Category Archives: Playstation

GAME REVIEW: Hogs of War

Tony Wilkins reviews the classic PlayStation One game “Hogs of War” as a rival to “Worms 3D”


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Without a doubt the daddy of the turn based strategy game is Team 17’s classic Worms. The game remains one of the most loved ever thanks largely to its party factor. It was the game my friends and I almost always got out to play when the beers were being thrown back in those reckless days of my teenage years. For years however many wanted a 3D version thinking it would improve it. Worms 3D left many people feeling luke warm however with the fact of the matter being that in three dimensions it had lost some of its charm.

However that doesn’t mean to say that the turn based three dimensional strategy game is a flop in its premise or that it can’t be as much fun as Worms. Enter Infrogames’ Hogs of War. Labelled as the most politically incorrect game of all time Hogs of War combines the fun and laughs of Worms but in a three dimensional setting complete with a backstory. Instead of playing as heavily armed worms you play as squads of pigs each being a stereotype of a real country e.g. ‘Tommy’s Trotters’ are British while the ‘Garlic Grunts’ are French. Each pig country is fighting over territory on a pig shaped continent called Saustrilasia which is rich in swill, the life blood of pigs. The game mimics the First World War in its appearance and many of the weapons are of that era. Finally much of the voice talent lent to the game is from the recently deceased Rik Mayall and he is hilarious in this game.

Once you have chosen your team you can then fight it out for pig supremacy. Unlike Worms each of your team can be promoted to different roles that allows them the use of additional weapons or tactics. You can have medics, commandos, snipers and so on and promoting your guys properly is key to finishing the game. Promotion points can be earned by finishing battles with as many guys still alive as possible. Each team takes turns with which to make a move against the other and a timer means you have to be thinking a few steps ahead in order to know what you want a specific pig to do so you don’t waste time standing around. Pick ups include health and additional weapons and it is always a good idea to either acquire or destroy them before the enemy can use them. For someone used to Worms the weapon options seem a little limited at first but this is where the promotion angle comes in making it that little bit more strategy oriented. The voices are very stereotypical bordering on racist at times but no one country is shown in a more positive or negative light than another. It just adds to the fun.

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The controls are very easy to get used to but aiming some of the weapons such as the grenade and bazooka require a certain level of practice to master. I have said this game is huge amounts of fun but I should emphasize that after you pass the halfway mark through the campaign mode things get extremely difficult. Your enemies become quite competent which means you have to be on the ball with every move. Then it gets damn near impossible when the enemy teams are able to call upon reinforcements while you are stuck with the guys you started with. This leads to intense frustration and starts to wear down the enjoyability factor. Like all turn based games though it is most fun when played against some one else.

If you find this cheap somewhere I highly recommend it. It is immensely good fun especially in two player mode and when you master it and can defeat hordes of heavily armed pig there is deep satisfaction to be had. Failing that Rik Mayall will keep laughing right the way through.

 

 

 

 

 

GAME REVIEW: Raging Skies

Tony Wilkins reviews one of the few challenges to the Ace Combat franchise that appeared on the PlayStation One.


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Ace Combat has become the benchmark console flight sim based shooter upon which all others have been compared since. Few people have ever heard of one of its early rivals however. Raging Skies appeared in 1996 a year after the original Air Combat was launched by Namco. Since then it has largely fallen off the radar of many people as Ace Combat went from strength to strength with each new title. It certainly didn’t help that Ace Combat 2 arrived just a few months after the launch of Raging Skies but is this ignorance justified?

I said in my review of Air Combatthat the story was rather weak and that you didn’t feel like you were part of the action. This is not as much the case in Raging Skies. Here you are presented with an in-depth story as you take on terrorists, madmen and the odd rogue USAF pilot. Admittedly the gameplay at times feels disjointed from the story but you do feel like you are part of something bigger. Therefore on this note Raging Skies is superior to Air Combat.

Raging Skies also offers the player a cockpit view which Air Combat doesn’t (in fact the Ace Combat series wouldn’t get a cockpit view until Ace Combat 4). This view appeals to the aviation enthusiast such as myself but sadly it is quite limited. The cockpit instrument panel takes up half the screen and gives a very restricted and at times claustrophobic feel which is a shame. I only ever found myself using the cockpit view once I had mastered the HUD view.

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In terms of actual gameplay the controls are on a par with Air Combat. I didn’t stall as much as I did in Air Combat which was one of that game’s biggest headaches. Raging Skies tries to give a far more in depth world with which to blow the crap out of but sadly this just results in large numbers of shattered pixels and square shaped flames appearing on the screen which becomes irritating and tiresome on the eyes. I am being unfair here as this is a PSX game and we can’t expect too much. It does give alternate weapons which again took the Ace Combat franchise another three years to achieve in Ace Combat 3. You do get a choice of aircraft but I couldn’t really distinguish from them and I could finish the game with the F-4 Phantom II which is the first aircraft you get.

Sadly, unlike Ace Combat it doesn’t hold my interest as much. The gameplay becomes even more repetitive than the early Ace Combat games but more importantly it doesn’t have that spark that Namco’s series has. The developers tried again by producing a sequel on the PlayStation 2 under the title Lethal Skies II but that game was even more anonymous than this one being overshadowed by the incredible Ace Combat: Distant Thunder (Shattered Skies in the US). Had this game came a year earlier I think it would have been a better rival to Ace Combat but as it was Namco shot it down with extreme prejudice and I have to admit that I am not really bothered about that.

GAME REVIEW: Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere

Completing the reviews of the three Ace Combat games on the original Playstation Tony Wilkins reviews the final installment and discusses the sad story around it’s European and North American version.


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Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere was launched in Japan in 1999 with North American and European versions hitting the shops a few months later in early 2000. Since then it has become perhaps the most controversial title among fans of the franchise outside of Japan. An aggressive marketing campaign throughout 1999 promised that this was going to be a quantum leap over the well received Ace Combat 2 and in many ways it was. I shall go in to detail as to why it is perhaps the most notorious of the three PSX Ace Combat games later. Firstly, let’s review Ace Combat 3 in it’s PAL format as I had it.

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Everything about this game was a departure from the previous two titles. Instead of being a mercenary pilot fighting rebels in a semi-realistic world the story is set in 2040 A.D. and the player is a member of a military police force known as U.P.E.O. (Universal Peace Enforcement Organization). The job of the U.P.E.O. is to maintain peace between two super-corporations known as Neucom and General Resource who both have vast armies and are in a state of ‘cold war’. Recently however another faction has appeared, the mysterious Ouroborus terrorist organization, that has its own agenda.

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Gameplay is vastly superior to the previous two titles. This was the first game to feature the 360 degree camera angle which meant you didn’t spend lots of time with no enemies on your screen while you chased an arrow as was the case in the previous games. It also meant you could explore this futuristic world more fully providing you used the Dualshock controller. The engine was changed also to give each aircraft a more distinctive feel. You could also perform tail slides for the first time which better replicated real aircraft although you have to be mindful of this during low level flying otherwise you go slamming in to the ground. You also had some weapon options to equip your aircraft which was a welcome new feature to the franchise.

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It is clear that in 2000 the PSX was starting to show its age and looking at some of the ground scenes of this game you can see that Namco were really reaching the limits with what the PSX could do. At altitude the ground looked great but that quality deteriorates as you get down lower with very little curvature in the buildings and landscapes. In truth this is trying to be a Playstation 2 type game but within the limits of the PSX. The aircraft are beautiful however with a mix of modern and futuristic types and unlike in the previous games there is a more distinct feeling between them. The old HUD screen is gone replaced by a far more futuristic one that takes full advantage of the 360 degree capability.The game did include a small number of beautifully rendered cutscenes.

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On the surface then this game has more or less everything going for it. So why is there such disdain from western fans? Well what it boils down to is that what we got in the west was a bare shell of the game. The Japanese version of the game is a fully interactive affair with the player making choices in the battle that affect the outcome of the game. As such there are not just a greater number of missions but there are alternate endings. For most western fans however this is still not what is missed the most.

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The Japanese version was more than just a game where the player made decisions. It featured numerous animated cutscenes produced by the world famous Production I.G. studio responsible for the Ghost in the Shell movies and series. The whole story/game feels like it could be a part of that world as well as the Ace Combat universe. The game even came with a book outlining the histories of the characters. There was so much to this story and we missed it over here.

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Reasons that Namco gave for their decision to cut all this out of the western versions are the worst kind in that they do make sense for the most part. Firstly, Namco knew that the PSX days were nearly up as the Playstation 2 was coming out in 2000 and therefore they decided not to go to the expense of translating the whole game. There were also some unspecified legal obstacles that didn’t seem worth the hassle and these are presumably with Production I.G. as this was the only collaborative effort of the series. Namco also seriously underestimated the reception the game would receive in the west and probably knew they had made a mistake afterwards as Namco did acknowledge the disappointment of western fans. A real shame.

Ok – in summary. This game was a vast improvement over the much loved Ace Combat 2 with with its physics and options. Even in its limited PAL format the game is very fun and probably one of the most challenging of the entire franchise but not in a frustrating way like Air Combat was. Sadly this game’s production history has mired its enjoyment because you know there is so much more out there for it that unless you speak Japanese you can’t enjoy. I wish that Namco had held off on this and instead launched it on the Playstation 2 taking full advantage of that system’s power and justifying the expense of translating it. I think it would have produced it’s own series of games set in this realm which we haven’t been able to explore since.

GAME REVIEW: Ace Combat 2

Tony Wilkins continues his reviews of the Ace Combat franchise with a review of Ace Combat 2 on the Playstation.


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Ace Combat 2 followed hot on the heels of its predecessor being released less than two years after the original Air Combat in 1997. As I said in my review of that title the game had lots of promise and to a large extent that promise was realized in this follow-up. So let’s dive in to Ace Combat 2.

Firstly the plot remains almost the same as in the first game in that you are a member of an elite mercenary group who have been called upon to help turn the tide against a well organized and equipped rebel force. When I played this back in my youth I will be honest and say that I rarely paid any attention to the story. These early games in the series were more about the action than the cinematic elements that came later. Another thing as well is that Namco has done a lot of retconing in recent years adding more detailed information to the story of Ace Combat 2 that didn’t actually feature in the game itself such as details over the Ulysses asteroid that makes its game appearance in Ace Combat 4. So in this case the story is just there to give you a reason to be fighting as in the first game.

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It is from here however that Ace Combat 2 becomes unrecognizable from the first installment. Almost every aspect of the game has been improved upon. The aircraft look sleeker and more detailed and have additional animation such as air brakes and moving wings for those aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat and Tornado F.3. The scenery is also a vast improvement on Air Combat being far more textured and detailed. The controls have been left virtually untouched so if you have mastered the fully three dimensional EXPERT setting of Air Combat then you will have no trouble playing this. The biggest change seems to be in the gameplay itself with the environment feeling much bigger and your aircraft can finally pull up without stalling at ninety degrees which was the biggest pain in the rear in the first game. Sadly two features remain the same and that is you still have only one type of missile which can be used against air and ground targets and the camera view remains fixed to the forward position.

This was the first game to introduce several features that would continue in to future installments. It introduced the concept of Ace enemy pilots that you have to shoot down to gain medals. It also introduced the series’ first playable super fighter in the form of the XFA-27 which has the unique feature of firing four missiles before reloading as opposed to two in all the other aircraft. It was also the first to offer the player a choice in mission route by joining one of two advances on the enemy each with their own mission path. Sadly however this would be the last time we got to see the Ace Combat Phoenix logo. I liked it.

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One complaint Namco took seriously was that Air Combat seemed to be rather short and so Ace Combat 2 comes with an abundance of missions. This is a good and bad thing however. If I was honest a few of the missions do feel a bit samey after a while and you start to wonder if there was any point to them other than to make the game feel longer. Some missions are really involving however and perhaps the most memorable is the shooting down of the cruise missile which you have to close in on and hit with guns. Tricky at first but once you have done it a couple of times you get the knack of it and it doesn’t become a problem. When you do fail though you are treated to a beautiful FMV of the missile with its multiple warheads destroying a city.

In conclusion Ace Combat 2 was the game Air Combat wanted to be. It is far superior to it’s predecessor but it would be Ace Combat 3 that would fully realize the franchise’s potential on the first generation Playstation but that has its own sad story which I will be going in to in my next review. If you do find this in a car boot sale or flea market somewhere I would highly recommend picking it up.

 

GAME REVIEW: Air Combat (Ace Combat 1)

Tony Wilkins reviews the first of one of his favorite video game series.


 

OK I will get this off my chest right at the start – I hate the Afterburner series. I know that they have become arcade classics but it was a relentless shoot ’em up; A glitzier version of countless Atari games where you control a tank/gun/etc and shoot at hordes of enemies. BORING!

So when the Playstation arrived and with it came Ace Combat (Air Combat as the PAL version was called) I had my doubts. I feared another Afterburner clone like the Mega Drive’s G-LOCK. Then I saw the trailer which was actually the opening movie and boy did it look good. The opening video is excellent given its early Playstation era origin. It is smooth, clear and exciting. Suddenly I was excited about the game and had to play it. I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of a horizontally scrolling game shooting formations of enemies like Afterburner I was treated to a fully 3D environment with a variety of enemies. I was hooked and my love of the series grew and grew right up until it nosedived with Ace Combat 6 on the X Box 360 but that’s another article. Right now I am concentrating on the first installment.

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From the retro gamers point of view how does Air Combat hold up today? Well the truth is you can tell it is very early Playstation era in its gameplay. The controls are a bit clunky at times and I don’t think it really pushes the Playstation far beyond what was achieved by the SNES. There are two settings for the controls one of which gives you full control over pitch, yaw and roll while another is for those who find this setting difficult. In all honesty I found this NOVICE setting extremely frustrating as the aircraft doesn’t always roll for you and this leaves enemies racing underneath you. My advice is spend a few minutes getting used to the EXPERT setting I assure you it will be worth it.

The 3D environments remind me a lot of Star Fox in their layout but keeping it in context it is still pretty good. My biggest criticism of the environments is depth perception. If you are flying low you can suddenly find you have crashed without realizing how far away the ground was. One thing me and my friends absolutely loathed was the two player versus mode in which you fight it out in a giant crater that you can’t escape – WHY? You spend more time trying to avoid the crater walls than actually fighting it out which would have been much more fun. Fortunately this never made it on to any of the other games.

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The aircraft themselves have a swanky paint scheme which I wish was an option in the later games purely for nostalgia purposes as it does look pretty cool. For those who wanted a more traditional scheme for their aircraft there was a cheat code available to return them to their pre-purchase colours. The aircraft handle quite well although I sense some of the earlier aircraft have been deliberately stiffened to make the more advanced aircraft feel better. Pulling up almost always induces a stall at 90 degrees but you find ways around it by remembering to turn as you climb and keep the nose around 80 degrees with the power up. The aircraft have just one type of missile and this can be used for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Targets have varying degrees of armour so your main targets will require more hits than just your bog standard enemies. Failing that you can resort to your guns to finish them off.

I would have liked the story to be more involving somehow. This game established the elite mercenary theme for the series that remained for most of them only to get abolished altogether when it hit the X Box 360. Basically a civil war has erupted in some undisclosed country and you are one of the world’s premier fighter pilots who have been hired to turn the tide. I found it interesting as it reminded me of Area 88 one of my favorite animes and I wish there was more to it but that’s a minor criticism if I was honest about it.

In conclusion Air Combat was a breath of fresh air to the console flight sim genre (in that it was close to the combat PC flight sims as you could get). The games that followed this one in the series were marked improvements but this remains one I remember fondly if only for the fact that it gave us a taste of what was coming.