Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Yesterday's Worlds #3: BEA, Black, and Blade

Battle Engine Aquila (Lost Toys/Atari/2003) - New.

You really can learn things from video games. Case in point: Before writing this blog post, I thought Aquila was a made up word. Imagine my surprise when the spell checker didn't flag it as misspelled! A quick Wikipedia check told me it is the Ancient Roman term for "eagle" and it was also what they called their sacred standards (which looked like eagles) carried by each legion. This is a fascinating fact...which has nothing to do with the game.

You pilot a ship (from first person perspective) that can fly or walk on the ground while fighting numerous enemy ships and tanks. You've been chosen for this duty because of your prowess at speedy "forklift" racing - which is odd considering the Battle Engine isn't very fast and you weren't shooting anything while racing. Equally unexplained is why the faction you are fighting for would design a ship incapable of touching water (where it explodes!) in a world where sea levels have risen to a point where land is scarce. I guess the "it should float on the water" engineer was killed by the enemy before production of the Battle Engine. If so, it was an excellent tactical move on their part!

The gameplay reminds me of the old N64 game "Star Wars: Rogue Squadron" - mostly because of the continuous berating of commanders barking orders and the pleas for help from the ships I'm supposed to protect. You know, I play games to relax and have fun. If I enjoyed this kind of abuse, I'd go work at Gamestop.

This isn't a particularly pretty game (it's got that PS1 developer's first PS2 game look to it), but it did have one interesting moment. During an opening battle against flying enemy battleships, I was able to land on the wing of one of the slow moving ones and fire point blank at it until it started to explode and crash. I can't think of any other combat game that would have let me touch, let alone land, on an enemy craft - usually you just die instantly. But this wasn't enough to keep my interest, so I locked, loaded, and moved on to...

Black (Criterion Games/EA Games/2006) - Played before.

I wanted another shot at playing Gun-Porn Black. When it was released, OPM rhetorically asked if it was the last great game of the PS2 (which it turned out it wasn't, but the reviewer was so impressed he gave the game a 10/10). The game got considerable press coverage because Criterion was at that point only known for making kick-ass racing games (ie, the Burnout series). Plus it looked amazing for the hardware it ran on (PS2 and Xbox) and this in a time before Call of Duty had settled into dominance on the console scene. Had things worked out differently, the game coming out today (11/5/13) might have been called "Black: Ghosts".

The first level of the game was brilliant - a fairly easy battle on war torn city streets ending with you making an RPG shot at a sniper in a bell tower and watching it crumble to the ground. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get through. Then, something happened. The next level is more of a stealth mission, making you creep through a forest setting around armed guards to reach a border checkpoint that you have to fight your way through. There are few health packs to find (no auto-regenerating health here), all enemy soldiers seem to be immune from anything but headshots, and the level goes on forever - according to the FAQ I read it can take about an hour and a half to complete! And all of this without any checkpoints to go back to or even a map to follow! I can only suspect that the designers were too used to racing games and didn't know the kinds of things that FPS games need to be playable. From a technical aspect, they hit the mark, but the fun part of the game hits the brakes too early and winds up in the ditch. So, I left the burning wreck and went for a day walk to...

Blade II (Mucky Foot Productions/Activision/2002) - New.

Oh dear, another flag bearer to carry on the stereotype of bad movie tie-in games. This one showed no shame in its intention, running an ad for the movie's release on DVD before the game even started! All the usual suspects are here - the story has nothing to do with the movie (it's actually set after the events in the movie according to the manual's intro), no voice acting from the original cast, and cheap production values (the game starts in a multi-level parking garage where, big surprise, every level looks like every other level). It's only because I'm a big fan of the movie (the best of the three) that I even gave this an hour before I shut it off.

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