Friday Flashback Five: Week of September 24, 2000

It’s that time again, friends, to close out our week with our Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we take a look at five random games from yesteryear.  Some games have been great, some terrible, many somewhere in the middle, but all of them help make up the hobby we all enjoy.  This week, we’re dialing the Wayback Machine for the week of September Twenty-Four, Two-Thousand.

Quite a few games came out this week, some of whom should be remembered by gamers today—a few are likely still being played today by gamers even marginally interesting in “retro” or “retro-ish” gaming, as fun as they were.

Now for the usual disclaimers: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as you ready your clicking-finger.  Also, this isn’t a “top” or “bottom” list.  It’s just a look back at five random games from our hobby’s history and a peek at what effect they may or may not have had.

With that out of the way, let’s go!

Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
After the first game rocked gamers’ socks right off, the sequel proved to be even more popular.  It had taken everything its predecessor had done and cranked it up to eleven.

Still based on the Dungeons and Dragons setting, out of all of the things that made the game that much better than the original—making it easier to keep track of places you’ve been and people you’ve talked to, making the story progression more cohesive, and such—is that it handed you a large world to run around in, just like before, but never let you get too lost when trying to complete quests.

That’s actually no small feat, and only one aspect of the quest system that made it actually fun.  You’re never allowed to get too lost because the quests themselves were designed just right; they’re not easy, of course, but you usually have an idea of what you’re supposed to do and where you’re supposed to go.  On top of that, the quests were designed to reflect the fact that, since this game took place just after the events of the first game, your character had gained some notoriety.  As such, there was less having to beat information out of someone and more “Please, great warrior, help us…”, which only made sense.

The questing was just one small, small thing about the game that made it so much fun.

The movies from the game can be seen here for those interested in the story.

Metal Gear Solid
When it debuted first on the PlayStation two years previous, Metal Gear Solid was a hit.  It saw the adventures of a super-spy code named Solid Snake as he infiltrates a secret base in Alaska to stop a group of genetically-enhanced terrorists.  It was campy, over-the-top, but incredibly fun.

The port for Windows-based computers, being a conversion of Metal Gear Solid Integral, released in Japan, it included the V.R. Missions supplement.  Interestingly, the missions in that supplement in the port were all available for play right from the start, while in the original PlayStation version, the player had to unlock them.

Being a port, there were some drawbacks—there was an interesting innovation in the original where an enemy read Snake’s mind, by checking the saved data on the memory card.  Since such a set-up obviously wasn’t available on the computer, that bit was simply left out.  What made up for the drawbacks was, for one thing, the ability to play in a higher resolution, making the game visually more appealing.  Further, it allowed one to play in a first-person perspective, while the original only used that to look around.  The title was, on the whole, one of the better ports of a game around, before or since.

A Let’s Play can be found right over here.

Dino Crisis 2
When the first one debuted a year before, it proved that taking an established engine—in this case the engine used for Resident Evil games at the time—and using it for something drastically different could work, and could work well.  While it might have been fair to say that it was almost like zombies were yanked out and replaced with blood-thirsty dinosaurs, the game play was fun, and took enough steps away from Resident Evil to make it stand on its own.  Dino Crisis 2 stepped even farther away from its zombie-horror roots, becoming a much better game than even the first one for it.

The plot of the game was—interesting.  It involved time travel, meeting futuristic characters, finding a secret energy-device-thingie—and blasting the heck out of dinosaurs.  The eponymous crisis of dinosaurs was severely cranked up this time around as well.  Where the first was more puzzle-solving than dinosaur-blasting, in the sequel, the number of dinosaurs really could be called a crisis.

What helped that was that Capcom completely redesigned the combat, making it more accessible and, thus, more fun.  You see, where the first game held ammunition and medical supplies just out of reach, dispensing each infrequently, the second title handed them out like candy, encouraging barbarian-like races head-long into the dinosaurs—and there was even a multiplier mechanic in place, rewarding points for killing dinosaurs quickly, and the points could be used at special terminals to purchase medical supplies, tools, and more.

With all of that, and looking and sounding better than its predecessor as well—it was a very good title.

A blind Let’s Play can be found here.

Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX
Tony Hawk and Neversoft Entertainment proved to the world that sports titles could be more than adults smacking into each other while trying to get a ball from one end of the playing field to the other, and other game developers took notice, particularly developers of B.M.X. titles.  It wasn’t until Dave Mirra Freestyle B.M.X. that gamers believed there could be more than Hawk-clones.

The main draw of the game was completing goals in a sort of “pro” mode not unlike the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games.  That’s pretty much where the similarities end, though.  The “feel” of the game was drastically different; how characters moved, the physics, the look—unlike certain other B.M.X. titles of the period, it had been carefully crafted to be its own game, to stand on its own two wheels, as it were.

The only real drawback to the game was that it was a bit easier than its brethren.  The control scheme took a bit of getting used to, especially if, like a lot of gamers, one came into it from the Pro Skater series, but once you did get the hang of it, it wouldn’t take very long at all to complete every goal.  Still, it was so different from anything else out there, it was a better game than anyone had expected—it’s still fun to play even over a decade later.

Some humorous game play footage, by a player who hadn’t touched the game in years, can be found here.

Wizards & Warriors
Not every game on this list was such a wonder of gaming, perhaps sadly.  Wizards & Warriors was a Windows-based computer game that tried to be fantastic.  It was four long years in the making—and it shows, because it didn’t quite achieve everything it had attempted to do.

To be fair, though, it was interesting, and not something many other developers had tried for years.  It was a first person high-fantasy role-playing game, where the player could create a party of up to six different characters from eleven different races and fifteen character “roles”, or classes (you started with four to pick from, and were able to convert to others later).  There were a few basic, expected races like Elves and Dwarves, but you also had original races like the Lizzords and Oomphaz, and most races had a special trait as well as being better-suited toward a certain character class.

Unfortunately, though it did take four years to finish, that time hurt the game in a few areas.  For one thing, it was rather outdated, graphically speaking.  It might have been visually stunning four years previous, but when it was finally released, it was was closer to “meh, not bad”.  What didn’t help was that the game ran into terrible problems with a few graphics cards, and it didn’t sound all that great, either.

All of that—all of it—could have been forgiven, were it not for the interface being so wonky.  You used the mouse for nearly everything imaginable, which does seem convenient—but there were hardly any keyboard shortcuts.  You couldn’t even use Escape to back out of menus.  Then you had the weird saving system.  Instead of letting you save anywhere, anytime, you could only save when you were out adventuring—and even then, you had to quit the game to do it.  When you were safe in some town or another, forget about it.  Then you had the weird way to interact with people, where buying and trading involved more clicking than most action-oriented first-person shooters you could name today.

Those aren’t the only failings of the game, but those were the worst.  High-fantasy adventuring games, even then, were nearly a dime a dozen.  Wizards & Warriors could have been game-changing.  It could have been a worthy competitor for Baldur’s Gate—but it wasn’t.  Ultimately, that’s the worst part.  It could have been grand—but it wasn’t.

*                        *                        *

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


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