E3 2001 - Dreamcast
Preview - did Sega give up on Dreamcast? Nah, there's life in the old dog yet!
Dreamcast owners haven't had much to shout about in the last few months. With the announcement of large scale cutbacks and the dramatic price drops the system has been relegated to the status of a has-been. Even at E3 the console has to lurk in the shadows, feeding off the scraps of other consoles' publicity. Thankfully we can offer some respite to Dreamcast owners - your console ain't dead yet fellas. For all the Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation 2 announcements E3 has drowned us in, there are still some good games to look forward to on Sega's console. Here's the lowdown.
In with the old
Starting with "Toejam and Earl". Funkatron returns from its days on the Mega Drive, bringing with it one of the most beloved Sega franchises of all, even if it is only two games young. The movie Sega were showing of the game was in glorious 3D - and looked... crazy. Funky music and the game's high pedigree graphical veneer were matched only by the detail of the game's characters. Viewed from a third person perspective and all about da funk, Toejam and Earl will be one to watch out for later this year. We even spied a split screen two player mode! Be still my beating heart! Joining us in a more traditional role was the stunning Shenmue II. There isn't much new to be said about the game, but you know, it's just about every genre roled (hah!) into one, with Ryo journeying to Hong Kong in pursuit of his father's killers. Ryo will finally get to meet Shen Hua. If it takes the death of a console to inspire games like this, kill the damn PS2 already! The PlayStation 2 may soon be on the receiving end of Crazy Taxi, but fans of the series will know that the Dreamcast will be the place to play the sequel, "Crazy Taxi 2". Like its predecessor, the game uses a wide range mini-games as well as a central arcade structure to entice players. The latest addition we're aware of is Crazy Pyramid, a mini-game scheme that works very much like a pyramid. You complete a few of the lower tier games, giving you access to the more difficult higher tier ones, and so on and so forth until you come up against the ultimate challenge [bleh, the itallics looked good - Ed]. The stunning CT gameplay will of course remain, and the new city design looks certain to blow you away. We're also excited about the new soundtrack. If the first game's is anything to go by, it will be music to drive by.
More of the same
Elsewhere the other big crowd pleaser was "Sonic Adventure 2", which is somewhat understandable, since the original was the Dreamcast's first killer app. It's also Sonic's 10th birthday, so we're expecting big things! The demo looked very similar to the one we played in January, so feel free to take a look at our preview to learn about that. Suffice to say visually it looks as good as anything else on the console, with a sort of Crazy Taxi-like smoothness, and it runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, even under the heaviest load. What was new on the floor was "Phantasy Star Online Version 2". Instead of an all-out sequel, you can choose to continue with your old character or start anew. We loved the original, so we could hardly contain ourselves at the thought of a sequel. Apparently Sonic Team were so unhappy at having to leave out huge features that didn't quite meet the deadline, and they wanted to do more - Version 2 is the result. The game should actually be out in Japan at the end of this month, and features battle mode for taking on your fellow adventurers, ultimate mode to keep players going after level 100 and even soccer mode, allowing you to have a bit of a kickaround in the lobby. Hopefully this sub-game will prove a little more inspiring than shoddy Virtua Striker 2000.1. Although the addition of all these new features is certainly a good start, we'd be more interested in hearing about what measures Sonic Team are taking to combat the character theft and hacking of the original, and to curb cheating in general. We'd also like to know about the fabled broadband adapter. After all, paying by the minute for the use of a 33.6Kbps modem is absolutely absurd when there are 512Kbps digital connections routed into the same house! Any sort of advanced compatibility with an external dialup adapter would be a godsend.
The rest of the Dreamcast offerings varied in quality. We certainly fancy the look of "Bomberman Online" though, which aims to reunite gamers with that classic, frenzied multiplayer Bomberman action after several failed attempts to update the series. With the addition of online multiplayer options, the game may even last slightly longer for the lone gamer than its predecessors. You see, at its heart Bomberman has always been a party game, rather than a single player adventure, and past attempts to change that have never succeeded. Hopefully there will be some rudimentary way of taunting opponents online, or a two players per console over the net option to help turn it into a team game, in which case the game will almost certainly succeed. There's nothing like the look on someone's face when they realise they have been trapped by your bomb and have to watch the seconds tick down before frying. Nyahaha! Early screenshots show an interesting mix of 2D and 3D, but the classic enclosed grid remains. We have high hopes for it. We're not the world's biggest sports fans at EuroGamer, there's no denying it, so a lot of Sega's E3 lineup was lost on us. Although the odd FIFA game tickles our fancy and we agree that Virtua Tennis was a stroke of genius, pro-yank games like "Sega Sports NCAA College Football" and "Sega Sports NFL 2K2" just bore us. Even "Sega Sports NBA 2K2" sounds a little stale - unless it has the impact of NBA Jam we're not applying!
One game that it's easy to comment on though is "Confidential Mission". Why? Because we already have code buzzing away under the laser of our Dreamcasts, that's why! It's the much anticipated successor to House of the Dead 2, and yes, you really do need to take the shrink-wrap off your light gun one more time [steady on - moral decency Ed]. You play as one of two agents working for CMF, the Confidential Mission Force, which combats terrorism the world over. Using the light gun, you blow your way through three stages, earning extra points for Justice Shots that merely wound enemies instead of killing them. There's an additional two player mode if you own a second gun or want to chance it with the joypad, and graphically it's a cross between Silent Scope and House of the Dead 2. Expect a full review soon, but early impressions are decidedly good. We also spotted games like PC hit "18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker", the game that crashed a thousand video cards, on its way to Dreamcast. AM2's first person shooter project "Outrigger" looks very exciting (although we'll reserve judgement until it's in our hands seeing as we have a tendancy to go a bit bonkers about first person shooters), and how could we miss out "SEGA Bass Fishing 2"? The original was perversely enjoyable, even though fishing isn't really our bag, and apparently the sequel will inherit the original's "great graphics and gameplay". If nothing on the Dreamcast at this year's E3 floats your boat, we suspect you're mad. Well, the loony bin is just over the hill, so off you trot. Seriously though folks, we knew Sega had a number of titles planned, but this was definitely worth getting out of bed for. Our only concern is that from what we've seen the only original title is Outrigger, and that's a bleedin' first person shooter. The rest are either sequels, or make their way here from another system. Wouldn't it be nice to come up against something truly original at a trade show for once? Ah well.