Friday Flashback Five: Week of October 07, 2001

It’s the end of the week, and we know what that means—time for another Friday Flashback Five!  Every week we go through five random games that debuted this week in history.  Whether the game was wonderful or abysmal, every game helps shape our hobby.  This week, we’re traipsing back to the week of the Seventh of October, ‘Oh-One.

Quite a few games came out this week, and they fell all along the spectrum from “great” to “crap”.  Few could really be described as “game changers”, though a couple-few did pop up.  A few, though—a few almost redefined just what a “bad game” really was.

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 fight the urge to click with wild abandon.  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 rock and roll!

Uplink: Hacker Elite
We mentioned this one last Tuesday, where it was listed at number two, and for good reason.  Sitting at the computer, tapping away at the keyboard, glancing over periodically to keep tabs on the trace the system administrator is running on you.  You finish copying data, then corrupt every bit of software on the drive, and you force the system to reboot—causing it to crash and burn when it tries to start back up.

Even though it was just a simulation if sitting at your computer typing in code and being a part of what amounted to a glorified bulletin board system, there was real tension.  The beeping as the trace got closer to you, the haste in cleaning logs before they could be uncovered—then there was the final plot mission, either helping or stopping the destruction of the Internet.  It was one of the real revolutionary games this week.

Since we just linked to a Let’s Play of it last Tuesday, here is a play through of the unfortunately now-defunct Onlink mod.  Quite a bit was changed and enhanced before the developers stopped working on it.

From Dusk Till Dawn
The “survival horror” genre arguably dates back to Alone in the Dark, brought to us by Hubert Chardot.  He inspired not only Capcom’s Resident Evil series, but pioneered a lot of concepts that are now part and parcel of the genre.  Since then, he’s had a few games that, well—they weren’t quite flops, but they didn’t really last very long in the gamer consciousness.  Unfortunately, From Dusk Till Dawn is one of those.

THIS is the guy responsible for the survival horror genre.

It is very loosely tied to the film of the same name, sharing a title, the name of the protagonist, and said protagonist fighting a ton of vampires.  Chardot took a risky move eliminating everything that could be considered a “puzzle”—including jumping—which left the game to focus solely on combat.  Now, that could have been a death knell right there, but there was something added to the game, something not really seen in the genre before—having a band of survivors.

In most survival horror games, you come across people, save them, then they go on their way.  Sometimes they’ll hand over a magical MacGuffin or some similar, then disappear or conveniently become so much chunky salsa thanks to a vampire, zombie, or vampire-zombie appearing out of nowhere.  It was an interesting concept, woven into both the plot and the game-play.  Unfortunately, the game fell short of the expectations such a concept engendered.

The controls were clunky, the game crashed irritatingly often, and there were numerous scripting errors.  On top of all that, the artificial intelligence scripting for non-player characters could at times best be described with the technical term of “wonky as heck”.

It aimed for the stars, but petered out shortly after lift-off.

Game-play footage can be found here.

Paris-Dakar Rally
One of the biggest events in the world of off-road rally racing is the Dakar Rally, a grueling challenge that is, if one is even moderately into such sports, darned entertaining to watch.  The game—not so much.

This is another game with lofty aspirations—you twenty-six vehicles from ten manufacturers; trucks, motorbikes, buggies, and more.  You raced these things in the campaign and arcade modes, which broke the route up into twelve sections, and each of those were further broken down into four smaller bits.  It helped make the game accessible, so the player wouldn’t feel overwhelmed at having to complete the entire thing at once.

As great as that sounds, it wasn’t implemented very well.  Yes, there were a lot of different vehicles, but they all handled basically the same, and as for the physics—a tiny rock could send you bouncing out of control.  It just wasn’t fun in any appreciable way—and it didn’t even have a multi-player function so you could share the misery.  It played terribly, looked worse, sounded worse still—there just wasn’t anything redeemable about it.

Jekyll & Hyde
You know the basic story—a man with an “evil” side that lurks in the back of his mind, brought out usually by a serum or some similar.  The basic idea has been seen in a lot of works, and been the inspiration for quite a few others.  The very idea is interesting, making gamers interested, especially since the Hyde persona has usually been shown to be angry, bestial, or “just” selfish and destructive.

Jekyll & Hyde is yet another game that sounds great and falls short.  Jekyll’s daughter has been kidnapped by inmates of an insane asylum who have taken it over, and he has to bring back Hyde—the personality he’d thought he’d never again have to face—to free her.  Unfortunately, the game hit the ground—and flails around helplessly, unable to run.  Or even walk.

To say the controls were abysmal would be an understatement.  To say they were a punishment rendered unto the player for some imagined slight against developer In Utero is closer, but still not quite close enough.  Suffice it to say, however, that the first few minutes of game play was quite possibly one of the worst first minutes of a game for quite a while.

What hurt things even worse—truly making it seem like a punishment—is the camera.  It was about as sluggish as a snail in molasses to follow the player around a turn, and often it flitted to a more “dramatic” angle—which also often meant it got stuck behind a surprisingly large number of things.  Toss both of those issues into the jumping puzzles—yeah.  Punishment indeed.

The game didn’t really get any better, either.  It was suicidal to try fighting as Jekyll, and with Hyde being faster, it only highlighted the control and camera issues.  Further, you had a bass-ackward saving system.  It incorporated “bookmarks” as well as the “save anywhere” feature of computer games—but without automatically saving.  You have to do it manually, lest you need to restart at the last bookmark, thus likely having to redo a good few things—and add to the frustration.  It was also all too easy to get “stuck”; for example, some puzzles required switching between Jekyll and Hyde at certain points to complete certain tasks—but switch too soon and do too much, and you’ll have no recourse but to load up an earlier save.

Like the last games, it had great potential, but completely failed to live up to it.

Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze
The first Pac-Man popularized the “maze chase” genre, and in the three decades since it was published, Pac-Man himself has gotten his own family and been in a ton of video games as well as even cartoon shows.  Ms. Pac-Man has proved as popular as the Mister, with her first game staying about as popular as his, even today.  The Pac-Family, like any long-running franchise, have also appeared in a few, shall we say, less-than-good games.  Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze is definitely “less than good”.

Look familiar?

Though technically, if sort of, in three-dimensions, the game strictly follows its two-dimensional roots.  You ran around, ate pellets and power-pellets, ran from or ate the same four ghosts—and that’s it.  It was so much like the early games that it even shared the basic design of the mazes.  It did have a gimmick of sorts in the other power-ups—there were others that appeared rather frequently, and granted abilities things like enhanced speed, an ability that draws pellets like some sort of magnetic effect, and so on.

That is another concept that sounds good, but in implementation—well, you saw those power-ups very often, which made the game far easier than it needed to be.  The one good thing about it was the competitive multi-player capability.  That really wasn’t enough, though, to make up for the rest of the game being excessively boring.

Game-play footage can be found here.

*                        *                        *

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


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