From Box Office Hell to Gaming Heaven

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The original DOOM and DOOM II: Hell on Earth weren’t the original First-Person Shooters – even in id Software’s own back catalogue Wolfenstein 3D preceded them – but whereas Wolfenstein made a modest splash, these were huge, huge hits, to the extent that for a while you didn’t talk about “first-person shooters”, you talked about “DOOM clones”.

In fact, there’s an extent to which it still makes sense to talk about “DOOM clones” as a distinct subgenre, thriving primarily in the three year gap between id releasing DOOM in 1993 and their release of Quake in 1996. Quake was such a success both in terms of critical and commercial impact and in terms of the technological advances it popularised, that after it came out true 3D became the de facto standard for first-person shooters. Prior to Quake, games like DOOM looked 3D but were actually “2.5D” – if you look carefully at a DOOM map, you’ll note that you can map out the entire thing in 2D, with raised and lowered areas here and there but no places where, for instance, one corridor ends up passing directly over a different corridor.

Part of the genius of DOOM, in fact, was how it was able to provide this really fast-paced experience which managed to combine maps about as complex as you could get in the 2.5D format they went with, large numbers of enemies and projectiles, and gameplay principles where the basics are easy to grasp but there’s lots of scope to devise more advanced tactics, all in a package which could run on a wide range of computers. It didn’t hurt that the game has really nice graphical design, with distinctive environments and enemies, as well as a great knack for conveying the feel of how the weapons operate – firing off the plasma rifle feels very different from firing the shotgun, for instance.

These are all things which look easy but aren’t, as is demonstrated by how so many of the game’s imitators like Rise of the Triad or Duke Nukem 3D simply haven’t stood the test of time as well as DOOM, or for its matter DOOM II (which managed to accomplish an awful lot simply by providing more of the same with a very few new weapons and monster types to add new tactical options and challenges.) On top of that, id maintained a good relationship with the modding community, to the extent that there’s still a thriving community producing homebrew DOOM maps today and id were able to release a couple of homebrew campaigns as Final DOOM in 1996. Although I don’t think Final DOOM is as strong as the levels in the original two games, it’s telling that it still stands up as a viable commercial release that isn’t a total technological embarrassment in 1996, the same year as Quake came out; whilst I’d still put the first two official DOOM games above Final DOOM, I’d put Final DOOM comfortably above more or less any of the DOOM clones following the 2.5D format out there.

DOOM 3 followed in 2004. I’ve not played it and I haven’t really felt like I’ve lost out by not playing it; everything I’ve seen on it suggests that it is a competently-implemented but ultimately unremarkable early-2000s FPS. The two major surfacings of the franchise since then have been the much-reviled movie tie-in and this year’s DOOM, a brand new game updating the franchise for current-generation PCs and consoles. Between them they represent a critical low point for the franchise and the chance of a sudden revival.

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My Demon Cock Has Gone All Limp

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

So, a while back I played and enjoyed The Darkness – it’s an ugly old game for sure, and I’d advise renting or borrowing it over buying it, but it has some fun mechanics. (Like I said in the last article, I liked the hilariously phallic and hideously overpowered demon tentacle power.) To summarise the premise briefly: young man who looks like Steven Seagal gets demonic possession as his special 21st birthday present from destiny, his girlfriend Jenny dies, he mopes.

As of the end of the previous game, our hero Jackie (who now looks and sounds somewhat less like Steven Seagal) is the kingpin of the crime family, and still mourns the death of Jenny. He has, however, reigned in the Darkness a little bit – in fact, he hasn’t used it for quite some time. However, when Jackie is attacked on a visit to his favoured family-backed restaurant, he is forced to unleash his Darkness powers to survive.

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Could Someone Please Explain Why I Should Care About Halo?

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I mean, I appreciate that it’s a quite good FPS, but does it really deserve the critical acclaim that it’s received? I can’t help but wonder whether the hype surrounding the Halo series is just a consequence of the first game being an important launch title for the original X-Box. Maybe I’m completely out of touch with the mainstream – I don’t like Gears of War either – but, as significant as Halo might have been at the time, it just hasn’t aged as well as the likes of Doom, Quake, or Unreal – three games that are significantly older than Halo, but for me at least retain a lot of the fun and enjoyment that they possessed back in the early days.

Let’s take the setting. Halo, as any fule kno, is set on a ringworld. The problem, is, this is actually kind of irrelevant and tangential to the plot; yes, the ringworld turns out to have a sinister technological purpose beyond looking pretty, but that still isn’t enough to justify setting it on a ringworld as opposed to, say, an ancient and derelict planet, or an abandoned alien space station (it also makes absolutely no sense that the Halo has an ecosystem – what, precisely, about its function demands that it has an atmosphere and grass?). The setting of the game seems to have been chosen solely on the basis that the designers quite like Larry Niven and it’s something interesting to do with the skybox. The sparse history of the orbital compares poorly with the rich world of Na Pali, explored in the original Unreal, which had its own ecosystems and cultures and a rich history that you could discover through play bit by bit (as opposed to the history of the Halo in Halo, which you get in two clumsy plot dumps).

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My Demon Cock Will Devour Your Heart

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Let there be no doubt about it: The Darkness is not a good game, not by a long way. Between the graphical glitches, terrible voice acting, and sparse plot it feels more like a third-rate Half-Life 2 mod than a full-blown FPS in its own right. It’s not even entertainingly bad for the most part; it exhibits that dull, lifeless sort of mediocrity which usually drives me away from games fairly quickly. But there’s one thing that never got tiring in the game, and made me keep playing until the very end.

That was my huge glistening demon penis.

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Come Near Me and I’ll Smash Your Face In

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Combining survival horror and the first-person shooter genre should be a fairly easy task; both genres, after all, have gameplay elements that hinge on careful management of limited resources of ammunition and health in order to survive against the odds. Nonetheless, traditional FPS elements often work against the requirements of survival horror: the spawn of Doom and Quake have a natural urge towards violent shotgun-blasting action sequences, which don’t really work without providing more ammunition and guns than the survival horror genre is really comfortable with; the packrat instincts of the FPS protagonist means that by the end of the game you’ve collected such a large variety of weapons and ammunition that you’re never likely to run out; and most fatally, 99% of FPS engines have absolutely dire mechanics for melee combat, so if you do run out of ammo you’re normally completely screwed.

Enter Condemned: Criminal Origins, a 2006 effort published by Sega (of all people) and developed by Monolith Productions. Monolith had previously stepped into a horror-oriented FPS area with F.E.A.R., a game which suffered from not being sure whether it wanted to scare you or give you an interesting tactical shooty challenge. The tactical shooty bits were fun, mind, but the sense of capability, competence, and confidence which they invested you with meant that the scares didn’t seem that threatening – especially since they rehashed the overused J-Horror derived “creepy girl in a white nightie with her hair down over her face” imagery.

Condemned, conversely, manages to be the shit-your-pants scariest FPS I’ve ever played. The story is simple: in an unspecified, decaying US city, FBI Ethan Thomas arrives at a crime scene – a macabre slaying by the serial killer known as the Match Maker, known for posing his female victims with disfigured department store mannequins as if they are enjoying a charming date. Whilst Thomas and two police officers examine the scene, footsteps upstairs reveal that there’s someone prowling around the building – and a sudden power cut plunges the scene into darkness. As the police officers go to apprehend the intruder, Thomas tries to sort out the fuse box, and is electrocuted, causing him to drop his service weapon – which is stolen by a mysterious individual who proceeds to shoot the police officers with it. (There is a mild plot issue here which is never adequately explained – why didn’t Thomas immediately report that his gun had been stolen, since he’s in constant mobile phone contact with the local FBI headquarters? – but we can overlook one little glitch.) Thomas, framed for the murder of the two officers, has to track down the real killer and clear his name, aided only by his contact in the FBI forensics department, Rosa, who has more faith in his innocence than her superiors, and by the mysterious Martin Vanhorn, a friend of Thomas’s parents whose mysterious interventions suggest that a greater agenda is at work.

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Mr Bubbles’ Nostalgia Trip

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Bioshock is a better homage to System Shock 2 than it is a spiritual successor; where System Shock 2 had massively innovative gameplay coupled with an excellent plot, Bioshock presents an extremely competent implementation of a tried-and-tested formula, and a plot which, whilst head and shouders above that of most FPS games, falls short of the stellar standards of System Shock 2 – not to mention Deus Ex, which I would seriously argue is the true successor to System Shock.

Alas, such arguments necessarily involve massive amounts of discussion of the plot of Bioshock, so if you don’t want any spoilers WOULD YOU KINDLY exercise discretion about reading this review? Thanks.

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Why Is This Mediocre First-Person Shooter In the PS2 Platinum Collection?

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Black is a first-person shooter for the PS2 where you’re a black ops specialist in the US military. It has pretty graphics and a reasonable physics engine, and you can break bits of the scenery by shooting at them. Sometimes. You know, like in every first-person shooter since Duke Nukem 3D.

So far, so generic. So why is it in the PS2 Platinum Collection? Why in God’s name did it sell so well?

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