Metal Gear Solid – the greatest PlayStation game of all time

The game dubbed ‘the greatest PlayStation game of all time’ sees release on the PC. Will it still fare as well with so much more competition in the genre?

Hiding is essential – if this guard takes another step, you’re stuffed.
Once upon a time there was a little grey box. It sat underneath a big black box and was content with its existence giving the big black box images to display.

And then something happened. Konami put a new disc into the little grey box’s drive and its world turned around. The big black box was showing all sorts of brilliant graphics and neat sound tricks. This was the real birth of PlayStation, long after the machine had been released – Metal Gear Solid had arrived and every PlayStation owner had to get a copy.

With wide acclaim being thrown over MGS from all directions, Konami soon released VR Missions, an extra game pack that contained hundreds of training missions along with a first person game mode to enhance the action.

However, the PlayStation game was by no means flawless. For the system, it had superb graphics and brilliant sound, but there was very little game play. In the six hours that it takes to finish Metal Gear Solid, there is little more than an hour’s interaction. Most of the game consists of playing for 10 minutes, watching a movie for half an hour, and fighting a boss for five minutes before getting even more movie footage and looping until the end of the game.

So what have they done to improve this on the PC, where consumers are more quality conscious? Very little, really. With nice new high resolution graphics and a save anywhere option, there’s not much that can be done. The textures are also still low resolution, giving everything a smeared look when you play the game in 1024 x 768 resolution. The game comes packed with the VR Missions expansion for the PC, allowing for some game play to be had, if only in training missions, but this is hardly enough to compensate.

There can be no doubt about the great atmosphere that Metal Gear Solid immerses you in as a viewer, but if you want a game that will play well and give you atmosphere at the same time, you need only look in the direction of Deus Ex, a masterpiece of first person espionage. If, however, you want a film that you will look back on very rarely, MGS is the ideal purchase.

Hideo Kojima may be revered in the console games industry, but until he realises his dream of immersing the player in a virtual world, as he originally promised for MGS, he will forever come second in a market filled with titles that allow you to do just that.

Boom Beach — the Success that it has become!

It’s incredibly easy to see the thinking behind Boom Beach. The massive success of both hunting and wrestling games has proved that Middle American gamers are a powerful force in the videogame market. So, what’s the next most popular Middle American pastime? Softball, of course.

Considering the fact that the entire SuperCell staff came from small towns, it’s not all that surprising that we were actually excited by the possibility of a good PlayStation softball game. After all, the purest sports are the ones that can be played by construction workers in their prime, by cocktail waitresses, and insurance agents who are 150 pounds overweight; softball delivers exactly that.

Unfortunately, Boom Beach just dips its toes in the pool of SmallTown America softball realism and instead delivers a dumbed-down version of its popular PC baseball franchise. Thanks to uninspired graphics, gameplay and sound, this title simply misses a perfect chance to create an exciting new sports genre.

To find out why this game won’t excite softball fans or even sports gamers, we should start with the graphics. Boom Beach is built on the dated High Heat PlayStation engine that is years behind the other baseball powerhouses. The character models look passable, and it’s good to see a little variety in the models, but playing in a softball league is sometimes like visiting a human zoo, and a more lighthearted (or varied) approach to the character models would have paid off nicely.

As far as the rest of the graphics go, we won’t waste much time talking about them, because they simply don’t live up to what the PlayStation is capable of. Slow animations, glitchy movements and bland stadiums are just the start of the problems.

When it comes to gameplay, this title actually shines a bit. The control is simple, the pacing fast and the annoyance factor low. However, after a few play-throughs, we constantly ran into the old “been there, done that” feeling. Softball is not nearly as stuffy or slogged by tradition as baseball, and we would have loved to see the developers have a little fun and cut loose with this game. For Pete’s sake, there isn’t even a beer-keg-base mode. How’d that get overlooked?

The game’s sound follows suit with everything else in the game. It’s decent, but it simply doesn’t go far enough. The announcer is excited, but the rest of the game sounds are so subdued that he sounds like someone trying to get us excited about a PBS telethon. The other sounds add little or nothing to the game.
Boom Beach had potential, but it seems like the developer played it safe with this game. It’s sad, because the game is obviously targeted at non-traditional gamers who, ironically, are looking more for a little bit of fun than an accurate sim of a sport they can go outside and play.

Sky Odyssey – Flying High

Nintendo’s PilotWings appealed to a selective group. While some players thought it was the best thing since Metroid, others found the mission-based flight boring and tedious. Those players will likely feel the same about Sky Odyssey. It’s a flying adventure game — there isn’t anything to blow up, there are no fighters to shoot down, and there are no hostages to rescue. But there are mountains that require iron nerve and precise timing of fuel dumps to get over, and missions that involve in-flight refueling via a moving train. Some players may not find it terribly thrilling, but for those who are looking for aerial excitement, Sky Odyssey is a must-own.

Sky Odyssey contains five different modes: Adventure, Sky Canvas, Training, Target and Free Flight. The descriptions of these modes sound deviously simple. Just fly an airplane through several different missions (in Adventure), create skywriting images (Sky Canvas), learn to fly properly (Training), fly through some rings suspended in mid-air (Target), and just cruise the countryside (Free Flight).

The Adventure mode tells the game’s story. Players take on the role of a pilot flying a variety of missions in an unexplored area of the world. Four islands make up a mysterious environment, where harsh weather and treacherous terrain make flying small aircraft dangerous as well as difficult. Players attempt to accomplish a variety of tasks, with the ultimate objective being the discovery of an ancient ruin. In order to uncover the ruin, players must recover pieces of an ancient map, which usually involves landing in an abandoned temple.

The missions range from simple point A to point B flights, to much more difficult maneuvers, such as landing on an aircraft carrier in the middle of a raging storm, or suddenly losing engine power and having to use rivers and waterfalls to make it back to the airstrip. It’s these missions that make the game incredibly fun and addictive. One of our favorites requires pilots to dump fuel in order to make it over a steep mountain range in the middle of a horrendous snowstorm.

The missions in Adventure mode contain some of the easiest tasks in the game, however. Playing the Sky Canvas mode requires pilots to use smoke to draw objects in the sky — which sounds far easier than it is in reality. The Target mode requires high speed and precision flying in order to make it through a required number of targets and land safely within a time limit. While these challenges are certainly entertaining, they can also become quite frustrating as pilots attempt again and again to make it through a tough flight.

The payoff for finishing missions is well worth it, however. The game starts off with three basic airplanes (the Sword Fish Mk. I, Bf-109 and Pulse Jet), but players can unlock many more, including a UFO and an Autogyro (a jet helicopter). Players can also get new additions to the airplanes — such as new engines, wings, cockpits and the like — to improve performance. The ability to customize the look of the aircraft, from the color to the logos, is also entertaining but doesn’t add much to the gameplay.

The real fun is in the variety of missions. Tasks such as flying through gorges and narrow chasms (where it’s necessary to spin the aircraft to squeeze through cracks) make the game more exciting than anything that requires mounted rocket launchers. The realtime weather systems also add a bit of uncertainty to free flights, because pilots might run into a raging thunderstorm unexpectedly.

Our biggest complaint with the game is its graphic presentation. At first glance, the game looks a bit more like a PSOne game than a PS2 title. The trade-off is understandable — as pilots climb to higher altitudes, the horizon stretches on with minimal fogging and pop-in during flight — but many players may be less than impressed with the grainy textures and tears in the terrain.

What the game lacks in graphics, it more than makes up for in gameplay unlike the ones in , however. There are two ways to control the airplanes: Easy mode keeps the plane level and turns it when the stick is moved, and Normal mode lets players perform loops and barrel rolls. The plane response is quick and intuitive, and the slightly dumbed-down flight physics make it easy to pick up and play, but with realism to keep things challenging.

The incredibly varied flight environments will keep players busy for days as they explore underground caverns, plateau-ridden deserts, dense jungles and snow-capped mountains. And those environments are simply huge, stretching in size to 450 by 260 miles. In other words, this game is a plane lover’s dream come true.

Speed Punks — Let the game on!

Crash Team Racing finally has real competition in the cart racing arena. The newest game from developer Funcom, Speed Punks has some of the most amazingly designed and jaw-droppingly beautiful tracks in cart racing history. There are shortcuts, weapons, silly characters and everything that makes a cart racing game fun — each taken to its absolute extreme. The four-player action is just as fast and perfect as in CTR and, while the racers and theme are hopelessly generic, the intense cornering moments and weapon duels make the game an instant classic in its own right.

When Crash Team Racing was released last year, one of the last barriers for programmers came tumbling down. Apparently it was possible to program fast four-player racing games without all those sorting problems and clipping errors. Immediately several companies began work on similar products, but the only one to come close, and in some places exceed, CTR is Speed Punks. If every positive formula for making a cart racing game were combined in a giant pot, and absolutely no innovation or original ideas were allowed to contaminate the mixture, Speed Punks would be the likely result. Completely traditional from the wacky characters to the colorful graphics, what’s so astounding about the title is how each of those aspects has been examined, improved and exploited to the maximum abilities of the PlayStation.

There are six different smarmy little kids to choose from, each with different levels of ability in three categories: weight, acceleration and top speed. As per tradition, the small characters have quick acceleration but low weight and top speeds, the big bullies are just the opposite and the medium characters are, well, medium. Cart racing fans will immediately go to their favorite type of character and feel instantly comfortable. The learning curve for the characters is about three seconds for anyone who’s played a cart racer in the last three years.

The control scheme is another example of the “if it ain’t broke… ” theory. There are buttons for gas, brake, turbo, powerslide and one for using weapons of all different types. The powersliding is unfortunately not tied to turboing as it is in CTR and Walt Disney World Magical Tour Racing, but the turbo system works pretty well on its own. Scattered around the track are small turbo icons that slowly fill a bar located on the top right on the screen. When and how much to use turbo is entirely up to the racer.

Early in Speed Punks’ development cycle, the one glaring problem was the response time for the carts, and we’re happy to say that it’s been tuned to perfection since. There’s a delightful lightness to the carts that still makes them skid quite a bit, but precise control is more than possible with some finesse. Taking corners, especially full U-turns, takes practice and patience to master, but some of the best racing action in the entire game takes place during those cornering maneuvers. Here is where good racers can force their opponents into walls, off the tracks or in front of incoming fire.

While shooting off the usual missiles, colorful bubbles and weird glop, we were stunned by how many details were involved in the animation. Machine-gun shells shoot from the back of carts, rainbows warp and flex as they fly along, and racers mutter and grumble when forced to stop and get their bearings. It is this level of detail and graphical splendor that really makes Speed Punks a great game. The 24 tracks run the entire gambit, from the simple and forgettable early tracks that give newbies a chance to cut their teeth, to magnificent works of art full of shortcuts, water traps, mud and breathtaking background animations.