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Showing posts with label Episode 1: Racer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Episode 1: Racer. Show all posts

The Games of Star Wars

Man, I love Star Wars. It's so quotable. Who can forget the immortal line from Sergeant Apone when the space marines emerge from suspended animation aboard the USS Sulaco? It's simply awesome:

"Alright sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm! Every meal's a banquet; every paycheck a fortune; every formation a parade...I love the Corps!"

It just encapsulates everything great about George Lucas's epic space drama. I wasn't that keen when they detached the Enterprises's saucer section from the star drive - those effects were a bit ropey - but when it turns out that the Event Horizon actually went to Hell itself...well, I was simply blown away. Vaporised, even. But then I found the microfilm so it all turned out well in the end.
Sgt. Apone started as a lowly Storm Trooper, too.
If you're still still reading, well done. If you're already looking for the comments section, then you've already lost, my friend. Joking aside, the entire world (well, those sectors with internet access) seems to be gripped with Star Wars fever at the moment, and who can blame them/us/me? The trailer for the next instalment of the Star Wars saga looks positively stunning, and I for one cannot wait to see what Mr Abrams does with the series George Lucas managed to drag backwards through a hedge over the course of two and half terrible prequels.

Top 5 Games That I Would Play If I Were Stuck on a Desert Island

I'm sure you've seen it before. The "what X would you take if you were stuck on a desert island?" or "What X would you Y if that was the only thing you could Y?" Or something of the sort. Those silly, annoying questions that ask you to pick a few things, not even considering the fact that picking a favourite X may cause you great emotional distress, turmoil and mental unrest and ARRGRGHRGHH...

Sorry about that.

Still, they are interesting sometimes. Trying to think of article subjects the other day, this one was a potential topic. Instead, I went with the fruitless "hidden music track" quest. That quest showed me one thing - my Dreamcast collection is surprisingly small. This top 5 would represent almost 1/4 of my collection of 23 games! Fortunately, this is a hypothetical scenario, so I can give myself all the Dreamcast games, even the unreleased ones. I could even give myself a Dreamcast 2!

Deciding this list depends solely on one thing: replayability. (Or replay value, if you want to be a hater.) Can I play this game many times without getting bored? Can I learn speed-running techniques to learn and master the game? Can I find some wicked glitches to totally break the game? Also, soundtracks are an important consideration. Despite this, it's still rather difficult to imagine that scenario, given that I have over a dozen systems plus a robust emulator on my Mac.

So, in no particular order, here we go:

Circuit Breakers - The Dreamcast's Best Race Tracks

Regular visitors to the 'Yard will probably be familiar with my love of the racing genre, and I've covered quite a few of the Dreamcast's finest examples over the past few months. From examining the best radio-controlled examples and F1 sims, to studying the racers with the best headlight effects; The Dreamcast Junkyard will leave no stone unturned when it comes to looking at even the most obscure aspect of the system's racing games. That said, it's recently occurred to me that possibly the most important component of a racing title has yet to be investigated here in any real depth. No, not the vehicle handling. Or the vehicles themselves. Or the accessibility contrast of the menu screens. No, I'm talking about the tracks you race on - one of the most fundamental parts of any racer. A good circuit can save even the most dire racing game, and will remain in the player's memory long after the crowds have left the grandstands and the smell of burning fuel has evaporated from the silent pit lanes.

Anyone who has played Sega Rally on the Sega Saturn will attest that even though that game only has a handful of tracks (Desert, Forest, Mountain and a fourth - Lakeside - if you're good enough), every twist and turn is etched into the brain, and this is because each and every one of those courses is a masterpiece of track design. Likewise with the original Ridge Racer - that title only really had the one track, but the intelligent design ensured that this paltry complement didn't at all degrade the overall experience. It isn't just the layout of a course that's important though - the setting and track side details all combine to create an environment that is as memorable as the street you lived on when you were a kid, or the bedroom in which you played your first games console. The very best tracks from your favourite racing games will stay with you forever, and even after years of not picking up a particular game, once the lights go green the important details come flooding back as if you never left.

With this in mind, the Dreamcast's very best (and worst) racers do contain some absolutely fantastic examples of track design. Some of them are great simply because they feature devilish corners and straightaways where fierce battles for the podium are a mainstay; others are just set in breathtaking locales - either Earthbound, or set in faraway places that man has yet to step foot in this reality. So, without further ado, lets set a course and take a look at some of the most impressive, memorable and enjoyable circuits from a selection of Dreamcast-based racers...

Mermaid Lake: Daytona USA 2001
At first glance, Mermaid Lake looks like another run-of-the-mill figure-of-eight track with a bit of a lake in the middle. And for the most part, you'd be right. The lake itself barely features in the course though, and that's because the section where you might be expecting to see said body of water is actually a Gale Racer type banked corner that reaches a fairly hair-raising angle. Once this has been negotiated however, the course opens up to reveal an extremely impressive downhill straight that not only takes you back under the track you just screamed over, but also gives a spectacular view of the whole course laid out before you. Mermaid Lake may not be the most exciting course in terms of the variety of trackside furniture - it's mainly a few grandstands and factories - but there are a couple of nasty 90 degree corners thrown in further along that will more often than not see your shiny Hornet transformed into a smoking, crumpled jalopy. Usually in 40th place.

Mars: Magforce Racing
Apart from being an absolute stinker of a futuristic racing game, Magforce has the envious position of being the only true 'futuristic' racer on the Dreamcast. The real issue here is that the vehicle design is laughable (the craft are all three-pronged tripods with wheels at each corner), and the sense of speed is far too sedate for a game of this ilk. The one saving grace though, is that most of the tracks are really well thought out and feature some rather nice details. If only this had been the basis for a WipEout game. Sigh. The shining glory in Magforce's catalogue of circuits though, is the only one not set on Earth: Mars. The track undulates fantastically as it winds through the ancient caverns and valleys of the Red Planet, past the spaceport and through a gigantic domed area that wouldn't seem out of place in Total Recall (the good one with Arnold in it - not that crap with Colin Farrell). Reports of a tri-breasted mutant are unconfirmed, however.

Civic: Rush 2049
Rush 2049 is a game you either love or loath. The cartoonish trappings and overtly ridiculous gameplay and vehicle designs are very much an acquired taste, but as a gamer who loved the original instalments of the series on the N64, I consider Rush 2049 to be the pinnacle of a series that hits all the right buttons. The Dreamcast version of 2049 is regarded by many as the finest available, and I am happy to agree with that notion, and of all the brilliant circuits on offer within the game, Civic is - for me - the best of the bunch. The fairly sedate starting section set within a green and pleasant parkland is soon eschewed for a fairly grandiose vision of a Utopian suburb of San Francisco, complete with skyscrapers and elevated walkways. Naturally for the series, these can be driven on and the emphasis is on finding hidden routes. Stick to the beaten track however, and you'll not only be treated to some fantastic drops (where you can utilise the vehicles' build-in gliding wings), but also a display by a formation of fighter jets.

Ship Graveyard: Hydro Thunder
Possibly one of the Dreamcast's greatest arcade racers, Midway's Hydro Thunder also features some pretty spectacular courses. As you can no doubt appreciate, it's hard to refer to them as 'tracks,' as there's not much asphalt involved here...but you get the drift. To be honest, this was a tough one to call as I had originally limited this list to one circuit per game, and Hydro Thunder has a multitude of outstanding examples, but in the end it was Ship Graveyard that won out. Starting off in a fairly quiet part of a dockyard surrounded by the rusting hulks of forgotten vessels, you quickly carve a path through the waves and blast out of the relative calm and though a working scrapyard where towering cranes precariously move bits of hull around above your head. Not long after this, you'll find yourself powering through the decommissioned superstructure of a radioactive navy warship, before being battered by increasingly choppy waves in a section straight out of Moby Dick - complete with lightning flashes and a solitary lighthouse showing the way. The finale of this amazing course has you blasting through a tunnel only to emerge in a tranquil lagoon with the sun breaking through the clouds as if the angels themselves had decided to call the maelstrom off. Truly, truly brilliant.

Le Mans: Le Mans 24 Hours
One of the only real-world tracks to appear on this list, the legendary Le Mans 24 hour course has to get a mention in this list simply because it is a sublime trip through the French countryside if nothing else. It helps that Infogrammes' racer is one of the best looking games on the Dreamcast, not because it does anything particularly special...but because it's subdued tones and realistically modelled mundanity actually makes it feel so much more lifelike than the brightly-toned Ferrari F355 and other titles in this category. The Le Mans course itself is a 13.6km beast that takes in rural farming villages and towering grandstands alike, as well as a draw distance to die for. This helps immeasurably when you finally get to the monumental straights that seem to go on forever and allow you to reach cheek-flapping speeds. The screenshots here only show the track during a foe-less time trial session, but during a full-blown Le Mans event the race goes on through the night and into the next day, and the dynamic lighting really shows off what the Dreamcast is capable of - you can even have a real time 24 hour long race if you like...although that's not something I've attempted yet.

Oovo IV Executioner: Star Wars Episode 1 Racer
Set on an asteroid and beating a path through a maximum security prison, the Galactic Podracing course Executioner is one that takes racers through various terrains and environs. The start of the course is in a fairly standard enclosed area, with bright floodlit concourses and a nice view of the asteroid belt above. This rapidly changes though, as competitors are soon thrown together as the course narrows and you are funnelled into a muddle of zero gravity mining tunnels - complete with errant floating boulders - and cavernous underground halls, where the entrances and exits have a habit of changing shape as you pass through. There are multiple routes through the course too, and more than one area where turning your pod racer on it's side is essential if you want to avoid certain death. As with Rush 2049, Episode 1 Racer also appeared on the N64 (and also PC and later the PS2) so isn't strictly a Dreamcast-exclusive track...but it's so atmospheric and exciting that I couldn't help but include it in this run down.

Bonus Track - Ridge Racer Type 4: Out Of Blue
OK, so this isn't even close to being a Dreamcast game...but by the magic of Bleem! it's here on the list! Out Of Blue is a course that, for me at least, encapsulates everything that sets RRT4 apart from the rest of the series. The over-saturated, pale and sickly light that seems to penetrate every section of the track gives the environment an almost sterile feel, as if something is completely wrong...but yet seems fine on the surface. It reminds me in a lot of ways of the manner in which The Matrix uses that slightly green filter to unsettle you. The course starts in a perfectly fine built up urban area, complete with towering glass structures and a roaring crowd. But before long, you're out in the middle of an eerily quiet dockland, where your only company is a flock of seagulls and motionless cranes. Maybe this is more down to the technical limitations of the PlayStation, but I like to over-analyse stuff like this, so lets just pretend you're racing through a near-future world where all of the people have been replaced by mindless robotic automatons, and the moment you get out of the car and they realise you're not a 'synth,' they'll all start coming for you. Chasing, endlessly chasing you to the end of the Earth - they will not stop until your organic body has been erased from the planet. Out Of Blue: a vision of a future where humans have no reason to exist. Shudder.

Got a bit surreal towards the end there, but as usual this list isn't definitive - there are plenty of games that didn't make the cut yet also feature some impressive examples of great (and memorable) course mechanics. Games like Wacky Races, Ferrari, Buggy Heat and Sega Rally 2 have some brilliant stages; and the collection of Formula 1 games also have some accurate and interesting real-world tracks. But what do you think? Is there a shining example we missed? Let us know in the comments section...

Stop Press! Slow News Week Ends!

Yeah, yeah, yeah - I know I haven't written anything for a while. That's because I've been on 'leave,' and for the most part have been spending my time doing fuck all. Yep, fuck all. Except watching Jeremy Kyle (pictured, yesterday) and drinking the free wine that magically 'appeared' in the kitchen. Hick.

In retrospect though, that's not entirely 100% true, for in between the odd gulp of poor quality, throat-burning vino tinto, I've been buying up some truly great (and some truly sub-standard) examples of Dreamcast software. Unusually though, my purchasing has not been entirely limited to the virtual auction house of ebay. No, this week I discovered not one, but TWO game emporiums (emporia?) literally metres apart that BOTH stock Dreamcast games! This probably won't help anyone who lives outside of the Greater Manchester area, but if you venture to the lovely suburb of Stockport and eschew the harsh, garish window displays of GAME and Gamestop you will undoubtedly stumble upon Game City & Game Zone. Not the most imaginatively named stores, I'm sure you'll agree, but they stand opposite each other on the same street and both of them have a small but perfectly formed assortment of magical azure jewel cases inside. The initial wave of euphoria/cold sweat that washed over me soon evaporated when I discovered that I already owned pretty much every game Game Zone had on offer, but it returned like an aftershock when I ventured into Game City and found A GAME I DIDN'T ALREADY HAVE!

Evil Dead: Hail to the King

Unfortunately, upon getting the game home and playing it, the come-down returned and the ecstasy once again made way for boring old reality. Bah. But - as usual - I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the science bit:

Rather than follow the story of the original Evil Dead movies (of which I have little more than a passing interest, although Evil Dead 3 / Army of Darkness rocked), Hail to the King is a game-based sequel to the whole celluloid series. The FMV intro tells the 'story so far' - you know, the cabin in the woods, the chopped-off hand, the chainsaw replacement, the going-back-in-time and killing witches etc - and then tacks on a rather shitty continuation involving Ash and his new shag-piece going back to the cabin in the woods to help him overcome his nightmares about past events. So they get to the cabin and it all kicks off. Again. I'd also like to add that this is something of a conflict of storylines depending on the version of Evil Dead 3 you've seen, but meh.


So, you get to play as Ash Williams complete with chainsaw hand and basically wander around various locations from the first couple of movies shooting ghosts (?) and gutting redneck zombies with your chainsaw-arm. Oh, and you'll also be required to pick up thousands of random items, look for and then open doors that appear to be part of the scenery, run into walls, run out of ammo, not be able to get away from the randomly spawning monsters, and then die...before starting the whole mess again.


Hail to the King is a 3rd person survival horror, very much in the vein of the original Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark games, but while those two were genre defining (with the exception of the atrocious Alone in the Dark reboot) Ash's adventure is a decomposing mound of cancerous flesh. Graphically, it's not too bad - the pre-rendered backdrops are detailed enough and feature moving textures (curtains blowing in the wind, fires crackling etc), but the 3D model animation is crap and the general design quality of the enemies is abysmal. Gameplay fares even worse - the controls are horribly over-complicated (why is 'run' activated by the right trigger?! surely that's the universal button for 'fire'?!) and what's with the enemies just randomly popping up out of the ground every 5 seconds? In some places they just continually re-spawn meaning that as soon as you've dispatched one badly animated skeleton, another one pops up instantly to take whatever health you had left from the last battle (aka button mashing session).

If ever there was an example of how not to clone Resident Evil, then Hail to the King is most definitely it.

***TENUOUS INTERMISSION***

I watched that Pandorum at the cinema the other day. I also watched District 9. District 9 was good, but not 6/5 good as some critics would have you believe; and likewise, Pandorum was not the 1/5 as others have said. Here's the trailer for what I thought was a superb (if a little clichéd) movie:



It's nice to see some Sci-Fi flicks doing well though, and one day (fingers crossed) rom-coms will be outlawed by pain of death. Oh, and the 'tenuous' bit? Pandorum is from the producers of the Resi movies, and Hail to the King is sort of like Resi. Geddit? GEDDIT?!?!

***END OF INTERMISSION***


My other recent purchase is about as far away as either Pandorum or Hail to the King as you could possibly get. Why, it's

Kao the Kangaroo

It's a platform game starring a Kangaroo with boxing gloves on. Called Kao. K-O. Do you see? Of course you do, oh hallowed visitor to the Junkyard. I always thought that this particular game was a sort of free-roaming platformer in the style of Mario 64 for some reason, but it's not. It's more like a really dumbed down version of Super Magnetic Neo and Croc (that shitty old game on the Saturn/PSX). That's not to say it's a bad game though - it's just a bit...well, basic. As mentioned, you assume the role of the titular Kao, a young Kangaroo who has been tasked with...well the usual shite actually.


You've got to save the world or something and in order to do this you have to guide the titular hero around various brightly coloured, predictably themed stages (jungle, snowy, blah, blah, fecking blah) collecting coins and punching floating pigs and spiders. And that's it. It plays a bit like an upgraded Crash Bandicoot and even though there are flaws aplenty (it's ridiculously hard for a kid's game and the 'map' screen is little more than a JPEG showing your progression from level to level), Kao the Kangaroo is a perfectly decent platformer. As I mentioned, it's definalty aimed at the younger gamer which is strange considering it's unfairly difficult in places. It also rather unashamedly takes several cues from other games in the genre (check out the random objects with eyes and cheesy grins glued on, ala Rayman 2). Kao then - a fairly good-looking game that does little to offend.

Then again, it does little to stand out from the crowd but if you can get a copy cheap, give it a whirl.

I've also recently managed to acquire copies of Dynamite Cop and Star Wars Racer for mere peanuts, but both of these games have been featured in past posts so I won't bother dwelling on them myself.

Finally, a special mention goes out to reader 'tdinc' who sent me this link.



Apparently, someone has seen it necessary to turn a DC controller into an iPod dock. Which is quite cool. Although, to be honest, I just prefer to use the little wire that came in the box...