Sunday, March 6, 2011

. . . Video Game Retro Uberness

We were at the mall in Hyannis where we were visiting specifically to obtain cloth from the cloth store for Yvonne to make (A) Autumn's costume for Anime Boston in April, and (B) Peter's costume for PAX East (which is next Friday) I wandered into the GameStop both because it was there, and because I do not do craft stores as a general rule, including those that sell cloth, but that is another story for another time.

The point to this is that into GameStop I wandered.

I was not there specifically to pick up a game, because I will not actually need to do that until two days later on Sunday, March 6th, when the new Pokemon games launch. So I was not specifically there to purchase a game, but you know how it is...

While I thumbed through the bargain bin with an eye towards finding a game from the distant past that I had meant to play but, for whatever reason, never did, my thumbs stumbled upon an ancient copy of Hitman: Blood Money for the PS2, which if you are keeping track, was released in 2004...

The PS2 was originally what I played the game on -- and in theory I could have bought that copy and played it on my PS3 since it is rated for PS2 game play -- but the reality is that even though my PS3 is capable of playing PS2 games in native mode, they do not always play as flawlessly as Sony would have you believe.

I sighed and frowned because I would actually have enjoyed playing it again, and was struck by a thought. Once I had the attention of the bloke behind the counter, I inquired as to whether they had a copy for the XBox 360?

They did! One copy. One slightly scratched and beat-up, well-used copy that looked okay. It was by no means pristine, but the scratches did not look to be the sort that would cause the game to not play...

Besides that all GameStop games -- even the used ones -- have a 15 day no questions asked warranty, so I decided what the heck, it is only $19 and if it is bad I can take it to the GameStop in Mashpee and exchange it! Besides that I really wanted that game.

Elite Retro Uber Gaming

If you never had the fun of playing Hitman: Blood Money you are really missing out mate. Yes I am aware that it is a game from 2004 - but bear with me for a moment and I will explain -- It may be a game from 2004 but it was also the game of 2004 -- and if you were playing games back then it was a hard one to have missed!

You have to remember that 2004 was back when they still made games without the Hollywood FX of today. If there was nudity in a game it was generally non-sexual unless the game was explicitly a sex game. This was back when men were men and protagonists were really men!

I am holding Blood Money in my hand with the sure and certain knowledge that I have one day -- one day -- that is totally free and that I can play any game that I want to play without any concern, and that day is Sunday. Why?

Because I will have finished the long-overdue Pokemon Emerald Guide on Saturday evening and will be uploading the last videos for it along with the guide itself on Sunday morning, and I can not start Pokemon Black until Monday afternoon because that is the soonest I can get a copy since Nintendo (unlike pretty much all of the other studies) does not give freebies to any newspaper smaller than the New York Times.

I decided right then that revisiting Blood Money -- after an absence of almost exactly six years -- was not imply a good idea, it was a great one!

Those Hot and Humid Hitman Days

The Summer of 2004 was a hot and humid one, and it was back when my son Peter still thought sitting in the room and watching me play video games was cool. For three weeks that Summer we shared a fascination with Agent 47, and my son watched me play and helped me to develop strategies for obtaining perfect Silent Assassin Ratings in its dozen-odd missions.

We had our cooler full of iced down glass bottles of Coca Cola, bags of Andy Capp Hot Fires and Doritos, and an overpowering urge to figure the game out on our own, without the help of game guides.

At the time Blood Money was cutting edge -- or as near to it as you could get on a PS2... And it was that memory in my mind's eye that held sway as I awoke this morning and without even thinking about it, slotted my new copy of that old game and booted up.

As my 360 hummed to life and the so familiar notes of its start screen music filled the room it was almost like time travel. Almost.

A Little Age on It

As I watched the familiar CS unfolding and took my first steps in over half a decade as Agent 47 the first thought I had was that something was wrong -- though I could not immediately put my finger on what it was.

The games of today -- and sacrificially the FPS titles that are made to feel the same no matter what platform they are played on -- barely put a strain on the modern generation of console hardware that the PS3 and XBox 360 represent.

If we are being completely honest about it, the PS3 and XBox 360 are not exactly "modern" in most senses, as the newer generation of console that will replace both of these aging dynamos are way past the drawing board stage and are already in their respective beta test stage, leaving us to anticipate their release if not any month now than at least within the next 12 months . . .

When I say that modern FPS titles sacrificially exist, what I am referring to is the almost 'McDonalds' like feel to them that -- I am not exaggerating here -- gives them the cohesive sameness that the studios desire so that no matter what platform you are playing on, the experience is much the same.

The reason for that? Because modern games are platform independent when it comes to online play, so it is important for the shared experience of play to be much the same.

It only takes a brief glance at games like Heavy Rain and Alan Wake to get an idea of what the two consoles are genuinely capable of -- but the mainstream FPS titles do not even come close to that level of hardware-straining depth because the idea is to make games that are entertaining and fluid. The jaw-dropping impact of pushing the envelope is not part of that process.

It was not long though before it clicked.

Back to Blood Money . . . The graphics seemed so old and yet. And yet. Not.

Agent 47 moved like his spine was fused, and both the aiming and movement while crouched in sneak-mode felt somehow off. Reconciling the game mechanics I was now seeing with what I am used to seeing today -- comparing it to GTA IV and the leap forward from that to games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age made it seem somehow older than it was.

It took a few minutes for the control scheme to pop back into my head -- but once it did it was like the intervening years had never happened -- I was quickly back in the groove; Agent 47 did my bidding without complaint, and I suddenly was Agent 47 again, just like it was back in that bad old Summer of 2004.

A little more than an hour into the game and that awkward feeling that the stiff movement gave me at first also seemed to melt away, gulped down by a combination of excitement and palm-smacking as the often disastrous results from simple mistakes made themselves known.

Being spotted with a weapon in plain sight transformed the otherwise peaceful infiltration into a running gunfight of epic and bloody proportions, and half-remembered strategies made it almost feel like a new game due to the genuine feelings of not knowing precisely what to do next. All of this helped to reassert that awe and satisfaction of a gamers feeling for a game that is genuinely fun...

. . . to be continued

No comments: