Archive for the ‘PC/Mac’ Category
Platform: Arcade, microcomputers, NES, Master System, Game Gear, SNES, Genesis/Mega Drive, Xbox/Gamecube/PS2/PSP (part of Midway Treasures)
Digital Release? Yes, it had a digital release on XBLA (360) but was delisted in Feb. 2010
These days there is a good chance any gamer is familiar with the “twin stick shooter”, a concept where you move with the left stick and shoot with the right. Back in 1982 when fantastic game designer Eugene Jarvis premiered the concept in Robotron: 2084, it was unlike anything we had ever seen. The merits of that game, and what it brought to video games, cannot be denied and if you want an idea of how Robotron played you need look no further than recent neo-retro release Rock Boshers Dx. It wasn’t until almost a decade later, in 1990’s fantastic Smash TV, that Jarvis along with a talented team at Williams created one of the most addicting arcade games from my youth. Set in the year 1999 – oh how we thought so much was going to change with the year 2000 back then – Smash TV has you and potentially one other person shooting it out in a room-to-room TV studio playing the most violent game show of all time (Running Man anyone?). It takes the building blocks of Robotron: 2084 and brings it into the nineties by giving you a second player, having you kill tons of humans instead of rescue them like in Robotron, and of course you’re doing it all for cash prizes to selfishly grow your wealth. I loved it then and I love it now.
Anyone who has played modern twin stick shooters like Geometry Wars will immediately notice that most of your tactics will hold up in Smash TV and you will get quite far on each life. Don’t get cocky enough to think that this means the game is beatable; it was, after all, a quarter drinking arcade game from the people that brought you NBA Jam a few years later. Your odds are so stacked and boss battles like the always shown (and here is no exception) bald tank boss will have you cranking out credits in order to finally reach the final bonus level, The Pleasure Dome. In fact, the game was so crazy hard, long, and expensive that although there is mention in the game text, the original 1.0 version of the arcade shipped without a pleasure dome implemented because the developers didn’t think anyone would beat the game. They were wrong, dead wrong. Fans across the country were spending God knows how much money to reach the Pleasure Dome only to be greeted with an unfinished ending. The development team wasn’t all bad, though, aside from quickly implementing the Pleasure Dome and getting updated boards out as soon as possible, there’s a bonus room south of Arena 3 that will flood the room with keys and potentially get you to the end of the game without costing you too much money. There’s also a fantastic announcer over your gameplay voiced by Paul Heitsch (known for other Midway greats like Mortal Kombat) and even the line “I’d buy that for a dollar!” from the movie Robocop, so what’s not to love.
It was understandably ported to just about every home console, microcomputer, and even the Game Gear portable by publisher Acclaim (aside from the arcade ports in the Midway Treasures Collection). While the overall port didn’t lose much in the conversion process, even on the NES and ZX Spectrum, the control scheme took the biggest hit and to this day I feel the SNES is the only appropriate place to play the home version thanks to the four face buttons easily emulating the second joystick. Once Smash TV came home, much like other home ports such as Revolution X, the challenge was mostly in trying to complete the game with the limited number of credits the game allowed. Sure, a quick cheat code or Game Genie could overcome your health or credits issue, but I still can’t believe there was a time where a home port of an arcade game designed to screw you out of credits didn’t automatically give you unlimited credits. After all, you would assume that’s the draw to getting the home port. Either way, Smash TV has much better ways to play without resorting to the 8-bit and 16-bit era, but back in the early 90s it was the only option and a fun weekend rental. If you were lucky enough to pick up the online arcade port on XBLA before it was delisted in early 2010, you can even play the game with online co-op as it should be played these days but it appears Midway licensing has eliminated this title’s definitive version. If you want to get together with a buddy on the couch and have some fun shooting guys for an hour or two, the spectacle that is Smash TV can be a ton of fun.
Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)
With the regretful closing of Maxis this year and the recent discussions of the value of city simulation games, I thought it was appropriate to return to Will Wright’s massively successful city simulation game that started it all. Although this game was not the first of Wright’s, that was a so-so top down shooter called Raid on Bungeling Bay for the Commodore 64 in 1984, this seemingly tame and rote concept came from that initial title when Wright was developing map builders for its levels. From there a few engineering books and some other research led to the genesis of Micropolis, the game about miniature versions of cities and managing the development and monthly activities. The title was supposed to release years earlier on the Commodore 64 by publisher Broderbund, who had handled Bungeling Bay, but they could not see the value in trying to market and sell a game like this – I wouldn’t have either – so it remained unreleased. It wasn’t until the late 80s that Wright had a meeting with Maxis founder Jeff Braun and secured the license for a Macintosh port that eventually released in 1989.
At first glance the concept of SimCity seems quite simple: build and maintain a city as a city planner and make sure all the needs are met. These requirements come in basic forms as the development of buildings, residential zones, industrial parks, business and recreational districts, roads, communication, and more. While you are handling all the hustle and bustle of a growing city, many other considerations make their way including budget (and taxes), crime, the well being of the citizens known as “sims” (which will clearly gain popularity in another Maxis series), and my personal favorite the natural disaster. What starts off as a basic grid-based creation system quickly becomes a game of juggling that would be appropriately scored by Flight of the Bumblebee all while you try not to have a heart attack over the problems you face with a city. There are even specific map types like building on a peninsula or pre-made scenarios like dealing with Detroit in 1972 at the peak of crime while industries crumble and Japan in 1961 when, get this, a large monster not unlike Godzilla attacks. Needless to say, it seems unassuming at first but like most phenomenon games it quickly becomes a form of addiction that I can openly admit I suffered in the mid 90s when I was first introduced to it.
After finding a home on the Mac and then being ported to just about every computer and microcomputer the world had to offer, including an IBM-Compatible version that supported all kinds of newer resolution and color types as well as the Windows version that introduced the first level editor. It was only a matter of time before someone tried to bring it to console. The first issue is that the cursor friendly interface was much better suited to a mouse as opposed to a controller, although it’s still a lot smoother than trying to port that interface these days, and there were even scrapped versions in the early 90s for the NES/Famicom and the MSX. It wasn’t until 1991 (1992 in Europe) that the Super Nintendo Entertainment System premiered SimCity for the first time on home consoles and it was developed and published by Nintendo of all companies. This allowed for a hefty dose of Nintendo-themed content like Mario statues erected in a city over 500,000 people, Bowser as the Godzilla-like monster, and a fresh soundtrack composed by Soyo Oka (Super Mario Kart and I personally loved his Ice Hockey music on the NES). Understandably with the flood gates open, the later ports to other computers (like Windows 95 PCs) and consoles (Nintendo 64) all combined to make for one hell of a run for this seemingly obtuse city simulation game. SimCity would also spawn a handful of sequels that also shared time with both computer and console gamers alike as well.
From the humble beginnings as Micropolis, which did have its source code eventually released as open source software, to the sequel and spin-off cranking SimCity franchise, Maxis and Wright were set for life with this unassuming and addicting game. Even now I can’t help but think about the quirky off-shoot games like SimAnt or SimEarth (both on the SNES as well, although a bit rare) and eventually I will do the still impressive Sim City 2000 when I get the courage. In the meantime, if you have never given yourself the pleasure of experiencing the original SimCity, now is definitely the time. It still holds up today and can be found on everything from any cell phone to just about all other devices available to consumers that can run games – your refrigerator probably plays it if it’s new enough. It’s one of those long lasting concepts that while it didn’t sustain the future, is a great representation of the past.
Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)
Please Note: Any way you dice it, HuniePop is a game intended for adults. There is smoking, drinking, very adult language, scantily clad (and potentially fully nude) individuals, adult situations displayed/discussed, and potentially what could be described as pornographic art of a certain type referred to as “hentai”. Now, perhaps you already know this, but it’s a warning for those that don’t. Fortunately this review, while it mentions this content, contains none of these items. It can be considered safe for work (although someone may make fun of you), including all screenshots, and only mildly discusses themes that would be considered appropriate for, at worst, a teen audience. This is just a friendly warning from the folks here at Gaming History 101.
I get it now. For years I have watched my friends, family, and even gamer peers play match three games and never understood it. Sure, I gave a good couple of weeks to Marvel Puzzle Quest, and I had played the original Puzzle Quest in the past, but I was never drawn into them like others were. Eventually, I quit playing these games altogether. But I get it now and I will sadly admit that for more than 15 hours of my life – which may be the blink of an eye to the average Candy Crush addict – I was officially hooked to a match three game. Unfortunately that match three game also happened to be a hybrid dating sim, and a relatively poor one at that, which also had a readily available uncensored patch that displayed an occasional pornographic hentai image, but a match three game nonetheless. It may be shameful for some, although I have no shame, in admitting that I not only liked but got addicted to HuniePop, but I did and it was definitely the match three game that did it. No, seriously, there were easier ways to see the art and out of those 15 hours I spent about 2 minutes looking at art, one total hour playing the dating sim, and 14 more doing nothing but match three. In fact, the game is pretty terrible at everything it attempts to accomplish outside being a basic match three clone. But still, I was hooked.
You start off being visited by a magical love fairy named Kyu, where you will always fail, you are sent out on a journey to discover how to pick up women and hopefully score in the process. To be fair, HuniePop‘s goals and rewards are not unlike many of the more applauded dating sims out there, which often use sex as some sort of benefit to successfully romancing someone. I don’t want to be all political, but for those that want to criticize this approach, sex is a part of a romantic adult relationship for most people and it will often be a later part of the dating process so HuniePop is not that removed from reality. The way you go about doing so is in a very basic dating sim fashion of meeting girls, learning information about them, and dating them to make your connection stronger. Where it differentiates from the dating sim is that whenever anything heavily story driven or more interpersonal would happen in a dating sim, HuniePop hides away behind a more complex match three game and uses that to pass judgement on your dating skills. That said, the match three game was easily a more deep experience than I had even with the likes of Marvel Puzzle Quest (note: I only played for the first three months of release, I’m sure it’s a different game now) and will potentially get gamers and non-gamers alike hooked to the addictive nature. I should also point out that HuniePop has a one and done price that is lower than what I spent for the handful of transactions with similar titles in the “freemium” format.
When you go out on a date you will be matching 3-5 bubbles on a grid together, each consisting of one of the game’s eight color/symbol combinations. Four of these are colors that directly relate to attributes of what I suspect are considered behavior on your date: red for sexuality, blue for talent, orange for romance, and green for flirtation. Much like women in the real world, each will have an attribute they like, one they don’t care for, and two that they are pretty much neutral on. Of course you will want to target the color the girl cares the most for, but there will be some strategy in it because you get bonus points based on other factors. One of those factors includes your passion level, represented by the pink hearts, and works as a sort of multiplier for the number of points you get when you match three or more. There are also purple broken hearts that will reduce your score needed for a successful date and the bane of your existence. Then there are bells that give you more moves, which is important because all dates are based off a certain mood. The final, the aqua teardrop, is sentiment that is used to activate your gifts and cause different effects to happen. Your goal is to navigate the board as best as you can and get the score within the remaining moves, a feat that starts off easy and gets very JRPG-like as the needed score skyrockets and your items and ability to break the game do as well. Couple that with a simple leveling up system and ways to unlock stronger gifts and you’ve got a fun balance game that will have you hooked.
As you navigate the dating portion, or as I like to think of it the frontend of the actual game, you will get four times of day for which to visit and speak with your ladies. During this time you can talk to them and earn hunie, the currency that allows you to level up your skills related to each of the eight color bubbles and two to make the game easier on random drops. To balance out how much you can speak with them you have to use munie (money) to purchase food to keep talking to them, drink (when they accept it) to increase your hunie earned multiplier, regular gifts to earn return gifts to use in the puzzle portions for special abilities, and unique gifts that permanently increase the hunie earned with each discussion you have. Provided the girl has at least 1 food bar remaining and that you have not gone on a date with her earlier in the same day, you can go out on a date and enter the match three for a chance at large sums of munie and increasing your affection with her. After each successful date you will get a selfie message from the girl that starts off tame and simple and can get quite a bit revealing, sometimes with actual nudity, after the third date. If you get her affection up to four or five and take her out on a night date, you will be able to take her home if you succeed. The final result there is a fast-paced match three that throws all other rules out the window and asks, very unlike sex, that you match as many items as fast as possible and keep doing so until you literally get the score to skyrocket and end the session. Once you enter the sex minigame version of the match three I don’t think it’s possible to fail, but it can take a long time if you aren’t fast or careful enough to get the girl to the finish line. I snicker here as I describe this because it’s the worst metaphor for sex that I could ever think of, but every game has its hook and again I must remind you this game is a match three game and all other factors are fluff to keep you playing. Of course once you finally perform the beast with two backs on the young lady you are “rewarded” with a mid-coital shot. This shot will not contain any nudity beyond toplessness in the basic “censored” version on Steam, but the uncensored version purchased elsewhere or unlocked after applying a simple patch in the Steam forums, will provide actual pornographic hentai pics. To me, this is a personal preference assuming you are of age to purchase and play this game. I also should point out that from a content perspective, the filthy things – both sexual and just plain vulgar – that come out of these girls’ mouths, not to mention the moaning, are all unlocked in the “censored” Steam version of the game and are potentially more offensive to me than the single flash of a graphic photo. I could almost see playing this game around my three-year-old daughter provided I was straying from any sex dates and had the sound on mute, but I still prefer to keep anything with potential adult content off until she’s in bed. My wife, on the other hand, rolled her eyes continually at the random sex stuff but found the game overall to be just as addicting as she found Candy Crush and Bejeweled to be but reminded me that there are alternatives that aren’t so perverted. Noted.
HuniePop is an adult-oriented draw at the basic match three and I will admit it hooked me. There’s a lot to be said for the puzzle aspects of this game that integrates basic forms of other genres but I will admit was just different enough to get me hooked. I also can’t deny that the anime art style, dating sim, somewhat Japanese influence, and sexual content did not assist in enticing me, but regardless of what made me play the game it was the puzzle aspect that kept me playing. Let’s face it, there are easier ways to see the handful of hentai pics in this game and if you really just want those and somehow can’t find them on Google, purchasing the Art Collection DLC (yes it exists) will net you all those photos and more for a handful of dollars, which is much cheaper than the 10 hours I put in to complete the game. If you get hooked, there’s a lot more game to enjoy as you are never limited on how many times you can date the girls afterward, there’s a harder “alpha” mode you can begin after successfully sleeping with all the girls (including the unlockable secret ones), and an odd male/female track decision at the beginning that doesn’t change the sex of the people you are romancing but does offer different key art to unlock. I’m sad to say that the full blown addiction didn’t set in and after about 15 hours my need to consistently start up HuniePop and go on a date or two has subsided, but that’s not to say I don’t jump in every now and again for a game or two when I have 20 minutes to kill. You’re going to take some flack for it, but if you want a new take on a classic model, HuniePop might be worth your time.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)
HuniePop is available on Steam as well as other online retailers and the game’s official web site. To my knowledge, Steam is the only location with the censored version and the uncensored patch is available in the forums and easy to apply to the Steam version if you wish. This game was purchased by the reviewer and no review copy was requested or sent. HuniePop is available for $9.99 for the base game and was completed by the reviewer in approximately 10 hours. An additional five hours was spent reviewing differences in various options and playing the harder Alpha mode.
The original Hotline Miami is still a massive indie hit that has a colourful over the top retro look to it with a fantastic soundtrack to accompany it. The goal of each level was simple: kill every enemy on screen by any means necessary. Although that comes across as a very basic concept the game is very difficult and you will find yourself restarting constantly until you finally figure out the magical formula to dispatch all the bad guys in the level. I was hooked to this game instantly when I first played it, and was pretty excited to hear a sequel was on the way.
I first got a peek at Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number last year at EGX Rezzed 2014. It was being demoed on the Vita and PS4 and allowed you to play two levels from the game. What appealed to me at the time was the game was notoriously difficult from the get go, almost requiring you to have played the first game to have any chance of clearing each level. Getting hands on with the full game that is certainly not the case now. The game opens with a pretty simple to follow tutorial, then the rest is up to you. Controls are very similar to a twin stick shooter only you really have to make every hit count in this game. You will be switching between melee weapons and guns regularly, and you’ll have to change your tactics constantly as not every single enemy can be taken down with the same weapon. Every enemy you face can be taken down in a single hit, but just keep in mind your own character is equally fragile. It’s basically you versus a house full of enemies and as you take each baddie down you will be greeted with the most gory of pixelated graphics you have every seen in a retro inspired game, and its kinda awesome. On normal mode the game allows you to auto lock onto the nearest target which makes taking down enemies a lot easier. If you brave the game on hard this ability is disabled and you have to rely on your own skill with the controls to pull through.
At its core the game is basically more of the same with relatively short levels, but you will be restarting them constantly trying to figure out your own magical formula to beat each area. Heres a quick overview of how a level usually went for me: enter the door got stabbed by the first guy, RESTART, enter door hit the guy shot by someone in the distance, RESTART, “ah ha I got that guys gun, oh wait here comes three guys in a row, damn I’m out of ammo”, dead, RESTART, “Finally taken everyone down, wait theres a dog oh fu-“, RESTART. You get the idea. Nothing quite beats that feeling though when you finally conquer a level after having restarted it several times.
If I had a friend playing this game with me I could totally see this being a water cooler discussion on how you managed to get past certain areas. The boss battles in particular bring across that head scratching moment and since I played this game pretty much on release there was no help online at the time (though that would of course have changed now). It really reminded me of those nostalgic days before the internet where you really had no help in figuring out how to get through the game.
The sequel does try to bring some changes to the formula. First off, the game is now heavily story focused. In the previous game you just picked up the phone and did a level; a little story was peppered in but the game was very quick to get to the action. This time around you will be reading a lot of text from various characters. It provides that depth some people may be looking for, those who wanted to know what the hell was going on in the first game but if you do just want to get to the killing you can skip these sections. The story contains a lot of twists and it’s really not worth spoiling in a review. In Hotline Miami 2 you will play as various characters looking at the dark story from different angles. Sometimes you will get to choose between a handful of masked maniacs who each have different perks (e.g. a chainsaw or dual wielding machine guns), sometimes you will play a soldier in the jungle and you have to commit to a specific weapon of choice. This makes the game feel more linear. While it is good to provide the player with a unique challenge, fans of the first game where you had access to various perks in the forms of masks in the majority of the levels might find the new design to the game more limited. It doesn’t stop how much fun the game is and you can still finish the level in any way you choose.
A large criticism I have to the game was it felt like there was a lot of cheap deaths from enemies off screen. Guns play a big role in this game and your fragile sprite can only take a single bullet. So it was particularly aggravating to go through levels where I was being shot by an offscreen baddie that was out of my line of sight. The game does allow you to pan the camera around to survey your surroundings but even then it might not be enough to see that bugger in the distance. It feels this time around you really need to learn the level and enemy positions rather than just winging it. I guess the reason for this design is to force you out of your comfort zone and take chances.
The retro inspired graphics are colourful and frankly excellent. They haven’t changed at all from the first game and they never needed to. Just like the first game you have a fantastic soundtrack to accompany your killing spree which is worthy of putting on your mp3 player and playing those 80s techno beats while you drive down those fine Miami streets in the setting sun with your shades on. Sorry got carried away there. If you don’t have that luxury you can enjoy this soundtrack outside the game whatever you decide to do.
Overall, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is fast, frantic killing fun. I always admire a developer who tries to bring something new to the table to mix things up for a sequel. To breathe some fresh air into the series as opposed to playing it safe and bringing more of the same. Some changes will sit well with fans of the first and some won’t, but this doesn’t change the fact that the game is still great fun and an excellent buy for gamers looking for tons of replay value in their game. I played this game on both PS3 and Vita, both versions are absolutely fine but the PC version does have the addition of a level editor which I can see as being a fantastic resource for people looking for even more Hotline Miami action. Especially given that this game is the last in the series, future content is going to be left in the hands of the fans to continue.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (review policy)
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is available on PC (including Mac and Linux), Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and Vita for an MSRP of $14.99 and it is cross-buy on Playstation platforms (buying one version releases all versions). This title was purchased by the reviewer and a press copy was not provided.
Getting that “retro feel” in modern games is a particular challenge that few actually nail. Sometimes the aesthetics are spot on, but at the expense of gameplay, which can feel sluggish or imprecise and the developer often sites authenticity for retro consoles or some other excuse. Many times the soundtrack is fantastic but it’s the only notable aspect of the game. By process of elimination there are those titles that get the gameplay down but at the expense of aesthetics and story a la Retro City Rampage. That’s why Hotline Miami seems such an achievement because it looks like a 16-bit top-down game, plays like a twin stick shooter from the 90s (Smash TV anyone?), and manages to pull off the unreliable narrator concept that usually falls flat. On top of that, it has a fantastic soundtrack that Dennis Wedin composed for the game and stands as the first thing you experience upon booting it up and the most notable part of the experience. All the elements are there and the result is an unforgetable title from start to finish.
Like the movies of David Lynch that developer Jonathan Soderstrom took inspiration from, you have no idea what is going on right from the beginning and it never gets all that clear. The facts are this: you are never named, you wear a letterman jacket and a mask, it’s 1989, and random voicemails are coming in with tasks for you to accomplish. Most of these tasks involve you breaking into a house (you are encouraged to kill everyone inside) and performing a specific task, which is usually fetching an item. Along the way you will come in contact with three other masked individuals – Richard (rooster mask), Don Juan (horse mask), and Rasmus (owl mask) – that will interact with you in various unique ways. Beyond that telling any more about the plot would be both confusing and spoiler-heavy so I’ll leave it there.
Each scenario has you breaking into a house and while apparently it’s possible to not engage these enemies, I chose to take out every single threat on the premises. This proves to be quite the challenge and stay away if you don’t like the concept of having to memorize a level and dying over and over again, but in keeping faithful to the retro style I was right at home. Hotline Miami is violent video game, in fact despite the 16-bit style graphics it may be the bloodiest and most messed up title I’ve ever played, rivaling the likes of Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto. It works for this type of game, though, because the retro style graphics desensitize you a bit to the graphic violence on screen and the top-down perspective allows you to see the results of your carnage. It all feels like a bad trip where you are on a confused mission of death and destruction all while not knowing a thing about your purpose. As you traverse level to level – or rather house to house – that odd phenomenon of more information making you even more confused happens and at least for me pushed me to keep going. I should also note that since each level is a short isolated mission that you will replay continually until overcoming it, this game was probably most comfortable on the Vita, although I first got addicted to and completed it on PC.
I think the least said about Hotline Miami the better so as not to spoil what the game has to offer in terms of plot, gameplay, and even the fun twists that happen. It’s got a great aesthetic, spot-on graphics, an incredible soundtrack, its controls are so sharp that any death will undeniably be your fault, and it messes with your head. That’s what I want out of my indie darlings, of which this is an ideal example. If you haven’t experience Hotline Miami for yourself and you like the retro feel or just plain great experiences from any era, this is a must play provided you can get past the brutality.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (review policy)
Hotline Miami is currently available on the PC (including Mac and Linux ports), Playsation 3, Playstation 4, and Vita for an MSRP of $9.99. Purchasing this title on any of the three Sony platforms also makes it available on all others (cross-buy). This title was completed in approximately 6 hours with an additional two hours for extra content. A total of almost 20 hours has been played on multiple completions with different platforms. The game appears to perform the same on all platforms, however gamepad support seems weakest on PC.
Update 03/20/2015: Fred decided to play the whole game so now it’s part of a playlist that will autoplay if you start with the original video. Basically, it’s all automatic if you watch this.
Original Post: So Battlefield Hardline is hitting store shelves in the US on Tuesday and I cannot believe that they have yet to show off more than a handful of minutes of the game’s campaign. With Dead Space‘s Visceral games creating the campaign, you would think EA would put more push behind it whether or not it’s any good. Oh well, thanks to EA Early Access we got the opportunity to experience, and get some colorful commentary on, the first 45 minutes in this Quick Look. Check it out. (Please Note: This video is unplayable in some countries due to licensing issues, sorry, out of our hands).
This month’s game club is Die Hard Trilogy and Alien Trilogy, two short “trilogy” titles released by Fox Interactive in the 32-bit era. We have already looked at one of the games, Die Hard Trilogy, and here for you is the quick look of Alien Trilogy
Platform: PC-9821, 3DO, Playstation, Saturn (Japan Only)
Released: 1994-1996 (depending on platform, Japan Only)
Digital Release? No
Price: Unavailable, game never sold in US or UK
Building off of what Kojima had started in Snatcher, I feel that Policenauts is an attempt to revise the mistakes and setbacks of that original attempt and create a spiritual successor that flows more like a game. Technically, I guess that’s what Policenauts is, unfortunately the solution appears to be making it a point-and-click adventure and adding in more (and more frustrating) shooting sequences. While I have to commend the efforts by having a more genuine story – although the similarities to the first two Lethal Weapon films is undeniable – that flows naturally and keeps you intrigued, this game has so many walls to break through to get to that story that it’s best read in a walkthrough or watched on YouTube. For this reason, and the countless other reasons that prevent most of us outside of a Japanese speaking region, I can’t recommend Policenauts as a coveted loss treasure we never got.
This title is as 90s action as it comes with a trash-talking young detective, a near-retirement aging partner, and a whole lot of explosions and shooting. Initially you are introduced to Jonathan Ingram, a former police astronaut (policenaut) of the first space colony Beyond Coast, that was lost in space for 25 years and has now returned to Los Angeles two and a half decades younger than everyone he left behind. This includes is wife, who as the story begins has long abandoned him, remarried, and now has a daughter Ingram’s age, and his former partner Ed Brown who sits behind a desk as a forgotten head of the Beyond Coast PD vice squad. The entire game is based around finding the husband of Ingram’s ex-wife Lorraine, who works as a salesmen and scientist for the Tokugawa Pharmaceutical company. Jonathan reluctantly takes the case, heads to Beyond Coast, and attempts to solve the mystery with the help of Ed, which almost immediately transforms into Lethal Weapon. There’s a lot more to the story, but frankly story is all this game has going for it.
Unlike Snatcher the shooting sequences are free form, intended for the use of a mouse as it was originally developed for the NEC PC-9821, an early Intel 386 microcomputer in Japan. Most ports are on consoles, and although it supports mice on those consoles, mouse accessories are extremely rare and expensive these days and no light gun support except for the definitive Saturn version. As a result, the shooting portions become your biggest roadblock to seeing this game to the end. If you are playing in English, which most of us US/UK gamers need to, there is only one fan translation available and it’s for the Playstation. This means that if you play on real hardware, which I attempted to, it’s going to be near impossible to find a mouse and it’ll be riddled with bugs and glitches that will randomly freeze the game on a regular basis. Unless a Saturn translation, which does support light guns, ever sees the light of day there is no reason not play this game on an emulator with your mouse returning as the ideal input device. Even then, you will find the shooting sequences to be frustrating tests of skill that seem counter to the type of person who will play a point-and-click adventure and resulting in frustration over lost time. Please make use of save states like Jam and I did, there’s no reason to feel like less than a gamer at the expense of getting stuck 10 hours into a 12 hour game. I should also take this time to point out that Kojima still doesn’t know how to split up a game because out of 7 acts, a prologue, and an epilogue, the split is 6-7 hours for Acts 1 and 2 and about 5-6 hours for the rest of the game. These are all the obstacles you have to accept and overcome, but in doing so results in a zany tale mixed with just enough science fiction and humor to keep me hooked.
Much like Snatcher before it, your enjoyment of this game is directly related to your interest in the story. If you were a fan of 90s action films or hybrid science fiction to the likes of Terminator or even Demolition Man, it’s not hard to hold your attention with this guided buddy cop drama. While it may seem it at first, this game does not take itself seriously and thus Kojima and his team were able to have some fun with the events that unfold. Sometimes it works, like when Jonathan eats Beyond Coast food for the first time or the discovery of what’s really going on with Tokugawa Corporation, and other times it really falls flat for me like the numerous times you’ll be grabbing boob and slapping butt. Oh well, I guess I can chalk it up to the quirky perversions of a writer and developer that definitely thinks outside the box. It may not be as easy to ingest as Snatcher, but there’s value hidden under Policenauts’ initial barrier to entry.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)
Yes, that’s right, Hideo Kojima did actually make another game that wasn’t part of the ever growing Metal Gear Solid series. I originally didn’t even know Policenauts was a game, I just thought it was some anime production Kojima had a hand in. Unlike Snatcher, this game failed to capture a cult following in the west.
In Policenauts you play as the blue haired mullet private detective known as Jonathan who is struggling to find a case to get stuck into. Fortunately for Jonathan his ex-wife comes knocking and now Jonathan is on a mission to look for her missing husband Hanzo Kojo. What follows is story full of various twists and turns along with another set of colourful characters complete with excessive back stories. Initially I had some interest in the story there appeared to be this intriguing mystery behind what was going on. To my disappointment the story (which is the biggest draw to this game) failed to maintain my interest. Some of the twists and turns in the plot were just far too predictable especially if you have played other Kojima games. I also didn’t find the character of Jonathan particularly likeable, his drive to continue his investigation seemed questionable, at times he was far more interested in ogling random womens’ boobies than actually pushing forward. I spent most of the game thinking it would’ve been a lot more interesting to following the plot from the prospective of Jonathan’s old partner Ed, who appears to have the most interesting back story of all the characters in this game. I couldn’t help but think there was a missed opportunity for Ed to make an “I’m too old for this shit,” line but I guess we can’t have everything.
At this stage of the review you may be questioning why am I critiquing this game like a film. Well friend, it’s because that’s practically what Policenauts is, a nice but long twelve hour story experience. Of course there is a little more than just sitting and watching the game. For the majority of the gameplay you will be pointing and clicking on options, look at this, investigate that, show something to a character, etc. The game is a very linear experience, you will enter one area carry out an investigation and move on. If you’ve not gained the correct information from the scene you are investigating your character will inform you. This proved quite useful as it prevents the usual travelling around clicking on everything in an attempt to advance the story only to have you give up and use a walkthrough. It still doesn’t change the fact though that you will be spending a lot of time constantly clicking on various options until the story finally advances. A lot of the time you will know the solution but because your not playing the game the way it wants you to play it, it can become a rather dull experience. The game will throw the occasional puzzle at you but they are far too easy, one of which is a simple spot the difference.
Then there are the shooting segments. Basically these are point-and-shoot sections but they are incredibly loose and frustrating (unless that was the fault of the emulator I was using). Like Snatcher these segments were few and far between. In fact, after the prologue you don’t really do any shooting until half way through the game.
If you love anime you will probably love Policenauts as the game features several fully animated cutscenes. The style reminds me of the anime series Dominion: Tank Police, which is set in the not too distant future but technology has of course advanced to the point of police flying around in space man type mechs. One thing to note on this style though is how I still can’t get over why some people in anime-inspired universes have blue hair. Do they dye it? Marge Simpson does apparently. Oh sorry, back to the game.
The game comes complete with full Japanese voice acting. No English version currently exists so you’re gonna just have to put up with a lot of subtitles. Obviously remember this is a Kojima game so you’ll be sitting watching the game more than actually playing it, so the waffly diaolgue where a character talks about their oh so tragic back story can kind of drag at times. Also if you ever wanted to now how to say some of the most offensive words in the urban dictionary this game provides that opportunity, so consider it a learning tool I guess. The music was actually surprisingly enjoyable, some more Snatcher inspired smooth jazz, but unlike Snatcher it really suited the setting of the world and made for a great addition to the movie like feel.
To conclude, Policenauts intrigued me from the start but failed to maintain my attention throughout the experience. The story felt predictable with no real surprises and the shooting segments, though very infrequent, were incredibly awkward to control. Policenauts to me is better remembered as a cameo appearance in the form of a poster on Otacon’s wall in Metal Gear Solid than a game that you need to experience. The game has its moments that will make you chuckle but I just didn’t get sucked into the story or the world. For a game where the story is the main focus that is essential in determining whether you enjoy it or not. If you like anime and like buddy cop-esque storylines, then you may enjoy this title. For some reason this game just really made me want to go back and watch Lethal Weapon instead.
Final Score: 2 out of 5
Did you know that we talked about the entire game as part of our Snatcher/Policenauts game club? Check it out here.
The Evil Within is the stuff nightmares are made of. I’m not being dramatic, almost everything in this game will cater to the popular nightmares that plague humanity – in my case that happens to be clowns – and throws them right in your face. That’s not to say it is a scary game, because unlike other contemporaries the goal of The Evil Within is to disturb you and create tension rather than grab you with a quick jump scare (although it can’t resist the urge to do that as well at times). Bundled altogether it creates the closest representation of a haunted house without forgetting that it’s also a video game and therefore can make death a reality for all parties involved. This would be a fantastic reality for the definitive horror experience if it weren’t for the abundance of setbacks that range from visuals, to AI, and even creep into gameplay that no matter how big a fan you are just cannot be ignored.
The first thing you will notice is that the screen resolution is narrowed. Specifically the game has an odd resolution with full 1920 length and reduced height, which has black letterbox bars that extend to the entire screen of 1920×1080 (1080p). This is a significant amount of real estate that surpasses traditional letterboxing and can be off-putting at first. Whether the resolution is truly an artistic choice like Bethesda has claimed or if the game just couldn’t run at full 1080p (this is the case with all versions, including PC), I have to admit it becomes irrelevant fast because it wasn’t really noticeable once I had been playing for a few minutes. Not only is the screen smaller, but the framerate is sub-par even by a console game’s standards, which tries to maintain 30 frames per second (fps) but dips down into the mid and even lower 20s depending on the situation. With already flawed controls – more on that later – the inconsistency in fps might have come off as just another obstacle to success but in truth I had little problem with it. Ironic as it seems, I never saw significant dips when a horde of enemies or sudden aggressive circumstance arrived so it really had little effect on my enjoyment. All in all, whether it be aesthetics or lack of optimization, the biggest gripes I’ve heard about this game from screenshots were forgotten concerns a mere fifteen minutes in.
Normally I don’t talk about other games in reviews because I think that each game is a work unto its own and every work borrows from another, but the roots of The Evil Within and the couple of experiences it borrows from are too ingrained in its DNA to not draw such connections. It is the creation of Shinji Mikami, who is best known for the creation of the Resident Evil series and is directly responsible for the decisions that led to the released versions of 1, 2, and 4, which juggle around as the fan favorites for the series. Since the release of Resident Evil 4 Mikami has danced between a few titles and developers, but he always ends up back at his roots in horror games. While Resident Evil decided to go more action based in its sequels, Mikami has kept the vision of the action/horror hybrid he demonstrated in 4 alive through 2011’s Shadows of the Damned where he teamed up with Suda 51 to create what was then boasted as the potential Resident Evil 4 sequel that never was. Both the critical and sales reception of that title proved that the quirky nature of Suda’s vision seemed to clash with the tension horror of Mikami and it was anything but the Resident Evil 4 follow up fans wanted. That all changed when Mikami’s studio, Tango Gameworks, announced The Evil Within to be the true spiritual successor to his work and at its core you would be hard pressed to argue that this game is not a true Resident Evil 4 follow up.
Knowing that’s where the roots to The Evil Within lie brings with it not only the great parts of the 2005 revamp, but also the dated and flawed gameplay that it represents today. Right out of the gate this title’s flaws get revealed and never hesitate to remind you they exist. Detective Castellanos, our lead, moves clumsily about in the rain at the game’s opening moments, which had me worried right off the bat at my ability to run, aim, and shoot with such floaty inaccurate controls. It takes a few chapters, but when the gunplay begins to ramp up and with scarce ammo as a major liability, you can’t help but want to blame the controls for the pathetic misses at point blank range. In fact, late in the game when you are forced into an arena atmosphere with many enemies and little ammo, it feels like a puzzle figuring out how to distribute your resources to effectively take everyone out. It was pretty laughable as my wife watched me run around in circles like an idiot for fifteen minutes while a herd chased me, not in any danger of dying but also having no resources to handle my pursuers. Mikami’s previous titles always had a melee option to get you out of these tough situations, especially because any enemy can drop coveted rounds, but in The Evil Within your melee deals a negligible amount of damage. Even if you upgrade it, going to fists against any enemy leaves you doling out pointless damage while also allowing the enemy to get in a couple blows themselves with surprising strength. In fact, most of the upgrade system in this game makes little difference in the overall experience save for the few items based on running and healing, both defensive maneuvers. In short, ration your ammo, this is a survival horror game after all.
Before you ever dawn a true weapon The Evil Within will introduce you to the game’s stealth mechanic. For a majority of the game avoiding detection or methodically eliminating everyone in the room is as much an option as charging in guns blazing. Your first encounter with this game’s twisted reality and subsequent enemies is more of an obstacle course where you can get acquainted with how to sneak up to or past foes. It’s nothing complicated and for the most part the illusion of when enemies can and cannot see you remains consistent. This is where The Evil Within attempts to pull off its best The Last of Us impression and it doesn’t do a good job. Castellanos moves painfully slow in stealth mode to the point that sneaking up on an enemy, even if you mimic its moves from the moment it turns its back to you, can be a stressful encounter. Once you get close enough the game will display an icon allowing you to perform a stealth kill, but if for some reason that prompt doesn’t show – and at times it won’t – or that enemy turns around suddenly you could be in for a world of trouble. Thankfully it’s not instant death but the enemies have a knack for being able to pinpoint your exact location for quite some time after one of them initially sees you. There are bottles in the environment that I figured would be helpful like they were in The Last of Us, but the mechanic almost seems broken at the onset. Later in the game your bottle diversion is much more effective and this is most likely due to the openness of the environments early on compared to the closed tight conditions of the endgame. Sneaking around also allows you to avoid traps and even disarm them for ammo, but again the minigame where you have to stop a needle in a small space has an odd delay that often ends with you blown to bits. I also thought it was a huge wasted opportunity that the enemies can’t trigger the traps themselves, although you can definitely trigger them with bullets to make for environmental landmines if you see fit. Clearly Tango checked all the boxes when trying to emulate The Last of Us but like most aspects of this game they didn’t sweat the details enough to give it that polished feel.
Despite many of this game’s weaker points, it is one hell of a ride. Whether it’s sneaking past psychotic chainsaw-wielding butchers, disarming a booby trap connected to a meat grinder, or taking on an unnamable creature in a parking garage, this game wears its horror badge proudly. Everything about the art direction, enemy design, and of course enough viscera to fill an ocean is meant to unease and intimidate. While they may all initially look the same, your enemies do progress and have the same variety that Resident Evil 4 did before it, where each new section of the game had its own distinct enemy. These standard foes will be a bit of an annoyance, but they are nothing compared the few, but impressive bosses you will encounter. Each monstrosity that comes from The Evil Within will play upon horror tropes that are varied and create the game’s largest moments of tension. As much as I’d like to gush about some of my favorites, I feel it’s inappropriate to give them away. One well documented boss is The Keeper, but he’s better described under his nickname, Boxhead, due to the massive safe he wears on his head as protection. While discovering how to take out each distinct boss may be a bit annoying, the fact that I was grinding my teeth on edge while I figured out the somewhat basic method of dispelling them to be of the best in my horror gaming. This game is disturbing, disgusting, anxiety-filled, and I loved traversing through it.
That said, it does wear out its welcome. In a trend I’ve seen far too often these days,The Evil Within does feel like it was padded. You will find inconsistencies in the levels with one action-packed chapter followed by a dull repeat of mechanics without even a boss battle to wrap things up. That would be fine if the gameplay was diverse, but it’s during these seemingly padded chapters that The Evil Within loves to demonstrate its ability to be repetitive and boring or utterly cheap with quick “Gotcha!” deaths. Sure, it’s cute once in a while, but after the 10th time on a part that requires memorization to best or that would have been a breeze if what to do was clear, you feel cheated, and did I mention the lengthy load times? I’m also torn on the constant throwbacks to Mikami’s Resident Evil roots that make this game almost feel like a re-imagined hodgepodge of those initial games. Any large fan of the series will see right through these nods but after a while it seemed to strip the unique nature expected of a new intellectual property (IP). I mean come on, it even has an unlockable machine gun, RPG, and statues of the characters unlock upon completion.
When you put it all together, the duality of good and bad that has remained consistent throughout this review makes it a difficult game to give a final verdict to. The Evil Within nails the high end goal that Mikami started way back in 1987 with Sweet Home and finally made a true haunted house simulation that looks and feels every bit as twisted as it should be. With this extreme attention to detail and tone, it’s surprising that the core of the game and the mechanics that surround it weren’t given equal effort. It’s programmed sloppy, it plays sloppy, and it unfolds sloppy. For fans of Mikami’s past work or anyone who’s looking for that new horror experience, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to play at least the first handful of hours with this game. Hang on to that love and fandom, though, because you are going to need to grind through to the eventual conclusion that seems just as determined at making you quit out of frustration as it does encourage you to reach the end. After having overcome the game’s final challenge, realizing what holes in the plot remained, and reflected on the last 15-20 hours of gameplay, I came to the conclusion that The Evil Within was a blast of a ride first time through, but unlike most of Mikami’s previous work it’s many flaws prevent me from wanting to delve back into it again.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)
This review originally appeared on All Games but was permitted to be re-posted on other sites owned by the writer. A review copy from the publisher was not provided, it was purchased by the reviewer. It was played for a total of approximately 20 hours and the campaign was completed in full. The Evil Within is available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC for $59.99 with identical content, display resolution (as opposed to native resolution), and performance (ie: framerate) on all platforms; however native resolution, visuals, and textures can differ between them.