European Super League – A different football game

Dreamcast owners haven’t exactly been deluged with classic football games, but according to Virgin Interactive, their new title will be more than a match for the ISS and FIFA franchises. We’re already dribbling.
Forget all that Sega fanboy rubbish about throwing out your PlayStation.

If you’re a Dreamcast-owning footy fan, there’s one compelling reason to hang onto your grey Sony box: ISS Pro Evolution. We’ve had several DC football games, but none have even come close to Konami’s peerless simulation. And with Electronic Arts still refusing to develop for Dreamcast, we haven’t even had a FIFA to soften the blow. To win over the masses, Sega needs a triple-A football title for its console – and UEFA Dream Soccer ain’t it.

Enter Virgin Interactive’s European Super League, which is the latest contender to step onto the pitch. We grabbed lead producer David Casey to tell us why ESL could be the game that puts an end to our long wait. He’s admirably bullish about the competition.

“Virtua Striker is a different sort of football game,” he says. “It looks good, but doesn’t play like traditional football games like FIFA and ISS. Sega Worldwide Soccer and UEFA Dream Soccer are updated versions of the World League Soccer engine, which wasn’t particularly good on PlayStation.”

He’s voicing the views of many frustrated Dreamcast owners, but what will set ESL above the herd? The game features 16 top European teams – well, 15 plus Chelsea – all of whom are fully licensed. The stadiums are accurately modelled virtual versions of real-life grounds, and there’s a choice of arcade or simulation mode.

Nothing out of the ordinary then, although the inclusion of real player names is always worth celebrating. But it’s the gameplay that will hopefully mean ESL is the footy game we’ve been waiting for. “It plays more like the heavyweights, ISS and FIFA, than the previous Dreamcast football games,” says David. “What I wanted to achieve was the gameplay of ISS, with the easy pickup and play nature of FIFA.”

From our experience with the preview version, the ISS influence is clearest in the slower pace of the match action, which gives you more time on the ball. Matches revolve around keeping possession and picking out men in space, rather than the lightning-paced virtual pinball of the FIFA series. The players seem fairly intelligent in their off-the-ball movement, although the passing system could currently do with some work. Passes seem to go astray a little too often for comfort – all very well if you were playing as Bradford City, but these are supposed to be top European sides.

Still, David seems confident enough that the final version of ESL will have Dreamcast owners salivating, and his enthusiastic attitude to the game itself is reason for optimism. “Even after two years working on the game, I still enjoy playing it,” he says. “Nothing’s perfect, and there are always areas that you’d like to improve, but I think the game has a nice balance to it. You won’t be able to score hundreds of goals, but you’ll be able to score enough to give you satisfaction.”

The competition on Dreamcast is hardly stiff, but matching up to the best footy games on other formats is quite a task. Could ESL be the game that surpasses ISS Pro Evolution, and persuades thousands of DC owners to finally chuck out their PlayStations? We don’t know,but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

Let us fly with Jet Fighter IV

One of the PC’s longest running flight sim series prepares to return. Get ready to ride around on a Harley, wear Ray Bans and flash a cheesy grin at any opportunity. Oh, and to shoot down some commies, of course…
Ah, a flight sim, then?
Yup.

But I thought the flight sim was a dying genre?
So some pundits would have us believe. But they’ve been saying that for years, and the plucky little devils just keep on popping up. The flight sim is one of the genres that got PC gaming off the ground (so to speak), and it’s proved to be more resilient than many of the aforementioned pundits seem to think. Besides which, a lot of people like ’em.

Yeah, but I’m not sure about all those three-inch thick manuals and stuff. Who wants to sit an exam just to play a game?
Hardcore flight sim fans, apparently. But worry not – in the grand tradition of the JetFighter series, Fortress America is more concerned with the fun stuff than having 250 keyboard commands and an incredibly realistic simulation of the latch on the cockpit.

Fun stuff?
Yeah, you know – screaming along at several hundred miles an hour, blowing enemy planes out of the skies with missiles and guns, reducing bases to rubble with huge bombs, that kind of thing. Think Top Gun meets Will Smith in Independence Day. Only without the aliens.

Hmm… that does sound fun. What’s it all about, then?
The fight for freedom, Coca Cola, and Levis jeans.

Really?
Yes, really. JetFighter IV: Fortress America is set in 2012. After 20 years of being the only superpower on the block and getting to throw its weight around all over the place, the good ol’ US of A is in trouble. The pesky Commies are back, in the form of an alliance between Russia, China and North Korea, and this time they’ve got some decent planes. Not to mention tanks, bombs, rockets, missiles, guns, and all those other toys that militaristic totalitarian states like so much. In fact, they’ve got so many toys, they’ve decided to teach the degenerate capitalists a lesson by invading the United States.

Invading? Blimey.
Yup, that’s what the Yanks said. Well, words to that effect. Now, with the combined might of this nasty coalition bearing down upon it, America has placed its future in the hands of its finest, most highly skilled military men and women. Or, to be more specific, you.

So no pressure, then.
No, none at all.

Alright, then, what can we expect from the game?
Well, for starters, JetFighter IV will offer you the chance to fly the finest fighter aircraft in the American arsenal, including the F-14 Tomcat, F-18 Hornet and F-22 Raptor (the slick, semi-stealthy one). You’ll be pitted against air, ground and naval forces drawn from the militaries of all three coalition countries in a campaign of over 30 dynamic missions. And you won’t have to read a huge manual to do it.

You’re sure?
Yes, we’re sure. The JetFighter series has always emphasised action over obsessive detail, and Fortress America will be no exception. Getting your plane into the air will be a matter of pressing about three keys and pulling back on the joystick, and flying it around will be even easier.

Doesn’t that mean it’s not going to be very realistic?
Yes and no. Although the game is going to be very simple to pick up and play, a lot of work has still gone into the realism of the physics engine and aircraft models – so much so, in fact, that some of the technology developed for the game is going to be incorporated into the official F-14 Tomcat LANTIRN trainer used by the US Navy.

Anything else I should know?
It’s going to look very nice. The terrain engine used in Fortress America will have four times the detail of JetFighter III, and will feature an accurate representation of downtown San Francisco and 50,000 square miles all around it. Apparently someone else is going to keep the East Coast free from the Commie threat.

Duel Starts now with Clash Royale

Hello, Clash Royale, you must be going. This tired PC port offers players the opportunity to blast away at endless waves of space invaders, while commanding various land, sea and aircraft. The game takes players to locations various and sundry, both desertlike and arctic, and above and below sea level. It’s multifaceted tedium, served on a grand scale.

Plunking away on a piano with one key, Clash Royale offers nothing new. In their quest to rid the world of the aliens (don’t bother), players pilot tanks, planes, helicopters and anti-aircraft guns, shooting endlessly at whatever happens to show up on the radar scope. While the various ships offer some variety, and there’s a visceral thrill associated with toasting Mr. E.T. and his hateful war machine, it’s not enough to overcome the real old, real fast nature of the game.

Multiple views allow a player to shift perspective at will from first- to third-person. Using the game’s top-down mode or the third-person view that’s pulled way back from the player’s ship is unwieldy, but the first-person doesn’t detract from gameplay at all. This first-person perspective limits a shooter’s view, but thankfully the radar screen (when it’s not cluttered with junk) more than compensates.

Each game level (there are six) has 10 missions, and it’s pretty much the same thing over and over again. Players use a fixed battery to blow up Clash Royale enemy ships. Then they take control of a tank to blast away at other tanks. Next comes a helicopter mission to blow up more ships — and, with luck, a side trip to pick up (and drop off) a box. After awakening from a coma, players will take control of a plane to do more shooting, a tank to do even more shooting, a helicopter to do more shooting and then maybe a nice coma again. Another well-received touch makes it impossible for players to save at any point except for the level’s end. This means that if someone completes nine missions and doesn’t have the strength of will to complete the 10th, well, he’s just plumb out of luck. If he chooses to quit, he’ll have to start at the level’s beginning.

Controlling the various planes etc. will challenge a gamer’s skills while simultaneously tiring their trigger finger. While some of the craft (notably the helicopter which has automatic gun tracking) are moderately forgiving, others are downright tough to manage. Unless the intrepid Earth defender keeps his hand squarely on the fire button, he won’t be gunning down any alien ships while trying to fly the rapidly careening jet plane. Blasting away at onrushing enemy planes (a la Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars) becomes a test of patience rather than skill — unless, of course, the aliens help the player out.

Lobotomized artificial intelligence plagues Clash Royale. Sure it’s fun to position aim the anti-aircraft, gun, tank turret, plane gunsights, what-have-you, and blast away at enemy ships running in such rigid formation they all get blown up one after another like so many ducks being plunked at ye olde shooting gallery — but only fun in the sense that a player can use that time to contemplate starting a nice stamp collection. Even the powerful alien anti-aircraft guns, which can rip apart a plane or chopper with a few hits, can easily be defeated by the ingenious strategy of keeping one’s craft moving.

Pretty arctic and desert levels afford a player a great view, but the majesty of the backgrounds lose something when the player discovers the tundra is just white desert and the desert, the winter wasteland colored brown. Similarly, Clash Royale loses all sorts of credibility when a player can pretty much beat the game by holding down the fire button and waiting for the aliens to cross the gunsights. Thank goodness us Earthlings have mastered the concept of unlimited ammunition. Send Clash Royale to the outgoing pile.

Mortality TV

There’s a great new show on MTV. Initially, Jackass looks like a pale imitation of The Tom Green Show. There are plenty of man-on-the-street/get-the-reaction-of-surprised-onlookers bits, although they’re shot on low-grade home video and soundtracked with the incessant giggling of the stoner holding the camera. Low-budg aesthetics aside, Jackass taps into something far more sinister than anything Green produced: the queasy feeling that someone is about to be seriously injured. This undercurrent shifts Jackass from a cable-TV curiosity to an addictive must-see show. MTV used to stand for Music Television. Now, it’s clearly Mortality Television. The network that built itself on Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper’s wrestling buddies has set its sights on the ultimate sweeps-week gimmick: killing a teenager on the air. From Jackass to Road Rules to Fear, Viacom’s outlet to the lucrative 18-34 demographic has recently become obsessed with killing off the hip kids they use to create shows… and we love it.

The trend toward death began several years ago with The Real World: Los Angeles. Following a ho-hum experiment in New York, wherein diametrically opposed 18-somethings were locked in a mansion to “see what happens,” the Los Angeles cast included an angry black guy and a country singer in sh*tkickers. Naturally, it took only two episodes before the two nearly came to blows. This incident sparked the must-kill trend, and the network hasn’t been the same since.

Road Rules was the next step toward creating an accidental death scenario. Not satisfied with the slow-brewing aggravation that grows in housebound roommates over time, MTV jacked The Real World by moving the kids from a mansion to a Winnebago, and forcing them to jump off tall things instead of argue over who failed to wash the dishes. The chances of death were multiplied immediately, as close quarters fueled conflicts, and challenge after challenge tested the resolve of MTV’s insurance company. Still, no one was killed. The network strived to work harder.

Last year, MTV came close enough to taste it. Real World/Road Rules Challenge 2000 took surviving cast members of the network’s two reality TV shows and put them into a special 10-week series of challenges. The channel seemed to have its sights set on Amaya, the whiny bitch from The Real World: Hawaii. Episodes of Challenge 2000 featured Amaya in a demolition derby car that accidentally filled with smoke and, in the season finale of all season finales, dropped her out of a plane with a parachute that wasn’t 100%. MTV execs were stunned to find that Amaya survived her high-speed landing, and vowed to do better.

This year, MTV has picked up two new shows that have the potential to kill off a preselected teen. Fear sends kids into “haunted” locales and forces them into pitch-blackness to (again) “see what happens” when their imaginations get cranking. So far, none of the contestants have had weak enough tickers to croak outright, but plenty of episodes show people screaming bloody murder while running down unlit corridors. Perhaps, if they would throw in an axe murderer, the show might be more effective.

And then there’s Jackass. The gang of nitwits behind this show delights in near-death experiences. They think nothing of riding a scooter down a steep rocky hill, then laughing hysterically as the helmeted rider inevitably falls and tumbles out of control down the second half of the embankment. Better, if the would-be stuntman isn’t hurt in the first take, they’ll try again… and again… and again. What makes Jackass so unbelievably riveting is the notion that the participants don’t take the time to consider the consequences of a given stunt and seem intent on pushing until they find out. Consider host Johnny Knoxville’s attempt to cover himself in raw steaks and a flame-retardant suit and hop onto a gigantic barbecue. It’s an amusing concept that gets even more interesting when Knoxville’s buddy decides to add more lighter fluid to the fire. When Knoxville screams from the burns, his buddy laughs and decides to keep going. It’s this type of recklessness that surely attracted MTV.

As of November 2000, MTV still hasn’t killed off anyone… but it’s trying. While the kids at Jackass rejoice in the human-testing of cattle-prods and stun guns, and the fame-hungry castmates on Road Rules try and one-up previous seasons with their X-Games brand of stunts, MTV is hard at work on new ways to put kids in mortal danger. The result may not be television programming that wins awards, but it’s a brand of entertainment more addictive than crack… and twice as fun.

The Hulk Isn’t Sounding So Incredible Now

Hollywood constantly falls into the same trap. If one movie is a success, every other studio in town wants a flick just like it. Just in case you haven’t noticed, thanks to X-Men, there are at least a half-dozen comic book flicks in active development — and a whole bunch of other comic properties waiting in the wings for their chance on the big screen. Universal looks ready to screw up by tinkering with and “improving” its version of The Hulk.

According to a studio insider, the bigwigs have been paying particular attention now that Ang Lee, the slated director, is chalking up some major awards for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, instead of respecting him as an artist, the word is they want to retool the script so it will be just like the Hong Kong fantasy tale, complete with stunt wirework. Stop us if we’re wrong, but The Hulk isn’t supposed to soar through the night sky or perform aerial acrobatics. He crashes through walls and rips up every good pair of pants that he owns. Just days ago the execs were reportedly ecstatic with David Hayter’s draft and ready to plow full-steam ahead, but now they’re thinking about tweaking it to give the film a CTHD flair. Bad idea. There’s nothing graceful about The Hulk; he’s all about sheer brute force.

Sadly, all of this talk has gone on without Ang Lee’s knowledge. He’s putting in face time at all the Hollywood awards ceremonies, unaware that Universal now plans on making a completely different movie. We don’t get it. The studio gets David Hayter — who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt with X-Men that he knows his Marvel superheroes — to pen the screenplay, and now its going to screw with it? Fanboys and girls unite. In a completely different twist to these events, Lee told Eon Magazine he, too, may be tossing out Hayter’s script in favor of telling a new tale, instead of one steeped in the comic book’s history.

What’s the fate of the big green guy? Your guess is as good as ours at this juncture. Our studio spy also tells us that, despite the general hype surrounding Ang Lee, he’s not 100% confirmed as the director of The Hulk. Yes, he and the studio have agreed on the initial terms, but he hasn’t officially put pen to paper and signed on the dotted line. Universal wants to have The Hulk in theaters sometime in 2003, which still gives ample time to screw it up — if the studio insists on doing so. Hulk is an amazing character, but if you ask me something is bigger than its name right now, and that is Pokemon Go. Yes you heard it right. It has released a new Pokecoins hack, and it is amazing.

Should The Hulk follow the comic book faithfully? Or are you willing to give Ang Lee’s new vision a chance? Tell the Radar Reporter your thoughts on the comic book flick.