Tag Archives: Video game

Dreadaxe Retro Gaming: Five Nostalgic Video Games (1990s edition)

Since lockdown in 2020, I found myself juggling work at home and childcare, but also saw an increase in my reading during the day and gaming in the evening. Both became quite comforting and therapeutic to an extent, and in recent months I have been thinking about which offenders from my backlog I’ll be tackling in 2021; I am keen to bash through a chunk of my Steam library this year.

This last month however I have also been reminiscing about older games from past systems and the titles that kept me going during my childhood, or just flat-out annoyed me to the point of not being able to shake them from my memory.

In no particular order I present 5 nostalgic video games that I’m feeling nostalgic for:

Duke Nukem (MS-DOS, 1991)

Once saved to a flamboyant orange floppy disk marked ‘DUKE’, the original Duke Nukem was an early favourite of mine, and probably takes the title of being the first game I had ever completed by myself. Yes, I was playing this before I got my hands on Doom.

Duke 1 was a 2D side-scrolling shooter with a variety of robotic enemies and some of the most obnoxious sound effects you’ll hear in your life. I still hear the gun firing, or the hyperactive fanfare that played when you collected an item; if you’ve played this game before, you know!

The screen always tended to be stuffed with things to blast, be it a pouncing robot or a line of surveillance cameras. Even chicken drumsticks could be ‘cooked’ by firing your gun. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the absolute flamboyant carnage on display in Duke Nukem, the barrage of bizarre sound effects that rattled the brain as you played. It remains as one of my earliest gaming memories.

Pharaoh’s Tomb (DOS, 1990)

Pharaoh’s Tomb always makes me think of visiting my Uncle and Aunt’s place down in England in the ’90s; me and my Dad would play through this platformer in the attic office/games room space, starting in the late afternoon and continuing long after the sun had disappeared for the day. Unlike Duke Nukem, I don’t remember Pharaoh’s Tomb having any sound (if it did, we couldn’t hear anything), but it felt like more of a visual treat.

The game had a distinct look about it: red-brick pyramids, tombs and labyrinthine levels against a black background, with your character standing out for his abnormally large hat and small head. The enemies were very unsettling, and the gameplay boiled down to basic platforming, key-collection, and throwing spear-like projectiles. I also remember one Arctic level where your character could plummet into the drink and re-emerge dead as a block of ice. Pharaoh’s Tomb felt like an epic adventure at the time, though I’ve not had much luck in tracking it down in the present day.

Virtua Cop 2 (Sega Saturn, 1995)

One of my relatives was pretty invested in the Saturn when it was released, buying into the lightgun phase along with a copy of Virtua Cop 2. I admit that I’ve never been a massive fan of these types of games; I suck playing lightgun games at arcades and I was equally garbage here, resorting to using the controller to shoot like the absolute killjoy I am.

Virtua Cop 2 had a trio of levels, including a subway, bank heist/chase, and yacht, of varying difficulties. No matter the level, it was just chaos; enemies would pop in and out of cover, fire from cars, and occasionally take hostages as shields, with the game becoming more like a memory challenge as me and my uncle would target where we knew the next perp would appear before they even had.

There were a lot of great times with Virtua Cop 2, whether it was flipping a car full of gunmen by blasting their tyres or even just blowing away a civilian to piss off my teammate.

Resident Evil (Sega Saturn, 1996)

Thinking about the 90s wouldn’t be complete without the original Resident Evil. This was a game that one of my buddies from school loved harping on about, and I was lucky enough to be able to get this on the Sega Saturn at the time. RE1 frightened the life out of me (I would have been 8), with its brutal opening cinematic, spooky soundtrack and, of course, the lumbering hordes of mutated bioweapons.

Again this was a title that felt like it really pushed the envelope at the time, a game that made the player feel relatively powerless, with their ever-dwindling resources and health being the only tools at their disposal. Resident Evil also seemed to mark this shift between games being quite arcade-like, to being more cinematic. It stood out from the other games in my collection for being terrifying and, I guess, “grown-up”, for lack of a better term. Let’s put it this way, RE1 was a huge departure from Virtua Fighter 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Streets of Rage (Sega Megadrive, 1991)

It definitely wouldn’t be a look back to 90s gaming without Streets of Rage. Moving through various levels filled with thugs and punks, your goal was to (literally) beat down an oppressive crime syndicate that had overrun the city. I played this game until my thumbs were sore, teaming up with friends and family alike to run through this massively addictive brawler. The soundtrack was also incredible.

But I remember how amazing this game felt, the way each character felt different with regards to movement speed and fighting style. You could even call in a special move that involved radioing a police officer to lay down supporting fire if things got tough (which they often did). And the fact that it could be a solo adventure or local coop, well that just made it even better.

These are just a handful of gaming memories I have swirling about in my head, so thanks for reading this far. Have any of you had experience with these titles? And which games remind you of your childhood or early gaming years?

Lockdown Gaming, pt.7: Cyberpunk 2077

Hello and yes, we are still in lockdown, and yes I am still gaming. Here’s a brief overview and some thoughts on what I’ve been playing lately.

To round off the last of 2020, I have been tackling one of the most anticipated RPGs of all time, Cyberpunk 2077. While these posts are never intended as in-depth (or even game reviews in any sense), I will be keeping this one fair and to the point; any talk of the controversies involving the studio have been covered to exhaustion across articles and YouTube videos, so look into that if you’re interested.

[+++++++ I’ve also tried to keep the in-game pics spoiler-free +++++++]

The main protagonist is V, a trouble-maker whose appearance, background and skills are selected by the player. After a prologue determined by whichever life path is chosen, it is down to the nitty-gritty in Night City, a bustling futuristic hub teeming with style, neon lights, overbearing corporations and sinister gangs. The comparisons never truly do it justice, but the longer I play the more I see hints of Blade Runner, The Warriors, and Total Recall, as well as the more obvious influences like GTA (in particular San Andreas), the original Deus Ex, and William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer.

There is the standard fare of open-world fun to be had, with multiple main quest threads appearing, along with a variety of side jobs, investigations and crimes that pop up as you make your way through the city. What’s refreshing is that side jobs don’t just equate to random bitch-work; there’s moments for the player’s character to shine with cinematic points popping up unexpectedly in these little quests, and they do flesh out a number of aspects of Cyberpunk, from the gangs to tertiary characters, to V him/herself on occasion, and are enjoyable all the same. There are a small handful of cut-and-paste jobs however, certain quest types that are just staples of the sandbox game genre these days, and I imagine these missions are hard to deviate from in the design process.

Being an RPG, there are skills and perks to choose from, with attributes being tweaked during character creation and skills being increased through use during the game. What perks are purchased is up to the player, and the better V gets at any given skill determines how many new perks are available for purchase with these points. I like this system as it both encourages and rewards for playing a particular way, and there are many options for completing tasks; hacking, running-and-gunning, sneaking, breaking in or using a diplomatic/flirty approach are just some of the methods for getting the job done. Cybernetic implants are also on the menu to enhance areas of V’s body and performance, such as additional armour plates, hacking decks or retractable forearm blades, to name a few.

The sounds of Night City are immersive in their own right. The voice acting is outstanding, with special mention to (female) V’s voice actor, Cherami Leigh, and Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand. Every character I have encountered feels like a legitimate part of the world and helps to sell it in a big way. The sounds of techno-rock blaring from a passing car stereo, the whooshing blast of a tech sniper as it fires, even a gang member calling me a pussy when they were scouring the area for me- it does wonders for the atmosphere of Cyberpunk 2077.

A bunch of downsides though? As mentioned, this will be game-specific and nothing more. There are issues with glitches and bugs aplenty; NPCs T-posing, enemies straying into solid objects and becoming stuck, subtitles getting lodged on-screen and not disappearing, game crashes and save corruptions are rife, though two patches have helped to trim a bundle of issues down. I’m playing on PS4 Pro and the game is in a playable state for myself, which I’m grateful for, although I know this isn’t the case for everybody. Cyberpunk 2077 is a huge game and it just doesn’t run as well as it should on a platform it was seemingly developed for. What should have been a successful launch saw a game with strong storytelling and engaging game world marred by technical and visual issues.

The story is hypnotic, the voice acting is great and the RPG system is robust and addictive itself. I’m constantly reminded of Deus Ex while playing, a classic chunk of sci fi that still holds up to this day. A little more work needs to be done by CD Projekt Red to fix bugs and make this playable for everyone, because I think Cyberpunk 2077 should (eventually) be experienced by a wider audience than it currently is. Is it a great game? I believe it is, at its core. The poor console performance is disappointing and certainly took me out of the action until the patch went through, and I understand why others are angry at the state of the product at launch. Let’s hope 2021 can see things turn around.

These are just a few thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077, though. In the mean time, I hope you stay safe and thanks for reading.

Lockdown Gaming, pt6: Vampyr

Playstation Plus put on an interesting free game this month in the form of Vampyr, an action-RPG game released back in 2018. This was a game that I had been interested in for a couple of years, unfortunately getting swept under the rug by whatever the hell I was playing back then. Now seemed like a time to right that wrong.

Set in London in 1918 during a brutal epidemic, the player controls the character of Dr Jonathan Reid who was been attacked by a vampire and left for dead. Springing back to life with undead vigour, Jonathan is flung into a difficult predicament, being a surgeon of some renown as well as a creature of the night with a thirst for blood.

There’s many mechanics at work in this game: part of Vampyr is a semi-open world which sees you speak to NPCs, take side jobs, trade and gain cash and experience; there’s also combat, where you fight fanatical vampire hunters and other beasties using Reid’s own vampiric powers, and another aspect of the game where you manage the health and well-being of the various districts and boroughs in a kind of ‘local doctor’ sim fashion. It all melds together into one game bizarrely well, and becomes extremely immersive once you get into your stride.

I enjoyed the combat the most, a mostly melee affair with some gunplay if you choose to use a revolver in your off-hand. In all, it flows in an almost Bloodborne/Assassin’s Creed-like manner, especially when using the lock-on feature. I found that once you start mixing your chose vampire abilities into the fights too, these scraps can take on a whole new form and really show what the game’s upgrade system has to offer.

Managing the health of the boroughs is done through healing NPCs of diseases that afflict them, such as sepsis, migraines, the cold etc, and also not harvesting them for their XP. The amount of XP carried by each NPC varies and can increase after you do some investigatory work by talking with them and other characters in their social circle. Choosing to ’embrace’ them nets you their blood XP which can be exchanged for vampiric upgrades, but weakens the overall health and stability of the district.

Killing NPCs may get you the blood XP but it also has negative effects on the district, such as seeing more patrols or beasties on the streets as a result. One merchant I encountered even stopped selling their wares out of depression, after their significant other was feasted on by some unscrupulous vampire that totally wasn’t me….

There are a couple of mildly annoying little niggles that bother me about Vampyr, however great it is on the surface. One of these is the stamina meter, which degrades when sprinting or dodging, but also with every swing of whatever weapon you have equipped. These are essentially “light” attacks you’re using, and to have these consume stamina seems very odd. I’m also at odds with myself for thinking this game should have a fast travel system too, as I have found myself exhaustively hoofing it across multiple boroughs to reach quest points or various characters, but I guess this is so you get to experience the surroundings that your decisions have helped to shape, both positive and negative.

On the whole, I found Vampyr to be a solid RPG with an addictive neighbourhood management sim at the heart of it. The setting and time period make it somewhat unique, and I found myself exploring every nook of the darkened London streets just soaking up the atmosphere. While it has some issues in combat and in performance in general, I’d easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good RPG game.

Dreadaxe Retro Gaming: Final Fantasy VI

I have a fondness for RPG games dating back to Pokemon Red, which was my first trip into this style of playing. Something about building a team and watching it go from strength-to-strength, acquiring new abilities and travelling to wonderful places made for a heavily addictive experience.

Playing Final Fantasy VII a year or so after its initial release, the game hit me like a ton of bricks for more of the same reasons and more. The story was incredible, and the score was like nothing that I had ever heard before, either in gaming or films. I was then lucky enough to get Final Fantasy VI when it came out on PS1 in the late 90s, but I was still fairly young and didn’t appreciate it as much.

I’ve had a strong interest in revisiting the series lately. One of my mates and I are always lamenting the fact that neither of us finished Final Fantasy VIII, and I also remain bitter with my younger self for losing interest in VI back then; thankfully they have been on Steam for a little while and in that time I have replayed VII and have made a sizeable dent in VIII earlier in the year. VI was on special recently and I figured it was time to right an old wrong.

The story revolves around a conflict between the Empire and a faction called the Returners, with the Empire trying to track down and utilise the power of magical beings known as espers. Magic itself seems to be something of a rarity in this time with only few characters having access to spells at the beginning. There is more of an emphasis on each character representing a specific class, as each of them has a unique skill; Edgar has an array of contraptions to use in battle, Locke can steal items from an enemy mid-battle, Celes can opt to absorb cast spells and restore MP, and so on.

You definitely get the feeling that the story is on a grand scale, as there is no one main character; instead the story is told through multiple protagonists who all have their own personalities and histories, and these really come through during the course of Final Fantasy VI. The game world itself is highly detailed and feels genuinely lived in, and Nobuo Uematsu’s score perfectly characterises these locations.

My favourite aspect has been the combat, making good use of each character and trying to suss out who my main party will be. The combat segments do feel very fast-paced and it’s easy to get caught up in trying to match the game’s speed, often resulting in wrong spells or abilities being selected (a critique of myself, not the game!) It has a lot of depth though, which keeps the characters feeling different and the battles more tactical.

(The flying is also lots of fun!)

Well, it’s been brilliant getting to revisit this game and understand why it is held in such high regard. I’m aiming to play more titles in the Final Fantasy series in the coming months, albeit in a random order. We’ll see how that goes!

Lockdown Gaming, pt5: Bioshock

Up until a little while ago I thought that Lockdown Gaming posts were done and dusted but here we are. Unfortunately we are now entering a different flavour of lockdown this time around, though one which is required all the same. I won’t go further into this topic as it is saturating the news and the Internet at this point in time, but the overall mood of this week has been a pretty lousy one and I started thinking about hitting the games again to lift my spirits.

The game I’ve been playing as my main just now has been Bioshock, or Bioshock Remastered (I guess? I don’t know, it’s part of the Collection, so I assume so?), and this marks the third time that I have seriously put the hours in with this game. The first time was with the original over 10 years ago and became fairly frustrated. I played again a few years back and enjoyed it enough to see it through. This time, I just wanted something creepy to play, and on this occasion everything just clicked.

While it doesn’t seem like I’m giving this classic its due, in the grand scheme it’s mainly just down to poor timing on my part. Bioshock was originally released in 2007 and passed me by at the time, being a title that I picked up years after and felt even then that it was somewhat dated. I’ve grown up (somehow) since then and can appreciate the masterful nature of the environment, the characters, and the story, which is delivered mostly (and masterfully) through audio logs.

The premise has been written and described numerous times, so I’ll be brief. Following your plane going down in the sea, you end up in the underwater city of Rapture, a sprawling cityscape torn apart by civil war and now populated with the remaining psychopathic inhabitants known as Splicers. Addicted to the substance ADAM, the Splicers are vicious and unpredictable, turning the elegant halls of Rapture into a bloody horror show. And that’s really all I’m going to divulge, though I will say that Bioshock builds the tension so well with every aspect of its design, especially from a voice acting and audio design standpoint. The environment is so chilling and tragic, the Art Deco beauty of the city being a distant memory as locations lie partially flooded, collapsed or smeared in blood.

One thing that I love about the series in general is the mix of gunplay and powers that you can weave into combat. The environmental effects are one of the game’s strong points and makes for some exciting conflicts, such as zapping enemies with a shock plasmid while they stand in water, or using an incinerate plasmid to melt ice around the level and thaw out a door. The ability to fine-tune your character through upgrades that offer various perks gives you the chance to make a build that is all your own too, and tweaking these throughout the story was rewarding and felt weighty.

If I had any gripes with the game it is mostly down to the ‘juggling’ you do with your weapons in one hand and plasmids in the other; Jack can only have one hand on-screen at any one time, making the player switch between them in combat. This makes sense because some of the guns are two-handed, like the machine gun and shotgun, but it feels like an odd design choice when you start playing.

Also, there are some irritating bugs present with the game’s difficulty dropping in secret for no reason; I played through on hard mode and figured that I was just getting stronger as I reached the last boss, only to find that the game had knocked itself down to medium. At the end of the day though, these issues were minor and didn’t sour the overall experience that I thought was a remarkably positive one.

That’s all for this post, anyway. If you have any thoughts on Bioshock or indeed the Bioshock Collection then feel free to let me know. Until then, stay safe and take care.

Lockdown Gaming, pt4: Catherine: Full Body

These last few weeks have seen me resorting to gaming a lot in the evenings, as I’m finding it restorative in a way. After 12-hour days with the kids in lockdown, a few hours of video games tends to be the way to end the day, along with the usual bout of working on my Word Bearers.

I’ve been using this time to work through some of my backlog on the PS4 (though I’ve been bashing through a stack of games on Steam as well), but wanted to discuss a title that myself and one of my best friends found in a game shop by complete accident many years back. This was back when we shared a flat and would often pick up coop games to trawl through. We found the original Catherine and after reading the back of the box and seeing how insane it was, we bought it.

Catherine is a Japanese puzzle game with a bizarre story revolving around a guy who cheats on his girlfriend (Katherine) with this stranger he meets in a bar (also Catherine). During the night, he finds himself dragged into a nightmare where he must climb ever-disintegrating towers or die in the real world, a fate shared by many men in the story.

The premise is odd, granted. It was even stranger to find a game that we had never seen or heard of before, nestled amongst the standard fare of brown-filtered modern shooters. We were both mesmerised by it at the time, especially as it shifted from romance to horror and back again, complete with multiple different endings. I picked up Catherine: Full Body this year, which is a kind of rehash with some added story beats and a new character thrown into the mix.

So far, it’s as fantastic as the original was and it’s helped me to recapture that magic of playing it a few years back. It forever sticks in my head not just because it’s one of my favourite games but also because it’s one of those games that appeared out of the woodwork and forced you to take a chance on. For me, it sits alongside games like Deadly Premonition and Alan Wake as being a sleeper title that stuck around in my mind longer than I thought they would have.

That’s all for this instalment anyways. I hope you’re all well, and take care.

Lockdown Gaming, pt3: Final Fantasy VII Remake

I’ve been focusing on my uni work for the past few weeks, and only have maybe three weeks left of coursework to complete for this term. However, two crucial games were due to be released early April that were remakes of PS1 classics that my 11-year old self poured many hours into. The first was Resident Evil 3, the second being Final Fantasy VII.

Problems with mail meant that my copy of RE3 arrived nearly a week late and FFVII arrived a full week early, so I was lucky enough to get stuck into this from 3rd April. As interviews articles, videos and the back of the box have stated, this is only the first of what is the “Final Fantasy VII Remake project” and is meant to cover the section of the game in Midgar.

I was looking forward to causing carnage in the combat sections and exploring more of the world beyond the demo’s boundary. It’s breathtaking how much thought, detail and care have been put into the game. The industrial city of Midgar is both faithful to the original but also expanded upon, a welcome return to a game world that I’ve longed to explore once again.

I don’t want to say too much though. If you’re a fan of the original and are curious then give the demo a try and see. The game itself is a nugget of nostalgia that has reminded me of what it’s like to be excited about a game release again- in a sense it’s like feeling like I’m 11 years old all over again.

As always, let me know what your thoughts are. I hope you’re all well.

Lockdown Gaming, pt2: Fallout 4

I’m finding a lot of comfort in video games right now. With the state of the world at the moment, it’s quite difficult to focus on most things. I wanted to revisit a game that I put many hours into some years back, but never really tied up properly in terms of cleaning up side quests and exploring areas.

I didn’t really know what to write for Fallout 4; it’s a difficult game to digest. In my opinion it’s not as much fun as Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, although it does regurgitate some things from these games. It feels more like a retread of 3 for those that missed it some years prior, with some sections (one piece of DLC in particular) seeming like they have been ripped from the previous game with tiny changes and a graphical upgrade.

Without comparing it too much to New Vegas, it’s definitely more of streamlined RPG experience in this outing. The shooting is certainly tighter, and the explosives pack one hell of a punch this time around too. The combat was an area of the older games that was the least polished, but in 4 it really shines.

The main protagonist having a voice was a huge change at the time, although a welcome one, and I forgot just how stunning the sound design is overall. It’s a breath of fresh air getting to see and hear your character come to life in such a way. The factions and supporting characters are varied too and inject some urgency into the story, and it all culminates pretty well.

At time of writing I am just about wrapped up with the Nuka World DLC, with the main storyline being long finished. It’s been fun for the most part exploring areas that I had not before and tying up some loose ends here and there. I’ve just never been that fond of it as a Fallout game. It’s not a bad game by a long shot, just that it lacks some of the charm, and even some of the soul, of its predecessors.

But there we have it for now. I hope you’re all well and taking care.

Lockdown Gaming, pt1: Left 4 Dead 2

This is a strange time in the world right now, and with so much time in lockdown we’re all having to entertain ourselves in our homes. My kids’ nursery has closed a few days ago so they are at home all day now, but there are occasions where I can pick up a game and crack on. I wanted to start a short series of posts to cover these games, writing mainly as a means to keep myself sane.

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Beginning ‘The Parish’ campaign, with a few alternate character skins.

Myself and a few friends have rediscovered a game from our past, the brilliant Left 4 Dead 2. If this one passed you by, it’s a first-person, team-based romp through zombie-infested areas riddled with elite infected creatures. Levels are grouped together in 4 or 5 part ‘episodes’ that tend to have a theme (rural areas during a monsoon, or a journey to a shopping mall). And those elite infected? They can ensnare a player in multiple ways, so teamwork is key.

Left 4 Dead 2 will teach you which of your friends is a loose cannon and which of them do a runner in a stressful situation. I had forgotten how much fun it is to wade through a cityscape packed with hundreds of zombies, trying carefully not to shoot car alarms for fear of triggering even more hordes of the undead. When a situation escalates it can be balls-to-the-wall gunfight or a heart-pounding sprint to the next saferoom.

In all honesty I’m more of a single-player gamer. I enjoy games that build an atmosphere slowly over time, whether they are stealth, horror, or RPG games, and coordinating a team of friends to get together online is harder in the present day than it was when we were eighteen. Suffice to say, I love the coop aspect of L4D2 and how you are just dumped in this post-apocalyptic world to deal with the zombie infection.

I’m still working on my Word Bearers when the kids turn in for the night, as well as studying. I have been finding it tricky to concentrate what with everything that has happened in the UK over the past week, as I imagine countless millions of folk have as well. If anyone wants to talk video games, models or whatever then feel free to leave a comment.

I hope you’re all well. Stay safe!