Shadow Of The Colossus is a strange and beautiful game, surreal to the point of subconscious imagery and about as ambient and unconventional as they get without going full on experimental arthouse on us. I only knew about it in the last five years or so when I was crashing on my buddy’s couch one night and he loaded it up to play long into the wee hours. I was so tired I watched him play it through that sort of half awake half asleep filter of awareness and for awhile I thought that I did *actually* dream it until months later when I brought it up and he goes “nope that was a real game, I played all night and beat it at like 4am.” I think that the reason it has that kind of power (besides the combination of alcohol in my system and being awake at the witching hour) is that it’s such a ‘different’ game. You play as a young man named simply ‘Wander.’ He certainly lives up to the moniker when he brings his deceased true love to a mysterious dimension full of rugged landscapes and giant shadowy stone giants who inhabit them. He’s directed there by a metaphysical being called Dormin and told that if he ever wishes to see his love alive again that he must fight and destroy each of these colossal entities. And that’s basically it. The game is spent wandering this breathtaking yet desolate land. Every once in a while you come across a Colossus, do battle, claim it’s life and move on further into this land. Each new giant has different a anatomy, weak points, defensive maneuvers and overall personality traits to keep each confrontation feeling new, yet part of the same collective quest. I’ve seen people rip into this game and post memes spoofing it as an experience of ‘16 bosses and nothing else’ but I feel like those people are kind of missing the point and would be much happier playing something louder and more kinetically involving. I myself have only played about five actual minutes of it and spent most of the experience watching my friend play as I drank it in like a hazy cinematic experience, but that offbeat quality is exactly what I gravitate to and this hit home. Atmosphere over action, ambience over logic and exposition, it’s the exact same way I approach film when picking what to absorb and store in my memory bank, and this thing was so good it was able to procure real estate in my subconscious. Brilliant game.
Right off the bat I consider all the games in the Hitman franchise to be fantastic in different ways but if I had to pick a favourite it would definitely be 2012’s Hitman: Absolution, a gorgeously produced, star studded update on 2006’s Blood Money that draws us further into Agent 47’s shadowy world by adding new graphics, well drawn supporting characters and paying far more attention to storytelling as well as the trademark intricately structured missions. Some people felt (weirdly) that the in depth nature of story and larger than life villains here took away from the overall aesthetic, like made the vibe less atmospheric or something but for my money it just breathes so much life into the mythology and spurs on the evolution of these games from quiet, guarded and strictly atmosphere-based to verbose, witty and full of personality in every corner of the frame. The game opens as 47 finally tracks down and eliminates his former handler, that treacherous bitch Diana (Marsha Thomason), which he does and listens to her last dying wish as she begs him to protect a mysterious girl who holds the keys to his own past. This puts him on a dangerous ditch effort and collision course with his former agency, other clandestine factions and countless freelance killers for hire including and unbelievable army of sexy nuns with enough firepower to blow up a bridge. The big bad here is scumbag billionaire industrialist Blake Dexter, voiced by Keith Carradine in the kind of peacocking, purple-prose drenched, scenery chewing performance that demands the slow clap and has you hating him when you’re not laughing hysterically at his impossibly arch dialogue. He’s after the girl 47 is harbouring and he ain’t the only one. Powers Boothe (who really took advantage of video game work over the course of his epic career) is Benjamin Travis, an agency kingpin with a prosthetic arm, a nasty temper and the iron will of a megalomaniac. He’s assisted in his unholy quest by slinky head operative Jade, voiced by the underrated Shannon Sossamon. The cast is wonderfully dense and eclectic, with appearances from Vivica A. Fox, Adrienne Barbeau, Traci Lords, Jon Gries, Isabelle Fuhrman and the great Steven Bauer lending his leathery pipes to the role of Birdie, a terrifically untrustworthy underworld operative. The gameplay and graphics are flat-out fucking gorgeous, immersive and layered, perfectly speckled with lens flares where appropriate and crisp, tactile and detailed environments that feel lived in and carefully rendered. The actors here would usually find themselves sitting in their PJ’s in a cozy recording booth but here they’ve gone the extra mile and had them do actual motion capture work so that the performances feel authentic, fluid and dynamic. This for me is the pinnacle of the Hitman legacy so far, and hasn’t been topped since. Oh and as for the movies, they’re both so terrible and miss the mark of what makes this story so wonderful in the first place, Absolution is ten times more cinematic that both films combined.
It’s always best when the character you play as in a game is voiced by someone super cool with genre ties to the subject matter, whatever it may be. In Area 51 you descend into a top secret military base in response to a nasty viral contamination as Ethan Cole, a covert badass played by David Duchovny who cements the SciFi X Files vibe nicely, although the game is obviously more in shooter territory rather than investigative federal intrigue. Cole must navigate a dangerous subterranean environment as the contamination spreads and mutates the soldiers around him. No soldier game would be complete without dissension in the ranks and another sketchy team moves in headed up by hotshot Major Bridges (Powers Boothe), as well as a pesky doctor (Ian Abercrombie, who was Alfred Pennyworth in the old school Birds Of Prey cable show) who gets in the way. I’ve always thought that Marilyn Manson looks kind of like an extraterrestrial and apparently so do the makers of this game because they cast him as an alien defector named Edgar who has been held captive by the government and is none too pleased about it. I have only hazy memories of this game as I was perpetually stoned when I played it and I can’t remember if I ever made it to the end. I do recall the voice acting, Manson is cool and spacey, Boothe is his classic tough guy persona but it’s just a real treat having Duchovny play the lead, he’s got such a casual affability to his line delivery that feels both comforting and nicely nostalgic for The X Files. Cool game.
The Simpsons Road Rage was one of the all time demolition derby driving games, the cartoonish, off the wall design in Springfield adding to the racing against time theme in a cool kind of Dr. Seuss way. If you’re going to approach The Simpsons and try to do a video game it seems logical to do a madcap driving experience because every single episode ever of the show starts off that very same way, with Homer driving back from the power plant like a lunatic. That’s the spirit here, chaos that with enough practice you’re able to master and find your way through a series of extremely hyperactive vehicular missions. So basically that old fucker Mr. Burns has bought up all the transit services in town and the citizens are forced to use their own vehicles as a sort of renegade unofficial Uber service. That’s all there is in terms of plot but like that’s kinda all you need to be honest. Springfield is a colourful wonderland of billboards, bus stops, store fronts and all sorts of fanfare for you to destroy, while the voice actors from the show record a bunch of hilarious new dialogue to keep things interesting along the way. This has a cool arcade feel despite being a PS2 game, like a Simpson’s brand of Crazy Taxi. Whether it’s Krusty The Clown on his way to an adult video store, a severely drunk Barney spouting jibberish or Marge making a mad dash to the grocery store the missions are always fast paced, hilariously written and full of interactive destruction for the player. One of my favourite old school PS2 games and one I lament the fact that I can’t play on my PS4. One day.
Vampires in the old west!! I’m surprised that Ubisoft’s Darkwatch: Curse Of The West has never been made into a movie because it’s the perfect concept. Kind of like Van Helsing by way of Priest, you play as Jericho Cross (Christopher Corey Smith), a late 19th century outlaw on the American frontier who has been turned into a vampire and seeks bloody, bullet ridden revenge against those who made him what he is and any of their underlings, of which there are a staggering amount and variety. This is one stylish motherfucker of a game, both in terms of cutscenes and gameplay. There’s a slick, moonlight drenched, silver glinted hue to everything and a decidedly steampunk flair to weaponry and costumes, not to mention enough gore to please any horror hound. Jericho is joined by the badass, Catwoman-esque Tala, an antiheroine voiced by Rose McGowan back when she was awesome and not all batshit crazy like these days, relishing hard boiled lines like “I’ve always gone for the tall, dark and bloodthirsty type,” she really adds a lot of personality and dialogue whereas Jericho is a man of few words and a whole lot of shooting. There’s a ton of monstrous creatures, flying beasties and even great big fatso things that spew corrosive bile at you. The weapons are steampunk too, with double barrel chrome beauties, crossbows, powerful sidearm pistols and one mean motherfucker of a train mounted Gatling gun. One of the best action/horror games for PS2 console.
I recently saw Driv3r in a youtube compilation of the top ten worst open world games ever made, and yeah not gonna lie this game has more glitches than the matrix and enough gameplay issues to warrant its inclusion on any such list, but that aside it’s still one of my favourites ever made on pure nostalgia value alone. The thing here is that all the care, attention to detail and artistry went into the very cinematic, gorgeous cutscenes and what we’re left with in actual gameplay is fuzzy, jerky, free-for-all scrappy madness with all the loose wires still hanging out as if the de-buggers were on strike during production. That didn’t bother 14 year old Nate who was just happy to finally be allowed to get his hands on M Rated games for once. This game sees you play as ruthless rogue Miami vice detective Tanner (a steely Michael Madsen), who trails a gang of international car/drug/prostitute/anything smugglers over to Nice, France and eventually to Istanbul for a fiery showdown. Cue endless car chases and shootouts, tough talk, atmospheric background music and tons of free time to drive all over all three cities mowing down pedestrians, shooting cops and causing destruction. Mickey Rourke is a hoot as Jericho the big boss of this crime syndicate, having a ball with sly dialogue like “Remember me? I remember you. You’re the cop.. and I’m the guy who said I’d find you.” Michelle Rodriguez does her patented tough chick thing as his lieutenant Calita, Ving Rhames gives solid support as Tanner’s partner and voice of reason Jones and Iggy Pop has a quick cameo as reptilian thug Baccus. Honestly the cutscenes here are so slick, well orchestrated and streamlined they’d make a cool movie looped in together and indeed I’ve seen such an edit over on YouTube. The game itself, not so much although it does have strong points too. The driving physics are so ballistic and insane that a simple sideswipe against a wall can have your vehicle doing furious cartwheels for half a kilometre, so it’s kind of like this freaky Russian roulette as to which crash, fender bender of head-on will react realistically and which will send you flying to the moon. Also the cops are absolutely maniacal insane daredevils with no regard for their own or civilian lives, they will literally T-bone you at close range, empty every fucking clip of ammo they have at the drop of a hat and make the overzealous officers in Grand Theft Auto look like choirboys, it’s quite frustrating. The three cities are well painted and feel kind of dreamy, hazy and curiously empty of too many AI extras. Miami is picturesque and there’s a few direct references to Michael Mann’s Heat in the way Tanner’s house looks, while Nice is a quiet seaside town with impossibly narrow streets that serve as a terrifying gauntlet of carefully placed death traps when engaged in car chases. Istanbul is a rabble of street markets, kiosks and cluttered streets with plenty of stuff to destroy, a sun scorched vista. Each city has its own ambient background score that sets mood nicely. The missions are wanton chaos and quite difficult because of all the bugs, but I’d just sand-box it most of the time anyways, the single time I did manage to beat this was so maddening it probably took a year off my life. The soundtrack is a plus though, as it should be in any game with driving involved. Not a great game by anyone’s measure but like I said, I’ve got huge nostalgia for it and that shit can transcend quality in any arena of life.
This one is an all timer for me and not just as a video game but as a gorgeous, cinematic piece of western storytelling. Gun is a terrific game, well ahead of its time for the PS2 era, but it’s also a brutal frontier exploitation tale, a larger than life, hugely badass yarn that benefits from one of the coolest voice casts ever assembled, fluid graphics, vast arenas to roam through and music that sets the tumbleweeds rolling, accompanies paddle wheeler boats down rivers and sweeps across the terrain like any great western score should. You play as Colton White (Thomas Jane in the kind of rough hewn gunslinger role he was born to play), who wanders the American frontier of late 1800’s with his mentor/father figure Ned (Kris Kristofferson, perfectly rugged) learning the ways of the gun and living off the land until lawlessness and trouble inevitably interrupt their peace. After a riverboat gunfight and a nasty killing spree perpetrated by psychotic preacher Reverend Reed (Brad Dourif, oozing his trademark brand of evil), Colton sets out beyond the horizon after him and finds intrigue, murder, conspiracy, a whole gallery of villains and even the secrets of his own birthright in a jaw dropping series of action set pieces, tense standoffs, train raids and firefights everywhere from Dodge City to the lands beyond. He goes up against vile, corrupt Mayor Hoodoo Brown (a scenery chewing Ron Perlman), joins forces with notorious outlaw Clay Allison (Tom Skeritt), does battle with fearsome native warrior Many Wounds (Eric Schweig) and eventually comes to the big bad wolf at the end of the chain of antagonists, a civil war general turned maniac named Thomas MacGruder, voiced by a booming Lance Henriksen in one incredibly thunderous portrait of bad to the bone. Other memorable work is provided by Wade Williams, Frank Collison, Kathy Soucie, John Getz, Nolan North, Robin Downes, Phil Proctor and more. The mechanics of the game are phenomenal, and like I said feel quite ahead of their time, or at least they did to me and always immersed me in that world. The gunfights are hectic and ruthless but ever too chaotic and there’s a few super satisfying slow motion features like ‘QuickDraw mode’ that allow you to pick off enemies with otherworldly precision. The horse riding is tactile, smooth and the animals feel real right down to how they jump, get fatigued when you ride them too hard and the way your controller vibrates specifically for hoof beats on whatever path you’re charging down. This is a broad, brutal game that doesn’t glance over the uglier aspects of the west and feels dangerous, lived-in and grandiose both in terms of the natural environment and humanity’s encroaching industries like the railroad, wagon trains and dusty townships. Gotta give a special shoutout to the score composed by Christopher Lennertz, it’s a magisterial, often quite mournfully emotional piece of orchestral work that rivals and even tops many Hollywood compositions. There’s also quite a few references to Hollywood westerns including The Outlaw Josey Wales and many characters are named after real life old west figures to cement the feel. Quite simply one of my favourite games ever made.