Friday Flashback Five: Week of October 8, 2001

It’s the end of the week, and of course that means it’s time for another Friday Flashback Five!  Each week, we go through five random games that debuted this week in history, and this week is no different.  This week, we’re cranking the Wayback Machine for the week of the Eighth of October, Two Thousand.

While only a handful or so games came out this week, they really ran the spectrum from fun to meh.  Most were based on, or part of, a popular franchise in whatever media, video games or otherwise.  Some will be remembered today, while some were forgotten about as soon as gamers could manage it.

(I realized after the fact it should have been the fourteenth of October, but it was too late to rewrite the article in time for publishing.  My deepest apologies.)

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 get it on!

The Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home
You know who the Duke Cousins are—everyone of my generation darned well knew of them, and most were devoted fans.  They won’t go away, either—aside from the core series, two made for television movies (and two abysmal remakes) there was a cartoon, meet-ups talked about decades later, more fan sites than I can really list, people have written academic theses—people have even taken the time to find the exact model of the infamous Dixie horn.  Even if you were born ten years ago you know who they were.

They were crazy-popular, so video games based on the license were a no-brainer.  The Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home was one of the ones that were made for one reason alone—to get hard-core fans of the franchise giddy as heck.  That was it.  It looked half-decent, and recreated a few iconic shots from the television series—but those are the only good things that could be said about it.

I bet you just thought of its horn blowing.

Mind that this is primarily a racing game, which in itself is fine.  It’s only been in the last five-ish years that you could really do as much inside of and outside of a car as they did on the show and still look half-decent.  But—the physics, well.  In the vernacular, the physics sucked.  Granted, like a lot of car-centered shows of the era, the General Lee didn’t seem to be on good terms with reality, but this was beyond anything in that show.  The cars were much too light, which meant accidents could send you far more out-of-control than should be even possible or—paradoxically—accidents might do nothing at all.

Then you had the odd way the game was structured.  In most racing games, you start out with a glorified Pinto and end up in a Ferrari.  Start low, work your way up to the good stuff.  It’s a staple of—nearly every game ever in the history of anything.  Racing for Home—also paradoxically—started you off with the best and made you progress through worse and worse vehicles (remember, too, again that the racing physics stank).

On the other hand, the cut-scenes were again pretty good-looking.  Unfortunately, that’s like being made to eat horse apples smeared with peanut butter (or condiment of choice).  Yes, it’s fantastic peanut butter—but it’s still a horse apple.

Alien Resurrection
The Alien franchise has seen more ups and downs than some roller coaster, especially if you count the two Alien vs Predator flicks.  They’ve been in a slew of games, which ran the spectrum from suck to squee about as much as the films did.  Alien Resurrection was, unfortunately near the “suck” end.

Not, technically, relevant, but—c'mon, robo-alien!

Now, to be quite fair, part of the problem wasn’t anything within the game itself.  At this point in time, the PlayStation 2 was less than three weeks away from launching in North America, it had already launched in Japan, and was going to launch late-November in Europe.  Unless a PlayStation game was handed down by the spirits of Wintereenmas itself accompanied by golden, glowing game pads and the uplifting vocalizing of every female game character brought to life—it probably wasn’t going to sell very well.  Further, the PlayStation wasn’t—and its successors still aren’t—really known for their first-person shooters, so a lot of gamers were—skeptical.  Rather unfortunately, such caution was well-founded, if not quite for the reasons expected at the time.

As an F.P.S., it wasn’t terrible.  Everything was dark as heck (a staple, nearly, of the genre then, plus it was perfect for scares from the ebony aliens popping out of nowhere), and you had your expected elements like hunting all over for key-cards, that sort of thing.  With the nicely handled pre-scripted events as well as mood-setting elements like flickering lights and such, on paper it sounds pretty good.

However.  The left analog stick controlled movement—forward, backward, and strafing—and the right analog stick controlled the turning left and right and looking up and down.  Such a thing is fine on a computer, where you can have the looking and turning mapped to mouse movement, but it was cumbersome with a game pad, especially for gamers who weren’t used to it.  Then you had buttons used for different things—while “context-sensitive” button-uses are common, now, it wasn’t such then.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too.  Even by F.P.S. standards, it was hard as heck, the visuals were so-so, and it was a bit repetitive, again even for an F.P.S. of the time.  It just didn’t do justice to the franchise, or the fans.

Game play footage can be seen here.

Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2: WW II Pacific Theater
Flight sim games are many and varied, running from using the shortened word “sim” with tongue deeply planted into cheek, and some treating it almost like a holy tenet.  You also have the less-popular ones that still manage to find its fan-base over the years, then you have something like Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2: WW II Pacific Theater.

The Microsoft Flight Simulator games can be considered classics, and that would be well-deserved.  Over the years, tweaks have been made to make them more accessible, and, more importantly, more fun.  For example, the first Combat Flight Simulator title was the first in the franchise to be focused on military aircraft, and it wasn’t received quite as well as previous titles in the franchise had.  Now, while it was far from perfect, Combat Flight Simulator 2 did manage to improve nearly everywhere, from the graphics to the physics.

The planes looked even more beautiful, and the landscape—for the time—looked very good.  More importantly, though, the cock-pit was redone.  In the first one, it was nearly useless—here, though, they were beautiful and, more importantly, easier to use.  Then you had the physics—while Microsoft’s flight-sim games were always more toward the hard-core true-simulation end of the spectrum, that was toned down—just a bit—here, to highlight the differences between the aircraft and make it more accessible—though that also depended on your difficulty setting.  On an easier level, they handled like they were firmly booted into the “arcade” end of the spectrum, and worked up to “sim”.

Then you had the manual.  Almost three hundred pages long.  Considering, today, some gamers might not even know games come with manuals in the first place—three hundred is impressive.  It was more than just what button does what, safety warnings, and “it’s not our fault if your computer implodes and alters the time-line irrevocably”.  There was quite a bit of notes on the planes, interviews with aces of Japan and the United States, descriptions of tacts, history relating to the Pacific theater, and more.  You weren’t going to get bored or disinterested if they had anything to say about it, by cracky.

Game play featuring the Spitfire XIVe can be found here.

Superbike 2001
Whatever one thinks of racing a vehicle at what seems like a million miles an hour—the drivers have guts.  Take motorcycle racing, for example.  In hard turns, you’re inches—or less—above the ground, and if you don’t come out of that turn just right, you will go tuchus-over-tea kettle and do a face-plant into the pavement, making your helmet little more than a joke and giving you road-rash so intense the makers of skin cream across the world are suddenly awoken from sleep with a tingly feeling.  Like other forms of go-incredibly-fast-and-hope-you-don’t-die racing, it’s incredibly exhilarating just to watch.  Video games, though, don’t always really capture the feel of whizzing down the road or on the track—but Superbike 2001 did.

Featuring all thirteen circuits from the S.B.K. Superbike World Championship, this fully-licensed game also brought out the motorcycles from seven manufacturers, everyone from Ducati to Honda to Bimota.  Their bikes raced along tracks painstakingly and faithfully recreated down to the umbrella girls on the starting grid and the tiny-as-heck logos on riders’ trousers.

That, though, was nothing compared to the racing itself.  The player had to shift the rider’s weight rather subtly, just like actual racers do, to take turns effectively.  Lean too far, and you become road pizza; forget to shift position as you ready for a turn and you’ll smack head-first into a wall—and those issues were just on the easier difficulties.  On “Real”—well, if you’ve ever seen those bloody and horrifying-yet-awesome videos (to which I obviously won’t be linking, here) with people who have maybe only seen a motorcycle before trying to ride a real one, you can imagine what to expect.  The great thing is that there was a wide range of difficulties, making the game accessible to a larger number of players.

Add to the above-noted things like an insane amount of fine-tuning one could perform on their motorcycles, a fantastic idea like the ideal speed indicator (which lets you know if you’re going the right speed for the area of the track you’re on), each bike feeling and sounding different, and more, this was one of the best motorcycle games—pretty much ever.

Game play footage can be seen here.

Pokémon Gold / Silver
I remember when the Pokémon card game hit my area.  We thought it’d never last, that the bright characters on the cards were kid-stuff and would, being generous, last a year, tops.  We laughed and went back to our Pogs.  Nowadays, well—one is a financial power-house, and one—isn’t.

A big, thick, circular piece of rubberized plastic—and I actually had this one.

Like in nearly every other Pokémon game, in Pokémon Gold and Silver, you take the role of a would-be “trainer”, someone who runs around, kidnapping wild animals and shoves them into spheres less than a third their volume—which said animals usually adore, it should be noted.  The plot was actually pretty solid—it was told well (and translated well) and wove through the action quite nicely.  However, “plot” is one of the things not often spoken of when one talks about Pokémon—it’s usually a reference to the infamous catch-phrase.

One hundred new Pokémon were added to the roster, bringing, then, the total up to two hundred and fifty-one (compare to the current as of this writing of well over six hundred), and, for the first time, they could carry items into the battlefield and use them as necessary.  That said—neither Gold nor Silver had, individually, all of the Pokémon—that’s what trading was for (though one wonders what a gamer would do, now, who picked it up for cheap as a retro-ish game, but that’s a digression for another time).

Though a sequel, the titles were more than a rehash with a few more Pokémon thrown in.  The inventory was retooled to make it easier to sort through, Pokémon sexes and breeding was introduced, and more.  They were, like their predecessors, upping the ante in every way possible, making gamers all but throw money at the publisher by the fistful—and getting one heck of a fun time for it.

A humorous Gold Let’s Play can be seen here, and an informational-ish Let’s Play can be seen here.

*                        *                        *

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


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