Category Archives: Playstation

Podcast 19: Resident Evil 2 (#92)

Format: Playstation Genre: Survival Horror Released: 1998 Developer: Capcom

It’s been quite a journey for this podcast. Way back in early 2008, right at the very beginning of the blog, Ian decided he was going to write a post about a Resident Evil game. Problem was he couldn’t decide which one. Do you go with the original? Or Resident Evil 2, the game of the series he probably played the most? What about Resident Evil 4? Arguably the best of the series… Although saying that Resident Evil 3 has its moments as well.

Welcome to Raccoon City!

So rather than make a decision Ian did what he has done so many times with this blog. He didn’t bother. Flash forward to early 2011 and there are less than 10 posts left to do. Time is running out so he knuckles down and chooses Resident Evil 2. Ian finds it difficult to write though. What’s his ‘hook’? Can he restrict himself to just talking about Resident Evil 2? What can he say that’s not been said a thousand times before? So, again, he doesn’t bother starting. Eventually Lewis suggests ‘Let’s just do it as a podcast’.

I don't care what people say, anything called 'Licker' must be friendly.

So welcome to the 19th 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better podcast. A testament to Ian’s laziness and Lewis’s limitless patience. Enjoy!

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 19 Resident Evil 2

OR subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes by clicking the link below:

Oh, and before we go here’s a clip from ‘Spaced’. Other than the cheap speed and the fact the bean bag was green not blue, this is pretty much Ian at University.

Ian & Lewis

2 Comments

Filed under 1998, Capcom, Playstation, Podcast, Survival Horror

#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)

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

#73: Gran Turismo

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1998 Developer: Polyphony Digital

Last month, after a year of carefully preparing the case for why we should upgrade to high definition, I finally persuaded my girlfriend that we definitely,  definitely needed an HDTV. She was a little sceptical at first, but after we’d watched a couple of World Cup matches in glorious HD she agreed that the new telly was a huge improvement over our old (nay, ancient) 32-inch CRT TV (which incidentally was so heavy that it bent the shelf we had it on).

However, it was only when I connected up my Xbox 360 to our spangly new TV that this welcome new addition to our flat began to show its true colours. Flipping over the settings on my Xbox from standard definition to 1080p was an absolute revelation – I swear a chorus of angels struck up outside the window as heavenly light played across the screen and angelic trumpets heralded the dawn of a new era. It was like the scales had fallen from my eyes and I was seeing the true colours of the world for the first time. All those fuzzy edges I’d taken for granted suddenly disappeared, to be replaced by an image as crisp as a freshly pressed shirt manufactured by Walker’s. Truly, ’twas an awesome sight.

I experienced a similar revelation when I played Gran Turismo for the first time: I’d already been wowed by Ridge Racer and its ilk, but GT was in a class all of its own. At the time, I remember watching the GT replays with my jaw on the floor, astonished that the innocent little grey box under my telly was pumping out photo-realistic graphics that were barely distinguishable from watching racing IN REAL LIFE. Of course, a quick glance at the screenshot above proves that this clearly isn’t the case, but at the time it was simply amazing, and leaps and bounds ahead of anything else out there.

I’ve never been a huge fan of driving games, but I was absolutely hooked on Gran Turismo, and the ability to collect cars and tune them up was the clincher. In fact, GT was more like an RPG in which hunting for rare swords was replaced by hunting for rare cars, experience and levelling up was replaced by tuning engines, and grinding through low-level enemies was replaced by grinding through the lower circuits. Looking back, it feels like about half of my time playing GT was spent on those first few circuits, completing the same courses again and again to raise enough money for some new addition to my favourite car. But somehow it was still fun.

What I loved about the tuning system was that the modifications you made had a real effect on the way the car drove, and it was easily possible to overtune a car to the extent that it was practically undriveable. I remember one time I tuned my beloved Subaru Impreza to the point where the acceleration was so quick and the suspension was so stiff that it took off every time it went over the slightest bump, which meant I spent most of my laps ricocheting off cliff faces and ripping through grass, whooping like an American GI dishing out nylons and chewing gum to sexually repressed British housewives. And I don’t whoop very often, so this game was definitely doing something right.

Lewis

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

2 Comments

Filed under 1998, Playstation, Polyphony Digital, Racing

#65: Tomb Raider

Format: Playstation Genre: Platform/Third Person Shooter Released: 1996 Developer: Core Design

I’ve just finished playing Tomb Raider: Underworld, so now seems like a good time to look back on the first Tomb Raider game – arguably the best one in the series, possibly only surpassed by the tenth anniversary remake.

The tragic curse of the Tomb Raider games is that the more they try to introduce innovations, the further they get from the magic that made the first game so brilliant, yet at the same time the developers are constantly criticised for not being innovative enough. The second title in the series saw the introduction of vehicles – sections that were throwaway at best – and if we fast forward to the Tomb Raider: Legend reboot, Lara has evolved into some sort of homicidal maniac, gunning down wave after wave of bad guys like a female version of The Punisher. Thankfully, they’ve redressed the balance a bit with Underworld, which focuses more on puzzles than gunplay, but it’ll be interesting to see where the series goes next.

Looking back, the one thing that stands out in my memory when I think about the first game is the all-pervasive feeling of loneliness – something that gradually became lost as the series started introducing more and more bad guys to butcher. The first game managed to capture a feeling that you really were exploring a long-lost ruin or a never-before-explored jungle valley, and on the rare occasions when the native wildlife did spring out and attack, it was a genuine surprise after what seemed like hours spent on your own. The unexpected emergence of a fully grown T-rex has to count as one of gaming’s all-time greatest moments – it was so genuinely unexpected I almost fell off my chair.

The sense of scale was something else that really stood out – along with Mario 64, Tomb Raider was one of the first games to really use 3D environments to their fullest. I remember the feeling of emerging into one of the game’s regularly interspersed ‘wow rooms’ – gigantic caverns with intricate pathways and stunning visuals. Clambering up an enormous underground sphinx was a particular highlight, as was the unexpected delight of finding a pair of submachine guns on top of its head.

Last, but definitely not least, I have to mention the fantastic music. Music’s emerged as a bit of a theme for the last few posts (e.g. see XIII), and a big part of the Tomb Raider experience is the billow of scene-setting orchestral music that wafts from the speakers as you stumble across one of the aforementioned ‘wow rooms’. The absence of music for much of the game really adds to the feeling of isolation, so when it kicks in as you emerge into a long-forgotten pyramid it really packs a punch. There are very few pieces of memorable game music, but the Tomb Raider theme is right up there with the Super Mario Bros. music and the theme tune from Halo in terms of sticking in your head like a wad of musical brain gum.

On the downside I seem to remember that some levels used to drive me utterly mad, and the spacing of save points wasn’t exactly forgiving… often I’d be caught hurling abuse at the seemingly inept Lara for stumbling off a platform like some sort of drunk, then I’d immediately feel guilty for sending her to her death as soon as I heard that wince-inducing scream and crack of broken bones as her prone body connected with the cavern floor below. Still, no matter how many times this cycle was repeated, I’d always end up coming back for more… And it was worth finishing the game to see that giant monkey-thing with no legs at the end – I still have no idea what all that was about.

Lewis

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

5 Comments

Filed under 1996, Core Design, Platform, Playstation, Third Person Shooter

#62: Bushido Blade

Format: Playstation Genre: Fighting Released: 1998 Developer: Light Weight

Playing Bushido Blade for the first time was a very frustrating experience indeed. Your first instinct, as with any fighting game, is just to rush at your opponent, whacking all the buttons in the hope they might fall over. Although this strategy is usually fairly successful in games like Soul Calibur, in Bushido Blade it will get you killed in about three seconds.

Bushido Blade isn’t like other fighting games. There’s no health bar, no time limit and being hit full force with a sword has roughly the same effect as it would in real life – i.e. you die immediately. If you’re lucky, your opponent might only give you a non-fatal wound to an arm or leg, but this is likely to mean that limb will become unuseable. One time, when I was playing against a friend, my character was reduced to shuffling around on the floor, all four limbs rendered useless – it was a bit like that bit with the Black Knight in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, only with samurais and fewer jokes (although with plenty of annoying sniggers emanating from my boastful opponent).

Chopping down the bamboo was fun. Must have been ghost bamboo though, because it disappeared as soon as it fell over.

Fights in Bushido Blade were cautious, strategic affairs – the fact that you could die so easily meant that the onus was on defence rather than attack, and you’d often find yourself stealthily circling your foe, waiting for them to make a move and leave themselves open to attack. Using the environment to your advantage was also key – the open 3D levels were enormous and offered huge scope for various ways of attacking. Luring a quick opponent onto a narrow wooden bridge was a often good way to gain an advantage for a slower character with a heavy weapon, and likewise the quicker characters performed better in the open. Like in Monty Python, running away was often the best strategy.

The player on the right is in a bit of trouble here. A critical blow to the legs means you're reduced to crawling around.

Graphically the game really wasn’t up to much – the character models and environments are bland and blocky, but as my mum always says, it’s what’s underneath that counts. Underneath, Bushido Blade is one of the most revolutionary and unique fighting games ever created, and it’s just crying out for a modern update.

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.eurogamer.net)

2 Comments

Filed under 1998, Fighting, Light Weight, Playstation

#61: Hogs of War

Format: Playstation Genre: Turn-Based Tatics Released: 2000 Developer: Infogrames Studios

If anyone has listened to our podcasts (anyone?) then you’ll know there are lots and lots of games that I haven’t played. So it seems fitting that in one of my rare posts I talk about a game I have never played before and have very little idea what it’s about – Hogs of War.

Here’s what I imagine Hogs of War to be – something like Worms, but with pigs. I had absolutely no interest in playing it when it came out and have even less interest now. I’ll be honest with you, if you want to read an overview of the greatness (or rubbish…ness) of Hogs of War I’m afraid this is not the place…

Several years ago I found the North Star. The North Star is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest pubs on planet Earth. There’s nothing flashy about it. It has no gimmicks, it doesn’t need them. It’s a friendly local. ‘Local’ in the very best sense of the word. It has its regulars but it’s friendly to new comers as well. Patrons range from people who have lived in the area for years, to trendy young things who have probably just moved to London, to a big group of middle-aged lesbians. The bar staff know what I drink there and I know most of them by name. The juke box has excellent tunes and, as an extra-large cherry on top, they have a dart board. The only thing missing is the piano. Sadly they had to get rid of it for some reason last year.

Every Monday I head down the North Star, play darts with friends Andy and Paul (plus the occasional special guest) and drink one too many bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale (it’s always one too many). We talk about everything under the sun – previous subjects have included the feasibility of building a replica Spitfire, whether or not the gunpowder plot was a protestant conspiracy and the greatness of Alan Whicker. It helps me get over Monday blues, gives the week a kick-start and always helps put things in perspective. It’s rare to leave the North Star without feeling that little bit better about the world and life in general.

Of course, drinking Newcastle Brown Ale means I have to occasionally use the facilities. It’s a small pub, so said facilities are not huge: three urinals and one cubicle. Above the urinals there are two advertisements. One for Reebok Classic trainers the other…

North Star toilets

Oh the glamour...

Hogs of War. I could sit down and come up with a relatively accurate estimation of how long I have spent staring at that Hogs of War poster over the years. But I can’t be bothered. So lets say I’ve spent the equivalent of 3 weeks, 5 days, 2 hours and 41 seconds reading the, ah, hilarious innuendo of the advert. Hahahaha, who’s got the biggest weapon? Hahahaha. Do you see? Do you understand? It has two meanings? One a bit rude. Hahahahaha.

So how exactly has a mere advert for a game I have never played before made my life slightly better? Well it symbolises for me how this pub doesn’t really change. And I like that. In my life, and I’m sure in your lives, things constantly change and adapt. We get new jobs, move house, meet new people, get married, have children, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, usually change is good, and life is all about moving forward and facing new challenges, but… It is nice to have something that doesn’t change, something that stays constant, if only for a little while.

That Hogs of War poster represents the little oasis of calm that is the North Star. That no matter what happens in my life I’ll be down the ‘Star on a Monday talking about it. Last year the pub was redecorated yet they kept the Hogs of War advert. Somehow they knew…

One day they will take down the Hogs of War advertisement. I hope to try to get it off them when they do and keep it. No doubt there will come a time when I can’t go to the pub every Monday to play darts with Andy and Paul: after all, nothing lasts forever. But if I have that poster (above my toilet, it’s definitely the perfect place for it) then at least I’ll be able to have one thing that doesn’t change.

“My favourite public house, the Moon Under Water, is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights. Its clientele, though fairly large, consists mostly of “regulars” who occupy the same chair every evening and go there for conversation as much as for the beer.”

That’s how George Orwell described his perfect imaginary pub and it’s the perfect description of the North Star.

Ian

1 Comment

Filed under 2000, Infogrames Studios, Playstation, Turn-Based Tactics