Star Wars: Bounty Hunter

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is a third person shooter released for the Playstation 2 and GameCube in late 2002. It’s also available digitally on the Playstation Store for Playstation 3 and 4. If you’re my age, chances are you have strong nostalgia for this game. I have the Playstation 2 version. Personally I rented this game a lot. It was one of the first Playstation 2 games I played. I went into it, almost twenty years later, with high expectations. But does it really hold up to my memories?

The Playstation and GameCube versions use different graphics engines with the GameCube having a higher framerate, higher resolution textures, and a higher polycount. The PS2 version has texture mipmapping and full screen antialiasing, and due to two vector unit chips it can have a lot of characters on screen without framerate drop. There are framerate drops in the game, mostly during complex environment scenes. I don’t know if these drops are present in the GameCube version of the game.

The game takes place before Episode II, and goes into how Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) was chosen as the template to the clone army, how he got his ship, Slave-1, and how he came to work with Zam (Leeanna Walsman). That’s the bounty hunter he kills in Episode II to stop Anakin and Obi-Wan getting any information about him after the failed assassination. After the first mission, which mostly serves as a tutorial, Jango is contacted by Count Dooku and offered a position in a hunt for the leader of a cult called the Bando Gorra, Komari Vosa. The reward is 5,000,000 republic credits. I won’t go too much more into the story as it’s one of the more interesting elements of the game and I don’t want to spoil it. 

The game’s difficulty is the most apparent aspect. Early levels are fairly easy, but it ramps up. Each level has a series of checkpoints, represented as floating icons you walk over, and you get five continues before you have to start over. Levels range from 10 minutes to 30 minutes long and this system gets grating. Many of my deaths were due to platforming sections and the jetpack physics. Or Jango simply deciding to fling himself off a beam, which happens far too often. It’s full of difficulty spikes, often in the form of large groups of respawning enemies with heavy weapons. Some of these weapons can kill you in as few as three shots, and most weapons at close range will get you to low health. You’ll be strafing around levels a lot to avoid fire while hoping the targeting system is merciful. Some levels are too cramped to do this and those are by far the worst parts of the game. I genuinely had to stop playing and step away to do something else for a bit due to the frustration of these parts. 

The continues system simply isn’t fun, I would have prefered more infrequent checkpoints with an unlimited amount of continues. The only mercy is that enemies don’t always respawn when you continue, so you can chip away at the larger groups. Some enemies always respawn, often the second you look away from their spawn point. 

Aside from that issue, which is a big issue, the core gameplay is fun. It uses a lock on system to shoot, though this often results in Jango refusing to target the enemy you actually want. The system is sticky, so if you drop target it tends to always go back to them, even if they’re behind cover. There is a manual aim but it’s not very useful due to poor controls. It’s sluggish and unresponsive and forces you to stay still while using it, which is guaranteed death. 

Another time this comes up is with the bounty system. Each level is full of optional bounties that reward you with credits. To get a bounty you equip your scanner and manually aim at someone to check for a bounty, you can then choose to capture them dead or alive, the reward for alive is almost always better and there’s no real reason to kill them. Capturing alive just means equipping your cable weapon and tying them up, then you just press triangle while near them to claim the bounty. However due to the fact you have to equip your scanner and check individual NPCs for bounties, and then mark them, makes this a clunky and useless system. If you kill a bounty without marking them first, you get no reward. Generally speaking you can ignore this system.

Aside from the issues with the targeting the combat is generally fun. Jango is equipped with his trademark dual blasters, along with pickups for his dart, flamethrower, grenades, a sniper rifle, and rockets. The rockets are fun to use but very situational, most of my uses of them was cheesing bosses. Using them inside, which is a lot of the levels, is a good way to blow yourself up. The missiles do track but not fast enough to catch a fast moving enemy. They also don’t have enough splash damage to effectively kill groups, though they will knock down everyone close to the explosion. There’s also a few weapons you can pick up, sometimes hidden, but these have limited ammo and when you run out you drop the weapon. Despite this they can make taking out a group of tough enemies easier. Unfortunately the enemies also have these weapons. Enemies can come equipped with standard blasters, larger gattling guns, mounted guns, rockets, grenades, or melee weapons. The melee enemies are simply annoying. In a pack they can surround you and stop you from moving, and then all bap you in a second. They do way too much damage, and this gets annoying. The grenade enemies are annoying at best. There’s a loud audio queue when a grenade is thrown so they’re generally easy to notice and avoid, but if you get hit by one you’re thrown to the ground, while on the ground enemies can still shoot you which means a lot of health loss, and if there’s more than one grenade thrower, prepare to be stunlocked. The missiles are usually easy to avoid, just do a side jump when it gets close, after making sure you don’t have a wall behind you. Simply strafing can also avoid them, but if the missile is on a downward trajectory it’ll often just hit the ground behind you, so jumping is the safest option. 

Jango also has his jetpack, which is mostly used for mobility and platforming sections. The jetpack physics are weird. It feels like they were going for a realistic style, but often this just leads to frustration. You have momentum, and the jetpack doesn’t cancel it, so you have to take deceleration into account. More often than not this results in flying into a wall at super sanic speeds and bouncing into a death field. I sure hope you like the sound of Jango screaming, because you’ll hear it a lot. The death fields are plentiful and not very well signposted. Something can look like you can jump down to it, but if you try, you’re met with instant death. This wouldn’t be as annoying if there wasn’t limited continues, but there are, so this is infuriating. 

The enemy AI is not what I’d call revolutionary, but it passes. The before mentioned explosive based enemies will sometimes blow themselves up, and enemies chasing you ignore all hazards, so you can just lead them into bottomless pits. The normal enemies will often run for cover if it’s available, but sometimes they just run around in circles in the open. They’re not challenging, and only pose a threat in groups. Levels are packed with non-combat NPCs, which you can kill if you really feel like it. You aren’t punished for killing people, which is good because they love to run directly into your attacks. As annoying as this can be, they do help the levels feel more alive.

The levels have a lot of variety, ranging from Coruscant to a prison on an asteroid. A few have areas where there’s no combat and just people walking about. This really helps with immersion. A few chapters are capped off with boss fights. These fights are forgettable and easy for the most part. They’re only really there to cover story beats. Levels also have one secret each, in the form of a floating gold feather. These unlock special features. Sometimes you’ll come across these in regular gameplay, but sometimes you have to go looking for them. They’re a fun addition to the game and encourage exploration. Levels are fairly sprawling, though some are incredibly linear. The game also has a habit of unclear progression, so you’ll find yourself rubbing your face against doors to find out which one opens in order to continue. Respawning enemies also makes this harder, since you can’t always rely on enemies to guide your progression. The best thing to do is look for the checkpoint markers, or items you haven’t picked up. The prevalence of objective markers in modern gaming can get annoying, but some would have been nice in this game. Or maybe a voice line or two telling you to head for the correct door.

There’s also a series of special features, unlocked through various means. A Dark Horse comic filling out Jango’s backstory is rewarded for game completion. It’s an interesting read, though the text is often too blurry to easily read. There’s also concept art, trading cards, and “outtakes” which are various cutscenes where the characters mess up lines, trip, or generally do wacky things. They’re a nice addition. If you’ve always wanted to hear Jango complain about not being able to scratch an itch in his armour, then this is the game for you.

The cutscenes were done by Industrial Light and Magic, and they’re all very high quality. Along with the soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule, who also did Knights of the Old Republic’s soundtrack, it feels like an authentic Star Wars product. 

Ultimately, the fwoosh fwoosh shooty bang bang jetpack gameplay lives up to my memories, despite the repetition, but other things don’t. This game hasn’t aged well. Lives systems were on the way out even back then and it’s by far the worst aspect of the game. It pads its length with big groups of enemies blocking progression until you kill them, and it’s full of frustrating platforming. My strongest memories of the game are the early levels, and now I know why. The early levels are the more fun ones. They don’t do many of the things that the later levels do that I have a problem with. The voice acting and visuals are solid. The actors from the films reprise their roles and do a good job. The visual design is nice, and the graphics are good. It sells the era of Star Wars well and is loaded with atmosphere. It really is a shame that this game never got a sequel. Maybe we’ll see one in the future due to this game’s status as a fan favourite, but I highly doubt it. 

It stands tall among the other Star Wars games from that era, easily on the same levels as classics like Battlefront 2 and Starfighter. There aren’t really any modern games like it and it’s easily worth a revisit. It brought me back to 2004, for better or worse.

Playstation 2s are cheap, and so are the games for it. So if you want to give it a go it’s easily worth picking one up. As mentioned before it’s also available digitally on the PS3 and PS4, but I can’t speak for the quality of those versions.


Battlefield 1: Not the First One.

Battlefield 1 Cover art

This review contains spoilers. TL:DR, it’s good go play it.

The Battlefield franchise is a venerable entry in the FPS genre, the first entry was Battlefield 1942 which released on Windows and OS X in 2002. The main focus has always been large online battles in large maps with vehicles and destructible terrain. Admittedly I’m unfamiliar with the franchise. My first experience with the series was Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on the PS2, followed quite a while later with Battlefield 3 on the PS3. I never got into it as much as I did the Call of Duty games of the time, which were my preferred online FPS as a teenager.

Battlefield 1 was released in late 2016 and is the fifteenth installment in the franchise. It marks a first for the series in that it takes place in World War One, compared to the entries before it which were modern, and the earlier titles which took place during World War Two, as was common. Not many games take place in World War One, largely because it’s hard to gamify. DICE got around this by simply making a World War One themed World War Two game. This isn’t the worst thing, but it’s far from accurate in terms of the guns you’ll use, and yes, there’s a power armour sequence. More on that below.

What I really liked about the older Medal of Honor games is how they feel like war movie games, which makes sense since MoH was Spielberg’s project originally, the way they play feels like an old war movie. One heroic but kinda generic dude mows down Nazi after Nazi complete with music swells, elaborate death animations and improbable sequences. Despite how much I love those games, despite their flaws (and there are a lot of flaws) they do have some issues. The extremely simplified nature of them makes the stories not amazingly interesting. Battlefield 1 feels like it’s a modernization of this concept in a lot of ways.

Gone are the generic American McJawlines that made up the rosters of MoH games past, replaced with a diverse roster of lesser told stories. The opening, Storm of Steel, has you play various members of the Harlem Hellfighters, The 369th Infantry Regiment, notably made up of a majority of African Americans and Puerto Rican Americans. This sequence is effective but let down somewhat by the bullet sponge flamethrower enemies, though to be fair these are likely there for balance reasons. Without them I could see players playing this for ages not realizing they’re meant to die. It’s a supposed to lose fight and acts as the bookends of the game, in that respect it’s very effective and good. A great opening.

The second story, Through Mud and Blood, follows a British tank crew tasked with punching through enemy lines, it goes about as well as one might expect for a game focused on the loss and futility of war as core concepts. It starts off fairly weak, but it improves a lot as it goes on. The gameplay, especially in the tank babysitting sections, can get grating but it’s mostly solid. After you push through the enemy lines you become stuck in the mud, and facing Germans rushing the tank Townsend orders a pigeon carrying orders for an artillery strike be sent out. The artillery hits almost directly on top of the tank, but through extreme luck it’s unscathed and carries on into the Bourlon Woods. This begins the tank babysitting section.

The tank babysitting is up there as one of the worst choices in the game. You come upon a forest where the fog is so thick you’re tasked by the commander, Townsend, with scouting ahead. You quickly find trouble and have to clear enemy camps. This isn’t a bad idea on paper, it provides a contrast to the power fantasy of being a tank in a World War 1 game nicely, but the execution is very eh. You can sneak through the camps but the stealth gameplay is lacking, and as soon as the shooting starts the tank Kool-Aid Mans its way onto the scene into the direct firing line of multiple field guns, so not only do you need to worry about yourself you also have to take care of the tank, which is extremely vulnerable. It would be far easier to just take the entire camp on solo.

After you clear the forest, mechanical problems force the tank to stop, thankfully the Germans ahead have salvaged British tanks that you can steal parts from. By this point you’ve lost two of the tank crew and are left with Townsend, McManus, and your player character Edwards. Townsend is injured, so it’s up to Edwards and McManus to infiltrate the village to salvage the spark plugs needed. McManus objects, viewing it as a suicide mission, and Edwards tells him to leave, he does. The village infiltration isn’t very hard. You find a silenced sniper rifle pretty early on and the enemy AI breaks when you use that. They’ll watch a friend’s head explode and calmly investigate the corpse while you line up the second shot. This is funny, granted, but it’s not amazingly immersive. Once you get the parts you head back to the tank with the help of a well placed horse, as you’re entering the tank you’re attacked from behind only to be saved by McManus, who had a change of heart and returned.

The tank continues on, coming across a railway station being used as a staging point by German forces planning to retake Cambrai. The crew heroically attack it, taking out multiple vehicles, and destroying the German forces that arrive to reinforce it. Black Bess is then immobilized by artillery and overrun by German infantry. Edwards and McManus are injured fighting the infantry and a mortally wounded Townsend sacrifices himself by igniting a gas leak in Black Bess, killing the German forces. Edwards and McManus limp along the road toward friendly lines. The subtitle then informs you that the war ended a month later.

This is my favourite story in a lot of ways. Thematically it’s extremely strong. Themes of sacrifice and courage are contrasted with the utter pointlessness of it. The performances of the actors and animators are amazing, Mark Bonnar as Townsend is especially amazing in his final scene. As obvious as it was that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending from the beginning I still hoped for one.

The second war story, Friends in High Places, is the weakest. You play American pilot Clyde Blackburn, for some reason. Blackburn cheats George Rackham, a British pilot, out of an experimental plane and poses as him on its test flight. Rackham’s gunner, Wilson, accompanies you as you go through a short tutorial. German fighters attack and you have to fight them off, once only one remains it flees, and you follow, finding a German fort full of munitions. Wilson photographs it and Blackburn convinces him to tell command about it and they launch an offensive to destroy it. This part is fairly simple, you have to take out the AA guns, fight fighters, and defend bombers. The hardest part about this is the fight controls, which I’ve never been a fan of but it’s not too bad. It’s fairly easy as long as you don’t crash into the ground like I did more than a few times while attacking the AA guns. After the fort is bombed enough it cuts to a cutscene where Blackburn does something stupid and crashes.

You then have to sneak, or shoot, through German lines and into No Man’s Land, where you find Wilson. Blackburn then nearly murders him with a plank of wood instead of helping him back to friendly lines and this is the point where I checked out. Blackburn is unsympathetic and unlikable. Wilson reveals that he knew Blackburn was a fraud all along and for some reason this makes Clyde, Paragon of Good Choices, decide to not murder someone that’s been nothing but nice to him. You then have to avoid British machine gun fire to make it to the friendly trenches while carrying Wilson. You make it and are (correctly) arrested for stealing a plane and impersonating Rackham. On the way to be court martialed the ship carrying you is attacked by German fighters and Rackham is unceremoniously killed, Blackburn convinces Wilson to make more poor choices and free him so they can steal another plane and go to fight the German aircraft. Upon doing so they discover bombers and zeppelins moving to attack London and engage them. When you get the zeppelin to low health Blackburn decides to fly close enough to a German AA gun that he can verbally taunt the guy shooting it while moving slowly next to it and gets shot down. Again, not a smart man. You crash into the zeppelin and fight your way across to the AA gun, which you take control of to shoot the other zeppelin and enemy fighters. The second zeppelin explodes and it turns out that fire hurts so Blackburn, Wilson, and the German that was on the AA gun, whom Wilson has been fighting this entire time, are forced to jump off. Blackburn survives this and climbs out of the River Thames, lays on the dock and narrates the ending, where he refers to himself as an unreliable narrator and suggests that none of this ever happened, which I wish was true.

Yeah I don’t like this, if you couldn’t tell. Wilson is the only other character in the war story and he’s treated terribly by the narrative, it isn’t even shown if he died or not. The missions are straight forward enough though, and aren’t unpleasant though.

Next up is Avanti Savoia, the infamous power armour part. You play Italian shock trooper Luca Vincenzo Cocchiola, who wears metal armour that acts as power armour. Once you get past the initial ‘oh come on’ factor of this it isn’t bad. It’s not great though, in part due to some technical issues that I’ll get to.

This is framed as a story being told by Luca to his daughter about how his twin brother, Matteo, died. Interestingly this did take something out of it. In Through Mud and Blood I knew how it’d end, it was inevitable, there would be no happy endings, but I hoped for one anyway. In this I didn’t have the same experience. It wasn’t a matter of ‘will it be okay?’, it’s ‘how will this go wrong?’

Luca fights through the enemy lines while Matteo fights on the fronts in the valley below, initially it’s successful, Luca pushes through the lines, destroys artillery, and achieves his objective. In an attempt to stop the Italian forces in the valley the defenders bomb the mountain, causing a landslide. Luca’s armour becomes damaged and he removes it to rush into the valley to find his brother, there he finds death and devastation, men so damaged by what they’ve seen that they just stare into space– or, wait, I think the AI just broke. Yeah this is where the technical issues come in. The AI just stopped. Enemies just stood around, except for one flamer enemy who torched me when I got close, killing me. When I respawned they worked again but not well. Some still seemed to have their AI disabled. I don’t know if this bug is common but it was pretty massively disruptive.

Pushing past that though, Luca fights his way through the front and into the German fort, eventually coming across his brother’s corpse. The closing subtitles explain The Lost Generation.

This is very short and not very good.

The fourth war story is The Runner. You play Frederic Bishop, an ANZAC at Gallipoli. He’s introduced to Jack Foster, his new charge who lied about his age to get into the army. Bishop spends much of the game doing things and risking his life to protect Foster. You first storm the beach to capture an enemy position, you’re successful but discover that Foster has followed you. Bishop berates him for his belief that war is glorious and Foster becomes sickened by the carnage.

The next day Bishop again volunteers for a mission to protect Foster, he delivers a message to HQ, and on his return is saved by Foster who shoots an Ottoman soldier. He’s then sent by British officer Whitehall to deliver another message to rear command, when he arrives he finds it deserted with a note explaining that a full retreat has been ordered and that the area will be shelled to cover retreat. He rushes back only to find that Foster volunteered to attack the fort and is missing. Whitehall tells him to ignore the retreat to go after Foster, however he’s clearly distressed that he just sent all those soldiers into friendly fire. He makes his way up to the fort and finds Foster along with the other soldiers hiding with wounded. He tells them that the shelling is imminent but Foster says that they won’t be able to make it with their wounded, so Bishop attacks the fort on his own to draw their attention, telling Foster to fire a flare once he’s clear so that Bishop can escape. In the process of this, Frederick is mortally wounded. He climbs to the battlements and watches for the flare, hoping that Foster has made it.

The flare is fired and the artillery follows shortly after. Frederick Bishop is killed.

The Ottomans won, many of the people who fought in the campaign went on to become leaders of the Republic of Turkey. For Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand, Gallipoli was formative in their national consciousness. It was the first time that Australian and New Zealand forces fought under their own flags.

There’s not a lot to say about this one honestly. It’s rather short, but it’s well done. It does a lot with very few characters, and they’re all good characters. Bishop’s death is effective, I wish they’d done more with Foster. He doesn’t have much character beyond being naive.

The fifth and final story is Nothing is Written, you play Zara Ghufran, a Bedouin rebel fighting the Ottomans in Arabia with T. E. Lawrence. An Ottoman train carrying important cargo derails in the desert, and Zara is tasked with getting that cargo. She succeeds and obtains the code book, but soldiers arrive, lead by Ottoman officer Tilkici. She’s saved by Lawrence and other rebels. They decide to interrogate Tilkici for information regarding the armoured train Canavar, and how to lure it into a trap.

They discover that to lure it they need to get three message capsules from three officers to send to it via pigeon. As Zara is sending the third she’s attacked by Tilkici, who escaped from Lawrence and knowing the location of the camp, has it attacked. He prepares to execute her but she kills him before he can. Zara meets with Lawrence, who escape the camp before it could be attacked. It turns out that this was all a waste, because the Canavar has to stop for supplies, leaving it vulnerable, and a plan is made to attack it when it does, trapping it by damaging it with explosives. You then fight the train using various field guns to shoot at it while it rains artillery and machine gun fire on you.

Zara and Lawrence move on to the Suez Canal to strike at targets there. The subtitle informs you that the British reneged on their promise of a free Arabia.

And that’s pretty much it. Overall the stories are very solid, the gameplay can get grating at times. The final sequence of Nothing is Written is especially frustrating, with the train firing instant death at you if it holds line of sight for long enough. Other than a few frustrating parts it’s somewhat easy. I played on medium difficulty. The AI is lacking, especially when you use long range silenced weapons. I noticed a few bugs but nothing overly bad.

The graphics are very impressive, my PS4 was pumping superheated air out the back the entire time I was playing. The environment design is very visually nice, but lacking in terms of layout. It’s mostly just generic lanes of progression with similar sets of enemies. That said the core gameplay loop and gamefeel are solid enough that this isn’t too bad.

I’d comment on the multiplayer but I got a PS4 copy, and I have to pay extra to play online, and frankly fuck that.

This review has mostly been me trying to get around my writers block for finishing my MoH review series with Vanguard. It has proven to be hard to write about, so look forward to that one up next!

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Medal of Honor: European Assault: An Assault in Europe (and North Africa)

Released 7th of June 2005, Medal of Honor: European Assault is the 7th entry in the Medal of Honor franchise. After the poor reception of Rising Sun, the planned sequel was cancelled, that game would have followed the player character’s brother and would have also taken place in the Pacific. European Assault instead follows Lt. Holt, a person, who does things. While European Assault was better received than Rising Sun, the reviews were mixed and it’s very easy to tell why.

Strong openings are a staple of the PS2 Medal of Honor games so far, with Frontline’s D-Day and Rising Sun’s Pearl Harbour, but European Assault’s somewhat falters. If we take the first mission as the opening, then it’s short and not very good, though if you consider the first four missions to be a single opening, then it is definitely far better. Even maybe the best. Unfortunately, the game’s engine definitely wouldn’t be able to handle that, it can barely handle the levels it has.

The opening, Operation: Chariot, shows the raid by Royal Navy and British Commandos on St. Nazaire on the 28th of March 1942. The events shown in the game vary from what actually happened, but historical accuracy clearly isn’t a focus of the game. That said, European Assault does vary from the previous two console entries in the series in that it drops the ‘heroic war movie’ theme and instead focuses on the ‘war is hell’ angle. The opening narration makes this pretty clear, and it’s hammered in throughout the rest of the game. It takes this in a weird direction, with the narrator seeming to imply that the allies were fighting for the same reasons as the Nazis during his ‘there’s nothing good about war’ speech, which I’d certainly hope isn’t the case on account of that whole genocide thing.

But this isn’t really a story or theme analysis, so onto the game. Each level opens with a briefing explaining the basic layout of things, then it shows you your objectives. Some are hidden and you find by exploring. The maps are fairly open though still quite linear. You have multiple paths but you always get funneled through the same door. Sometimes you’ll have to backtrack if you missed something and with the slow speed that Holt moves at this is tedious at the best of times. Still, having multiple objectives to pursue around the levels does make them feel a bit bigger and lends to the idea that this is actually a military engagement.

The levels being big does have one rather big downside though: the framerate is terrible. I’m not sure if this is due to the level size or just the density of effects but the game barely runs. I think it despawns a lot of things after the set piece is finished, so it’s pretty common to see a bunch of soldiers fighting only for everything to quiet down rather abruptly once you’ve pushed forward. This game is trying extremely hard to be ‘cinematic’, but ironically in trying to do so it becomes less movie like. Like Medal of Honor: Frontline, European Assault is at an awkward point, but while Frontline was somewhere between Doom and Call of Duty, European Assault is between Call of Duty and Call of Duty.

Gone is the stats screen at the end of levels. Now, you just get a run down of what objectives you completed. Most of the staples of early FPS are gone, replaced with dark grim “cinematicness” (yes I know that isn’t a word). This game has more in common with the late WW2-Early Modern Call of Duty games than it does its own series, and that is pretty sad. Some of the set pieces are nice, but it relies on them far too heavily and when the game is chugging throughout your epic explosion, something is fundamentally wrong and you need to design around your tech limitation.

Oh yeah and you can’t shoot nazis in the dick anymore. Well you can, but there’s few animations for it, and it isn’t obvious what part they’re grabbing. I suppose the fun haters at EA Los Angeles decided it would be tonally off for a game that opens with “There’s nothing good about war” to have fun sequences where you deliver buckshots to bellends. They aren’t wrong but I still miss it. Then again these are the same devs that implemented a headshot counter. When you get a headshot you get a little German helmet in the bottom right of your screen with a crosshair on it, get another one fast enough and you get two little strikes on it. I assume this increments more with more headshots but lining up a lot of headshots isn’t exactly easy.

While we’re on animations, the fun animations that Frontline and Rising Sun had are gone. This is good and bad, while those games’ animations were fun, they weren’t good by most measures. They were hand animated. The animations in European Assault seem motion captured, at least to my eye, and are a lot more realistic looking. The downside is that they aren’t as fun to watch. It’s a mixed bag. In place of a lot of the death animations, the enemies just ragdoll when killed. This is literally never good. The ragdolls are extremely poor, they bounce hilariously when they fall, get stuck on things, sometimes they get thrown the wrong way. Shooting an enemy with a shotgun and having them fly toward you is pretty funny but breaks the tone a bit.

This is overly negative, let’s talk about some positives. Despite clearly trying to be Call of Duty, this game does not feature regenerating health. Instead you have two health pickups. Canteens, which heal you instantly, and medkits, which you hold onto until you need. You use them by pressing down on the dpad. You have a lot less health than in previous games, which isn’t great. It depletes very fast and if you’re being shot you can die before you can react. If you die, you can revive if you have a revive. You get these for completing the bonus objectives. Honestly I’m not sure why they went with this. The revives are automatically used after a lengthy animation where you fall over and die. After that animation plays, you’re right back where you were at half health. You know. Still in danger from the thing that just killed you. One standard enemy can kill you in a matter of seconds. 

Wait, shit, positives. Right. So instead of being a one man army like in previous games, you have a squad. You have pretty limited controls over them, you can make them attack or make them come back. Their attack range is pretty limited, but generally can be quite useful if you want a room stormed. They aren’t invincible but they’re pretty close to it, if one of your pikmin does get low on health you can heal them up using one of your medkits. These guys can help you out in a jam so it’s usually a pretty good idea to keep your accountabilibuddies healthy

Unfortunately they aren’t very smart. They have a habit of running into machine gun fire, either yours or the enemy. Expect a lot of shots you have lined up to be absorbed by a passing dipshit. Thankfully, unlike Call of Duty you won’t get failed for friendly fire. The reload button is also the ‘waste a health kit on whatever is in front of you’ button, so be careful trying to reload.

The spread of bonus objectives is decent. You discover them by exploring: get close enough and you get a radio message telling you to go take the burger joint or whatever. Usually, these are to find semi-hidden items, destroy something, or kill that level’s “nemesis”. The nemeses are just special enemies with a visible healthbar (it’s an iron cross above their heads). They eat a lot of bullets and will usually home in on you, so expect to die to them and use a revive. Thankfully they’ll also drop one. Some of these objectives, like the semi-hidden documents, will require you to look around to find them, but most of them are basically just main objectives. You’ll go past them while on the normal route through the level. It feels a lot like a lazy way to pretend to be non-linear and give player choice but you’d have to try hard to not complete these objectives.

Yeah, it’s really hard to talk about the positives in this game without tangenting into a negative. I don’t hate it, I swear. It’s just very flawed.

The missions are broken up into groups, each group following a set plot over a specific location. Assaults (that take place in Europe) end with a screen where it breaks down the rank you got for each level and gives you a medal if you achieve a gold rank in every level, which requires you to complete all the objectives. Length varies, the first assault (in Europe) has four missions. The second is in North Africa, but that’s pretty close to Europe I guess.

Each assault opens with a cutscene made up of footage of World War 2 with a narration, it starts with an older person, presumably Lt. Holt, describing their experiences, but transitions to a younger voice for the second half or so. These are nice openings. I like them. Holt clearly isn’t a real person. I’d have preferred to have multiple characters. As it is, having an American show up to all these historic campaigns just serves to push the “America Saves the Day” narrative.

If the cheap enemy spawning in Rising Sun annoyed you, then give this a miss. I saw enemies t-posing after being spawned in around a corner from me repeatedly. It’s upsettingly common. It frequently spawns enemies behind you too, I assume this is to make backtracking less dull but it fails miserably. It simply isn’t fun. If I clear a room, then I want it to stay clear. A submachine gun spawning in my face isn’t fun. It’s also common for allied units to spawn in front of you, so you fight through a gauntlet of enemies and round a corner to see a gaggle of friendlies just hanging out. Not that the friendlies are all that helpful.

The selection of weapons is pretty varied. You have British, Russian, American, and German guns but you don’t get to choose from all at once. The guns depend on who you’re fighting with. This is generally fine since they’re all nice options. Unfortunately the shotgun is only available in two of the ten missions. It’s the sign of a good FPS that the shotgun is fun to use, and when it actually gives you one European Assault’s shotgun is okay. Its spread is pretty bad, and it has terrible range. Aiming down the ironsights improves the spread a bit but it’s pretty dire. It passes the shotgun test, but barely.

The AI is just as bad as previous entries, if not worse. The allied AI is close to useless (and with how often the game seems to despawn them, completely unreliable), your squad mates usually just find new and creative ways to get themselves killed, and the enemy AI cheats. They have near instant reaction times, and don’t even need to be aiming at you to shoot. I’m fairly sure they always know where you are. I’ve seen guns clipping through walls tracking me. Rounding a corner just to have most of your health vanished in a few seconds by a t-posing nazi isn’t fun. Retreating to find that the game has spawned enemies in the room you just left is even less fun.

Speaking of things that aren’t fun, the levels lack any checkpoints. Once you’re out of revives you start from the beginning. The levels aren’t long or anything, they’re just frustrating. Dying at the end of a level is the kind of thing that makes me want to go play something else. They improved this in Rising Sun with checkpoints, but now they’ve just gone back to how it was. And it isn’t great.

Continues are a concept invented when games were made to gobble your money. Revives are essentially continues, and they shouldn’t be here. Playing the same level over and over just to die at the same difficulty spike isn’t fun. Not hitting down on the dpad in time and dying with zero revives and six medkits isn’t fun. Revives are worse than continues. The game inflates difficulty in many ways, such as starting you with very limited ammo or infinitely respawning enemies. The last level is pretty close to the least fun you can have in a video game.

The story is nothing to write home about. It’s told almost exclusively through the opening cutscenes, there are no real secondary characters. The ones that are there aren’t around long enough to get to know. It’s a nice touch that there are multiple women in the Russian and French forces.

This game has a non-trivial amount of bugs. The worst I encountered was on a mission toward the end where I had to destroy a tank, I did. Later on when I got close to the tank again, a scripted sequence began where the tank activated. The enemies near it respawned shouting about getting it operational, and it started shooting its frontal machine gun at me. It was also invincible. These bugs plus the general lack of polish makes me think that it might have been rushed for release.

The spawn system also feels incomplete. Games will often spawn in and out NPCs a lot. In the case of a FPS like this, they’ll spawn in enemies and allies to keep it feeling like there’s a battle going on. European Assault doesn’t do this properly. Enemies will keep spawning almost indefinitely, but allies don’t. Allies get spawned based on certain events, so you’ll start off with a bunch of friendly soldiers fighting with you, but once they all die it’ll get quiet, then when you progress further it’ll spawn more in. So you’ll single handedly complete the objective and suddenly be surrounded by people. This is never not jarring.

On top of everything, the technical issues are impossible to ignore. Constant environment pop in, animations don’t play past a certain distance leading to enemies just sliding around, frame rate issues, sound problems, muddy graphics, poor textures, bad hitboxes, clipping issues, the time it takes to pause and unpause. It’s just a mess.

I wanted to like this game. I really did, and the earlier levels are much better. I have a feeling that as their deadlines approached they had to pump up the “difficulty” in the later levels to pad game time out. The earlier levels are far more fun to play. They feel tighter and better optimized. But the further you get in the game’s (short) runtime, the worse everything starts to feel, culminating in the slog of a final level where almost everything seems to go wrong.

Weirdly enough, in the memories I have of this game from when I was a kid, I remember it as a Call of Duty game. Now I need to go play Call of Duty: Finest Hour to find out what that game actually is.

This is part three of my reviews of PS2 Medal of Honor games. You can find the first two, Frontline and Rising Sun, on this site.

If you enjoyed this, consider following me on twitter for updates here

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message.

I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.

Thank you very much for reading.

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun: Affix Bayonets

Medal of Honor Rising Sun case

Medal of Honor: Frontline may have been the critical darling and the first to be mentioned in ‘top 6th generation console games’, but Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is many people’s favourite too. In fact, I preferred Rising Sun as a kid. I’m not sure why, honestly. Though the opening is a strong reason. Most people who played it will say that it’s a fantastic opening (And it is but we’ll get back to that), but I was surprised to learn that Rising Sun was savaged by critics back in 2003, with a Metacritic of 68%. EuroGamer gave it a 4/10, praising the rest of EA and commenting on the game, “The difference in quality sticks out like J-Lo’s ass after a particularly intense course of collagen injections.” [1].

But now for an info dump. Because I like info dumps. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is the sequel to Medal of Honor: Frontline. It’s the 5th game in the series (7th if you include expansions to Allied Assault), and the 3rd for consoles. It was released in 2003 for the Playstation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. I’m reviewing the Playstation 2 version here. Originally they planned a sequel, but Rising Sun received pretty poor reviews, and it was canned. The next game on consoles was European Assault instead.

EA Los Angeles decided to move from the somewhat overdone European theater of World War 2 and instead focus on the Pacific. Few games really focused on that, perhaps because gunning down Nazis is easier on the sense of morals. 

To give some background to me, I grew up in and still live in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory. Darwin was attacked by the Japanese and growing up I saw a lot of the legacy of that. Old bunkers, the East Point shore guns, the War Museum. One of my favourite books as a kid was The Bombing of Darwin, about a fourteen year old boy living in the city at the time. It’s weird, but growing up I felt that the Pacific theater was more relevant to me, despite having obviously ended sixty years prior.

Back to the game. 

Rising Sun has a very strong opening, most are familiar with it, if you aren’t I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say the emotional impact and coolness is the same as it was when I played it as a kid. It’s hard to really describe it. If you’ve played it (and since this is a decades old game, most people reading this will have played it), you know it and you know how it made you feel. It has aged well. The controls are a bit stiff, it can be hard to hit the planes and the opening turret section goes on a bit long, but other than that it’s good.

There are save points scattered around the levels along with autosaves at certain points, which is a very welcome change to Frontline’s lack of any mid-level saving. This makes the difficulty spikes slightly more tolerable, because you won’t have to reply levels over and over, just the part giving you issues, but the save points can be hidden.

The engine is the same and it very much plays the same, the graphics have mildly improved, the textures are a bit less muddy though the low resolution (by today’s standards anyway) makes it hard to tell. Ultimately the biggest issue with the graphics is the resolution, so if you’re running this on an emulator you can boost that up and improve things a lot. I’m running it on original hardware because I’m a horrible hipster, and it is noticeable. The muddiness often makes it hard to see enemies, since their uniforms usually blend in well. The 3rd level is a night level and this is even more of an issue there. On top of this there’s quite a bit of blur. If you have issues with eye strain this probably isn’t the game for you.

You can see your stats at any time in the pause menu, if you need groin shot counts on the fly. You can also view briefing info and historical info about each mission. What got me into these games as a kid was the historical things. Newsreel footage, narration, all that, so this is a nice touch.

They added a crosshair that’s displayed at all times but it’s basically just a visual thing. The guns don’t feel like they’re actually pointed at it. Like Frontline, the guns are laughably inaccurate. This feels a lot worse when there’s a crosshair. The bullets stray massively off the path you’d expect, and they can miss at near point blank range. This is pretty annoying, and impacts the gameplay quite a bit.

The enemy AI is just as brain dead as it was in Frontline. They made some ‘improvements’ to try and hide this. The AI is much more active, they’ll go prone while shooting from range, which makes them a lot harder to hit largely due to how hard it is to see them like that, but also due to the extreme inaccuracy of the guns I mentioned earlier. They’ll also perform banzai charges, they’re generally much more effective than Frontline’s AI when in melee range. The banzai charges are not a sign of a good AI but in a way they hide the poor quality. These charges don’t tend to be challenging on their own, they’re only an issue due to the issues with aiming that this game has. Overall it’s clear that small improvements were made but they simply aren’t enough to make the AI more than a passing challenge.

You also have friendly AI partners now, but they’re as brain dead as the enemy AI. They sometimes get kills but usually just act as bullet sponges for the enemies, along with shouting at you to follow them while staring at you and waiting for you to move so they can follow you.

Speaking of the AI, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, the game spawns enemies a lot. If you use a turret, the game will spawn enemies and send them at you. I guess this is meant to be dramatic or cinematic. Sometimes it just spawns enemies in rooms you just cleared. This feels cheap but I think it’s meant to evoke the feeling of being in hostile lands. The enemy lying in wait for you and surprising you. This would be more effective if you could actually see some of these enemies in their hiding spots(which you can in their covered foxholes, if you look close enough), but you just can’t. It’s a cheap way to do this.

By the time Rising Sun came out it’s clear that the game engine was struggling. Some elements, such as the caves seen in many levels, would be at home on the Playstation 1. You can see the seams in the game’s terrain on many occasions.

There are some bugs too, the biggest one I encountered was on mission four. An NPC was meant to lead me into a secret door to a cave, but after opening the door he just stood there and never went in. Since he never went in he couldn’t trigger the next scripted sequence, this would have softlocked the game, but after standing there for a minute or so he just teleported ahead and triggered the next sequence which was likely on a timer. It’s good that the game’s scripting failed gracefully, but it still shouldn’t be failing.

The level design has some improvements, the levels are much more sprawling than they were in Frontline but this isn’t always a good thing. Everything typically looks the same so it’s very easy to get lost and disoriented, especially in the dense jungle levels. There’s also a lot of reliance on turret sections, which at the time weren’t nearly as common as they can be in modern first person shooters. They’re rarely fun and usually out of place. The levels have a lot more verticality, which is nice, but it’s usually badly implemented or just pointless.

On the topic of guns, the non-mounted variety have no real improvement over Frontline. The selection is slightly different. The silenced pistol has been replaced with the Welrod, a single shot gun that’s actually useful due to its ability to one hit kill enemies. It isn’t affected by range at all and it’s probably the most accurate gun in the entire game. The change to the Pacific theater could have given opportunities to explore Japanese guns, there are some LMGs to use, but they’re basically the same as the other guns.

Early on you’re largely limited to the M1 Garand and M1911 pistol, later you get a wider selection but it has a habit of only giving you a Sten MKII, which sounds about the same as a Nerf gun and has an effectiveness to match. Sometimes it’ll grace you with a Thompson that’s largely useless due to the extreme inaccuracy. It takes until the games 5th mission to be given a new gun, the Welrod, and the 6th to be given a shotgun. The selection opens up around that point, but it’s quickly back to a limited set of guns, and never the fun ones.

Rising Sun does pass the shotgun test. It’s a sign of a good shooter that the shotguns are fun to use. The Trench Gun is amazing to use. It’s satisfying to clear through dense jungle or tight corridors with it, and this time you’re given ample ammunition for it. The game’s last mission — A tight aircraft carrier level — would be a great place for a shotgunfest, but instead you get the Sten MKII. Boo.

Ultimately the gameplay is basically the same as Frontline, and that’s not a great thing. Instead of European towns — where you can’t see anything — filled with Nazis who stand in place and shoot, you’re fighting through jungles — where you can’t see anything — filled with Japanese who take cover and shoot but sometimes pull a sword out and charge at you. The trees are not only speaking Japanese, they’re screaming “banzai!” with annoying frequency.

It seems that maybe EA LA got Imperial Japan mixed up with the Imperium of Man and decided to have the Guardsmen affix bayonets at every opportunity, that’s when they aren’t pulling out katanas and charging you with those. This portrayal of the Japanese is sketchy at best. Banzai charges are a real thing, yes, but they were used as a last ditch attempt to turn the tide of a losing battle, not against one guy with a shotgun.

Rising Sun lacks Frontline’s war movie charm, though it tries. The story isn’t great, and ends on a sequel hook for a game that never happened. The characters aren’t that interesting, and character deaths are pulled out far too often to be effective. The animations aren’t even as good, maybe they tweaked the rates because a lot of the animations are the same but the fun animations that I liked so much from Frontline aren’t anywhere to be seen. The music is a downgrade too. It’s hard to explain why but it has far less impact. While there are a few nice moments where that war movie charm shined through, most of it was just a dull slog. If Frontline is the midday Sunday war movie, then Rising Sun is the weird sitcom that follows that you’re half asleep through. It’s not unenjoyable, but it’s not exactly memorable.

While the exploration of the less commonly seen Pacific theater is an interesting change, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun simply doesn’t live up to Frontline. By this point Call of Duty had released to critical acclaim, which certainly didn’t help Rising Sun’s chances. Its failure led to the cancellation of its planned sequel, instead being followed by Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault for PC. While Pacific Assault did perform better, it’s clear that the franchise had been surpassed by Call of Duty, which was rapidly becoming the massive franchise that it is today.

This is the second review in my series covering PS2 Medal of Honor games, next is European Assault. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you look forward to the next review.

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.

Demo Disk Roundup #1

Demo disks are a weird passion of mine. I just love them, and can’t explain why. So I’ve decided to collect them and document them on this blog. So welcome to the first of (hopefully) many Demo Disk Roundups.

Our first disk today is Australian Summer Special. It has six games and one video on it, which are selected through a truly seizure inducing menu. Watching this screen made me feel somewhat sick.

The games are:

  • Medievil
  • Tekken 3
  • Psybadek
  • Colony Wars Vengeance
  • Crash Bandicoot 3
  • Spyro the Dragon

The video included on the CD is “Making of Medievil”

Australian Summer Special comes in a very neat fold out case design. It’s pretty clear that Medievil was thought to be the main attraction here.

The text on the front and on the center says “Do not underestimate the power of Playstation”, leading this disk to be called “The Power of Playstation” sometimes.

The selection of games is very solid, though obviously these are demos. They all run very smoothly, and without any issues that I noticed on my 7500x PS2 slim, which is the most likely model to have issues with Playstation games. Medievil, Tekken 3, Crash Bandicoot 3, and Spyro all support analog sticks, but Colony Wars and Psybadek don’t and act as though you’ve disabled the controller if you enable it.

The video footage is very compressed, as one would expect for a compact disc circa the late 90s, but it’s certainly watchable. Once you start it, there’s no way to stop it except for restarting your console, so keep that in mind.

Next up is Official Playstation 2 Magazine Australia Demo 15. The disk is labeled as ops2m 33.

It comes in a very standard DVD case without much special to note.

This disk has ten demos total.

  • Shinobi
  • Moto GP3
  • Pride FC
  • Evolution Skateboarding
  • Primal
  • Dynasty Warriors 3
  • Conflict Desert Storm
  • Herdy Gerdy
  • Project Eden
  • WRC II Extreme

It also has four videos. These are all trailers.

  • Resident Evil Online (Released as Resident Evil Outbreak, without online features in PAL regions)
  • SOCOM: US Navy SEALs
  • Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick
  • True Crime: Streets of LA

Full reviews of all of these are out of the scope of this blog post, but there’s a lot of gameplay on offer here. Shinobi is top billing on the cover art, but the first demo you’re offered on starting it is actually Conflict: Desert Storm. Shinobi is probably the most attractive option on this disk, showing off the first level of the game.

For this roundup I did two disks, but for future ones I’ll likely only be doing one. If you enjoyed it, please do follow the blog so you can be notified about future posts. I have a lot of PSX demo disks to do next, so look forward to that.

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.

Medal of Honor: Frontline: Nazi Dick Shooter

If you ask someone that grew up with the console what their favourite games on PS2 are, oftentimes Medal of Honor: Frontline will make their list. And that’s hardly surprising, after all, it’s considered by many to be one of the best first-person shooters on the console. But how much of that is rose tint? How well has it actually aged?

Medal of Honor: Frontline is one of the three 2002 entries into the series, and the only console entry of that year. Released on the Playstation 2 on May 29th, it was later released on the GameCube and Xbox. Developed by EA Los Angeles (formerly DreamWorks Interactive, currently DICE Los Angeles, briefly Danger Close Games) Frontline is the 4th entry in the Medal of Honor series as a whole, and the second for consoles. The franchise is now largely dormant due to the extremely poor performance of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, the second entry post 2010 reboot.

Frontline is one of those games released at an awkward point for its genre, from a time before the fairly radical shift that was Call of Duty’s explosion onto the market, for better or worse. There’s no magenta keys for magenta doors or anything like in other similarly timed games such as Warhammer 40k: Firewarrior with its partially regenerating health and primary/secondary guns alongside coloured door keys, but the gamefeel is very similar to games like Doom rather than later genre-definers.

The core gameplay isn’t unfun per se, it’s just awkward. Aiming is awkward, shooting is awkward, movement is awkward, the controls are awkward, almost as much as the animations but we’ll get back to that. Despite these issues, and there are many, shooting Nazis rarely gets old. Especially since you can shoot them right in their nazi dicks.

Let’s talk positives. The score is great. It complements the action wonderfully, making things feel cool and heroic. When the music swells as I mow some nazis down with a shotgun, it gives me the warm and fuzzies. The story is interesting in the same way that an old war movie playing midday on a Sunday is interesting. Which is to say it isn’t, but it’s enough to keep you engaged.

The game’s player character, Lt. Jimmy Patterson is just a blank slate and has no real character, much like the protagonists of the aforementioned war movies. Did I mention that shooting nazis is fun? Because it is. At the end of each level, you get a stats sheet which tells you how many times you shot a nazi in the dick, which is a good touch. It says groin though.

As fun as it is, shooting nazis in the dick can’t carry an entire game, so, unfortunately, this is where the positives end. The framerate is simply bad. Not always but I’d say the majority of the time it was affecting gameplay. If a game performed this badly on my computer, I’d stop playing it. I don’t know if it was always this bad, though maybe I’m just spoiled by 60fps now. Mild motion sickness resulted from the lower framerates for me, so if you have issues with motion sickness in games this probably isn’t the best choice for you. The framerate issues are made even more strange by the simple fact that this game does not look good at all. Even for the time, the textures are very low quality, reviews from its era pointed this out. So this isn’t just my modern eyes being spoiled by 4k textures. The graphical muddiness is made even worse by the constant screen-shake. Some levels are worse than others for scripted shakes caused by explosions, but the camera shaking from being shot is always there and never welcome.

The AI is also bad, or as I put it in my notes during my playthrough, “AI is a fuck”. There was one particularly amusing sequence on the pseudo-stealth bridge level where I came up some stairs next to a gun emplacement, and the nazi on the gun just stared at me shouting. So I shot him and his friend ran over and took his place, also staring at me while shouting. So naturally I shot him too. This repeated until all the nearby nazis were dead. While hilarious, it demonstrates just how bad the AI is. Most of the time – if they bother to shoot at all, they just stand in place shooting at you, sometimes they’ll take cover if it’s available (which is honestly just annoying more than anything as you have to watch their cover animations, which are not fantastic). They can also get stuck on objects, but their guns clip through them, meaning they can shoot you but you can’t shoot them. This did only happen less than ten times in total though, so it wasn’t super common.

While the death animations are unique, they’re bad on most levels but they’re almost charming. It reminds me of the old war movies that I don’t remember the names of that I’d watch as a kid, which makes sense as Spielberg’s inspiration for the series was Saving Private Ryan. It is, in many ways, a war movie game series. Shooting a nazi in the head and having him take one hand off his gun, put it to his head, look at his hand and only then have his brain realize it’s on the wall behind him is far from realistic but it’s just fun. It’s more of that war movie charm, enemies dropping over railings and giving Oscar-bait death performances.

Let’s talk guns! There are lots of them, but you’ll generally be using the same ones, which is unfortunate because a lot of them aren’t fun to use. The silenced pistol may as well be a water gun for all the good it’ll do you in a firefight. Not only does it do barely any damage, it’s also extremely inaccurate. Most of the guns feel inaccurate, even the sniper rifles. The shotgun is by far the most entertaining of the game’s selection.

It’s a sign of a good shooter if the shotgun is satisfying to use, and Frontline does pass that test – With caveats. While viscerally fun to use, it’s far too stingy with giving you ammo for it. It will, on occasion, give you some shells, point you to a room full of nazis with their abdomens intact and ask you to rectify that situation, but it does it far, far too infrequently. Often times it’ll take two shots to kill a target, largely due to inconsistent spread, and the game usually only gives you six at a time. The fun is always interrupted by a lack of ammo. Grenades should also pass the same test, but unfortunately the grenades available fail. They’re situational at best, and usually useless.

The difficulty is all over the place, I played on medium difficulty, and it ranged from boring to obnoxious. The lack of checkpoints made this vastly worse, dying near the end of a level because you can’t find health and having to start back at the beginning is extremely frustrating. One checkpoint per level would have improved things greatly, but I’m 16 years late on that advice. Being killed in one hit by a tank and having to start again is not what I would call particularly fun.

It’s unfortunate to revisit a game I played so much and loved so much and find it so lacking, but really I can’t think of many positives with this game. It’s simply aged badly. I still have fond memories, but they’re not for the game. Not really. They’re for the childhood that surrounded it. This game has aged about as well as bananas. Poorly.

I’m in the process of playing through all of the Playstation 2 entries in the Medal of Honor series as part of a larger retrospective I’m working on, so if that interests you, consider following me on Twitter to get updates on it, or following this blog. Next up is Rising Sun.

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.

Daemon Summoner: The Worst Video Game

The game, surrounded by empty alcohol bottles.
No cute cat pic this time.

Daemon Summoner is a 2005 game developed by Atomic Planet Entertainment and published by Midas Interactive Entertainment and it is a strong contender for the worst game on the Playstation 2. This review is probably better described as a rant than a review, because it is literally a rant I posted to my discord server after playing the first level. I have not, at this time, gotten further than the beginning of that second level for reasons that are explained further on. I have no plans to go further but I could probably milk another rant out of it so I might do it the next time I have the money to get completely wasted.

Midas Interactive Entertainment are a budget publisher currently based in Essex, England. Many of their games are bought at a low price from Japanese developers and localized for a cheap release, often only in PAL regions. So their games may be unfamiliar to US readers. They got their start in publishing with their 1999 Pocket Price Games label, and 2 in 1 and All in One Packs. They stopped releasing any new games in 2012, instead focusing on re-releases on the Playstation Network.

Atomic Planet Entertainment was a development studio founded in 2000 by former Acclaim Teesside developers. Defunct as of 2009, their first title was a mobile phone port of Dino Island (aka Dino Tycoon). They’re most notable for developing the PS2 version of The Guy Game, a game which contained child pornography. 

Credits for the game. The guilty parties.
The Guilty.

This concludes the informational part of this post, and now we go into a slightly edited version of the rant I posted originally.

The game opens with a long, badly narrated and unskippable cutscene about vampires I think. You’re then treated to a seizure inducing menu with a small loop of extremely generic ‘dramatic’ music playing. This was likely something purchased for cheap. The credits lack any credits for music related positions, and the “voice actor” for the main character is also one of the character animators.

It has shit performance with constant fps drops, it looks like a Playstation 1 game at a higher resolution, the first level is a catacomb level where you walk through dimly lit tunnels while zombies sometimes move toward you and groan slightly, a sound effect that is clearly a guy groaning into a low quality microphone, but you can just run through them because they don’t have collision and killing them is slow and shitty because you have one weapon that fires once before having to reload and you melee only works maybe 10% of the time.

It has a kinda neat system of locational damage so you can shoot limbs off but it’s really badly implemented with only upper body damage causing the head to pop (which doesn’t kill them or stop them chasing you) and lower body damage causing a leg to drop off which stops them from moving so you can just keep going and ignore them so the end result is doing the entire thing looking down so you don’t have to aim. The aiming sucks dick (in a bad way) and has massive deadzone so precise movement is impossible. The control scheme is terrible and makes no sense, the buttons don’t even always work.

Near the end of the level you’re treated to the games second enemy, dudes in robes. These dudes in robes do the same thing as the zombies but slightly faster. Either their hitboxes are broken or the gun is because if they’re right in front of you your shots will just do nothing. I assume this might be a case of the bullet spawning behind them and not technically hitting them. Since their attack pattern is basically just ‘Run at and hit’ this makes the hardest part of this getting far enough away from them to be able to shoot them since they run at the same speed as the player does. If you’re curious on how to do this for whatever reason, you wait for them to start to attack since they’re so incredibly basic that they can’t attack and move at the same time.

You then fight the final boss, Emily. According to the back of the box one of this games features is “Unravel the compelling and mysterious story-line and discover the truth behind Emily’s disappearance” but you spend the entire level chasing her and then fight her at the end. It takes three shots to the head while backpeddling and since she also can’t attack while moving you do this in complete safety. Then she escapes, so you chase her to the next level.

Or don’t.

I actually recommend you don’t.

Anyway, this is easier than the dudes in robes because your shots actually connect with her. Turns out that the game is in fact easier when it functions.

How this got a release on an actual fucking disc(Compact disc, in fact) in 2005 is beyond my understanding, oh, and since I can’t fit this anywhere else that makes sense, it comes with a whopping 4 page long instruction booklet and the cheapest and shittiest case design I’ve seen since the last time I looked at a Blast game.

Everything about it is cheap and wrong, even the rating appears to be some kind of knockoff, using a different design to the normal Australian ratings labels, lacking the border and using the wrong text size.

The game case compared to a copy of Grand Theft Auto, to  show the difference in design.
For comparison.

This game came out the same year as FEAR, Star Wars Republic Commando, Spiderman 2, TimeSplitters, Lego Star Wars, GTA SA and Shadow of the Colossus for fucks sake and someone thought ‘hey let’s add to this line up of great games with this pile of fuck’.

The second level is a stealth level and it’s where I stopped, it opens with a narration that if you skip just keeps playing over the next cutscene which shows some vampires(?) meeting and boarding a boat, you’re told to get aboard the boat without being seen but there’s a dude blocking the way onto the boat so you’ve gotta sneak around the guards, but David Hayter’s voice is nowhere to be seen(heard?) and you are far from dummy thicc.

This is where I gave up, the enemies have massively varying detection radius, most of them are basically blind and as far as I can tell they’re all deaf but sometimes I’d just get detected and not know why. When you get detected you’re treated to minutes of cutscene, then loading back to the menu, loading your save, and more cutscene before you’re back into the game. This is probably the single most frustrating way to lose a level and at first my reaction was simply ‘How did they not realize that this wasn’t fun while testing’, then I thought back to the credits and remembered a distinct lack of QA credits. If this game was tested, it was tested as well as it is voice acted, which is to say, poorly.

The game is on a compact disc as mentioned before, and my PS2 makes pained noises while reading it, and it hurts me to know that my consoles lifespan may have actually been lowered by this waste of bytes. This game is simply bad. It is not worth playing and has literally one redeeming characteristic that I encountered in my brief time playing it.

The street reflections on the rainy street the game opens in. They look very nice, especially for the PS2. They aren’t dynamic of course, and I assume they’re just a static image of a render of the street, but it’s a good visual effect.

Of my collection this game is by far the worst thing I own, and my collection includes Trixie in Toyland, Sonic Unleashed, An American Tail, and Hidden Invasion. I enjoy bad games and failed forms of art but I can’t bring myself to even tolerate this game. It is possibly the worst digital thing I’ve subjected myself to. The only possible reason I could recommend this alleged video game is as a conversation piece of having a game made by the people who brought child pornography to the Playstation 2.

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.

V8 Supercars Australia Race Driver 2 aka TOCA Race Driver 2 aka DTS Race Driver 2 Review

Bhaalgorn (Kitten) inspects a copy of the game.

V8 Supercars Race Driver 2 aka TOCA Race Driver 2 aka DTS Race Driver 2 is a 2004 racing game by Codemasters and the 5th entry in the TOCA series of racing games, it’s the second of the Car-PG style with a character and a story. It’s not a very good story. It was released for Windows, Xbox, Playstation 2, Playstation Portable (Twice, two years after original release) and mobile devices, because 2004 was a strange time. I’m reviewing the Playstation 2 version here. I never played this one as a kid like I did with the first, and I think that might be why I like the first one so much more. Yeah that kinda gives things away early on doesn’t it?

Let’s start with the changes. Gone is the car tuning system. Admittedly I never really used this, it felt somewhat pointless most of the time, but it was a nice thing to have for the enthusiasts. You can’t do test drives either, but you can restart during races, so you don’t really need to get familiar with a map before racing it. The car damage system is different. Instead of a diagram of your car showing the damage to each part, it’s now just a set of lights that change colour. This is a pretty big downgrade to usability. In the first game you knew which wheels were damaged, in this one you just know that a wheel is damaged and won’t know which until it explodes and you have to restart. The replay system remains, but now you can save replays, which is nice. 

The graphics have improved slightly, but this game was released in 2004. The Playstation 2 version suffers from the same issues that most Playstation 2 games have, loads of jaggies from the lack of anti-aliasing and a relatively low resolution. If you play it on an emulator this won’t be an issue of course, and it’ll look much nicer, but if you’re a strange collector like me you’ll want to run it on original hardware. I’m just using an up-scaler and it looks pretty good despite the jagged edges on everything. The map backgrounds are much more detailed than they were in the first game, but I can’t speak for the accuracy of them. It has Hidden Valley, which I live near and have been to a few times, and it isn’t surrounded by rolling green hills. It’s surrounded by dirt. They do pretty it up for the V8s though, from what I remember anyway. There’s also none of the stands or anything like that. I guess they just used a generic background, which is unfortunate. Having accurate backgrounds could add a lot to the character of the tracks. 

The car physics are similar in a way but definitely different. I don’t know if they’re better. Sometimes it feels like my car is floating above the road and sliding all around. Sliding is a theme in this game. There’s a lot of sliding. The devs decided that to stop players from cutting corners and having fun, they’d make the gravel and grass cause your car to abruptly turn right. I can only really describe this as intensely lame. There’s nothing worse than taking a corner a bit too wide and touching the grass only to instantly spin out of control. There’s no way to get back up to speed fast enough to not end up in last place too. It’s just straight up un fun. Some cars are better than others in terms of handling though, so it won’t be as much an issue. Unfortunately some choice choices were made that amplify this problem.

In the first Race Driver you had to advance through a set of championships to progress, but you could do them in whatever order you want, and if you performed badly it was fine, you’d get another offer with a different car that maybe suited you better. Race Driver 2 on the other hand is much more linear. You pick from two championships, and then once you beat that or give up and do the other, you get one option and you have to finish that championship in that car to progress. So if that car handles like shit you just have to bear with it till you win. No alternate car options for you. You’ll be restarting a lot. Like.. A lot.

The AI is slightly better, in that it’s worse. It seems more human, and is much more prone to imperfect play. This is a great upgrade, but it seems to work in tiers, so the cars at the back are usually the lowest tier of AI and are pretty shitty. They take corners slowly, almost coming to a complete stop on some bends, and are slow to recover if they crash. The higher tier on the other hand plays much better, which is actually a problem. They play too well, and overtaking them gets pretty hard. The irish guy (I’m sure he has a name but I don’t remember it) has a bunch of radio call outs based on how you’re doing or who’s behind you. He’ll call them out by name, which is neat.

There’s a larger variety of cars available, from Formula 1 to big rig trucks, but it’s clear that the physics isn’t meant for this. The trucks are just boring, they feel weighty but they’re just not as fun as they sound. The Formula 1 cars handle poorly, and they’re dummy thicc, which can make it hard to overtake the cars since the clap of your wheels keeps making the physics break. If the wheels come into contact with another car things go strange and you fly across the track. Some of the cars also make annoying noises, one in particular making a high pitched hissing noise whenever I accelerated. 

It’s a lot harder to recommend Race Driver 2 than it was for the first game. There’s a lot wrong here and not many improvements. The only noticeable improvement is the graphics, and that the main character has no face or voice now. Massive improvement in that regard. There is a story, but it’s really not interesting enough to mention beyond the fact that your character doesn’t talk. Car-PG is a fun term, but this isn’t an RPG. It’s a racing game, and as far as racing games go it’s a thoroughly decent one. 

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.