Version tested: PlayStation 2
We'd wager that you've noticed at some point during the last couple of weeks that it's summer. And for gamers, this means only one thing... well ok, actually two: unbearable levels of heat from the magical orb in the sky, and droughts. So at Eurogamer we get to struggle on playing through some of videogaming's most hideous bargain bin abominations - just about the only type of game to hit the shelves until things pick up again in time for Christmas. Play It is a publisher attempting to coax you back indoors with a series of super-budget titles, three of which we've reviewed here. Sadly, there's a good reason these all retail for a tenner...
First up, "classic American pinball like you've never seen it before." There are eleven faithfully recreated full-3D tables on offer here straight out of the 1950s. Unfortunately, pinball tables in the 1950s were inexorably dull compared to - say - good pinball tables like the ones we have now, and that dullness is only compounded by the fact that you are not standing in your favourite bar with a pint by your feet, shrieking pals by your side, ducking and weaving and pouring actual sweat into beating the all-time best.
No. You're actually sat on your sodding couch with a PS2 controller in your hands, enduring load times in which you could build the tables yourself out of MDF, awful shopping centre muzak wearing your mind away as if someone was actually rubbing it with a cheese grater, probably stuffing a lukewarm Ginsters steak and kidney pie into your pallid face, the will to live slowly slipping away... slipping... away...
The game mainly consists of the Challenge mode, in which you have to beat a set score and move on to the next. Beat tables in that mode and you can play them whenever you like in Free Play. That's it. Thing is, Play It's Pinball title doesn't actually look all that bad; the table graphics are nice and crisp, the fact that the tables are fully-rotatable is quite admirable (even if we can't get close enough to the top of the tables to see what's going on), and there are even what appear to be real-time reflections coming off the ball. It's just a shame that the tables themselves are so painfully average that we couldn't bear to sit around trying to unlock each and every one. Next!
3 / 10
Seek And Destroy
Hey - anybody remember Battle Arena Toshinden? It was a beat 'em up from the PSone's heyday by a dev team called Takara, and it wasn't very good. This is by them. "Engage in the most destructive warfare ever seen on the planet," boasts the box, in an arcade-action title that has you defending the empire of Proton from the evil Q-stein. Mmm.
Seek and Destroy consists of tanks. So many tanks, in fact, that you can collect them when you win battles or challenges and swap between them at will. You choose your tank and the game drops you in at the deep end, attempting to force enemy forces out of your home city. You drive around in circles and you tap the fire button until all the tanks are gone, trying not to knock too many houses over while you're at it. "Bummer", says the retreating enemy general or whatever, frankly taking his defeat rather lightly.
Then some random tank comes rolling up to you, dishes out your orders to head off to some location that you've never heard of - or even have any idea where it is - to hand more tanks their own exhaust hatches. You travel between missions via a big map, and once a mission is out of the way you can come and go to many of the towns at will. On arrival in a secured area, you can explore the streets freely and have a friendly chat with other tanks going about their daily business (I swear, I'm not making this up).
You can customise your tank in the shops and garages in each town too, with different paint jobs and extra weapons - an enormous front-mounted chainsaw about twice the full body length of the tank itself, for example. Different parts naturally alter your combat effectiveness, particularly when you bolt on some of the more useful extra weapons ("These are missiles. They are homing missiles."), but they can also aid you in some of the mini-games accessible through the town arenas. There are Armored Core-style head-to-head battles with some push-over AI, a - uh - 'pop more falling balls with your chainsaw than your opponent' battle, and our particular favourite: racing around on an elevated wooden track waving your chainsaw left and right to pop balloons. In a tank.
Seek and Destroy is quite cute for its naivety really, and impossible to take seriously. It's the village idiot of vehicular combat games. It looks absolutely abysmal, with N64-at-best graphics, but strangely enough the aesthetic suits the simple gameplay. You wouldn't get more than an hour's entertainment out of it, but we would probably recommend it for your kids if the general standard of grammar wasn't so appalling.
4 / 10
Road Trip Adventure
This caught us completely by surprise. The premise of RTA is that the president of wherever has decided that he's fed up with his job, and will hand over the presidency to whoever can win the World Grand Prix and then beat him in a final race for the prize. What this boils down to is a trek across an enormous world map entering races on a variety of wacky tracks, attempting to come at least sixth in every single race once per "licence", of which there are three.
The car handled like a filled skip in the first race, but we managed to pull second place and were completely unimpressed; the AI was on rails, the simpleton graphics wouldn't make a PSone flinch, and we'd get more of a sense of speed from riding on the back of a drunken tortoise with arthritis. So far, so every other 'wacky' and 'zany' mediocre racer ever. We headed back to the garage and selected the "Drive around town" option, and this is the point at which our expectations were turned completely on their head. Road Trip Adventure is more complex than we could have possibly imagined.
Going for a drive around the boxy cartoonish town was reminiscent of the similar sections in Seek and Destroy (same developer), yet the towns exhibited far more features than we'd anticipated. We started coming across photo shops offering to take your car's picture against local scenery, a coffee shop offering us sponsorship, little collectible items dotted about town - just loads of... stuff! We found a wallet behind a bush in the car park of the first town's radio station, which we ignored. Later, as we were browsing the options screen we found a stamps book, which outlines specific errands and tasks that you can undertake to fill your stamps book up - the returning of the wallet we found to the local police station was one such errand.
You'll also find money dotted about the landscape which you can combine with your race winnings to buy new parts and paint jobs for your car, and upgrades are naturally essentially for you to start winning subsequent races. Getting to these races means a hefty drive between cities, and by hefty we mean at least five minutes along the freeway. The travelling between locations is completely seamless - remarkable when you consider the sheer size of the map and the number of locations you'll visit.
After a while, the races themselves became superficial, and instead we were more interested in exploring the possibilities of the cities and chatting to some of the bizarre locals. Take our mate Goro for example: "The bridge to the North is Island Bridge, but my name is better." Quite. Rewards for your willingness to explore come in the shape of about twenty mini-games, like car soccer. The owner of the stadium hasn't had his ball delivered though, so a quick trip to the sports store to pick up the ball and deliver it means the stadium's open for business. But you'll need a team if you want a proper game - cue your attempts to woo some fellow drivers over to your side.
What really won us over was when we stumbled across a real estate shop that offered us a garage for free in return for advertising their business on the side of the car. Once we'd moved in we couldn't help but grin at the options: Redecorate, E-mail, Play a game... we don't want to get your hopes up too high, but we started feeling like this was some kind of large scale, low-budget Animal Crossing with cars for characters. Now now, don't jump to conclusions, it's not anywhere near as compelling or luxurious as Nintendo's cult classic but the comparison is there to draw, however faint.
Had the driving sections been implemented with more style, with some decent handling and proper competitive AI in place, and were the graphics a great deal more polished, then we could have been scoring Road Trip Adventure a lot higher, probably even giving it its own review. However, as much of an attractive prospect as this will be to collect-o-maniacs, it feels like the sort of niche game that wouldn’t achieve mass acceptance, and perhaps would have looked quite comfortable on Eidos' Fresh Games label before that whole concept was completely screwed up. Frankly, on the PS2, you can do a lot worse with titles that cost three times as much as Road Trip Adventure.
7 / 10