Greetings, XP4Ts. You may have noticed that the XP4T blog here is back in business, which I hope is as happy news for you as it is for us. As you may or may not know, we all work in the industry ourselves, so time is a somewhat limited resource and the site sometimes goes on an unannounced hiatus for a while. But this time of year is often serendipitous for many of our schedules, so here we are again. Welcome back!
At Christmas this year I had a cracker in which the motto read, ‘The road ahead is often illuminated by the road behind.’ This made me think of all the exciting things we have to look forward to this year in gaming, and also that now seemed an apposite time to have a look over our shoulders too. Last time we did this, we trained our time-o-vision on 2002 and got an eye-full of GeForce 3s and Unreal 2s. Here at the beginning of 2016, I thought it would be interesting to go back ten years previously, so I dug out the May 2006 issue of PC Gamer (UK edition) and had a flick through it. What I found was a strange mixture of cutting-edge graphics and antiquated hardware. What? How did that add up? Read on, and let’s find out! (Standard disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with PCG, Future Publishing, or anything like that. I’m just a long-time reader with boxes of old magazines).
Right then, 2006 was the official 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, the year that saw the launch of Twitter, Italy claim their fourth World Cup trophy, Paul McCartney actually turn 64 (having written When I’m 64 at age 16), and Ban Ki-Moon become the new Secretary General of the UN. Over at the Future Publishing offices in Bath, England, PC Gamer’s May 2006 issue led with an 8-page preview of Battlefield 2142 and a review of the latest Lara, Tomb Raider Legend.
The Cover Stories
With our crazy future-knowledge we know that BF 2142 became a fan-favourite Battlefield game and a well-respected online shooter in its own right – no mean feat given that it was the follow-up to the staggeringly brilliant Battlefield 2. Built on the Refractor 2 engine, a refined version of the workhorse that had served the Battlefield family well from Codename Eagle to Battlefield 1942, DICE did many brilliant things with their new game – Titan Mode, in which players assault the other team’s gigantic flying capital ship could easily be considered the progenitor of Star Wars Battlefront’s brilliant Walker Assault mode. BF 2142 was in many ways also a refinement of BF 2, which PCG illustrate with a side-bar on how the concept of the desert-based game’s map-dominating fighter jets were being toned-down for the future by making them weapon-less troop carriers. The previous game’s concept of ‘unlocking’ new guns and accessories by ‘levelling up’ also returned, further cementing the idea into the bedrock of online shooters in general. But despite a “Booster Pack” of maps, vehicles and various bits and bobs, many felt the game was under-served by EA. While it survived a somewhat buggy release (as well as some controversy over a dynamic in-game advertising system), and earned high scores from reviewers and high sales from gamers, EA were determined to march onwards, and after five patches (the last of which appeared in 2008), put the whole thing back in the attic until the game’s official GameSpy servers finally went dark in 2014.
Tomb Raider Legend, meanwhile, is also now a highly regarded entry in the Tomb Raider series, competently atoning for the sins of Angel of Darkness (sorry for reminding you), and raising the bar for the later instalments. In fact, publishers Eidos were so happy with the quality and success of Legends that first-time TR developer Crystal Dynamics have been in charge of the franchise ever since. Until that point, Crystal Dynamics (founded in 1992 in sunny San Francisco) was perhaps best known as the first licensed 3DO developer and creator of several really good franchises, including the Blood Omen/Legacy of Kain games, two Pandemonium! titles (find them on GOG – they really are great), and the Gex Gecko series. All of these were early hits on the PSX, which is perhaps portentous given Lara’s roots on Sony’s legendary console.
Taking over from Lara’s parents, Core Design, Legend provides a rich story that delves into her personal and family history, with “stellar voice acting” from English actress Keeley Hawes, who remained as Lara’s official game voice until 2013’s reboot, in which she’s replaced by Camilla Luddington (although Keeley did return as ‘Older Lara’ in 2014’s second spin-off puzzle game, Temple of Osiris). The game’s other great trick is to finally get Prince of Persia-style free movement right, after the utterly disastrous attempt in Angel of Darkness (sorry again).
In historical terms, it’s interesting to note that in amongst the millions of ports you would expect such a AAA title to get (including the PS3) there is a GameCube version too! When you look at the figures though, it makes sense. Nintendo’s N64 successor was only officially retired a year later, in 2007, a few months after the Wii’s November 2006 launch. Still, it seems funny, a PS3 and a GameCube port living side-by-side. Lambs and lions, and all that.
But anyway. John Walker’s review of Legend gave it a highly respectable 80%, which included praise for “seductively beautiful” graphics, but was held back by a number of glitches and crashes (later patched out). Playing the game on Steam today, the graphics do indeed still stand out, even if only because they’re miles better than you’d expect from a ten-tear-old game (although more on this in a moment – 2006 seems to have marked a milestone in PC graphics), and while it does support a 16:9 aspect ratio natively, you can always WSGF it into whatever sexy resolution your eyeballs demand. Running it on Windows 7 x64, I had a well-known problem with a CTD on start-up. Turning on XP SP2 compatibility mode and giving it all the usual right-click tweaks helped, although I *think* I also had to exclude it from the notorious DEP’s intervention. Anyway, it’s well-covered by the gaming community, so if you do have a problem, hit Google. (Happily, there are many dedicated gamers out there providing fixes and tweaks for all the TR titles). It is indeed well worth the effort, especially if you wait for one of the not-infrequent Squeenix/Tomb Raider sales.