Sega Saturn Collecting in 2018

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The Sega Saturn in 2018

The Sega Saturn was released in 1995 in Europe, the third console from the Japanese company who’d brought us the Master System and the Mega Drive. Sega were a massive deal here in the UK and Europe. The Master System and the Mega Drive had outsold Nintendo’s consoles by a big margin. We were officially a Sega country. 1995 was a big year for computer games too. It was the beginning of the fifth generation of console gaming and we saw home consoles really embrace 3D games. 3D games existed before the 32-bit era but the Saturn, PlayStation and N64 would be the consoles that defined 3D games.

The Sega Saturn was actually the first big 5th generation console to hit the shelves. The Sega Saturn had launched the year before in Japan and had done very well. Even after the string of unpopular add-ons for the Mega Drive, Sega was still popular here in Europe. They had a proper dedicated fanbase and there was no real way to mess up a new console launch.

Why The Sega Saturn Flopped

From a user perspective The Saturn was superior to the PlayStation and the N64 (which was still a year away). Two CPUs meant that technically the machine had more grunt than anything else on the market. The Saturn’s RAM expansion gave you increased power and better resolution graphics. As well as supporting RGB or S-Video, the Saturn exported Enhanced Definition 480p over VGA. A much better resolution than the PlayStation and standard N64. The Saturn had an internal memory for saving games. No mucking about with memory cards. A lot of the games auto-saved, which neither Sony or Nintendo really supported. The build quality was immense. A lot of Saturn users have mentioned that their hardware still runs without a hiccup. You can’t say that about a lot of PlayStations or PlayStation 2s and definitely PS3s or Xbox 360s.

But that pioneering hardware meant the Sega Saturn’s cost per unit was astronomical. Developers also found it hard to work with the dual CPUs. Programming games for the Saturn was brutal, unlike Sony’s console. The result of this was PlayStation quickly dominating the marketplace with a list of games longer than your Mum’s rap list. The Saturn launched in Europe with three games, the PlayStation launched with nine. Sony’s approach was just to bloat the market with as much shovelware as they could. The scattergun approach. By the time the N64 landed in 1996, the Saturn was already a bit of a memory.

Sega attempted to keep the Saturn competitive by bundling it with Daytona USA, Virtua Cop and Virtua Fighter 2. It did boost sales but it wasn’t enough. By 1997, barely two years after it launched, the Saturn was trailing so badly that Sega began planning their next platform. Codenamed Katana, which we would later know as the Dreamcast. Immediately following the Dreamcast announcement sales of the Saturn attenuated off and many scheduled games (including the English version of Policenauts) were cancelled. The Saturn was dead.

 

Although the console was a bugger to program for, the games which did get released were pretty much all great. Those who wanted to make a Saturn game had to really want to make a Saturn game. The Saturn versions of multiplats were nearly always better than the PlayStation version. The exclusive games for the Sega Saturn are some of the most enjoyable games you will ever play on 32-bit era machines. This is the good news. Sega’s loss can be your gain because I think the Saturn might be one of the best retro consoles to collect in the modern era.

The ratio of good to bad games is really favourable. All told there’s about 240 PAL Sega Saturn games and the majority of them are good. There’s very little you’d call rubbish. Compare that to the 1400 PAL PlayStation releases, the majority of which are piss-poor computer games.

Best PAL Sega Saturn Games to Collect

I will concentrate on the PAL releases for the Saturn, as we’re repping the UK. There were some excellent games released in Japan, and a couple of US exclusives too. If you’re interested in imports you’ll need to hunt down a foreign Saturn or acquire a RAM cart that allows the playback of imports.

Sega always crushed it with getting arcade ports available on their systems. The Saturn was no different with killer arcade titles like Sega Rally and Virtua Fighter. If you like games that are quick to get into but take time to master then the Sega Saturn is for you.

Sega went against the grain and programmed the Saturn to be a 2D powerhouse. Another reason the console sold poorly. People were interested in the future of 3D gaming, not what was deemed at the time to be old-fashioned. But the Saturn’s ability to thrash out quality 2D visuals at speed means the Sega Saturn is perfectly suited for fighting games. With the best six-button controller ever, there’s no reason to play fighters on any other console. X-Men: Children of the Atom is an absolute arcade-perfect port of one of the best 90s fighting games. Street Figher Alpha 3 is spectacular to play, much better on the Saturn than the PlayStation. Street Figher Alpha 2 is actually my favourite Street Fighter game and the Sega Saturn version is flawless. Full arcade character roster, authentic soundtrack and exclusive modes not even in the arcade original. Marvel vs. Street Fighter and X-Men vs. Street Fighter are both perfect.  If you’re more into 3D fighting games then you’ve got Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive and the pretty decent Fighters Megamix available to you.

3D Games on Sega Saturn

Speaking of the 3D, the Saturn has some pretty good 3D games. The Saturn was capable of a decent polygon count and some nice transparency effects. Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop and Virtua Racing offer decent competent gameplay. For driving games on the Saturn you’ve got Daytona USA, Need for Speed and Sega Rally. More decent 3D offerings range from wipEout, Resident Evil and Jeff Minter’s excellent Tempest 2000. If you like platformers then there’s a very strong selection here. Mega Man, Rayman and Earthworm Jim all got a look in. There’s even a port of CastleVania: Symphony of the Night which is in my top 10 games of all time.

Nothing stands out so much though as the platform-exclusive Nights into Dreams. Developed by Sonic Team, Nights came packaged with the first fifth-generation analogue controller. Take that N64! Nights into Dreams is best described as Mario 64 meets Tony Hawk’s. It’s really good. Probably the most fun you can have with your mates is Saturn Bomberman. If you plug multitaps into more multitaps, you can have ten lads playing Saturn Bomberman at once. Ten-player Bomberman is only achievable on the Sega Saturn so that’s a big plus for the console. The Saturn exclusives list was very impressive, with Shining Force, Guardian Heroes and Deep Fear ranking above the rest. Deep Fear was never released in the US so that’s a little bonus to us PAL players.

Sega Saturn Shmups

If you like scrolling shooters then the Saturn is a monster. For the PAL-only releases the shmups are a little thin on the ground. RayForce, Darius, In the Hunt (one of my favourites) and Parodius all make an appearance but for the true depths of bullet hell you’ll need to go Japanese. Mobile Light Force, Radiant Silvergun, DonPachi, Battle Garrega and Galactic Attack are part of the goliath list of Japan-only shmups list. Represented perfectly with no frames dropped. If you want to play imports, the Sega Saturn is a really easy console to play imports on.

Sega Saturn Imports

Grab an Action Replay or an ST-Key and you’ve basically doubled your games catalogue. The Action Replay cart fits into the Sega Saturn RAM expansion for modless import playback. I have a cart with both Action Replay and RAM expansion built-in so I never need to swap carts. An Action Replay isn’t necessary to quickly and cheaply get a great collection of classic games though. If you’re keen to start a PAL Saturn collection then you’d do far worse than to pick up the following. Prices aren’t accurate and are a reflection of prices on the day of writing.

Cheap Sega Saturn Games

  • Sega Saturn Console – £30
  • Sega Rally Championship – £4
  • Virtua Fighter 2 – £2
  • WipEout – £4
  • Bust a Move 2 – £3
  • Magic Carpet – £7
  • Exhumed – £6
  • Clockwork Knight – £8
  • Street Fighter Alpha – £7

The total there is £71. You can buy two new games with that. The prices do ramp up as the games become rarer. But you can quickly and cheaply grab a collection of nineties arcade classics without compromising on quality.

The Sega Saturn shone too brightly and was gone too soon, like a comet blazing across the evening sky. But Sega’s loss can be your gain. There’s nearly five hundred Sega Saturn games out there. Numerous Sega Saturn exclusives and a lot of them unlikely to be re-released. I highly recommend the Sega Saturn as a cheap and rewarding console to collect for.

This article was originally (badly) written on Dec 13, 2011. I revisited the Sega Saturn this summer. I thought it would be great to look at the Sega Saturn in 2018. It’s still a great choice for the retro collector.

For more Saturn resources check out segasaturn.co.uk

Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango PC Game Review

This is gonna be a long PC game review, because I love this adventure game! Released for the PC in 1998, Grim Fandango is the pinnacle of the adventure game genre and is probably the best game to ever come from LucasArts. Bold claim, I know. Grim Fandango’s high concept is: Film noir meets Aztec mythology and Art Deco in the afterlife. Also there’s giant bees.

The Grim Fandango PC game is set in the Land of the Dead. Turns out the Aztecs were right. Everyone in the afterlife looks like those cute little Mexican folk art skeletons. You play as Manny Calavera, the Grim Reaper. Well actually, he’s one of several Reapers, and in this world Death is more of a travel agent. In the original Aztec mythology, the souls of the newly-departed face a perilous four-year journey through limbo, before they reach what’s called the Ninth Underworld. On foot, the journey is dangerous, with a high chance of being eaten by demons or smashed to smithereens by supernatural forces. Now, Manny’s job is to upgrade these souls to a better travel package. If you’d lived a virtuous life you might qualify for a Golden Ticket on the Number Nine express train, which zips you straight to Heaven in just four minutes. Grim Fandango creator Tim Shafer is known for having a bizarre imagination and a taste for the oblique, with Grim Fandango showing you can clearly add a dark sense of humour to that list.

grim fandango pc game reviewgrim fandango game review

Manny’s big problem is that he just keeps getting deadbeat clients, who have to make the four-year journey on foot whereas his work rival Domino is getting all the Gold Ticket clients. Domino is one of those sales wankers, you know the type and poor old Manny just can’t catch a break. Manny starts to suspect that something fishy is going on, and so begins a story of love, betrayal and tiny skeleton birds with human faces. I’m making light, but really, there’s some really interesting themes at play here. The characters Manny find himself up against are really despicable. These people were obviously gangsters in life, and they remain gangsters in death. And so why move on? They know that whatever waits them in the next life is almost certainly going to be worse than where they are now. They’ve figured they might as well stay in limbo forever. By exploiting innocent souls, they can elevate themselves into positions of power, money and influence. Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, right? Scratch below the surface and that’s some pretty dark subject material, and I originally thought Grim Fandango was a goofy story about skeleton travel agents selling train rides!

Manny’s an interesting character, too. He’s working as a Grim Reaper, he’s not on his own four-year journey. He did something when he was alive which left him with a debt to the “powers that be”. We never find out what it was, but I can’t help but wonder what Manny did when he was alive that means he’s not allowed to leave purgatory. He starts the game as your quintessential noir protagonist; bleak, cynical, aloof. But in classic Film Noir fashion, over the course of the story he grows into a better person and the finale to the story is that much more satisfying. I don’t want to say anything else, because Grim Fandango has honestly one of the most original and charming stories in any computer game.

grim fandango pc review

What really sells that story though, is the atmosphere. Tim Shafer and the LucasArts team somehow managed to combine Aztec mythology and Film Noir and not make it shit. You’d expect those themes to be like oil and water but they pulled it off. Most of the Land of The Dead is decked out in art deco, but realised through that LucasArts lens. All the skeleton characters are so strikingly individual and all the fashion is just flawless mid-century, reiterating that brilliant Film Noir atmosphere. Visually, Grim Fandango is still one of my favourite PC games. In 1998 LucasArts had some fantastic staff members like Leslie Aclaro, Peter Chan and Linda Grisanti, who did sterling jobs making sure all the disparate, exotic locations in the game are all pinned down with a consistency and detail that only LucasArts could muster.

Added into that mix is a brilliant soundtrack of 1930s/40s style music. A wicked blend of swing, big band and mariachi, again somehow all working in unison to give this game identity. Grim Fandango’s music was composed by Peter McConnell and that man’s CV is unreal. He’s done it all. From Monkey Island 2, Sly Cooper, Brutal Legend and Hearthstone. Chances are you’ve heard and loved this guy’s music and Grim Fandango is possibly his strongest work. Pulling together those disparate styles and giving the soundtrack its identity echoes that “We can do it” attitude that bled out of these LucasArts games.

While we’re on the subject of audio, the voice acting is flawless. In my opinion this is  one of the most important factors of an adventure game. Manny Calavera is voiced by Tony Plana, who was Omar in 24 and Rafael Hernandez in The Punisher. Grim Fandango’s voice cast members include Maria Canals (who is Hawkgirl in everything), Pamela Adlon (who won an Emmy for her performance as Bobby in King of the Hill), The voice of Rita Repulsa Barbara Goodson and Ultra Magnus himself, Jack Angel. Alan Blumenfeld is the standout performance though, as Manny’s sidekick Glottis. I just love him so much and he still has me laughing out loud after all these years.

grim fandango pc game

A lot of talk about a computer game so far, and I’ve not even spoken about the actual gameplay! Like most LucasArts adventure games, gameplay in Grim Fandango is moved along by solving puzzles. By and large, the solutions follow the usual adventure game logic, so if you’re getting stuck, there’s probably something you’ve missed. There is always the classic “try everything on everything” school of thought which usually works, but you should be able to figure most of the puzzles out. A brief warning though, the puzzles in Grim Fandango are all a bit knottier than other LucasArts games. Monkey Island might have a few obtuse puzzles, but there’s a couple in Grim Fandango that really take the piss! Overall though, Grim Fandango has some of the most rewarding puzzles. The game knows it’s hard, but when you put two and two together it’s a great feeling.

grim fandango pc review

Grim Fandango Remastered

As much as I love adventure games, by 1998 the scene was dying out. Shooters were still in their infancy, but they were poised ready to dominate the face of PC gaming for the next twenty years. Grim Fandango was Tim Shafer’s attempt at rejuvenating the adventure game genre, but it ended up being something of a swansong. LucasArts invested a massive 3 million dollars into the game’s budget but sales did not do the game justice. Despite absolutely smashing reviews and winning awards across the board, some reports claim as little as 100,000 units were sold. As far as I can tell, Grim Fandango is the only LucasArts game that didn’t turn a profit.

LucasArts forever moved away from the adventure game genre after Grim Fandango, but we’ve seen some great new titles come up recently. Grim Fandango received a Remastered edition courtesy of Tim Shafer’s company Double Fine, after they acquired the rights from Disney after they closed LucasArts in 2012. The remastered Grim Fandango has upscaled graphics, new character models and lighting and includes a more traditional point and click mouse interface. It’s every bit as good as the original and in some ways it’s improved. Grim Fandango Remastered can be bought from Steam or GOG for the bargain price of a tenner. When I started doing these Second Wind PC reviews, it was my intention to celebrate the past, and to showcase great PC games that you might have missed. And with these classic old games getting HD remasters and such, it’s a great opportunity for you to give this game a Second Wind yourself. If you’re a fan of adventure games and you’re looking for something with a bit of panache, then you’ve found it. I’ve played a lot of adventure games, but I’ve never played as good an adventure game as Grim Fandango.

grim fandango pc adventure game

Grim Fandango is in my top three PC games of all time, on a good day I’ll say it’s my number one. It’s not perfect, no game is perfect. But the atmosphere, the storytelling, the creativity and the excellent worldbuilding make Grim Fandango an experience that I just cannot get enough of.

Watch my Grim Fandango adventure game review here.

Fallout New Vegas DLC Retrospective

Fallout New Vegas DLC Review

The release of the final New Vegas DLC chapter Lonesome Road brings an end to the Courier’s journey through the post apocalyptic Las Vegas wastes. With it the last chapter in the Fallout New Vegas tale. Although New Vegas DLC has normally been delayed and sometimes unfavourably reviewed, Obsidian kept their promise. Continual support for New Vegas with 4 servings of DLC available on all formats. PC gamers can continue the wander through the retro-futuristic wastelands with a number of great fan-base mods. But console gamers, this is your final call until the next Fallout game, whenever that may be.

I’m a massive fan of both current-gen Fallout offerings. I would put both Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 3 in my top ten games of the last 5 years. Both are hardly distinguishable from each other and share some of the same glitches, shoddy textures and catastrophic system crashes. I love them just the way they are. True story: Fallout 3 red-ringed two of my Xboxes, the lovable scamp! The DLCs on the other hand, have followed the pattern of having one decent and three mediocre offerings per game. A poor return on the time waiting between releases and points spent on content. Although all New Vegas DLCs take the player to radical new locations, it seems every time a title and release date was made official, my hopes would peak. Maybe this time the immersion of the main game would be replicated. I could continue onwards in my joyous grind. Only for my dreams to be crushed a couple of hours later. But I would never learn.

I’ve set out here to have a look back at the four expansions made available for New Vegas DLC and try to find some good in all of them. This is harder than it should be for a game so critically acclaimed! And so on to the retrospectives and reviews.

Dead Money

New Vegas DLC chapter Dead Money is set in the forgotten casino of Sierra Madre, and sees you and three new companions searching for the legendary treasure within. The story takes a decidedly darker route than the main game, with a hazy visual filter and the menacing Ghost enemies, but loses some of the intensity with the strict linear and structured missions. Only a dozen new quests were added and were split between being long and tedious, or trap-filled and frustrating – much of the playtime will be filled with saving and reloading after trial and error. Around ten new perks are available, seven of which can be taken to the Mojave. The loot you find will probably be no better than that which you already have on your return, and you are teased with a huge amount of possible caps from gold bars as reward for finishing, but you neither have the strength to carry them all nor any realistic option to sell them.

On the positive side, the best part of Dead Money is also the most important; there really is quite a captivating narrative which keeps you trawling through the claustrophobic level design. The companion side missions are far removed from the normal Fallout fare, and the characters’ story resolutions are worthwhile. Although I would have liked to have kept one or all the companions, seeing their conclusions was reward enough. It is not often you have empathy for a video game character, let alone a non-playable one.

Dead money did show some real potential, and the story alone was enough for me to continue to the finish, but replacing openness in favour of linearity removed any chance of repeat play. Lessons were learnt from Fallout 3, and like all New Vegas add-ons, the level cap is raised by 5 which adds some millage, but the cost of the New Vegas DLC feels a bit like blackmail to improve your characters stats. And so a middle of the road 50% is all I can give.

50%

Honest Hearts

Honest Hearts takes another right turn from the New Vegas story line as you exit the Mojave on an outing to the preserved wilderness of Utah’s Zion National Park. Here you encounter the warring tribes; the Dead Horses, the White Legs and the Sorrows; a smattering of new characters and gear as well as finally coming face to face with the Caesar’s former top soldier, the mysterious Burned Man. Depending on how far you have progressed in New Vegas, this name will either leave you intrigued, afraid or simply confused.

This New Vegas DLC opens with the standard Pip-Boy radio signal, this time from the Happy Trails Caravan Company. They are looking to reopen a trade route with Utah and are offering the opportunity to join the expedition to those wandering the wastelands. Sticking to the norm, with this DLC you cannot bring any companions with you, but you are able to bring some of your equipment. The yomp will be long though, so you are limited to 75 pounds. Choose wisely, as you’ll be fighting from about two minutes in! After the initial free-for-all, the pace takes a dive with a series of fetch quests and recon missions and offers a number of conclusions depending on whether you seek a peaceful solution or all-out tribe genocide.

Zion did not feel the brunt of the war, and this is reflected in the flowing greenery and thriving wildlife (translation- plenty of crippling cazadores or yao guai encounters). The scenery is striking and does show some variance is possible on the ageing Fallout engine, but it definitely does not equal the first encounter with the scorched Capital Wasteland.

Rather than skirt around it, it’s easiest to straight-out say I did not enjoy Honest Hearts and found it short on thrills but long on monotony. As well as being full of bugs, Honest Hearts played it safe, took no risks and didn’t bring anything memorable to the table. One of the new features was weather, adding rain or an overcast effect to the game, although as the change in atmosphere achieved through the murky hue of Dead Money had already been utilized, this seems hardly a groundbreaking new addition! You can return to Zion after completing the New Vegas DLC, if you so wish, but all gamerpoints can be achieved in one playthrough and I can see no need to revisit. Apart from the increase in level cap I can not see any reason to explore further than the main quests.

40%

Old World Blues

Now we’re talking! Old World Blues is the apex of New Vegas expansions and makes a bold attempt to surpass the measuring stick of Fallout 3’s ‘Point Lookout’. As with the departure from the main game in Mothership Zeta, the player is removed far from reality to be placed inside Big Mountain, where the Courier becomes part of a sprawling lab experiment. With its large terrain to explore, plenty of missions, some bizarrely humorous NPCs and some actually useful swag to take back, this really is the the best of New Vegas DLC.

From the start of the arriving at Big MT, you learn that your spine, heart and brain have all been extracted and replaced with cybernetic equivalents, you are then greeted by an arguing set of floating brains who turn out to be the remnants of a unique group of scientists. And thus the tone is set for this adventure! You retain all your previous spoils, which is a bonus as the enemies in this New Vegas DLC chapter are TOUGH, but you also get access to some of the best tools on offer within the first quarter of the 8 hour experience. The overall mission is very briefly referred to, but the overview revolves around two feuding robots, the “virtuous” Doctor Klein and “evil” Doctor Mobius. With each fetch quest, the story is expanded further, but this can be achieved in almost any order, as you are not corralled into completing and progressing in any set way. The backstories around the origins of some the mutated creatures in the Wasteland are also revealed along with encounters with hardened or legendary variants. Who would have guessed a bloatfly could be the toughest enemy in the game!?

The dialogue is pitch black in humour and thick with surreal-ness. I believe this is the first time I have heard the phrase “Fully erect hand penises” in any medium. Each of the scientists has its own unique personality, not to mention the fixtures and fittings in your room: There are rivalling light switches, a mug-obsessed miniature sentry bot, a raggedy bluesman juke box, the list goes on – and all add to the charm of the expansion.
Old world Blues really does reward exploration, both in the ability to retain a base in Big MT for all items collected and the ability to return at will after completion, and by continually providing excellent dialogue.  There is also the opportunity to retain some of the best perks, implants and traits in the game and the ability to change from your opening level 1 loadout. The story may not be the tightest as some quests in the main game, and takes some liberties with the dreamlike setting, but it is certainly the funniest and gameplay is without rival.

90%

Lonesome Road

And so here we come full circle to the end of the New Vegas DLC experience. As the Couriers story began with such a literal ‘BANG’, hopefully Lonesome Road will fill in what happened not just at the end of New Vegas, but hopefully the tale before Benny’s critical introduction.
Lonesome Road begins with your character contacted by the occasionally-mentioned original Courier 6, now known under the name ‘Ulysses’. You are invited to travel to The Divide, a wild new area beleaguered by earthquakes, the only humanesque inhabitants being the feral Marked Men. The title of the expansion rings true, you have to undertake this journey on your own (save for a revamped ED-E you recruit almost instantly).
I won’t go into plot, as I really have no clue as to what I am supposed to have learnt. The vagueness runs around Ulysses hating the courier for deeds done before the fateful bullet in the head, but this is not properly explained. There are mentions of Caesar and the NCR, something about warheads, Ulysses seeking revenge and other fuzzy plot points. Where Dead money had interesting and individual character back stories; where Honest Hearts had a distinctly related NPC in the Burned Man and where Old World Blues had erratic but intriguing dialogue, Lonesome road has a map marker you follow blindly for 7 hours and then it’s all over.

The title of the New Vegas DLC chapter feels as if it was an honest review of the gameplay; battles are infrequent and impersonal, the landscapes are devoid of any interest or side quests and NPCs are completely missing. The main story follows the simple formula of fetch-quest-after-fetch-quest; the linearity is a worse offender than Dead Money. The designers also seem to have tried to make up for lack of content by ramping up the difficulty- Deathclaws aplenty with no possibility of sneaking within the tight backdrop.

As there are no restrictions on what you can bring to the Divide, I found the technologically advanced weaponry of Big MT was more than enough to help me through, and picked up little of what I found. Some new weapons in the form of an upgradeable rocket launcher and a behemoth of a machine gun are interesting at first, but end up too heavy and impractical. And scavenging is uncalled for even if it was possible; there is simply too limited a number of open areas.

Once again, this New Vegas DLCs major selling point was for the raise of the level cap by 5. Disappointing, dreary and full of loose ends, I rate this as the worst of the packs.

40%

Is Any New Vegas DLC Worth it?

After ploughing so much time into both Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, it’s depressing that I don’t think I will ever have this amount of time to sink into a game again. Yes the add-ons were mostly disappointing, and yes there was a serious lack of inspiration in some content, but I still played all of them to the end and would still feel obliged to continue if there were any future releases. Just on the hope that the next one would be THE game that would replicate the same breath-taking feeling of the first dip into in Fallout 3.

Resident Evil 4 HD

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Resident Evil 4 HD Review

Another year, another Resident Evil reboot. This time it’s Resident Evil 4 HD.

The zombies are gone and in come Las Plagas; Leon Kennedy’s mission is to rescue the president’s daughter from an unknown fate whilst engaging in sparklingly terrible dialogue. 2011 brings the 6th remake of this fantastic horror-themed shooter to the current gens in supposedly glorious HD – if there ever was a game deserving another peddling to a new market then this would top the list. But how much can be added to an already overly-remade and re-ported classic?

Resident Evil 4 HD remakes aren’t new

The majority of gamers will have at least a base recollection of this game; Nintendo, Sony, PC and mobile markets have all had an adaptation. To get the bias out of the way, the GameCube Resident Evil 4 is one of my favourite games ever made. I have completed it and re-completed it over and over and will continue to do so with every new release. Finishing the infuriating quest to unlock the Hand Cannon will remain one of the proudest moments of my life and I want that on my gravestone. So a HD remix should be a blessing, right? Right?!

Well yes and no. As nothing has been added to separate it from the PS2 release, the biggest selling point – apart from it being a proven game – is solely in the hands of the high definition presentation. There is no doubt that the GameCube original looked nothing short of spectacular on its initial release. I was blown away by the opening cutscene and first mission of my first playthrough and the game continued to wow me throughout, with the introduction of all the different characters and locations. Here lies the problem; when a game is already this well-made, there’s only so far you can go with re-rendering and upscaling without remaking the game entirely. Whilst the character models appear to fit the HD tag, some textures look almost identical to 2005, and the sometimes shoddy AI and enemy attack patterns could have done with a review.

What’s new in Resident Evil 4 HD?

Every line of cheesy throwaway voice acting, every action, enemy placement, and quick time event has remained the same, meaning veteran players will breeze through Resident Evil 4 HD with little resistance; and the big scare moments (spoiler: man in oven!) have lost their impact. A missed opportunity I fear, as even something as simple as shuffling the locations for the treasure hunt side quest throughout the game could have added a bit more mileage – I managed to clock the game in a few hours purely from memory rather than skill. Assignment Ada, the PS2’s Separate Ways and the Mercenaries extras are included to increase the overall playtime, but you really would be feeling ripped off if these were not included.

In a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, Resident Evil 4 HD’s controls remain almost identical, save for a bit of button placement redesign. A big positive here – after a few missed knife strikes and kicking a ladder over instead of descending it, everything clicked and I was up and running (and gunning). The static, over-the-shoulder aiming may feel a bit dated compared to the modern, FPS cover-based evolution, but the game would not be the same without it and the desperate, ammo-conserving combat would be lost, along with the whole feel of the game.

Resident Evil 4 HD remake worth buying?

If 1800 points seems steep for a 6 ½ year old game, that’s because it probably is. Do not misapprehend, any version of Resident Evil 4 is fantastic, and had I not previously played it before, I would still be genuinely impressed with the solid variety, well-thought pacing and maybe even the storyline. Although not as shiny, it is still much better than the more recent Resident Evil 5 in almost every way and is far and away the best game in the ever-expanding Resident Evil universe. For those yet to have played Resi 4, purchasing Resident Evil 4 HD is a must; it’s simply a brilliant game. For veterans like myself, it’s a lot to spend for a bit of nostalgia and I fear the majority of those purchasing will already own essentially the same game in a non-digital format. An easy 600GP Gamerscore is available for purely completing the main game, and this may have just the same amount of draw to some players as the actual quality of the title. In hindsight, I think I would have been just as happy to have stuck to the ‘Cube. But I still purchased it, as I think many will for the sole reason it’s Resident Evil 4.

Why You Should Own The Wind Waker

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I’m a self-confessed Zelda fanboy, and I’ve never hidden it. Much to the amusement and piss-taking of my mates, I’ve argued for years that not only is ‘The Legend of Zelda’ the best game series of all time, but that The Wind Waker is the best of the bunch.

Nintendo went in an unexpected direction with Wind Waker, especially after a 2000 expo tech demo showing a realistic-looking link duelling in a shadowy backdrop gave fans the expectation of an evolution of the N64 titles. With this optimism spreading through the community, once the final game was demoed with its massive right turn in presentation, the backlash was immediate. Just from first looks and without having played the game, die-hard fans felt put out that the next chapter of their much-loved series was steered towards a younger audience – little did they know there was no such chance! Wind Waker contains the most ridiculous ending fight of any game in the series, cumulating with the Master Sword buried right between Ganondorf’s eyes! If you haven’t seen it, YouTube it, you’ll be amazed that this was the ending to a PEGI 7+ game.

The graphics were commonly slated for being too cartoony and childish, but I found this new art direction radiated the most emotion and charm of any game in the series, either before or to follow. While the GameCube had relatively powerful performance for its time, it did not try to go beyond its limits. Nintendo showed the pinnacle of cell shading, and the 2D sprites on the crisp 3D environments kept Wind Waker uncontaminated from the jagged textures and pointed faces that plagued other high profile games of the same era. The fluid transitions between cutscenes, conversations and gameplay gave the feeling of a playing a live action cartoon.
One of the other derided game elements was the endless sailing from island to island (until you found how to quick travel). Was I the only one who found the sailing entertaining?!  Not only was it fun dicking around in a giant open ocean, littered with a mixture of unique islands – it also served a purpose by removing loading screens when moving between said islands and thus keeping the player immersed. You also got to fire a big ol’ canon at pirates, explore ghost ships, shoot a man-fish with a bow and search for buried treasure- what’s not to like?!

The Wind Waker defines the complete game; the controls are intuitive, the story enchanting, the characters memorable; the combat is solid, the game world immersive… I cannot find a single flaw in the whole adventure. I was happy from start to finish and continually wowed by the story development and expanding inventory. The game had everything- Fighting, stealth, magic, humour and PIRATES! Although a repeat play through was for die hard fans only, the sheer size and amount of content blows all the others out of the water.

BioShock

Bioshock review

BioShock is a rarity. Technical, emotional and beautiful. This game affected me so deeply, I mourned for it after I finished it. And I very nearly didn’t play it at all.

The best thing about Bioshock is the story

Taking place in an alternate 1960, the game begins with a plane crash way out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. As the crashes only survivor, you find refuge in a conveniently nearby lighthouse. Inside the lighthouse is a Bathysphere, an underwater transportation system, leading to the spectacular underwater city of Rapture.

Built years prior, Rapture is a failed social experiment built by an industrial giant called Andrew Ryan. Tired of 20th century ideals like ethics or civil rights, Ryan built his own objectivist society. Free from politics, free from religion. Free from control. A society which wouldn’t censor the work of its population. Science, art and philosophy would flourish freely without state intervention.

By the time you arrive, Rapture is anarchy. The place is rotting to bits. Rusty water spilling out of burst pipes, broken furniture everywhere. A vista of total devastation. After being attacked by mutants, you’re contacted by Atlas. Atlas becomes your mentor and guide throughout Bioshock.

Atlas tells you that the mutants that attacked you are called Splicers. Splicers were once human, but have altered their DNA using plasmids. Plasmids are one of Rapture’s crowning achievements. They allow any human to rewrite their own genetic makeup, to unleash the hidden potential in the human genome. From pyrokinesis to invisibility, from hypnosis to teleportation. You quickly realise that to survive here, you have to adapt. You must accept the Plasmid.

Splicers are what happen when you get deep into Plasmid addiction. The number of genetic therapies they’ve undergone, they’ve turned themselves into gibbering mad wrecks. Rattling about in the dirt, Splicers are driven by hunting for hits of Eve. Eve is the refined form of Adam and the the fuel that drives plasmid abilities.

Adam is found in corpses, which is then converted into Eve by these creepy little eight year-old girls called Little Sisters. Little Sisters are the only creatures capable of harvesting Adam and so you and the splicers quickly come into conflict for control of them.

Each Little Sister would be an easy target for you both were they not accompanied by a giant genetic powerhouse called The Big Daddy. It’s a lot of get your head round at first but it’s a perfectly working ecosystem.

You, the splicers and the little sisters form a darkly surreal love triangle.  As the story picks up pace you learn more about each side of this triangle and their effect on Rapture. You’ll see all three of them in a different light by the end of the story. Even Andrew Ryan, the game’s main antagonist is a more subtle villain than you expect. The objectivist visionary who built his own society then watched it tear itself apart. You can’t help but sympathize with him. His philosophy might be horrible but he’s a man of conviction and charm.

That’s the brilliant part of Bioshock for me. No character or faction has a clear moral objective. Good and evil have sort of lost their meaning down in Rapture. Ryan’s a murderer and an all-round deplorable prick but I still felt sorry for him. God and I ended up feeling so sorry for the splicers too. I can’t help but think the blurry vision effect you get after walking under a waterfalls is a visual analogy for the world of Rapture.

Bioshock’s gameplay is deep and rewarding

The world of Rapture is divided into large map areas, each one separated by a forced loading sequence disguised as a Bathysphere journey or bulkhead decompression. I was impressed at the overall lack of load times in Bioshock This era had some absolutely hench load times and I like that they were intelligently tackled here.

Rapture has a satisfying depth. You’re free to roam about as much as you wish, and there’s a lot to discover. Stumbling over a splicer fighting a Big Daddy gives you a bit of insight into the world. But listening to audio diaries or finding a murder scene gives you just a snippet of the history, meaning Rapture really comes alive in the imagination. It’s the negative space between this stuff that really fired my brain up.

The combat gives you a crazy amount of options to suit your style. Each of the eight weapons fire three different types of ammo. On top of your guns you’ve got the real star of the show, the plasmids. As the game progresses you’ll unlock new guns, new ammo types, new plasmids and gene tonics. This gives you a mad range of options when it comes to combat, abilities and passive buffs.

You can stick to the vanilla pistol all the way through if you want, but there’s some great synergy between certain weapons and plasmids that’s too good to ignore. Call a security bot to fight on your behalf. Enrage your enemies to fight amongst themselves, or hypnotise a big daddy to fight alongside you. And then set him on fire when his health is low. Build a web of electric wire traps with the crossbow and sonic boom your enemies into it. If that’s not chaotic enough, launch dozens of bees out of your arm and see what happens.

The combinations are limitless, limited only by your creativity. What I love though is that the wrench remains just as deadly late in the game as it does when you first pick it up. There’s a whole slew of tonics to buff your swing speed and damage output and there’s great plasmid synergy. Even against the hardest enemies in the game, the old one-two punch can still be more effective than your guns.

Splicers tend to attack in groups, but will occasionally launch a solo attack. This is when I felt sorry for them. It’s like the actions of a desperate drug addict with nothing left to lose. What idiot would jump a this lad, holding a sawn-off shotgun in his right hand with flames shooting out of his left? Fighting big daddies is exactly where your reflexes and plasmid configuration comes into play. Get it right and you can finish the fight quickly. Get it wrong and it’s a quick trip to the Vita-Chamber.

Hacking is an important part of the BioShock experience, as with it Jack can not only reduce prices at vending machines and open doors and safes, but he’s also able to gain control of the flying security bots and the hastily-constructed gun-turrets. To hack something, the player is engaged into a mini-game which is essentially Pipe Mania. There are some great Gene Tonics which can make the hacking easier, the alternative of course being your trusty shotgun.

Bioshock is one the best looking games

Bioshock is one of best-looking games on the 360. The industrial environment design, water effects and lighting make Bioshock a joy to play. The attention to light and shade is as aesthetic as it is technically brilliant. Every instance of chipped paint, flickering sign and torn poster is rich in detail and is so brilliantly realised.

The weapon models look fairly generic to begin with but once you find a few power-ups, the models really come into their own. Flywheels, cogs and pipes are bolted on to boost anything from reload speed to splash reduction. Each upgrade is rendered in that Bioshock steampunk style.

The actual best thing about Bioshock is the metafiction

About three quarters of the way through Bioshock I had a realisation. I was waiting behind a billboard, clutching my wrench. I was listening to the approaching footsteps of a thuggish splicer. Seeing his shadow getting nearer, I prepared myself. As he rounded the corner I didn’t hesitate to smash him hard in the face. One hit was all I needed. He crumpled like a paper bag. I was spliced to the hilt to deal maximum damage in melee, double if the attack was a surprise. Rooting through the dead Splicer’s body I found two metal screws and a tube of glue.

I realised that not only did I not need to kill the Splicer, but that I had killed him for three dollars’ worth of rubbish. I legitimately shuddered at the thought, but then a great grin crossed my face. I’d been in Rapture too long, the city had affected me. I had become a splicer. Hopped up on plasmids, my skin was hardened like an armadillo. I could turn invisible. I could swing a wrench with the power to level a building. I was sneaking around in the shadows, beating people to death for a few resources that could be found by rooting around in a bin. I was already regularly doing that too, my main source of food was candy bars I found in ashtrays.

I was meta-thinking about “my” actions in the game and this made me step outside of myself for a second. The fact I was thinking this way made me realise I was playing something special. It was a real lightbulb moment for me. I contemplated the relationship of player and game, of accepted game design. Exploring the relationship between the icharacter and the player is powerful stuff. Bioshock confronted me with difficult concepts and challenged my sensibilities of what a game should or should not be. It bends the accepted practices of the first-person shooter and transcends the medium of entertainment.

Bioshock is a true paragon. It’s a shining example of how a computer game should be crafted. There’s consideration not just for the elements of storytelling but also for technical brilliance. It’s a game made by artisans. Bioshock is the tidemark which I measure other games against.

If you have never played this game or you want to understand why I’m so obsessed with it, please play it. Bioshock is the only game that showed me that not only can I affect the game, but the game can also affect me.