You probably best know developer Techland for the zombie survival game “Dead Island,” which featured perhaps the greatest trailer for a video game ever made. “Dead Island” was a technically flawed game that still managed to garner interest past its incredible preview due to a few unique game ideas (and a well-designed game world) that gave the hint that somewhere below all the bugs and somewhat stiff gameplay, there was a truly great game waiting to bust out.
People were anxious to see what Techland’s next project would be, and what they had learned from “Dead Island,” and that game is a downloadable, online ATV racer called “Mad Riders.” It’s actually a bit of a homecoming for developer Techland, because well before “Dead Island,” their main business was banging out a series of unremarkable racing titles, and that’s exactly what “Mad Riders” is.
I don’t mean to sound harsh towards the game. Truthfully, I loved “Mad Riders” when I first booted it up, because the speed of the races was just insane, and the controls were nice and loose in that proper, ATV racing game kind of way. However, things slowly started to unravel as my playtime went on. For one thing, while the game has over 40 tracks to its name, many of them range from okay to very dull, with only a few standouts. The game promises you stunts, but the tracks rarely allow more than a backflip or sharp “sidewinder” turn, and the contradictions continue in the unlock department. The game has the usual array of unlockable and customizable vehicles, riders, modes and tournaments, but none of it is particularly inspiring or worth going out of your way for.
Even the game’s best attribute — the blisteringly insane speed — becomes a problem after a while. That’s because your biggest opponent isn’t the other riders, who don’t present a challenge until later in the tournament, but the tracks themselves. There are all manners of cliffs, crevices and obstacles that will cause you to lose the race, and you’ll become intimately familiar with all of them. Of course, the game contradicts itself once more by always managing to reset you in a friendly position after you make a mistake, and I don’t remember ever once losing any ground because of this feature. Even more annoying is the shortcuts on the tracks. Any divergent path in the road will either lead to a) a road without a ramp; b) a road with a ramp that puts you at about the same place as the one without the ramp; or c) shortcuts where you have to pass through an appropriate gate and hit the Y button at the right time to access. It’s more than a little apathetic.
“Mad Riders” ends up being the polar opposite of “Dead Island.” It’s technically proficient in most ways, but completely lacking in the X-factor department. It’s only 800 Microsoft Points, so there’s an argument to be made for it if you’re jonesing for a semi-competent multiplayer ATV title on a budget, but it isn’t a strong one. Because in the end, “Mad Riders” isn’t dressed up and has nowhere to go, but for some reason is in a ridiculous hurry to get there. And that’s just sad.
You see, E3 has had a lot of problems over the years. Developers drop out, games disappear, Jamie Kennedy makes an appearance…they even got rid of the booth babes. Against it all, though, sometimes a moment can emerge from the show that wades through all the trouble and dodges the press leaks to emerge from the other side as a real surprise. Here are a few.
Introducing Killzone 2….Sort Of
The big reveal trailer has been E3’s trump card for many years. “Metal Gear Solid 2“, “Halo 2“, lots of other 2’s…they’re usually a pretty big deal. Over the years, game developers have turned the video game trailer into an art, which often translates to the trailer being better than the game.
There is no greater example of this than the infamous “Killzone 2″ trailer. Spearheaded by the unveiling of the Playstation 3, Sony’s 2005 conference was a runaway success, and “Killzone 2″ was the highlight. The first “Killzone” was a shoddy attempt at Sony trying to make a “Halo Killer”, and was a mediocre success. The footage shown for the sequel, however, was so dramatic and technologically mind blowing that it would have stood out amongst the packed line up on its own. However, the hype was bolstered by Sony’s insistence that what people were seeing was in fact real time.
Of course that would turn out to be a big fat lie. “Killzone 2″ was a good looking game, but it was nowhere near the trailer in any respect. Why this ultimately hurt Sony by taking the focus away from its otherwise amazing conference, for a brief time the debate over the trailers authenticity was all anyone could talk about.
The Original Shocker
It was E3 1995, the very first E3, and Sega CEO Tom Kalinske took the stage and told everyone that due to unprecedented demand (Disclaimer: real demand may not have been unprecedented) Sega would no longer be meeting its originally promised September 2nd North American release date. Instead they would push the release date up and anyone interested could buy the system that very day for a retail price of $399. It was a bombshell in the industry without precedent before or peer sense.
Of course in classic Sega tradition, just when it looks like they’ve taken the world by storm, a rival comes in and parts the clouds. In this case it was Sony’s Steve Race who took the stage and simply said “$299” and walked off. The message was clear. Sony’s system was going to cheaper, have more developer support, and better launch titles. All fans had to do was wait for it. The Saturn meanwhile angered retailers who suddenly had to sell a lot of Saturns without a chance to promote, and had an unspectacular launch that kicked off a mediocre system.
The gadget is a major part of just about everybody’s life these days. While it would seem that there are two minds present in the average gadgeteer that would work against one another, this isn’t true in the slightest. As a matter of fact, these two minds produce a wonderful harmony. The ultimate application of modern gadgetry is that both the minimalist and the hardcore gadget consumer can coexist in a surprising type of harmony.
The Gadgets Themselves
Gadgets have gotten to the point where they can do just about anything that doesn’t involve manual labor or creativity. Unless you’ve got the funds to buy a robot of your own, those kinds of things just can’t be technologically outsourced yet. However, for anything else, you’ve got a host of different technological options to choose from. In a sense, you actually have a sort of overload to deal with that people in the past never had.
At a point not that long ago, the average person barely had a choice of technology that would do anything more complex than heat or cool their food. Nowadays, you can either choose to pick up tons of highly specialized gadgets to play with, or the one or two ubergadgets that seem to do the limited “everything” mentioned above. As the gadgets evolve in tandem, you have an increasingly challenging decision to make: the one, or the many?
The One Vs the Many
In this day and age, you can pretty much buy a single gadget that will do everything. While Droid phones aren’t perfect, they and some of their ilk allow you to perform all kinds of functions that range from basic things like calculating and planning all the way up to arranging sophisticated interactions with a lot of people and services involved. You can get a huge amount of things done without all of the fuss and muss you would’ve had to invest in years past. So only having one device in your pocket allows you a ton of options.
However, one device can only do so much. No matter how awesome this device may be, it still tends to be overshadowed in some areas. As the old saying goes, “being a jack of all trades is being a master of none.” Specialized machinery almost always trumps the more generalized gadgets, which is why there will always be a market for great cameras that don’t do anything else. Of course, the gadgets themselves are only one part of the system, and everything else also has to work together to complete the proper gadgeteer’s lifestyle.
The Support Network
Having a great support network is one of the strongest links the Droid has going for it. The Android operating system has a veritable army of supporters, and among this group a lot of great ideas grow readily. Whenever you have a large number of people who have passion, incredible things happen. Without a great network in place, even the best gadgets lose a lot of their luster.
Like certain stories or parties, some games can’t be properly explained and you just had to be there for them to fully understand what they meant.
A quick disclaimer. I’m not saying these are bad games. They are just games that were hugely significant at one point, but lost whatever it was that made them special over time, and are left as something that is less than what they were.
“Conker’s Bad Fur Day”
I’ll never forget reading the April edition of Electronic Gaming Monthly (that was a video game magazine to you youngsters) and first hearing about this. You see, EGM used to run a fake article for its April edition as an April Fools Day joke. In the year 2000, there was a preview so absurd that everyone that read it groaned at how lazy the staff was getting at their pranks. It was a sneak peek of the then titled” Conker 64“, that alleged that developer Rare was going to turn the cute and colorful world of Conker into a dark and violent hell, and make Conker himself into a potty mouth, perverted anti-hero. The magazine was flooded with letters from readers saying that they had spotted the obvious gag this time, and that the editors would have to try a lot harder next year.
Of course, that preview would turn out to be the only thing about the game that wasn’t a joke.
I don’t know when it finally sank in that the game wasn’t a prank, but even while playing it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. To this day I’ve never seen a game try to be so deliberately offensive, and succeed. Conker drank, cursed, screwed, and belittled across an adventure that saw you go to war, get drunk, pee out giant fires, rip the skin off of a bulls ass, help pollinate a horny and well endowed flower, and (most infamously) take on a giant singing pile of poo. This game had pure humor running through its veins, and every second was filled with some sort of gag or movie parody (which were actually quite excellent) that demanded that you kept playing in order to see what absurdity the game had for you in its next set piece. If you were like me and played this at the tender age of 13, it was hard not to believe it was in the sliced bread pantheon of greatest things ever.
Time reveals a different tale of course. For instance though the game was beautiful for its day, (released at the tail end of the N64, its considered one of the best looking games on the system) it still carries that murky and dull 64 look. The gameplay is also pretty atrocious as it mostly consists of making your way from context sensitive action button to context sensitive action button, and fills out its time with annoying fetch quests and segments so frustrating that they were later trimmed down or taken out entirely for the games Xbox remake. Finally that humor just doesn’t ring as true anymore. The game is still funny in its own way, but unless you carry the same sense of humor I did at the aforementioned 13, you’re going to find little incentive to keep playing.
“Conker’s Bad Fur Day” is still a noteworthy and entertaining game (its multiplayer mode especially), but unless you played it when it came out, you won’t get that same punch in the gut feeling it delivered that pretty much forced you to bow down to what you were witnessing.
Modern Equivalent: That’s tough. You almost have to look at the opposite, and imagine Kratos from “God of War” starring in a cute and cuddly platformer. Or if they made “The Human Centipede” into a game where you played a cartoon centipede trying to stop a Saturday morning mad scentist. Even then, Conker is in a league of its own.
It’s truly a rare occasion for a beloved movie or TV property to be adapted into a successful video game, and though George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series had all the makings of a really great action RPG, “Game of Thrones” falls well short of the mark. Though developer Cyanide has done a good job of creating a separate story that could conceivably exist within the rich history of Martin’s novels (namely, the events of the first book), the rest of the game fails to match that same level of quality. Following in the narrative style of the fantasy series, you’ll split your time between two characters – Mors Westford, a veteran ranger of the Night’s Watch with ties to the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, and Alester Sarwyck, a red priest of R’hllor (better known to fans of the HBO show as the Lord of Light) who’s returned home from self-exile to reclaim his lands and titles from House Lannister.
The story allows for a few familiar faces to pop up throughout the course of the campaign (including Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Lord Varys, both of whom are played by their respective actors from the TV series), but while that may add the connective tissue needed to make “Game of Thrones” feel like a legitimate part of the existing canon, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still not very fun to play. You know that something’s not right when one of the game’s biggest problems is also one of its strengths. Although the use of long, dialogue-driven scenes may enhance the storytelling in Martin’s novels and the show, it really shouldn’t be the focus of a video game. It’s hard to argue the quality of the writing on display, but every minute spent watching one of these cutscenes is time where the player is left to sit around and do nothing.
And when you finally are given a chance to roam the world and engage in battles, the combat system is so boring that it feels like it’s on auto-drive. Of course, that’s probably because it sort of is, as the only real control you’re given in the fight is deciding the best strategic order of your attacks and special abilities. However, the rate at which you earn new attacks and abilities is pretty slow, and by the time you do have more to choose from, you’re so set in your old ways that it’s not really worth experimenting. Additionally, the game itself is choppy, buggy and even a little ugly at times, and for a property with as large of a fanbase as “Game of Thrones,” that never should have been allowed to happen.