Poor Larry Laffer. Few characters have ever been so misunderstood or unfairly looked down on than Al Lowe's perpetual but loveable loser, thanks to a couple of basic misconceptions about the series—that the Leisure Suit Larry games are sex games rather than comedy games about sex, and that Larry himself is some kind of sex monster, rather than a guy who spent at least his first trilogy specifically looking for love. Really. No fewer than three times is he happy to settle down after finding Miss Right. The whole 'ultimate pervert' thing comes far more from marketing than the action in the actual games.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Ben relearns World War 2 tactics in Brothers in Arms.
Find, fix, flank and finish. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 calls them The Four F’s, and almost ten years since its release, I haven’t forgotten. But this is more than a catchy slogan. This authentic military manoeuvre is the game’s backbone, the reason it stands tall among a mid-naughties glut of brain-dead war shooters. Whenever I think about Gearbox’s squad-based FPS, I find myself repeating it like a mantra.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, editor Sam Roberts revisits Mafia: City Of Lost Heaven.
Both Mafia games share one thing that I’d totally forgotten until I reinstalled the original: they both challenge you with mundane tasks before the fun kicks in. In Mafia II, you stack crates in a van for as long as you can stand it. In City of Lost Heaven, you go through five horrendous taxi fares in Tommy Angelo’s pathetically slow car before you sack it off and enter a world of organised crime.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, editor Sam Roberts revisits the massively popular multiplayer shooter Star Wars: Battlefront II.
There’s been some serious money left on the table with Star Wars: Battlefront III's ongoing non-existence in the last nine years. Lucasarts’ changes in management, Free Radical’s collapse and EA’s purchase of Pandemic probably didn’t help matters, even if DICE's version is at least early into production now. What it means is that 2005’s Battlefront II is still somehow the best way of having large-scale Star Wars multiplayer battles on land (not so much in space), but despite that merit it’s been outstripped by most modern class-based multiplayer shooters.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we dive beneath the waves and try to keep our voices down in Silent Hunter II.
Slicing through the frigid North Atlantic waters, my wounded Type VII-C U-boat is one well-placed depth charge away from bursting open like a cheap German piñata and sinking rock-like to the ocean floor. Those British destroyers circling manically overhead show no signs of bugging off and leaving me to lick my wounds. Probably because I sunk two of the fattest ships in their convoy 15 minutes ago with a perfectly-aimed torpedo spread. But the sense of elation I felt is transforming into terror. After my fish made contact and turned the freighters into flaming steel coffins, the convoy’s three destroyer escorts descended on me, peppering my crash-diving sub with hull-ripping depth charges.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Andy returns to the foggy streets of Silent Hill 2.
Having finished Silent Hill 2 more times than I can remember, I know what lies around every corner, but the atmosphere is so thick and oppressive I still can’t play it for more than an hour at a time. This is partly down to the filthy, flyblown grime of its hospital corridors and fogbound streets, which seems to seep through your monitor. But mostly it’s because of how it sounds.
The audio design is rarely talked about with the same adoration as the wonderfully dark story and surreal, twisted art style, but it’s just as important. Audio director Akira Yamaoka used sound and music in interesting, unusual ways to create an air of both low-key melancholy and gnawing terror – whether it’s a lonely, solemn piano playing after a particularly harrowing moment in the story, or the sound of some unfathomable horror lurking in the shadows. If you haven’t played Silent Hill 2 – and I don’t blame you, because the PC version is difficult to track down – the game stars James Sunderland, who receives a letter from his wife, Mary, who died three years earlier. She says she’s in the town of Silent Hill, in their ‘special place’, and James travels there to meet her, only to discover that the town is abandoned and crawling with bizarre creatures. It’s one of the best videogame stories ever told, with unforgettable twists and turns that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling. It sidelines the series’ bloated mythology of cults and magic to tell a tragic, human and oddly romantic tale.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, editor Sam Roberts returns to the fury of Call of Duty 4's singleplayer campaign.
With Titanfall jettisoning the idea of a traditional single-player mode and Battlefield 4’s campaign inducing widespread sighs, this has become a disposable bolt on to most of today’s big shooters. Titanfall is able to create much of the drama of a single-player game in the midst of its impressive systems, but it’s worth remembering that the old Infinity Ward were really good at making campaigns, too.
But it might be that Titanfall’s lack of a true single-player mode is a sign of the times: COD’s rigid campaign formula has been exhausted. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was its peak
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. Today, Sam Roberts brushes up on his high school etiquette for a return to Bully's halls of mischief.
Bully starts with the shitty experience of going to a new school and ends with a subculture civil war. Certain media outlets flew off the handle when Rockstar announced they were making a game titled Bully, given their traditional adult subject matter and the context of the story, but the irony is that this is Rockstar’s softest and silliest game, with the warmest heart.
The GTA open-world template is borrowed almost in its entirety; even missions and distractions are similarly represented on the map. Instead of matching the earlier San Andreas’s scale, however, Rockstar Vancouver pursued detail and intimacy: the town of Bullworth feels about the size of an island in GTA III. What you get instead is an environment that shares more DNA with a Deus Ex hub or Arkham City, where there’s logic behind the placing of buildings and a more handcrafted feel to the art direction. It’s a more experimental approach to open-world design from Rockstar. I see Bully as their passion project, the chance to take commercially proven game mechanics and apply to them to the sort of story no other developers would think of telling.
Does anyone give a shit about TimeShift?” asks acting editor Chris Thursten, poised to deny my Reinstall pitch. “It doesn’t grab me off the bat. I want something that grabs my bat, Marsh.”
I can forgive Chris his ungrabbed battitude. TimeShift is an ugly also-ran sci-fi shooter of little acclaim, the troubled production of which is etched into every hastily up-res’d texture. It does not grab bats. It couldn’t grab a bat if both it and the bat were made out of magnetised velcro. In fact, when I played it back in 2007, I imagined I would quickly forget it. But I have not.
PC gamers needn’t wait to sample Rockstar’s vision of current day America. GTA 2, released in 1999 by the developers then called DMA Design, was set in 2013 – although not a 2013 you’d necessarily recognise. In fact, it’s not even a GTA you’d necessarily recognise.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we roll into tactical RPG history with our soldiers of fortune in Jagged Alliance 2.
The Hamburglar has fatally misjudged the blast range of TNT. Wayne Gretzky is dead, too—his blood all leaked out on an airport runway through a sniper hole between the lungs. I can’t keep my team of fantasy mercenaries alive.
Naming a party of characters is one of the game-given rights of X-COM-like turn-based tactical RPGs. It’s instantly gratifying to take a commando named after your cat into combat. And when permanent death is a possibility, it’s a way of emotionally investing yourself in the animated sprites you’re sending into harm’s way.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we take to the battlefield with not just one, but A FEW mechs in MechCommander.
Time to roll the dice. I’m replaying the third mission of MechCommander, a few giant robot steps away from a big moment: my first run-in with a MadCat. If I play things right, I can bag it. One problem: I’m totally outmatched. My four-man rookie squad is piloting wiry light mechs (Commandos and Firestarters); essentially, I’m about to send a gaggle of Chevy Cavaliers against a Ferrari.
The MadCat’s iconic frame emerges from the fog of war, its egg-shaped cockpit perched atop raptor legs, shouldering twin blocks of long-range missile racks. I’ve got to make a call: do I sprint to the extraction point and attempt to complete the mission without a fight? Do I use the nuclear option and zap the rows of gas tanks near the MadCat for a sure kill—but with no chance of salvaging it? Or do I fight it head-on, and maybe—if I range correctly, kite it away from my damaged scout mech, and find enough finesse—knock the beast down without killing it, adding it to my squad and taking it into mission four as a playable prize?
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Cory takes a deep breath, braces himself, and journeys back into the hellish depths of the Von Braun in System Shock 2.
It’s still out there. I can hear it through the door, wandering around the hallway. I lean around the corner quickly to look, catching the back of its head as it turns the corner. “Is... someone... there?” I hear it ask, dragging a shotgun along and searching for the intruder – me. I have no ammo, and I’m out of psi-hypos. My only chance is to bludgeon it with a wrench before its friends show up. Seizing my chance, I rush out, holding the mouse button down in order to prep my wrench swing. But it sees me, shoves its shotgun out and shouts, “Kill... me!”
Here’s an average five minutes in the boots of gaming’s testosteroniest action hero: jet-packing around a football stadium, deploying holographic decoys of yourself, chucking RPGs and pipe bombs at a cyclopean giant that has missile launchers for hands. After toppling the monstrosity, you punt its giant eye through a pair of uprights. Then, you get it on with a harem of blondes and brunettes.
Duke Nukem 3D is still gaming’s best popcorn shooter, and revisiting it reminds me of how seriously FPSes have taken themselves since. Its competition in the ‘90s had space stations, generic caves and Nazi castles—Duke 3D has XXX movie stores and filthy, usable bathrooms (OK, Duke also has space stations, but they’re filled with half-naked babes strapped to alien monoliths). Duke even visits a seismically unstable Grand Canyon, a poisoned river and a hot lava waterfall. As you climb through the jagged overpasses, the landscape can crumble—rerouting your course entirely. Pawing the walls within levels reveals hidden pop culture references like an eviscerated Doom marine, an impaled Indiana Jones and a dangling, legless Luke Skywalker.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Jon constructs some fine vomit comets and manages the mess in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.
I am one very contented hour into Box Office, the fourth career-based scenario in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and my park rating is falling. I can see no immediate reason why until I zoom into a corner I’ve been neglecting for a while and see that it’s slick with vomit.
The Rotor I’ve placed there is obviously a bit too exciting for the ‘peeps’, as the game calls its park patrons, and many have lost their lunch. I locate and pick up one of my janitors, then drop him nearby where he dutifully starts to mop up, sending my park rating off in the right direction again. It’s this simple type of tinkering and troubleshooting that makes a construction and management sim like RCT3 such a satisfying alternative to games that are twitch-based or time-critical. So the peeps have had to wade through some puke for a little while; no biggie.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we take a spin through the rich, interplanetary world of Wing Commander: Privateer. And blow significant portions of it up, of course.
Confession time: I don’t like Elite. Never did. It’s a huge, empty, boring universe, existing solely for you to fly tedious trade routes from A to B, and occasionally be blown up in rubbish fights with other ships. Where’s the action? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the excitement of being a space smuggler type?
I’ll tell you. It’s in Privateer. At least, it was. Like the other early Wing Commander games, its use of sprites instead of primitively shaded polygons made for gloriously cinematic space battles back in the early ’90s. Their 320x200 pixel graphics blown up on a modern LCD mean much more squinting. See those huge cockpits? You can’t hide them. For your first few missions, the biggest challenge is working out if you’re meant to use your viewscreen or post a letter through it. Some games successfully hide their age. Privateer is not one of them.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Chris returns to the haunted, irradiated wastes of Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl.
It’s one thing to feel an overwhelming sense of dread while crouching in the darkened sub-basement of an abandoned lab at the stroke of midnight. It’s quite another to feel just as uneasy in the middle of an empty field with the sun directly overhead.
Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl certainly has its share of jump- scares and oh-shit monster moments, but what makes the game so memorable is that the neck-tightening tension never evaporates, even in broad daylight, far from claustrophobic chambers full of mutants. The sense of dread is like white noise: pervasive and constant. It begins with the sombre tones of the menu music and doesn’t end until long after the quit to desktop.
Black & White’s high concept could have been an @petermolydeux tweet: ‘You’re an all-seeing deity who’s followed around by a devoted chimp that shares all of your powers but none of your reasoning or judgement.’
The popularity of the Peter Molyneux parody account is down to the developer’s penchant for ‘imagine if’ statements like this one. In the years prior to its release, Black & White was sold as a revolutionary new kind of game: a world that doubles as a personality test, a measure of character that would reflect you personally.
It all begins so peacefully. A vast field of inky darkness, with just one point of light in the middle. Within it, a library stands tall and proud, but with many shelves left empty. Next to it, a few fields are tended by villagers, and a woodcutters’ camp stands in a clearing nearby. A scout sits and strokes his pet dog. In the middle of it all stands the town centre, its homes packed with children, waiting to come of age and leave a legacy unmatched by any other civilisation on Earth.
Rise of Nations attempts something quite audacious: fitting the entire span of human history into your lunch hour. It’s real-time, as in ‘real-time strategy’, but it accelerates that supposedly ‘real’ time to ludicrous levels, packing the scope of a game of Civilization into an hour without compromising on the detail. You might send a group of hoplites into battle with bronze spears and have them arrive armed with muskets. Imagine the aforementioned Civilization blended with Age of Empires, the Total War series and Red Alert and you’re getting close, but Rise of Nations has a few tricks of its own.
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we explore the criminally overlooked grand strategy gem, Imperialism 2.
Where’s El Dorado? What’s the purpose of the Nazca Lines? Who did Jack the Ripper’s laundry? All these are very minor mysteries compared with history’s ultimate baffler: why didn’t Imperialism go on to be as famous a franchise as Civilization?
As anyone familiar with this splendid Renaissance-rammed turn-based strategy game will tell you, Frog City’s Imperialism 2 was every bit as colourful, clever, and compelling as Microprose’s Civilization 2. If you’re under 20 and the sort of past-prodder that’s naturally drawn to Civ, the Anno series or Paradox fare, there’s a very good chance this is the best game you’ve never played.