Mortal Kombat: Deception
I’ve long vented my frustrations and disappointment with the Mortal Kombat series’ move from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat: Deception doesn’t move the needle much for me in the advancement of the series department, as it continued to make MK feel more like an annual update in the vein of John Madden Football or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (of course, after they milked the cow too many times!)
Deception really feels like an MK 5.1 and not MK 6 in the lineage of things. Sure, there’s new characters, new arenas, and a new boss (a pretty cool one too, Onaga). But it also features all of the old characters, arenas, and bosses as well.
There’s only so much you can rehash here and I still never got into the weapons-based combat, which has a larger spotlight here and is the “update” to the previously used arenas.
Yes, there’s Konquest Mode, and some other add-ons, but I’ve always felt those were secondary – not even – to the main meat of a fighting game. I suppose the pressure was on after the fall of the arcades and the rise of consoles to make these games more “worthwhile” for a $50-60 purchase, tacking on replay gimmicks. I seldom count them in my own reviews, as single player is where it’s at most of the time.
That would include Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. Say what you will, but I never cared about these features.
No, I cared about some pure fighting and fatalities. MK has always delivered on the violence and usually created unique characters we care about, but aside from the main boss Onaga, this game has no one truly memorable that debuted in this title.
Instead, that came with redesigns of existing characters, many of whom anchored the series since its beginning such as Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang.
While this game sold like hotcakes back in 2004, some reviewers were harsh on it like I was. Actually, some more than others.
I understand the love, especially for the legacy of the MK series, but personally I still feel as if Deadly Alliance and Deception still hadn’t delivered from the game’s transition to three planes.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance
The fifth installment of Mortal Kombat was the first to not be released prior in the arcades; a dwindling and almost extinct concept for today’s gamers who didn’t have the theater-to-home experience with gaming as we do with film.
Deadly Alliance takes us on a journey that actually had me depart the series. I grew up on the 2-D motion capture actors and cheesy inspiration of Enter the Dragon and Big Trouble in Little China. When the series moved entirely to 3-D with Mortal Kombat 4, I just found the polygonal artwork to have lost some of the feel that made Mortal Kombat special.
Coming back to this game years later, my feelings haven’t changed so much. Fighting games had become incredibly cliché and Mortal Kombat started to lose steam to true 3-D fighters, such as Soul Blade/Caliber, Tekken, DOA, and others that arrived on the scene.
It felt like Midway was playing catchup and also lost its originality. Fatalities had long been overdone by the time Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was released, for example. Blood and violence were not the same shock value by the early 2000’s, with DOA’s top-heavy divas even getting a volleyball spinoff not even two months after Deadly Alliance released.
As such, we see these subtle differences show up in DA, as the characters bounce or jiggle, I should say, much like the other games noted. And fatalities were now limited to one per fighter.
What is this nonsense? Even MK2 had several ways to finish off opponents including multiple fatalities! Stage fatalities, like the famous iterations of “The Pit” are missing too.
This skewed me away from MK as the gameplay in DA is a lot different than the previous MK games also.
While MK4 had side-stepping, it felt more natural than tacked-on in DA. New fighting styles supplanted picking up any random fighter and just going to town – each character has three styles, one of which includes a weapon, akin to my eyerolling least favorite addition to MK4.
There are some other modes tossed into the fray, including Konquest and The Krypt, which are mainly there to make it see like there’s more to the game than there really is. Fans and completionists will go for it, but it was a nothing burger for me now or then.
However, the one redeeming quality of Mortal Kombat has been the depth of their roster. Nine new characters, as well as two secret ones, round out a total of 11 new combatants – though some of them seem to have had some lack of inspiration. (Frost? Did we really need a third Sub-Zero/female ninja clone or another cyborg/robot warrior?)
Yet, I will admit that the new characters are a huge improvement over the truly uninspiring ones in MK4.
Even Mokap and Blaze, the hidden characters, are somewhat cheesy by this point in the series.
Yet, for those cringey spots, Moloch and Nitara are actually pretty cool.
The returning cast is a decent who’s who of the series, including stalwarts such as Scorpion and Sub-Zero (who the team may never live down removing from MK3) plus more originals such as Reptile, Raiden, Kano, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade and Shang Tsung.
However… the devs still didn’t learn their lesson from MK3 anyway and left Liu Kang out of Deadly Alliance. (How?!)
In summation, I feel as though the classic game bears little resemblance where it evolved to. That happens with different game series and I’m okay with it – but I don’t have to like it. At the time it felt like MK was trying to compete with other 3-D fighters and sacrificed quite a bit of what made it a cult classic in the process.
Hey! A video game based on a comic book and it doesn’t suck?
This was a new concept way back in 2004, where the usual schlock of movie and comic tie-ins ended up as horribly constructed video games.
Low and behold came X-Men Legends, a pseudo RPG and action game which borrowed from the latest X-Men movie craze but also remained faithful to the strongly influenced comic book tie-ins throughout.
You begin the game as Wolverine, completing missions as you navigate throughout each level. As the game progresses, more X-Men are added to your party. Villains are a-plenty too, whetting the whistle of any X-Men fans with a diverse cast of just about anyone you could think of.
Voice acting, including Patrick Stewart reprising his Professor Xavier role, adds an extra element to a well-designed and graphically gorgeous game for its time: the characters are cel-shaded into a more realistic looking environment, creating a mix of both reality and fantasy worlds.
The blend works, as does the action aspect of the gameplay, however it can become repetitive and the limitations of the PlayStation 2 kind of did this title in for me as far as being a completion-ist. The main storyline revolves around “Allison”, a gifted young lady who is working her way up to becoming a member of the X-Men.
It’s a novel concept, but also forces you to revisit the X-Mansion between missions, adding extra layers of Danger Room training and lengthy dialogue sequences that are mandatory to forward the story. You’ll learn a lot of backstory on each mutant, collect items which serve as Easter Eggs to the main mission, and more, but you’ll also writhe in pain over the loading times: even switching between inside/outside or the three floors of the X-Mansion get to be a chore.
The main thing is, the formula for this game evolved into what is now the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. A remaster of this game would be great, if only to finish it, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of wasting more time on loading screens – especially when you die and have to restart from a save (or “X-Traction” point!)
However, comic book and X-Men fans alike will enjoy this game to some degree. There are side missions which delve into Jean Grey’s “Dark Phoenix” and Wolverine’s “Weapon X” that are worthy inclusions to an already deep title.
Again, I give this a thumbs up understanding that my backlog is a bit too large to spend too many hours on this. I may return to it later, but for now it will remain an incomplete as I move on to the sequels.
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
A knock on Electronic Arts even to this day is that they became too big for their own good. Around the era of the PS2 EA had grown into a gaming giant, tying down licenses for anything and everything they could including James Bond 007 and the NFL.
EA also took a stab publishing the third iteration of Free Radical Design’s TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, which would be the third iteration of the game, and last, of the TimeSplitters series. It followed a relatively unpolished first title in the series and it’s incredibly polished and vastly expanded, critically acclaimed sequel TimeSplitters 2.
Unfortunately, I felt that Future Perfect falls flat.
The addition of a central characters, Cortez, reminds me of a mix between Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel, but in a much more comedic tone which at times is borderline cringy. That leads to a lot of full motion video interruptions in the game that didn’t exist in the prior two titles, which focused on split-second fast-paced action.
That doesn’t mean that this game doesn’t have it’s moments, and while I still give it a thumbs up at the end, on a scale of where TS2 was an 11 out of 10, Future Perfect falls somewhere around 6. The game feels like a corporate suit made tweaks to it and is otherwise out of place from the other games.
The storyline follows the same time travel pattern where Cortez goes through various levels based in the past, present or future. Weapons and enemies are styled to each unique level and if you had only played this version of the game, you would likely be thrilled.
However, it’s too much of a rehash on the previous titles and perhaps a step back due to the pacing. Still, it offers many of the same concepts originally brought on by development team members who previous worked on Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64, plus brought back the famous mapmaker, challenges, as well as online play (which was still in its growing stages and not as commonplace at this point in time).
If you like first-person shooters, or any of the aforementioned games, I’d give this a go. Otherwise, it’s a title that can, sadly, be passed on. (Which I hate saying, as TimeSplitters 2 is one of my all-time favorites.)
Star Wars Racer Revenge
For as good as Star Wars Episode 1 Racer was on the N64 (and also the Dreamcast), Racer Revenge is not.
Don’t get me wrong: if you only had a PlayStation 2 and this was your opportunity for some podracing action, this game captures the feel of Episode 1 Racer. However, as a sequel to that game, it feels completely rehashed with some annoying additions to it which take away, not add, to the game.
First of all, the graphics and courses appear to be totally lifted from the first game. And not in a good way. I understand PS2 titles were somewhat more advanced than the N64, but put this sequel up against the Dreamcast’s version of the original and it looks unpolished.
Worse, the levels feel like legitimate rip-offs of the first game, except they also feel shorter or “tighter” with less room to maneuver. That’s important as this game makes use of a “damage” bar which drains as you hit obstacles or other racers, many of which commandeer large vehicles that you can’t get around or you get stuck too… and hit more obstacles… and crash.
But when you crash in Racer Revenge, your race is completely over. No respawning like the original! Back to the title screen for you, as you wait for that or another race to load.
This wouldn’t be so bad if, it wasn’t so cheap. The way you end up losing feels like Mario Kart on steroids at times and really weakens the fun of playing the game.
Add to it a bounty style system with “taking out” other pods, and well, just suck the fun out of this game and getting upgrades for your racer!
As for the sound, an announcer quips his favorite parts of the tournament, even mentioning Mos Espa is his “hometown”. It sounds great until you get to playing the game, where the same 2-3 lines are recycled constantly throughout! It’s enough to make you want to mute the game, which is a shame considering the grandiose of the Star Wars soundtrack lying underneath.
If this is your only experience with the Racer games because it’s a PS2 exclusive and you had no alternative, you probably wouldn’t notice these criticisms. However, the only thing seasoned Episode 1 fans will notice here is a frustrating set of tracks and controls, and a much older Anakin Skywalker to sell that this game is a follow up to the original.
In short: it’s not.
James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire
While I was knocking Electronic Arts for screwing up other gaming franchises, I had totally forgotten about a true contender as a Goldeneye successor: Agent Under Fire.
While stumbling with its first foray into the Bond franchise, after acquiring the 007 license with the N64’s The World Is Not Enough, fans would be skeptical to jump on this game. After all, Goldeneye (which was developed for the N64 by Rare) was and still remains a cult classic.
Wisely, EA learned their lesson from their first flop and took the best objects that made Goldeneye a success and ramped them up. Unfortunately, I feel this title may not have gotten the same warm and fuzzy memories as it may have deserved.
For starters, Agent Under Fire is an original story and not based on any of the 007 IP or movies though I had started as a World Is Not Enough version for the PlayStation 2, and while Roger Moore was intended to be cast as the Bond character, a little known actor fit the bill instead before Pierce Brosnan would re-sign to reprise the character for the franchise.
Thus, Agent Under Fire continued on as an almost entirely unique project that was still intended to be a spiritual successor to Goldeneye. And in many ways, it was.
Several nods to the N64 classic can be found in AUF, including the Golden Gun, many of the weapons, crawling through ventilation shafts, or elevators which take you through various stories of a building.
Sniper rifle zooming in and out is also here, and perhaps less nerve-racking as the heavy breathing and erratic movement of using the long-range weapon are gone.
Added are some secondary fire functions to some weapons, and a slew of “Q” tools which turn 007’s flip phone into anything from a laser to a grappling hook.
Nods to previous Bond movies also include a jet pack (which zooms you into the sky) and “rail” levels where Bond is shooting from a moving car or rail cart.
Driving levels are also added for the first time and feel a bit out of place, but at the same time will remind anyone familiar to that of the Grand Theft Auto games. (The size and scope are actually quite incredible as add-ons to the FPS action.) Both of the vehicles chosen are also nods to the entirety of the Bond franchise, which is a great touch.
Special medals are awarded with the traditional James Bond theme playing while executing special achievements in each board. Completing these achievements unlocks special goodies, such as the aforementioned golden gun (which for some reason, doesn’t instantly kill enemies).
I’d also be remiss to mention the level of detail that went into this game, down to the discharged bullets flying out of guns to snipers putting their rifles down and pulling out pistols when you’re discovered nearby.
Multiplayer is of course a big draw here too with splits-screen action that sees red lasers honing in to your eye sights or grappling across the levels.
The only drawback to this game? Some of the boss battles or objectives aren’t obvious as to what it is you need to do to win. Checkpoints are few and far between, meaning your unintended death (due to not knowing where or how to complete the objective) means you start over from scratch.
Regardless this is my favorite of the Bond games next to Goldeneye and it holds up very well even with the jagged old PS2 graphics. If you enjoy first-person shooters or 007 (or both) I highly recommend checking it out.
It took me awhile to beat this one, but I finally came back around to the TimeSplitters series, with the game I felt was their best effort: TimeSplitters 2.
As with the original, much of the development team was carried over from former Rare employees who worked on Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark for the N64. Unlike the original, this game kicks down the door with sharper graphics (especially improved menus that don’t look generic like the launch title did) as well as playable characters, graphics, and much more.
Multiplayer on this was also great, and of course, one of the groundbreaking features (for a console) was the ability to create your own maps.
In all, I forgot how solid of a title this game was. I’m glad I revisited it and if you’re a retro gamer looking for a good FPS with that old Goldeneye feel, you’d be hardpressed to find one better than TimeSplitters 2.
A launch title for the PS2, this was the first game I purchased for it. For those unfamiliar, TimeSplitters is a spiritual successor to Goldeneye and Perfect Dark as many of the old developers from Rare split and created their own company.
The game itself is… dated. A lot of the levels draw inspiration directly from those two games mentioned. It was a great game back then and it still has some fairly groundbreaking ideas it introduced. The in-game graphics aren’t a problem, but you can tell it’s an early title by the menus and lack of options (which the sequel more than adequately addresses).
For starters, this game ran at 60 frames per second and still ran smooth as butter on my PC as well as my PS3. In fact, the speed is blistering and the goal in each level is to retrieve a “key” and return it to essentially your “base”. The frame rate adds to the fast-paced action and gets your heart pounding as to whether you can get back before all of the “TimeSplitters” start appearing and attacking out of nowhere!
The game also offered an in-game level editor which allowed you to create your own boards to be used in multiplayer (locally) as well as a multitude of playable characters a la Goldeneye.
As such the game is worth checking out but be warned it has a very short campaign mode. It truly shines with multiplayer, where completing the story mode levels on each difficulty will unlock more goodies for use in multiplayer.
An extra challenge mode feature is also included and is like the one in Perfect Dark: but with some fun twists, such as shooting at monkeys carrying watermelons or smashing windows by throwing bricks.
I also want to go out on a limb and say the entire concept of shooting heads off of a zombie’s body (the only way you can kill them in this game) originated with TimeSplitters as well.
Overall, this was still a great journey back into time with good memories of multiplayer games around the TV before online play became a thing.