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.

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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.