Archive for the ‘Xbox’ Category
This week we are joined by Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) to discuss listener William’s topic: What makes a successful console launch? It all ends up being more stories of console launches and discussions on killer apps, but we do manage to cover most mainstream consoles.
This week Fred is joined by Chip Cella of the B-Team Podcast to discuss one of the few colorful platformers born completely from the 3D generation, despite the first game playing on a 2D plain. Ubisoft’s Michel Ansel all but saved the then struggling developer/publisher and gave way to a challenging but fun series starring a character with no limbs.
Opening Song – Rayman Theme from the original Rayman on PS1
Closing Song – Madder by Groove Armada (Fred incorrectly refers to this song as Hoodlum in the show)
In what is easily the two hardest game titles to spell, we are going dark for this week’s Retro Game Night.
First up is user @NeoJakeMcC requesting one of the first ever rogue-likes from the Genesis/Mega Drive: Fatal Labyrinth.
Next up is the relatively rare hybrid between survival horror, first-person shooter, and adventure: Call of Cthulhu Dark Descent.
This week we post a little early and celebrate America’s Independence Day with patriotic video games:
First up is actually a Japanese game, Parodius Da! but it has quite the patriotic boss so it’s here because I love this game and found a connection:
Next up is a rare unlicensed NES game by Color Dreams entitled Operation Secret Storm:
Third on the list is a digital pinball game from the PS1 era, because why not right? Here’s Patriotic Pinball (please excuse my technical difficulties):
And last but not least we close the show with a game so American, so amazing, so awesome it was only released on one console (Xbox) and in one region (Japan). Yeah, you read that right. Since I have no way of getting my hands on it and don’t have a Japanese Xbox to play it on, here’s a great flashback of 1UP’s Broken Pixels show bragging about From Software’s 3rd person uber-American title Metal Wolf Chaos:
Hope you enjoyed those and have a safe and happy 4th of July!
Video game consoles are one of the most interesting electronics items on the market for several reasons. Probably the most prolific is the fact that there are frequent hardware upgrades, which we call generations, that move home consoles forward. Because each new console is basically a piece of hardware frozen in time, the need to innovate and improve on future games demands that they be constantly updated. This works counter to movies or music, which see improvements from new hardware but don’t require the upgrade to enjoy the medium. Imagine if you could play Super Mario Bros. on the Wii but with drastically upgraded visuals or Dead Space on the original Playstation with the juxtaposed setback, this is exactly what we see when we watch Ghostbusters on VHS versus DVD versus Blu Ray. As a result new consoles come out all the time, typically in 5-8 year intervals, and usher in a more interactive experience – it’s important to note that the greatest difference between games and other media is that they are active, not passive experiences – and with it comes a new format for software.
Enter the concern of the consumer. It can be frustrating for both gamers and parents of gamers alike to purchase a new console, especially when it renders an entire collection on an older console useless. As retro gamers I’m sure we see the value in it, but for the majority there’s a want to move forward and never look back. Well, that is until there are enough new games to get me to migrate over. This is another slow start that prevents all but early adopters to purchase new hardware, which can then result in fewer sales. With fewer sales comes more canceled projects on new hardware, which then results in fewer sales of the hardware and the cycle continues until a console is considered dead in the water. Just look at the Virtual Boy, Jaguar, and possibly even the WiiU about this problem; developers have enough to worry about, they can’t also deal with poor penetration rate due to a false start console. One excellent solution to help usher in that awkward period between consoles is the concept of backwards compatibility, or a new console that can play a previous generation’s games.
Backwards compatibility started off as mostly an afterthought, typically triggered by a new console’s use of inexpensive available hardware for another component in a new console. For the most part this was sound boards – the Genesis used a Master System processor for sound as did the Playstation processor for PS2′s I/O port. That made it easy: either use a firmware initialization string or hardware bypass to force the sound chip to be used as the older hardware rather than its intended use. This isn’t always the case, though, and many consoles utilized such drastically new hardware or are so complicated in architecture that making a new console backwards compatible is impossible. All three main console manufacturers ran into this problem with the current generation and had to increase the cost of the machine to prevent lack of backwards compatibility from being an issue. In the case of Nintendo, extra components were installed to make Gamecube accessories and media possible, while the similar architecture of the Wii allowed it to become an overpowered Gamecube. Microsoft had an entire new hardware architecture and opted for software compatibility, which was terrible when it first launched and unnecessary when it was fully integrated. It still shocks me how many people don’t know the poor quality of many original Xbox titles on 360 and how many of the console’s best games are completely unplayable. Sony, fearful of what they saw with Microsoft and holding the largest console library of all time with the PS2, opted to just shove an entire PS2 motherboard into the PS3, making it the biggest console of all time (so far) and costing up to $600 at launch. This was the point at which both the industry and gamers found their limits and suddenly backwards compatibility may not have been all that important. At this point no one cares about backwards compatibility in modern consoles, it has been stripped from Wii and PS3 (which generated significant price drops), and the previous consoles are so cheap that they are worth re-purchasing if absolutely necessary.
It’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and prepare for the next generation of consoles, all of which will be available by this holiday season. Backwards compatibility is good, but rarely is it as good as the original and it will never be worth the expense. Before giving a used retailer your PS3 or 360 for a mere $50-$100 off your new expensive console, consider holding on to it just in case. Like a hard drive in a 360, you’ll surely find it saves you money in the long run. After all, isn’t it about time you joined this retro gaming revolution?
Okay, so here’s why you probably clicked on this article in the first place, the list of backwards compatible consoles. Below is not only the list, but an explanation as to how each console achieves it (mildly technical):
- ColecoVision: With an add-on, which provided the necessary chipsets to do so, the ColecoVision could become an Atari 2600, however there were almost no similarities in hardware (which explains the need for the add-on). This was legally allowed because Atari didn’t use proprietary hardware and thus it was like two manufacturers making the same specs on a PC. Unfortunately for Atari, this hit came twice as hard because the 5200 was not backwards compatible either. With the courts ruling in the favor of Coleco, they even created a clone system called the “Coleco Gemini” that was, chip for chip, an Atari 2600 and sold it in stores.
- Atari 7800: This was the first console to actually be backwards compatible and played both 7800 and 2600/VCS games, but not 5200. Atari fans were livid with the 5200′s lack of 2600 backwards compatibility, which made sense considering the 5200 contained updated versions of most of the 2600 library. The 7800 ran a SALLY 6502 processor, which could be slowed to 1.19 Mhz and thus operate like the stripped 6507 of the 2600, and then a television interface chip created graphics/sound while adapted chipsets allowed the 7800 to function with limits to the confines of the 2600. This would have been implemented sooner than the late release window of the 7800 had the console not been shelved for over two years after the video game crash.
Known Issues: Atari integrated a content lock-out chip that blocked adult 2600 games (Custer’s Revenge, etc).
- Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: The Sega Genesis may have used a 68000 processor for its “blast processing” but it also used the Master System’s Z80 processor for its sound chip. Thanks to an add-on called the “Power Base Converter”, which plugged into the cartridge slot and gave the Genesis a Master System cart/card slot, the 68000 was deactivated and the Z80 took over. This made the Genesis literally turn into a Master System, which was one of the first to do so thanks to the previous console’s co-processor chip.
- Gameboy Color: While it may seem to be a no-brainer, the Gameboy Color actually has significantly more processing power, RAM, and palette as its predecessor. This is why you cannot play Gameboy Color games in a Gameboy, it just can’t keep up. On the other hand, the Gameboy Color was backwards compatible with Gameboy thanks to a few of its similarities. For starters the Sharp LR35902 processor was merely an adapted (possibly overclocked) version of the Gameboy’s Z80 processor, screen resolution and cartridges were the same, and RAM was merely three of the Gameboy’s RAM chips. As a result the machine could be locked off into “Gameboy” mode, much like the 7800 could do for 2600 games, and the four hues of green on the Gameboy were adapted into multiple color pre-sets that the user could choose from.
- Gameboy Advance: Like many other consoles, the Gameboy Advance used a Z80 coprocessor for its sound chip. This allowed the console to play both Gameboy and Gameboy Color games by simply making the co-processor function as the only processor. Pressing L and R buttons allowed you to toggle between the original resolution and a stretched version in the larger GBA resolution.
- Playstation 2: It’s hard to find good techinical data on the topic, but I’m fairly certain that the I/O port processor, or the device that reads the media and transfers it to the hardware, utilized the PS1′s R3051 33 Mhz processor. This meant that when it was reading a disc and detected it was a PS1 game, it could stop sending information to the PS2 and simply function as a PS1 instead. Having no true knowledge about how these consoles work beyond that, I can’t tell you for sure how it was able to control all other aspects of the system needed to play PS1 games, but that’s how it was able to do so.
Known Issues: Due to the console not having the true hardware configuration of the PS1, there is a short list of games incompatible with the PS2 depending on your console. Oddly enough, the slimline model was even incompatible with some PS2 games.
- Nintendo DS: Nintendo definitely wants to keep its legacy alive, and repurposing the chipsets of older consoles is an inexpensive way to innovate, but the DS was the first console not compatible with all previous consoles. While it does technically have all the hardware needed to play all previous portables, the DS only has a cartridge slot for the Gameboy Advance and the later DSi and DSi XL models have removed that slot completely. Still, for those that have a DS or DS Lite (preferred), you can run any GBA game you like on it.
- Xbox 360: Light years had passed, technologically speaking, between the original Xbox and the 360 even though ironically only four short years had passed in actual time. The 360 and its predecessor were both basically streamlined computers and their hardware configurations were so diverse that it would be impossible to have the 360 function like an Xbox. Microsoft’s solution was software emulation. With a scant 733 Mhz Pentium III in the Xbox and a beefy 3.2 Ghz multi-core PowerPC in the 360 the console was basically running an emulator when it plays Xbox games. As with most emulators, especially early on, the results are scattered with lots of odd effects. It’s not true backwards compatibility.
Known Issues: Plenty. It was such a headache that after only two major updates Microsoft discontinued support. A large number of games will work, although the setbacks can be as simple as ghosting in Halo 2 and as drastic as the crawling framerate of KOTOR.
- Playstation 3: Sony’s answer shows the extensive hubris they had in the wake of the Playstation 2: jack the price of the console up $150 and slam an actual PS2 into it. There’s no reason to have the PS2 hardware in the console except to play Playstation 2 games, which accounts for the massive size and equally massive price tag. It has some value, though, because these early models provide significant graphical upgrades over the PS2 and are the best way to play its games. Eventually the PS3 dropped the hardware, resulting in a $200 retail price drop for the console, and attempted software emulation that came with a whole new batch of issues. Nowadays, and since 2009, the PS3 has had no PS2 backwards compatibility whatsoever. If you’re looking today, any launch 60GB and 20GB model is fully backwards compatible with PS2 because it has a literal PS2 built in. Any 2008-June 2009 80GB models are software backwards compatible, which is best tested by popping a PS2 game into the console and seeing if it plays. The gunmetal grey Metal Gear Solid limited edition 80GB console is also software backwards compatible. All models of the PS3, including the slim models, support PS1 games. There are PS2 games available on the PSN, which are re-programmed to support the PS3 hardware.
Known Issues: Original 60GB and 20GB have no issues, they are essentially PS2s as well. Software emulation has a long list of unsupported games and issues just as the 360 does.
- Wii: The age old joke is that the Wii is two Gamecubes duct taped together in the box. While this is not true, there is some truth behind it. The Gamecube and Wii use an IBM PowerPC processor and ATI graphics architecture in the same configuration, which basically means the Wii is a mildly souped up version. As a result, the Wii can easily re-create the Gamecube library by literally adjusting the processor speeds. In 2012, Nintendo discontinued Gamecube backwards compatibility, which can be determined by searching the outside of the console for Gamecube controller ports.
Known Issues: For the most part, none. All backward compatible Wiis are also Gamecubes. There are some limited hardware issues when trying to play hardware-specific games or integrate accessories like the Gameboy Advance cable.
Ports: NES (1989), Sega Master System (1990), DOS (1991), PC-Engine (Japan Only, 1992), Microcomputers (varies), PS2 (in Taito Legends, arcade version), Xbox (in Taito Legends, arcade version)
Digital Release? Yes – NES Version on Virtual Console (no light gun support, see below)
Operation Wolf is a game I can’t help but associate with Pizza Hut. Taito’s introduction and unique take on the light gun shooter flooded the American franchise so much in the late 80s that I can think of no other place I’ve actually played the game. Of course being a pizza franchise and not an arcade the difficulty was always cranked to the highest and I swear they timed the machine to play approximately half the time it took to cook a pizza so that families with two kids would each play one credit before the food was ready. This title brought more realism to the light gun shooter as you play a member of special forces diving behind enemy lines in Cuba to extract five hostages. Aside from the realistic violence of invading and destroying enemy encampments, this was the first light gun shooter to feature a plot and natural progression as well as a moving, scrolling stage instead of a fixed location. Did I mention it was addicting too?
Mind you, we are still back in 1987, where arcade games were more about providing a specialized challenge with amazing graphics instead of explicitly drinking as many quarters as you’ll offer. The cabinet had a large mounted Uzi machine gun that could only swivel slightly with forced feedback to emulate gunfire kickback, pretty nifty for games of that time. At first glance it seems like a spray & pray title, but as you run out of ammo, die, and get captured you begin to realize you might need a slight bit of strategy. If you die, even if you have another quarter in the machine, you will still need to complete the current level from scratch (although you will now have full ammo and life). Innocent people are thrown into the mix, which you should not shoot, and animals, which you should shoot, for bonus items. Early on there’s not much penalty (as I prove in the video below) for blasting civilians or missing a vulture flying overhead, but by the final levels your screen will have a literal 50/50 spread of civilians and enemies with these animals being mostly your only source of ammo and power. I only do one playthrough in the video, but in truth I replayed this game for a couple of hours of fun. Unlike other light gun shooters before it, this game was less about accuracy and more used the gun as a placeholder for an invisible reticule. This is why most home ports and conversions don’t suffer from controller porting and in truth this type of game has proven to be just as effective, if not more so, with a reticule and controller as opposed to a light gun (which I cover in the home ports below).
Operation Wolf was the next step in interactive game design at the arcades and had everything a kid looked for when plunking down 25-50 cents: a big cabinet with flashy accessories, lots of explosions, and even catchy music that anyone who’s played the game will recognize. It also gave way to a new type of light gun shooter that will later be used with some of my favorites like T2: The Arcade Game, Revolution X, and even the more recent Resident Evil Chronicles series on Wii and PS3.
Operation Wolf was released all over the place, and I mean that from a worldwide perspective as well as the number of consoles that received a port. There was, of course, an NES version that did what it could to bring the action home but aside from a visual downgrade the fact that only three enemies could be on a screen at once made the game feel rather vacant. You can use the Zapper in this version, but with the intended design for single bullets the change to automatic firing meant all you’d hear was the constant clicking of the Zapper’s trigger (although the heavy reduction of enemies seemed to balance this out). It got a little better on the Sega Master System, where this console definitely had more popularity in Europe than America. Graphics were improved slightly, more characters could appear on the screen, and even Light Phaser support, which had a much quieter click to the shooting of the trigger, but as with the NES version there’s a distracting amount of flicker and visual oddities when playing the game with a gun. Mind you, both of these versions improve slightly when you use the controller but in today’s market you can find much better ports for the same price. The US version on NES was ported to the Wii, but for whatever reason you can only use the controller and all light gun (or WiiMote) support is stripped, as with all other ported light gun games on the Virtual Console.
It was also ported to tons of microcomputers, also a European staple of the times, including the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, MSX, and even DOS. Aside from the DOS port, all of these versions looked incredibly similar depending on the era (C64/MSX vs. Amiga/ZX Spectrum). I’m sure there’s a European retro gaming site that is battling it out over which version had the better synth sound but I have little access to actual hardware of these titles and even littler interest in comparing the nitty gritty of each. With these versions your biggest problem is the lack of colors and the stuttered scrolling, which claims responsibility for most of my gripes with microcomputer ports. Still, the soundtrack is noticeably better than the 8-bit console ports and graphically the games are on par. You can use Magnum Light Phaser, which to me looked identical to the Master System Phaser, on the ZX Spectrum version with the same issues as any other light gun version of this game, but for the most part it’s all keyboard or controller. The DOS version sounds terrible but looks close enough to the arcade to be notable, I think it also features mouse support, but either way it’s a decent port. Finally there is the PC-Engine (Japanese Turbografx-16) version that stripped two levels, allowed you to select which level you wanted to play, and removed almost all game music. Graphically it looks nearly perfect, the game runs super smooth and seems to have no problem with many large sprites on screen, and with the built-in turbo on the gamepad it’s a great way to enjoy the game. Unfortunately I do feel there’s much lost to the plot and progression aspect of this game when you remove the mission structure and with no background music there are some eerily quiet times.
Operation Wolf was also brought to the Playstation 2 and Xbox in arcade-perfect ports as part of the Taito Legends Vol. 1 collection. Due to a unique form of coding this version is incompatible with the 360 backwards compatibility as well as any software backwards compatible PS3, however it still runs fine on a launch PS3 with actual PS2 hardware. Despite both consoles having light guns, the Guncon 2 on PS2 and whatever that light gun that came with House of the Dead III on Xbox was called, there was no support for them in this collection. I played through the Xbox version for the video below and felt that while there is a reticule on screen, the game is otherwise arcade perfect. I still had a huge smile on my face when I heard the build-up music followed by the very monotone “Operation Wolf!”
Released: October 24, 2003
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4-$10 (used), $10.49 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: Yes – PS2, Gamecube, and PC and a modified version for the Gameboy Advance
Digital Release? No
No, sorry, this is not the ZX Spectrum game from 1983, but rather the more widespread console release from twenty years later, although I’ve never played the original so perhaps it’s garbage and this is the better choice. Back when the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was nearing its end, a slew of video games hoping to cash in on the wild success of Peter Jackson’s movies released. After sapping all of the film properties, the books themselves became source material for spin-offs and one of the first was based on Tolkien’s prequel book The Hobbit. As a mild fan of the series I always felt that The Hobbit was the better book and overall story, which explains the tale of how Bilbo Baggins became the first hobbit to embark on an adventure with 12 dwarves and wizard Gandolf the Grey. Not only that, but it introduces the ring, odd creature Gollum, and probably one of the only dragons in that universe, the unrivaled greedy dragon Smaug. Despite the semi-decent cartoon version of the book that I had seen in my youth, I was immediately drawn to the playful cartoon re-imagining of Tolkien’s book and despite some major snags in the gameplay department, I was pleasantly surprised.
The Hobbit was touted by Sierra as one of its newest “entertainment experiences” but it was really media company Vivendi publishing it for a developer Inevitable Entertainment (which would the following year be purchased by Midway and become Midway Austin for the Area 51 re-hashes). As a newer developer – Inevitable’s only other title was Tribes: Aerial Assault, which garnered quite positive reviews – and one that had only done a first-person shooter, The Hobbit was an odd choice as a 3D platforming adventure game. As a result the strengths and weaknesses learned from developing a title like Aerial Assault come through, like the platforming (a large part of the mobility focus of Aerial Assault), but hand-to-hand combat was weak to say the least. You can also tell this was a game that was planned first by the license and then adapted into gameplay form based on the developer’s ability to craft levels out of the story. In this regard, and I stress this as one who has read the book countless times, the decisions were quite odd. There are several levels where you’re jumping around caves and forests fending off creatures and insects while major plot points like an attack on the dwarven camp or a harrowing escape from Gollum get bypassed in cutscene. There is also an annoying save system that requires you to check into certain spots within a level and every death results in going back to your last save. Finally the overall campaign is stripped down in most levels to nothing more than a fetch quest or a killbox for a brunt of the adventure. Couple that with the fact that it’s clearly a licensed product cashing in on the success of another, there’s no reason this game is supposed to be good but to my surprise I like it.
Many of the areas in The Hobbit are set pieces we don’t see in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the overall adventure spans fewer years and area, so it was a first glimpse at many of them. The focus on areas like the watertown or dwarven caves that are thriving (as opposed to the abandoned ones in Lord of the Rings) was also a welcome addition. I also like that the game is catered to a completely general audience, so there’s absolutely no fear of letting a child play or watching you play resulting in a devastating conversation or learning something inappropriate (unless you count the swearing that would undoubtably come out of my mouth when I die). It just has a bright atmosphere and charm that allows me to forget the game design is weak, which is a pass few other games (American McGee’s Alice also comes to mind) can get out of me. It’s a bit nipicky, but I also like that Gollum is the dark, drab cave-dweller that I always remembered him as in the books and cartoons as opposed to the pathetic faux-hobbit he was transformed to in the movies. I have ready the books many times and I don’t remember Gollum, even when he converted to Smegal, having such a drastic appearance change between the stories. My favorite level, the cinematic sneak to and battle with Smaug, is one of the best looking set pieces I’ve seen in a game to date (not necessarily from a tech perspective, but from an art design one).
The Hobbit was not well received back when it released. Although some would argue that a 5-6/10 is an “average” score, most venues of the time considered a 7 or higher to be as such, and from a critical level on simply the elements of the game and not the combination of all these parts I can see where they were coming from. It was a dark time for the 3D platformer – all games that weren’t Mario were getting sneered before the package was even opened and even Mario Sunshine couldn’t get through unscathed – so it doesn’t shock me that this licensed knock-off so-so platformer was bashed by review staff. I’m not suggesting that reviewers had pre-conceived notions and I understand how easy it is to look back and attack words from the past, but I remember even back then thinking that reviews and previews were a bit harsh on the title (there was plenty of Internet video game coverage by this time). Still, I think it holds up as a lighthearted collect-a-thon from the days of modern 3D platforming and I argue that the graphics competed with most games of the era. Just to make sure I haven’t been too blinded by memory, I replayed the game in its entirety (as I do with all the games covered here) and even captured it with commentary. I have included those videos below just in case you’re interested and I do warn that since they are “in the moment” gameplay commentary there’s a bit of swearing, but I keep the bad language somewhat to a minimum. It may not have been what most gamers wanted, but I feel The Hobbit was a great preparation for this week’s release of the film in theaters.
Growing up, I played Max Payne for the excitement I got out of the gameplay, that slow motion diving and shooting mechanic. It felt perfect when I was in my teens playing these games for the first time. It was over-the-top action fun. I wasn’t looking for realism or a great story, I just wanted to shoot things. The Max Payne games were a perfect fit with their smooth and methodical gunplay.
I’ve played through Max Payne 1 and 2 about four times each, always playing the second title just after the first. It isn’t hard to do. Each game is only about 5 to 6 hours long. If I wasn’t completing one of the games in less than 6 hours it sure as hell felt like I was.
Other things that kept me coming back were the locales. They’re iconic and memorable – a frozen New York City, a grimy subway station, a sleazy hotel, an old church turned gothic nightclub, just to name a few.
Even though the locales were iconic, the gameplay superb, and the playtimes short, the story of Max Payne was something I had never paid attention to. I haven’t played the first two games in years, but I recently went back and finished them again before playing Max Payne 3.
I originally had no intention of playing the first game again. I own the PC version of the second, but the original Max Payne came with Max Payne 3 as a digital download. Even though I bought Max Payne 3 used, the code was still in the box, unused. I got lucky. I’m so glad I replayed it.
There are no choices. Nothing but a straight line. The illusion comes afterwards, when you ask “why me?” and “what if?”
Max Payne used to be an NYPD cop, but when his family was murdered and he was framed for it, everything went to hell. As he attempted to destroy the people responsible, Payne discovered it wasn’t just a random drug-induced psycho murderer responsible. Forces more sinister, and a story much darker, destroyed Max’s once beautiful suburban ideal.
You probably hear a lot of people say, “Just skip [insert game title] and play the new one because otherwise you’ll get burned out.” This says a lot about a franchise if people think it better to skip entire installments because you might otherwise become bored of the series as a whole. It signifies not a bad game, but one that doesn’t innovate enough, in one way or another, between installments. I hear this sentiment about the Assassin’s Creed franchise a lot. I am now more enthusiastic about the Max Payne series than ever before. I champion for it now, not only for the gameplay and locales, but more for the plot and method of storytelling.
The Max Payne titles follow and adhere to one another as if they were one complete story, with each game referring back to its predecessor, including Max Payne 3. Going back and playing through the first two titles first had a vast impact on my appreciation for the series as a whole – I would not feel the same way had I not gone back.
“Punchinello was burning to get me. The feeling was mutual. He was trying to put out my flames with gasoline.”
The man who created Max Payne is Sam Lake. He wrote the script, he created the story, and he was the literal face of Max Payne in the original game. Lake’s studio, Remedy Entertainment, is responsible for developing the game – of which he also assisted in level design – and also created Alan Wake. (Notice their names sound similar: Alan Wake and Sam Lake.)
I have a newfound respect for Remedy, and especially Lake, that I even want to go back and replay Alan Wake. I’ve realized now, how genius Lakes writing talent is. It’s because I’ve grown up (sort of) that I can appreciate a good story, no a great story, when I see it.
Dialogue in Max Payne 1 and 2 is witty, raw, and drenched in noir style. Coupled with the voice of James McCaffrey, Max Payne feels like a living, breathing, and ultimately heart-broken human being. He’s not a caricature, but a real, sad person. I wish I could meet Max Payne and buy him a drin- er, maybe that’s not such a good idea.
Max is a deep character. His interactions with others and the world have weight and consequence. His emotions and attitude have merit. You want him to overcome the death and sadness surrounding him. I felt like I was Max Payne, feeling the stab of every horrible moment he felt, and truly sympathized with him.
All of this is accomplished through Lake’s ability to write, with the necessary help of McCaffrey’s ability to voice act, and McCaffrey’s deep voice to inflect at every opportune moment.
Whoever at Remedy chose to use comic strips as cutscenes had a brilliant idea that lent heavily to the atmosphere. Many of the characters aside from Payne are caricatures by design. This causes a superb effect that brings the entire world of Payne into a surreal comic book existence.
But not all is depressing and dark. Lake also wrote some extremely funny stuff, especially in MP2, that will have you chuckling and shaking your head. This lightens up the mood at the most opportune, sometimes even juxtaposed moments. For instance, there’s Dick Justice. Just saying the title makes me laugh aloud: Dick, Justice. He is a rip-off character, his story is Max’s as a blaxploitation television show seen at certain moments throughout the games on TVs and posters. Another is in reference to video games. At certain points Max’s inner monologue will refer to the HUD interface and feeling like he’s being controlled, like in a video game. Don’t forget about the Captain Baseball Bat Boy TV show, which is continuously referenced throughout the series. At one point in MP2, you go to a someone’s home that is littered with fan items. This guy even has a huge full-body suit of the main character, which he is wearing when you find him. If he takes it off: Kaboom! A bomb is strapped to it, triggered to go off if he ever removes the suit. Lake writes in such a way that approaches the fourth wall but never quite breaks it. It’s hilarious and ultimately damn good writing.
Like Alan Wake’s name is a reference to Alan waking, so is Max Payne’s name a reference to maximum pain. Something I have yet to see anyone talk about, even after many Google searches, is Mona Sax’s name. The first letter of the first name and the last letters of the last name spell out “Max”. On top of this, Mona Sax’s hideout is located at a fun house entitled “Address Unknown”. Yet another almost fourth wall breaking item named after the television show with the same name that mirrors Max’s paranoia throughout the second game. This meta-level is when I officially jumped onboard the “champion Max Payne” train.
Underlying almost every title and name in the game lies something deeper still: Norse mythology. A nightclub entitled Ragna Rock, a drug pivotal to the story is called Valkyr, and the company you storm is named Aesir Corporation. All of these reference mythological entities and locations in Norse Mythology. I had never recognized any of this until this latest playthrough of the games. The scope of the storytelling grew larger during every minute of playtime, as did my amazement of it.
Finally, the theme songs for the series are haunting and excellent to say the least. They raise the hair on my neck and bring me to a state akin to Max’s sad and angry isolation (in a good way).
“The storm seemed to lose its frenzy. The ragged clouds gave way to the stars above. A bit closer to Heaven.”
Games rarely have me feel this way, let alone gush about them with love. I feel this way about the original Halo and Mass Effect 1 to some extent, but Max Payne is now my favorite video game character of all time.
If you have never played Max Payne 1 or 2, or thought about playing Max Payne 3 without playing the previous two installments, you should go back and give the original two installments a try. Even if you’ve played Max Payne 3 but didn’t understand the main characters motivations and liked the gameplay, or only played the original(s) years ago, like myself, you should definitely consider replaying them. The stories are mature (in the true sense, not in terms of content), and the gameplay is also damn fun. You can complete both games in around 12 hours and then hopefully jump enthusiastically into Max Payne 3 like I did. All of the same praise I have for these two titles continues in the third game along with an amazing finish.
“I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive; my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.”
If interested, my review of Max Payne 3 will be posted in the blog at EZ Mode Unlocked within the next two weeks.
Console: Playstation 2, Xbox, PC
Released: 10/29/2002 (US, PS2)
Developer: Rockstar North
Value: $0.88 (used) $8.25 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Prices for PS2 Version
Price: $5.00-$10.00 (used) $10-$20 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Not Yet – ESRB suggests a PS3 and possibly Xbox 360 release and iOS/Android app should be out any day
When Grand Theft Auto III hit the Playstation 2, Rockstar North single-handedly proved that it could make a clearly defined, open world that players could explore in a fully rendered 3D city. It wasn’t until the follow-up, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, that the studio gave this concept personality. Some think of it as a sequel, but in retrospect Vice City was merely an update to the engine that allowed to tell a side tale, which would be made available nowadays as a large DLC add-on. It basically retells the story of Scarface within the GTA III engine, but adds enough detail and flair to the mix to place it among one of the top rated games of last generation – and even garnered it a sequel that started life on PSP and moved to the more prevalent PS2. Personally, this is my favorite game in the series because it’s clever storytelling promotes completion of the campaign while the familiar 80s soundtrack brings me back to the early days of my youth.
Grand Theft Auto III was a technical achievement, but the silent protagonist without even a name was difficult to connect with because few of us have inclinations for the atrocities that character commits. In Vice City we are given a lead, Tommy Vercetti, that has just broken out of prison after 15 years for the murder of eleven men. With that information alone we have context for the type of person we are controlling and subsequently feel more comfortable being a sociopath. Tommy has a past, a goal, and even some well phrased quips for anyone that gets in his way. Furthermore he has established relationships, finds new friends and business partners, and is more than a goon for hire with a bunch of faceless mafia types on his way to the top, which makes him dynamic when compared to the previous title’s lead.
Tommy isn’t the only welcome addition – the world has changed too. A previously drab re-creation of “Anycity, USA” has been rediscovered in a crystal clear adaptation of Miami, Florida and the neon excitement of 1980s pop culture along with it. Signs glow, outfits are outrageous, and hits from the era performed by the actual artists loudly emit from your car stereo with more than two hours of continuous content – I have the soundtrack, it’s a whopping 8 discs long. There are plenty of original touches as well: an Atari 2600-like game console you can actually play, K-Chat Radio’s hilarious banter on fictitious subjects, and a slew of user-controlled vehicles with everything from a 70s heap to military grade weapons at your disposal. This is 1986 Rockstar style.
Aside from these tune-ups, the game still follows the basic GTA formula of going to a person for a mission, completing it, and moving on to the next. By this point cheat codes with insane results were well-known and many fans of GTA III were screwing around in the city instead of “playing” the game. It was a free time for video games, where everyone from the most casual to the most hardcore could have a good time and the 80s spin on things assisted even further in painting a fun light on a series plagued by negative press due to violence. Of course it couldn’t skate controversy completely, there were plenty of repeat news articles claiming the violence was deconstructing American society. Jack Thompson, a devout anti-video game lawyer that has since been disbarred, fought for video game bans and censorship, a 17-year-old blamed the title for why he opened fire during an auto theft, and Wal-Mart contemplated removing the fast selling title from its shelves. Even the hot topic of racism was brought under the spotlight with the title’s gang war between Cubans and Haitians, but in the end Vice City moved more than 17 million copies and stands as the fourth best-selling title on the Playstation 2. If you like GTA games and haven’t tried Vice City, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
This week Fred reflects back on survival horror favorite Silent Hill 2. This is his first time playing the game and he discusses the atmosphere, gameplay, and plot of Konami’s unnerving title.
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