Mercenaries 'Phwoar' Hire!
Some of the retrogaming scene is fantastic not just because the games are great but because in many ways parts of them simply would be impossible to get away with in the modern world of everyone finding everything offensive.
Sex as they say sells and along with the fact that it also just so happens to push technology on as much as war does means that when FMV was invented for CD based videogames a lot of the time developers would go to the subject of sex as a means to help sell their product.
It's a crappy thing to do really and always was however sometimes you have to go there if the character of the videogame or the subject matter needs it.
Fear never looked so good...
There once was a two game franchise completely built around the central character being the female version of James Bond but in a very Blade Runner style vision of the future. As James Bond played on his ability to seduce women the lead character of Fear Effect also had to ooze sex appeal in order to play her enemies for the suckers they were. Like I said it all made sense and worked a treat, try that now though... Internet backlash.
First let's get some background on the games...
Fear Effect is an action-adventure game developed by Kronos Digital Entertainment and published by Eidos Interactive for the Playstation
When the daughter of a powerful Hong Kong Triad boss disappears, a trio of mercenaries search for her in the city. They have not been hired to find her, but they intend to kidnap the girl before her father's men locate her, then hold her for ransom. The girl in question, Wee Ming, has vanished into the fictional Shan Xi protectorate; Hana Tsu Vachel, the lead character and femme fatale of the group, used to work in a brothel somewhere in that region.
The game features graphics with un-shaded characters textured to resemble cel-shading, notably being one of the very first games to utilize the technique. Rather than using pre-rendered 2D backgrounds, the environments are composed of streaming or looping full-motion video. As a consequence, the game is composed of four discs. There are also puzzles interspersed between action sequences, similar to other games of the survival horror genre.
You control one of three mercenaries (either Hana, Deke, or Glas) through areas filled with human and non-human enemies. The game controls are similar to traditional survival horror tank controls, with an exception being that the characters can run and shoot simultaneously. When wielding two guns (one in each hand), they are also able to shoot multiple enemies at the same time. Another feature is the ability to duck and roll; while facing a number of the armed foes, the player can roll a short distance and avoid taking enemy fire.
The game's title refers to the player's life bar, a meter which resembles a pulsing EKG. When the player is damaged, the green line of the EKG will pulse faster and turn red. It is possible to 'regain' health by performing acts that will calm that character's heart rate. These include solving a puzzle or sneaking behind a guard to perform a stealth kill. Both will be rewarded with a health boost that brings the meter back to green.
When first released this was a classic example of something talked about in small circles that would go on to be a bit of a Hidden Gem as well as a sleeper hit. fans of both action adventure games like Tomb Raider and Survival Horror games like Resident Evil loved it as it mixed incredible storytelling with brilliant use of new technology and some of the most kick ass graphics on the Playstation system. Magazines of the time handed out 80% and over like it was going out of fashion to the point where it averaged out to the 85% mark overall. Not bad for a game nobody thought would be a hit.
In 2001 just as the PS1 was on it's way out a sequel that was actually a prequel was released that did much of the same but faster, smoother and about 300% sexier. This 2nd game really played on the sexuality aspect of Hana and her partner in the adventure and along with particular cut sequences was the focal point of the media hype way before release.
Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix begins in Hong Kong in the year 2048. The player delves into the colourful histories of the original cast of three mercenaries - and newcomer Rain Qin - as well as the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together. In the wake of a degenerative global pandemic called EINDS (Environmentally Induced Nucleotides Degeneration Syndrome – pronounced "ends"), theft, murder, and terrorism have become big business.
Hana Tsu Vachel and Rain Qin are freelance operatives, Royce Glas is a washed-up former soldier, and Jacob "Deke" Decourt is a cutthroat assassin. Much of the game's intrigue lies in how these unlikely allies even manage to come together for one cause. From the start, each of them have their own motives, but they soon all become entangled in a sinister plot extending far beyond politics, espionage, or personal survival. The adventure takes players through a futuristic Hong Kong, the formidable walled city of Xi'an, the lost tomb of the first emperor of China, and, finally, into the mountain island of the immortals, Penglai Shan.
Like the original Fear Effect, the sequel features cel-shaded character models on top of pseudo-3D environments that use looping full-motion video to give the appearance of constantly animated background elements. Players take control of each of the four main characters at different times throughout the game, which enables multilateral perspective on the storyline.
Retro Helix mostly relies on a third-person perspective. The controls are mapped without regard to the character's current position or direction faced. Unlike the original Fear Effect, however, Retro Helix offers players the option of a more traditional control scheme. At the player's disposal is a small arsenal of weapons, including a variety of firearms – including pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles, specialty equipment such as a hand-held EMPs and a taser, and one unique melee weapon for each character.
Fear Effect 2 is primarily focused on solving puzzles to progress rather than combating enemies. In spite of the heavy ordnance available, enemies are few and far between, with static – as opposed to dynamic – placement. The gameplay is intended to evoke tension and suspense, rather than relying on the non-stop action formula of standard shooters. This format has the consequence of making the gameplay arguably less difficult, although it is offset by the relative ease at which characters can die from enemy attacks and a number of instant-death scenarios. The fear gauge present in the original game returns for Retro Helix, a variation on the health meter common to most action games.
Once again critics were very pleased with the final product again scoring it in the 80% area however it was not a great seller regardless of how many of the magazines promoted it heavily, Playstation plus especially championed this sequel/prequel with a cover being given to it, something no other magazine of the time did.
If you cast your mind back to how people reacted when Mass Effect gave same sex kissing with just about everyone having an opinion and various political correctness groups all falling over themselves to make a mountain out of a mole hill then imagine a game that came out years before with a lot more graphic overtones. Again I stress none of this is beyond the need to tell the story and build character but if it happened now the shitstorm on the internet would be immense.
Once you remove all the politics and potentially naughty or offensive content what was left in these 2 games was wall to wall fun, they were brilliant games and anyone who has played them should be able to back me up on how deep and immersive the stories were, how great the characters were and just how glad they were to play them. What's the most shocking though is how a third game in the series that was due for the PS2 was cancelled when it was way into production. Once again a developer / publisher fails to deliver another game in a series of great quality. I'm sure the sales of the second game didn't help however it was released way past the PS1 actual sales height, years in fact.
A PS2 game would have been fantastic and who knows maybe the gaming scene could have had another awesome heroine to kick ass and take names. Lara and Samus sure could do with a hand eh?