Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Nod to Nostalgia - part two

Nostalgia shouldn't be a thing of the past. Here's the second part of a trip down memory lane...

If you missed the previous article, read it after the jump.

Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64 – first played 2000)

Perfect Dark (PD), to coin an irritating phrase: “the spiritual successor to Goldeneye”. Being a staunch Playstation fanboy, it took a fair amount of inner persuasion to succumb to the N64’s charms, and as such, I was about three years late buying and playing Goldeneye. The positive side to this, however, was that I didn’t have to wait long for Rare’s follow up shooter in 2000.

The main thing I remember about PD was the accumulated price you had to pay to be granted full access to the playable content; £50 for the cartridge itself, followed by another £30 or so for the expansion lump to stick in the top of the console. Being only 13 at the time, this took a good few months of menial employment and scrounging to be able to afford.

As far as I was concerned though, any game where I could use a piece of martian technology that could shoot people through walls was worth the steep asking price and more. I spent hours earning all the gold medals on the firing range and trying in vain to complete the campaign on ‘perfect agent’ difficulty.

The sheer variety of weapons at your disposal, the hugely customisable multiplayer/bot sim modes and the challenges, meant that there was a wealth of replay value in PD that was relatively unrivalled at the time. Fair enough, Joanna Dark was unnecessarily irritating for a lead protagonist and the less said about Elvis the better, but PD had the arsenal to blow these small gripes out of the water.

The recent release of Perfect Dark on XBLA was a sad reminder that many games find it almost impossible to stand the test of time, feeling dated in almost every department. Still, nothing will take away the memory of wielding the Farsight for the very first time (though admittedly a completely unfair gun). Sure, historically speaking, PD will never receive the same accolades as 007’s most memorable foray into gaming, yet it remains one of the N64’s stand-out releases.

Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast - first played 1999 )

There were so many Dreamcast games I loved (Ready 2 Rumble, Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur, Quake 3: Arena) that picking one was a tough process, but after some deliberation I picked Shenmue. What intrigues me the most, is how back then before the sandbox genre had really made its mark on gaming, how much freedom it seemed that Shenmue granted the player.

Nowadays, the epic worlds of Oblivion or GTA IV, make Shenmue look like more of a toddler’s shoebox than expansive sandbox, but in 1999 it felt like the pinnacle of free choice and exploration within the confines of a videogame.

I may be mistaken, but Shenmue was the first game where you could play a game within a game. Going to the local arcade and playing Super Hang on was a true throwback to my Mega Drive days, not to mention birthing the Quick Time Event (QTE), which even to this day remain a regular gameplay inclusion in third person action titles.

Although essentially a laborious task, having to work nine to five in Shenmue was actually a rather fun and rewarding experience. Replicating everyday tasks bought a sense of immersion to the gameplay and overall plot, a concept that current games such as Heavy Rain rely on to drive the narrative and build up the player/character relationship.

A play of Shenmue now (like many games on this list) shows how what we perceived to be the cutting edge of next generation gaming over a decade ago, truly does pale in comparison to the huge environments and HD graphics were treated to today. It’s such a shame that the series never went beyond Shenmue 2. I don’t think there’d be one person who played the first two in the series who wouldn’t love to see a third instalment for the 360 or PS3. We can but dream…

Timesplitters 2 (Playstation 2 – first played 2002)

Good old Timesplitters, an FPS that certainly approached the shoot ‘em up genre with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. Whether it was hearing gun wielding snowmen screaming pathetically “I’m meeeelting!” when they got fried with a flamethrower, or unloading a plasma rifle into a small army of ‘handymen’, Timesplitters 2 always had fun as its focal point.

Although the game was a light hearted affair in terms of mood, I remember getting terrified when playing the virus mode. You’re the last one left alive, frantically running away from a bunch of screaming infected through a disused hospital, seconds from getting the platinum award; pure adrenaline pumping tension. Stone golems chasing after you brandishing grenade launchers was also a stand out brown trouser moment.

With Free Radical going out of business it seems that we’re no closer to getting a next-gen instalment any time in the near future. Sad news indeed. It’s not too often that bucket loads of humour and FPS’s go hand in hand successfully, but the Timesplitters series made the union seem effortless.

Here’s hoping that the monkey-obsessed franchise can be resurrected one day, especially with the wealth of online options we now have access to. 16 player snowman/flamethrower deathmatch on Xbox Live? Yes please.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Playstation 2- first played 2004)

Still my favourite in the long running series to date and one of my most loved games of all time. Of course, technically GTA IV was miles the superior game, but San Andreas is the one that evoked the most emotion in me whilst playing it.

From the sun soaked streets of Los Santos to the high rolling Casinos of Las Venturas, San Andreas made me feel a sense of journey that I’ve yet to come across in game since. It’s the ultimate rags to riches story with so much variety crammed into the sandbox that still makes it a joy to play.

Even now I’ll listen to all the K Rose songs on YouTube, remembering riding across the desert at sunset blasting out Juice Newton’s ‘Queen Of Hearts’ at top volume and singing along, or leading the police on an epic chase across the countryside with ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’ as the soundtrack.

From monster trucks to superbikes, jet fighters to jetpacks, the vehicles of San Andreas were undoubtedly the most outrageous and fun of the series. Fair enough GTA IV went for a more gritty, realistic approach, but piloting airliners and soaring around on jetpacks mercilessly slaughtering innocent people was unrivalled entertainment.

I loved the balance between the urban and rural environments. After spending the first five or six hours in the gang ridden ghettos of Los Santos, when you come too in Angel Pine, there is a real sense of being stranded miles away from home, capturing the essence of two completely different worlds perfectly.

The scale of San Andreas took everyone by surprise when it first came out, dwarfing Vice City in comparison. Just walking/driving/flying around exploring, shooting and soaking up the atmosphere, to me was more fun than the actual missions, and an experience that will forever be etched in my gaming psyche. Is a San Andreas Stories too much to ask for? I hardly ever play the PSP but that would be one release I’d make an exception for.

Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube – first played 2005)

After reading numerous high scoring reviews and critical appraisals for RE4, the only thing I could physically think about doing was buying a Gamecube before its impending release. I thought RE4 would be good but not that good. It got to the stage when even my non -gaming friends were inviting themselves round just to sit and watch me play it.

All three of the main areas felt unique and dealt the horror out in generous brain splattering amounts. Every boss fight was unique and memorable, from hideously mutated fish and mountainous ogres to the tentacle lashing deformity of Salazar.

Some critics cited that for a ‘survival horror’ title, the game was too action orientated, but the vast majority praised the bold new direction the rapidly stagnated series had chosen to explore.
The very moment I finished RE4, I immediately started again, something I don’t often do with games. It was that brilliant that you never wanted the experience to end and although through replay you know what to expect, the essence of tension and struggle for survival remained ingrained during every play through.

Let’s be honest RE4 was a hard act to follow and RE5 fell quite a way short, but that’s the price Capcom had to pay for setting the bar so high. Being a follower from the very first, painfully slow door-opening debacles of the original mansion to RE5, I can say with clarity that personally, RE4 was the outstanding moment of genius from the franchise's lifespan. When I think about all the reasons why I loved and still love the game, the sudden urge to dust off the old Gamecube one more time is almost too much to resist. Who says nostalgia can’t be a wonderfully horrific experience too?

So there it is. I didn’t want to go too much further than 2005 as the closer it is to the present day, the less ‘nostalgic’ it becomes and more of just a recent memory. As I said in part one, I’d love to hear which games readers cast their minds back to most fondly and for what reasons, which titles, that when you reminisce about them had a profound impact on your gaming life.

It’s all good getting all hyped up for future blockbusters, but the odd bit of reflection certainly doesn’t go amiss either.