Tag Archives: Features

The Phantom Pandemic or The New Hope?

All our lives have been impacted immensely in the past year by the effects of the Covid19 pandemic. And its impact has meant that we’ve had to look at new ways of living our lives, doing the things that we had taken for granted, and leaving us – perhaps – more time for reflection than ever before.

One of the things that I most enjoy doing is gaming, because it helps so much to be able to switch off from working at home and the general depressing nature of the news, by being able to immerse yourself within a fantasy environment and focus on achieving a goal. And most recently one of the games I’ve been playing is a title called ‘Star Wars Racer’ on Nintendo Switch.

Now, this game has a rather more complex history, having been first developed due to a sequence present in ‘Star Wars Episode 1; The Phantom Menace’ released in 1999 and was developed by LucasArts – the studio responsible for most of the official Star Wars output. The title was originally released in 1999 on Nintendo 64 and Game Boy, later having several launches through systems including PC, Dreamcast, Mac and even later, the Nintendo Switch, XBox One and PS4.

Ironically, the games re-release on Switch was delayed in part due to the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that LucasArts wanted to release the game on a new generation of systems at all, considering it still holds the Guinness records for the best-selling sci-fi racing game of all time, having worldwide sales of 3.12 million above arguably more well-known franchises such as Wipeout and F Zero.

Many consider ‘The Phantom Menace’ film itself to be a mixed bag, yet even its harshest critics will have a soft spot for pod racing, the sequences within the film which allowed it to be (albeit partially) saved in comparison to it’s later sequels. For those unfamiliar, pod racing is a sort of galactic Formula One event, where creatures from across the galaxy partake in an extremely dangerous race. In the film, our main ‘hero’ Anakin Skywalker pilots his own pod racing craft – something that humans are not meant to be able to do, due to the complexity of working such machines – and manages to succeed in winning his race and securing his freedom from slavery.

In the film, Anakin was played by Jake Lloyd, who reprised his role for the video game. Born in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1989 he was chosen for the role of Anakin on the back of his role in ‘Jingle All the Way’ alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1996. He’d previously made his acting debut in four episodes of ER which were released in the same year. At the time Lloyd was only 6/7 and given he was born in March of 1989 is only separated from my younger brothers age by just 2 weeks. When our family went to see The Phantom Menace in 1999 at our local cinema, there many comparisons made between Lloyd and my sibling.

Although Star Wars helped Lloyd achieve global fame, like many child actors before him, he struggled with the idea of such responsibility and was impacted negatively by the films overwhelmingly harsh criticism from such loyal Star Wars fans. He appeared in the film ‘Madison’ in 2005 but this film itself had been delayed in post-production and so Lloyd had filmed his own involvement before his retirement from acting in 2001. In 2012, he announced he was writing a documentary and later spoke about how bullying at school had also impacted on him deciding to retire from acting entirely.

In 2015 police responded to allegations of an assault, where Lloyd was accused of assaulting his mother, who refused to press charges on the grounds Lloyd was suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse, and he was later incarcerated that same year when arrested for driving without a licence, giving the name Jake Broadbent to arresting officers. Police also engaged in a high speed chase after Lloyd initially refused arrest and was suspected of being under the influence of narcotics.

Failing to secure bail and held at a detention centre for over 10 months, Lloyd was eventually released and a statement in January 2020 released by his family says he has now been officially diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia and is doing much better, much closer to his family. Progress had been hampered by the death of his sister, Madison, and Lloyd’s diagnosis of further mental health issues which made the acceptance of his condition much more difficult.

Lloyd’s treatment from fans and the toxicity which exists within Star Wars culture towards what fans perceive as subpar performance is in no way unique but does severe as a powerful indicator to the price of fame. It reminds us that even when we feel someone may be untouchable and on the route to stardom and success, they are in fact as human and as fragile as everyone else.

During the pandemic I’ve been gaming, but also looking at stories like Lloyds, giving me time to research what happened to actors who had such impact on us – actors and performers who may no longer be in the public eye for one reason or another. It’s not always so negative, of course, but this story remains hopeful despite the depression. That we may all go through bad periods, and they may take time to heal, but ultimately, we will come out of this and we will be stronger for the experiences learned.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong.

From Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution (2020, Documentary)

Coming in at just under three hours, this documentary is an incredibly comprehensive look at the ground-breaking work the Playstation system did in helping to shape the current video game market.

Created by filmmakers Anthony and Nicola Caulfield, ‘The PlayStation Revolution’ is the third film in a series of hidden stories around gaming’s greatest accomplishments. And it wouldn’t be as comprehensive a history without the stories from the people who were there on the front line, with those contributing on camera including Hideo Kojima, Mark Cerny and Jim Ryan.

Whilst it might have been more accessible as a Netflix series, split into twenty-minute episodes for easier digestion by an unfamiliar audience, anyone with even a passing interest in Sony’s creation is bound to find this informative and engaging.

The History of Swear Words (Netflix, 2020, Documentary Series)

What better way is there to show the rumours of your death being exaggerated than by hosting a Netflix series.

Enigmatic leading man, Nicolas Cage, returns (beard accompanying) as host and highlight of this incredible Docuseries from Netflix.

Described as “an education you didn’t realise you needed”, it charts the history and development of several English “cuss words” to quote the man himself.

It’s light, it’s fun and it’s just what you need to let off some steam and start 2021 with a laugh.

Spread across six episodes, each coming in at a perfect 21 minutes, it features discussion and humour from linguistic experts and comedians such as Sarah Silverman and Nick Offerman.

But the highlight here is undoubtedly Cage who apparently filmed all his scenes required for this series in just a single day, thankfully proving he is still ready and willing to make National Treasure 3 when needed.

Resident Evil 3 2020 (XBox One, PS4)

As with most gamers my age who owned a PlayStation, it’s fair to say that the console had more than a few titles which captured my interest, and the original inception of the console is the dearest to my heart. Indeed, titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid became integral to my DNA as a gamer and remain with me to this day (I am even currently replaying the former on Xbox One after its 2019 port).

The Original Nemesis, about to party like it’s 1999

Resident Evil is certainly a franchise I am more than a little familiar about, and whether it was through my Dad or my brother, the game did arrive in my household in the late 90s. But for whatever reason, it was Resident Evil 3 (released in 1999, when I was 14) that I have the clearest memories of. I have always preferred Resident Evil 2 – going to great lengths in obtaining versions of the game through the ensuing years – but RE3 was without question my first. And, as they say, you never forget your first.

Storyline wise the game picks up as a prequel to the second installation, telling us what Jill Valentine (a protagonist from the first game) did during the 24 hours – or so – prior to the events of the second game. Cinematically, therefore, it ties in with the established cannons and you are never likely to struggle with that. Whilst attempting to escape Raccoon City, Jill is pursued by Nemesis – a creature developed by Umbrella to eradicate the members of her STARS Unit – witnesses to the events in the first game. Nemesis is similar in size to the dreaded ‘Mr X’ of the second installation, but this particular foe is a tyrant in more than just appearance and takes a considerable amount of killing – repeatedly killing – to actually stop.

When I played the original game it’s use of cinematic storytelling and multiple choice options, puzzle solving and framerate made me feel this was one of the best things ever made. Graphically, gamers simply expect more these days, unless they are purposefully looking for an 8-bit indie title – but in 1999 this game was the height of technology and testament to the awesome power of PlayStation. So, we should not underestimate it.

When I had played the remake of Resident Evil 2 in January 2019 I was blown away. This game was, and still is, a masterpiece. Graphically, it looks amazing, and it also tells a tale once told exceptionally well. Whether you are a thirty-year veteran, or this is the first survival horror game you will ever play, Resident Evil 2 is an essential purchase. What I didn’t know, in 1999, was that the third instalment was something of an afterthought, created by Capcom to satisfy a contractual agreement with Sony for an additional title – using the framework and templates already created to build another game. Developers Capcom were able to add enough new features into the third title that it was not immediately evident, certainly not to this impressionable pimple faced gamer.

When I’d heard Capcom planned to release a remake of the third game, after the success of the second’s remastered glories, I assumed enough time had passed for their development team to be working on making the game slightly more unique than previous. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Now, with this game being set in the same location as the second – namely Raccoon City – and using at least one of the same locations, that’s not exactly going to be possible; and I get this, but Resident Evil 3’s remaster suffers from the fault of looking brilliant, but having little or nothing to say which distinguishes it from RE2 DLC.

Let us examine some features, for fear that I am being too harsh, starting with the games opening. This takes place just prior to the outbreak of Racoon City. Now, I felt this was a really good idea, because it separates itself from the original game which started later – after the outbreak had occurred – and gave virtually no establishment. So, credit where due, this was a strong possibility. Also, as I’m a huge fan of 90’s FMV style gaming, it was incredible to see real actors performing roles in the opening moments – adding to the feeling that this was a real story about a real place.

Sadly, the game hit a stumbling block almost immediately, as it’s first ten minutes are both glorious – owing to the scenery, the backdrops, the actions, the little Easter eggs; but also feels rushed, the player moved from one place to the next in an effort to escape Nemesis. You are introduced to Brad Vickers, the helicopter pilot from the first game, which is a great plus – only to have the character quickly and meaninglessly written out in what feels like seconds.

In the Resident Evil 2 remaster, the player has the large section at the start of the original PS1 game removed, there’s no interaction at the gun shop (Leon gets that later) and no running through the basketball court (that happens for Claire, in her orphanage side quest), so you almost immediately stumble upon the Police Station within the first three to four minutes. In RE3, this felt exactly the same, since no sooner am I taking my seat to get into the game we’ve met Carlos, Brad is most probably dead, Nemesis has killed a lot of people and you’re crashing off a parking lot in a Buick.

As soon as Carlos is introduced, UCBS becomes a thing, and what took an hour of PS1 gaming to reach in the original has happened in 15 – at most. I was also disappointed at Nemesis, mainly as Jill battles him about four/five times in this game, and with the exception of the Police Station and the Hospital (just) there is little to no time in order for soaking in the moment and exploring. But then maybe I am being a little too critical, this is not Grand Theft Auto or Sleeping Dogs, this is Resident Evil 3 and the action is always moving forward.

Tyrell’s character is expanded upon greatly in the storyline, and this was a treat, though I’m not sure whether that happened because the developers wanted it too or because it was a lot more PC to have African American, Russian and Latino characters playing heroes whilst the protagonist is a female. Either way, the characters that do feature in Resident Evil 3 (even the cameos) are excellent, and there are some ties in with events in Resident Evil 2 remastered as well.

Puzzle wise the codes remain from Resident Evil 2 in some areas, which is a nice nod, whilst in others it is the bolt cutters and the lockpick which ultimately become your best friends. I found the early portions of the game to be the most satisfying, breaking into locked stores, wandering through the streets of Raccoon City, and generally appreciating the setting. The second portion of the game, after the Police Station in particular, felt like it was also winding up too fast. Whether I am just being a bit of a moaning Michael or not, there was shortened bursts of gameplay that would have benefited massively from being dragged out.

Even without a guide or walk through, taking the wrong path did not lead to a diversion, as you either found an empty section of corridor or a locked area. Considering the story line actually encourages faster playthroughs (and you’re rewarded trophies for doing so) it seems like Capcom weren’t that fussed about additional content.

While it was a nice attempt, and does take a few shots at fan service, the pay offs just aren’t worth it – then again, maybe that’s why Eagles from Street Fighter opened a Pet Store there!

Resident Evil 3 (PS1)

With the remake having recently hit shelves (physically and digitally, mind); this past week seemed like a perfect chance to go back and tackle the Survival Horror of the original Resident Evil 3; Nemesis on PlayStation 1.

With its sequel, Resident Evil 2, having partially revolutionised the gaming market upon release in January 1998 it might come as quite the surprise to learn RE3 was something of an afterthought. Wishing to release the games official sequel (which would later become Code Veronica) a contractual obligation to Sony meant a prequel built upon the same graphics engine was required.

Thankfully, nobody was complaining, and it fell to Jill Valentine (a protagonist in the first film) to help the player navigate the twenty four hours (or so) prior to Leon and Claire’s arrival in Raccoon City. Very much post Outbreak, the game did manage to focus a little heavier on FMV and story driven sequences than its predecessors, with the multiple-choice options at various locations of the game adding both immediate replay value and some surprising twists.

The game is not lacking in content and you won’t be disappointed. Despite its 20 year plus age, this title remains both challenging and narratively complex. Playing it on the PSVita, with the lights off and curtains drawn, is particularly special.