Category: Reviews

Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza: John McClane on a budget.

It’s the holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than playing something Christmas-related? How about a game based on one of the best damn action movies of the 80s, Die Hard?

I don't care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.

I don’t care what anyone says, this is a Christmas movie in my book.

Okay, I may be stretching it a bit here. But it’s better than trying to find some Christmas-themed game involving Santa Claus. It’s also appropriate, considering Die Hard‘s legacy.

There have been many Die Hard games over the years. There was the top-down action game for the NES that’s been featured by the Angry Video Game Nerd and Games Done Quick, the multi-genre Die Hard Trilogy, even the Sega brawler Dynamite Deka which was rebranded as a Die Hard game when it hit stateside. But we’re gonna be talking about a little-known budget shooter that featured our old pal John McClane, Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza.

Love how they don’t try to give a Bruce Willis-like face for McClane.

This game had an interesting history. Starting out as a “Die Hard TC” for Duke Nukem 3D, it eventually made the leap from the aging Build engine to the new GoldSrc engine in 1999. Development on Nakatomi Plaza went silent in 2000 as rumors went around 20th Century Fox sent a cease and desist on the project.

Eventually the game got re-announced the following year, now with the proper Die Hard license. Since 20th Century Fox had their own games publishing arm (at the time), the game got one more engine change: the fancy new Lithtech Engine. The engine that was used in The Operative: No One Lives Forever a year prior, and would be the primary engine for Monolith Productions’ stuff for years to come. The engine was also fairly cheap to license, which meant Lithtech powered lots of budget games I’ve actually talked about before. We’re talking stuff like CTU Marine Sharpshooter, Vietnam: Black Ops and…

But enough about the engine that powered a dozen junk games. Let’s get into the game itself. Nakatomi Plaza is a loose retelling of the original Die Hard‘s story. If you’re reading this and you’ve never seen Die Hard, stop reading this and watch the film. NOW. Alternately, you could read the book the movie’s based on, Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever, which I heard is actually a good book. If you have seen Die Hard, then continue. Preferably read this while listening to that GuyzNite song about the Die Hard franchise.

Since this game’s hits all the famous parts of the original movie, I won’t go into a play-by-play of the game, only for what the game has changed from the film itself.

The game starts out exactly the same as the film: John McClane arrives at Nakatomi Plaza thanks to Argyle the limo driver, meets up with Mr. Takagi, Ellis and Holly Gennaro, before Hans and his terrorist buddies come in and wreck stuff, leaving John barefoot with his 9mm Beretta.

It's weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?

It’s weird to be playing an FPS with a left-handed protagonist. What is this, Counter-Strike?

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Need for Speed Carbon on the Game Boy Advance: Time to Own the City!

There are many things that I’m always fascinated by, and one of them is portable versions of big console games. It’s surprising to see studios small and large try to squeeze as much power out of handhelds and hopefully make a good game out of it. I collect these on a rare occasion, and thought I’d dig one out of mothballs I bought awhile back and give it a spin.

As opposed to what, Own the Parking Lot?

Let’s hop in a ride and drive the mean streets, because we’re checking out Need for Speed: Carbon – Own the City for the Game Boy Advance. I mentioned buying this in an old “I Bought Stuff!” post from a year ago, and I wanted to see what a racing game looks on the ol’ GBA.

This is an EA Canada product, and came out on the GBA, PSP, and DS as the spinoff portable title alongside the main game on the bigger consoles. Usually the portable version is different in some ways than its console brethren, so let’s check it out.

The story’s fairly silly: You were in a race alongside your brother Mick, and a multi-car pile up by some unknown assailant caused the death of your brother and caused amnesia in you. What follows is a typical revenge plot as you work with Sara and Carter, Mick’s former crew members, as you climb your way back to the top and dominate districts and “Own the City,” as it were.

So let’s take a look at how this looks on the Game Boy Advance…

If you think it looks bad on a screenshot, imagine this in motion!

Oh. Oh dear. I’m not a graphics snob by any means, but this game looks pretty bad, even by GBA standards. Screenshots really do not do this justice, it looks like a blocky mess of a world on a platform that shouldn’t be running stuff like this. Feel the thrill of going 100 mph while feeling like you’re going half that speed!

Now I know the Game Boy Advance is not a 3D powerhouse, but something is really wrong when even playing it at top speed feels like a casual drive through a city than an actual racing game.

It doesn’t help that I can barely see anything. It’s very hard to see what’s ahead of you, and most of the roads are made of 90 degree angles that make it difficult to make good turns with slamming into the buildings. It doesn’t help that this perspective also makes swerving past traffic and opponent racers difficult.

Playing one of the Hunter races. One of the few modes where being in first isn’t guaranteed a win.

But enough about how it looks, here’s how it plays. A accelerates, B brakes, L activates Nitrous – provided you’ve unlocked it, and R is handbrake. There are four race types: Circuit, Sprint, Elimination, and Hunter. Circuit and Sprint are your standard races. Elimination removes the last place driver at each lap. Hunter is a strange one: Every skill or trick you do fills up a health bar, but hitting anything or stopping loses health. It’s less about finishing first and more about finishing with style.

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The Spear of Destiny Mission Packs: The Lost Wolfenstein games.

I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.

I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed.

They don't make game covers like these anymore...

They don’t make game covers like these anymore…

Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and weren’t playing Doom for some reason, this was one of the many way to fulfill your digital nazi killing urges. That, combined with the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, and you now had seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.

Both episodes have the same story: Hitler recovered the Spear of Destiny from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime once again and recover the Spear before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but to quote John Carmack from the book Masters of Doom, “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”

Well, I hope you like blue because there's a lot of it.

Well, I hope you like blue, because there’s a lot of it here.

So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.

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Sega Swirl: The puzzle game time forgot.

Sega in the late 1990s to early 2000s was a weird time, at least here in the United States. After bungling the Sega Saturn, there seemed to be some hope for the company with the blue hedgehog as they released the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, being a modestly successful system. But then Sony’s PlayStation 2 came out the following years and steamrolled over all competition, forcing Sega to abandon games console production and go into full-time game publishing instead. As time rolls on, the Dreamcast era seems to be more fondly remembered, alongside many of the games that came with it. But there’s one game Sega heavily pushed during this era, one that has been slowly forgotten to time.

While Sega was mostly known in the console space, they did have a middling PC division during those years. Most of them ports of legacy games like Sonic & Knuckles Collection, but there was one game they released around 2000 that was a unique, interesting idea. It was a game that would absolutely dominate my middle school years in terms of its simplicity and fun factor.

What the heck kind of company is

What the heck kind of company is “Sega of America Dreamcast” anyway?

Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl. This came out as a freeware game from around 1999-2000, and while the title screen is incredibly basic, there’s a lot more to it than you think.

The swirls almost look like colored cinnamon rolls. Damn, now I’m hungry.

The gameplay is fairly simple: You’re given a grid of swirl colors, and your goal is to find groups of colored swirls for points. Removing them shrinks the playfield down, making it easy to build up combos. However, removing a single swirl will result in you losing points. In the standard “Level mode,” you must complete five goals to finish the stage, thus chaining swirls together for massive points is the end goal. It’s a fairly simple game, but still fun even in spite of its basic looks.

A shame this came out in 2000, before esports were a thing. I would totally watch a Sega Swirl tournament.

There’s also a Versus mode, where up to four competitors start taking enemy swirls for massive points. The goal is to knock your opponents out by eliminating that player’s swirls from the field. Like before, clicking a single swirl makes you lose points, but since your goal is to eliminate your opponent, it’s a good strategy to grab one swirl just to knock them out of the game faster. It’s a fun, competitive mode.

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Wordtris: When Tetris and Scrabble collide.

If you were around in the ’90s, you might be familiar with Tetris mania. The original game hit a myriad of systems, most notably the Game Boy, and became a massive worldwide success. Naturally when something like Tetris is popular, people try to reinvent the wheel and make variants of Tetris, with varying levels of success.

Some of these, like Tetris 2 or Tetris Blast just added a more puzzle element to the base Tetris game. Others were games like Tetris Attack, which was merely a rebranding of what we now know as Puzzle League. Then there’s the game that we’re talking about today:

Even the cover is similar to the original NES Tetris cover.

Even the cover is similar to the original NES Tetris cover.

Proudly mentioned on the box as “Tetris made Letter Perfect!”, Wordtris is a Tetris-like game released for several different systems. Though today we’ll be specifically looking at the SNES version of the game. Spectrum Holobyte took the block-building concept of Tetris and put a unique spin on it, which is hardly unknown territory to them. Wordtris was one of several Tetris spinoffs Spectrum Holobyte released, including Welltris and Faces: …Tris III. I wasn’t kidding when I said there were many Tetris spinoffs in the ’90s.

Surprisingly bare-bones looking for a game like this.

Surprisingly bare-bones looking for a game like this.

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CTU Marine Sharpshooter: One Budget FPS, One Mediocre Game.

I’m convinced no one wants to be the sniper in a video game. Yeah, there’s parts of movies where being a sniper is cool, but most of it involves walking around and occasionally killing people at a distance with a bolt-action rifle. Unless it’s something like Call of Duty 4‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission, which is more of a stealth level than a sniping level.

Thus any game I’ve played where sniping is the focus, like Sniper Elite V2 or Sniper: Ghost Warrior, ends up being a fairly simple shooter with strangely elaborate sniping mechanics. I don’t know why people keep making games based on it, but then again they keep making sequels to the Sniper movies, so I guess there’s an audience for this stuff.

Today, we’re looking at another one of those sniping games, and this time, it’s a budget shooter…

If this doesn't look generic to you, I don't know what.

If this doesn’t look generic to you, I don’t know what.

CTU Marine Sharpshooter is a budget FPS where sniping is the base mechanic. Despite the name, you don’t play as Jack Bauer, but rather a generic soldier dropped into certain exotic locales and go pew pew at bad guys with sniper rifles.

The developer of this game was Jarhead Games, a master of making budget military FPSes, such as Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Army Ranger: Mogadishu. The only other notable thing they made was NRA Gun Club, which is ironic considering the NRA was lambasting video games before. Guess they forgot about that one.I’ve played only one of Jarhead’s games before, and it wasn’t that interesting, so I don’t have high hopes for this one.

Man, what kind of gun skin is that, Spotterguy? Can I get that for CS:GO? :P

Man, what kind of gun skin is that? Can I get that for CS:GO? 😛

You play as some generic sniper and his spotter buddy, with an M4 assault rifle. They don’t give them names, so I’m gonna call them “John McSniperdude” and his partner “David Spotterguy.”

What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.

What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.

After a thrilling introduction where McSniperdude and Spotterguy arrive to Afghanistan by boat, the game begins. Sniping in this game is a bit strange: You use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. It takes a little getting used to, especially since I’m used to many other games allowing you to scope in with the right mouse button. As you play, Spotterguy will tell you that there’s enemies in a certain direction, also highlighted on your radar above.

Each set of levels gives you a unique sniper rifle: The starting Afghanistan missions give you an M40A3 that requires to chamber a round in each time you reload. Later, you get a Barrett M82, a heavy anti-tank rifle that the player uses like it was an assault rifle. The final set of levels give you an “AW”, which I assume is meant to be the Arctic Warfare Magnum, which would’ve been more appropriate in the other levels.

Get used to this weapon. It'll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

Get used to this weapon. It’ll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

When not sniping, you have two other weapons: A useless knife, and your SOCOM-MK23 pistol with an optional silencer. The pistol is really only useful in close quarter areas, of which there are a few. I’d recommend telling your Spotter to fire at will so you don’t have to switch between weapons or no-scope enemies often. You’re given 4-6 health packs you can use (signified by the crosses on the HUD), but they only refill when you change locales, so if you used up all your medkits on the early levels, you won’t last long. Also, your spotter has infinite kits and can heal himself willy-nilly.

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Hoyle Casino on the Game Boy Color: Gambling on the Go.

For a long while, I was fascinated by casino video games. Maybe since I was too young to actually play at a casino, I figured casino video games would simulate the casino experience without losing loads of money in the process. It’s a shame that nowadays casinos are inundated with digital slots and video poker machines, with maybe a blackjack and craps table here and there. It’s just not the same.

During my teenage years, I was playing one of these casino games, back when I had just gotten the fancy new Game Boy Advance. Though, it was a Game Boy Color game…

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn't crushed to hell, I'd just scan mine in.

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn’t crushed to hell, I’d just scan mine in.

Hoyle Casino is a game sponsored by the Hoyle game company, which primarily is a playing card company, though these days they’ve also branched out to publishing digital games based on TV shows like Ice Road Truckers. This game is also unique because it was one of the few games Sierra published for the GBC, with the others being sister title Hoyle Card Games and a version of 3D Ultra Pinball: ThrillrideHoyle Casino came to other systems, but today I’m looking at the portable release.

Pulsar Interactive worked on this, and they were mostly known for Game Boy games like Barbie Fashion Pack, as well as assisting in Quest for Glory V and Blood & Magic, as well as IBM’s Manage This!, which is not a video game but they were more than proud to feature it on their website.

I figured I played this a bunch because of the aforementioned fascination with casino games. Plus since it was on a portable and this was before everybody had smartphones, it was a great time waster when you had nothing to do, which was fairly common in my high school years.

Now, my gold standard for casino games is Nintendo’s Vegas Stakes – both the original SNES version and it’s Game Boy counterpart – so let’s see if Hoyle Casino is good enough to dethrone the king of casino video games.

Hoyle Casino is a proud sponsor of VICE. I’m more of a MisterCard person, personally.

We’re introduced to this screen where you create your character, complete with portrait. It’s merely cosmetic, but I decide to go for the classy gentleman portrait for this one.

This game boasts "hundreds of variations." I'm not seeing hundreds, here.

This game boasts “hundreds of game variations.” I’m not seeing hundreds, here.

Hoyle Casino has seven base games in it: Blackjack, Slot Machines, Craps, Roulette, Pai-Gow Poker, Video Poker and just “Poker.” Considering Hoyle is best known for playing cards, I’m not surprised how much poker games are in that.

As I select the Poker option, suddenly I am given a deluge of various choices.

More poker than you need. Not like these variants matter considering everybody just plays Texas Hold’em these days…

Holy crap, that’s a lot of poker games. They got most of the common ones, including Seven Card Stud that I remember playing in Vegas Stakes, as well as the now-iconic Texas Hold ‘Em, the one type of Poker everyone knows because it was on TV for a long while.

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Kiss Psycho Circus: Glam rock meets the paranormal.

I am not a fan of Kiss. I only know a few of their songs, mostly because they appeared in Rock Band. I’m aware of Gene Simmons’ mastery of marketing the band, complete with corny ’70s live-action specials, their shift to hair metal in the 80s, and of course, the infamous Kiss Kasket.

They have a couple good songs, at least. “Love Gun,” “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” even “Strutter” is pretty solid. Kiss is a band I can appreciate and respect, but I don’t really care for them.

The late ’90s was the time for a Kiss comeback: The original line-up got back together and released an album in 1998 called Psycho Circus. With that title, and probably with a pinch of Gene Simmons’ marketing mastery, it eventually lead to a comic book series written by Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane, and of course, a video game. Prepare for the Nightmare Child.

This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?

This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?

Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is a video game adaption of the Psycho Circus comic book series by Image Comics and Todd MacFarlane Productions. The comic involved the band members becoming supernatural beings and saving the universe as part of the silly team moniker Four-Who-Are-One. The video game borrows elements from the comic, but has a wholly different story.

This was released on PC and Dreamcast in 2000, not long after games like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament were getting big. Though this being released on the Dreamcast and not the then-forthcoming PlayStation 2 is rather baffling, but maybe it’s for the best.

Instead of playing as members of Kiss, you play as members of a Kiss tribute band who get teleported to a special world ran by this gypsy named Madame Raven. She tells you about this big bad called “The Nightmare Child,” one that will destroy the world, and your band are the chosen ones to stop them.

I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!

I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!

Separated by the Hall of Mirrors, each band member goes through each world as they grab each of the six pieces that form the respective Elder to stop the mythical Nightmare Child. Admittedly, the story is rather nonsensical even in-game, I had to resort to the manual to understand this bizarre-ass story.

I can say with authority that this story is so god damn ridiculous that it’s not worth looking further into. Then again, with this being co-opted by a band known for wearing silly outfits and the guy who created freakin’ Spawn, I’m not expecting System Shock 2 levels of storytelling here.

Here's a goofy little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.

Here’s a silly little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.

This game was developed by Third Law Interactive, founded by one of the original members of the Daikatana development team during its first year or so when it was under the Quake engine, so already we’re off to a shaky start. They didn’t do a whole lot of notable stuff outside of this game, my brief internet search found out they worked on an Aliens vs. Predator 2 expansion and added stuff to the Game of the Year edition of No One Lives Forever.

You may have noticed that’s all Monolith/Lithtech stuff. Unsurprisingly, this game runs on Lithtech 1.5, which is an absolute pain in the ass to get working on modern devices without needing an elder god and maybe dgVoodoo2. Worst off, that this is one of those games that has the pesky disc check, and no patch or update is out to turn it off. A shame, really.

But let’s get to the meat of Kiss Psycho Circus. In the game, you choose one of the four supernatural characters and go through a set of levels, getting weapons, jumping on platforms, activating switches and killing enemies in your wake. Through the levels, you’re looking for the items make your character part of the Elder, like boots, shoulder pads, and finally the iconic Kiss masks.

This guy's ready to pull the trigger on his gun. His Love Gun, that is.

This guy’s ready to pull the trigger on his gun. His Love Gun, that is.

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Far Cry 3: From partygoer to psychopath.

The Far Cry games have gone through this weird identity crisis over the years. The first game was a mostly linear, extremely difficult action game with aliens, Far Cry Instincts made your character become a mutated alien with superpowers, and Far Cry 2 was a promising game with too many stupid mechanics and probably the dumbest story to come out of a big-budget action game. To this day, I still don’t understand why people praise Far Cry 2 to the high heavens.

Surprising no one, Far Cry 3 has nothing to do with the others. Seems to be par for the course for Ubisoft: Instead of making a cohesive story/saga with the series, just make them like Call of Duty games where they’re mostly standalone and different, with the only similarity being a jungle theme. It seems to be working for them.

Far Cry 3 was one of my many purchases during the Steam Summer Sale this year along with Tomb RaiderDark Souls, the BioShock trilogy, all games I’ll eventually get around to playing someday. I bought it expecting that after the disappointment of Far Cry 2 that it could only get better from here. Turns out I was right, but with some caveats.

Warning: Minor plot spoilers within.

When I started Far Cry 3, I was welcomed to a video montage of a bunch of dudes partying out on some island, having fun and being idiots, all set the tune to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” It’s like something out of a horror movie. Then it cuts away to our hero Jason being captured with his brother Grant, who eventually escape, but not without the villain Vaas deciding to kill Grant and leave poor Jason fighting for his life.

Afterwards, you’re found by a guy named Dennis, who’s part of this jungle tribe called the Rakyat and then you go through the steps of trying to save everyone and get out of the island alive. Eventually it leads to a revenge plot, where Jason eventually wants to kill Vaas and his boss Hoyt while helping the Rakyat tribe along the way. Vaas is probably the best character in the game, as he’s a sign of the general psychotic nature of the hostile people on the island, and it works. Sadly, something happens to him mid-game and he’s pretty much gone, which is a damn shame because Hoyt isn’t nearly as interesting.

Just ignore the floating magazine and we should be good.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, on the Game Boy Color.

Today, I thought that it’d be interesting to dabble more into my game library, as I have a fair share of games that I’ve gotten or bought over the years. Plus, it’s been a while since I talked about a game on the site, I’m long overdue for this.

Ah, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. An awesome skateboarding game that was fun even if you couldn’t do sick tricks on a real skateboard. A long-standing franchise that eventually got the usual Activision treatment of “pump these games out until they stop making us money,” and now pretty much lives on through nostalgic memories of the early games and the occasional new Tony Hawk game that they trot out just to prove the franchise is not dead. Though, the less we talk about Tony Hawk Ride, the better.

I do remember playing the first two games at some point, but since I wasn’t big into skateboarding I missed out on the later games. Thanks to watching Tony Hawk’s Underground speed runs and Giant Bomb playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 online a few years back, it’s fueled my interest into the franchise now, and I’m kicking myself for missing out when it was king.

Let’s go back a bit and talk about the original game. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out on a bunch of platforms, like the Dreamcast, Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. But I wasn’t expecting the first game on this system:

Yes. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the Game Boy Color. That’s not the weird part, though, this is the weird part:

This game was made by Natsume. The Harvest Moon guys. I can’t think of a weirder choice for a developer of a portable Tony Hawk game. Honestly, I didn’t even know they made games beside Harvest Moon until I had played this one.

I don’t even remember how I got this game, I think a neighbor had a copy of it years ago and just gave it to me. The only other thing I remember about this game is that I wrote a scathing user review of this on GameSpot. You can probably find it if you look around there, but I’d rather not remember it, much like most of my past writing.

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