Mass Effect

Mass Effect feels like strange game. It seems to spend most of its time slightly missing the mark. A lot of the game feels very similar to the New Washington level of the excellent 90’s 2D platformer Flashback with lots of running backward and forwards stacking objectives to complete a mission. At the same time the overarching RPG mechanics and storyline give a very Chrono Trigger like feel to the proceedings.

Add to that a universe traversal system not too dissimilar to something like Elite that opens up a galaxy and a number of worlds to explore. This is certainly the right way to present a mutli-world space opera and one wonders why more space games haven’t exploited this method of focusing interworld travel on the galaxy map.

So far, so good, and yet something still doesn’t sit right. And the reasons are all niggly little things that add up and detract from something that should be seen as space RPG excellence.

It starts with player models and animations feeling more original XBox than 360, which isn’t too surprising given how early in the 360 generation this game was released. This is swiftly joined by some very questionable voice acting of a script written by a collective of pre-teen Dr Who fans. It’s all somehow vapid, shallow, and predictable. So much so that it quickly made Eastenders feel like Shakespeare and I soon descended in playing missions for playing missions sake rather than wanting to progress the underlying narrative.

Which brings us to combat. Maybe I’m spoiled by modern games but this felt like an early FPS struggling to use a gamepad instead of a mouse. During fighting there didn’t seem like much agency with the character model drawn to the screen. It really may as well had not been there. And as common with many early FPS aiming and shooting lacked accuracy, descending quickly into “fire in rough direction of enemy and hope enough rounds connect”.

This culminates in the final boss battle that even on the easiest difficulty setting manages to stay the wrong side of frustrating as the enemy zips around the screen and your scatter gun pot shots barely connect with your opponents health bar.

3/5

Alien: Isolation

There seems to be some unwritten law that when I review a First Person game I have to mention how much I generally dislike the view point and how rare it is for me to play such a title. I then go on to explain how this game is an exception to the rule and a welcome surprise.

Alien: Isolation is one of those games. And a very welcome surprise it was too. The draw is obviously the Alien franchise and the love of the first two Sigourney Weaver movies. I’m pleased to say Creative Assembly, the makers of this masterpiece, have treated this source material with nothing but the upmost respect.

The game is set upon a space station that has come in to possession of the flight recorder for Ripley’s ill-fated ship from the first movie. You play Riply’s daughter, Amanda, in search of answers to what happened to mum. You arrive on the space station only to discover a world in disarray and the possibility that more than the flight recorder has survived the Nostromo.

In moment to moment gameplay it is very, very reminiscent of Dead Space just with an Alien franchise skin applied and a switch in perspective. This of course is no bad thing.

The primary gameloop is built around stealth and crafting. Getting in to any kind of fight and/or running out of essential supplies is often very, very deadly. Each level gives you a series of puzzles to complete while you desperately avoid just about every other inhabitant of Sevastapol Station.

5/5

Lego Star Wars II: A New Hope

Traveller’s Tales Star Wars Lego games are a compilation of smaller mini games, much like the Die Hard Trilogy on the PlayStation 1. Each mini game focusing on the events of its respective film. The first Lego Star Wars collection, on the original XBox and PlayStation 2, focused on the newer prequel trilogy of films. This sequel is based around George Lucus’s classic trilogy from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

There’s something very endearing about Travelers Tales Lego games. Over the years I’ve seen it in their Batman Series, Star War Series, City Undercover, and Marvel Superheroes. In every case they manage to pull off the seeming impossible by remaining true to the source material, true to the foundations of Lego as a brand, and had a spice of knowing humour with references to keep Dad happy while also keeping Junior amused.

This section perfectly recreates the plot of the 1977 original movie over 6 entertaining chapters. Gameplay is very much a modern wide-linear third person action adventure variety with you guiding various lead characters through key sequences lifted directly from the movie. For those of use knowing some of the dialog almost word for word it’s particularly fun seeing the Lego miniatures act out many of our favourite scenes. Nothings is lost in translation and in some ways successfully builds upon the original source.

While one or two puzzles left me head scratching for a moment or three, for the most part the difficulty is kept relatively low so even your average 5 or 6 year old could pick up a controller and not get overly frustrated over progressing through the action. That said these games are very much designed for co-operative multiplayer. Plug in two controllers and suddenly the game really opens up. A real father-son bonding experience.

Even so, if you’re in your mid-40s and going in for some solo gameplay there is still plenty of value to gain from the experience offered here.

4/5

Star Trek

The best way to describe this highly rated (both at the time and today) Amiga game by German Star Trek aficionado Tobias Richter is “Elite with a Star Trek skin”. This is a freeware public domain game released for the Amiga around mid-late 1989. The programmer, TJ Richter, was already highly regarded for making Star Trek related demos and animations when this game was released. He has since gone on to become a well regarded CGI artist and has done much work in the Trek universe.

The game itself is a pure openworld (universe) sandbox affair. You are placed in the role of Captain James T Kirk aboard the original NCC-1701 USS Enterprise. As you fly around the galaxy Starfleet HQ will check in and present you with missions to complete. Very elite like. Go here, pick up that, delivery it there. Along the way you’ll pretty randomly bump into other starships, enemies (both Klingon and Romulan), and other hazards like meteor storms and magnetic clouds.

The game is played via a GUI representation of the original enterprise bridge with you in the captains chair. You lease with AI in the various tradition bridge crew roles to manage your ship and complete your missions. Get the missions from the Comms officer, Tell the Navigator to fly to location, Instruct the Helmsmen in removing impeding obsticles, etc.

Given its source material, when it was released, its freeware nature, and sandbox experience it is a really good quality, polished experience that comes highly recommended to any Amiga and/or Star Trek fans. And certainly this was the view of popular publications of the time.

However the lens of history is a little more critical. Alas missions from Starfleet HQ come thick and fast with little breath taken to engage in one task before another three are queued up. Random encounters happen a little too often. Most annoying being fellow UFP starships just there for a fly by that is cool once but distracting for the fifth time en route to location 1. Likewise helms controls can be a bit finicky needing you to click on three different screen locations to fire off one shot to an encroaching asteroid of Romulan cruiser.

Still for small blasts the subject matter, sandbox, and presentational polish all shine through enough to make this a recommended Amiga experience.

4/5

Jetpac

This game has a very special place in my heart. It’s probably not the very first video game I ever played, there are a couple of other good contenders for that (Galaxian, Breakout, Cruising On Broadway) but it is definitely up there. Like Cruising this was one of the very few games my Dad actually took an active interest in. It was among the three or four cassettes with a 16K Sinclair ZX Spectrum given to us by our next door neighbour when I was 9.

It was also the game that showed the most longevity and was the highest quality in visual appeal and gameplay. Other games, like Throu’ The Wall (Breakout) and Cruising On Broadway were very simple line drawn and blocky graphics reminiscent of an unknown previous era. Jetpac was a fall on arcade quality game (though I’d never seen or heard of what an arcade might be back then).

The reason for Jetpac’s high production values comes from the writers Tim and Chris Stamper. The brothers wrote the games and run the company behind the then popular Ultimate Play The Game label which later went on to produce very high quality games under the RARE label for several Nintendo consoles. Jetpac’s arcade values wasn’t by chance, Tim and Chris actually got their start porting arcade games from NTSC to PAL. Converting games from the likes of Konami and Sega gave them the grounding needed for a certain production quality that they brought to all of their ZX Spectrum games.

During a time many commercial games where being written in BASIC, Jetpac was an early poster child for pure Machine Code programming. The detail of the sprites, the use of the Spectrums colour palate and attribute system, and the speed of fluidity of the animations showed a game that could have happily succeeded next to the likes of Galaxian, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong in the arcades.

You play the eponymous Jetman character and must guide him around a simple single screen with three platforms. Your task is to build your spaceship and refuel it before taking off from the planet. While doing this you’ll be under constant attack from the locals that you’ll need to fend of the locals with your lazer fire.

The size of this game compared to anything else at the time is breath taking. There are 16 whole distinct levels before the game wrap rounds and starts again. Every fourth level (1,5,9,13) have a new spaceship design for you to build. And there are 8 different alien designs that repeat (1-8,9-16), so you need to make it back round to level 17 before you see the same spaceship and alien combination.

How they got all of this in just 16K of RAM is mind boggling. And it’s a great game to boot. At no time does the gameplay suffer for high quality of the graphics and animation. If there’s a complaint it’ that there really is only one level design, but since you have four different ship designs and each of the 8 aliens have their own unique attack patterns it really doesn’t matter. Each level has it’s own unique feel regardless.

The Stampers captured that important – just one more go – magic of the early arcades. The need to see what’s next and set the new high score.

5/5

Cosmic Conflict

If you can get over the high pitched whine that is supposed to pass for lazer fire then you can relieve your inner Luke Skywalker fantasies and dispatch passing emperial Tie-Fighters from the comfort of your Millennium Falcon cockpit. Cosmic Conflict is a basic 3D first person shooter. You have our crosshairs in the centre of the screen, Enemy ships will appear from almost any direction and you simply line up and press fire.

You have 1000 shield points that are counting down continuously and loose 50 points every time and enemy ship crashes into to you. All you need to do is dispatch 15 enemies before you loose all your shields.

It’s a fun enough game but, common complaint for Videopac games, without any real scoring there’s little real point in the action. Ultimately Space Monster is a little more interesting for blasting aliens.

3/5

Resogun

Save all the humans! For the first two or three years, while the gaming community awaited Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, there was a running joke of this being the best game on the PlayStation 4 platform. While not really true the tongue in cheek humour does betray how good this reimagining of the 80’s classic Defender arcade really is.

I first come across Defender in the mid-90’s although I didn’t realise exactly what it was at the time. Public Domain libraries were a really big thing on the Amiga and it was common to send off a few Pounds in Postal Orders and get some high quality software through the post. There was a series of games disks called The Assassin’s collection and it was on one of those I got one of my favourite games – Oblivion, a spot on Defender clone.

Resogun was a launch title for the PS4, alongside Assassin’s Creed IV, so it was an important and much played title when the console first came out.

Housemarque did quite a bit more than merely remake a beloved arcade classic. They totally modernised and updated the experience for the modern era. If seaside arcades where still destination locations for the latest gaming experiences then this is exactly the type of game you’d want to play there. It’s a very pure arcade experience.

The game is a twin-stick shooter with your left-analogue stick controlling the player ship flying around a circular/donut hub planet, and the right-analogue stick controlling the direction of fire. If you’ve played any big 80’s shooter like R-Type, Scramble, Gradius or Xenon 2, then you’ll know what to expect with waves of enemy aliens spawning and flying around the screen in tight attack patterns while you dodge their hellfire of bullet storm and pick them off.

While all this is going on you need to protect the humans from being picked of. Those that are released from their boxes need picking up and carrying to safety before the enemies can abduct them and carry them off screen. Much like the original Defender. It’s this combination of classic Defender saving the humans and their take on how that games play area also rotated around, mixed with a modern update of the twin stick firing system and a more traditional SHEMUP waves of alien attack that comes together to produce a modern day classic.

The game also really shows off the power of this new generation of games machine. There’s a lot happening on screen, the (3D model) sprite count seems insane. And as the bullets hit the particle physics is just plane bonkers. You’d expect lesser machines to slow to a pedestrian crawl with all this happening at once, the PS4 merrily continues on at a leisurely 60fps.

And the new speaker built in to the Dual Shock 4 controller is amazing. It really pulls you into the action hearing constant action updates being given in this way. It’s a real shame more games never utilised the speaker to enhance the overall atmosphere. Even on the more modern Series X the speaker is something noticeably missing from the XBox platform that really should have become an industry standard by now.

5/5

Space Monster

1980 was a turning point in home video gaming. Proper games consoles like the Atari Video Computer System and the Philips Videopac G7000 had been on the market since the height of the Pong craze back in ’77 but a combination of high price and lack of killer app largely kept them out of the wider public consciousness. This all changed with Space Invaders.

Space Invaders was the breakthrough Arcade hit from 1978. The game sees you defending the Earth from the titular alien invaders in a manor that bears more than a passing resemblance to Atari’s 1975 Arcade smash Breakout (and from their the roots firmly go back to Pong).

With the cost of these gaming systems moving into the affordable £100 category and the release of Space Invaders type games to these systems meant the time had finally arrived for a new entertainment media.

Space Invaders itself, through licencing with Taito, was an Atari property and only (officially) available with their home entertainment system. To get around this rival manufacturers produced their own Space Invader like games for their respective systems. Space Monster was Philips/Magnavoxs answer.

The game is very noticeably Space Invaders but with equally obvious differences that unfortunately, in this case, do detract from the original. Not that Space Monster is in anyway a bad game, it’s just it doesn’t manage to live up to the source material. The issues really stem from two places. The first is the barrier between you and the enemy. This makes lining up and timing shoots more critical and hence leaves you more open to attack.

But it’s the second problem, when combined with the first, that is the games ultimate downfall. There’s no player scoring. Sounds like a simple thing and very common to the majority of the Videopac game library, but in this instance it’s a major obmission. Instead you play best of 10 against the computer. Either it kills you 4 times our you clear the screen. There’s no reward for hitting the alien monster, stopping lasers, having bases or completing a screen. No kudos. No bragging rights. Nothing to challenge your mates to better.

3/5