No.0029 Mafia

  1001 Videogames I must play before I die!

 

 No.0029 Mafia

I remember Mafia more for its small details then anything else. Neat little additions that made everything in the game feel that little bit more real. I also remember it having some of the hardest missions I remember playing in any game as a kid. The cinematic and serious tone set it apart from GTA 3 which came out the year before and Mafia almost seemed like an answer to the few issues I had with GTA, though it also forgot to bring some of the best parts with it.

The main thing Mafia got right, for me anyway, was the shooting. This is probably due to it being developed of the PC before later being ported to the PS2 and Xbox. This meant there was no lock on mechanics which I never really managed to get the hang of in GTA 3. One of the little details I mentioned earlier was that bodies, bullet casing and even spent magazines stayed in place (probably until a maximum number was hit) which left the environments after a shootout looking dirty and damaged. It sounds like a small thing but back then few games would do this. There were also some basic physics objects scattered around the world. Most were simply things like crates and trash cans but running over a phone booth to stop someone calling the cops would break into separate pieces. Its painfully simple by today's standards but back in 2002 it looked fantastic!

                                         

The story was standard mafia fare but it was handled very seriously, in stark contrast to the cartoonish style of GTA. Lots of the cut-scenes were just of meetings between the various mob family members which wasn't something you saw very often back then. The cut-scene budget tended to be saved for more action packed moments. This gave the story a certain level of maturity and made the tone of the whole thing feel very different from other open world crime games at the time. The missions were also nicely varied, going from assassinations to robberies to collecting protection money and keeping street thugs out of your territory. There were a few that were eye-gougingly hard such as one where you had to stand in for a race driver and win first place. I ended up having to find a trainer to beat it in my youth and I don't think I was the only person who struggled with it because all the trainers had options for beating the race mission. Also the first mission where you have to escape some pursuing gangsters is strangely difficult as well and took me about an hour to beat the fairly short sequence.

At the time I loved Mafia but it hasn't aged especially well. The cut-scenes that had impressed me so much are pretty wooden and the driving is a real chore. Much like Mafia II which came out in 2010 it really feels like the open world side of the game doesn't really need to be there and the map in the first game feels huge. This book ends most missions with some really dull driving, made even slower by the need to stick to the speed limit and red lights. The shooting feels slow and clunky by modern standards but is still the best part of the game. If you get the chance to play it I would probably recommend downloading a saved game if you can as the beginning is a really slow burn. 

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No.0028 Ace Combat 6 : Fires of Liberation

1001 Videogames I must play before I die!

No.0028 Ace Combat 6 : Fires of Liberation

Hey! I remembered this thing! The blog I mean, not this game as such. One of my new years resolutions for this year has been to write more as I really enjoy it and I'm badly out of practice. So I am determined to at least reach entry number 100 on this perhaps ludicrous mission within the year which means these posts will probably get a little shorter to enable that. Anyway, onto the game!

I've never played the older Ace Combat games and I only really heard about this one because some people got upset that the newest entry in the long running series was going to be an Xbox 360 exclusive and shun its traditional Playstation homeland. I played a demo and didn't really like it to begin with. The voice overs from other pilots were annoying and I wasn't really sure what my objectives really were. I was just thrown into an F-16 and told to defend my city, and that was about it. Eventually I got the hang of things. Shoot down the green boxes, open the airbreak while turning to turn quicker, don't crash, all that stuff and I started to really enjoy it. I probably played the demo mission about 20 times before I finally found a copy of the full game. That's when I got to play with the best part of this game. It's mission structure.

Each mission is broken up into separate operations. To progress you have to complete about half of them to turn the battle in your forces favor. Sometimes there can be as many as eight to choose from and they will all involve different mixes or air-to-air or air-to-ground combat. This means that without having to load a new mission you can decide that you're board of dog fighting and want to shoot some defenseless ground targets for a bit instead. You can't complete all the operations in a single go either and some of the later levels have so many that you could replay a mission but not repeat any objectives. For the most part at least, once the multiple operations section of each mission is finished there is always a single final objective that often provides a story twist. You'll start to see them coming a mile away after a bit. I remember more then once sparing one last mission critical silo from annihilation just so I could land and rearm before a predictable counter attack arrived. There are also loads of secrets. Some just unlock back story for the other units that fight along side you but I really enjoyed tracking down the hidden ace pilots in each mission to unlock extra paint jobs. It was a great way to make a really basic unlock feel like a serious achievement!

The story is a bit weird. I stopped noticing the anime weirdness in the actual plot fairly quickly, but between missions there are cut-scenes showing the toll that the war is taking on various people both military and civilian. They have near constant monologues explaining what is happening in an almost patronising way. At one point when a woman is fleeing a city while it is being invaded she see a tank sitting by a bridge with the crew hurrying the civilians across before they blow it up to slow the enemy advance. The tank crew tells the woman this, then her monologue tells us what she was just told. Later we see the same woman passing the burnt wreck of a tank and I thought to myself "That's probably the guys from before" and as soon as I was done she immediately told me just that! Whenever there is any kind of suggestion or metaphor, visual or spoken, it is immediately, explicitly explained like the character is a refugee version of Garth Marenghi! I actually think the cut-scenes could have been really quite good and moving if all of the narration was just removed. It would suddenly become really subtle and clever, where as it now just feels like the developers were terrified you wouldn't understand the motivations of characters that don't actually matter to the main plot anyway.

But for all it's quirks, I love this game. I think there are some other Ace Combat titles on my list and I look forward to trying them out. Especially since none of them are Assault Horizon which got rid of the mission structure I enjoyed so much in favor of hand holding and scripted scenes. As far as I know it was never ported to the PS3 but its six years old now so a cheap copy shouldn't be hard to find. If you like shooting things down whilst going very, very quickly this game will provide hours of fun!

So much for these being shorter...

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I was so convinced this would work!!!!!!!

I was playing Dishonored last night and thought I had stumbled upon a cool, dumb little trick, but sadly it was not to be...

Really enjoying the game regardless but, Arkane Studios SA, you missed an opportunity here!!

::Edit:: Didn't think about this being Youtube spam when I clicked the "Post to Forum" button. I don't have anything more meaningful to say here so I guess it will stay locked, or get pulled down and I'll stick the video into a Dishonored Review if I get around to doing one. Either way, sorry Mods!

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In-game Photography - Part 2

In-game Photography

So after I last tried this, a few people got in touch with me with some recommendations and suggestions. I was shown a pretty awesome pair of Skyrim and New Vegas mods by Zelyre, but sadly I haven't managed to get it working just yet, but I'll keep trying. In the mean time I decided to take a look at Crysis 2. Using the impressive but staggeringly generically named "Quality Mod"  I was able to exaggerate the depth of field and because Cry-engine has per pixel motion blur I was close to being able to fake shutter speed but sadly I ended up having even less control of the images then I did in Garry's mod. It also doesn't help that the subject matter in Crysis 2 isn't nearly as interesting or relatable as HL2.  
 
Overall there is the potential for some amazing images to be pulled out of Crysis 2, but it's really not built in a way that makes it easy. A few of the more successful shots are below. I've also set up a Tumblr to keep this blog from getting too cluttered with this stuff, that last post was a million miles too long! 
 
http://hsvlad.tumblr.com/  
 
  
  
 
 

               
 
 The main problem here, aside from the unavoidably sci-fi subject matter was that the image would automatically focus on the crosshair, instantly, which made interesting shot compositions difficult. It's a shame because Crysis has some absolutely fantastic DoF tech, not to mention motion blur.  
 
Anyway, my next target, assuming I can't get these Bethesda mods to work, will be Battlefield 3, though I doubt I'll be able to get much more then a glitched, hidden weapon and a console command to hide the HUD. Failing that there must be some Arma II mods I could look at...
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In-game Photography

In-game Photography

 
I love photography. I studied photography for about four years and I had planned on becoming a professional photographer. That plan became plan B after I got to do some work with a professional in Copenhagen for a few days and I realised that seemingly every other vaguely artistic teenager in Denmark wanted to be a photographer, and they all wanted it way more then I did! Now its just a hobby, mostly for myself, but I also act as the photographer for a monthly acoustic night a friend of mine holds at a club in London. 
 
Anyway this weekend I was wondering around town aimlessly trying to come up with some project or theme and I started thinking about screenshots for videogames and in-game images in general and it got me thinking. There are plenty of game trailers I remember, and plenty of photographs that I've seen in books or exhibitions that I also remember, but there isn't a single still image from a game that I can bring up in my minds eye. Obviously most screenshots are designed to sell the game, and often are just what is visible on the screen whilst playing, but there are usually some more artistically minded shots added as well. Pictures that, although still in-game, aren't from the players perspective. It made me wonder why that is. I'm sure there are plenty of game developers with some photographic skills, probably far better then my own, so why don't developers treat game stills as if they were actually photographing them. So I decided I would give it a go. 
 
I decided to use Garry's Mod because I knew it had a camera, and some controllable depth of field (DoF) features. Its not perfect as the display is set up to act like a human eye rather then a camera lens, and the DoF is awkward and requires some pre-rendering but, overall I think these came out pretty well.   
 
 It took some time to get a feel for the DoF and to realise that the view wouldn't mimic a lens accurately

The DoF is a little enthusiastic at times 

 It took a couple of attempts to get this shot as Super Dof in Gmod is really designed for taking pictures of things that aren't moving

 I tried to shoot the NPC's the way I would actual people. Waiting for them to stop moving, but still do something interesting was tricky




 This is a good example of what I mean about the in-game camera not quite acting like a real lens does. I could probably fix that by setting the resolution to something closer to a photographic ratio

When I photograph people in real life I tend to wait for them to stop looking at me, in-game however it was the other way around. 


 I tried very hard to get this shot to feel more realistic, but its an example of what I was saying about the in-game camera acting very differently to a real one. 


 Another example of waiting for the in-game actor to look at the player     






    
I think this is probably my favourite. It has just the right amount of imperfection to it. Alex is slightly out of focus and the camera has a slight, accidental, tilt to it
    
 I was going to take some shots in the later episodes but decided to call it a night after this one. I was having enough trouble shooting while everyone was calm and standing still so I wasn't really looking forward to trying to capture things in motion.
 I did these in black and white in-order to give them a more photographic feel. When they were in colour they still felt a bit too video-gamey, though perhaps that's because I've played so much HL2. I'd love to do this again in a game that supported more camera effects. Things like motion blur and real-time DoF. It would also be great if there was a game that was actually trying to simulate how a camera works. There were a lot of shots I wanted to take that I would have been able to do really quickly if I had aperture, shutter speed and focus controls properly laid out rather then having to fudge them. I'd love to do this kind of thing in something like Battlefield 3 or Crysis 2 but I doubt anyone has created a DSLR mod for those games.    
  
If anyone knows any games that simulate cameras or mods that add that sort of thing please let me know as I'd really like to take a look.
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No.0027 The Path

1001 Videogames I must play before I die!


No.0027 The Path


 

The Path is a weird one. Its certainly a game that can really only be described as an "Art Game". There isn't much to be done in it and for the most part you are simply finding things in the environment, being told or shown something about that area or item and then moving on. The game is a dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, though the wolf in this version seems to be far more abstract.

To begin with you are asked to pick one of five Little Red Riding Hood's. Scarlet, Carmen, Ruby, Rose, Ginger or Robin. Their ages vary from Scarlet in her late teens or maybe early twenties down to Robin who could be no more then five or six. You pick a girl and she heads off to Grandma's house. You'll find yourself on a path through the forest and you are told to stay on that path. If you actually do this you fail, instead once you head far enough off the path it will disappear and you will be surrounded by dense trees and fog. As you wonder around about you will often see a little girl dressed in white. She seems to just be playing in the forest and will often guide you to interesting objects if you follow her. However she runs everywhere, and while you can run yourself when you do the music swells, the screen darkens and the camera shifts up and further away from as if its trying to bring into shot something that is chasing you. It's a genuinely creepy affect that keeps the player moving slowly for the most part.

The girl you choose seems to have some affect on the little girl in white as well. When I played as Robin, the youngest, she was very playful and would actively find me and lead to new areas. When I played as Ruby (above) she would hide behind trees and peek out at her, and Ruby would laugh at her from time to time. It's hard to tell how much of this is deliberate game design or if it is me post-rationalising as this really is a game where you are expected to tell yourself what is going on. If you don't come across the Wolf you will eventually happen upon Grandma's house and here the game gets decidedly creepy. 

    
 Grandma's house is different depending on the items you have found in the forest, the special areas you found for that girl and whether or not you found your girls wolf. All the girls have their wolf to meet and it is different for each one. I found the wolf with the three girls I've played as so far but I will only talk about Ruby's so as not to reveal too much if you want to try the game out for yourself. Ruby seems the be the emo poet of the sisters, looking at everything with weird disdain. She has a leg brace on which might partially explain her dower outlook on the world and she seems to be obsessed with isolation, death and decay.  
 
    
The three special areas for Ruby were this abandoned car, a ruined house that was being used as a firing range by someone and a scarecrow. Each time you find an area specific to your girl she will say something like in the image above. When Ruby found the scarecrow she talked about how she wished she had a scarecrow to keep other people away, then stole his pumpkin head. After that I spotted the girl in white again and followed here to an old playground. She talked about how she preferred rust to paint and then I noticed I wasn't alone. 
 
 I had met Ruby's wolf. A man, obviously older the Ruby but still young, was wondering around the playground and eventually sat down on a bench. I sat down next to him. He lent back and pulled out a cigarette. Ruby sat uncomfortable next to him as he eyed her up before offering her one. It was a scene that was depressingly reminiscent of when I went out as a teenager. When I was about 14 I started going out drinking with friends and we usually ended up in parks or other open public spaces. Places where if the cops showed up we had plenty of time to see them coming. On a few occasions it also attracted older guys, real dirt bags who had seen a bunch of kids drinking and figured they could use it as an opportunity to hit on drunk teenage girls.
 
Notice the rolled up carpet in the top-right? He was dragging that around before I sat down. 
 After the camera slowly planned back and faded to black the same scene that always occurs when you find a girls wolf happened. Ruby woke up on the ground outside Grandma's house in the rain. All the girls look hurt when this happens but Ruby's seemed more physically injured then the other girls, perhaps suggesting that her wolf attacked her physically more then mentally. 
 
 As you enter Grandma's house the game switches to a first-person perspective. You can look around and you move along a set path be tapping the forward key for each footstep. Grandma's house is always the creepiest part of each play through. As I said earlier it is different depending on the girl you have chosen and the things you find in the forest. Ruby's version seemed to have a lot of imagery to do with schools. Corridors of lockers and a gymnasium. There was also a crashed car, I assume indicating how she hurt her leg.  
 
    
  
To further add to my theory that Ruby's wolf abused her physically rather then psychologically, when she reached Grandma's bedroom she was struck by part of the environment and blacked out. The other girls I had played as faded to black or white in some manner. Afterwards you return to the menu where you choose your character and the girl you just played as will be missing.  
 
As I said at the start of this post, The Path is a weird one. Each time I play it I can never really tell if I'm enjoying it, although perhaps that isn't what I meant to get from it. It is an Art Game through and through. The gameplay is minimal and the controls are odd and not all that great. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, in fact there are very few people I would say its right for. It's probably best not to consider it as entertainment but something closer to a piece of interpretive art, and it's a good one. You could probably look up someones theories on what each girls wolf represents and what the changes to the house reflect but you'd be missing the point. The Path seems to be squarely designed at making you think about this stuff yourself and odds are I've missed half of what the game has to show. Its about $10 on Steam if you want to try it out but I would only recommend it if what I've spoken about has struck a cord with you. If you don't like other art games you'll probably hate The Path, but if you enjoyed something like Dear Esther you may well enjoy this.
 
P.S. I know I promised I wouldn't do posts with only large screen shots anymore but this one really needed the images to go with the text.  
 
 


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No.0026 Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

1001 Videogames I must play before I die!

No.0026 Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne

Max Payne 2 is an interesting beast. It was the first game where I really began to see past simply the gameplay and the story and began to notice some of the more nuanced touches Remedy had added to flesh out, not just the world, but the feeling of Max Payne. When it came out in 2003 I was 15 and was starting to look at games, and most other things, in a deeper way. Before that, games were a means of cathartic stress relief. I was only really interested in the gameplay or, more often, the violence. At the time if you asked me what my favorite games was, I would have told you Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix. After playing Max Payne 2, I wouldn't have known the answer to that question. It wasn't MP2, but this game did make me open my mind a little.

MP2 feels very similar to the first game in the way that it plays, though certain tweaks make it arguably more fun then the previous game. Max's famous shoot-dodge no longer uses any of your bullet-time meter so you are free to jump around like a mad man, and you will. The game is a touch more forgiving because of this, but you still need to get your quicksave finger back in shape because Max ain't exactly bulletproof. The game also only starts with one, dynamic difficulty setting which seems odd for the time. Completing the game unlocks higher, set difficulties as well as a survival mode which I had forgotten about. Its arsenal is bigger, its effects are prettier and while the graphic novel panel story telling is still very much present, there are far more in-game cut scenes then the first game. I'll get to the side narrative stuff that I found so engrossing in a moment but there is one other thing that made this game so great that I need to talk about.

Max Payne 2, along with Half Life 2, was one of the first games to make in-game physics near universal to all of its objects. Sure you can't knock over the giant shelves in the warehouse level or send larger furniture flying but almost everything else will react to being pushed, shot or nudged. The first kill you make in the game blew my mind when I first saw it. It is staged perfectly to both remind you that you are playing a Max Payne game and to show why it'll be even better then before. After wondering around a seemingly empty hospital for a few minutes you come across a dead security guard and pick up his pistol. As you do a balaclava'd mercenary in all black, one of the iconic enemies from the first game, enters. As you return to the game from this short cinematic, your adversary fumbles with his pistol for a moment, giving you an opportunity to get the first shot off. You'll kill him with one round, regardless of where you hit him and he falls backwards into the corner, breaking a small shelf off the wall and landing on a small, wheeled table with surgical tools on it. It's not especially dramatic and while it is slowed down its not too flashy, but it feels real. Its only a short fall but the way he slumps downwards onto a mound of seemingly random objects felt so grounded that I instantly knew I was in for something special.

The real eye opening moment for me however came for the fake tv shows the game featured. Captain Baseball Bat Boy, Address Unknown, Dick Justice and Lords and Ladies. Some of these had been present in the first game but for the most part I ignored them. Not because they weren't good, but they seemed more like jokes, and truth be told Address Unknown just freaked me the hell out. But in MP2 I followed them, dutifully made sure I found each episode of each show, and I'm very glad I did. Dick Justice is essentially a parody of the first Max Payne, down to the over dramatic "NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" after Dick's wife is murdered and the macho introspection. Address Unknown is a thinly disguised commentary on the events currently playing out in the game, referencing Max's guilt over the death of his wife and child, the cleaners trying to stop him "They wore white uniforms, they looked so clean" and the final realisation that the main character IS John Mirra the serial killer, that Max Payne is and seems only capable of being a murderer. Whether he pulls the trigger or not, everyone around him eventually dies. At the end of the game, Max Payne is the only named character left alive! These shows gave me a new understanding into the way Max's mind and world worked, all without having to sit there and flat out tell me it. Subtly like that is rarely seen in games.

Playing through Max Payne 1 & 2 again has really got me pumped up for the third installment. I'm waiting for the PC version to be released on the 1st of May. I have however watched the GB quicklook and unhealthy number of times and truly cannot wait to get stuck into it. I know the tone has changed slightly but Max's new path towards self destruction is something I don't want to miss. It feels like such a natural and unflinchingly realistic turn for Max, when everyone around him seems to die, regardless of his efforts or intentions that kind of nihilism seems inevitable. Its something that hasn't really been tackled in a game before, and while all of this is going on, I still get to shoot people in the face!

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A quick update...

Over the last few weeks I finally managed to get back into the habit of blogging and getting on with my 1001 games quest, so it was obvious that something would get in the way of that and in this case it's me having to move apartments. I'm currently inbetween places and back at my Dad's place just outside London while I look for somewhere new but it means most of my gaming equipment is packed up and out of reach.

As for what games you can expect to see once I'm up and running again here is a quick list fo what I've been playing:

  • Homeworld: I've only really ever played Homeworld 2 so this is a new one for me. Enjoying it so far but its really quite difficult
  • Shadow of the Colosuss: I started this in January and I really need to hurry up and finsih it. I'm on my way to the final fight but died crossing the bridge because I thought I needed to get off my horse. Trying to think more about what I should say in that post as there isn't much point in me saying "Yeah, its great" when everyone already knows that
  • The next three GTA games: Damn near all the GTA's are in the book so I'm going to split the posts up some. III, Vice City & San Andreas are up next
  • Battlefield 2: Funnily enough the people who are still playing BF2 are really f*$!king good at BF2
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : Having left the game for a few years to get patched and fixed, its nice to come back to this game and have it finally work. I've just made it to the Duty outpost for those who care.
  • Guild Wars: I have to start on the MMOs at somepoint, might as well be the one I actually played when it was new.

I'm going to try and clear a space and at least get my PC set up somewhere. Failing that I'll dig out my PSP or my DSi and get started on some of those games that are on the list. Aside from that I'm mostly just looking for somewhere to live. I started reading the Horus Heresy books a while ago so I'll get back to them.

Anyway I'll hopefully be back soon enough. I'm typing this on a tablet which isn't ideal, it also has no spell check so sorry for that too.

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No.0025 Red Faction: Guerrilla

1001 Videogames I must play before I die!

No.0025 Red Faction: Guerrilla

Red Faction: Guerrilla (RFG) is one of those games that has more potential then it manages to deliver on. There are a lot of games like that, but there are few where the key to success was either going completely crazy or even more serious then it currently is. The potential in RFG comes from its famous destruction system, and it is well deserving of that fame. It is easily the best system of its kind ever implemented into a game, the trouble is the game that surrounds it can't really make its mind up about what it wants to be.

Now that isn't to say that RFG isn't a good game, but there is a great deal of conflict between what the player will want to do and what the player character wants to do. The game sets itself up as a serious, gritty piece about rebellion and insurgency. The difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter could have been an interesting topic for a game to tackle, particularly seeing as RFG came out right just as the occupation of Iraq began to quite down. Science fiction has often been a medium that looks at current issues, disguising them with a futuristic setting. Sadly that doesn't happen, the occupying Earth Defense Force (EDF) are cartoonishly evil and never show any side other then being dick holes. There is no way there could be any kind of ambiguity here. The first thing they do is kill the protagonists brother, dutifully freeing Mars from his stupid facial hair. Seriously, a chinstrap AND a pencil mustache?

The other side face of RFG comes as a result of the great destruction engine. You want to, and can, break anything. The game is more then happy to give you the tools to do that too. To start with, you have to make do with just your hammer and some mining charges but they are almost all you need. You'll get more interesting, explodey toys as you go but you always carry your hammer and, if you have any sense, the mining charges too. So you go nuts, and there is no penalty for death besides perhaps failing your current mission. But if you were just wondering around breaking stuff, which you probably were, you'll respawn right back at the nearest Red Faction hideout. Because there is no real penalty for dying, you quickly find yourself adopting suicide tactics, covering a car in charges and plowing it into an EDF building. It's so easy when there are no repercussions. I heard someone say it would have been interesting if the player respawned as a different, random miner each time they died, as a way of showing some kind of permanence, and I think that is a really cool idea.

Despite being a bit schizophrenic in tone, RFG is great fun. One small thing that I want to point out are the vehicles. There is nothing all that special about them but it was really cool to play an open-world game like this that, because of its sci-fi setting, had to design a whole range of completely original cars and trucks. I would love to see another Red Faction game. I've not played Armageddon and probably wont until I find it cheap. Which is a shame, because as much as I love Saints Row The Third, I do like it when Volition try to take things seriously, even when they don't pull it off quite right. If you've not played RFG before you really need to. Even just the demo, so you can understand how much of a game changer the destruction system is.

I had planned on putting together a quick video together showing RFG with its unlockable cheats turned on but it requires a completed save game to use them. I have that for the 360 version, but no way to record the footage. Which is a shame because when you turn on invincibility, super sprint, super jump and super hammer the game suddenly turns into a beautiful prototype for the BEST SUPERHERO GAME YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE!!!!

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No.0023 & No.0024 Grand Theft Auto I & II

1001 Videogames I must play before I die!

No.0023 Grand Theft Auto

My memories of the first GTA are mostly about just trying to get to play it for any extended length of time. When it came out I was 10 and I saw it whilst visiting a family friend. My parents wouldn't let me have any kind of games console when I was growing up and my father was a big Archimedes fan so there weren't a huge number of new games being released that I could actually get my hands on. Going to this guys house was like visiting a shrine to what I might be able to do once I was old enough. My older brothers were friends with this guys older brother and both our parents were friends in that way mothers are. When ever we all went over to their house for dinner or something I would always end up watching this guy or his older brother playing games. A lot of my early exposure to modern or at least current games came from there. Grand Theft Auto, along with Resident Evil, left the biggest impression on me. I got to play a little bit of it there and knew I needed to be able to play it myself. In the end I just about got a PC emulator to run it on my Acorn at home and finally I could play it!

Coming back to this top-down crime'em up was an odd experience. My memories of it were much more sedate, probably because I could only get it to run at about 10-15fps the first time I played it. After fiddling about to rediscover the controls I got my bearings and it all started to come back to me. I don't think I successfully finished a single mission in this game ever, and the same was true this time around. I tried picking up the tanker loaded with explosives, I drove to the police station and armed the bomb, but the remaining momentum the vehicle had when I jumped out meant it drove straight through and out the other side. Once you've failed a mission, you can't re try it which was odd. But then you quickly remember that you weren't there for the missions, it was all about the mayhem you could cause.

Even for such an early sandbox game, it still manages to produce those bizarre moments that games like Just Cause 2 and Saints Row are built for. At one point I was trying to reverse and escape a police officer trying to pull me from the car and bust me, but as he dragged me out and I expected the disappointed sigh of the off screen audience the car kept rolling backwards and crushed him, leaving me free to go about my murderous rampage. Small moments like this reminded me why this game was so impressive. If you're actually trying to play the game properly, its incredibly difficult. I'll freely admit that I quickly found myself going nowhere and resorted to cheats so as to stay in the game world long enough to properly remind myself of what this thing was all about. I had forgotten the game actually still used lives, which seems cruel given that, without armour, ANYTHING will kill you.

If you are looking for a loose trip down memory lane then I'd recommend taking a look at GTA again, but if you've never played it before you may well wonder how this game even managed to get a sequel. It was just so unlike anything else around at the time, a strange mix of crime and comedy, that is pretty common place in games nowadays, but was completely fresh at the time. It also had a god damn awesome theme song!

No.0024 Grand Theft Auto II

Grand Theft Auto II throws out some slightly mixed signals at first. The intro movie, which is awesome, makes it look as though you'll be playing a game that takes its self much more seriously then its predecessor, but you quickly learn that isn't true. The game does develop in complexity, each area has three gangs and depending on the missions you take and how often you kill their members they will become more of less friendly. The more a gang likes you, the more missions you'll get from them. They start small, and you'll start to notice GTA mission staples starting to show up, like picking up some drugs, then sprinting around the city trying to distribute them to various dealers before a time limit runs out. Get to the high end gang missions and suddenly you have a firetruck that has been converted into a flamethrower. Like I said, while its presentation may have become more serious, the gameplay sure as hell didn't.

One thing I did notice that completely slipped past me when I originally played it is the strangely stylised nature of the game. Everything has a decidedly retro look to it. The cars all look like they're from the 1930's, its most obvious on the Miller-Meteor ambulances that are just a palette swap away from being the Ecto-1. Its only something I've noticed now that I'm old enough and actually care about that kind of thing and not just where to find the Electro gun. It's a style I vaguely remember starting to show up towards the end of Kingpin: Life of Crime as well.

GTA II is a far more rounded and polished game compared to the first. It seems that Rockstar decided to put something there for you to actually do rather then just see how long you could last with four stars, although GTA II goes to six now. The game also leans more on the ridiculous side with its missions. One tasked me with abducting random people using a bus and taking them to a factory to be processed into hotdogs. The whole thing feels generally more comedic, and we get our first taste of Rockstar's use of insane radio DJs. It is certainly easier and more engaging then the first game, so if you really want to see the humble beginnings of the GTA series and haven't tried any of them before I would say that you'll probably get more out of GTA II the the first game.

Both of these games hold a special place in my heart, even if I can't bring myself to play them for more then an hour or so of each now. You can get both of them on Steam, along with the other GTA games all the way up to Episodes from Liberty city, really cheap, or if you just want the original two they are available free on Rockstar's website. Either way you should check them out, if only for the fart/burp button that has no right being as funny as it is.

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