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EA Replay

Mutant League Football's worth a punt.

By far the worst games among EA's inevitable collection of back catalogue hits are Syndicate and Wing Commander. Which is odd, because both games are also among the most fondly remembered of the selection. But that's because they were fondly remembered on the PC. The versions included here are the console versions, which are hampered by reduced functionality, inferior visuals and rubbish controls.

Syndicate, for any readers who are too young to remember, is, of course, a seminal cyberpunk realtime strategy game from Peter Molyneux's Bullfrog. Here, though, the strategic element chiefly seems to consist of trying to keep your team of agents from getting stuck on the scenery, or running out of ammo, or getting shot dead while an isometric wall or ceiling blocks your view of what's going on. Wing Commander, meanwhile, is a rudimentary space combat sim that no amount of nostalgia can redeem.

The decision to include the worst versions of the best games in the collection encapsulates EA's uncaring attitude to this assortment: all of them are basic, straightforward ports of the original console titles, with little in the way of window dressing. Which brings us on to the presentation: it's shoddy. Given the length of time it's taken for EA to jump on the retro bandwagon, you'd have thought it might have at least tried to make the front end look pretty, or to include some snazzy extras to appease the demanding young whippersnappers who play games these days. Instead, the game's front end is basic at best, and the extras for each of the 14 games amount to three pieces of artwork, all of which are so low-res or unattractive that their inclusion seems like an actual joke.

As pretty as it ever was.

The only real concession to the fact that these games don't run on their native consoles is that you can access an unattractive menu from within each one to remind yourself of the controls, or to switch between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, or to access a hints and tips section (or, more accurately, a passwords and cheats section, since each of the two tips available for every game seems to be a level select password). Oh, and you can save the games whenever you want now. And you'll want use the option to turn the sound off, obviously.

Switching from Syndicate and Wing Commander to the likes of Budokan, B.O.B. or Haunting Starring Polterguy, the sense that EA Replay is little more than a shameless cash-in continues. These are truly mediocre games, and it's difficult to believe that they could have been perceived any differently when originally released.

B.O.B. (tip: Anciena - Area 1 - 672451) is a rudimentary platform shooter with a sense of humour - which broadly means that the game's hilarious alien protagonist goes bug-eyed when he dies. No, really! They knew how to have a laugh back then, they really did. Apart from that it's utterly (bog) standard: get from one point to another within a certain time, avoiding various enemies and all sorts of environmental hazards (including the sudden-death-inducing variety).

Budokan (tip: karate is difficult; try to use kendo last in tournaments) is boring, inscrutable and bad; a beat 'em up in which it's difficult to simply move left or right. Irrespective of which martial art you choose to fight with (from karate, kendo, bo or nunchaku) the attack commands are inexplicable, and the game is really only notable for a reasonably pretty depiction of Mount Fuji during a cut-scene.

Tip: don't type 'Road Rash' into Google Image Search. Yuck.

Haunting (tip: hold square, cross and circle buttons and press start to reset your game. Or they could have simply mentioned that the menu you're currently navigating also allows you to reset your game) is a reasonably neat idea, that predates The Sims and Ghost Master, both of which it resembles. The idea is that you're a ghost who has to scare a family out of their home. The actuality is that it's pretty limited, and let down by dodgy collision detection.

Virtual Pinball continues the trend of tired never-weres, wheeled out again without even a little make-up to mask their inadequacies. It allows you to put together your own pinball tables from a selection of different elements, and it offers plenty of choice but no real class. It's actually fairly absorbing, but objectively it sucks, just like it did when it was originally released.

Surely EA could have found some better stuff than this? For a start there are gems like Little Big Adventure, System Shock, Magic Carpet, Populus and even Bioforge waiting for some retro love, not to mention some of its excellent early '90s sports titles (which are presumably being held back for another compilation, or maybe just so they don't dilute the EA Sports brand).

Nevertheless, there are some games that make EA Replay worthy of your consideration. The company's most notable brands back before Sony transformed the console market were probably the Desert Strike series, and Road Rash, both of which are included here. All three Road Rash titles are included and they're decent enough, even though they're basically the same as each other (except the third one's got pastel-coloured graphics). Sure, they're all fairly simplistic, and the actual racing is probably overshadowed by the pixel art on their title screens, but they're no worse than Moto GP on the PSP.

Breaking the picket line with sidewinder missiles.

Desert Strike and Jungle Strike see you preventing a psycho madman kicking off World War III, which you do by piloting a helicopter across isometric landscapes, destroying tiny enemies that you can barely see. The slightly finicky targeting system and the weird steering (relative to the direction your helicopter's facing, a la Resident Evil, if you imagine Jill Valentine as a tiny pixelly helicopter) take a bit of getting used to - as does the game's relatively harsh difficulty. But once they get going they provide reasonable entertainment.

Which just leaves the two highlights of the collection. One of the strongest titles, though it certainly won't appeal to everybody's taste, is Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Again, it's the console version, and not the superior PC title, which means its grisly murders are replaced by kidnappings, and any enjoyment is slightly hampered by annoying controls. But this is basically the game that provided the prototype for the likes of Oblivion and it's still a meaty and absorbing RPG if you've got the patience for it.

The real gem, though, is Mutant League Football, which more than makes up for the absence of any of the Madden titles because it's better than all of them. Sure, the American Football playbooks are pretty rudimentary, but the special moves are awesome, from wide receivers chucking bombs, or farting on opponents, to bribing or killing the ref and confusing your opponent by reversing their controls. It's still the game that sees most and it goes some way in making up for a miserly selection of games, cobbled together with little care. Chuck in the potentially commute-consuming Ultima, and the solid retro charms of Road Rash and Desert/Jungle Strike, and you can just about forget the rest of the dross that's on here.

5 / 10

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About the Author

Dave McCarthy


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