Monday, 30 August 2010

Review: Gunblade NY and L.A. Machineguns Arcade Hits Pack (Wii)

Lightgun games, along with the Daytona’s and Street Fighter’s of this world, were once the lifeblood of the arcade. You only have to look at the likes of Operation Wolf, Virtua Cop, Time Crisis, and House Of The Dead to see how the genre has progressed, and how it also made up many peoples favourite all-time arcade experiences. The simple, bare-bones shooting action of most of these titles provided a quick-fix adrenaline rush, and a way of killing a few minutes of your time loosing a bunch of fifty pence pieces in the process (or quarters if you’re American).

But now that is all gone. The scene, and the genre in general is in steady decline, if not completely dead. I used to love these games, but now they don’t seem to make ‘em anymore. And when they do, they’re just not the same. Just look at Sega’s Rambo - one of the few lightgun games released in the Arcades in 2008. It was positively bad, with low production values and uninspired stage design. These days this is exactly the kind of experiences you’ll get with games of this type.

Although saying that, maybe I’m just looking at all mid-nineties arcade shooters with rose-tinted specs. Outside of the large AAA releases like Virtua Cop and Time Crisis there was a whole lot of decidedly average experiences for your money. With that in mind, you could say that many of the newer lightgun games are simply in the same bracket as the some of those second rate titles we played all those years ago. Not really worse than you remember, but just as mediocre as the ones you hardly ever played.

This is were Sega’s latest Wii lightgun game offering fits in. The Gunblade NY and L.A. Machineguns Arcade Hits Pack is a collection of two relatively low-profile arcade gun games from 1996 and 1998, each delivering the same kind of simplistic, and near-constant blasting expected from machinegun games of the time, with both games being part of the same franchise. But unlike say Virtua Cop, you find your self riding in the back of a futuristic police helicopter, armed with a powerful machine gun and fending off waves of humanoid robots intend on controlling the city.

The first game, Gunblade NY was released in 1996 and runs on Sega’s once hugely popular Model 2 arcade board. It’s age is easily apparent, with blocky graphics, simple special effects, and a world consisting of scant amounts of geometry, with only a few enemies on screen at any given time in order to keep the level of detail up. At the same time this clean, albeit simplistic look works rather well, and the actual conversion itself is arcade perfect. The game runs flawlessly at 60fps and contains all the diffuse reflection mapping of the Model 2 original, along with some impressive texture filtering for a nearly twenty year old game. Dare I say, the IQ is better than the second game in this pack.

Outside of the obvious conversion factor, the gameplay is something of a disappointment. It’s not only really basic – the only thing you do is point, shoot, and occasionally change weapons – but also feels even more like a cash-in on the success the genre had back in the mid-nineties. The camera also feels a little wonky. It’s like its attached to a piece of string being waved around on screen, rather than one of a helicopter circling around, and swooping down on parts of the cityscape. Though perhaps this could be forgiven considering the age of the game and all.

Gunblade NY is just about enjoyable to play. Everything works, with no glitches to offend you. Although the whole thing feels pretty boring to say the least, and a little to ‘barren’ to provide any nostalgic excitement.

LA Machineguns fares a little better. Graphically the game isn’t quite as polished as its predecessor with regards to overall IQ, although texture detail, polygon counts and special effects are all noticeably ramped up far and beyond the Model 2 original. That is because this sequel used the Model 3 board and benefits from the extra power it provides. The standard diffuse mapping returns, but with only small highlights of specular sheen found in most Model 3 titles, though there is far more stuff being thrown around on screen at once compared to the last game.

Like with Gunblade NY, LA Machineguns looks to be arcade perfect, with only a little bit of slowdown, and the slightly darker look of the Wii version separating them apart. Still, visually it’s also a pretty dated affair, failing to hold up compared to other Model 3 arcade games like Scud Race, or Spike Out. Instead, like with Gunblade NY, this sequel also feels like a second rate title developed to keep the number of Sega games in the arcades up.

Where LA Machineguns succeeds however, is by providing a moderately fun, if not all too simple shooting experience. The on-rails nature of the game features a far better camera system than Gunblade which makes it feel more like you are actually shooting down things whilst riding on the side of a helicopter, and the action is more intense, featuring many more enemies on screen at once, with plentiful amounts of blocky explosions taking place.

Both games are hardly pinnacle examples of the genre however, and have very little replay value once you’ve finished them. I’d found the whole package can be completed easily in under one hour, and that the games themselves lacked any kind of challenge on the normal difficulty setting. Seeing as there’s no extras in which to speak of, after you’ve completed both titles there’s really nothing for you to do. You can upload your best rankings online via a leaderboard system, but that’s it.

Despite being a massive fan of Sega arcade games, and lightgun games in general, there’s really not much I can recommend here. Neither game is particularly great, failing to grab your attention positively – even in a cheesy, nineties Japanese-style arcade manner - and requiring very little skill to complete, after which boredom starts to set in. Unlike with the genre’s greats, Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns is less about testing your shooting skills, and more about spraying a load of bullets across the screen, hoping they all hit, and then continuing to the next stage, a full set of credits in hand.

At least both games have been given perfect conversions in the home. Sega could have so easily messed this up like they did with the Wii version of Ghost Squad. Thankfully, sans a bit of slowdown in LA Machineguns, both games have been nicely recreated, and from a conversion point of view, represents just how things should be done. Widescreen support has been included too, which sees both games being rendered in true 16:9 aspect ratio. Although all gameplay is strictly contained within an invisible 4:3 barrier which feels alittle strange.

Obsessed Sega arcade fans will no doubt do well to pick this up and show their support, as this could lead to more Model 2 and 3 hits coming our way, while most people (inc lightgun game fans) should give this one a miss. The Gunblade NY and L.A. Machineguns Arcade Hits Pack is worth a quick rental for an hour or two’s brief entertainment, or for those who need to own every Sega arcade release, but at £20 doesn’t represent a value for money purchase. Maybe as a £10 preowned buy further on down the line this is worth loading up and taking aim for, but certainly not at full price.


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