Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Arcade - Paperboy


Alright, now we're talking. This is Retro Gaming people REMEMBER. No, really.

If you like Retro Gaming, just the mere mention of Paperboy has probably already got you humming the music in your head... I know I have. Aaargh, will have to go and play it. Now.
OK, had a quick game. Guess what? It's half the fun without the handlebars.

Alright, seriously now, this is one of those occasions where I think we have to stand in awe of Atari. Y'see, there's been many games brought out with kind of unique ideas, but they've never stayed that way. Here, with the exception of the hopeless home computer rip-off "Paperboy 2", I can't think of another game like this.
Here's the premise, on the surface it's very simple: Deliver newspapers to your customers, avoiding obstacles on the way. Now, you could take that as the be-all-and-end-all of it, but it's far from that simple.

First off, your customers. They all own nice bright houses, with big letter boxes. Deliver a paper to their door or their letter box to keep their custom. As Paperboys go, you're as lazy as they come, flinging the paper, America-style, whilst riding your bike down the street. Yup, none of this lark of riding your bike on one pedal and jumping off or even entirely by foot in the depths of winter, putting the paper through nicely like us harder, stiff-upper-lipped British Boys do, just simply pedal and pelt the papers, pulverising pugilists and pleasing your patrons, perambulating the pathway as you go.
 OK, now I've got that awful bit of alliteration out of the way (sorry, couldn't resist), I can get back to explaining the game. As well as customers, you have... that's right, non-customers. Did you see that one coming? They all own dark houses, many with gravestones in their front garden, and you can either simply not deliver a paper to them, or you can smash their furniture and/or windows and accumulate a "damage" bonus. Nice, huh?
If you manage to miss any customers along your way or damage their property, they will cancel their subscription. Lose ALL your customers and you'll get your P45 and Marching Orders, in other words "Game Over". Oh, and you have a limited supply of newspapers to throw, so don't get too happy with the fire button, although there are more you can collect.
In MAME, the game is best controlled with the mouse (although it's tricky), but in the arcades the cabinet had a set of handlebars mounted on the front, which were truly awesome. But the best bit of the game comes at the end of each day's round... the stunt course. Suddenly you are armed with an infinite supply of papers, which you can throw at the targets for big bonus points, whilst negotiating winding paths, narrow bridges and jumps. It's a bit of a change of pace, but incredibly good fun.

Once again, it's the "nice touches" that make this game so awesome. Some of the obstacles and bonuses you can score are normal everyday things, from the people driving cars down the street to the young lad with the remote control car, to cats and dogs, drunk pedestrians, unicycle-riding punks (erm?) and the naughty cat-burglar trying to break in a side-window. Most of these can be dealt with by means of high-speed Newspaper, but some have to simply be avoided. It's worth getting them with a newspaper though, for example there's often two men having a fist fight... hurl a newspaper at them to knock one out and the other raises his arms in victory. Nice.
One thing is for sure, if you spend 5 minutes on this game, you WILL be humming the music for the rest of the day. Gah, I'm STILL humming it now. Everyone around me wonders what the hell it is I'm singing.
Paperboy. It'll ruin your life. But you have to play it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

PC - Max Payne

Max Payne

Dark trenchcoats. Slow Motion "Bullet Time". Diving around shooting guns. What's that, you say? Sounds like The Matrix?

Hmm. I wonder if there was any inspiration there. To be honest, it's blindingly obvious, but fortunately what DIDN'T happen is that the resulting gaming experience was NOT in any way rushed out so much as to be an awful game. Almost unbelievably, I've got nothing but praise for what was basically a cash-in on a popular film licence.

No, I have to hand it to Remedy, they made a great game, with a great storyline, and here's the bit no-one will ever agree with me on... great voice-acting.

Alright, I know, everyone who looks at this game slates the voice acting, I just don't understand why. It might not be up there with the likes of the Uncharted series (Nolan North does have an incredible talent), but it's so far above, say, House of the Dead 2 on the Dreamcast it's not even funny. This is the thing, I suppose, it comes down to personal taste, and Max's dead-pan delivery is spot-on to me.

Anyway, enough of that, let's talk about the game now. To cut a long story short, Max Payne is an undercover policeman whose family are murdered by drugged-up thugs. As a man with nothing to lose, he's prepared to stop at nothing to uncover the secrets and lies behind the origin of the drug in question, known as V. Starting out among some of the less desirable of the criminal underworld, you slowly fight your way up the chain, discovering eventually that the whole dang thing is overseen by... well, I won't spoil that for you.

The gameplay itself takes a little while to get used to, but once you do, you'll be spinning and shooting your way in slow motion all over the place. Whilst as a 3rd-person shooter you can just run around and shoot your enemies, they're pretty accurate and have fast reactions, you're likely to die fairly quickly. You need to find cover and get the hang of diving out in Bullet-Time, aiming with the mouse, trying to get the crucial head-shot or enough body hits to drop the enemies. You may have 2 or 3 to aim at, so your reactions need to be quick. Accuracy will increase the amount of Bullet-Time you can use, and you can use your Bullet-Time whilst just walking around, but it runs out very quickly in that instance, so there's really not much point.

Weapons wise there's a good selection, several of which can be dual wielded, but my personal favourite is the Sniper Rifle. Aim at an enemy's head, and you're treated to a camera angle following the spinning bullet as it traces a path to the fatal impact. It's a gimmick, yes, but it works.

To be honest, this was probably one of the first "cinematic" games I really enjoyed. Cut-scenes and storyboards are part and parcel of games nowadays, and Max Payne used them EFFECTIVELY. Alright, graphics are much more sophisticated now, but we'd advanced from Quake and the idea of using the Quake engine to make movies, which, let's be honest... wasn't all that great.

Alright, so the game can get a little repetitive at times, but it was nothing short of superb. To keep you playing, there were several difficulty levels, which included a special difficuly called "New York Minute", in which you had a 1 minute timer to complete each level. Don't worry, you could earn extra time, but you were always up against it with that timer.

It's worth it, though, because, as a little bonus, hidden away at the end of the game is a version of the lobby gunfight from The Matrix... yeah, it's not exactly the same, but then again, with free level-design tools available on the internet, plenty of people made more accurate versions of that particular scene.

So there's a new Max Payne game coming out. Will I buy it? Maybe. Will it be as good as the original? Doubt it, but I hope so.

One thing's for sure, it's got a lot to live up to. If you haven't played the original, go and find it. Now.