Monday, 22 September 2014

Tomorrow Never Dies - Sony PlayStation review

It's Tomorrow Never Dies! Lots of black here.
Game: Tomorrow Never Dies
Format: Sony PlayStation
Developer/Publisher: Black Ops Entertainment/Electronic Arts
Year Released: 1999
Also released on: Nothing
Now available on: Nothing

Games based on movies have never had it easy. They're a bit like politicians and journalists. Even before you know anything about them, you are suspicious of them, distrusting of their real purpose, wary of their intentions. What is their agenda? What do they really want? Do politicians just exist to make the country a greater place and to demonstrate the power of democracy? Of course not! Do journalists just want to report the news with impartiality and objectivity, and not push forward their own beliefs and motives? Don't be daft! Do video games based on films just happen to be developed because the movie's plotline makes a great idea for a highly enjoyable game, a game that will be treated with love and care to be the very best it can be? Nope, not at all! Movie tie-ins are just there either to cash in on the movie they're based on or promote it. Regardless of whether the game is good or bad, it'll sell anyway. And this explains why most are average at best. The most infamous movie-licensed game is E.T. for the Atari VCS/2600, and is a good example of why they get such a bad reputation. Atari invested heavily on rights and (over)-production of cartridges but neglected to ensure that the game on them was any good. They ignored the ideas that the film's director, Steven Spielberg had for a game, gave its developer less than six weeks to put something together and skipped the playtesting. What they ended up with is what is often declared the worst game ever made. Although it truly is terrible, it definitely isn't the worst, but it's one of the most high profile bad games that exist. Even though the game didn't sell anywhere near as many copies as Atari expected, possibly the trigger that ignited the Great Videogame Crash of 1982TM, the game still sold really well overall, shifting 1.5 million copies and being the fifth best-selling game for the console. These sales can only be attributed to fact that the game was based on a hit movie. It certainly wasn't because the game itself made people want to go out and buy it. And this fact alone is the reason why gamers have certain reservations about video games based on movies. "Lazy tie-in" was a phrase often used in reviews of movie-based video games. It's as if publishers and developers didn't feel they needed to put the effort in to making a great game. It would sell anyway.

E.T. on the Atari VCS. A terrible game, but probably
more well-known than most movie-based games.
Sometimes the fault isn't just down to complacency on the part of the people making the game. Sometimes the source material was to blame. Some films just don't translate well as video games. Again with E.T., how the hell were you meant to turn the film into a videogame? Time and time again, films with inappropriate plots or themes were turned into games. Examples include A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Last Action Hero, Cliffhanger, The Mask, the Back to the Future trilogy, Beethoven's 2nd, Days of Thunder, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wayne's World, and countless others. A way of trying to adapt the film into a game was to loosely base the game on the film. Sometimes they were so loose that it seemed like the developers hadn't even watched the film. Maybe they'd stared at a promotional poster for five minutes and then began beavering away at a game based on what they saw. But, having the freedom not to have to stick so strictly to the film would mean that there's a good chance that the game might actually be playable. Wouldn't it? Sometimes, yes. But mostly, no. There was still a feeling that the developers weren't giving it their all and they just put out half-arsed attempts at games. Even so, there were some games that did turn out to be fairly good despite barely resembling the films on which they were based. Jurassic Park on the Mega Drive was one. The only thing it had in common with the movie was that it featured dinosaurs, but it was still quite playable nevertheless. Even better was the arcade version. Alien 3 for the Mega Drive, SNES and Amiga was not bad too, as were certain versions of Ghostbusters. And what about The Addams Family? All good fun.

Goldeneye on the N64. Great stuff.
But, of course, there were the rare occasions that a movie tie-in completely worked. Not only did the game stay faithful to the plot, but it also captured the tone, themes and style of the film too. Graphically it resembled what you could see on the big screen, and its soundtrack was either directly lifted from or heavily inspired by the film's score. It really was like playing an interactive version of the movie. Disney's Aladdin on a variety of consoles and computers is a good example. Spiderman 2 on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube is another. But there is one movie to game, um, game that stands out as the pinnacle of movie to game games. It's so well-known, that it is somewhat a cliché to name it as the ultimate movie tie-in. But name it I will. It's none other than Goldeneye for the N64. Not only is it a great movie conversion, it's also one of the console's greatest games. Based on Pierce Brosnan's first outing as 007, the game allowed you to control the suave secret agent in a first person shooter that revolutionised first person shooters. Brilliant on its own, it was in multiplayer mode that the game really shined. Up to four players could play hide and seek and shoot the crap out of each other for hour after hour after hour. Even though time hasn't been kind to it and it looks quite dated now, once you get past the slightly awkward controls it's still a fantastic blast today.

You can almost hear the James Bond theme just by
looking at this image. Oh, actually, I've left the game
running in the background and it keeps playing.
The problem I had at the time was that I didn't own a N64. In fact, I only knew one person who did have one. Well, it wasn't his. It was his brother's, and we'd have to hope he wasn't in to get a go of it. This meant that I didn't get as much Goldeneye game time as I would have liked. So imagine my joy when I found out that the next James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, would appear on the PlayStation. If it was at least as good as Goldeneye, I'd be in for a treat. I assumed that the developers would simply take Goldeneye's winning formula, make enhancements where needed, and they'd have another hit on their hands. Nothing could go wrong.

But it did. For some reason, somebody somewhere must have thought that a good way to repeat the success of Goldeneye was to ignore what made it great and try something else. My initial reaction to playing Tomorrow Never Dies back in 1999 was one of disappointment. I can picture myself sitting there now, playing through the first level, and shouting "Why???!! Pierce Brosnan! How could you do this?" Still, I stuck with the game, and did actually begin to enjoy it. Or tolerate it maybe. Although it wasn't Mr Brosnan's fault, I still blamed him for being a bad James Bond in this game. "You were so good in Goldeneye. Why not in this? I'm disappointed in you. I never liked you in Mrs Doubtfire either."

Lovely shades of lilac here. 
Mr Bond's mission in Tomorrow Never Dies is to investigate and eventually take on media mogul, Elliot Carver, the owner of newspapers and television networks. Somehow, he is able to print the news of events before they happen. And it just so happens that these events appear to be causing tensions between China and the United Kingdom. Is Carver somehow involved in making these events happen, and if so, why? Perhaps he runs the Daily Express. They always appear to be trying to predict the news. Well, weather-based news, and how we're either going to have the hottest summer or the coldest winter since records began. They never get it right though. And I doubt that non-existent heatwaves or big freezes are going to cause us to get into some kind of war with China. Anyhow, Tomorrow Never Dies is one of my favourite James Bond films, but it's a while since I saw it last, so how the film actually goes is somewhat hazy. The game, released only on the PlayStation, is split into ten missions, each representing scenes from the film. It sticks fairly closely to the plot, I think, using a combination of full motion video footage from the movie and in-game computer animated scenes to tell the story. Before each mission, M gives a quick overview of Bond's task to come. Overall, the general presentation is quite good. It begins with the MGM lion roaring over its logo and then the franchise's famous gunbarrel opening sequence over the James Bond theme. This is all followed by a cinematic intro video featuring excerpts from the game and the film. It really does feel like you're about to be part of the movie. I'll look at how the game actually plays in a bit, but one of the highlights is the inclusion of the movie's opening credits after the completion of the second mission, featuring the obligatory nearly-naked women dancing all over the place over Sheryl Crow's fantastic Tomorrow Never Dies record. It comes to something when one of the best bits of a game is pre-filmed opening credits and a song. Pre-game and in-game menus are also well-presented, looking crisp and polished and well-suited to the game.

What's on the menu? I'll have the New Game for starters, and maybe save room for Options.

We appear to have a very isolated snow flurry here. Good
job it's not on the Sky dish. Completely mucks up the picture
does snow.
While presentation is good when you're not playing the game, things aren't quite as great when you are playing it. Graphics are very rough around the edges, blocky, dull and barely resemble the locations that they are meant to represent. The first level is probably the exception, which doesn't look too bad, but that's probably because it's mostly a snowy landscape and I don't suppose snow is too difficult to draw. But as you progress through the game, you really have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps in the locations as it looks like the graphics designers decided to give up half way and went home. One level, set in a hotel, sees our hero paying a visit to the bar to have a chat with a bartender. A bar that seems to be made up of one very long bar counter, a couple of chairs and not a lot else. Behind the bar is a large kitchen which is just a series of counters alongside a wall. The graphics just don't capture their settings, instead causing them to feel a bit empty. To me, they seem to create a strange atmosphere. In a way, they remind me of Atari VCS/2600 games. You know what the graphics are meant to be of, but you have to draw them in your mind to "see" them. Additionally, there is a lot of pop-up, choppy and jerky animation and framerate, wobbly backgrounds and, urgh, it's just not good.

James staggers to the bar after having had a few too many shaken but not stirred beverages.

Paris gives Mr Bond a slap. The wallpaper is covered by
pictures of Elliot Carver and the old Internet Explorer logo.
Soundwise though, things are much better. In addition to the original James Bond theme and Miss Crow singing her song, the game makes use of atmospheric remixes of the Bond theme and other secret agenty-sounding music. It all works rather well and is one definite positive of the game. Sound effects are good too, although the voice acting is rather average. In the game, James Bond is voiced by a Pierce Brosnan soundalike rather than the actor himself.  

James is pretending that he's on the phone to somebody. I do that sometimes. Great way of avoiding conversations.

Not sure why I picked this screenshot.
Tomorrow Never Dies uses a third-person viewpoint rather than the first-person view of its predecessor. This change seems to take something away from the feeling that you are James Bond. You're watching him rather than being him. The game does sometimes kind of switch to first person, but only when you're in a tight corner and the camera has to do it out of necessity so you can see where you are and where you're going. Once you're in a more open area, it's back to the standard third person view. Bond himself isn't the easiest person to control. His movement is rather rigid and awkward. Collecting weapons and ammo, usually dropped by enemies, requires you to walk over them. But quite often you'll find yourself walking to the left of them, or to the right, or around them in a circle. Basically anywhere but where you want to go. Sometimes you have to back up enough so you can line up your target collectible and walk in a straight line to it. It reminds me a little of a drunk person taking a walk up to their front door with their key pointing at it.

James Bond's sneezes are quite explosive.

I see you baby, shakin' that ass. Yes, you! In the trees!
If you're able to get James Bond to go where you want him to go, he is able to pick up a variety of weapons during his missions. Firing these is a simple case of pressing the fire button. If you want, you can bring up a gigantic target thing to assist you with aiming. The problem with this is that you can only really target an enemy when you're close enough to them. And by the time you've got your enemy targeted, they've noticed you and begun shooting at you. You do get the opportunity to use a sniper rifle, but this still has the same problem. You can zoom in a bit and target an enemy from a distance, but shooting at them quite often does nothing. So, you creep a bit closer. Aim again and fire. Still nothing. By the time you're close enough to them for your bullets to have an effect, the tip of your rifle is probably touching your enemy's nose and you're standing right in front of them in clear view. It makes the sniper weapon almost pointless, and removes the element of stealth from the game. And for a game that's meant to be about a spy who goes about his business secretly, this isn't good. It's best to leave the game to auto-aim on your behalf, but even this is flawed. Although the auto-aim will lock on the closest enemy, as soon as another one appears, it'll flick to that enemy. Changing weapons, although it isn't difficult, pauses the action. And switching to your special weapons, things like cameras, gadgets, med kits and remote detonators, requires you to go to another menu within the weapon selection menu. Again, it's not difficult, but is needlessly fiddly. Surely there were other ways to make weapon and gadget selection more fluid and natural.

After accidentally causing a computer to explode in PC World, James needs to get out of the store quickly.

Why are there filing cabinets outside?
The enemies in the game do pretty much the same thing throughout. They aren't the brightest of baddies, although they can be quite annoying. From a distance, they are harmless. But, when you get closer to them and they spot you, they usually being walking towards you. Obviously, whoever is controlling them seems to have the same controller issues that you have, as they seem to walk in zig zags. While doing so, they'll be firing at you. As mentioned above, using the manual aiming system is useless here as the little bastards don't keep still. So, just auto aim at them and stop them in their tracks. You can strafe and roll about using the L2 and R2 buttons, but this can just make things more difficult for yourself as you'll probably find that your auto-aim has locked onto somebody else and the person you were originally aiming at is firing at you from elsewhere. Yes, this is another of the game's annoyances. It sometimes happens that an enemy that you can't see will begin firing at you from a random location. If you're on the move, turning around just isn't that easy. The only way to do it properly is to stop and then turn and spin around until you can spot whoever it is who's shooting at you. Sometimes, by the time you have, he's shot you that many times that you die. There are times as you're progressing through levels and clearing enemies from your path, that more just turn up behind you and begin firing. If the controls were better, this wouldn't feel as unfair as it does. And if the game was a stealth game, like it's meant to be, you wouldn't be wandering about it the open as much as you end up doing to leave yourself vulnerable to sneaky attacks from behind.

It's Ski Sunday, with a bit of arty lens flare.
Although the game is mostly a third-person shooter, it does attempt to include some Bond-ish malarky. Place a bomb here, take photographs there, locate something in a filing cabinet here, find somebody and get information from them there, and so on. The problem is, there isn't enough of it. It just doesn't feel secret agenty enough. Just walk around, shoot people, walk a bit more, shoot more people, watch a snippet from the film, and repeat. Even a couple of levels included for variety, a skiing level and a driving level, do little to shake and stir things up enough. The skiing level is nice enough, but just requires you to ski down a mountain. You can attempt to knock some baddies off their skis, but attempting to do so usually leaves you worse off, so it's best just to focus on the skiing which isn't really that exciting or difficult. Similarly, the driving level is just as uninspiring. You just drive around, swerving all over the road like a drunk, firing at cars in order to kill them. Yep, that's how it's described. You get told how many cars you have left to kill. It just isn't fun. These two levels could have been so much more.

Get killing those cars! Throw a missile at them or something.

The British are notoriously bad tippers. This displeases
bar staff.
Playing through this game just gives you more and more reasons to be annoyed. You'll set off alarms, sometimes by destroying certain objects, killing certain enemies or entering certain locations. But, the alarms don't seem to do anything apart from make an annoying noise. And, bizarrely, they stop after a short period of not alerting anybody to anything. The two modes of play, Agent mode and 007 mode are identical, except that enemies in 007 mode are harder to kill. Why not change things up a bit for the harder mode? You'll find that, just when you need a med kit to replenish your energy, your secondary item is something else, and by the time you've figured out which button you're meant to press to get into the menu for the item selections, you've died anyway. But worst of all, where the hell is the multiplayer mode?! I mean, multiplayer is what made GoldenEye the N64 must-have game. It was a no-brainer not to include it in Tomorrow Never Dies. It's a bit like releasing a new Call of Duty game today but deciding to leave out the multiplayer element. It just wouldn't happen. Okay, so you could only realistically use two controllers on the PlayStation, but even this would be acceptable. Two is better than just one.

She doesn't look happy. You're not getting any tonight James.
Despite the criticism above, Tomorrow Never Dies isn't completely awful. It isn't that great either, It's just totally average. It is fairly playable for a while once you get used to the controls, and the way that it tells the story makes you want to progress through it. The main problem with Tomorrow Never Dies is actually Goldeneye. On its own, Tomorrow Never Dies is just your typical lazy movie tie-in. The developers put a lot of effort into using the movie license, making good use of footage from the movie and the soundtrack. But, like countless other games based on films, the game itself is lacking and uninspiring. Now, had Goldeneye not existed, this wouldn't have been too much of a problem. Tomorrow Never Dies would have been just what was expected. Nobody would have got their hopes up too much for the game and nobody would have been surprised with what they ended up with. However, Goldeneye set a benchmark. It proved that, with the right source material and given the right treatment, some films can be turned into great games. And it looked like James Bond movies might just contain some of the right ingredients - a suitable plot line, characters, enemies, settings and scenarios. It's just a shame that the care and attention that went into developing Goldeneye didn't get put into Tomorrow Never Dies too. Was this down to the fact that the two games were released by different publishers and produced by different developers? Rare developed Goldeneye for Nintendo, whereas Black Ops Entertainment developed Tomorrow Never Dies for Electronic Arts. We all know the reputation that Electronic Arts had for relying on big-name franchises and licenses to sell games, rather than the games themselves. After the success of Goldeneye, Electronic Arts won the video game rights to the James Bond franchise, and it looked they were all too eager to abuse, sorry, use it to its full potential. Tomorrow Never Dies just feels like it was an attempt to cash-in on the movie. Perhaps it was even an attempt to cash-in on the success of the Goldeneye video game. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who owned the game expecting it to be similar to Goldeneye. And I'm sure I wasn't the only person to be disappointed with Tomorrow Never Dies, and shocked to find that it didn't even contain anything resembling a multiplayer mode. Maybe it would reappear for the next Bond game, The World is Not Enough. Hmmmm.... nope, apparently it doesn't. Oh well.

Phwoar! Boobies! 
Presentation: 85%
Overall presentation is quite good, with intros and opening credits from the film itself and well-designed menu screens and intermissions.
Graphics: 60%
Ugly but functional. 
Sound: 80%
A good use of the film's theme tune, with remixes and other spy-style music used to good effect. Pretty good sound effects but average voice acting.
Playability: 65%
Takes a bit of getting used to, and isn't the most fun you'll ever have with your PlayStation, but it might keep you good for a short while. 
Overall: 63%
A bog-standard third-person shooter. Lacks the element of stealth, no multiplayer. Unfortunately will always exist under the shadow of Goldeneye and forever be compared with its superior N64-based predecessor.

Oh crap...

Monday, 14 July 2014

Robocop (Arcade Version) - Review

It's RoboCop. The game of a movie also called RoboCop.
Game: RoboCop
Format: Arcade
Developer/Publisher: Data East
Year Released: 1988
Also released on: Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Apple II, DOS, MSX, Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Gameboy, TRS-80/Tandy Color Computer, ZX Spectrum 

RoboCop fires fried chickens at some bloke in a window.
I've never watched any of the RoboCop films. I'm not sure why. I'm sure they're great films, but they're not something I've ever felt like making the effort to view. Maybe if I was flicking through the channels looking for something to watch and one of them happened to be on, I'd give it a go. But it's not something that has happened yet - perhaps it will one day. I get the general idea that the films feature a robot who also happens to be a cop, or a cop that is actually a robot. And I guess the robot copper goes around doing his policeman duties to uphold the law and protect civilians, such things like arresting criminals, catching roadhogs, giving directions to folk who happen to be lost, taking statements and doing paperwork.

The video shop here has a rather extreme way of getting back unreturned VHS rentals

Oooof! Right in the conkers!
When RoboCop was first released, I would have been nine or ten. Too young to legally watch the film, although as it was the first film to be scrambled on Sky Movies, and as we had Sky but didn't initially subscribe to Sky Movies, I was fascinated to see how the film would appear scrambled. So I watched the first few minutes of a scrambled RoboCop, until I realised that I was being a bit weird. Back then, RoboCop was cool. Kids at school had RoboCop flasks and sandwich boxes. I had a Mr T flask and a Garfield sandwich box. They wore T-shirts featuring RoboCop and spoke his famous sayings, saying things like "You're move, creep," and, um, that's it. They also said things like "Hasta la vista, baby!" but that wasn't from RoboCop so it's kind of irrelevant. I suppose what I'm trying to get across is that, once upon a time, RoboCop was a hugely influential franchise, and even those who couldn't or didn't see the film, were aware of its presence. So when I came upon the RoboCop arcade machine in some place, I had to have a go of it. Oh yes, even I knew that RoboCop was cool. And I'd be cool too if I pretended to be RoboCop for a moment or two, policing the streets of Detroit and doing whatever it is that a RoboCop does.

A damsel in distress calls for help. Meanwhile man in a window is keeping watch.

Not enough space in the van? Just ride on its roof.
One thing I remember about playing RoboCop as a kid was that it I didn't last very long. I enjoyed it, but my 10p go was over within a short space of time. I'd sometimes splash out and slip another 10p coin into the machine to get a little further, but I think I realised that I was never really going to get very far into the game without needing a lot more money. But, in these modern days of freeloading and playing what you want as much as you want, I decided to revisit RoboCop. Armed with a virtual pile of 10p coins, ready to be inserted whenever I died, I powered up RoboCop, the arcade game, and readied myself for some cyborg crime fighting fun.

Rather than using the crusher thing to crush cars, this junk yard gets people to jump on them. It's slower but much cheaper.

Throwing a balloon at the Hulk.
RoboCop is a side-scrolling run and gun game with beat em up elements. According to Wikipedia, the computer game rights to RoboCop were held by Ocean, so Data East had to license the game from Ocean to produce the arcade game. This meant that an arcade game publisher had to acquire rights from a computer game publisher to make the game. Usually it was the other way round. Oooooh!

The action in RoboCop takes place over seven levels, interspersed with a couple of bonus levels. The game remains pretty much the same throughout. RoboCop wanders through the levels shooting just about anybody who gets in his way, bar a few hostages who he can free by shooting their captors. He can fire in eight directions: up, down, left, right and diagonally. When up close with an enemy, he can give them a smack with his metal-clad arm. RoboCop's standard gun has unlimited ammo, but he can pick up collectables to enhance his weapon. These do things like fire laser-like bullets, multi-directional ammo and the usual kind of stuff. However, these usually come with limited ammunition. There's always a downside to your fun, isn't there? RoboCop can also pick up other guns with more explosive and devastating firepower. Enemies fire at you from all directions and different enemies have different attacks. You'll get used to the attacks quickly, but things also become relentless quite quickly with numerous enemies positioning themselves everywhere. They aren't difficult to defeat, but it's clearing them all off the screen that's the issue. Even so, with a bit of skilful firing, ducking and diving, you can put paid to their hostilities in quite a satisfying way. A boss battle awaits you at the end of each level. Again, once you've learned the patterns and their weak points, defeating most of them isn't difficult, although some of the later ones really do hammer your power bar. During the boss battles, you can also see your enemy's power bar, so you know how close your are to defeating it. This is the earliest game that I have seen this feature in. Or maybe Castlevania was earlier?

My, what a big ball you have.

A bonus level features twice in the game. This is a chance to earn some extra points, get some target practice and increase your power capacity. The bonus level takes the form of a shooting gallery with you simply having to fire a targets within a set time limit. It's nothing too challenging, or that exciting to be honest.

Target practice. Not a lot else to say really.

Man in the window has got his pals to help out.
Most of the early levels scroll left to right, with the last couple of levels going upwards as you make use of lifts to get higher in a building. These are probably the game's worst levels. After a fast-paced action-packed build up, the final two levels are a bit of a letdown. You clear a floor of enemies and what appear to be armed security cameras. Then you take a lift to the next floor up to repeat the process. And you do this over and over again. Ignoring the tedium of the last couple of levels and their never-ending lifts, the game is pure and simple arcade gaming with little to divert your attention from just getting on with firing in all directions and ridding the levels of enemies.

There appears to be some kind of weird orgy happening on floor 4F. Better stay where you are Robocop.

That's one big tin opener. 
Presentation and graphics are great. Each level captures its scene well, and quick intermissions tell the story. Characters are all well animated and are also quite big and bold. There is a bit of slowdown when the action gets too intense, but this is quite rare. Although dark and moody, the graphics also have a fair amount of colour in them to give vibrancy to each of the levels. The soundtrack is also fantastic, with music and sound effects that really suit the style of game. There is also a good amount of sampled speech in the game, with RoboCop saying his famous sayings and generally being quite a chatty robot cop thing. Oh yes, this is a game that showcased some of what the technology at the time could do. It was nothing extra spectacular, but was very good.

CCTV is a bit over the top here. But that little city model looks cute though.

Reminds me of a meeting room at work. Without the deadly
robot though. And less of a view.
RoboCop plays well. Controls are simple and responsive, with shooting, jumping and firing working as it needs to. Being made of metal, RoboCop isn't able to jump that high and isn't the quickest of movers, which can get a bit frustrating when you want him to get out of the way enemy fire. A slight frustration is that the direction he's aiming in sticks sometimes, so you have to re-aim to hit your required target. Another problem with the game is that, especially later on, you can lose your life within seconds of continuing. Although this was obviously so people getting towards the end of the game would spend more money and continue, it does sometimes feel a bit unfair. It's as if you're not given the chance to use skill to battle yourself out of a situation, instead you're paying your way out of it. Keep hitting continue and you'll slowly but surely get through. That said, the game isn't impossible and you can get quite far on one life if you try, something I just couldn't do when I was younger. RoboCop is definitely a quality arcade game, better at the beginning than towards the end. It's completely mindless and lacking in depth, but it offers a good fix of running and gunning action if that's your thing.

It's all over and the end. Boohoo!
Presentation: 81%
The opening parts feel suitably cinematic and set the scene well. There are screens that tell the story but blink and you'll miss them.
Graphics: 85%
Detailed, crisp and well animated graphics. The last few levels are a bit of a let down though.
Sound: 85%
Great. The game features a great soundtrack and high quality sound effects. 
Playability: 77%
Instantly playable but RoboCop does feature some frustrating elements which prevent it from being amazing. The last few levels are tedious and ruin a good build up. 
Overall: 78%
A solid arcade game, and a good movie tie-in. Not perfect, and it's not something that you'd regularly return to, but it's fun when you do.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Great Sports on the Sega Master System

Fairly early on in the life of the Sega Master System, Sega released a series of sports simulations to entertain armchair atheletes. In the order of the alphabet they were Great Baseball, Great Basketball, Great Football, Great Golf, Great Ice Hockey, Great Soccer and Great Volleyball. Of course, claiming that anything's great usually means that it isn't, with the obvious exception of Great Britain, which is great. And possibly Great Yarmouth. As for Sega's "Great" sports games, it would have been much more truthful to call them Not-so-great Baseball, Bloody Awful Basketball, Absolutely Shite Football, Below Par Golf (see what I did there!?), Pucking Unplayable Ice Hockey, Crap Soccer and Terrible Volleyball. But doing so might have hampered sales somewhat. Even so, Sega did sometimes mix up the names a bit. Some games were apparently "Great" in one country but not in another, or games went under the same title in different countries, but were actually different games. Join us as we look back at this not-very-famous series of games to remind ourselves of why some games are sometimes best left in the past, and also attempt to make some sense of their names.

Penalty! Referee! Oh, wrong sport.
Great Baseball
To be fair, Sega's version of America's favourite bat and ball game wasn't that bad. It's certainly not great by any stretch of the imagination, but is at least moderately fun for a short while. Getting into a game is nice and quick, perhaps a little too quick as before you know it, somebody is throwing a ball at you at 100 miles an hour. There's no need to faff around with options and team selections, parameters, preferences and all manner of crap like many sports games of today require you to do. You simply choose a team from the A or the N league, whatever they are, pick a pitcher and away you go. As per the rules of baseball, you take it in turns to bat and pitch. Three strikes and you're out. Oh! So that's where the saying comes from! Well I never. The view when pitching and batting is from behind the pitcher, and looks quite impressive too. When the ball has been batted into whichever random direction it wants to go, the view switches to an overhead one, allowing you to see the playing field, and the little players running around the bases. There are actually two modes of play, one which allows you to control the fielders, and one which doesn't. Things get a bit fiddly when trying to control the fielders, so it's best to let the computer do that so you can concentrate on throwing the ball back to the bases, and to each other, and back again. The game is peppered with little samples of speech, some of which sounds like it is actually based on real words. The crowd noise sounds like a jet engine taking off though. Little tuneful ditties break up the action, and give a jolly feel to the game. The graphics are also quite good. I'm not sure if pushing the d-pad in any direction when pitching or batting actually has any effect on the ball, but pressing it anyway makes you feel like you're contributing some skill to the game.

This version of Great Baseball was released in Europe and the USA. An earlier game also called Great Baseball was released in Japan. It was a bit slower-paced and didn't utilise the behind the pitcher viewpoint, but it was fairly similar otherwise. Japan also receive a modified and much improved version of the European/US Great Baseball, which was known as The Pro Yakyuu: Pennant Race.

Rounder! Rounder! Rounder! Rounder!

Great Basketball
So, we've had rounders. Now netball. As with most of the "Great" games, there is minimal setup required to get you started with a game. In Great Basketball, options are pretty much limited to choosing whether you are playing by yourself or with a chum, and then choosing a country or countries to represent. A nice little national anthem plays for each nation you pick. Gameplay is arcade-style in, er, style. It's fairly easy to score points, and the game is quite fast-paced, but it's just lacking in variety and any sense of excitement. The ball feels a bit floaty and there is no real skill involved in throwing the ball. It's also too easy to foul other players. Sometimes you can manage it without even pressing a button. A tune plays throughout the game which isn't actually that annoying, although it sounds like the snippets of speech have been sampled from some extra-terrestrial species. They definitely don't represent anything heard on this planet. Graphics are colourful although it's often difficult to make out who's who. Again, like Great Baseball, Basketball is fairly fun to play for a short while, and is quite enjoyable with two players, but not necessarily because it's a good game. It's one of those so bad it's good kind of games.

There were no weird naming shenanigans going on here. Great Basketball was Great Basketball everywhere, apart from Brazil where it was Great Basket.

The USA are beating URS. URS? Ursula? Oh! USSR.

Hut hut! Twenty-eight! Fifty-six! Time out!
Great Football
This is Sega's attempt to bring American Football to owners of their 8-Bit box of tricks. They really shouldn't have bothered. It's terrible. There's a choice of what are probably made-up teams from the good old A and N leagues again, and that's about it. In one player mode, you only appear to be able to play in offence, and picking your tactics is a case of waiting for the formation selection screen to scroll through each formation, stopping it when it highlights the one you want. That's if you can figure out how to stop it. I can't, so I just have to wait until it gets to the last one. Surely it wouldn't have been difficult to program some sort screen with manually selectable menus. Gameplay itself is limited to either running with the ball, or throwing it to somebody else and letting them run with it. Okay, that's pretty much what American Football is, but in reality the sport is usually much more interesting than it sounds. The problem is, this version of American Football just isn't much fun to play at all. The sport itself is very much stop-start, but there's too much stopping and not enough doing anything in this game. Oh well.

The same version of Great Football under the same name was released worldwide. Poor world.

Looks like a load of firemen in a field of sheep.

Great Golf
Probably the best of the Great series of games, which isn't really saying much. Great Golf is a fun, if simplistic, round of the Royal and Ancient game. It features two modes of play, Stroke Play and Match Play. Stroke Play is your typical get-around-the-course-in-as-few-shots-as-possible mode, whereas Match Play, which requires a minimum of two players, sees the winner declared based on who wins most holes. There's also a club selection screen. Graphics and sounds are average, with the viewpoint from behind the player taking a short while to display, and sound featuring a few effects, short tunes and the odd bits of sampled speech. Gameplay itself allows you to check the wind direction and speed, set your club, stance, direction and power. That's about it. The ball appears a bit floaty, and if you're playing solo, things get dull quite quickly. Incidentally, this was the very first Master System game I ever owned other than the built in Hang On and Safari Hunt, and I have fond memories of playing this with family and friends. Great days.

This version of Great Golf is the version released in Europe and the USA. An earlier game with the same title was released in Japan, but failed to make it out of Rising Sun land. It was an isometric version of the sport. The European/US version of Great Golf was released in Japan as Masters Golf.

Enough of this shit. Get me to the nineteenth hole.

No it isn't.
Great Ice Hockey
There's not a lot I can say about this. It's only compatible with Sega's crappy trackball controller, the Sega Sports Pad. If you don't have one, and probably 99% of Master System owners didn't, then this game was useless. Apparently it's not much better even with the correct accessory. Things don't sound or look that bad, although you can't really go wrong if your task is to draw ice. But how it actually plays is anyone's guess although I'll bet our cat on it that it doesn't play well. It mystifies me why somebody didn't think to make the game work with the Master System's standard controllers, you know, the ones that came free with every console, therefore the ones that everybody owned. Bizarre.

Fortunately, Europe were spared of the horrors of Great Ice Hockey as it failed to get released there. It did get a release in Japan and the USA.

Where the puck's the puck? Oh, who cares. I can't even play this game.

Lots of effort went into designing this title screen
Great Soccer
Sega managed to turn the Beautiful Game into something quite horrible here. You control your players up and down a pitch and attempt to tap the ball into a goal using a terrible aiming system. Your players move slowly and are unresponsive, and they don't seem able to keep control of the ball. As accurately as this reflects England's 2014 World Cup team, it just isn't much fun at all. Like all of the Great games, getting into the game is quick and easy. But having simple and accessible menu screens does little to redeem things. Graphics are depressing, the sound will offend your ears and you'll be turning this game off within minutes of turning it on. Do I not like that.

Again, there were two versions of Great Soccer. This time around, Japan and Europe received the vertically scrolling Great Soccer game mentioned above. The USA's version of Great Soccer was equally as bad, but scrolled horizontally. It was released in Japan and Europe as World Soccer, and released again in Japan as Sports Pad Soccer, compatible with the Sega Sports Pad.

He shoots! He scores! He wants to play something else!

Nice colour scheme here
Great Volleyball
I really wish I hadn't chosen to try to play through these games. The best of the bunch probably was Great Ice Hockey, but that's only because I couldn't get it to work so didn't have to play it. Fortunately, we've reached the final game, Great Volleyball. Unfortunately, it's just as unplayable as the rest. Things sounds ok and look nice and cartoony, but it's hard to control what's happening. I'm never really sure what player I'm controlling, and he just seems to do what he wants, rather than what I want him to do. You have a team of six players, but sometime you are controlling three of them, sometimes one. And the rest of the team that you're not controlling doesn't appear to want to help out. It's confusing and, once again, not fun. The worst thing is that these games would have originally retailed for about £20 each. Maybe more. The complete set would have set you back £140. That depresses me.

Great Volleyball was the same game in all markets. It was crap everywhere.

Spot the ball

It's not great. It's super.
Anyone for Tennis?
This series of games seemed to represent a number of major sports, but Sega don't appear to have served up anything for tennis fans. Or did they? Well, yes, there was apparently a game called Great Tennis. However, this was only in Japan. Great Tennis did make it abroad though. It was released in countries elsewhere on the planet as Super Tennis. Just the same as how the Great games weren't great, sticking Super at the front of something doesn't make it Super. Except for Super Gran  Unsurprisingly, Super Tennis was a simplistic version of tennis. It's a bit fiddly to control, and the ball seems to be quite floaty, but it's not too bad.

You cannot be serious! We've got another 14 years to go until Virtua Tennis comes out?