It’s summer! New releases dry up in the impending heat but announcements, intriguing widgets and a good ol’ but if controversy keep us going.

10 Years Ago This Month: June 2007

manhunt 2

June 2007 was supposed to see Rockstar’s sequel to Manhunt. The game was perhaps missing out on sales and coverage by not being on 360 and PS3, instead staying with the now ancient PS2, the handheld PSP, and the rather more popular, though family friendly, Wii. Perhaps the game would sell better on current gen platforms, but the argument was academic, since in June 2007, it wasn’t being sold at all.

The first Manhunt already stirred up plenty of controversy thanks to its premise of convicts earning freedom by bending to the will of a sinister director trying to stage the ultimate snuff movie. This was a dark cover of a darkly comic and satirical game that had a lot more substance than first appeared. Its violence was undeniable however, and ramped up appropriately in the sequel. With the Wii version going a step further by having players engage in the gruesome kills with motion controls, the ESRB in the States went the rare step of giving the game an Adults Only rating.

The AO distinction would have meant no real visibility in retail stores, and effectively have meant sales suicide for Take 2 as a publisher. The game was yanked, replaced later modified to cut the camera away, or apply filters to the stickier scenes. Still, as it happened, this was a brainless game with none of the bite the original had, and few bothered with it in the end.

Phantom Glass was a fine Zelda game, oft overlooked because of its handheld nature.

Phantom Glass was a fine Zelda game, oft overlooked because of its handheld nature.

If Manhunt 2’s gesture controls brought strife, Zelda Phantom Hourglass had more success. Zelda’s debut on the DS took Wind Walter as its inspiration, both for its art style and sea faring nature. Most interesting was the control scheme for the game, which almost entirely used the touch screen. You almost dragged link around the screen in a system that seemed gimmicky at first but was hugely intuitive in practice. Also exciting was the ability to make hand written notes on the bottom screen map, though with the linearity of the series in its pre Breath of the Wild days, this didn’t amount to much gameplay wise.

On the big consoles were a couple of games of note. Dirt was the latest in Codemasters’ games based around rally ace Colin McRae. Its hardcore rallying was mixed with some more race based rallycross and dirt based trucking events this time. It was tons of fun, and the usual frustration that came from a fatal error near the end of a five minute stage was eased somewhat with an innovative ability to ‘rewind’ the game to before your slip up and try again. Sadly, the game was only out a few months before the Scottish former champion was killed in a helicopter accident.

The Darkness had celebrity involvement too, in the form of voice acting from Mile Patton of Faith No More. It was a first person shooter based on a comic book, and while ‘licensed FPS’ isn’t usually something that thrills, Starbreeze’s title was a solid outing. You’d be engaged in typical shooting action in a mobster setting, but would also have to unleash the dark beast within you, a powerful creature that fed on human hearts. The game was fun enough, but Starbreeze’s world building shone, going as far as to include feature length black and white movies on TVs found in the game.

20 Years Ago This Month: June 1997

q2

This was a slow month for new releases, the highlight being the Japanese release of Final Fantasy Tactics on PlayStation. The tactical RPG spinoff would spawn a short series of its own, all instalments being hugely loved.

Still, it was releases to come that grabbed the headline. E3 took place this month, and while Sega’s showing was poor as its American branch was in the midst of abandoning the Saturn, Nintendo and Sony had some big bombs to drop.

It was a predominantly PC show though. This was an era where computers in the 3D accelerator boom were outstripping consoles, especially in the realm of first person shooting. Quake had revolutionized the genre with its fast moving 3D and online multiplayer. Quake 2 pushed new boundaries in terms of tech, and supported a much more fleshed out, objective driven single player campaign. Its radical shift in premise, with a scifi feel very different to the hellscapes of the first Quake was no accident; this was meant to be a completely new IP for iD, but when the developer couldn’t settle on a new name, they reverted to the Quake property.

Quake, of course, was originally planned as an RPG, the ultimate wish fulfillment of a team obsessed with pen and paper games. Its over ambitious design was whittled down into the streamlined Quake that appeared in 1996, but at E3 97 was a game that looked to make good on the initial premise. The bullish John Romero had left iD over creative differences and was now working on a first person action RPG opus called Daikatana. This was before ad campaigns that promised to make the consumer Romero’s ‘bitch’, and in the midst of a long and troubled development cycle with several delays. Speaking of delays, 3D Realms publicly announced Duke Nukem Forever at E3 1997. Less said, soonest mended.

goldeneye 007 1More punctual than Daikatana and Duke, and definitely more revered were Unreal and Half Life. The former came from Epic Megagames, a developer that had been working mainly in DOS shareware but was hitting the glitz of E3 with a game that had been under development on a small scale for two years. The Unreal tech powering the fast moving FPS, in its various iterations would of course go on to drive games in their hundreds. For now though E3 showgoers got a taste of the sci-fi shooter that would quickly gain a reputation for its multiplayer.

Half Life was a distinctly single player experience from Valve, a recent startup from former Microsoft employees for whom this was their debut. Licensing iD’s Quake engine but highly modifying it, the team wanted to create the horror like atmosphere iD were so capable of, but through a narrative framework and a high level of immersion. The game was still a year out, but had press interested.

Nearer release was Goldeneye, a game that sought to bring the fuller flavoured, ambitious PC FPS feel to N64. The objective driven nature of its mission design would encourage players to explore its fully 3D environments, with dramatically improved draw distance over competitors like Turok. The hit at E3 was the game’s four player split screen mode however, which was bags of fun, albeit an experience that sent frame rates tumbling.

F Zero X, for now titled F Zero 64, aimed for a consistent 60 fps and nailed it, albeit with somewhat bland visuals. It’s fast, chaotic and extremely challenging racing was a hit at  its first E3 showing.

resi 2The N64 wasn’t free of titles that would be perpetually delayed making E3 showings however. Rather than Daikatana (which actually would eventually make it to N64 as well as PC) and Duke, here it was the Rare developed cutesy platformer Conker’s Quest. Shown alongside the very similar Banjo Kazooie, it seemed hard for Conker to find a place in the market. Rare would restart the game from scratch with a new bad attitude, which would see the squirrel rebranded a foul mouthed drunk in Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

On the Sony side of things, an analogue controller was announced for the PlayStation. While initial gut reactions were that its implementation was a cynical move to ape the analogue stick of the N64, the PS analogue was interesting in being the first controller with two analogue sticks. Much skepticism came from wondering what a second stick would possibly be used for in the days before the camera manipulation we’re used to in games nowadays. The analogue controller would quickly be superseded by the DualShock, a design which still has a footprint in PS controllers today.

Metal Gear Solid was, of course, one game to take advantage of the analogue controls. Its E3 1997 trailer was spectacular from a tech perspective, but showed little of the game’s stealth gameplay, instead opting to display the engine’s ability to create spectacular pyrotechnics. If you played the real game how it was shown in the trailer, you wouldn’t last long.

Resident Evil 2 was the other big PlayStation game of E3 ’97. A much bigger game in scope to the original, this saw a zombie virus take hold in Raccoon City. With the original fresh in the mind, Resi 2 would attain a lot of positive post E3 press.

30 Years Ago This Month: June 1987

last ninja

Things were limited on consoles this month, with the most significant release being a Mark3/Master System port of an arcade title in Outrun. The Super Scaling employed by Sega’s iconic racer would obviously never translate perfectly to the 8 bits, but Sega clearly tried, with some nice, bright graphics, and the hills and valleys of the arcade brought into the home, making it stand out among other into the screen racers. Best ported over was its soundtrack. On standard MS/MK3 hardware, you got standard, unremarkable music. Outrun though also supported Sega’s FM Module, an expansion that worked with the Mark 3 to allow FM synthesis and made for much richer sound. The western version supported the module as well, but the add-on itself was never sold outside Japan.

Home computer users knew that the C64 was the system for great music, and in June of 1987, a very slickly produced game as well. System 3’s Last Ninja took the isometric puzzle platformer genre that had grown so popular on European 8 bits and gave it a harder edge. This was a platforming brawler inspired by martial arts cinema, and while it was a lot slower paced than contemporary ninja games like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden, it was still held in high regard. Its high quality graphics and animation were a huge draw to C64 players, and Last Ninja spawned a couple of other titles in an eventual trilogy.

wizballWizball would also spawn a sequel, eventually, though its premise was far from the popularise realm of scrapping ninja. You controlled the titular sphere as you sought to restore colour to monochromatic worlds by gathering paint. The game played like a shooter but with an interesting approach to progression; different colours of paint not only brought life to the lands you played in, but also gave you more control over movement and aiming, the game starting out nearly unplayable and gradually evolving into a more traditional shooter.

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Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)