Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Road Hunter GT

I looked up the definition of GT, or "Grand Tourer" ("Gran Turismo" in Italian) because something about its use in the title of Road Hunter GT just didn't sit right with me. So here's what I found, courtesy of Wikipedia:

GT - "Grand tourer (Italian: gran turismo), usually a high-performance luxury automobile designed for long-distance driving"

And that's probably what it was; though you do indeed drive long distances in this game, there's nothing luxurious or high-performance about it.

The plot is simple: you're about to carry out a bank job, after which you must weave through traffic while avoiding the police and the Mafia. You begin by stealing a taxi and driving it 150 miles to the bank.

Seriously, 150 miles. You are robbing a bank in another city - in another part of the country! I'm willing to suspend my disbelief up to a point, but that point comes long before driving a stolen taxi 150 miles on the straightest road this side of the autobahn to rob a small-town bank.

You drive your stolen taxi incredibly slowly through some very uninspired quasi-suburban landscape that seems to stretch into infinity. There are puddles and cracks all over the tarmac, but these are entirely aesthetic and have no effect on the handling of your car. For some reason just driving to the bank earns you cash, like perhaps you decided to pick up some fares as you went to commit acts of grand larceny. One thing you'll no doubt notice is that your life bar is constantly decreasing, so you need to keep topping it up by collecting hearts that lay across the road like the aftermath of some terrible accident involving a sixteen-wheeler with a load of donated organs.

At first I thought the life bar was actually supposed to be a petrol gauge, which would make sense - if you're driving 150 miles, you're going to need to fill the tank at least once. But if that's the case, why not just call it the fuel gauge? Why not use little canisters of petrol rather than hearts? The answer is because it really is supposed to be a life gauge, and much like the human body this taxi is hurtling inexorably towards the end, constantly postponing the inevitable with tune-ups and stolen organs.

It is, in all honesty, bullshit. Why should the life bar go down when you're avoiding the other cars? Why should a player be punished for doing well? And you better hope to God that you don't crash, because if you hit more than one other vehicle you'll never see past the first level. So you do what anyone would do in real life to avoid an accident - you drive slowly and keep as much of the road in front of you so you don't get caught off guard. The result is a slow, ponderous game, and it doesn't get any better after you've reached the bank.

After stealing the money (a scene represented by your character walking into the bank and then walking out of the bank) our young robber ditches the taxi and jumps into a sports car that I can only assume was sitting there waiting for him.

OK, so if there was a car there already, why steal the taxi? I mean, is this guy such a prick that he can't just spend a little cash on a train ticket, or something? Or better yet, if he's already been there to arrange the sports car, why not just stay there instead of travelling 150 miles to some other town? This probably explains why he works alone - not because he's a tough loner incapable of trusting others, but because none of the other robbers are willing to put up with his stupid ass.

So now the Mafia are after you, for reasons that are never fully explained, and they're chasing you in cars armed with ballistic missiles. Strangely, the numerous police cars that you pass on this endless highway show not one ounce of interest in the Mad Max road war taking place before them. I know the police can be apathetic at the best of times, but surely they're going to respond to the cluster bombs pockmarking the highway?

Fortunately you're not just a sitting duck. Someone was kind enough to leave missiles all over the road, which you can pick up and use against the numerous Mafiosi. But you can only shoot in one direction, straight up, and that's a real pain in the ass if the enemy is on the other side of the screen. At moments like that your only hope is to drive by as quickly as possible and hope you don't get hit. You don't find any other weapons that might make destroying the other cars easier, so it's a case of hoping for the best, and that rarely gets you anywhere.

For a game boasting only three levels Road Hunter GT is surprisingly difficult to beat. Like anything else it just takes a little practice, but why would you want to spend your time beating a game so ugly and plodding? There are a hundred games just like it, and most of them are far superior to this. Throw this one on the scrapheap and forget it even existed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Transformers: Megatron Face-Off

I should state right off the bat that I was never a big fan of the Transformers. Sure, they were cool - no young boy could say no to robots that turned into things and fought each other - but they were a product of the Eighties. I, as a child of the Nineties, was too young to watch He-Man when it was still a blatant twenty-five minute action figure commercial and too old to experience the untold violence wreaked by Pokemon cards. So, although I've always appreciated the show and once owned a Transformers action figure, I've never been a fanboy for it. That's why when the first live action Transformers movie came out I was willing to give it a shot. But I should have known it was going to be a steaming pile of donkey dung as soon I saw the words "A Michael Bay Film" written across the screen.

OK, I know it's easy to make fun of Michael Bay films and that everyone does it. But have you ever thought to ask why? Well, one look at his past credits should answer that question. From the lard-like dripping sentiment of Armageddon to the "Golden Hour only" shoot of Bad Boys 2, Bay's movies have been full of style but lacking substance. That his first director credit listed on IMDB is Playboy Video Centerfold: Kerri Kendall should tell you everything you need to know.

Anyway, Transformers. One of the few things Michael Bay does better than anyone else is blow shit up. So you would have thought a film based around giant robots beating the tar out of each other would have been simple for him. Yet, somehow he still managed to screw it up! How? Because apparently none of the test audiences wanted to see CG robots fighting. No, they wanted to see Shia LeBeouf running away from the robots! Oh, and when we do get to see the actual robot wars, make sure to shoot everything with shaky, handheld cameras and extreme close-ups, like Optimus Prime was suddenly Optimus Bourne.

Anyway, I digress... a lot. The inevitable sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, is set to explode in our faces on June 24th, but while we wait for that car crash clusterfuck, let's play Megatron Face-Off!

The game is a pretty straightforward beat-'em-up. Megatron is chasing after Sam Witwicky yet again (because God forbid we make the Transformers the main focus - sorry) and it's up to you to stop him. You can choose to fight with Ironhide or Bumblebee at first, with Optimus Prime becoming available should you beat the game. This implies that the game's designers thought people would want to play it more than once. Hey, you can't fault their optimism.

It doesn't really matter who you pick, as they all have similar controls, including the same special move. In all honesty, Ironhide probably looks too much like Megatron for you to easily tell them apart, so you may prefer to play as Bumblebee.

Regardless of who you use, they're all poorly drawn, including Megatron. OK, so there's nothing technically bad about the way they look. But there's something about them that just doesn't sit right, like they're all cardboard cut-outs fed into Flash and made to perform stiff, jerky movements.

The backgrounds are nice, but they just emphasise how out of place the robots feel and how poorly composed they are.

The game also breaks the cardinal rule of beat-'em-ups by having really bad controls. Hit detection is hard to see, and though you only have two attack buttons you'll be bashing them as if this was UFC Undisputed. The AI sucks; more often than not Megatron will stand there throwing punches into the air, allowing you to step back to a safe distance and pound him down with your special attack.

All of the characters, including Megatron, have some kind of laser attack. You'll be using yours a lot, mainly because it's the fastest and easiest way to win. While you can easily dodge Megatron's blasts (on the rare occasions he uses it and doesn't just beat up nothing) he doesn't seem too fazed by you blowing chunks of armour off of him until he falls down. It sort of subtracts from Megatron's menace when, every time you beat him, he stands back up as if someone is inflating him with helium and then flies off into the sky.

If you ever needed proof that Michael Bay doesn't give a rat's ass about Optimus Prime, this picture should put away any doubts. There's just something about this depiction of Optimus that makes him look like a wimp. Maybe it's that he's airbrushed more than Beyonce Knowles, but just putting him side by side with Megatron makes you realise why he needed Shia to save his ass at the end of the first Transformers flick.

On the bright side, he does have his kickass laser sword, so at least that's something. Nobody can look like a pansy when they're swinging around a blade of pure energy.


Transformers: Megatron face-Off is a perfectly fine game if you really love Transformers and/or bad beat-'em-ups. Otherwise, it's as bad as a Michael Bay script and had about as much thought put into it. If you're desperate for your Transformers fix, my advice is to close the curtains, grab your action figures and create your own robot spectacular. Hey, it's not like you could do any worse than the other guy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shopping Street

Man, I've been waiting all week to review this game.

You know, what with the economy being so far down the crapper, now more than ever we have to amuse ourselves without breaking the bank (any more than it already is.) That's when we really see the value of the millions of Flash games available to play for free online. Hours of entertainment are at our finger tips, waiting for us along the Information Superhighway. And because the economy will eventually start to recover (right?) it makes perfect sense to check out a game that might help us develop our own business savvy so that we don't find ourselves in this situation again. With that in mind, let's take a look at Shopping Street.

I want to make one thing clear - I knew this wasn't going to be a good game before I ever saw the title screen. I can't really put my finger on why, but if you do click the link above and check out Shopping Street, maybe you too will feel a little weirded out by the Flonga robot as it glides silently into the centre of the screen and stares at you with its beady green eyes. In fact, there's no music or any sound whatsoever until you press the start button and are presented with the level select screen. The goal is to build a shopping empire, starting from a simple mom 'n' pop business and eventually reaching the heights of Manhattan. Every level requires that you earn a certain amount within a fixed period of time to carry on to the next stage. I played through the whole game, amazingly, so I'm going to go right to the final New York level for the rest of this review.

I'm doing that because at no time does anything in Shopping Street change - not the background, nor the colour scheme, nor any of the shops you can build - so by going straight to the last level I can show you everything without boring with you with how I got there.

And believe me, you'd be bored. I was, and I was playing the damn game. Not even Stephen King could make describing this game anything more than monotonous, but maybe if you see how little there is to write about Shopping Street, that might put you off playing the game. Either way, I've done my job.

You start every level with the same amount of money - I guess inflation can't be that bad if you can set up a pet store in Manhattan for $3,000. The pet store should always be your first purchase, as it can hold more customers and earn more money than the boutique, which is the only other shop you can buy at the start of the level.

I'm going to review this game as best I can, but I might as well show you a sure-fire way to beat any level in this game. This method is foolproof and guaranteed to succeed every time.

Anyway, build your pet store and a couple of benches (and a "music ad" which is supposed to attract people to your store) and then the happy little people will come along and buy stuff. Once you've got the cash you can buy a boutique, upgrade your stores a little and then build a bus stop. The bus stop will grant you another dozen shoppers, which is always handy. The bus should only stop there once a day but on more than one occasion I came across a glitch that meant a constant stream which theoretically could go on forever. Clearly, whoever programmed this game has never experienced the US public transport system.

Keep on building and upgrading your shops and... well, that's it. The money will come in slowly at first, but as you build more your earnings will grow exponentially. Just remember not to waste your money on a restaurant until you've got most of the other stores, as they have very little return and people will hang around inside them forever. Even on fast mode it took ages for any customers to leave, which is a great complement to the food and service but utterly useless to me when I've got to raise a million bucks in thirty days.

Which reminds me of the most important advice I can give - switch to Fast Mode immediately and turn off the annoying music (first they give us no music, then they give us music we don't want to hear - great.) The customers move at an arthritic pace, meaning the greatest challenge is one of patience.

Shopping Street is like a Flash Field of Dreams - if you build a shitload of stores, people will come and spend obscene amounts of money. Nothing ever goes wrong in Shopping Street; there's nothing that the customers won't buy. It's weird watching someone who can't get into a furniture store deciding to visit a jeweller's instead. I've never seen such a large group of people so desperate to get rid of their money. By the time you've got all the shops built, you don't even need any of the crap designed to slow shoppers down, like benches or news stands. They just keep walking from one place to the next, regardless of what that shop is, until they run out of money and scamper off with big smiles on their faces.

I've played some really easy games in my time, but this is ridiculous. Once you've completed one level, you'll complete the rest without any difficulty. If capitalism was this easy we wouldn't be in a God damn global recession!

Sure enough, on the last day - just like always - I meet my goal. Such is the demand for electronics and puppies that I was guaranteed victory from the start. I think I deserve an award just for playing all the way through this mind-numbing, coma-inducing bore of a game.

But no, this is all I get - one last half assed graphic to let me know I'm the new Donald Trump. But then, I suppose you get out of something whatever you put in, and since I didn't have to do squat to beat Shopping Street I should be thankful for generic smiley faces.

This was the first game from Flonga that I've had a chance to play, and it goes without saying that it didn't make a good first impression. With slow, boring, repetitive gameplay and uninspired graphics, it seems the recession is even hitting Flash games - as far as ideas go, we're bankrupt.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Strongest Truck 2

A lot of companies apparently feel that it's very important to get the Flash game crowd on board. It seems that there is no product or service so niche that the corporations involved won't spend a little money getting someone to produce a short game to advertise their wares online. But these games are usually just low budget versions of the rushed tie-ins that accompany so many blockbuster movies these days, largely pointless wastes of time (and in a subsection of games that could all be called pointless wastes of times, it takes a lot to stand out.) Such is the tragedy of Strongest Truck 2, sponsored by Volvo, of all people, to advertise one of their trucks.

The first thing to note about Strongest Truck 2 is that it can take an age to load. If you don't have a decent internet connection, you could be waiting for any length of time (one comment on noted that it took them half an hour to load the game.) What I don't understand is why it takes that long? The game itself is only one level and that takes less than two minutes to complete. So what's the hold up?

Is it the graphics? It can't be, because they're just the sort of fake 3D you find in lots of Flash games. And don't start thinking it's because of the realistic truck physics, because there aren't any.

At least it's all kept really simple, with just two buttons to control the speed of the truck. You start off in this laboratory before accelerating up a ramp and inexplicably crashing through a waterfall. OK, at least that's pretty cool, if a bit random. Are all of Volvo's factories hidden behind waterfalls? What are they hiding from - the recession?

Too late.

So you drive forward for three seconds until you find a giant button on the road and once you press it a friendly arrow points you back the way you came. I really had no idea what I was supposed to be doing when I played Strongest Truck 2 for the first time, so I didn't really know what to expect.

However, the last thing I ever would have imagined happening was my truck flying over a small hill, landing too high on the back wheels and flipping backwards onto the roof. The reason this came as such a surprise is because trucks normally don't fall like that.

Oh, I know they can tip over and I'm sure if you drove fast enough and hit the ground hard enough from high enough you could flip forward, but the vast bulk of a truck's weight is on the front. It stands to reason, then, that its centre of gravity would be to the front of the vehicle and keep it from falling backwards. The only time I've ever seen a truck flip like that is in The Dark Knight and even Batman could only make the fucking thing flip forward.

Anyway, should you reverse into the shed without crashing you'll find a trailer filled with fragile objects, none of which have been properly tied down. This is the main part of the game, you see - getting as many of the items to the end of the bumpy course as you can in as short a time as possible.

But as the screenshot above shows, nobody thought to spend any time making sure the truck or trailer acted in any way like they would in real life. When was the last time you saw an entire trailer rise up off the ground like that? Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, or maybe Volvo are trying to tell us that their trucks have no suspension. No wonder sales went down 99.7% last year.

This image is in a toughly-contested fight with the waterfall jump for the title of Most Ridiculous Moment In Strongest Truck 2. What kind of customers is Volvo looking for here? Or maybe they're making a pitch for Speed 3: Swedish Crisis. It isn't like the truck ever moves fast enough to make this look cool. Apparently sluggish acceleration and slow top speeds are a hallmark of Volvo trucks.

So what was the point of this game? Apparently, other than to dig Volvo into an even deeper hole, people who scored highly were eligible for prizes. But now that the contest is finished, why keep the site up? This game in no way deserves to be left to posterity. Its poor graphics and non-existent physics, combined with its laughable shortness, make it yet another terrible example of what happens when a major corporation thinks the guy from Accounts who knows a bit about computers is the perfect candidate to make their shitty playable adverts.