Friday Flashback Five: Week of July 20, 2003

As we arrive at the end of the work-week, we also arrive at our Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we take a look at five random games that debuted that week in history.  Some were great, others were—not.  Some were remembered for years, while others were forgotten quickly.  All had an impact on our hobby.  This week, we’re cranking that Wayback Machine for the week of the Twentieth of July, back in ‘Oh-Three.

Quite a number of games came out this week, with most coming out for cell phones, with Windows-based computers being a close second.  This week, honestly, most of the games are likely to have been forgotten, though there were a few gems here and there.  We’ll see if we uncover any in our list.

As usual, it must be pointed out that this isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list; this is just “a” list, with five games picked basically at random and looked at.  With the expected disclaimer out of the way, let’s get it on!

Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis

Ah, Aquaman.  One of the most misaligned characters in comic history, to be sure.  Arthur Curry‘s run in the orange and green is arguably the most well-known, but not necessarily in a good way.  Filk band Ookla the Mok even wrote a song about him, appropriately enough titled “Arthur Curry”.

With all that Aquaman isn’t usually seen with what can be called good favor, it’s disappointing that the game was, well—crap.  The game was lackluster at best.  The lock-on system was a joke, the game-play boiled down to “go find these guys and beat them up.  Now go find these other guys and beat them up.  Now go find these other guys and beat them up.”  Occasionally there’d be “go get this item” tossed in there.  The GameCube version, the one that came out this week, looked truly abysmal, but neither it nor the X-Box version were received very well.

It’s a shame, too.  What could have been an attempt at showing that Aquaman isn’t the lame hero he may have been thought to be turned into a game even lamer than the protagonist’s reputation.

Fox Sports Racing
Games for cell phones are, by necessity, usually simplistic compared to their “big brothers” on consoles and computers.  The controls tend to be very basic, variety tends to be limited, sound tends to be bland, and over all they tend to be mere diversions more than anything else.

Enter Fox Sports Racing.  While it had a limited number of tracks, each one was carefully designed to be a unique experience, so the game kept from feeling stale.  Then you had the artificial intelligence of the opponent vehicles—they weren’t stupid nor foolishly random.  They were scripted to be perfect opponents; they wouldn’t be malicious enough to grind you into walls for no reason, nor was there any real rubber-banding.

The controls were a little difficult, only because the buttons for acceleration and braking were so close together, and there wasn’t as much of a sense of real speed as there might have been—but for a cell phone game, it was one of the better titles out there, easily one of the best racing titles.

The Great Escape
The film is a masterpiece of World War II-related drama, concerning the escape of prisoners of war from a detention camp.  The game—not so much.

It’s not the first game to be based on that movie, and it’s certainly not one of the best.  The controls were dodgy, the camera control unreliable, the artificial intelligence more artificial stupidity, and—well, the list goes on.  On the bright side, the voice acting was usually pretty decent, so while it didn’t exactly make dealing with non-player characters randomly spotting you from twenty feet away or completely missing you if you walked two feet in front of them really worth it, they were at least nice to get to.  That’s about all that could really be said in the game’s favor, though.

This one was an odd one—it wasn’t bad, by any stretch.  If anything, it was closer to a visual novel than full-fledged video game, which on its own isn’t really a bad thing.  On the other hand, it certainly wasn’t what was expected by console owners at the time.  A lot of the problem is that it was on the consoles.  A year earlier, it was released for Windows-based computer systems, and the controls were a throw-back to earlier adventure games.  You used the mouse—you clicked what you wanted the protagonist to take, where you wanted her to go, and so on.  It was pretty efficient, all things considered.

On the console, you had to get her to a specific yet not-immediately-defined point at the edge of the screen to get to the next area.  If that were it, all could be forgiven.  However, the protagonist would get caught on invisible walls, refuse to move in a direction that seems perfectly viable—and to pick up an item, sometimes she’d have to move around a little, thus over-complicating what should be an easy process.

That said, the game was beautiful, and the story was quite interesting.  And though today it might be forgotten by many gamers, it also potentially helped get more “traditional” gamers into visual novels.  If even one gamer considered a genre he or she hadn’t before even thought about, Syberia earns high marks for that.

Robocop has had a bit of a rough history.  The first film was delightfully campy and gory, and, as only Paul Verhoeven could do it, it let you kick back and turn your brain off for a couple of hours, or you could get involved in a deep, interesting plot that told the tale of a modern Jesus Christ.  The film franchise went steadily downhill from there.

Now, he’s appeared in a number of video games, and most of them were at least decent shoot-’em-ups.  This one, however—there wasn’t much that was decent about it.

Saving was only allowed at the end of levels—at the end of very difficult, even at times annoying, levels.  The scripting for the N.P.C.s was—terrible.  They would be half in a wall and firing—and killing—Robocop, but if the player tried to fire back, they’d just hit the wall.  And since Robocop is a machine, he can’t exactly run.  As such, he more languidly strolls behind cover, and taking an incredible amount of damage in the process.  And the targeting?  Flimsy and ill-conceived.  The list just goes on and on and on.

Ultimately, this one seemed more a lazy “get it out the door as fast as possible and to heck with the debugging and play-testing” game than anything else.  A sad entry in a franchise that’s been on shaky legs since day one.

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That’s all for this week.  See you next time, and have a good weekend!


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