Category Archives: Neversoft

#87: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

Format: Playstation Genre: Extreme Sports Released: 2000 Developer: Neversoft

Back in the year 2000 I was halfway through my English Literature degree in Southampton, but during the holidays I could usually be found propping up the sofa at Paul, Phil and Richie’s house, which we affectionately knew as ‘Foxhill’ (after the attractively named road it was located on, in the not-so-attractive environs of North Watford). Along with regular visitors Gav and Curly, I busied myself over those summer months in creating a buttock crevice in the Foxhill sofa while watching various kung-fu films and episodes of Alan Partridge (that is, if I could see the TV screen through the fug of cigarette smoke – the eventual ban on smoking in the house came as a welcome relief).

Foxhill was a bloke paradise really: the walls were graced with engaging bloke ephemera (I distinctly remember one wall had a pair of nun-chuks next to a homemade Kylie calendar), the whole house was wired up to a LAN network for multiplayer PC gaming, and the living room played host to an enormous TV complete with every bit of audio-visual equipment you could ask for. Not only that, a full wall was taken up by DVDs, and next to that stood an absolutely enormous beer fridge that Phil managed to get as surplus from the bar he managed (sadly though, it was only ever turned on intermittently after the first month owing to the ridiculous amounts of electricity it used).

I have very fond memories of Foxhill, and looking back it feels like I spent practically all of my time there when I wasn’t at university – although I know I had a summer job, so obviously that isn’t the case. In fact, I don’t really remember anyone going to work – it feels like all we did was stay up till three in the morning watching Bruce Lee movies every night.

Well, that’s not all we did – we put some serious time into playing video games as well. In fact, there were a few games that the denizens of Foxhill invested silly amounts of time in: Gran Turismo 3 was the sole topic of conversation for months at one point, and Paul became so obsessed with it he even went out and bought a £100 force feedback steering wheel before going on to unlock every single car in the entire game. Alien Versus Predator on the PC caused a similar stir when it arrived, mostly because it did a bloody good job of scaring the crap out of us. Picture the scene: four grown men stood around a PC, the only sound the increasing ‘ping’ of a marine’s motion detector… ‘BANG’! A pipe falls from the ceiling of a corridor, causing four grown men to shriek like girls and wet themselves.

Shogun: Total War was another one: Paul and Richie got pretty obsessed with playing this against each other – I’d often be in the living room, watching TV while Paul played on the PC, when suddenly he’d erupt in an explosion of cursing, accompanied by the sound of maniacal cackling coming from Richie upstairs as he decimated Paul’s army with his archers.

But the game that probably clocked up the most hours of play time was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. The level of devotion to this game at Foxhill was just phenomenal – every time I visited, THPS2 seemed to be on the Playstation, and often the sunken eyes of the current player would indicate that they hadn’t actually been to bed the previous night, such was the level of commitment to Tony and pals. But the thing about THPS2 is that it doesn’t really end – although there’s only a finite number of characters to unlock (Spider-Man being the obvious house favourite), there’s no end to the pursuit for high scores, and we’d sit for hours patiently taking it in turns to beat the score records for each level.

The key innovation of THPS2 was the introduction of the ‘manual’ – balancing your skateboard on two wheels – which allowed you to link tricks together in an unbroken train and achieve some utterly ludicrous combo scores (I seem to remember Curly was particularly skilled at this). But the brilliant thing was that it was almost as much fun to watch others performing tricks as it was to do them yourself, so waiting your turn to play was an entertainment in itself.

Ten years down the line, the residents of Foxhill – although still in touch – have gone their separate ways, and looking back, those hours spent playing games seem like a world away. Where did we find the time? Easy I suppose – most of us were single and didn’t have much responsibility, which meant we had loads of spare time and cash to spend on pursuits like learning intricate trick combos and practising nose grinds. They were good times, and although I wouldn’t change anything about my life right now, I sometimes miss those carefree days of blokeish pursuits…

…but then I remember about Gav’s fungal foot infection and suddenly the past doesn’t seem so rosy.

Lewis

(Screenshots from giantbomb.com)

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under 2000, Extreme Sports, Neversoft, Playstation

#84: Spider-Man

Format: Playstation Genre: Action Adventure/Beat-em Up Released: 2000 Developer: Neversoft

‘Greetings True Believers! It’s me, the Sensational, Surprising, Staggering Stan Lee! During the 60s I (co)created loads of iconic Silver Age superheroes and villains – The Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, and many, many others. Then after the 60s I just made up loads of rubbish ones. Anyway, today my good pal Ian is here to talk about maybe my most fabulously famous creation, the Amazing Spider-Man! Over to you Ian’

Thanks Stan. Stewart Lee, in his excellent ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate – The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian’, mentions how much he loves Marvel comics and how Spider-Man’s code – ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ carries far more moral weight for him than the various commandments and declarations of the world’s major religions. Though I’m not massively into comics (I don’t really buy any titles regularly, just getting the occasional trade paperback) the Spider-Man love resonated with me. For me, Spider-Man is not only the best superhero created, but one of the greatest fictional characters of the 20th Century. Yes. Better than Batman.

Similar to Batman though, Spider-Man has not had the greatest vintage when it comes to video games. Back in the day both characters were often stuck in dull side scrolling beat-em ups, with only a token effort made use the unique abilities and powers of those characters. In fact Spider-Man the game and Batman: Arkham Asylum share a lot in common – they really reflect the spirits of their characters. Whereas Batman: Arkham Asylum was a game with a dark and twisted atmosphere, Spider-Man is joyous and fun, just like the title character normally is (between bouts of teenage angst of course). Both make full use of the universe the characters are in, using many of the supporting characters from their respective comics, films and animated TV shows. Both featured as many iconic villains as possible but used them all in a brilliant way. Both tapped into the ‘collecting’ urge of the average nerdy comic book fan by having various secret items to collect. And finally both are brilliant.

Not enough computing power to create the streets of New York? Don't worry, Dr Octopus has luckily released a yellow gas into the streets. Phew!

The game itself is great fun to play. I distinctly remember how exhilarating it was the first time you jump off a building, start to fall before shooting out a web and gracefully swinging over to the next building. Or the buzz you got as you realised what classic villain you were going to face now (I was stuck on flippin’ Mysterio for ages). Or indeed which classic hero was going to make a cameo appearance – everyone from Daredevil to the Punisher to Captain America pops by.

When I got Spider-Man I had lost interest in the character and comics in general (the ‘Clone Saga’ had just about finished me off I’m afraid) but the sheer joie de vivre of the game made me fall in love with Spidey again. The game feels like a comicbook, from Stan Lee’s typical verbose opening narration, to the bright colours of the levels, to Spider-Man’s sarky comments as he punches Rhino in the face. Not only that but the sheer number of various characters and comic book references crammed into the game reminded me why I had liked the comics in the first place. Plus I could look all knowledgable (and tragically geeky) in front of Lewis and our friend Paul as they played it and asked me who ‘such and such was’ or where the ‘Bag Head’ costume came from.

As usual Ol'Knuckle Head - J. Jonah Jameson has got himself into trouble and it's up to Spidey to save him. This time, from the Scorpion.

Sadly the game’s sequel, and the various Spider-Man (Spider-Men?) games that followed in its wake over the years failed to capitalise on the original’s innovations and they never matched the simple fun of that first game. It’s telling that the latest Spider-Man game – Shattered Dimensions – is still being compared to the 10 year-old Spider-Man. I still hope that a new game will come along and match the originals sense of fun and get the old spidey-sense tingling once again.

Oh, it also had a fantastic ending:

Ian

1 Comment

Filed under 2000, Action Adventure, Fighting, Neversoft, Playstation

#64: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

Format: Xbox 360 Genre: Rhythm Action Released: 2007 Developer: Neversoft

I had a very embarrassing moment a few months ago. My girlfriend came home unexpectedly and caught me stood on top of the sofa, throwing rock poses and windmilling my ‘rock arm’ like there was no tomorrow as I powered through ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath. Perhaps this would have been acceptable if I was playing a real guitar, but it’s definitely not cool if you’re playing a tiny plastic guitar with big multicoloured buttons. And if you’re wearing slippers.

Guitar Hero 3 box art Xbox 360

But hey, where’s the harm in indulging your rock fantasies every once in a while? Sure, a tiny part of your brain is telling you that you’re not really playing a face-melting solo to an audience of thousands, but a much larger, fun-loving part of your brain is screaming “OH MY GOD THIS IS AWESOME, YOU ROCK!!!” The same part of your brain might also prompt you stick out your tongue and waggle it like Gene Simmons or attempt to stage dive from the sofa.

All good clean fun I reckon – as long as no-one else is watching that is.

No prizes for guessing who this character is based on.

I’ve always preferred the Guitar Hero games to the Rock Band ones, probably because Rock Band takes itself a little too seriously in my opinion. As far as I’m concerned, the more ridiculous and over the top the Guitar Hero games get, the more I like them. Do I want to play as the Grim Reaper? Hell yeah! Do I want stage sets featuring fire-breathing dragons? You betcha! Do I want to go head to head with the devil in a guitar-solo battle for my very soul? Bring it on, Grandma!

Ahem, sorry, I seem to have come over a bit ‘gung-ho’ there all of a sudden… must be thinking about all this rock that’s doing it. I need a lie down and a cup of Earl Grey…

Judy 'Nine Inch' Nails.

[Sound of cup being replaced in saucer] OK I’m back. Now what was I saying? [Riffles through the index cards of memory while tapping a finger to his temple.] Lars Umlaut! That’s it! That’s what I wanted to talk about!

I’ll explain. There are a number of reasons why Guitar Hero III is considered the best in the series by many. One is the fantastic selection of tunes – one of the strongest line-ups across all five Guitar Hero games. Another is the excellent career mode, which gives you a real feeling of progression (something that was distinctly lacking in Guitar Hero: World Tour). But the thing that stands out for me is that Lars Umlaut is still defiantly fat.

Lars Umlaut - still defiantly fat.

For some reason, the designers stripped Lars of his belly in World Tour – something tantamount to criminal damage in my opinion. Where would rock be without fat guitarists? I mean, everyone loves a fat guitarist – almost as much as they love a fat drummer. Yet there’s poor old Lars in World Tour, shorn of his gut and pumped up with ridiculous arm muscles like some sort of Kiss He-Man. Where’s the justice? And to top it all, you can’t even make fat characters in World Tour. When did games get sizeist? There I was trying to create the ultimate custom drummer – Fat Phil – and the fattest I could make him was a little bit short of what I’d call ‘stocky’. Tch. I ask you, what is the world coming to?

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.crispygamer.com/)

Leave a comment

Filed under 2007, Neversoft, Rhythm Action, Xbox 360