The first big AAA title of 2021 is hitting stores this week and, in my mind, has officially kicked off the new games season. The last two weeks have just been the warm up to what will hopefully be a fantastic year in games.
Hitman III (PC – Epic Games Store/PS4/PS5/Stadia/Switch Cloud/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 21st
The world’s deadliest fake waiter, Agent 47, is back to slit open the throats of whoever he’s been contracted to assassinate. Continuing the story from Hitman I and II, part III is going to be the conclusion of the World of Assassination Trilogy, but it will not be the end of Agent 47 or the franchise as a whole, with the series going on a temporary hiatus. However, because this is just how we live our lives now, there is already major controversy with PC version of the game. As if being an Epic Games Store exclusive wasn’t enough, players who own Hitman I and II on Steam will be unable to import the levels from those games, at least right away. At first, developer IO Interactive was giving out free season passes to players who already owned Hitman I through Epic (II is not available on the platform), this would go on for something like ten days, at which point current owners would have to pay for the season pass at an 80% discount. Still not good enough, players began the chants of “boycott” and so Epic stepped in to say that no one would have to pay anything extra to bring over their Hitman II content from Steam, but it will take a few weeks to get everything sorted out. There’s also a game you can play, but that’s not as fun to talk about as salacious gossip.
King of Fighters XIV: Ultimate Edition (PS4) – Releases Jan. 20th
You know it’s a slow week when I feature a port in the top releases, however, I can’t miss a chance to talk up King of Fighters. With the fifteenth installment slated for sometime this year (maybe) use this new ultimate edition of part XIV to brush up on the characters and their moves. Featuring the base game, plus all released DLC, King Of Fighters XIV: Ultimate Edition should keep your fighting game heart content until the release of part XV.
Redout: Space Assault (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 22nd
The game Redout was a polished F-Zero clone that was better than it should have been. Now developer 34BigThings is taking their hovercrafts out of the track and into deep space, trying their hand at making a Star Fox clone. Can lightning strike twice?
Skycadia (Xbox One) – Releases Jan. 22nd (Released on PC back in December 2020)
If dogfights in space aren’t your thing, how about bird fights in the warm, blue skies? Skycadia is a 3D retro inspired flight combat game that has players taking on bounties in an attempt to take down as many sky pirates as possible.
Ports and Re-releases:
Ride 4 (PS5/Series X|S) – Releases Jan. 21st
Hey, do you like motorcycles? Do you like racing? Do you like racing…motorcycles…on next gen consoles? Tight, I think you’re gonna like this one then.
Teratopia (PC/Switch) – Releases Jan. 20th
ADVERSE (PC/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jan 22nd
The Best BJ (PC) – Releases Jan. 22nd
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Dead Space 2 (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Dec. Jan. 25th, 2011: Wiki Link
With the release of 2008’s Dead Space, developer Redwood Shores and publisher EA had a brand new hit on its hands. In a world full of sequels and licensed properties, a brand new IP was able to break through to the mainstream, so what do you do after that? You make a sequel! While the first title was a brilliant “Resident Evil in space” clone (for the most part), it was able to excel as a survival horror game due to its slow pace and sense that death lurked around every corner, and in Dead Space 2 that same sense of slow paced dread still exists, but with way more money. Billed as one of the most expensive games ever made, Dead Space 2 was more than just a video game release. It was a comic book, it was an animated film, and it was a series of books. EA and the newly renamed Visceral Studios were going to run this franchise into the ground if it was the last thing they were going to do, more on that when Dead Space 3 comes out. For now, as we focus on Dead Space 2, things were forecasting very well for EA and Visceral. The game was highly anticipated from its core fanbase of guys who wear Friday The 13th t-shirts who couldn’t wait to continue the adventures of deep space miner Isaac Clarke. Set three years after the events of the first game, Isaac finds himself a prisoner on a civilian space station where he has been experimented on as a group of sinister scientists who wanted to rebuild a new Marker based on data in Isaac’s mind. Of course this all goes horribly wrong and the Marker creates a new horde of horrifying creatures to take over the space station and murder everyone on board…except Isaac of course. Isaac progresses through the space station, speaking with various people, eventually meeting someone who claims they can rid of him of the insanity the Marker placed in his mind; you know how that probably turns out.
Reception to the game was mostly positive from critics, with multiple 9/10 and 4/5 scores, but like most big budget follow-ups, a certain amount of charm was lost when compared to the first title. One group of people that didn’t particularly care for the game was “America’s moms”, with 200 of them subjected to watching grotesque images of some of the games most violent scenes. This ad campaign, dubbed “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2” was met with both outright derision and overwhelming praise. In an industry where not too long ago John Romero was going to make you his bitch, and the women “kick high”, critics of the ad campaign felt this type of edge lord humor was starting to seem out of touch, and well past its sell by date. Not to mention that it reinforced sexist stereotypes about who played video games, and what a “gamer” was. Of course the proponents of the campaign talked about how people didn’t have a sense of humor, and needed to lighten up, yadda yadda yadda. In the end, while the ad campaign won awards (and was part of the reason why the budget on the game was so massive), Dead Space 2, the game, was a financial disaster. EA blamed a “changing marketplace” that didn’t want slow, single player gaming experiences, thinking that gamers wanted fast paced, casual games they could play with all their friends. Visceral would eventually follow with Dead Space 3, but by that point it wasn’t just moms who hated the series…everyone did, and all because of one word; microtransactions. We’ll continue the story in 2023…
Super Battletank (Game Gear) – Released Jan. 2001: Wiki Link
When Garry Kitchen’s Super Battletank came out in 1992 it was a ho-hum tank simulator, not unlike Atari’s Battlezone. It was praised for its “3D” graphics, but seemed fairly forgettable. While the title released on Genesis, Game Boy, and Super Nintendo, a Game Gear version was also slated to come out, but then never did. While I can’t really find any reason why it was cancelled, it would eventually be picked up by Majesco who were contracted to create and publish classic titles for the SNES, Genesis, and Game Gear. One of these titles was a port of Super Battletank, and man, they should have just let sleeping dogs lie. This game looks, sounds, and plays like a terrible early 90’s title, but in a box printed in 2001. The controls are horrible, the graphics are pitiful, and the sound is worse than two can with a string attached. The only thing that makes this notable is that it is the last title made for the failed Game Gear, four years after the console had left the market. It is my opinion that, because of this, you can easily find copies of this game at just about any retro gaming store, likely still in its original box and perhaps even still shrink wrapped. Why you would ever want to spend money on this piece of shit is beyond me though.
Joe Montana Football (Genesis) – Released Jan. 1991: Wiki Link
John Madden Football (Genesis) – Released Dec. 1990: Wiki Link
Before EA’s Madden franchise was the only football game in town, players had multiple choices when it came to which pigskin tossing simulator they wanted to spend their time with. In late 1990/early 1991, players had two tough choices to make; would they play the game endorsed by one of the best football players in the NFL, or the one endorsed by one of the best coaches football had ever seen? Looking back on the titles, it seems clear to me what market each was going for. Joe Montana Football was after the younger, sexier crowd, the kind of player that liked fast, arcade action and wanted to impress the other kids in the lunchroom. Madden was made for the serious football fan who wanted a realistic simulator, and was worried less about how cool they looked at school, and instead was trying to impress their high school football coach. After spending a few hours with both games this past weekend I can say that I enjoyed both titles, as I said Joe Montana Football has a looser, arcade-y feel, but in terms of which game is clearly better, that medal goes to John Madden Football. It is a serious simulator that does just enough stuff better than Joe Montana Football to give it the edge.
Now, after hearing all of this, you’d assume that EA made Madden and some team at Sega pumped out Joe Montana; wrong! EA was actually contracted to make Joe Montana for Sega, and thought they were making a more serious simulation game, and when it came time to port Madden they actually farmed it out to a third party who, in their eyes, thought they were making a more arcade style game. Oh, and that 3rd party developer, Park Place Productions, they had put out a football game a couple years earlier called TV Sports Football on the TurboGrafx-16, which released the same time as Madden on the PC; cross-eyed yet? Now, if you’re wondering why EA would make a football game for another company and not their own game, well, Sega had originally gone to a different company, Mediagenic (aka Activision) who promised to have Joe Montana Football out by Christmas 1990, but due to ongoing turmoil within the company they were unable to finish the title. Sega knew that EA was working on John Madden Football for the Genesis and asked them to instead make Joe, using their existing assets. EA agreed, but on the condition that they still got to make John Madden Football. Sega agreed, and in a bit of a shit heel move, EA, after getting Park Place Productions to play clean up, put Madden out in December, and in turn purposefully made Joe Montana Football an inferior product, and (possibly) intentionally delivered it late so as to not have any competition over Christmas. It was a shrewd move, but it didn’t matter too much, as Joe Montana Football was a staple on the Genesis for console’s entire life, and as for John Madden Football, well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, it continues to be one of the biggest selling video games each year, with no signs of really slowing down.
Rally-X (Arcade) – Released Jan. 1981: Wiki Link
in 1980 Namco had two big titles release in Japanese arcades, the megahit Pac-Man, and the less successful, but by no means a failure, Rally-X. Built around a similar maze concept, Rally-X had players taking on the role of an F1 racer who must travel around a maze picking up flags while also dodging other racers. While Pac-Man had you beat our enemies by eating them, in Rally-X players could spray smoke out of their tail pipes, causing the other racers to slow down and become confused. By late 1980/early 1981, Midway was gearing up to release three big arcade machines; the already released Pac-Man, Rally-X in January, and an original title called Defender in either February or March. At trade shows it was felt that Rally-X would fare the best, with Pac-Man seen as too cute and Defender as sloppy and unfinished (we’ll talk more about that in March…). While it was seen as the potential leader, it would not sell as many cabinets as either Pac-Man or Defender, but again, it was not a failure, in fact it is likely that because Pac-Man was such a huge hit, Rally-X was able to ride its coattails. The legacy of the game is intrinsically tied to Pac-Man and this golden age of arcade games, and if you’re a Super Smash Bros. fan then you are likely familiar with the yellow “special flag” as an item. Rally-X is pretty hard to find, however, with the most recent release being on the PS3 when the PSX title Namco Classic Collection Vol. 2 was ported to the PS Store. If you like maze games, and are a bit bored of Pac-Man, then I would highly recommend this title.
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