Friday, February 22, 2019


It's a little difficult to find the right term for the new version of Resident Evil 2.  Is it a remake?...a remaster?  It's not a reboot, nor is it a reimagining.  Personally, I kind of like the notion that it's Resident Evil 2.5 since there was an aborted attempt by Capcom to make a sequel to the original that fans have dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 (there's even a nod to it in the new game in the form of one of Claire Redfield's DLC costumes).  Labels aside, I sort of forgot how much RE2 is like the movie Aliens.

Goopy hives, embryo implantation, and monsters bursting out of people chests are some of the more obvious similarities.  In a broader sense there is the transition from a purley horror original (Alien and RE1) to a more action-driven sequel.  The relationship between Ripley and Newt feels mirrored in a lot of ways with Claire and Sherry.  There's also some reworked themes having to do with government institutions falling prey to corporate influences (swap Weyland-Yutani with Umbrella Pharmaceutical and Colonial Marines with Racoon City Police and I'm sure you'll see what I mean.  Heck, in both film and game a lot of time is spent poking around the the ruins of a fortified position.  On top of all that, the finale has a surprise fourth act involving a final showdown right after a self-destruct sequence.

Gameplay-wise, the new RE2 is superior to the old PSX version in almost every way.  Even so, I feels like the dev team missed out on an opportunity to more tightly intertwine the stories of Leon and Claire.  I also miss the ability to head stomp leg-biting zombies.  Ada's high-heel shoes seem really out of place to me too.  I know she's supposed to be a femme fatale and all, but those shoes?...with all the walkway gratings?...and monsters about?...and after that nasty thigh wound?  This might sound like an insane nitpick, but remember she did have much more sensible footwear in the old game.  Nitpicks aside, the game is pretty darn scary in places; zombie ambushes and that T-00 (a.k.a. Mr. X) got me pretty good a couple of times.

I've heard a rumor that the team behind the new RE2 will be doing a similar treatment of Resident Evil 3 next.  If so, I't be interested in playing that game as well.  I have fond memories of playing cat-and-mouse with the Nemesis bioweapon through the streets of Racoon City.  Certain aspects of that game may require a more serious overhaul than what was done to RE2 though.  I can't see the quasi-QTE's of that game being well received these days, nor the anti-climatic showdown with the secondary antagonist Nikolai.  Still, counting spin-offs, I can honestly say RE3 is better than the majority of Resident Evil games and as such I think a RE3.5 has potential.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Verdant to Brown

Once upon a time consoles had radically different hardware.  This meant games found on one platform were rarely seen on another.  Porting was a labor intensive process that didn't happen much because it might entail rebuilding a game from the ground-up; re-recording sound and music, re-drawing sprites, etc.  Few as they were, ports tended to be pretty similar.  Mortal Kombat and Earthworm Jim for the Genesis/SNES were almost completely identical.  On the other hand, Alien 3 tie-in games for those two 16-bit platforms are radically different despite having the same titles and cover artwork.

It was also common in those days to see games made with the express purpose of challenging a rival system-seller (i.e. a popular game exclusive to one platform).  Franchises like Phantasy Star and Sonic were created by Sega in order to complete against Final Fantasy and Mario Brothers respectively.  Killzone was often thought of as a game made to directly oppose Halo.  To a degree this sort of think became blown out of proportion by overzealous fanboys, but the fact remains that exclusives helped sell consoles; Golden Eye on the N64, Gears of War on Xbox 360, this day Sony maintains a number of studios that develop games only for PlayStation hardware.  Naughty Dog is probably the most famous, but there are others such as Team Ico, Gorilla Games, and of course the newly formed Kojima Productions.  Exclusives are what has allowed Nintendo Switch and PS4 to overshadow the Xbone in terms of Market Share.  When you get down to it though, there aren't many differences between current-gen consoles.  All of them are basically using similar off-the-shelf-parts found in gaming PCs.  As such it seemed like exclusivity was going to become a thing of the past, and the only difference between ports would be some minor variations in graphics fidelity or operating system feature sets...that is until Epic decided to take a bite out of Steam's market share.

Just for the record I use Steam, but I'm not a fan of Steam or their borderline monopoly on digital game distribution.  I also appreciate attempts by smaller competitors to weaken their dominance thorough cheaper prices and less restrictive terms-of-service agreements.  Unfortunately, a recent tactic is the timed exclusive.  I first encountered one of these with the indie game Bad North and felt that it was a terrible business practice because it basically comes down to strong-arming customers into using a particular service provider.  True, it doesn't cost anything to download and install Epic's client Software, or GoG's, or Origin's...or Uplay's.  Having said that, none of them are particularly useful either; beyond having an alternative digital storefront from which to buy games.  There's no reason why, from a consumer's perspective, a game should only be available through one service.  Of course from the publisher/distributor viewpoint there can be many reasons; almost all of which have to do with stuffing more money in already fat pockets.  Basically, it's a case of pachyderms butting heads...and we all know what happens to the grass when elephants fight, right?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Dark Ages DOOM

It sounds like Starbreeze Studios has run afoul of the law and it's anyone's guess as to whether or not they will continue to exist as a publisher/developer of video games.  For most folks, I imagine that their fondest memories associated with Starbreeze (if any at all) are tied to games like Chronicles of Riddick, The Darkness or Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.  As strange as it might sound, the game I remember the most by Starbreeze is one of their lesser titles, Knights of the Temple: Infernal Crusade

This game came out way back in 2003 so my memory might be a bit fuzzy, but it's basically an action adventure game played from the third-person perspective.  As I recall it was possible to go into a first-person view when using a bow.  The main character is a medieval knight, who becomes increasingly covered in armor as the game progresses.  A number of weapons can be found ranging from axes to maces and of course swords of various calibers.  There are some puzzles and a few useful items that can be found by exploring the environment.  eventually the player will also be able to cast paladian-like spells.  That aside, the core gameplay is close quarters combat.  Enemies consist of mad monks in the beginning and, by the end are mostly made up of demonic monsters.  In between that are a lot of warriors of either european or middle-eastern origin that the player must fight their way through to advance.  To make the melee interesting a lot of work was put into the mocap.  Character animations, across the board, are superb with different attack combos based on weapon or enemy type.  The game also employs what's called a "dynamic camera" that shifts view points (as well as pans and moves about) rather than a standard over-the-shoulder viewpoint.  The closest comparison I can think of is Silent Hill 1 through 4...or the original Dino Crisis.

Despite the camera setup being ideal for a horror game, Knights of the Temple: Infernal Crusade isn't scary.  The story is (obviously) set during the time of the Crusades and features a variety of locations appropriate to that era; monasteries, castles, and lost cities from antiquity.  There's also hell.  Although, if you ask me it feels like the level architecture was lifted directly from Quake.  The story is nothing special; a maiden known to perform miracles is kidnapped by an evil bishop, who plans on using said maiden as a key to open up the gates to the underworld.  It's a lot like DOOM actually, except set in the past rather than the future.

Knights of the Temple: Infernal Crusade was mildly fun when I played it a decade-and-a-half ago, but I doubt to would hold much appeal to most people these days.  It had a tie-in music video by the rock band Within Temptation.  That was kind of cool and fits well with the DOOM comparison I made previously.  Oddly enough none of the their music appears in the actual game though...instead, it's just a bunch of rather uninspired orchestral tunes.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Alien Storm

Between the debut of the Golden Axe and Streets of Rage there was a very odd stand-alone beat'em up title released by Sega called Alien Storm.  Initially an arcade game, it was quickly ported to the Genesis.  Much like the original Golden Axe, the two versions of Alien Storm were fairly similar with a few minor downgrades made to the home console version (probably due to hardware constraints).

While not the most bizarre game Sega has ever made, Alien Storm is definitely somewhere near Altered Beast in terms of weird imagery.  The basic premise is the standard Earth-invaded-by-creatures-from-outer-space plot as seen in a vast number of science fiction films.  In this instance the only real opposition the invaders face comes in the form of three heroes (a man, a woman, and a robot), who incidentally operate a roach coach business on the side.  Basically it's Ghostbusters if the ghosts were replaced by monsters from the stars.  The enemies themselves look heavily inspired by films such as "Alien", "The Thing", "Gremlins" and...well...a lot of other rubber suit monster movies.

In terms of gameplay, it's pretty standard beat'em up fare with a few noteworthy distinctions.  Players have two bars to keep track of; one for energy and the other for health.  Energy depletes little by little when making attacks.  Normally, it would never run out because there are more than enough restoratives to be found while playing.  However, there is a screen-wide AOE attack available to players that kills aliens real good, but takes a big chunk off that energy bar.  Sounds risky to use, but even if the energy bar does end up completely depleted the player can still perform a weaker set of attacks.  So, players don't have to worry about becoming completely helpless.  The health bar doesn't drain very fast either (even when the character it's attached to is taking a pounding).  Much like the Ninja Turtles arcade beat'em up though it's the only life the player gets per credit (or continue, depending on which version of the game it is).

To break up the action there's also some SHMUP and first-person rail-shooter sections.  Much like the gameplay, the music is also an eclectic mix.  Some parts sound like pop or electronic, but the level intros have these creepy stingers attached to them that feel straight out of a horror/suspense film.  There is a fascinatingly disparate collection of attack animations unique to each of the three playable characters as well.  It can be kind of mesmerizing to watch one of the heroes zap, blast, shoot and burn a foe all in the span of one or two seconds.  Just to cap off what a crazy mix of ideas this game is there's a post-finale dance segment to wrap things up.

Alien Storm never got a sequel which, based on the way things are nowadays, makes it prime material for a franchise reboot.  Personally, I would be perfectly happy if that never happened.  Beat'em ups are, for better or worse, a product of their time, and Alien Storm is an exemplary way to show that point.  Attempts to adapt the genre to more modern game designs has been pretty mixed in terms of results.  Beat'em ups are (at their core) all about positioning and in a 3D space in becomes a lot harder to gauge that precisely.  It's a fundamental problem with games like The Warriors and Golden Axe: Beast RiderSleeping Dogs handled it better than most, but there's something about the genre that just seems to work better when it's 2D sprites.

Athstetics is another big part of beat'em ups.  Getting the right balance between goofy versus serious and realistic versus stylized is like trying to walk on a pair of parallel knife edges.  Titles like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim fell off one side, while Dragon's Crown and Mother Russia Bleeds toppled off the other.  I worry that the planned Streets of Rage 4 may not have quite grabbed onto what made the original three so memorable simply because so much time has passed between then and now.  Of course, the same could be said for any attempt to bring an old franchise to the modern age.

Hold up...what this?