Hitbox Review: The retro, the old and the remastered

I found myself playing a few games this week that roughly fit into the formula of the classic 1966 Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western film, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Instead of the three categories being based on ethics and morals, these three games all live in the past in one way or another, for better and worse. Here are my thoughts after playing an hour or two of each of these three games.

 

All the weapons in Dusk have unique spinning animations that can be
activated with the “R” key. Image courtesy of the Dusk Steam Store webpage.

The retro: Dusk

Developer: David Szymanski

Initial release date: Dec. 10, 2018

Platforms: PC [played]

Price: $19.99

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Dusk most assuredly takes inspiration from the past and uses it to create an experience that can still be enjoyed today. Dusk is a retro-inspired, first-person shooter. That means there are lots of weapons, strafing and secret areas.

The player fights against evil cultists that constantly remind you that they would absolutely love to sacrifice you. They seem to think you’re a heretic and won’t stop until you’re dead. Even then, who knows what evil horrors they plan on conjuring and unleashing upon this rural farmland?

The gameplay is fast-paced, even by modern Doom standards. The player zooms around the levels slashing with scythes, lever-action shotguns and an assault rifle nearly right from the start.

There is also an impressively high level of visual customization. The player can choose how pixelated the graphics are in addition to selecting different color palettes, such as sepia, noir and clown vomit. Just about anything you could possibly want to customize, you can.

 

The total mission area in Gun Metal is fairly large, but there’s very little detail in the environment. Image courtesy of IGDB.

The old: Gun Metal

Developer: Rage Software

Initial release date: July 30, 2002

Platforms: PC [played], Xbox

Price: $2.99

Gun Metal released in 2002. While it is just as I was beginning to play video games, there were plenty of other games of that time loved by critics and the public, such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. From a quick glance at Rage Software’s Wikipedia page, it would seem that they didn’t produce any well-known games. The only game I recognized from their library of work is a Doom port to the Sega Saturn in 1997. I confess that I don’t know a great deal about video games released before 2000. It is important to consider when Gun Metal was released.

That being said, you should absolutely not play Gun Metal in 2020. When I say Gun Metal mostly lines up with the “ugly,” I mean it. The visuals, gameplay and music are all subpar. For starters, there are no modern settings for resolutions. The highest resolution that fit the standard 16:9 aspect ratio was 1600×900. In addition to the resolution options, the music is outdated.

The music, which plays in the menus and during missions, is extremely generic and repetitive. I’m not even sure what genre to classify it as, but it is more noise than having any sort of rhythm, and that is coming from someone who doesn’t mind listening to dubstep occasionally.

Then there is the gameplay. The supposed hook is that the player character can transform from a robot to a fighter jet at any time, a la Transformers. The main problem is that the controls aren’t responsive. So I would attempt to jump into the air and transform into the jet, but by the time the transformation animation completed, I would be back on the ground. The controls are not explained well at all either, so I spent most of the time rebinding them and looking at a menu.

There is not any overarching story presented in the game. The only context for the missions is a briefing presented by the most generic, gruff military guy voice you can possibly imagine. He tells the player what the objective is, and that’s about it.

The actual missions are not any better. The only objective that I came across was to defend outposts from attacking mechanized vehicles and aircraft. There are multiple outposts, so your attention will be split between them, with attacks sometimes happening concurrently in multiple places. I couldn’t complete the second mission after a few attempts, and I have no desire to try again.

Thankfully, there is an option on the main menu to delete save files, so I can forget I ever played Gun Metal. Do yourself a favor, and don’t play Gun Metal.

 

 

The most dramatic differences in visuals between the original version of Halo: The Master Chief Collection and the remastered version are the amount of vegetation and sky. Screenshot by John Novotny.
Screenshot by John Novotny.

The remastered: Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary)

Developer: 343 Industries

Initial release date: Nov. 11, 2014

Platforms: PC [played], Xbox One

Price: $39.99 or $9.99 per game

I have a special connection with the Halo series. Most of my teen years were spent playing Halo 3 after school, when I was sick and on snow days. I couldn’t get enough of it. Halo: The Master Chief Collection released last year on PC and promised to bring the classic first-person shooter series to my current gaming platform of choice. Naturally, I bought the entire collection right away. In Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the player controls Master Chief, a genetically engineered super-soldier designed to fight back against an alien threat known as the Covenant.

343 Industries announced that each game would be released in chronological story order. So it will be some time before I get to experience Halo 3 on PC, but I’ve been playing each game as they’re released. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was the first game in the Halo series, which recently released on Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC.

The anniversary edition is a remaster of the original game and allows the player to seamlessly switch between the original and the remastered graphics with the press of a key. It’s very cool to see how sparse the environment is in the original compared to the remaster. It’s a feature I hope more remasters include in the future.

Unfortunately, the mission structure doesn’t hold up quite as well as the visuals. In the first mission, the player goes through grey corridor after grey corridor fighting invading covenant forces. In the second mission, the player drives a Jeep, called a Warthog, to three areas to rescue some Marines and kill more covenant. In the third, the player fights their way through a covenant ship and up several levels that all vaguely look the same with very little weapon variety.

In complete contrast, the music absolutely still holds up. The choir chants in the opening theme are killer. The bombastic beats, the guitar riffs and the orchestral scores are all why I love Halo’s music.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is definitely playable in 2020, but it’s difficult to find a reason to, unless there’s some serious nostalgia for it.

 

Last thoughts

Playing these games has made me realize that I can’t stomach playing any game that was released before 2010. The advances in game design, graphics and animation have just completely ruined many classic games for me. The only thing that seems to last is good music.

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