Welcome back to the fourteenth installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement.
It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin or scouring the pre-owned shelves at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash and getting a gem of a game at the same time.
The titles covered below can usually be found online or in any shop, often for $20 or less. Keep in mind that the selections in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, so it's assumed that the graphics aren't bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a modified scale taking this into account, and doesn't compare them to today's visual standards—gameplay is what we're talking about here.
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
Developer: Free Radical Design
by Brad Gallaway
TimeSplitters and TimeSplitters 2 were interesting, lopsided games combining first-person shooter (FPS) play and time travel. They gathered a lot of attention, but nonexistent plots and lackluster singleplayer modes kept them out of the big leagues—both, a clear waste of strong potential. Developers Free Radical must have felt the same way because their third attempt at the concept, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, comes off like a "do-over" that summarizes the first two efforts and builds on top of them, combining the whole mess into something that finally feels like a complete game.
Picking up at the point where TimeSplitters 2 ended, Future Perfect incorporates a solid chrono-hopping story that takes the game's hero, Cortez, to a wide variety of locales in just as many eras. Going from a WWII Wolfenstein-ish
castle to a Bond-like spy level, and then stopping by a zombie-infested mansion before tackling the robot-dominated future, FPS players who crave variety (and nods to obvious influences) will be quite pleased.
What I especially appreciate about Future Perfect is that Free Radical hasn't lost their sense of humor, and combines irreverence with head shots in just the right amounts. Most levels have Cortez accompanied by a partner from that time period, and the witty banter is always good for a chuckle or two. Further capitalizing on the time travel concept, Cortez often jumps back and forth to provide backup for himself—it's pretty neat to fight off spider robots while you're also trying to hack security beside yourself at the same time. The scenes featuring Past Cortez, Present Cortez and Future Cortez (or all of them at once) are some of the best.
Once the story mode is completed, there's still a lot of content to go through. Plenty of extra challenges offer the chance to unlock things for the multiplayer side, and with an absurd amount of unlockables, it will take a good long while to see it all. Speaking of multiplayer, the number of options and game types is ridiculous. I'm not much on multi-myself, but I've heard it said that Future Perfect offers a better experience than even the reigning king, Halo 2. I can't say for sure which one comes on top, but Free Radical packed the disc tight. It might not reinvent an already-crowded genre, but TimeSplitters: Future Perfect has charms all its own and stands tall as a great example of the "total package."
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
by Brad Gallaway
Speaking of crowded genres, I'm not exactly sure what to call the Dynasty Warriors one-man-against-an-army genre, but Koei has done a great job creating and filling that niche all by themselves. Although the prolific developer leads the field by sheer number of entries alone, Capcom's Devil Kings gives a new reinterpretation of the same material.
Take the Romance of the Three Kingdoms characters and replace their hard-to-remember names and too-similar appearances with wacky, westernized makeovers, and you've basically got Devil Kings. The game features
six characters available initially, and six more that can be unlocked. After choosing one, the goal is total domination of the landscape. It's easier done than said.
Players get to choose which skirmish they want to fight from a map of the territory, giving the hint of the feeling that there's some kind of strategy going on. There isn't, really, but the effort is appreciated. Once combat starts, Devil Kings is pretty much about killing every enemy on the battlefield with crazy attacks and magic spells. The graphics aren't anything to write home about, but when things get hot and heavy, it delivers a reasonably solid experience guaranteed to make anybody's thumb sore. (Be warned that there are no mid-level saves, though… it's not a deal breaker, but it can be a little bit annoying.)
I finished the game with three different characters in one day, and I did take some primitive enjoyment in from whipping a crowd of enemies with my flaming cape before taking out half an army with spiked yo-yos. I like the historically-inspired-yet-not-too-faithful character designs, and I always appreciate a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. (The first hint at humor was being greeted with "Mi Casa Es Su Casa!!!" after breaching a fortress gate.) It may not be significantly different than what's already been done, but it gets points for being a more Western-friendly alternative for folks who find Koei's cookie-cutter Eastern-heavy installments a little too dry to sink their teeth into.
Developer: The Collective
by Daniel Weissenberger
As someone who's been playing video games for nearly 25 years, it's hard to shake the feeling sometimes that every possible genre was invented 20 years ago, and now all that's left to do is add more buttons to the controller and polish the graphics a little. While this may seem depressing to some, I find it comforting in an odd way. If I can't find a copy of a game I was fond of, I never have to worry, because just around the corner there's bound to be another title that's essentially the same game with rounder corners and more elaborate controls. A case in point is 2004's Wrath Unleashed.
1984's Archon was based on a relatively simple concept. Let people play chess, but instead of pieces automatically taking one another, the players had to play out each battle. This concept would continue to
be explored by the developer until eventually it led to Star Control II, which generally resides near the top whenever magazines and websites list the best videogames of all time. What does this have to do with Wrath Unleashed? Well, Wrath is Archon with shinier pictures and four different attack buttons.
It's the exact same setup. Two players are each given an army made up of various generic mythological creatures (unicorns, dragons, and the like), and whenever one player moves onto another player's creature, the game changes from turn-based strategy to real time combat, where the players fight it out on an obstacle-filled 2D battlefield.
It's not all smiles and chocolate, however. The one major addition to this new version is a story mode, which isn't especially good. There's also a disturbing lack of variety in the types of units available, with dark and light forces sharing many of the same troops, with little more than a color shift and small model changes to differentiate. On the upside, this does ensure the two sides are always balanced. Even worse are the reprehensible load times before each battle as the PlayStation 2 hunts down the models and backgrounds.
Even with the problems, the central game mechanic of careful planning and real-time combat is so enduring and solid that the game manages to be an entertaining strategic fighting experience for two players. And since no one but antique collectors and emulationists can play Archon anymore, Wrath serves as an acceptable substitute.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.
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Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway