Will Preston

Remake This!

Nothing says ‘Assassin’ like ‘Cyborg Assassin’

by on Feb.09, 2011, under Remake This!

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there once existed a games developer known as Bullfrog Productions Ltd. One of the founders of this videogame production company was a young man known by the name of Peter Molyneux. During its 16 year run, Bullfrog produced a lot of classic sim and strategy games such as Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper and Populous. Eventually, Peter left Bullfrog and formed Lionhead Sudios, where he began his favourite hobby: overhyping. The rest is history. The classic games made during this time lived on through similar titles. However, there was one game series that has not continued for nearly 15 years. The game was called Syndicate and was regarded as one of the best games ever by a fair few publications.

This is the least subtle way to play the game

Syndicate takes place in the near future where corporations rule over the world rather than governments. You take the role of a growing corporation in Europe with plans for world domination. But rather than play the stock market like a bandit and having endless business meetings to further your empire, you have access to your own team of cyborg assassins. You control the assassins on different missions throughout the world to gain control of various countries. These missions can be anything from assassinating an important figure from a rival business firm to ‘persuading’ a scientist to join your cause.

No idea why there's a purple sky, though

For their time, the graphics were pretty good, and so was the violence. Through progress, you get access to various bits of weaponry. When you start the game, you only have the usual pistol, shotgun and Uzi medley, but towards the end you’ll be tearing up sections of dystopian street with gauss guns and lasers. Did I mention that there are civilians and policemen wondering around the streets? One of the controversial elements for its time was the possibility to murder innocent bystanders in a bloody mess. This does attract police attention, but nothing is stopping you from popping a copper with a well placed shot. Needless to say, it is better to avoid the heat and concentrate on the mission without having to add needless tallies on your kill-o-meter.

Still no news about a 'Penis-gun'

Navigating the levels could be done by walking (which can be upgraded with turbo legs. They are cyborgs, remember?), or by driving. In the future, all cars are restricted to a maglev system and an autopilot built in to the car. This provides for some great drive by opportunities without having to worry about where the car is going. The cities don’t look half bad either. Cars go about their usual day and civilians walk around until they enter your crossfire. Various doors can be opened leading to one of the main problems with the game: indoor combat. Rather than fade out the building exterior for a better look, the developers decided to go for the option of showing you where you are without showing what you’re in, so to speak. This has caused quite a bit of confusion when entering a heavily armed bank, for example. An option to allow the assassins to think for themselves in combat saves this flaw from ruining the game.

In between missions, you get to sit back and watch your income slowly come crawling in, as well as raising and lowering taxes. The main thing to do in these little intermissions, though, is to improve and upgrade your agents. You have a research team on standby to think up new guns and parts for your assassin team. Yes, parts. If you watched the video trailer, you can see that the initiates have their limbs replaced with robot parts. This allows for abilities like being able to run faster and retain more damage. It sounds hideous at first, but after a few missions, you’ll wonder how you ever got on with your boring fleshy legs. Syndicate is an early example of what squad based combat games should play like, and its gameplay and cyberpunk influence can be seen in plenty of games today.

Remake?

The 3D graphics weren't really needed

3D graphics don't always improve games

In 1996, Bullfrog released the sequel Syndicate Wars, which continued on where the first game finished. The graphics were updated to 3D and buildings in the game could be destroyed. Apart from this, the core gameplay was untouched and left how it should have been. Since then, nothing has been said until recently when it was confirmed by Electronic Arts that a new Syndicate would be in the works. Hopefully, this won’t be overhyped into disappointment as Molyneux won’t be involved. Until then, the game can only be found as an old DOS copy, if you’re lucky.

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Hilariously flawed, but ultimately engaging. The N64 tries to do GTA…

by on Aug.29, 2010, under Remake This!

The hero is essentially Judge Dredd crossed with Scorpion

Owning one console as a child was like a question of identity. You see, I decided to go with the Nintendo 64 option in the mid to late Nineties and my parents granted me this wish from their magical wish sack (their bank account. If anything, I went for this for the cartridge option; I didn’t trust myself with scratchable CD’s at the tender age of ten. Like if my hands were like Spiderman’s and CD’s would be in constant danger of having lines across them the minute I want to switch over a game. It was a sensible choice, but one major problem stood in the way; the Playstation released a lot of titles that I wanted to have. Resident Evil. Final Fantasy. Medal Of Honor. Even the must have title, Grand Theft Auto, had no inkling of a Nintendo release. Of course back then, consoles were like cars; we all owned one, but having two was something that only the rich could get away with.

Back in those days, we were very thankful for 3D graphics. And hot food on the table...

Luckily, Nintendo managed to get some of it’s own exclusive titles. There was a special edition of Resident Evil 2. Instead of Cloud Strife, we had Link. And instead of hunting nazi’s, we were giving a tekbow and told to wipe out dinosaurs and mutants. But what to do about Grand Theft Auto? DMA Design, the company behind the series (and, bizarrely enough, Lemmings) had an idea that took the main elements of GTA and planned a science fiction time travel bonanza. Seeing the first shots of Body Harvest was exciting. Instead of the bald spot seeking to-down view of GTA, the camera retained a sense of gravity and hovered behind the character, allowing better views of the landscape and less car crashing.

When it finally came out in shops, there were a lot of mixed reviews. When the Gamecube came out, this was never spoken of again. I must be the only person who thinks that we’ve left behind a potential classic. The most outstanding feature of this game is the time travel. OK, we have time travel in a lot of other games, but instead of turning back the Sands of Time in Persia or being transported to World War 2, we were given distinct periods in the 20th century and had to make do with what vehicles and weapons we could find. The story was a device for this. A ridiculous device. There is a comet that comes to Earth every 25 years. Rather then providing an eyesore (or inspirations for a bad Bruce Willis film), the comet is actually a small planetoid containing a collection of insect like aliens who use the time in Earth’s orbit to (groan!) harvest it for it’s bodies. Thus the name; Body Harvest. Don’t look at me, I’m on your side in terms of the name of the game. Unfortunately, every time this happens, it’s in an unexpected part of the world (usually at a time when a great war is happening, in a place that is out of the way, so to speak).

Whilst other bugs just sit there grinning.

And not only that, impenetrable energy walls (also known as “The Edge of the Level”) would trap the inhabitants of the area, isolating them from rescue. At this point, giant insects would come down and harvest them. I would say eat, but there is actually a harvesting process that comes into play when wondering through the game. A harvester wave consists of a harvester alien (a big fat bug who shits green globs and “harvests” humans through it’s mouth), aforementioned green globs that squiggle (that’s the only way to describe their movement) and trap humans for the harvester, and then there’s the general soldier aliens that provide this process goes by the number. It’s beautifully organised in its way. This bug hierarchy provided some interesting situations. The soldier bugs would try bashing building to rubble in order to force the humans out into the open, whilst the harvester does it’s purpose in life.

Should you destroy the harvester, you instantly become the centre of attention and nothing less than an alien cluster fuck commences. It’s OK though, because I forgot to mention that you are a time travelling space marine with no voice, camp Flash Gordon body armour and an infinite ammo pistol. In 2016, Adam (your man) is on board a space station above a desolated and insect occupied Earth. A last minute invasion forces you, and the chick from Fifth Element, into a time travelling….pod thing. Now it’s up to you to travel to the insect’s invasion dates and basically tell them to fuck off. Because the human race is having none of it, yeah? As I said, the different periods offer different technologies. The first level drops you in Greece at around 1916. Yes. Just about the right time they invented the tank, biplane and machine gun. It’s a great way to start the game off, and once you’ve done the basic driving, shooting, talking to people and searching building for puzzles, you’ll find an airfield with an infinite amount of planes. This game really is all about the vehicles. Civilian vehicles come in all forms and handle in different ways. But once you get your hands on a howitzer or tank, the game gets VERY interesting.

By this point, your armoury just gets ridiculous!

I should also mention that with great vehicles come terrible fuel economy. Yes. They are all prone to rolling to a stop once you run out of magic moving juice. Which is a pain, as your character can’t swim and runs like, well…remember those dreams where you can’t run too fast and something is chasing you. Yeah, it’s like that. It’s a pain in the arse to walk anywhere. But there’s some great walking music provided; one of the reasons I love the game for it’s atmosphere and dynamic music. Aliens come out; music changes to suit your mood. Now all games do this. But back to the time travel. After a sunny holiday in Greece, the next stop is Java during that difficult period in 1941. You know. With Germans killing people and such. This level featured a huge volcano and lots of rain. Atmosphere-a-plenty, young padawan. Then there’s 1966 USA. Groovy man. This was my favourite; mainly for being in a city, mainly for providing a mock Area 51. There are a a lot of juicy secrets in this game and my favourite was flying a flying saucer. There was a trick to accessing it mind. An escaped grey alien at one point also offers a bit of back story to the insects and the moon landing is yet again debunked. Getting the hell out of there before The Beatles quit, we end up in the last Earth level; 1991 Siberia. Everyone’s too busy with Sadam to notice an orange suited stranger stealing a SCUD missile launcher, a harrier jumpjet and breaking into a chemical plant. Things got hard from the off. All the civilians have been turned into zombies. Your only choice? Mow them down with a combine harvester. This was a golden age of video gaming. Then the final level takes place on board the aliens home world blah blah blah. There is a certain charm to this game which require a reboot. Or at least take the major themes and create a game where the player doesn’t walk like a twat and vehicles handle better.

Remake?

Extremely impractical, but lots of fun once you get access to a crowded place

Sadly, no. But major vehicle elements have made their way into every single action game today. The only modern reference we have to this game is from GTA San Andreas (DMA design are now called Rockstar North, in case you were wondering). At one point in the game, CJ needs to steal a combine harvester from some red neck racists (is there any other kind?) and drive it to a shed. Bonus points for “bodies harvested” along the way. Oh. And the name of this mission? ‘Body Harvest’. That’s the last mention we’ll ever hear of it. Excuse me while I ring my mother up to get the N64 out the lock up.

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Possibly the best sci fi squad shooter management sim of all time!

by on Jul.12, 2010, under Remake This!

XCOM1-1

In the future, purple will be a manly colour...

Back in my college days, I thought of being a games designer. My experience with programming was minimal. I had no real experience with creative projects. To be honest, I didn’t have much direction. But every time I thought about making a perfect game to unleash wildly at the next generation would always end up being a slightly improved copy of one of the few games to steal my heart as well as my time.

XCOM1-2

Picture "Out of the barn fire and into the heavily guarded ship" so goes the old metaphor...

Sadly, the company that produced this, if slightly flawed masterpiece has faded away and ended up next to the Neo Geo and Virtual Boy in video game limbo. RIP MicroProse and all chances of their being another Transport Tycoon. Anyway, I best be on about the game itself. In 1994, the company brought the public UFO: Enemy Unkown (UFO Defense in America); a turn based squad combat saga where you have direct control over a team of soldiers as well as the company of XCOM. One half of the game sees you directing your team in an on Earth location, which is surprisingly detailed for an early nineties isometric-fest. Walls and scenery are totally destructible, civilians scamper about in alien terrorist attacks and all levels are randomized, with each mission never being repeated.

If tactics aren't your thing; spam the enemy with infantry until they drown in your men's blood!

It’s set a high standard for me, to be frank. The controls and the interface will take a little while to get used to however. Oh sure, you point the mouse at where you want you man to go and he toddles off anyway he can like an eager ant, but there are other factors like changing inventory slots, learning the correct way to engage the enemy. Speaking of which, it’s very unforgiving at first when you’re pushed into combat with the little grey bastards. Ok, not all of them are little grey. Some are floaty purple, others are snakey orange whilst the hardest race are bloody stupid green. Despite being the best of the best of the best (etc.), your team are poorly trained, poorly equipped and suffer from moments of dropping the ball. You will be starting the game over and over again.

But that’s the thing; you’ll start it over again instead of quitting for good. It draws you back in like a bad gambler. This time, you say, this time I’ll do it right. You learn from your mistakes, sharpen your skills and learn everything about the aliens. Once you’ve trained your troops, enabled equipment and decided what the best manoeuvre is for a 3 man sweep of a space craft, you’ll get addicted even more. This level of addiction, however, is to be taken as caution; and that’s only one half of the game. When you’re not clicking your fingers at your squad, you’re clicking your fingers and tutting at your bases. You ARE the CEO of XCOM. Remember playing Syndicate where you controlled your assassins and ran your companies progress? Well this game beats it hands down. You start with the one base. Bases have a grid where you can build extra facilities alongside the existing ones and manage the personnel and equipment.

To begin explaining what all of this means would hurt us all!

In terms of company progression, you have your science department who research into how a a little grey bastard works, new weapons and equipment. Once you’ve figured out how to build a space age laser rifle with iPhone apps built in, you have your techies, your builders, if you will, who sweat in the work shops creating your new products. Even if the bouncy alien ball of death grenade that you’ve just created through research isn’t needed, you can always sell it on. Where it goes, I do not know. Same applies to spoils of war and…erm…alien corpses. Seriously. What actually happens to them is never explained. Fill in the blanks as you would. This combination of aspects never makes the game dull, just like a good film knows when to flick between a good set piece and a compelling bit of dialogue. The game spawned a carbon copy sequel as well as other loose sequels and imitators.

Remake?

I have no idea what's happening, but my only guess is it's not a fair fight...

At the recent E3, it was announced that a new XCOM game was going to be released in 2011. It’s set in the Fifties and has you fighting blobs, blocks and circles. It’s like the industry has done a full circle back to Space Invaders. It bears little resemblance apart from destructible scenery and the option to run away to home base. I’m not holding my breath until I see some base management involved in the game play.

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