Rising From the Ashes– Weekly Recommendations 23/05 – 29/05
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
Following a week that saw PSN finally rise from the ashes, and with the PS Store expected to follow suit in the next few days, I thought I would take the opportunity to look at some other gaming revivals of note.
These three games made triumphant returns from extended lay-offs, reviving dormant series whilst appealing to fans both old and new. The success of the return of PSN is not yet assured, and Sony would do well to learn from the following about how to come back in style.
1. Metal Gear Solid – PS (1998)
There was an eight year gap between Metal Gear 2 and Metal Gear Solid. During that time, series creator Hideo Kojima kept himself busy with a number of other projects, most notably the action adventure games Snatcher and Policenauts whose influence can be seen in MGS (Meryl was a character in Policenauts, for example). When Kojima finally decided to return to the series he did so with a masterpiece, as MGS catapulted the series to fame, establishing Solid Snake as a gaming icon in the process.
With its cinematic cut-scenes and excellent voice acting (a rarity at the time), MGS strived to be a movie-like production, and it certainly plays like a blockbuster. Led by Solid Snake and his brother Liquid, it features a memorable cast of good-guys and freaks who all play their part in a spectacularly convoluted story, full of twists and turns. Shadow Moses is as atmospheric as any setting in the series, being as unforgettable as the characters that wander its halls and traverse its snowy fields. The return to Shadow Moses in MGS4 was a welcome one, as Kojima knowingly paid tribute to its continued popularity.
MGS innovated and helped to popularize the stealth genre. In subsequent years we saw a plethora of shadowy operatives sneaking their way around the world, from Gabe Logan to Sam Fischer. MGS is full of unique, innovative moments such as Psycho Mantis reading your memory card and being fooled by a switch of controller ports, or having to search for Meryl’s codec frequency on the back of the case. MGS has you thinking outside the box, quite literally.
MGS has been released in a number of different formats over the years, including the expanded MGS Integral, which came with the VR Missions disc, as well as the GameCube port, Twin Snakes, which offers graphical polish and new gameplay features. The original is also available through PSN, and no matter which version you choose you are in for a treat. While the visuals are dated, the gameplay and style remain as contemporary and as popular as Snake himself.
2. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together – PSP (2011)
Recently given new life on the PSP, Tactics Ogre was the catalyst for Square’s popular Final Fantasy Tactics series. The story goes that Hironobu Sakaguchi was so impressed with the original Tactics Ogre that he hired the development team to work on his FF off-shoot. Final Fantasy Tactics came to share the same combat system and a similar story, and is virtually indistinguishable visually from its predecessor.
Originally released for the Super Famicom in 1995, and for the Saturn and PS in subsequent years, the series had been on hiatus since 2001 and Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis on the GBA. However, it returned in style earlier this year with a definitive PSP port which has been greeted with near unanimous praise. It features additional content, characters and graphical improvements, and an excellent translation that harkens back to the olde English of Vagrant Story - another game from series creator Yasumi Matsuno.
In Tactics Ogre you do battle on an isometric playing field, looking to outwit and overpower your adversaries. If you feel the battle is getting out of hand, the new Chariot system allows you to rewind up to 50 moves and try out a different tactic. This ability is entirely discretionary, but very useful in a tight spot. It removes the annoyance of dead-end battles and you can usually deduce whether or not the skirmish will turn in your favour within the first dozen moves or so. The class based levelling system offers deep customization for all your characters through varied skills and abilities. You will likely settle on a few favourites who you will not do battle without, but over time you will also accumulate an interchangeable platoon of soldiers, an expendable supporting cast who are the backbone of your miniature army.
The deep and time-tested combat is rounded out with a stirring soundtrack and a full branching storyline with characters that you come to care for. If you are a fan of Strategy RPGs, then I cannot recommend Tactics Ogre strongly enough.
3. Medal of Honour – PS3, 360, Windows (2010)
Up until the full emergence of Call of Duty, EA's Medal of Honour series was the undisputed king of the console FPS. Although there has been a steady stream of MoH games over the years (at least 11 individual titles from 1998 - 2007) it began to loose favour with critics and gamers, disappearing entirely in 2007 just as the genre was becoming more lucrative than ever.
In 2010 it returned with a reboot, switching the World War 2 setting for modern day Afghanistan and taking the original name Medal of Honour, without the need of a sub-title. Displaying many similarities with recent entries in the CoD series, much as Activison once emulated MoH, it is a solid shooter that, on closer inspection, does some key things differently to its competitors.
At first glance the single player campaign comes across as being heavily influenced by Modern Warfare, featuring a mix of set-battles, some stealthier levels and impressive set-pieces. However, it does things differently in certain key areas that help to set it apart. Gung-ho charges and ill-advised heroics are not the order of the day here, as any attempt at a Terminator-like advance will lead you to an early grave. Throughout, MoH stresses the importance of utilizing cover and laying-down covering fire, something that quickly becomes second nature as you scour the villages and mountains of Afghanistan. This means that you rely on the contribution of your team-members, and it convinces you that your AI companions are making a difference, and not just there for narrative sake.
Thanks to the expertise of DICE (the studio behind the Battlefield series), MoH provides an engaging multiplayer experience which, like the single player, stresses teamwork. Using a simplified class-based approach (Rifleman, Spec Ops, Sniper) you unlock new weapons and accessories as you level-up, playing across a variety of modes, the best of which is Combat Mission. Featuring two teams competing to defend or storm a number of objectives spread across a vast map, these are protracted battles where little can be achieved without teamwork. It is one of the most satisfying FPS multiplayer modes I have played, and its a shame that it is limited to so few maps.
Its difficult to argue with MoH's status as a derivative FPS, but if you enjoy shooters its reputation won't make the experience any less worthwhile.