It's not all (Final) Doom and (shit Amiga rip-off) Gloom, though. Oh no. This weekend I got some new shoes, a new coat...and, YES!, new games! True, the shoes/coat combo gave Sunday an air of 'back to school' after a particularly long and hot school summer holiday, but the arrival of new Dreamcast games lent an atmosphere of Christmas. Only without a glut of Cadbury's selection boxes and a general wave of dissapointment when you've ripped the wrapping paper off your presents to discover that most of them were gleaned by mum from the shelves of the local Pound Shop.
Speaking of Pound Shops, there's one near me that sells things for £2 each. Where's the justice in that, eh? THE JUSTICE?!?! And staying on this rather banal of subjects for yet another sentence, I recall seeing a stack of Dreamcast keyboards in a Pound Shop several years ago. Unfortunatley I was going through my PS2/Gamecube/Xbox* (*delete as applicable) stage at the time and as such said items were irrelevant.
Moving swiftly along (as is generally the order of the day), I present to you a layman's account of the games that this weekend unearthed:
Evolution: World of Sacred Device
Evolution was the first RPG released for the Dreamcast and seeing as I hate all things RPG with a Die Hard-like vengeance, I was a bit reluctant to ever give it a go. Recently though, I discovered that it was developed as a sort of 'beginners introduction' to the RPG genre, replete with simple controls, diluted storyline and easy to understand gameplay mechanics. The only RPGs I've ever played to the end are Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Gameboy and Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64 (oh, and Shenmue), but they're more action-RPGs than bona-fide ones; so you'll believe me when I say I'm a bit of a n00b when it comes to the proper, turn based combat variety. Indeed, I ripped Final Fantasy VII from my PlayStation's disc tray in disgust after a mere 15 minutes of play: Ace visuals? Check. Amazing CG scenes? Check. Random Battles? Check. Random? Battles? WTF?!
Does not fucking compute I'm afraid. Anyhow, I saw Evolution as my opportunity to finally see the error of my ways, delve into what is a widely admired genre and see what all the fuss is about, without getting bogged down with such hideous things as 'mana,' 'HP,' and reams upon reams of pseudo-intellectual goobledygook about myths, legends and the return of a mighty warrior or similar shite.
And, in part, that's what you get with Evolution. In part.
The story is a mildly interesting one: The world has regained it's interest in technology after a period of primitive lifestyle, and it's up to certain members of society, called Adventurers, to investigate the various ruins of the land in order to discover lost technological artifacts in order to bring them back to the fore. The organisation behind all this is called simply 'The Society,' and it's down to them to pay you for your finds once you deliver the goods. You play as a young Adventurer by the name of Mag Launcher (whats wrong with normal names in these games?), who's the last in the lineage of famous Launcher family of explorers after mum and dad went missing. Now, with mounting debts, it's up to you to accept missions from The Society, pack your bags and set off to find some artifacts with which to pay the families' debts off. Quite a relevent story actually, when you consider that the UK is Europe's most debt-laden nation. If only there really was a 'Society.' I'd have my Barclaycard paid off in no time.
Anyway, Evolution is basically you, your comrades (of which there are usually two) and your wierd back-pack based weapon (a 'Cyframe'), wandering around randomly generated dungeons looking fo' shit to flog to the Society in order to pay off your debtors. Pretty straight forward really. The graphics in the outside areas are pretty good, but in the dungeons it's just plain corridor after plain corridor broken up by a few rooms full of enemies. The character models are quite good, and the dialogue is well written and believable...it's just that the whole affair is a bit repetitive and, dare I say it, dull. If you're a fan of the genre it may be worth looking into if you've already done Skies of Arcadia and Grandia (both of which I'm going to steer a good few miles wide of), but if you're new to RPGs and prefer stuff like Daytona or Virtua Tennis...avoid it. I've never seen the point of 'turn based' combat, and Evolution (even though it's not 'random') has done nothing to change my opinion. Bah.
Now this is what I'm talkin' about. After the ultimate tweeness and plodding nature of Evolution, Starlancer was exactly what I needed to inject some adrenaline back into my gaming sesh. Not content with having one of the coolest names in the history of gaming, Starlancer goes one better by actually being one of the most exciting experiences on the Dreamcast. You play a volunteer starfighter pilot in the Alliance - a sort of space federation consisting of the space navies of various Earth nations such as the US, Blighty, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The enemy federation, The Coallition, is made up of the usual stereotypical baddies - the Russians, Chinese and a few anonymous Arab nations (suprise, suprise). Seeing that Starlancer is an American game, I'm suprised the Brits aren't on the 'bad' side too - we're the evil villians in many a Hollywood Blockbuster. Meh.
Alliances aside, Starlancer thrusts you, as an inexperienced young rookie, into the fray with alarming abruptness. No sooner are you sent on a routine convoy mission, the naughty Coallition appear and attempt to kick your ass. Luckily, you have the means to take that big old communist boot, plant it firmly on your foot and kick their posteriors instead. How so? Firepower, my friends - and there's a whole wheely bin full of the stuff in Starlancer. But I'm getting ahead again.
At base level, Starlancer is a story driven space-based shoot 'em up (from the guy who created Wing Commander, apparently). In it, you get to choose your class of fighter craft, the type and number of weapons you carry and then set off on your mission to deal out laser death to some infidels. You are detailed on your mission by a Commander and the use of a Thunderhawk-style briefing conference (ie, a pull-down projector screen), then it's off into the void. The great thing about Starlancer though, is that the story is played out in real-time via radio chatter from your comrades - a bit like in Lylat Wars, but without the cretinous Slippy Toad getting into shit all the time. You can also interact with other members of your squadron via the intuitive commands toggle, meaning you can request help with certain targets or ask for a formation. Very cool. When blended with a superlative control system (how did they manage to get so many keyboard commands onto a joypad?!), Starlancer is a joy to play.
The music is very atmospheric and adds a movie like quality to proceedings, and the voice acting in general is of a suitably high standard - as are the visuals. Enormous motherships hang in space, whilst tiny fighter ships zip between them, beautiful explosions erupting all around - all set to the background of massive, slowly rotating planets. Stunning.
There are some minor detractions from the overall brilliance of Starlancer - namely the repetitiveness of some of the dogfights and the absurd difficulty of some of the missions...but overall, the quality of the other departments shines through: I especially liked the news broadcasts at the end of the missions that relay other goings on in the solar system and even, occasionally, mention your exploits too. Fame...at long last!
If you like your space 'em ups, Starlancer is definatley for you.
First Deep Fighter and now Starlancer? In the space of one week? Incredible...but there's more to come chums, oh yes...