Monday, November 24, 2014

Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey

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Released on November 11, 1996, by Midway Games, and developed by William's Entertainment Inc.,  Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey is a port of the arcade sports game of the same name.
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The Personal Story:
For Christmas, in 1996, my cousin received a Nintendo 64. Less than a year later, I purchased it from him. For that one Christmas, though, the 64 was his. At that point in history, the Nintendo 64 owner had eight games to chose from. One of those games was Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. My cousin received Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire and Wave Race 64 for Christmas, but later that week, we renter Killer Instinct Gold and Gretzky. Gretzky was a good time, and we enjoyed the multi-player, but in two days, it went back to Blockbuster. As for me, I had Super Mario RPG waiting at home in my Super Nintendo. I forgot all about Gretzky, even when I later took the Nintendo 64 for my own. One day, though, when taking inventory of Nintendo 64's sports games, I remembered Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. By then, the game was bargain-binning for under $5. Time to strap-on the old skates.      

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Graphics: Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey was the fifth game ever released for the Nintendo 64 in America. At this point, developers had only scratched the surface of the Nintendo 64's graphical capabilities. With that said, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey's graphics, while not even close to standout, aren't bad. The players are a little too burly for hockey, but they are modeled and animated well. They better be, considering the arcade nature of the game allows for a max of only 12 overall players on the ice at one time. The rink itself looks okay. The crowd is static, but the ice looks alright, even with low-res writing and logos plastered all over it.

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Sound: Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey's audio leaves little to be said. The voice-over commentary is fairly limited, with a few comments said over and over again. One particular comment about "Robin Hood and his merry men" stealing the puck will be ingrained in the player's mind forever because the commentator mentions it a maddening amount of times. Thankfully, the commentary's limited lines are at least read well and enthusiastically. As for sound effects, players let out strange, awkward "oof" sounds when they are smacked down to the ice, but the sounds of stick hitting puck, as well as skates shredding ice are satisfying. Menu music is generic, 90's sports game rock music.

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Gameplay: Want a realistic representation of the game of professional hockey? Do not play this game. Want to play an NBA-Jam'd out version of hockey? Look no further. This is 3-on-3 hockey with 10+goal games, shots that set the net on fire, goalies that can turn into brick walls, the ability to beat your opponent into the ice like a rag doll...and instant replay to watch it all over again. The game also features frequent, game-stopping fights with multiple fighting moves. Referees only exist to drop the puck on the ice. The skating and player-smashing physics are excellent, and the controls are fairly tight, though there are times where it feels like the other team has the ability to tackle the player far faster than the player can get rid of the puck. Teammates and goalies can also show a startling lack of intelligence. Gretzky includes a slightly more realistic "simulation mode," as well as the ability to up the player count to 5-on-5, but in Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey world, the more unrealistic the gameplay, the better. The gamer has the option to play through a full-season of hockey, though few will want to play 80+games of Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey on their own. The full-value of the game is found in the multi-player modes. Plug in one controller, and a friend can join in for a cooperative mode. Plug in three, and four players can play, two to a team, in 5-on-5 madness. Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey was the first in a storied line of Nintendo 64 games to allow four people to play at once--the first page in the legacy of "The Fun Machine." This four-player mode is a blast to play, though it is also a good way to lose friends. Nothing like checking your best buddy into the glass, and stealing away his game-winning shot. Nothing like doing it again, ten minutes later, in the next match. It should also be noted that Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey features every existing NHL team from the year 1996, as well as almost every player who hit the ice that year. With that said:
Fedorov and the Red Wings forever!

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Lasting Value: As previously stated, while Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey's single-player mode is fun to play, the fun doesn't last. Bring along some friends, though, and the fun can stretch on, in theory, forever.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON WAYNE GRETZKY'S 3D HOCKEY: A year after Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey hit the shelves, Midway released Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98, which features the exact same game engine, graphics, and sound as the original, with only slightly tweaked gameplay. Months later, Midway released Olympic Hockey Nagano '98, the same exact game as Gretzky '98, with a few Olympic teams added in. Stick to the original.

Nothing fancy, but animation and ice physics are well done.
Music and Sound
Entertaining, but highly repetitive commentary. So/so sound effects and music.
Arcade-style hockey, with a single-player mode that is fun for a little while, and a four-player mode that is fun for a long while.
Lasting Value
Single-player for as long as your attention span lasts, multiplayer until you run out of friends.  


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion

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Released on August 30, 2000, by Acclaim Studios Austin, Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion sends a new Turok into one last Lost Lands fray, this time to stop the threat of the world-consuming Oblivion forever.
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The Personal Story:
After all the hype for Turok 2 in 1998, and my, at the time, failure to play that particular game well (I have since mastered it), I was pretty Turoked-out. By the time Turok 3 was released, I had graduated high school and moved on to other things. The Nintendo 64 was reaching its twilight, and I was giving far more attention to my Sega Dreamcast than to the good ole fun machine. I read IGN 64's lukewarm review for Turok 3, felt strange that Turok 3 even existed, never gave it another thought. Years later, I pulled my Nintendo 64 out of storage and had the revelation that it is the greatest video game system ever made. I finally played all the way through Turok and Turok 2, and enjoyed both experiences immensely. I knew the moment I finished 2, I would have to complete the trilogy, but finding info on Turok 3 was a bit like doing research on a party I missed...and that few attended. Apparently, the video-gaming world had been far more concerned with the newly released Playstation 2 than taking another trip to the Lost Lands. Still, I managed to locate a copy of Turok 3 for myself. Time to find out what I missed.  

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Graphics: The first moments of Turok 3 gameplay are graphically stunning. As seen in the final picture of this exhibit, the player begins in a fully furnished apartment, the roof smashed, rain falling through, lightning striking and illuminating the room. A vortex to another dimension spins in the sky, and large moving tentacles hang from the skyscraper across the street. A flying police car passes back and forth outside the window, lights blazing, as a futuristic ground vehicle, based on the body of a Star Wars AT-ST walker, stalks the streets below. This may be the single greatest graphical moment in Nintendo 64 history. So much detail and color, so much going on onscreen at the same time, such dynamic lighting, and so much movement. This moment blows many Nintendo 64 games out of the water, and the rest of this dystopian future stage is of near equally high quality. However, as good as the level itself looks, the game quickly begins to feel like a straight to DVD-sequel to Turok 2. Turok 2 featured incredibly high-quality textures, and amazingly high-detailed, life-like enemies, who, when slaughtered, died in drawn-out, gruesome, and high-detailed fashion. When shot, the mostly unmemorable villains of Turok 3 just fall over swiftly and fade away. Even the first Turok had some grisly death animations, yet Turok 3 takes no joy in what was once a series highlight. Turok 2 also featured some excellent texture work. Turok 3 features outstanding textures at points, as well, but many levels also include some inexcusably blurry and pixelated work. The Lost Lands Junkyard stage in particular features some really ugly moments, as well as some unpleasing color schemes. Like its predecessor, Turok 3 also features moments of graphical slowdown, particularly in a lava stage, where Turok must ride an air vent. This does 
unfortunately hamper the gameplay in that particular moment of Turok 3. However, the amount of actual, game-hampering slowdown in Turok 3 was greatly exaggerated by many journalistic reviews of the game, upon its release. It actually doesn't happen very often. Overall, Turok 3's graphics are maddeningly inconsistent. The first and last stages are particularly beautiful, with the high quality texturing, sharp-detailed, dynamically-lit areas expected of a third-generation Nintendo 64 game. However, other stages are loaded with ugly textures, and the limited animation routines throughout are more of what one would expect from a first-generation title. Finally, it should be mentioned that the Turok series' ever-present distance fog is almost absent here in Turok 3. There are some moments where the player can see for miles. This is, outside of one major factor mentioned below, Turok 3's greatest improvement over the first two games.

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Sound: Turok 3 features a dynamic, symphonic (synthesized) soundtrack that changes as the player enters different areas of each of the game's five enormous stages. The music fits each region well, and the changes are pretty seamless, but there is nothing here the player will hum, or even remember the next day. Still, Turok 3's soundtrack gets the job done, blood-pumping during a fast-paced shootout, slowing down introspectively when things are calm. It's pleasing to the ears, and the sound quality of each track is top notch. Sound-effects are as mixed a bag as Turok 3's graphics. Enemy bullets ping around the sound-channel realistically, and monstrous roars are suitably scary, though they are sometimes recycled from past Turok games. Footsteps and incidental sounds are great, but a few of Turok's weapons, particularly the shotgun, sound strangely limp and weak. Finally, Turok 3, befitting its status as a major third-generation title, and as the last game Acclaim released on the Nintendo 64, features loads of character speech by amateur voice-actors, as well as a multitude of cutscenes. While Turok 3 was created before celebrity or professional voice-acting was commonplace in video games, the speech in the game is still quite nice, and does a great job of further immersing the player in Turok 3's world.

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Gameplay: What makes a Turok game? Is it a pre-historic setting? Is it grisly death animations? Tribal warfare? Dinosaurs? You're not going to find much of that here. Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion looks and plays differently from past Turok titles. If anything, it is more visually reminiscent and close in design to the original Half-Life, the classic PC first-person shooter. Turok 3 even features a military scientific base level that looks like a direct rip-off of Half-Life's Black Mesa, replete with a tentacled-boss (also, the stage continues the strange trend that every Nintendo 64 first-person shooter released in the year 2000 must feature a deep-water submarine pen...Perfect Dark, The World Is Not Enough...). 
Many members of the original Turok team had left Acclaim Studios by this point, which may explain the shift in visuals and design. This may also explain why the gameplay's fun-factor, like every other element in Turok 3, is inconsistent. The opening dystopian future stage is the best designed and most fun to play, with interactive events throughout (for example, being led through the sewers by a civilian who ends up being gobbled to bits, all in real-time), and various modes of gameplay, as Turok fights through the streets, swings across rooftops, evades fast-moving trains in a race through subway tunnels, and slugs it out with a grotesque, enormous level boss (as mentioned above, many of the in-level enemies are unimpressive, but Turok 3's bosses are a sight to see). The game is at its best when the stages are more varied and interactive. Otherwise, lacking the over-the-top violence and spectacular weapons of previous entries, Turok 3 is just an average first-person shooter. However, it must be said that Turok 3 includes, in addition to the lack of distance fog mentioned above, a major plus that previous entries do not: the ability to save anywhere. Previous Turok games often forced the player to play for hours and walk for miles without a save-point in sight. One could put a night into the game, die before finding a save-point, and have to do the whole thing over again the next night. Turok 3's save-anywhere function removes a world of inconvenience. In addition to the single-player mission, Turok 3 includes a decent four-player deathmatch multi-player mode. While the multi-player can be fun, just as Turok 2's can be, Turok 3 features the same, frequently-mentioned flaw as all but one of the Nintendo 64''s first-person shooter death-match featuring games: it isn't Goldeneye.

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Lasting Value: 
The stages in Turok 3 are smaller in size than Turok 2's labyrinthian death-traps. They often hit the sweet-spot in length--long enough to be a challenge, but not long enough to be exhausting. Unfortunately, there are only five of them, taking on average an hour to beat. This means the game can be completed in only five hours. Turok 2 took 25 to complete. Turok 3 does feature the option to play through as two different characters. As Danielle, the player can jump higher and access higher sections of each stage with a grapling hook. As the smaller Joseph, the player has the ability to creep through tiny passages, as well as see through pitch-dark tunnels with night vision. Because of this, certain areas of the game are only accessible to one of the characters, and the player must play through as both to see all of Turok 3's world. Still, playing through as each character only adds up to ten hours of gameplay. There are cheats, but as Turok 3 lacks the heavy fire-power and thorough death-animations of Turok 2, running around with every weapon and blasting apart foes after already beating the game doesn't hold as much appeal. The four-player deathmatch mode adds to Turok 3's total value and play-time, but only for so long as the player and friends can keep the Goldeneye cartridge out of the system. In the end, Turok 3 is a game worth-playing, but it pales in the reflection of its legendary predecessors. 

Frustratingly inconsistent. Sharp, incredibly-detailed third-generation Nintendo 64 worlds, brought down by some poorly textured areas and limited character animations.
Music and Sound
An effective if unmemorable dynamic score. Hit and miss sound effects. Nearly an hour of recorded speech spruces up Turok 3's audio package, though.
Once the interactivity of the earlier stages begins to wane, an average shooter reveals itself. Quite fun to play, but nothing remarkable.
Lasting Value
Short single-player mission, though replaying it with another character stretches the experience. Four-player deathmatch is a decent way to pass time with friends.