Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yesterday's Worlds #5: Burnout, Call of Duty 2, and some Capcom Classics

Burnout 3 Takedown / Burnout Revenge / Burnout Dominator - (Criterion Games/Electronic Arts/2004,2005,2007) - Played all before, but Takedown and Revenge on Xbox.

I intentionally didn't spend much time with these games since I've logged a ton of time on the first one and gave the other two a fair play back in the day. Mostly I was curious on how well the racing held up after all these years and another generation of consoles. Also, I wanted to see if Burnout Revenge was as bad as I remembered it being, and refresh my memory on Dominator.

I found the racing in Takedown just as enjoyable as ever (maybe a little harder due to my aging reflexes) but the worst thing was that the PS2 version of it (and Revenge) only used the face buttons to control acceleration and braking! There was no way to change the control to the L2/R2 triggers. This made power slides very difficult to initiate. For some reason, when they made the Xbox version, Criterion mapped to the triggers on that controller, but why they did the PS2 differently I can't imagine.

I remember Revenge being a bit of a disappointment at the time after enjoying Takedown so much. After all this time, I have to say I think the main problem was not the game, but that Takedown was so fresh in the memory. (I still remember hearing people say that Revenge was so much better and wondering why they thought that.) One thing I still find distracting about the game is that it encourages you to ram the backs of other cars. I guess they were looking for a new game mechanic and decided you needed to create more mayhem, but as a gamer, you get used to racing that penalizes you for crashing and it takes some effort to aim your car at the rear of another.

 I also realized that I had been only playing the Xbox version, not the 360 version - I didn't own a 360 back then. I'll be tracking down a copy of that in the near future. (Update: I got a copy and found it surprisingly enjoyable.)

Dominator didn't improve with age, however. I recall that at the time, Criterion and EA put out Dominator as a "fan service" to those waiting for the next Burnout game for the HD consoles. It felt thrown together in short order and did little to interest anyone. All I remember about playing it was constantly hitting the barriers they put in the middle of roads, making you feel like they were just making it harder to drive fast - which is the whole point of a Burnout game!

So, I parked this trio by the side of the road and answered the call...

Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One (Treyarch/Activision/2005) - New.

It's hard to express how I feel about this game. Somehow I can only come up with "a gross misalignment of fate".

Back when it was still about the ol' WWII, Activision wanted to provide two generations of consoles with sequels to the original Call of Duty. Infinity Ward made the next-gen shooter defining Call of Duty 2 (which I had heard called "the game you buy to show off your Xbox 360, HD TV and 5.1 sound system to your friends"). Treyarch made CoD2: The Big Red One, a sort of consolation prize to those who didn't have next-gen hardware (only the 360 at that point). But....that's not how it should have happened. And if it hadn't happened that way....where might we be now?

You see, while both games are first-person shooters, this one tried to make you care about the soldiers you were with. It was a tribute to a real army unit, the First Infantry Division, the oldest division in the US Army, and included a respectful dedication in the manual. The battles you fought were supposed to mirror the actual campaigns the unit fought in. While fictitious, there were bios for your squad mates and I was really looking forward to fighting along side them. But, the game was hampered by being designed for a console generation that was nearly over. The finished product looked more like it should be called The Big Brown One. The graphics were muddy and lacked practically any detail. There are much better looking shooters on the PS2, so you can't entirely blame limitations of the system. This was a game that didn't receive enough support because it was simply designed to be a place holder for last gen gamers. So, when CoD 2 came out with its generic FPS action but high definition action sequences, the volume of sales quickly made it the defacto military shooter formula.

But I have to wonder, what if the games had been reversed. What if The Big Red One had been the first of the HD FPS games? Would we see more shooters with historical settings? Games with squad members that you could really care about? Ones you'd want to try to save by fighting as hard as you could? Men you'd be proud to die with, if it came to that? Fate it would seem, had other plans.

Capcom Classics Collection 1 & 2 (Digital Eclipse/Capcom/2005 & 2006) - New.

I have the utmost respect for these types of game collections. I feel it's vitally important to preserve vintage arcade games in a format that makes them easily accessible to future generations of gamers.

But that doesn't mean I particularly want to play them anymore. Oh, to see how far we've come!

It's been many years since I've been even remotely decent at true arcade games - games that were designed primarily to separate teens from vast quantities of their quarters as quickly as possible. I tried all the games in both of these collections and I wasn't able to survive for more than about 2 minutes in any of them. The reflexes just aren't what they used to be. However, I was able to finally play Black Tiger, the game featured in the book every gamer should read, Ready Player One. While I did a little better at it, I still found myself dying well before I had gotten very far. Beat this on one quarter? Yeah, right!

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