It was a bizarre time when humans realised they could create a video game in which the player could shoot from a first person prospective. Pioneered by Wolfenstien 3D and perfected by Doom, the would didn’t know what to call this genre… so instead of taking the core fundamentals of the game and fashioning a name from there, games made in this style “Doom Clones” during the mid 90s. Being a huge Doom fan I used to jump into this genre face first and just begin munching down at whatever they produced. Sometimes I’d come out with a mouthful of pig crap like Disrupter, other times I’m merrily break my death on some rare gems. Amongst them was one title that really grabbed my heart, wrapped it up in toilet roll and pretended it was a mummy. That title was Exhumed- a First Person Shooter… I mean a Doom Clone based around ancient Egyptian imagery. It was known to American audiences as Powerslave.
You began within the game’s central hub, armed with nothing but a sword. It’s world was 3D, but it’s enemy sprites were not, so hacking through paper thin scorpions wasn’t the most difficult of tasks. As you progressed through the games sandy surface levels and it’s lava filled underground caves, you got you damn dirty paws on an impressively elaborate arsenal of weapons which ranged from a powerful pistol to an even more powerful machine gun. Further still, you’ll discover mystical weapons. One of my favourites was long golden staff, shaped like a cobra. This looked like Jafar may have used it to hypnotise The Sultan into letting him get a grope of his daughter, but instead you could use it to launch magical snakes which fly through the air, homing in on foes and blowing them to little Egyptian pieces. Another unique weapon saw you belch a storm of fireballs from the palm of your hands. Some weapons, like the hand grenade, even lead you to hidden areas by allowing you to shatter walls.
Exhumed did a lot of things that I hadn’t seen done with the genre before, and I don’t think I’ve seen it again since. After every few levels you’d acquire a new power, and return to the hub level. From here you could use your new ability to access new areas, therefore creating new levels on the map. One ability allows you to float, accessing far away platforms of dangerous pitfalls. Another let you breath underwater, meaning you could swim to new destinations… if the piranhas didn’t eat you. Another let you walk on lava- unharmed, like a machine gun tooting Jesus. These almost gave the game a Metroid-esque feel, as you travelled over and back, replaying old levels in new ways. Exhumed was Doom meets Metroid to the backdrop of Tomb Raider. What’s not to love?
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction on Playstation 2 did something that no other Hulk game that I’ve played has ever managed to do- it made me feel the power of the Hulk. Auld Green Skin has always been a cool character, but video games seem to consistently miss what make him unique. It’s not the fact that he can crush skulls in his fists, or that he can toss cars about, or even that he can punch holes in a wall without even trying. Sure, even my mother can do that. What makes Hulk Hulk is the fact that he’s an unstoppable force of nature, and that comes over in spades during Ultimate Destruction. “Unstoppable” being the word to keep in mind.
As the Hulk you got to go through the many delights of kicking the fuck of everything. The army were your enemy here, and you were more than able for them- picking up tanks like toys and smashing them into buildings, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with highly trained arseholes in Hulk Buster suits. The Hulk’s speed and power were monstrous in this game. While running at top speed he’d sprint straight up the side of a building, crushing windows and cement under his weight. When approaching the building summit, he could leap skyward, clearing half the fucking city (never mind just tall buildings) in a single bound, and still maintain his when he hit the ground running. Majestic yet powerful, that‘s how it felt as you soared through the air, knowing that at a second‘s notice you could unleash enough force to decimate an entire city block! The open world environment allowed the played to foam freely, as you tried to avoid contact with the military at every other corner. When you did have to fight (which was quite often indeed), you’d find that Hulk was beautifully brutish. Well timed moves could slap live missiles out of the air. Enormous buildings could be reduced to rubble in a seconds. Hulk used his size and scale to his advantage, shoulder-butting lines of vehicles out of his way with ease, sinking airborne helicopters and fighter jets by simply grabbing onto them and allowing his weight and gravity to do their thing… then take up the wreckage and launch it at another enemy.
Everything about this Hulk game felt right. So much so, in fact, that the next Hulk movie actually took ideas from it. In Ultimate Destruction, Banner’s bigger side can dig is fists into a car, tear it in two, and use it as a pair of makeshift boxing gloves to punch the head of Thunderbolt Ross’ camouflaged clowns with. In 2008’s summer blockbuster movie, The Incredible Hulk, you can see Marvel’s heavy hitter doing the exact same thing. This was three years after Ultimate Destruction hit the shelves. When huge movies are taking tips from your game, you know you’ve made something special.
While Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt made breaking new ground a difficult task for Rockstar as they came under fire from the media at large, it was their schoolyard drama, Bully, that really pissed the masses off. Newspapers exploded with tales of how this game was GTA set in a school. How the player’s job was to pick on weaker kids, stealing their bikes for transport and their lunch money for… eh… lunch. It was portrayed as a sick game where your entire goal was to perform sick acts for no other reason than personal gain. I believed that this was it. Rockstar had finally go too far and overstepped their borders. They had gone from being the frontline for deep games based in shady worlds to just making games to get a rise out of the bloodthirsty tabloids. For that reason, I avoided this game for a long time. However, Bully, like pretty much every other game, wormed it’s way into my console. And once again, I found out that wolves who writes these newspapers are lying, talentless scum.
In Bully (known round these parts as Canis Canem Edit until the Xbox360 version came out) you play as a snot-nosed little hard-jaw named Jimmy Hopkins. Hopkins seems to be the kind of schoolboy who has a talent for attracted unwanted attention. Perhaps it’s his tightly shaved head, or the fact that he walks like he just stabbed a man and he’d have no hassle in doing it again. He arrives at a boarding school called Bullworth Academy after being kicked out of yet another school. His attitude from the get-go is one of fuck-off-I-don’t-care. He comes across as a maxed out version of Bart Simpson without the charm. From the outside looking in, the written rags were right. However, a few short minutes into the game and they would have soon realised that Hopkins is not the scumbag he appears to be. In fact, he’s quite the opposite.
Yes, he is rough and ready, and yes, he would easily give you a bloody nose if you annoyed him. However, he’s not out to pick on the weak. In fact, his gig is to protect them. The bully in the game’s name is not Jimmy. It’s never really mentioned who exactly it is, but it could be one of the many bullies that roam around Bullworth’s campus. These come in all shapes and sizes- preppy little posh fuckers, thick necked jocks, nerds with superiority complexes, greasy little leather-wearing fuckers that haven’t realised that Fonzie hasn’t been cool since he jumped over a shark. Jimmy spends the game locked in a war with the bullies, as he tries to keep helpless kids out of harm’s way.
The game spans a year at Bullworth’s and throughout that time you get to see Jimmy grow as a person, and witness just how high he holds his morals… even if he does dish out the occasional Chinese sunburn. One of the game’s mechanics has always gotten itself stuck in my head. The fact that classes started at certain times throughout the school day was a great idea. If you attended these classes, you’d have to play short puzzle-solving mini-games. Completing these earned you new abilities which would help you advance in the game-world. This alone shows just how far off the mark the media was with this game. When you boil this game down to it’s bear essentials, Bully was about how hard life can be at school. Standing up to bullies is never easy, but here it was the only way to get by. Going to class made you a smarter, more resourceful person, and it helped you in your day to day activities. Truth be told, Bully is a close look at just how hard school life can be.
You played the part of an alcoholic space-pirate named Grayson Hunt, who drunkenly crash-lands his ship onto a hostile planet full of savages after trying to destroy a huge corporate ship in a bid to get revenge on an old enemy. He then acquires a leash, which he puts to good use throughout the game.
The thing that separates BulletStorm from current First Person Shooter titles is that it knows how to take a joke. The entire combat system is built around this fact, and encourages you to make creative and humorous kills in order to maximise your points. This required you to make use of your leash, and your foot. The leash would grab foes from far away and drag them towards you, the boot did the opposite; sending enemies flying away from you. Each of these moves caused your target to move in slow motion, allowing you time to pick which parts of their body you wanted to destroy with you firearms. He lay a huge portion of the game’s fun. Discovering different ways to lay waste to these untamed brutes was a constant form of entertainment. Each gun had a ton of different combinations of moves that could be combined to make some of the most ridiculous murder scenes in video game history- shots to the asshole after ripping the steel plated arse-guard off a foe, dragging your target around with the power of the controllable bullet you planted in his chest as you use his corpse to chase his friend around, launch an enemy into the air with your leash and drive him into the ceiling using a gigantic drill bit, wrap grenades around a man’s throat and shoot him in the bollocks as he tries to worm his way to out of it, or simply kick the fuckers into a wall full of spikes… and then blow them up.
BulletStorm rewarded creative and madness in it’s players. What may look like random spewing of ammunition from demented weaponry to outsiders is actually well timed intricate plays to cause crazy amounts of carnage for maximum points. Simply shooting guys in the face, as you do in most modern FPS titles, simply will for do in BulletStorm. Although the game is hyper violent, it’s done in an almost light hearted kind of way. There are tons of jokes from beginning to end. Nearly every second line, even in the more serious scenes, are designed to make the player chuckle. None of the main characters get along, yet they’re all stuck in a shitty situation together. This makes for amusing dialogue and an interesting team dynamic. Also, you get to control a robot dinosaur named Waggleton P. Tallylicker, need I say more?
None of these games ever got sequels. This can be seen as both good and bad. The good being that that they didn’t suffer the same faith as Assassin’s Creed, by kicking out so many games in so little time that the world just gave up on them. The market will never be oversaturated with Vanquish titles, for example. Therefore, they can never fall from grace in the way that so many games have. You’re always judged on your last instalment, so if your one and only game was amazing, then you can rest on your laurels knowing that you’ll be held up in high regard. The bad side is though, that because of their lack of sequels these games can easily be forgotten about in the eyes of the average play. They didn’t have time to flesh out stories, build huge universes or tweak controls to perfect. Instead, they said what they had to, and disappeared into the background. Only to be remembered by those lucky enough to have played them as they spent their fifteen minutes of fame upon the shelves in your local games shops. The likes of Wet, Gun, Crime Killer, Enslaved: Odyssey To the West, Bio F.R.E.A.K.S, Bust-A-Groove (which scored a single sequel, but it never made it to these shores), Violent Storm, and Total Overdose will never been seen again. Some of these weren’t even great games. In fact, some of them were complete shite, but they had tons of potential. Also, it wouldn’t be the first franchises were built on the backs of half-assed first instalments. I’m looking at you here, Mass Effect!
Although we may never get the chance to see what happened next in the worlds of any of these titles, at least we got to spend some time within them. Whether it’s for better or worse that these games were laid to rest will never be known, but we’ve still got those first attempts to go back to and replay again and again, appreciating them for what they truly are- video games’ unsung heroes and untold legends.