BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at The Sims (PC)

“Uhh shamoo ralla poo”

The sims

Can you believe The Sims has now existed for 21 years now? I surely can. The Sims was a game that I put in a fair amount of my teenage years being the somewhat of a social outcast I was. I thought with the original game now old enough to drink in the US it would be a good time to look back and reminisce about a simpler time.

The Sims was brought to us by Will Wright and his crew at Maxis & published by EA (before they became evil personified). For those who aren’t aware of the original PC meth addiction (pre World of Warcraft) The Sims allowed you to create and live your own little slice of suburban SimCity. You send your Sims to work or school, feed them pizza, put them to bed, bathe them, set them on fire and drown them. A typical Thursday. As your Sims worked, got promoted and made money you could improve their living conditions give them better shinier gadgets before they shuffle off to the grave.

When The Sims was released in 2001 it was an instant hit with a lot of different gaming demographics. From casual gamers to hard-core gamers, it seemed everyone was playing The Sims. I think it’s popularity lied with it’s simplicity to play. Anyone could sit down in front of a computer and pick up the game quite easily because of it’s simple aesthetics and ease of use. I too was drawn in by the simple charm of The Sims. My enjoyment continued into The Sims 2 as well, although by the time that The Sims 3 came around both me and the series had grown apart, becoming different from the people we once were.

It was about this time that EA’s corporate greed and contempt for humanity started to show. It seemed where most series would expand and incorporate new features. The Sims in contrast did the opposite, narrowed it’s field of household objects and creation tools. All in the name of packaging it up into DLC packs and charge the same price as the core game EACH!!! I wouldn’t mind it so much if there was 4-5 DLC packs but the sheer number of DLC packs is mind boggling. The Sims had 7 DLC’s, The Sims 2 had 18 (8 Expansions & 10 Stuff Packs), The Sims 3 had 20 (11 Expansions & 9 Stuff Packs). The Sims 4 currently has 37 (10 Expansions, 9 Game Packs & 18 Stuff Packs) with more still being released. So I’ve done the maths (so you don’t have to) and to buy The Sims 4 and all of it’s DLC’s at full price it would cost you over £600 for the privilege.

The Sims and to some extent The Sims 2 are a reminder of a time when EA actually wanted to market games that entertain and spread enjoyment. Although I can’t help but think that The Sims as a series is a victim of it’s own success. Maybe if the The Sims & The Sims 2 weren’t as popular as they were and made as much money as they did in DLC’s then EA wouldn’t try and ring as much money out of their clientele as humanly possible without resorting to muggings.

I’m sorry if you read this expecting a nostalgic return to a game that was much loved and was well deserving of that love and instead got a hate speech on the evils of EA. Although I do have a lot more to say about EA I’ll wait and dedicate a whole piece to them.

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BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at Resident Evil (PC, PSone)

.This week I thought I’d us this time to take you on a trip down memory lane, back to where my love for games really took hold. A time when there were no Caramel Freddos, instead there was the Taz. A simpler time, a time when I could spend every single spare moment playing video games and nobody would moan. One such game from that period, Resident Evil.

Resident Evil begins with an elite tasks force of the Racoon City Police Department known as the Special Tactics And Rescue Service (STARS). After a series of cannibalistic murders take place in the nearby Arklay Mountains. Initially Alpha team are sent in to investigate. The story then starts with Bravo team being sent in to find Alpha team and help in the investigation. Upon finding the remains of Alpha team’s helicopter the team is attacked by vicious undead dogs, their pilot flees leaving the rest of the team behind. The remaining members retreat to a near by mansion not knowing that this is where it all began.

First and foremost, I’m going to put it out there that Resident Evil has not aged well. It’s story and dialogue resembles that of a Z-movie and graphically is almost unplayable, but for it’s day the graphics were top of the class and it’s dialogue was… still really cheesy (which is also how I like my Jill Sandwiches). However; The one thing that it did do very well and still does is create atmosphere. This is achieved by the harrowing soundtrack and gameplay. This made it just as enjoyable for anyone watching the game as those playing the game. I’ve mentioned in my previous Resident Evil reviews that the less you see of an enemy the scarier it is, the anticipation of an enemy is the scariest part and Resident Evil does that really well, with periods of quiet between each zombie encounter, as a new player not knowing if an enemy is going to be waiting around the next corner can be pants wettingly terrifying. This was an aspect that made Mr X from RE2 far scarier than Nemesis in RE3.

Resident Evil was the defining moment for the Survival Horror genre. It certainly wasn’t the first given that ‘Sweet Home’ and ‘Alone in the Dark’ are both classed as Survival Horror games and were released in 1989 & 1992 respectively. Resident Evil just took what came before it and did it better than anyone else, carving the rules of the genre into stone. The feelings of isolation and powerlessness, limiting recourses and in doing so forcing the player to make judgement calls such as “Can I spare this ammo in taking down this zombie or should I try to avoid them?”. This de-emphasises combat in favour of strategy and thinking around a problem rather than running in guns blazing like most shooters before it.

To round everything off, Resident Evil was a Concorde moment for the genre, nothing would be the same again after it. It’s just a pity that the series itself couldn’t build upon the genre that it had so truly defined. Each subsequent sequel loosing a little more of the ambiance and the player feeling a little less hopeless as the games go on until we got to the monstrosity that was Resident Evil 6. Although the remakes of both Resident Evil & Resident Evil 2 have told me that Capcom still have it in them to deliver survival horror as it should be, only to have the Resident Evil 3 remake remind me that a leopard never changes it’s spots.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking Back at Final Fantasy X (PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSVITA, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

With the release of the new Final Fantasy XVI trailer I can’t help but think about the series as a whole as well as my favourites of the series. I struggle to pick which is my favourite, that would be like picking a favourite child. I would never be happy carving a hierarchy into stone, solemnly decreeing that this is the definitive order and so shall it be for all time. I would probably make my list out of water as like water my opinions are fluid, constantly shifting from outside influences. Sure some titles will remain in familiar territory. Using the Premier League as a metaphor, FFXIII will always fall around the back of the pack and fight against relegation, FFXV despite soiling it’s underpants in the final third does enough to hover around mid-table with the likes of FFV, FFXII & FFIX, although the latter 2 do make it high enough now and again that they could qualify for the Europa League and the top spot is usually fought over by FFVII, FFVIII & todays subject matter FFX.

Final Fantasy X tells the story of Tidus (whom I always pronounced as Tie-dus, it was years later when I watched a making of documentary that it was pronounced Tee-dus), a young blitzball player from the large city of Zanarkand. His home is attacked by the gargantuan being known as Sin. After the attack, Tidus finds himself lost hundreds of miles from home. A chance encounter with the summoner Yuna and her guardians finds Tidus a way home.

The game really made you invest in and bond with the characters which makes the stories twist and the end that much more heart wrenching. As previously mentioned the world was also full, vibrant and rich, oozing with culture and lore. This is even before I mention blitzball which I spent more time playing than I care to remember. I would have loved blitzball to have been release as a FIFA-like spin off. Graphically too, FFX was a huge step up from the previous console generation and truly showed off the capabilities of the PS2 at the time.

Final Fantasy X may be a game that fights for the top spot but that doesn’t mean that it is without it’s flaws. It was the first Final Fantasy to ditch the world map for a series of smaller locations which made the world feel small and far too linear, not to the extent that XIII did but it was still an unwelcome change to the series. Also the sphere grid levelling system meant that because everyone can learn every skill & ability each character looses their unique feel in battle later in the game, with Overdrives and Yuna’s summon ability the only unique abilities left. This is not to mention some of the cringe worthy dialogue (The laughing scene in particular).

From the outset you can tell that Final Fantasy X is a very different breed from the Final Fantasy games that came before it. The use of voice overs, mo-cap & skeletal animation & 3D backgrounds being the most noticeable. This huge evolutionary leap is due in part to the series’ jump from the Playstation to the Playstation 2. The massive increase in hardware capability gave Square that unrestricted creative freedom to take the series away from the tried and tested Final Fantasy model. Although this does mean a few classic flavours of the series get left out in the cold, this however is the price of progress and whether you like it or not it’s happening. I brought up this same point in my Final Fantasy XIII review all those years ago and although I am for the evolution of the series and it’s modernising to introduce new players to the franchise I still yearn for some of the classic characteristics to come creeping back in, mainly a full explore-able world. We’ve not had one of them since FFIX. Imagine if Final Fantasy XVI comes with a modern fully rendered 3d world to get lost in, full of secret locations and optional cities and towns? If it does I think I will genuinely loose my shit.

BONUS CONTENT: Looking back at Half-Life (PC, PS2)

In my Witcher 3 review I mentioned that there were people in some circles that regarded The Witcher 3 as “The greatest game of all time”. As much as I enjoyed the game I whole heatedly disagree with it being the greatest game of all time. Although this did lead me to asking myself what I thought the greatest game ever actually was. I came up with a lot of strong contenders, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto III, Silent Hill 2, Portal, but to name a few. I came up with Half-Life quite early on during my brain storming session and with each game that followed it, the less likely it seemed that I was going to be able to top it. So there you have it, Half-Life is the best game of all time and below I shall tell you why.

The story begins with our mute protagonist, physicist Gordon Freeman arriving late for work (I assume he couldn’t call it to work to let them know on account of him being a mute in the pre-email era) at the Black Mesa Research Facility. Once he finally arrives, a routine experiment on an other worldly material goes awry and causes gateways to another dimension to open spewing forth legions of alien creatures. It is up to Gordon and the other surviving members of Black Mesa to close the portals and save the world.

To me one of the reasons for Half-Life’s legacy is not so much the story but in the way it tells it. Previous 1st person shooters of the day (Doom, Duke Nukem 3D etc.) told a story not much further than, run down a corridor and shoot the things that are shooting you. This was not so much a story, but a brief followed by the game. Half-Life in contract had the story run through with the game, the world would develop as events escalated. Events witnessed by Gordon would drive the plot forward along with narrations by and between support characters.

Half-Life has immersion leaking out of it’s eyeballs. The game world, the narrative, the realism, everything about the game seemed like it was solely designed to draw in the player into a gaming experience never experienced before. The game abandoned the idea of levels for one continuous world, this made the world feel large in scope as in doing so it preserves the flow of the game. Guns and health would not hover aimlessly in mid air waiting for the player to pick it up. Health had to be gained by interacting with certain wall consoles, while guns and ammo were found either on dead soldiers/guards or found from armouries around the game. The world was interactive in ways never seen in previous FPS’s. One memorable example being at the beginning of the game where Gordon can interact with a microwave causing a casserole inside it to explode.

Even now, almost 22 years after it’s release it’s legacy stands with all the games that have come from it’s creation, both physically with the likes of Counter Strike, Team Fortress & Portal, as well as the countless number of games since that have been influenced by Half-Life’s innovation and narrative. Half-Life was the first great trail blazer that revolutionised the First Person Shooter and paved the way for others to push the boundaries out that little bit further. It was Issac Newton that said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. I believe that when it comes to video game innovation Half-Life is defiantly one of the giants in which the industry stands upon and because of this it is hard to deny that Half-Life is one of the greatest, if not the greatest video game of all time.

Looking back at Final Fantasy VII (PC, PSone, PSN)

This week I’ve return to my childhood again (Shut up! I’m poor ok, I can’t afford new games every week, you could always donating games to me  so I can review them, No? Quit complaining then.) looking at one of the games that lead me down the path of all night gaming sessions and those incredibly nerdy conversations about Materia combinations and other things nerdy and geeky. Here is one of the all time classics, Final Fantasy VII.

I remember the first time I heard of this game. I went around to my friends house back in the 90’s and he was in his room playing this. I think I just sat there for what must have been hours watching him play through the latter part of disc 2. I knew I had to pick up this game. I immediately picked up the first copy I could lay my hands on. At that moment a friendship was born. I’ve bought this game 4 times so far in the 14 years of it’s life. This makes it a game I’ve bought more times than Oblivion and Silent Hill 2, and they are both very good games. That means something.

The story is the same as most RPG’s. Evil threat, you and your cronies are the only people who can save the world. So you put your best walking boots on and travel the world, save the world, then tentacle rape (if the hentai community is to be believed). Although nothing drives someone to do something better than the possible destruction of the plant, with the number of JRPG’s that have followed this rule to the wire, it is stating to get some what tedious . How about we mix things up next time? For example, the main characters girlfriend/wife/pet rock is murdered by the tyrannical king and it’s up to you to track him down, end his reign of terror and provide justice for the murdered party. Ok so that wasn’t a great example, but that was just off the top of my head, Square-Enix will have committees to decide this kind of thing.

Game play much like the story isn’t one to break the mold. Run around alot, vortex appears, enemies appear from the woodwork, battle commences, defeat enemies, celebrate, repeat, but hey, why fix what isn’t broken? It’s a formula that has worked for JRPG’s as a whole and as more recent Final Fantasies have shown in trying to replace the battle system, they really shouldn’t. I applaud them for trying something new but replacing something that works for something that doesn’t is just plain stupid.

So far you must all be thinking “This is a game that’s meant to be more popular than Jesus, Justin Bieber, Sponge Bob Square Pants and Twilight combined and your saying everything about it is formulaic. What gives?” 1) I’ve only brought up 2 points, Story and Game-play, which is hardly everything. b) Story and Game-play are where the similarities end. Final Fantasy VII is more popular than being dipped in chocolate and thrown into the naked lesbian pit because of the way it changed the rules of not just JRPG’s but the face of the whole computer game industry.

FFVII is to games what Star Wars was to films. Nothing was ever going to be the same after it. It was the first step down a whole new world of possibilities, which was made possible by Sony entering the console wars during the 5th generation and introducing the optical disc. This not only meant greater disc space but also faster stream rates, the implications of this were astounding. Stories could go on for days rather than hours, Full orchestras replaced 16bit sound bites, Worlds felt massive and expansive, FMV’s could thrill and entice us between game plays. Although this did mean an increase of development fees (Final Fantasy VII had a budget equivalent to $62million in this day and age). More importantly though it was one of the first steps in lifting computer games from the 2D.

The in-game graphics were horrible, even at release it was graphically sub par. the cubist representation of characters were laughable. Although this is to be expected since it was games such as Final Fantasy VII that were made at the dawn of the 3d era. They were the pioneers adding the 3rd dimension, give the computer game industry a new direction. Like Stephenson’s Rocket, sure it was slow, ugly and impractical, but it was to show that it could be done. An almost Concorde moment in the history of gaming.

Now to round all this off. Final Fantasy VII revolutionised the gaming industry, much like factories and mills revolutionised Britain, starting the Industrial Revolution leading Britain to be the worlds first dominant super-power. It shaped the very face of all computer games to follow it. For example, without The Beatles, there would never have been Queen. Without the Wright Brothers, there would be no Concorde. Without the Ford Model T, there would be no Bugatti Veyron. Without Final Fantasy VII, there would be no Call of Duty, no Mass Effect, no Skyrim and lets face it. A world without Skyrim would be a pretty bleak place to live in. Although at least I wouldn’t have to hear about people taking  an “arrow to the knee”.

Looking back at The Crash Bandicoot Trilogy (PSone, PSN)

 

I’ve had my week off in which I spent having fun and frolicking (It was my birthday for those who didn’t know). Sadly though there is no rest for the wicked and I must return to the grindstone once more. This week I decided to take a look into my old toy box and dig out an old favourite from my youth. So for your reading pleasure this is my over look of the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy (That’s 1-3, before the series faded into obscurity).
Long ago at the tender age of 8 I remember my dad coming home from a business trip and bring back with him as a present to us a copy of the first Crash Bandicoot game. I immediately fell in love with the game, playing it constantly between school, meals and sleeping. It’s simplicity and child friendliness kept me playing for a good long wile. With the later releases of Crash 2 & 3, the recipe was still the same but with slight adjustments and minor upgrades. After the trilogy and the Crash Team Racing spin-off, Naughty Dog did a rather odd yet noble thing. They refused to make any more Crash games and thus the series was moved on by the publishers at the time Sony Computer Entertainment to Traveller’s Tales and then on to a series of other developers who could never do the series justice. If Wikipedia is to be believed the series is currently owned by Activation who are sitting on their hands with the series as of writing this review.
That’s the back story now the game. I love platform games. Their simplicity and addictive nature makes it easy for players to be absorbed into them since in most games of the platform genre the player never really needs to master any controls other than move, jump and attack. Crash is no exception to this, the first has the bare minimum of controls in which to get by. By Crash 2 the ability to crouch, high jump and slide are added, a couple of extra buttons to press but it helps create more of a variation in each level. Things start getting into the realms of ridiculous at about Crash 3 where the introduction of the double jump, whirlwind spin and a god dam applezooka is thrown into the fray. Some of these (particularly the applezooka) seem like little more than a gimmick, something to add to the game to try and show at least an illusion of progression. Much like adding multi-player to New Super Mario and porting it to the Wii, because that’s an original concept never done before isn’t it Nintendo?
There is a story somewhere within the Crash series, which is more opaque in the latter 2, the first game if you missed the 30sec intro at the beginning, you’ll have no idea why anything is happening. A simple why as to what I’m doing is always nice but not always necessary. It turns out Crash was created by Dr. Neo Cortex to lead his army of critters to world domination, as is such the machine malfunctioned, Crash escapes and must save the female bandicoot from Neo Cortex and in doing so save the world. As to why he collects apples, It’s like asking why Mario collects coins. The answer being because all Platform protagonists are kleptomaniacs. Think about it, Sonic steals gold rings, Rayman steals blue orbs. They all do it.
I was born into the middle ground of gaming. I’m too old to have grown up with the constant media labelling of “Computer Games are too violent and are the cause of everything that is wrong with everything as well as being single handedly responsible every single controversy and injustice ever in recorded and non-recorded history”. I tell you, I’m glad Al-Qaeda admitted to 9/11 because if they didn’t the Americas would probably have to declare war on computer games instead, starting with Flight Simulators… I’m sorry about that, it’s my problem, I’ll deal with it. Anyway, lets continue shall we? I’m also not old enough to have grown up in the dawn of video games in the late70’s/early 80’s. Leaving me to grow up around the middle ground of gaming where video games were starting to push into mainstream society. This means earlier mascots such as Mario, Sonic, Link & Donkey Kong were already well defined within the medium, leaving me to grow up around budding mascots and series such as Rayman, Solid Snake, Crash & Spyro. Characters that have been cast off by older gamers because they seemed tacky compared to what they had in the “Good Old Days” and shunned by the newer gamers for not being Master Chief. They are The Inbetweeners of the gaming world, which gives them a special place in my heart.
The games have aged surprisingly well over the years. They are still as fun to play now as they were all those years ago. Although graphically they are rather rough around the edges, they aren’t bad enough to denture you from playing them, unlike other games of that era (the first Resident Evil being the biggest guilty party). The first one enthralled me enough to play all the way through from start to finish in one evening. The second one I have been jumping on and off of over the past week or so and no. 3 I’ll start again once I’ve completed 2 again.
Overall Crash to me is like a washed up Rock Star. After 3 Critically acclaimed albums, success went to Crash’s head, the crack addiction began. Bickering and infighting caused changes to the band which meant following albums could never really stand up to the originals. Then the fall into obscurity before one day wondering what happened to the poor guy, you check Wikipedia to find that while your back was turned there was a flood of mediocre to poor albums before finally being dropped by the record label. I’m just hoping whatever Activision has planned for the old Bandicoot for his reunion tour will be enough to give him a decent sending off before we lay him to rest. Shine on you Crazy Bandicoot.