Lately I’ve been replaying several of my old video games, both from my original copies or thanks to the digital crack that is Good Old Games. A lot of these games hold up well, despite their dated graphics, and many have innovative game play that has surprisingly never shown up in later games. It’s a common geek lament that these days there is nothing new, that everything seems to be remakes and re-imaginings, well for today’s post I’m going to give in and go with that trend. As such, here is my list of games that really need to have a new installment.
Crimson Skies: Originally a board game by FASA, Crimson Skies was released for the PC by Microsoft in 2000, and it is my all time favorite air combat game. Yes, even more than X-Wing and Tie Fighter. The game featured all the wonderful alternate 30’s Diesel Punk aesthetics, a fun pulp soundtrack, and fantastic environments. The storyline was ripped straight from classic air adventure serials and offered a variety of challenges, from taking on heavily armed zeppelins to plucking kidnapped scientists off the top of a speeding train. The controls were more than arcade level in simplicity but far from a realistic air simulator, which hit the sweet spot for complexity vs simplicity. This encouraged not just dog fighting, but barnstorming stunts, which was further encouraged by the imaginative level designs. Another fun addition was that occasionally when you would buzz through a tight spot, such as the “O” in the Hollywood sign or zipping through a tight tunnel in a jungle island, you’d hear a “click”. Then a picture of your maneuver would be added to your pilot’s scrapbook.
The multi-player was, sadly, bound to Microsoft’s proprietary service. So I never did much with it, but you could always fire up an on-demand duel with a variety of bots, challenges, and maps to play on, and some of the maps were wonderfully large and fun. The New York City map in particular was amazingly large and nothing beat screaming down through the concrete jungle of Manhattan, guns blazing, then whipping out over the bay.
Sadly the original game’s graphics don’t work well with new video cards, necessitating the use of software rendering. This reduces the graphical quality to looking like something from 1990 instead of 2000. A sequel was made, Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, but it was an X-Box exclusive title and never ported to the PC. But with it’s fantastic game play and sense of high adventure, I still dream of a new release for the PC so I can once more fly the unfriendly skies of air pirates and robber barons.
Star Wars: The Dark Forces series: The Dark Forces series for Star Wars consisted of four games. The first was the titular Dark Forces, released in 1995. The first game introduced Kyle Katarn, a mercenary soldier working for the rebellion to uncover the Empire’s “Dark Trooper” program and shut it down. It was a solid, if standard, first person shooter that was fun, but nothing groundbreaking. A sequel came out in 1997 called Jedi Knight, in which Kyle comes to terms with his own force abilities and is forced to become a Jedi in order to stop the rise of a new Sith lord. In terms of both game play and story, this game was not very good.
But it is the third and fourth games, Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, where the series really shines. Released in 2002 and 2003 respectively, these continue the story of Kyle Katarn and are the first games to really allow the player to feel like a Jedi. The game again mixes between first and third person, and adds in an array of force powers and a sophisticated lightsaber fighting system. These games had it all; the story, the voice acting, the imaginative settings, and most importantly the game play. You’ll soon be doing force powered flips and rolls, using force push, pull, and if so inclined channel the dark side and force choke your foes. Best of all, the lightsaber fighting is excellent. The games featured other exciting elements, such as an extended level in Jedi Academy where you are whipping through canyons in your speeder bike, lightsaber in hand, and engaging in high speed battles with other bikers.
The multi-player and mod community were prolific, cranking out new skins, maps, and game modes, and in its heyday it was easy to jump online and engage in epic duels. I recently loaded up Jedi Academy and was delighted to find that there are still a number of dueling servers up, running, and with a decent population of saber swingers.
No Star Wars game since then has given me the feel of being a Jedi as well as Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy and with all the excitement about the new movie, the time is right to revisit the Dark Forces series.
Stranglehold: Released in 2007, Stranglehold is the video game sequel to my favorite Hong Kong movie, Hard Boiled. You play as Tequila, the Hong Kong cop-on-the-edge, voiced by the amazing Chow Yun-Fat himself. The story is a beautiful distillation of the Hong Kong genre, featuring cop killing Triads, mob wars, treacherous friends, emotional conflicts, and bullets. Lots of bullets.
This game is a love letter to all things Kung Fu Action, from exotic locations to highly destructible environments. As Tequila blazes his way through the levels, he builds up power that will let him use special maneuvers that let him dispatch enemies in even more spectacular manners, often accompanied by doves flying by (a staple of John Woo movies ever since The Killer). The player builds up greater levels of power by killing bad guys in more exciting ways, such as rolling by on a cart with both guns blazing, shooting signs or gantries to drop heavy objects on them, or hitting propane cans to cause fiery explosions. The game is a third person cover shooter, but you can’t sit anywhere for too long as gunfire will quickly reduce your cover to rubble.
My favorite level involves a night club with a jazz combo playing on a stage in the middle. When the Triads come pouring in the musicians look up in surprise, until the gang leader shouts, “Who told you to stop playing?” From there the band kicks up a fast paced number as the bullets start flying. The mission goals flash on the screen letting you know that not only do you have to kill all the gangsters, but at least one member of the band needs to survive. As you dive across the tables and duck around corners, occasionally you’ll hear one of the music channels drop out as a musician takes a bullet. This means not only do you need to survive, but you need to control the position of the gunfight to keep the band from getting caught in the crossfire.
Also, grenades are not a good idea for this level. Trust me on this.
There are a lot of first and third person shooters on the market, but this is the only one that’s ever tried to capture the atmosphere of Asian crime movies, and it’s high time someone revisits the idea.