Game Feature

Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: TimeSplitters 2

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Ah, TimeSplitters. You’re a special breed of crazy-ass, and we love you for it.

If you’re well-versed in the gametastic, you’ll know that FPS games mean effing business. Much like MMOs and MOBAs (and maybe a couple other nerdly acronyms), the communities are legendary for not suffering fools lightly. Woe betide a player who slips up. They’ll be met by a torrent of poorly-spelt and grammatically questionable abuse like they’ve never seen.

This is serious freaking business, right here. This game? It’s not a game. Except it is, we’ve just forgotten that amid all the killstreaks and K/Ds and whatnot.

Still, sometimes, an FPS will surprise us. It’ll still be competitive and track stats and such, but it’ll also bring us a lot of silly shit. Which is something this po-faced genre could really use. And for me, no shooter has done this quite like TimeSplitters 2.

The first game was a PS2 launch title, back in 2000. It was Free Radical’s toontastic, time travelling take on shooters. Heavily influenced by contemporary greats such as Perfect Dark and GoldenEye it may have been, but with several tons of its own quirky spirit layered on top. Playable snowmen and monkeys and joke guns abound.

Two years later, the second release arrived. This little doozy took that foundation and ran with it. Let’s take a look.

TimeSplitters 2, is set in the year 2401. Humanity is up to their asses in a war with the TimeSplitters, an alien race who are using time travel to alter the history of the world (and, y’know, destroy the planet in the process). Studly bald space marine Sergeant Cortez doesn’t approve of this sort of thing, and follows them through the ages to stop them.

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As Cortez, your objective is to cruise though ten levels, defeat the boss and regain the time crystal they each hold. It’s a Quantum Leap-y adventure of befuddling proportions, casting you as a Wild West bounty hunter in one stage and a prohibition era Chicago gangster the next.

This sort of thing is often great for a title’s campaign mode. Back in the day, the FPS was fairly samey in this regard. You’d usually wander through identikit corridors, shooting angry dudes and/or angry creatures, wondering where the eff the keycard is for that door you passed a half hour ago. But we have no time for any of that BS around here.

Rescuing boobtastic maidens in their undercrackers from a creepy old pervert in Medieval Notre Dame? Getting your spy on in Siberia, in a dam suspiciously similar to the one in GoldenEye? Using some fancy-ass Metal Gear tech to stalk a hacker through the streets of futuristic Tokyo? These are varied level objectives, right here. The story is completely freakin’ nutty, but there’s an internal logic and brilliance to it under the surface. Like your average Doctor Who episode.

So, a pretty damn great single player. This was a rarity for shooters at the time, and even today a lot of these bastards can’t get that right. But beyond that, TimeSplitters 2 was content-amundo. Over a hundred ridiculous characters to unlock (monkeys, dinosaurs, a six foot gingerbread man, ‘robots’ in cardboard outfits, weird mutant duck-man, several kinds of zombie, you name it), and a big ol’ crop of challenges to try. It’s all endlessly high-scoreable.

True, multiplayer wasn’t online, what with this being the early 2000s. But back then, local multiplayer was a thing that existed outside of Nintendo’s weird tablet consoles. And there’s no doubt that TimeSplitters 2 was some of the best local multiplayer I’ve ever played. As crazy-ass as it was, it was still a solid and well-designed shooter at heart. This made for the best of both worlds, and ensured the game’s success.

There hasn’t be a series release since 2005‘s TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, but there’s a damn good reason why gamers worldwide still hold out hope.

The Weekly WTF: ‘Icarus Proudbottom and the Curse of the Chocolate Fountain’

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Hey, wasn’t that the name of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie?

Nope, it’s much more disturbing than that. This one reminds me of all those euphemisms we’re taught as children. All that when a man and a lady love each other very much business. Our parents didn’t tell us that it’s often when a man and a lady get effing drunk and horny on the bathroom floor of some sleazy nightclub. Because that’s something we should find out for ourselves.

Similarly, by ‘chocolate fountain,’ we actually mean a constant and explosive (rocket-powered, actually) case of diarrhea, which is propelling our hero through the clouds. Because that’s just the sort of thing we deal with here in the realm of the WTF.

Yep, this is a sidescrolling shooter hit by a gypsy curse. The cartoony, imaginary sort of gypsy; proprietors of carnival fortune telling booths the world over. These guys, as we know, are all bastards, cursing it up curse-tacularly cursily at the slightest provocation. But I’ve never seen them stoop this low.

While other entries in the genre go for the old-fashioned ‘piloting a weeny spaceship’ approach, Icarus Proudbottom and the Curse of the Chocolate Fountain has no time for that. They’ve got something better: a guy with the shits.

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Yup, that’s the first boss: a dude with his wang out, peeing at you. He also has a floating crocodile thing.

This may be a half-assed little freeware flash game (weighing in at a mighty 15MB), but it has ambition. Our cursed buddy Icarus flies all around the world, borne on a powerful wave of his own crap. If you imagine it as the flames that used to ‘power’ the badass cars our preteen selves used to draw, it makes kinda sorta sense.

So, we’ve got a landscape to cruise past and a main character. The final element every sidescrolling shooter needs? Enemies. With the weirdery thus far, you’ll expect something bizarre. Something like… wanging formations of ducks and Nazis in the face with a holy sword, while your diarrhea streams behind you like a trail of pure glorious brown victory.

You won’t be disappointed on that score.

Will Icarus ever break his curse? Where the hell did it come from anyway? Why do his clothes fall off when he’s hit? Why is this a freaking thing at all? None of these questions will ever be answered. Well, the first might, and the third is probably a retro-tastic nod to Ghosts and Goblins. But other than that, who the hell knows.

Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: Wipeout

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What with, y’know, being a Nintendo game and all, Sony never had F-Zero. This futuretastic racer from 1990 was a sad loss for the followers of PlayStation, awesome as it was. But they needn’t have feared.

While PS1 missed out on the game and its homoerotic hero Captain Falcon (man, that’s a tight jumpsuit), it did get Wipeout. A launch title for the system, it brought high-velocity gravity defying badassery into 3D. And it did it in style. Let’s take a look.

Wipeout is set in the year 2052, as distant as the last Ice Age when it was released in 1995. We were just learning to handle the Internet and Star Trek Voyager back then; the world was a befuddling place. How the hell could our feeble minds accept the F3600 anti-gravity racing league?

Well, accept it, buddy boy, because you’re competing. In Wipeout, you choose a craft to pilot in the contests and race these other futuristic effers, while The Chemical Brothers and Leftfield (whoever the hell they are) get their techno on in the background. Exciting times indeed.

As with F-Zero, said races are goddamn fast. They’re set in fancy-ass locales with names like Karbonis, Terramax and Altima VII, one of which is apparently in Japan somehow. The tracks are all rather sexy (in a gonad-dissolvingly-ugly-but-great-for-the-time-early-3D sort of way), and they’re a pleasure to barrel through at several hundred mph.

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Wipeout’s soundtrack is also noteworthy. Did I mention the freaking Chemical Brothers? Sure, that wasn’t much of a name to drop in the mid-nineties, but let’s not get too snarky about that. It’s all suitably high-octane and techno, and you couldn’t ask for more than that. This is another part of the package that added to the all-round high production values of the game.

Presentation aside, there’s one aspect of Wipeout that I find most memorable. It adds a kart racer-ish element to proceedings with power-ups. And these ones are pretty freaking sadistic, right here. You’ve got the usual forcefields to protect you from rivals’ attacks and such, but there are also missiles that can destroy them competely.

My first experience with the series was Wipeout 3, and I think I shat myself a little the first time I hit a racer with the plasma bolt and their ship was destroyed; my ranking changing from 12th place out of 12 to 11th place out of 11. What the hell kind of racing tournament is this? It’s not Saw, you sadistic bastards. Saw on Wheels, I like to call it. They’re not wheels, per se, but… oh, screw it. On to the conclusion.

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was big, brash and fast. Definitely a real spectacle in the early PlayStation years. There was a little niggling about difficulty and the controls, but otherwise it was very well received.

The Weekly WTF: Pokémon’s Creeptastic Secret

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Nintendo look so sweet and innocent, don’t they? With their family friendly reputation, cutesy-ass Mii characters out the wazzoo and childlike experimentation with this new ‘online play’ thing they’ve just discovered.

But that’s the ruse. As we know, it’s always the quiet ones. I had a neighbor once, a sweet old dude who was always polite and charming. The cops found a couple of human heads and a half-eaten asscheek in his refrigerator. (Note: anecdote may just be snarky BS.) That’s Nintendo, right there. Nintendo are the serial killer cannibal next door of gaming.

Oh yes indeed. Beneath that toontastic surface, all manner of creepy shit is lurking. Earlier in this series, we heard the freaky story of BEN and the haunted Majora’s Mask cartridge. It’s a classic of gaming creepypasta. But even better known (and more scrote-shrivelingly terrifying) is the business with the Lavender Town Tone.

For this one, we’re partying like it’s 1998, and getting our Pokémon on. The original Game Boy installments, Red and Blue. You know the deal here: young dude with a shit hat is sent on a perilous journey around the world, beating peoples’ pets to death in an attempt to become the ultimate cockfighting champion.

Each town in the region (give or take) has a Pokémon Gym. Your battles with the masters take place here, and besting each one will earn you a badge. With them all in hand, you can challenge the Elite 4 and that other dude, for the title of Champion.

That’s the deal in a nutshell. After all, it’s tough to be a studly Ego-dude and know your poké-shit. Unless you’re the kind of double life leading renegade who brings a Pikachu-branded lunchbox to work at the steelmill/local lumberjack-ing and bear wrestling forest. But anywho, we’ve no time for this BS. To Lavender Town!

This place appears to be just another stop on your journey. A little darker than the others, what with the huge mothereffin’ pokémon graveyard and all, but otherwise regular enough. But don’t be fooled. There’s some insidious evil lurking in that jangly background music.

It was this very music that caused Lavender Town Syndrome. Which is, reports the official wiki of creepypastas, ‘a peak in suicides and illness of children between the ages of 7-12 shortly after the release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan, back in February 27, 1996.’

It was the high frequency of the tone, supposedly. Too high for adults to hear, but screwing with the minds of kids in all kinds of ghastly-ass ways. The cheery story continues,
‘Due to the Lavender Tone, at least two-hundred children supposedly committed suicide, and many more developed illnesses and afflictions. The children who committed suicide usually did so by hanging or jumping from heights. Those who did not acted irrationally (or) complained of severe headaches after listening to Lavender Town’s theme.’

The music has since been retooled, but this creepy legacy remains. In recent years, a band of Unown (those wierd alphabet pokémon) were found in the area with some tech or other, spelling out the words GET OUT. These ‘mon weren’t even created at this point.

All the hairs on my scrote are standing on end, so that’s probably enough of this.

Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: Black & White

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It’s kind of a gray area, right here. How far back must a game go to be deemed retro? Is 2001 distant enough to qualify? Well, when you’ve got a badass renegade mothereffer like me typing words at your face, yes. Yes it can.

Fourteen years is a pretty damn long time, after all. Ol’ Justin Bieber was just a floppy-haired little ballache then, as opposed to the… little ballache with different hair and a couple shit tattoos that he is today. So I feel completely justified in adding Black & White to the ranks of Retro Love.

For the uninitiated, this is a revolutionary PC strategy title from Lionhead Studios. It’s a diabolical twist on the god game genre, a kind of Populous-meets-the-bastardry-of-Dungeon Keeper sort of affair. Let’s take a look.

You know how these games usually go down. You begin with nothing, and gradually carve out a charming, fancy-ass little slice of nirvana for your people to live in. You’ll develop homes for them, provide resources, and all the other BS people need to flourish. Everything’ll be bright and shiny, they’ll be nice to each other, and the sun with shine out of everyone’s anuses.

Your followers will fight for you during the occasional invasion, but otherwise everything’s great. It’s all a little too flowery and Lifetime TV for me. But Black & White, as the name suggests, offers you a moral aspect to shake things up.

It begins in the standard style. You take the role of a god, brought into existence by a family praying for their son, lost at sea. After you save his ass, the family take you back to their village and let you pick a creature. Your avatar for the game chosen, Black & White begins proper.

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Your objective is to turn all of the tribes on the island to your cause. They can either love you or fear a lightning bolt to the ‘nads on a minute-by-minute basis, either works. All you’ll need is their belief. To this end, you and your creature can perform all kinds of acts, and almost everything will contribute to your good or evil standing with the people. Will you save civilians from natural disasters, or leave them to fry? Will you send in your avatar to trample a building or two to help the hurricane along; the ultimate kick in their believer-asses? Your choice.

As with any karma system, the actions you take will have distinct consequences. The world itself will slowly transform according to your standing. An angelic realm for a goodly creator or a fiery hellhole worthy of the angry Satanic mofo you are.

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’s AI was pretty damn impressive at the time too. Your creature could be trained, by either slapping or stroking it after it performs actions. It would slowly learn to adapt its behaviour accordingly, and would take on a good or evil alignment for itself.

This one was well-received, for sure, but some think that it didn’t quite live up to the hypetastic. The interaction with the world and such was a little more limited than expected. Still, this was a revolutionary genre entry, worth a re-visit.

The Weekly WTF: ‘Gettysburg: Armored Warfare’ is American History the Badass Way

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Hold on to your butts, gentlemen. It’s about to get educational in here. Just a little, though, don’t worry. I’ll try to keep your learning of the fact-tastic to a bare minimum.

The Battle of Gettysburg took place in the summer of 1863, midway through the civil war. It’s said to be the costliest, bloodiest battle of the conflict, with around 25000 men wounded or killed on each side. Historically, it was a Union victory, and is supposed to mark the point at which the war turned against the Southern States.

But you know this. This is History of the Good Ol’ U.S of A for Dummies, right here. And even if you don’t, there’s one thing you sure as balls do know: There wasn’t a time traveller there, giving the Confederates fancy-ass 21st century weaponry in an attempt to change the future.

Because that kind of crazy-ass only happens in video games or shitty sci fi. In this case, it’s the former. Behold Gettysburg: Armored Warfare.

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The game hit Steam in 2012, an odd combination of RTS, TPS, FPS and maybe a couple other nerdly gaming acronyms. Imagine it as a kind of Total War release (Batshit Crazy: Total War, in this case), giving you control of a vast army in real time and testing your tactical badassery to the max on a big ol’ 3D battlefield.

Just like Creative Assembly’s celebrated strategy series, the history’s gone a little awry here. That time traveller I mentioned? That’s an actual thing. Watch your back, Yankees; the South are partying like it’s 2060 with their new tech.

The good news? You have all manner of shiny futuristic death-dealers to command. Which is always cool. The combination of gameplay styles seems great in theory too, allowing you to switch between issuing orders and directly controlling units on the fly. It’s all very Battalion Wars, for the four people in the damn world who’ve ever heard of that.

Sign me the eff up, you might be thinking. Until you play the thing, and realise that it’s an horrific, bug-addled shitstorm. With a little TLC, this could’ve been something, but you know how it is when developers forget to finish their games before releasing them.

Forget Call of Duty, Real Men Need the Retro Love: Vagrant Story

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Around these parts, the vagrant-related stories aren’t all that interesting. That drunk hobo outside Egotastic Towers exposed himself to me again as I came into work this morning. That’s a hairy wang, right there. Y’know, that sort of thing. Just the kind of everyday stuff that isn’t worth mentioning.

Don’t get that kind of BS confused with the real Vagrant Story. This is the real deal, right here. A cult classic as cult-y and classic-ish as they come. Let’s take a look at this vintage weirdness.

Vagrant Story hit the original PlayStation in 2000, an RPG from Square. Genre fans will know, natch, that these clever bastards also brought us the barnstorming Final Fantasy franchise, which this one is worlds away from. But Cloud, Sephiroth et al have nothing on Ashley Riot.

This studly dude is a Riskbreaker, badass agent of some sort or other. He finds himself in Valendia, a kingdom wracked by civil war. The strongest fortress that remains is the town of Lea Mondé, where shady doings are afoot. Cultists have kidnapped Duke Bardoba, which is pretty darn uncool. As… y’know, an important law-dude, our hero sets out in pursuit. Whereupon, as the internet likes to say, things escalate quickly. We’re soon up to our ‘nads in ghastly-ass monsters in the city’s catacombs.

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And catacombs, there are a motherfreakin’ lot of. In terms of style, tone and visuals, Vagrant Story is pretty dark stuff. Which is odd, with its storybook, comic-speech-bubbles artstyle. Imagine Final Fantasy IX made by Tim Burton, and you’re kinda sorta there.

The gameplay itself is very different. This is an action RPG, and there’s even a little light puzzling and platforming to be done. A lot of this takes the form of block-pushing shenanigans, tasking you with using the environment to carve yourself a path through the environment. Yup, that last sentence was a bit shit. Let’s hurry on to the next paragraph.

By this point, you’re probably waiting on those ghastly-ass monsters you were promised earlier. Good news, Vagrant Story’s combat is frequent, complex and satisfying. There’s none of that ‘select a magic spell or attack from a menu then feel a little superfluous as your character uses it automatically’ here. Nuts to that.

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Instead, you’ll be targeting body parts and ‘killing’ them individually… by selecting them from a tedious menu. Totally different. It is technically real-time combat, what with the combos and counters and such to be done, be there’s a freaking lot of menu faffing in between. Still, there are minotaurs, ogres, wyverns and all manner of dark creatures to beat on. That’s something.

On the subject of menu faffing, holy balls is that a complex upgrade system. Acquiring new weapons, armor and abilities is vital to just about every RPG, and they all approach the process differently. Vagrant Story’s workshop, though, is an asspain indeed. This is one for genre veterans, right here.

Players in the know still regard this one highly for its innovation, complexity and creepy-ass atmosphere. There isn’t another quite like it, and it deserves to be remembered.