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Voyeur - CDi / IBM PC / Macintosh (1993)

by Kurt Kalata

Cover

Voyeur

Voyeur

The Phillips CDi wasn't exactly meant to be a game console - rather, it was a "multimedia" player that was meant to act as a cheaper alternative to a PC, meant to be placed in the living room and acting as an intermediary step between VHS and DVD. Despite its inability to do much beyond playing video, developers published games anyway, most FMV-based, ranging from acceptable (The 7th Guest) laughably amusing (the Zelda CDi games and Burn: Cycle). One of the killer apps for the platform was meant to be Interplay's Voyeur, an adult tale of suspense, crime and murder, aimed an at audience far removed from those kiddie Nintendo games. It is also terrible.

The future of the United States is in jeopardy, as nasty man Reed Hawke, CEO of the insidious Hawke Industries, is going to run for president. (There is an undue amount of emphasis placed not on the fact that he won, or even in a position to win, but in just trying to campaign, he is apparently a tremendous danger to millions of people.) He has invited his family to his fancy mansion for the weekend, under the assumption that they all support him. But he's apparently ignorant to how terribly they all view him (due to all of the environmental pollution and sexual molestation he's been involved with), and as such, a private investigator has been hired to take him down.

Conceptually, the game is the 1989 movie Sex, Lies and Videotape, taken literally. The entirety of the game involves sitting in your apartment, peeping on the Hawkes, and video taping everything, with the intent of using evidence against him. The video is much like the Tex Murphy games, where you have digitized actors acting in front of chroma key backgrounds, superimposed onto computer generated rooms. You are provided with a view of the exterior of the mansion and focus on every major room, though the game politely informs you when something is going on in a specific area by changing icons. The game is divided into time blocks that pass in accelerated real time, and since there's multiple things going on at once, it's impossible to view everything in the first go.

On a broad level, Voyeur is similar to Night Trap, Double Switch and Ground Zero Texas, in that you have numerous cameras to switch between. The major difference is that the Hawkes don't know they're being watched, so they never address the player directly. There's also no traps set off, nobody to shoot, and nothing to do but watch. The "game" portion comes into play when deciding what to do with the footage. Reed is not above murder and he can and will kill any of the four primary family members. (Which member is randomly decided, so the plot is slightly different every time you play.) So if it seems like one of them is in danger, you can send the tape straight to them. Guess right and you'll save their lives; guess wrong and Reed will intercept the tape, then send his secretary to kill you. (What kind of awful private investigator would put a return address on something like that? Why would you even stick around in that apartment?) Alternatively, if you record anything particularly incriminating, you can send it to the police to have him arrested. This never works like it should though. Early on he'll openly confess to dumping harmful chemicals, and even if you blow the lid on this, it will, for a flimsy and contrived explanation, not be enough to stop his campaign. The entirety of Voyeur revolves around the good old terrible adventure game technique known as "trial and error", wherein you only know which scenes are essential by playing the game over and over. It's a short game, containing a bit over an hour of video total and lasting about half that length, but there's no way to save the game. You can technically click past scenes you've seen, but then it's not recorded, thereby forcing you to rewatch early scenes over and over. You can also use your super duper lense to look at computer screens, books and other documents - with crystal clarity! - that may or may not be incriminating evidence.

The writing and acting is, of course, hammy, melodramatic, and absurd. You know Hawke's sister is awful because she's snooty and racist (and also maybe sexually attracted to him?)! You know Reed's son is angry at him because he shouts straight at the sky! You know his niece is crazy because she has a leather fetish and is bicurious! The best scene of the game is when her "friend", who is wearing nothing but underwear and a "Hey! I'm a lesbian!" plaid flannel shirt, almost convinces her to experiment. Much of the humor revolves around Reed's kinky, role play-loving, sulty lingerie-wearing secretary, which you see played out in the very first scene of the game. Naturally Voyeur's appeal to meant to be sexually provocative (you have to enter a code to start it (it's 3333)) and to give the thrill of peeping into other people's tales of sin and debauchery, but outside of the promise of sex and nudity (there's nothing graphic, with the worst of it being heard when the shades are drawn) it's really boring, and incredibly disjointed from a narrative standpoint. Voyeur's big "hey, I know that guy!" actor is Robert Culp, known for 60s spy comedy I Spy, and who later went on to redeem himself in the realm of video gaming by providing the voice of Dr. Breen in Half Life 2.

Most amusingly, the game ends with the above message, a piracy warning at the end of movies. Oh, such lofty aspirations the 90s multimedia titles had!

Voyeur

Voyeur

Voyeur

Voyeur

Voyeur


BCV: Battle Construction Vehicles / Kensetsu Juuki Kenka Battle: Buchigire Kongou! (建設重機喧嘩バトル ぶちギレ金剛) - PlayStation 2 (2000)

by Kurt Kalata

European Cover

BCV

BCV

BCV, short for Battle Construction Vehicles, and known as "Kensetsu Juuki Kenka Battle: Buchigire Kongou!" in its native Japan, embraces that childhood desire for construction equipment to tear each other apart, bringing back that lost sense of childhood fantasy before your parents told you to shut the hell up. There's an equally ridiculous plot behind all of this, wherein the main character tries to convince all of these skilled constructioneers to work for his company by beating them in duels, all rendered with the complex subtlety expected of a Shounen Jump comic. All of this wackiness makes sense when you realize that the game is developed by Artdink, the same funked up folks who gave you No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, amongst others, and was localized by Midas Interactive for Europe (and Europe only), who specialized in budget releases like this.

How does it play, though? Well...not so good. The construction vehicles control more or less like construction vehicles - which is to say, slow, clunky, and tough to maneuver. There are theoretically attack buttons - three of them according to the instruction manual - although they rarely seem to actually work, and when they do, they aren't all that responsive. As such, matches just usually end up with the two vehicles ramming into each other at various angles and rubbing up against them, watching the damage meter slowly tick upward towards eventual destruction. There is a defense move, which causes a series of metal girders to mysteriously spike out from the ground and form a barrier around your vehicle for a second or so.

There are also special moves, which are incredible. Your character can summon bees or gigantic kendo swordsman to execute attack your enemies, because, why not? Executing these is pretty stupid, though, as they seem to be activated automatically after an indeterminate amount of time. When this happens, a small circle will appear around one of the vehicles - if the opposing vehicle gets caught in it, it'll be subjected to a super attack, unique to each player character. Obviously, if you're on the receiving end, the only thing you can do is back up, and keep backing up until the circle expires, and then wait for yours to pop up.

BCV is a pretty awful game - its genuine absurdity is uncomfortably balanced out with some really, really, dull action. At least its spurts of super weirdness justify its existence, and it can be purchased off eBay UK for a few bucks, so it's worth a try if your PS2 can play Euro games. There's something undeniably sublime with reveling in HOTBLOODED BURNING PASSION delivered with British accents.

BCV

BCV


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Xenophage: Alien Bloodsport - IBM PC (1995)

by Bobinator

American Cover

Xenophage

Xenophage

Back in the mid 90's, fighting games had reached their peak of popularity, and every major developer had at least one under their name. Fighting games on the PC tended to be much rarer, however. So it was more or less guaranteed that Apogee would make one of their own, especially since Epic had published the robot versus fighter One Must Fall 2097 a year earlier. Something great could have been in the making, but then Apogee outsourced the game's development to Argo Games, a shareware company best known for their Reversi clone Hexxagon.

The plot is your standard fighting game fare: An alien race has captured eight different species and put them in a death tournament. The losers apparently have either their breeding rights revoked or their planet destroyed. Which outcome isn't made entirely clear, as the voice over claims it's the first one over a clip of a planet exploding. The best part of the intro is the reaction Nick, one of the game's human characters, gives to this news: A bored "Oh, no," that makes it sound more like he's just lost his keys.

As for the rest of the characters, the other human is Selena, who happens to somehow happens to be even more poorly modeled than Nick. She is the only character affected by "orchid" cheat code, which causes her to stop move and start to "stiffen" every time it's entered. Toad is a large, reptilian creature that looks a little like a mutated Yoshi, while Mouth is small, stubby blue creature that fights in an alien observatory. Squid is large creature that looks like an anthropomorphic octopus, which would have a much cooler design if it didn't have a giant belt buckle around its waist like the one you find on a cartoon pilgrim's hat. Worm is strange looking alien made of four tubes, with one for the head and two for legs - he's one of the more interesting looking characters seen in a fighting game, even if its design looks as lazy as it does.

Bat is the fastest character in the game, who's able to fly across the screen with its wings, and Spike is a large, two-headed reptile-like creature that uses the claws on its limbs like spikes. Hence the name. Parasite is one of the cooler looking aliens, who uses its legs to move itself around like a pinwheel, and serves as the game's sub boss.

Champion is the game's final boss. Given that he's a fighting game boss from the mid 90's, it's expected he'll be entirely unfair. First off, his projectiles actually go over your character's head, so you can't even win a fireball war against him. Secondly, he actually changes to a quadripedal second form and gets all his health back once you beat him. You don't get health back, yourself. This wouldn't be really as bad if he didn't point and laugh at you like he was Nelson from the Simpsons when he beats you.

There's also Blarney, a joke character that can only be unlocked by editing the game's configuration file. It's obvious they weren't even trying to hide who this purple dinosaur was based on, so the developers must have been trying to catch onto the "Kill Barney" craze from the 90's that all the 13 year olds loved. He's practically unusuable as a playable character, since his only attack is to shoot hearts at his opponents. He also tends to crash the game.

The fighting uses your standard SNK-style button setup, with two buttons for punches, and two for kicks. Unfortunately, the actual fighting tends to be slower and clunkier than even some of the worst PC ports of better fighting games. Performing special moves is spotty at best, and even though the game has a combo counter, how you actually execute them isn't clear at all. Everybody also tends to take way too many hits to die, meaning more than one match is probably going to end in a time over whether you want it to or not.

The AI also tends to be pretty nasty, usually predicting anything you try to do and countering before you get the chance. The best tactic is to use a spammable move lower its health and start playing keep away until time runs out. Unforunately, the last boss has an infinite timer, not to mention you have to beat both his forms on one life bar. That wouldn't be nearly as bad if you didn't have to beat the game on three continues.

Compared to One Must Fall 2097, Xenophage looks even worse. There's no pre-battle quotes or any other semblance of character personality, no secrets, or anything to unlock besides the boss characters. There is a training mode, but even that is basically worthless since the inflatable clown dummy you're forced to use as an opponent will always pop back up and hit you every time you knock it down.

The graphics are made of the cheap, blocky CGI that infected most of the mid 90's, and the humans are modeled so poorly that they're straight in the middle of the uncanny valley. The aliens tend to look a little better, although even the best designs tend to look like they came out of somebody's copy of Spore from the future. The actual backgrounds themselves are much better looking, and a few of them have some interesting details. Spike's stage has little larva that crawl across the ground, while Selena's stage has a clock that actually matches with your system clock. As you'd expect from a cheesy fighter like this, there are fatalities, referred to here as "Meat" moves, but they're all just boring head rips. The move that you can perform after them that makes them spontaneously combust is...interesting, though.

The music, composed by Bobby Prince of Doom fame, is actually the best part of the game, and a couple of the tracks are the fast-paced metal stuff you'd expect him to compose. Although his inspiration for the Doom soundtrack is common knowledge, it's pretty odd that nobody noticed that the training mode has a song that sounds WAY too close to the theme from the Mortal Kombat movie. One other amusing thing about the sound is that this game has an anti-Perfect: Lose a round without getting a single hit on your opponent and you'll get a "Pathetic!".

Even with such a tiny selection of PC fighting games, even back then, there's pretty much no reason to play Xenophage, especially since OMF came out a year earlier. It's ugly, hard to play, and unfair. It's easily one of Apogee's worst titles, which is probably why it ended up being released as freeware on the 3D Realms website.

Xenophage

Xenophage

Xenophage

Xenophage

Xenophage

Xenophage


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Akira - Amiga / CD32 (1993)

by John Szczepaniak

Cover

Akira (Amiga)

Akira (Amiga)

Akira has the dubious honour of being one of the worst Amiga games ever, voted 29 worst release by LemonAmiga users. Though considering it received the highest number of votes out of the top 30 worst titles, a total of 42 votes compared to only 12 for the de facto number one Luxor, you could argue that mathematically it's the de jure absolute worst. This is backed up by infamously low review scores: 36% in Amiga Computer, 18% in Amiga Format, 18% in CU Amiga Magazine, 16% in Amiga Power.

It's a standard side-scrolling action game where you alternatively play as the orange jacket-clad Kaneda or bandaged-up monster-to-be Tetsuo, with levels divided between riding on your futuristic motorcycle and regular platforming areas. It hits most of the same notes as the movie, including a fight through the sewers and attacks by many angry clown faces. The reasons for its absolute shiteness are many. For a start it's impossibly difficult. Not difficult in that you just need to practice, rather it's so badly programmed some areas can't be finished. The starting level is so tough allegedly no reviewer could pass it, requiring the publisher give them level passwords. It requires perfect memorization worse than the third stage of Battletoads, and this is right at the very beginning. Even with an emulator, save states and rewind facility, the margin for error in Level 1 is non-existent. Hilariously Level 4 can't be completed at all because a moving platform was placed beyond the reach of your jump. Enemies are stupidly tough, you're extremely weak, and landing on the end of a platform causes you to lose balance and fall off. The structural design is retarded throughout: Level 3 features keycards, and while you can reach the exit collecting only some of them, the level only ends if you've painstakingly found all of them, otherwise leaving you trapped and waiting for time to run out. The only decent thing about it is the music, which was outsourced to Tim Bartlett.

But how did it all go wrong? The Akira source material is so rich that game development should have been easy. Developed by ICE Software in the UK, I managed to track down almost everyone involved. Unsurprisingly all were keen to distance themselves. First was lead tester Martin Blackmore, who also helped with the cinemas. Now a big shot at Microsoft, heavily involved with Kinect, he couldn't recall how the game ended up so difficult: "I worked on Akira (Amiga) way back. I remember very little of the dev. Other than creating the cut scenes and photocopying a pic of a bug 100 times and sticking them all over studio. Each bug that got fixed, we pulled one down and crushed it. All-nighters eh?! Two AM madness!"

Assistant tester Tara Lewis has left no internet trail all these years, and if she's gotten married since then we'll never find her. Sole graphics artist Rupert Jones meanwhile, from all the evidence I've gathered, seems to have emigrated to Australia not long after. Next was Anders Johansson, now programmer on the Burnout games, and credited as the first of two programmers on Akira: "Sadly I don't think there's anything I can contribute to this, I had no involvement in anything design related and programming wise it was mainly back-end systems like loading, data compression and so on. Which I don't remember much about now anyway."

The lead programmer was Paul Atkinson, and presumably also the lead designer since no one else was credited. Finding him was a monumental task and required contacting his brother John at Codemasters. For the next six months I phoned once a week every week, sometimes two or three times. He said the next time he saw Paul he would bring up the subject – for whatever reason this took half a year. Eventually he gave me Paul’s email address, and he showed a willingness to be interviewed. During a follow-up email I received a reply from his wife, Lindsay Atkinson, who said he was ill. Six weeks later with no reply I emailed again, and Paul got his wife Lindsay to reply (sic): “To be honest with you he does not see any point in doing it, It a waste of his time, he will get no reward and sort of payment for doing it.”

Curiously no one wanted to remember their days at ICE Software. During my research though, I managed to find someone willing to talk. He revealed interesting things about Deborah Isaac, head of production on Akira, and Stuart Bell, head of the company. For said person's safety I agree to quote them anonymously: "Ah, Akira was developed before I joined. Deborah Isaac... well she ran the company with her husband Stuart Bell. They let the company go bust before they told us, after various excuses about why wages weren't paid. My opinion of them isn't high. 'Manage their way out of', and 'wet paper bag' spring to mind..."

I acquired the phone number for a D. Isaac and a Stewart D. Bell, in Warminster. Phoning up I got hold of a woman, and politely asked if she was Deborah Isaac from ICE Software. She hung up. Next day I phoned again and asked about ICE Software, and the woman whispered to a man in the background: "It's that guy asking about ICE Software again." After which I heard the man in the background scream: "TELL HIM TO FUCK OFF!!!" They hung up.

So there you have it, readers. Is it any wonder Akira on the Amiga ended up being so appallingly shit when you have people like that in charge of it?

Akira (Amiga)

Akira (Amiga)

Akira (Amiga)

Akira (Amiga)


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