Archive for May, 2011

Gex 2 and 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 14, 2011 by Griff

 

It seems like any given year and any given console generation there’s always one specific genre that dominates the marketplace, there’s always invariably some super successful game that comes along and shakes things up and then tons of imitators try to replicate the success until eventually it becomes so over saturated that things die down and it’s on to the next big thing

For this generation it’s without a doubt First Person Shooters and these days specifically it’s games trying to replicate the success of the Call of Duty series (remember when that series was just a humble WW2 shooter and not the beast it later became?)

It’s hard to pick one specific genre in the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox generation that dominated, but I would say probably Grand Theft Auto knockoffs, games like Driver 3, The Getaway and True Crime (which ironically was going to get another sequel that was canceled by Activision, the publisher of the Call of Duty series) all tried to get a slice of that GTA pie (which these days, not counting any other Rockstar games or Saints Row, how many games do you see trying to be like Grand Theft Auto?)

But for the PS1/N64 generation there can be no doubt what was the dominant genre, Platformers (specifically 3D ones in this case), good Lord were there so many Platformers back then, it seems like literally every other game was a Platformer, you could not swing a dead cat without hitting a few Platformer mascots with lots of ‘tude, even the Tomb Raider games were basically Platformers where you played as a hot woman with big tits instead of a cute anthropomorphic animal, Super Mario 64 opened the floodgates and the genre dominated from about 1996 onward and breathed it’s final breath in 2005 with the release of Psychonauts (which even though Grand Theft Auto 3 revolutionized mature rated games, people forget that there were still plenty of Platformers in the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox generation, there were so many in fact in 2002 that it was dubbed by many gaming magazines the “year of the Platformer”)

These days the Platformer genre is completely dead, the only exceptions are the Mario games on the Wii, cheap shovelware platformers on the Wii and Platformers made by Indie devs (but those are all 2D, maybe one day those hipper than thou Indie devs will upgrade to 3D)

But back in the days when the Platformer genre dominated it was very easy for a good game to get lost in the shuffle, to get overlooked because it looked too similar to too many other “me too” games, which finally brings me to the subject of this review, the Gex series

I want you to journey back in time with me, back to a mystical era known as the “late 90’s”, it was a strange time, most people did not have cellphones, the only place you could surf the net was at home or libraries (if you even had a computer) and Titanic was the highest grossing movie of all time

It was in this era that in 1998 and 1999 two games were released, Gex 2 Enter The Gecko and Gex 3 Deep Cover Gecko, both developed by Crystal Dynamics

I’ve never played the original, but Gex 2 was the first game in the series I played on the PS1, no too long after the third game came out and I played it

The Gex games follow Gex the Gecko, he’s a wisecracking guy (voiced by comedian Dana Gould, who is a frequent guest on Real Time With Bill Maher) who loves television and becomes a secret agent tasked with taking down a mysterious villain (seriously, what was the deal with that guy?) named Rez who wants to take over the “Media Dimension”, what this basically means is that Gex has to enter a bunch of “TV Channels” that are spoofs of specific genres and collect “remotes” in each level (think like the multiple Stars in each level of Mario 64), I think a lot of people misinterpreted Gex as trying to a ‘tude filled character like Sonic, but he’s more of a wiseass and the games in general are very spoofy and geared towards a slightly older audience than most Platformers, it may seem quaint today, but the humor and wiseass nature of the games was pretty unique at the time

As soon as I started Gex 2, I had a flashback to third grade, I haven’t played Gex 2 since 1999 and I think this is the longest time I’ve gone before replaying a game (about 12 years), there I was back in Mrs. Hill’s classroom, I had an unrequited crush on a pretty blond girl named Victoria (*sigh*) and I had just gotten a Playstation 1 for Christmas, it was my best friend who suggest I check out Gex 2 and I did, I was pleasantly surprised to find a game that I liked so much and I was a bit obsessed with it for a while

However after the initial nostalgia shock of playing a game after so many years wore off, I started to notice the problems of Gex 2, unfortunately Gex 2 is not a game that has aged well or stands the test of time

Basically there are three major problems with the game, the first is that the camera sucks, of course this was a problem that a lot of 3D games from that era had and it was really only solved after the invention of two analog sticks, but Gex 2 also has a lot of levels that are basically “floating islands” over a bottomless pit and if you fall (unless you find a rare checkpoint) you have to go back at the start and the camera never helps

second is that the levels repeat themselves too much, there are only a handful of themes (horror, kung fu, cartoons, science fiction, prehistoric and outer space) and each theme has at least two levels that are just variations, now some of these levels are different enough that it’s not too annoying (like the two prehistoric levels), but other are basically the same level just with a remixed design, it gets old fast when you’re playing yet another outer space or horror level

Third is that most of the levels are not very well designed, it’s easy to get lost and you have no idea where to go to complete specific objectives (the objectives that require you to find several objects throughout the level are annoying as hell)

Lastly the game is very short, I beat it in a single night, it was still fun playing it just for the trip down memory lane, but I was disappointed to find that the game was mostly frustrating and the legitimately fun levels were few, if you’ve never played Gex 2 Enter The Gecko before, then don’t bother, the only reason to revisit it is purely for the nostalgia

Well that brings me to Gex 3 and I’m very happy to say that this one holds up a lot better

Literally every single thing about Gex 3 is improved from Gex 2, the graphics are better for one (and for a PS1 game very good) and the camera is improved (though still a bit annoying by today’s standards)

The levels no longer repeat themes, instead every level has a unique theme and the genres they spoof are a little more creative, the level design is also much, much better, not only are the levels more forgiving, but it’s a lot harder to get lost and you usually have a clear idea of where you need to go to complete specific objectives, even the Hub world is improved, the Hub in Gex 2 was small and boring, the Hub in Gex 3 is pretty large and more like an actual level itself (it also has some cool secrets)

The humor and writing is better, one of the things that sets the Gex games apart is that Gex makes wisecrack comments during the levels (almost a bit like Mystery Science Theater) and there weren’t very many in Gex 2, but in Gex he says a lot more and they’re related to the levels he’s in more, a lot of people found his comments annoying but I always found them funny in the third game, it’s especially fun playing the game as an adult and picking up on references that you missed when playing as a kid (like Gex making fun of singer Morrissey)

So I’m happy to say that if you’re in the mood for an old school style Platformer, Gex 3 is still worth playing even if you’ve never played it before, it’s only slightly longer than Gex 2, but that’s ok

So that was it for Gex, they never made a 4th game unfortunately, supposedly they were working on a 4th game for the PS2 but it was canceled, I can’t help but wish the 4th game wasn’t canceled or that Gex would get a reboot, but maybe Gex 3 took the series as far as it could go, it’s nice that it ended on a high note

Still it would be cool to see Gex resurrected as maybe a PSN/XBLA title (think like Crystal Dynamics’ Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light), but that’s probably pretty unlikely, oh well…

No One Lives Forever 1 and 2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 2, 2011 by Griff

 

confession time, I have never played a Call of Duty, it’s not that I don’t like First Person Shooters, but Call of Duty’s brand of brown military shooters doesn’t interest me and playing online I’ve found in my case sounds more fun in theory than in practice, whenever I play a FPS online the result is almost always I get my ass completely and utterly handed to me for a few hours, then I get bored of always losing and quit, I just don’t have the super human reflex time to compete with the people who must play online 24/7, that’s the reason why Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 are my favorite online games of all time because they’re co op, working with other gamers is a lot more fun to me than getting my ass kicked by other gamers

but I digress, I do love FPSs, but I like them to be more creative, like Half Life 1 and 2, Bioshock and the subject of this review, the No One Lives Forever series

NOLF 1 and 2 have what so many modern games lack, a huge sense of creativity and fun, I absolutly love the 1960’s spy movie setting, inspired less by James Bond and more by Derek Flint, Modesty Blaise and The Avengers, it’s like a total breath of fresh air and is one of my personal favorite settings for a game ever

the series follows female superspy (not counting the MetroidPrime series, how many FPSs do you know star female only characters?) Cate Archer as she works for international (but England based) spy organization UNITY as they try to foil the schemes of the evil (and hilarious) H.A.R.M (what that stands for is never explained)

humor is a big part of the games, there’s some seriously funny stuff in both of them, one thing I love is when you overhear the conversations of the enemy NPCs, nothing beats listening to some henchmen talk about possibly retiring and then turning a corner and mowing them down

anyway No One Lives Forever is just plain great, the levels are a ton of fun, you know you’re playing an awesome when it has (mild spoiler) a whole level that’s a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running, one level may have you infiltrating an island fortress, the other may have you wandering a posh 60’s nightclub

for a game over ten years old the graphics hold up pretty well too, if there’s one complaint it’s that sometimes the game forces you to try to be stealthy, which I’ve learned that FPS stealth almost never works (at least without any way to tell where the hell the guards are looking)

so now this brings me to the sequel, I played the PS2 port of NOLF 1 way back in 2002, which suffered from horribly long load times (I made sure to play the PC version this time) and never finished it, but I never got to play the sequel when it came and oh boy did I want to, it looked so awesome

so NOLF 2 came out in 2002 and I finally this year got to play it, that’s an almost 9 year wait, a new record for me (the previous record for longest wait before being able to play a game was Vampire The Masquerade, which was about 6 years) and was it worth it?

yes, yes it was, NOLF 2 rocks and it rocks hard, in many ways it’s better than the original, for one thing the graphics are stunning, even in this day and age, it’s the texture work that holds up so well, the textures are so sharp, it almost looks as good as Half Life 2, I love the graphics of PC games from this general era (Max Payne 2 being one example) because they were all about sharp, realistic textures, too many games these days rely on fancy lighting effects and other pizazz at the cost of low quality textures (Alan Wake is a perfect example of this), that’s why to me Portal 2 doesn’t look dated at all (but that’s another story)

other than the fantastic graphics NOLF 2 is just a little more refined than the original, it would unquestionably be the better games save for two issues, one big, one minor, the minor issue is that in some levels enemies will endlessly respawn if you sound an alarm, this can be annoying if you want to forgo stealth for running and gunning

but the biggest problem is that NOLF 2 is just too damn short, a lot shorter than the first game, so short that it seems like you don’t even get the opportunities to make full use of some of the gadgets , I have a theory that the developers Monolith crammed every spy movie cliche they could think of in the first and thus were short of ideas (some levels in 2 are similar to levels in 1) or maybe it was a question of time and money I don’t know, but after waiting almost 9 years it sucks to beat a game in just a few days, I had a blast while it lasted, but it was just too brief, it doesn’t help that the ending of the game is a total anti-climax

so unfortunately what should have been a big series ended at 2 and the developer Monolith moved on to the F.E.A.R series, which has never really interested me (the combination of commandos and the ghost girl from The Ring has always seemed a mightily strange one), although I did enjoy the original Condemned

No One Lives Forever seems like an absolute perfect series to resurrect and who knows, it could happen one day, I wouldn’t be too surprised