There’s quite a few rah-rah, *Tim Allen Grunt*, dude-centric, bro-tastic “man” games out this week. I’m not saying that women don’t enjoy ultra violence as much as men but I’m not sure they dig Mike Nelson as much. Hell, even the notable titles this week are known for their gritty content and ultra violence. For 40 years, you and I have been bombarded with violence in video games; has it made us hostile, angry, disillusioned? Even though I know, I suppose I’ll show all my cool and cold like ol’ Job. Yet, despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage.
Trek to Yomi (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 5th
Developed by: Leonard Menchiari/Flying Wild Hog
Published by: Devlover Digital
2020’s Ghost of Tsushima had a really cool feature that allowed you to play the game with a kind of old school, samurai film filter that made the game look like an Akira Kurosawa movie. It seems they weren’t the only ones longing for a samurai video game to look like that, as the developers behind Trek to Yomi are bringing that style to the forefront of their title. Swearing a vow to his dying master, a young swordsman named Hiroki will protect his village from the forces of evil. This leads him on an epic journey through life and death, as Hiroki must confront his own personal demons and find out his place in the world. I’m pretty stoked on this game, I have a feeling it will be an under the radar, sleeper hit this year.
Wildcat Gun Machine (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases May 4th
Developed by: Chunkybox Games
Published by: Daedalic Entertainment
Yet another bullet hell dungeon crawler where you collect a ton of weapons that you will need to use to wipe out the massive hordes of enemies standing in your way. If you’ve played one, you’ve played them all, I’m failing to see what Wild Cat Gun Machine brings to the table that is new.
Citizen Sleeper (PC/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 5th
Developed by: Jump Over The Edge
Published by: Fellow Traveller
Citizen Sleeper looks like it is right up my alley. It’s a sci-fi RPG set in a dystopian, capitalist future where human consciousness’ are owned by corporations, allowing them to put you into robot bodies. Citizen Sleeper takes a lot of cues from table top RPG games, with all of your actions being controlled by dice rolls. The game also appears to be less about combat and more about actual role playing, as you move your robot body around The Eye, an abandoned space station on the outer edges of known space. Make friends, hack computers, evade shadowy enemies, as you attempt to survive until the next cycle. If this is even remotely good I can certainly see it being May’s “Hidden Gem” in this year’s buyer’s guide.
RiffTrax: The Game (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases May 5th
Developed by: Wide Right Interactive/Mark Zorn/Kurt Wodja
Published by: Wide Right Interactive
Hey, remember the game What The Dub?! from 2021? Sure you do, why are shaking your head like that. WELL…those people have teamed up with the folks at Rifftrax to create a similar movie-based party game that allows you to come up with your own clever riffs. Don’t know what Rifftrax is? Do you like the Mike Nelson era Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episodes? Well that’s what Rifftrax is. Also, yes, Mike Nelson is a Republican and used to be on a podcast with Doug Tenapel, we all know that, he’s distanced himself from Doug and his gross beliefs but I’m sure you’ll still bring it up in the comments. I’ll be taking wagers on how quickly.
Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters (PC/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases May 5th
Developed by: Complex Games
Published by: Frontier Foundry
The footage of this new Warhammer 40k tactical RPG is so fucking nuts that you can’t even watch it without going to YouTube. It’s so grim and dark and full of Andy Serkis.
EDIT: Well, I guess now you can watch it, so my joke above doesn’t really work anymore.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 (and sometimes 40) years ago:
Max Payne 3 (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released May 15th, 2012: Wiki Link
Created by Remedy Entertainment in 2002, the Max Payne series would eventually be fully owned by its publisher Rockstar. However, because of how slowly things move at Rockstar, it would take just under nine years for them to deliver a follow-up game, with 2012’s Max Payne 3. Set in São Paulo, Brazil, Max Payne 3 finds our titular hero working as a gun for hire. Retired from the NYPD and forced to flee the U.S., Max’s latest assignment is to work as private security for a wealthy South American family. While Max guards the family daughter, Fabiana, at a local nightclub, a ruthless street gang attacks them, kidnapping Fabiana. From there, Max and his partner Raul Passos find themselves pulled deeper and deeper in the São Paulo underworld as they attempt to rescue Fabiana. Along the way, Max attracts the attention of the police and he suddenly finds himself back in the same situation he was in twice before, pinned between criminals and cops who both want to kill him.
Written by Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser, this would be the first game in the series not to be written by, or worked on, by its original scribe, Sam Lake. However, Rockstar was fully open about the game with Remedy and, in the late stages of production, consulted the team on a variety of things. To help calm some fans nerves, both Sam Lake and Remedy’s head of franchise development, Oskari Häkkinen, would praise Rockstar for the work they were doing. Lake confirmed that the game’s story would be just as dark and gritty as the first two games, and Häkkinen calling Max Payne 3, “brilliant”. Gameplay wise, not a lot changed between from the first two games, with the series’ signature “bullet time” still a major part of the game. Some new additions included the weapon wheel introduced in Gran Theft Auto IV, as well as a new cover system that players would need to constantly use in order to gain tactical advantage over the hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies that you must mow your way through over the course of the game.
Following a massive marketing blitz, the largest in Rockstar’s history, Max Payne 3 hit store shelves on May 15th in North America. It quickly gained some of the best reviews of the year, with critics calling it a masterpiece of excessive violence, telling a deep, rich story of a broken man who must, once again, overcome his personal demons in order to save someone. Max Payne 3 would receive several accolades at the end of the year, winning Best Animation at the Inside Gaming Awards and being nominated for Best Shooter and GOTY by Golden Joystick, nominated for Best Song, Best Score, and the Best Actor equivalent at the Spike Video Game Awards, and nominated for Best PS3 Game and Best Shooter by Gamespot. Max Payne 3 wasn’t without its detractors, however, as some outlets pointed out that Rockstar was less suited to make interesting third person action games, instead preferring their massive open worlds in titles like GTA and Red Dead, and of course the city of São Paulo was pretty upset at their depiction in the game. Critics claimed that Rockstar’s São Paulo looked and felt more like Rio De Janeiro by including palm trees and slums built into hills, and of particular note was how poor a lot of the spoken Portuguese was, including having inaccurate accents. Despite these issues, Max Payne 3 would go on to sell over 4 million copies around the world, making it a bona fide hit. You can currently play the game through Steam or on your Xbox consoles through backwards compatibility.
Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis (GBA) – Released May 7th, 2002: Wiki Link
The cult classic series Ogre Battle/Tactics Ogre met a premature end in 2002 with its final new release, The Knight of Lodis. Considered a side story spin-off, not part of the mainline series, The Knight of Lodis, set before the events of the first SNES Ogre Battle game, follows the adventures of fifteen year old Alphonse Loeher. One of the youngest knights in the Lodis army, Alphonse is dispatched to the island of Ovis, which the knights of Lodis brutally dictate. While there, Alphonse is separated from his squad and washes ashore in a nearby village. It is soon after this, and speaking with some of the townspeople, that Alphonse starts to question the intentions of Lodis, and those of his military commander, Rictor Lasanti.
I’m not going to say this is the most original story, but a tactical RPG isn’t necessarily judged on its plot, no. These games are judged more on their gameplay, and Knight of Lodis is really fun. Development on the game began in the early days of the Game Boy Advance’s announcement, with Quest Corporation ramping up production quickly. Their goal was to create a worthy successor to their SNES titles, while also making the story and world more accessible to younger players (the GBA’s intended market). In Japan, The Knight of Lodis was published by Nintendo, releasing in June, 2001. Atlus USA would handle the localization and publishing in North America, releasing the game on May 7th, 2002. In Japan, Knights of Lodis was modestly received by the gaming public, and while critics there were happy with the game, they felt it was too easy in comparison to earlier entries.
In North America the game did about as well as you would expect a cult tactical RPG to do. Critics here were blown away though, calling it one of the best games of the year. It received near perfect scores in Nintendo Power and GamePro, and was similarly well reviewed on IGN and GameSpot. Sadly, though, for Quest Corporation, this would be their last game released. The company would fall on troubled financial times shortly after the release of The Knight of Lodis, being purchased by Squaresoft. The good news, though, is that Square continued to have the team work on tactical RPGs, putting them in charge of the Final Fantasy Tactics franchise, which had been created by former Quest employee, and Ogre Battle creator, Yasumi Matsuno. Today, the game is available on the Wii U and 3DS eShop…in Japan…for a few more months as of the publishing of this column. Sadly, if you want to play it in the West you will either need to find an original cartridge or emulate it.
Wolfenstein 3D (PC) – Released May 5th, 1992: Wiki Link
Back in December, 2020 we talked about Commander Keen and the birth of id Software. Founded by John Romero, John Carmack, Adrian Carmack, and Tom Hall, id gained attention from the PC gaming public with their side scrolling platformer Commander Keen, the first PC game to featuring smooth scrolling graphics. After the success of Keen, id would be challenged by their former employer, Softdisk, so in order to not incur more of their wrath, id agreed to make a handful of titles for the company. They used these games to prototype new ideas for games. One of these prototypes was from John Carmack who wanted to make a game where players could explore a 3D space from a first person perspective. At the time of his prototype, almost all of the games that used 3D were flight simulators, games that weren’t bound by any particular boundary, what Carmack wanted to do was enclose players in “physical” locations. He mocked something up and liked what he saw, turning the prototype into the 1991 game Hovertank 3D. In this game, players would move their tank around a maze, shooting enemies that appeared. The graphics were simple and done in EGA as home computers were still too underpowered to make 3D gaming a reality (as we discussed last week with Aces of the Pacific).
Sometime in 1990/1991, John Carmack and John Romero saw a demo of Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, and it hit Carmack with inspiration, he knew that he could improve on Hovertank 3D by adding textures to the walls. The resulting game would be Catacomb 3-D, the third entry in an action/RPG series that Carmack and created in 1990. Like Hovertank 3D, Catacomb 3-D found players moving around mazes, fighting monsters and collecting treasure. Over at Apogee, the publishers of Commander Keen, Scott Miller suggested that id create a shareware game that featured this new 3D game technology that Carmack had built. With their contract with Softdisk almost over, talk of id’s next “real” game began. Hall wanted to create a third Keen game to close out the trilogy but he quickly realized that Carmack was getting tired of 2D platformers and was much more interested in the 3D realm. Hall suggested a game involving space aliens, before Romero suggested that they do a 3D remake of the 1981 game Castle Wolfenstein.
Each of the id members had fond memories of the old PC classic, exploring the castle’s many floors and mazes. Romero though that Wolfenstein would be a perfect use of Carmack’s new 3D engine. Adrian Carmack was fully on board from the get go, getting very tired of the kid friendly art he had to make for Commander Keen, hoping to start making more dark, violent art, which was his passion. Hall, on the other hand, wasn’t completely down with the idea, wishing they would have just continued with Keen, though he was sure that, since he was the company’s main designer, they would do one of his ideas next, this Wolfenstein game would be a one and done. Romero knew better, he saw huge things for Wolfenstein. He wanted the game to be fast, loud, and hyper violent. Despite being 3D, Wolfenstein wasn’t going to be a very pretty game to look at, 1991 PC’s just couldn’t handle them, so the idea was to make gameplay so compelling that people would ignore the shortcomings on graphics.
PC games had, for several years, been slow and methodical, game that made you think because, if you owned a PC back then, you were probably a real…thinker. Romero, a rabble rousing disrupter at heart, wanted to make a game that was nothing like the tactical strategy games the PC was known for. If the game was fast, you didn’t have time to think, it would be all instinct, bringing a new level of immersion. However, before they could make the game they would have to get the rights. Worrying that they may not be able to secure the rights, the team briefly entertained other settings, but after learning that rightsholder Muse Software had gone defunct, Wolfenstein was owned by a guy in Michigan. They were able to secure the rights for $5,000, before signing a $100,000 deal with Apogee to publish the shareware version. Not only that, but the team would also sign a deal with publisher FormGen to release a full retail version of the game as well.
With the Wolfenstein rights fully secured, Romero went full speed ahead with filling levels with Nazi’s, mowing them down in spectacularly gory fashion. Romero was also adamant about having Hitler in the game as a final boss, and wanted more violence and blood than had ever been seen or imagined in a video game. Hall designed all of the levels (along with Romero) using Pac-Man as inspiration, and drew sketches of the bosses and the game’s title screen. Carmack continued to fine tune the game’s engine, and with PC’s becoming more powerful, it was decided to make Wolfenstein a VGA game. Adrian Carmack continued to pump out gory graphics, with detailed sprites of dead Nazis, and the game’s audio guy, Bobby Prince, used a 16-bit sampler to create realistic gun shot sounds from a shooting range. The team had, at first, thought about including rooms that contained some the atrocities done by the Nazis in WWII, but decided again adding them to avoid further controversy.
As the team neared completion of the game, FormGen reached out to id to voice their concerns over the game’s ultraviolence. Undeterred, Romero and Adrian Carmack upped the violence even more, adding skeletons, further pushing the gore on the sprites, and adding in screams of agony when you killed a Nazi. One of the last things added was one of the most enduring aspects of FPS games, hidden areas. Initially pushed by Hall as a fun easter egg, Carmack refused as he thought it would be too difficult to implement. However, he tinkered with it and, eventually, figured out how to do it, adding in one of the game’s most famous features. On May 5th, 1992, the first episode of Wolfenstein 3D, Escape From Castle Wolfenstein, hit the Apogee BBS, with the rest of the episodes completed a few weeks later.
While Romero was sure Wolfenstein 3D would change PC gaming, the rest of id wasn’t so sure. They had modest expectations, forecasting around $60k in revenue from Apogee. Instead, when they received their first royalty check, it was $100,000; Wolfenstein 3D was a huge hit. While Commander Keen had been a nice injection of cash every month, making around $10k a month from Apogee shareware sales, Wolfenstein 3D was unlike anyone had ever seen in the PC gaming market, bringing in a staggering $200k a month in sales. By the end of 1992, Wolfenstein 3D was the top selling PC shareware game, by the end of 1993 it, and its sequel Spear of Destiny had sold 200,000 copies, and by 1995, both games would gross a combined $2.5 million in revenue; so much for Tom Hall’s next game, id was in the shooter business now.
Critics lavished praise on the game, calling it gorgeous, frighteningly realistic, extremely violent, immersive, and warned squeamish players to avoid it, though that just made people want it even more. Wolfenstein 3D, along with Ultima Underworld, had finally pushed games to the next level of interactivity, being, in the words of some critics, the first title to authentically allow players to suspend their disbelief and feel like they were experiencing something real. While id, and other companies, had experimented with 3D gaming, Wolfenstein 3D was the first game to set the template for all other FPS games to come. With its fast pace and ultra violence, all of the copy cats and imitators would follow suit. Of course it wasn’t without its controversies, the game was under fire from parents groups and other “public safety” entities, and it was outright banned in Germany for its explicit references to the Nazi party and depiction of Adolf Hitler, which are all outlawed in the country.
Ports would eventually follow on home consoles, including a bizarrely censored version on the Super Nintendo that removed all of the gore and Nazi imagery, as well as replacing the dogs with giant rats. As amazing as Wolfenstein 3D was when it came out, its reign would be short lived as John Carmack was well on his way to creating the next technological marvel for a game from Raven Software called Shadowcaster…which would eventually lead to Doom. Today, Wolfenstein 3D is pretty easily available if you have a PC, as the game is available on Steam. It’s clunky and archaic in comparison to modern FPS games, and it doesn’t quite stand the test of time like Doom, but it’s pretty good, and if you play it in the context of someone from the year 1992, it’s fucking breathtaking.
Night Stalker (Intellivision) – Released May 6th, 1982: Wiki Link
Our notable title from forty years ago, Night Stalker, was released for the Intellivision in May of 1982. This is a maze game that is very similar in tone and style to the 1980 Stern game, Berzerk. In Night Stalker, players find themselves trapped in a maze with no exits, stranded in a rectangular room. Around the room are a maze of tunnels filled with robots, bats, and spiders, and it is up to the player to find guns that randomly spawn in the maze. With six bullets per gun, players must eliminate all of the robot threats, for eternity, seemingly. Night Stalker is like a lot of the games of this era in that there’s no end game, really, you just kind of keep going until you lose all your lives with the high score being your ultimate prize. The game was designed and programmed by a guy named Steve Montero (call him by his name), with graphics by another man named Peter Allen. Both of these dudes wouldn’t do much in the industry after Night Stalker (at least according to Moby Games), however, the game’s sound designer would go on to have a long and prolific career in games, working on titles like SimCity, Mutant League Hockey, and Duke Nukem 3D: Time To Kill. I had a ton of fun playing Night Stalker when it was released for the new defunct Game Room platform on Xbox 360, I’m not really sure where you’d play it now, I guess there’s Intellivision collections out there. A new version is slated to come out on the Amico (if that console ever launches). I don’t have much to say about this game, it’s fun but it’s not groundbreaking; here’s a video of the gameplay:
Minutes before I posted this I learned about the Roe v. Wade leak, holy shit, what the fuck is going on. Women’s rights are under attack and something needs to be done. Please visit this thread and donate where you can.