Occasionally, at the back of a game shop, you find a dusty old copy of a game you’ve never heard of. If the price tag is less than a fiver, and it doesn’t involve the word “rally” in the title, I’ll probably buy it. I like discovering hidden gems amongst the catalogues of triple-A titles we’re used to nowadays.
Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy)
It is a travesty that so few gamers have discovered this. It’s basically the predecessor to Heavy Rain, but it has a much more involving plot. The beginning is fantastic: Lucas Kane wakes up in the bathroom of a diner, covered in blood, cowering over a dead body, murder weapon in hand. Shit just got serious. I also love the cinematic style in which it unfolds, with one half of the screen dedicated to your own scrambled actions attempting to cover up the crime, and the other following the movements of a police officer sitting in the next room drinking coffee. It’s one of the most gripping openings to a video game I’ve ever come across.
The game progresses with lots of Quick-Time-Events, most of which involve running from the cops, some which are just plain weird… I recall Lucas fleeing from a church with a bunch of raven-like creatures chasing him. These button inputs are designed to feel like real life actions, and occasionally just to test your stamina. The action switches from Lucas attempting to find out what the hell is going on and clear his name in the process, to his brother Marcus (a priest who hasn’t seen Lucas in years), and also to two detectives, Tyler and Carla.
Most of the QTE sequences aren’t particularly difficult to pass, but one chapter I absolutely despised was the Military Base. It involved a flashback to Lucas and Marcus as children, sneaking into a military base for funsies. IT IS A BITCH TO GET THROUGH. Oh my god, I hated that so much.
While the whole concept was completely mental, it was a lot of fun, and very original at the time. There are a number of different endings to unlock, allowing for multiple playthroughs, and the game has generally aged rather well considering it was released over ten years ago. I highly recommend you give it a try!
Shadow of Memories
Shadow of Memories is an interesting little game which challenges you with escaping your imminent death. The Raiden lookalike is called Eike Kusch, and we must prevent his murder by means of time travel and with the assistance of Homunculus, a strange demon-like character who is very keen to keep Eike alive. At the beginning of each chapter, Eike is killed and subsequently revived by Homunculus, and we must travel through different time-periods of the same German town in order to solve the mystery of our own murder.
There is no health bar, no means of attacking, it’s purely exploratory. There are eight chapters in total, and the time periods visited are 1580, 1902, 1980 and 2001. Each chapter has a time limit based on the digipad in Eike’s possession, the device which allows him to travel through time. If he has not returned to his own time when the clock runs out, then you fail the chapter and must try again.
It’s not the gameplay that is so special about this little gem. It is, of course, the story. There are a total of eight possible endings to Shadow of Memories, each of which is as ludicrous as the last. My personal favourite involves Eike solving the mystery, returning to his own time having escaped his murderer, only to be run over by a drunk driver. Brilliant.
Spy Fiction was one of those PS2 games that just copied everybody else, but was still lots of fun in its own right. The majority of Spy Fiction was incredibly mediocre, especially in comparison to other stealth games. It wasn’t original in its premise, or the majority of the gameplay, but the really fun aspect of the game was the disguises.
Equipped with a special camera, it is possible to take a picture of any NPC (including the face and clothing), and then you will become camouflaged as that character. This allows you to walk around environments unhindered, and also gives interesting eavesdropping opportunities, until you bump into too many people and your cover ends up being blown.
To sum up, Spy Fiction is worth a look if you find it in a bargain bin for a few quid, just for the disguise element.
Before you ask, no, this does not involve driving around in a Toyota Prius at all times.
Hybrid Heaven doesn’t know what genre it is. There are role-playing elements, combined with action / adventure, then for the combat system it switches to a fighting game, with combo systems and everything! What the hell?
Released in 1999 for the N64, Hybrid Heaven was way ahead of its time in terms of storytelling and cut-scenes. Set in the underground of New York City, the plot is as confusing as you’d expect from the likes of Konami. It’s… different.
Atlus made it, of course it’s awesome! Thousand Arms was released in 1998 for the PlayStation, and is described by critics as a “romantic comedy RPG”. In addition to all the usual role-playing elements, Thousand Arms also acted as an early dating simulation. The main character, Meis, is a bit of a womanizer, and is given a cast of nine available women to choose from. Dates themselves involve typical question and answer sessions, which will either win her over or massively turn her off. I love it when Meis insinuates the possibility of sex with the ladies, only to be scolded, “The game isn’t rated for that”.
Also, dating the women actually affects their abilities in the rest of the game. For instance, increasing intimacy levels with the female characters allows for Forging, a magical infusing of her spells and powers into various weapons. The wider range of forging possible, the better. So the message here is… womanizing is good! Date lots of different people! Monogamy is bad!
God, I love Atlus.
So there you have it, a few games I think are worth a go if you’re feeling like uncovering a dusty old gem. I’m always eager to play new (old) games, so please share your secrets with me via the comment box!