An ode to old school strategy games

Thought I would go on a lighter note with this one, and take you all back in time by a decade or so…

So I’m not a massive gamer, but the games I do play generally tend to be in the realm of Strategy, RPG, Sci-Fi and the occasional Driving Simulator. The reason I play these a lot more is that they tend to hold my attention for a lot longer, whereas your more publicly popular First Person Shooter etc. can get boring unless there are friends and alcohol involved. I suppose you could say I’m strange in the way I look at games, as things like amazing super-awesome graphics and accurate physics when you headshot someone from a mile away don’t draw me to something. I tend more to be interested by an engaging storyline, challenges that involve a little lateral thinking and strategy, and characters that you can actually imagine yourself being stood alongside them (albeit usually killing or maiming something).

So with that in mind, and the fact I’m currently limited to playing my PS2 for the forseeable future, I thought I would talk about two of my favorite games of late. And guess what; they’re both from 11 years ago. 🙂

CHASE THE EXPRESS (COVERT OPS: NUCLEAR DAWN IN THE U.S.)

So this was a game I bought not long after it came out in 2000, and remember a significant portion of my childhood playing it, getting frustrated with not being able to complete it, and trying to replicate it with LEGO. It was a relatively simple game in some respects, you ran up and down a 16-carriage armoured train killing terrorists, rescuing members of the French ambassador’s family and picking up items. But it had a lot of subtle levels to it that when playing at a young age I didn’t appreciate, however when I went back through it last week I picked up on and ended up completing the game (and with good time may I add).

For starters, a lot of the puzzle/problem solving elements of the game are pretty easy, e.g. you find a door which needs a keycard to open, and in the next room if you press the ‘action’ button against enough inanimate bits of furniture you find a pad of paper with the indentation of four numbers. Voila! Door opens using the same code. However, there will also be items that you pick up which seem to have no relevance to anything. You store them away in an item store box when you save, and forget about them. But it then turns out several carriages later that it was actually an important plot point, and something which earlier was just a nonsensical image on a microfilm actually starts to all fit together.  Some would call this annoying, I call it pretty damn clever.

Another thing I loved about this game was that it was one of the first I played that had several different endings depending on what you did (or didn’t) do during the game. For example something you pick up can be given to an NPC, and if you do that the NPC’s story arc is completely different. The first time I played the game obviously I was too young and ignorant to pick up on any of this, so most of the NPC’s died and I got a ‘you completed the game, but everything’s a bit wrong and now Europe is in big trouble’ ending. Either way, I’m a big fan of non-linear storylines and it was impressive for the time.

Lt. Jack Morton going all Chuck Norris on some terrorist scum

So who cares the graphics were blocky, the voice acting was wooden and the background sound clip of the train moving made you want to put forks in your ears. To me it was an awesome puzzle game, nicely balanced with guns, terrorists in gas masks, and a rather satisfying blood spatter that was too pixellated to be considered gore.

METAL GEAR SOLID

This game needs no real introduction does it? Oh well OK then if you insist. This game is a stealth-based action shooter/runner-thing, in which you play Solid Snake; probably the most badass video game character in existence. Now my earlier point of having a great and engaging storyline kind of goes out the window with this game, as although brilliantly in-depth and treated more like a film than a game in some places (as illustrated by the sometimes painfully long cut scenes and codec voice-over conversations), the story becomes a bit convoluted and hard to follow in places. But if you’ve ever watched anything Japanese that dips into the realm of fantasy or sci-fi, you’ll probably be used to that feeling of ‘…eh?’.

What’s brilliant about this game as well as the attention-to-detail in creating background for all the characters, and having such an in-depth storyline that you almost forget in places how detached from reality it can be, is that stealth plays a big part in completing the game. Admittedly you could just run around gunning down every bad guy you see, but you’d most likely run out of either bullets or health way before you ran out of evil cloned henchmen. Instead, it’s far more fun to hug walls, creep around in boxes, and listen to the guards come out with excellent choice lines such as ‘what was that noise?’ and ‘who’s footprints are these?’. Then you can do all the shooting and running around like a man possessed when the boss fights come.

But I think the best thing about the entire MGS series is how many silly little easter eggs you can find in the game. Admittedly the original doesn’t quite have as many as it’s sequels, but if you look hard enough you can find some little laughs here and there. For example, if you look at the female love interest character for long enough in first-person view she begins to blush, if you call the save-game woman enough times and don’t actually save she sticks her tongue out at you, and of course the staple of the series is that when hiding in lockers you occasionally find posters of Japanese girls in their underwear. And if you press the right button, Snake kisses them.

The mighty Solid Snake hiding behind a tank.

Legend.

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About alexdunmyer

Just a British graduate with a lot of things on his mind.
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