the claustrophobic hallways of a titular Space Hulk. Missions range from desperate retreats to search-and-rescue operations, and take place on a floor grid which Genestealer and Terminator alike must use Action Points to cross.

Each Terminator has a set number of Action Points to use walking, firing, opening doors, passing objects or waiting for enemy movement, and carefully selecting your course of action feels like considering your moves on a chess board, more than a videogame. Although it lacks the tense atmosphere and first-person shooting of Vengeance of the Blood Angels, Ascension’s isometric gameplay is addictive and memorable, if repetitive.

Mission Briefing

Ascension is an update to Full Control’s 2013 title Space Hulk. At the time of its release, 2013’s Space Hulk was received moderately well, with many critics bemoaning a lack of content and too stringent adherence to the tabletop game’s rules.

Ascension addresses some of those concerns, at least in part, with up to 50 hours of additional content. A number of new Space Marine Chapters to play as have been added, and new weapons, Genestealer mutations, missions and environments tacked on to the core experience. The gameplay has also been streamlined and made far more accessible for the layman, but my personal favourite new addition is an RPG-style experience system that adds far more depth to the action.

Making the Terminators gain experience with every mission objective achieved and every Genestealer squashed is a masterstroke of design, turning a run-of-the-mill shooter into something more akin to the excellent X-COM: Enemy Within.

I can’t tell you the number of times I was left ranting at the screen as my ‘rank three’ Terminator Librarian failed to gun down the enemies charging him and got sliced to shreds – suddenly, far from being just a name in a red/blue/grey suit of armour, every Space Marine matters in Ascension.

An updated mission progression structure draws each of the isolated missions together into a cohesive (if predictable) storyline, and a number of improved ‘flash’ missions – tough assignments often worth it for the XP and new weapons available – keep things interesting. The three Chapters included – the Blood Angels, Ultramarines and Space Wolves – all have a Space Hulk to conquer, so there’s plenty to see and do.

Deployment

That’s not to say every critic request has been met in the Ascension update package. While the graphics for the mission environments are excellent, the rendering for the Terminators and Genestealers is slapdash at best, often showing rough textures and poor animation.

Admittedly, this wouldn’t be problem if the game remained isometric-only, but the newly added RPG tenets, such as a character upgrade screen, rather show a lack of effort compared to the thought and time that went into the Space Hulk environments.

Each Hulk, while often repetitive in design, comes to life once the player zooms in on the action – I was delighted when zooming in brought the sights and sounds of the Hulk to my ears – slamming doors, screeching Genestealers, the heavy breathing of the Terminators. The shadows are hidden by thick smoke, and flashing beacons act as grim warning of what is to come.

Even better is the ‘picture in picture’ camera in the top right of the game screen. This live video feed shows the action from the viewpoint of the selected Terminator – blood and all – and was a great addition to the game, bringing the action into a gory focus from the gamer’s perch on high. Having to ‘expand’ the window for each mission was a minor annoyance, however – the game should really have remembered my choice.

Naturally, that view also left me wanting to gun down the enemy myself, rather than order a Terminator to do it, but Full Control are leaving that to the next game in the series.

Combat

One major niggle, however, is the control menu for each Terminator. After selecting a unit, the gamer must carefully consider positioning on the floor grid, move the unit, and then line up a shot. However, the menu used for the Terminators’ abilities is positioned around their feet, so the first issue is having Terminators turning on the spot by accident, and wasting precious Action Points.

The menu buttons are also far too small, making planning your actions fiddly and irritating when the enemy are approaching from all sides.

However, despite these minor issues, praise must go to the sound design, which is simply terrific. The Terminators’ heavy steps resound in the darkness, and the throaty blast of each suit’s weapons brings the tabletop action of the original board game to memory for that alone – what young gamer hasn’t made a noise when firing an imaginary gun at an imaginary monster, after all.

Mission Complete

Space Hulk: Ascension is a faithful recreation of the tabletop board game that introduced so many gamers to the world of Warhammer 40,000 – but this new edition takes pains to not be so bogged down by the restrictions of its progenitor. Although it still lacks polish in some areas, the central gameplay is solid and addictive, and adding the RPG elements was a stroke of genius, inspiring the gamer to consider each move with a new sense of vulnerability and care – and cursing every failed shot or surprise attack.

Article originally published at 6aming.com

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 302 other followers