Spectre VR by Velocity
Riding on the waves of the mid-90’s “Virtual Reality” craze, Spectre VR is a Battlezone clone on steroids and acid, allegedly, and in that order. Originally created for the Mac, that most stylish of platforms, this game maintained the polygonal simplicity of its predecessor (Spectre) while introducing graphical embellishments such as odd texture mapped obstacles and a gradient horizon.
Not only did Spectre VR introduce new concepts in interactive graphic design, but also in multiplayer gameplay. Expanding on the deathmatch and arena scenarios of the original game, Spectre VR made multiplay fashionable with innovative new game modes like collect the flags and guard the fort.
A crisp presentation and moody cyberpunk tone make Spectre VR a game to play with a glass of fine port, rather than a Jolt, in hand.
Tron 2.0 by Monolith Productions
The developers and designers at Monolith certainly had big shoes to fill when they took on the monumental task of creating a sequel to Disney’s Tron, the first movie ever to use 3D computer animation and arguably the most stylish movie of all time. They succeed with flying colours, however – no pun intended. The strategically hand-picked palettes and subtle bloom effect give credence that you are truly immersed in a world that subsists on electricity behind the code.
The inclusion of network permissions, a creative throwback to Doom’s maligned find-the-key errands, tactfully implements a stagnant cliche of game design in a way that truly makes sense in context. The suggestion of computer programs possessing human-like personalities is scrumptiously ironic when presented on a PC monitor. In fact, the whole “stuck in a computer” setting, though told so convincingly by cyberpunk authors like Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, is afforded depth and dimension like never before on the PC platform.
Achingly beautiful but unfortunately difficult, Tron 2.0 is well worth a peek into your local game store’s bargain bin.
Rez by United Game Artists
Like a breeze from an air conditioner streaming into a crammed, sticky subway car, here is a game that tears off the shackles of conventional game design. Rez is just as revolutionary in its visuals as it is in gameplay.
Rez spangles every inch of the screen with wireframes and day-glo panels, all awash in seeping soft lights. Your avatar, varying bodily in complexity and humanity depending on your performance, throbs with every bass kick as you careen through this miasmic ballet. Levels are split into incremental stages, each introducing a new movement in the accompanying techno soundtrack. The Playstation 2 version, which I’ve unfortunately never experienced, was optionally bundled with the so-called “Trance Vibrator” – a device that jiggles frenetically to the beats, further synergizing the senses in this multifaceted symphony.
Both the PS2 and Dreamcast versions are rare finds nowadays, but can be found on eBay for a somewhat substantial investment.
Psychonauts by Doublefine Productions
If you spliced the DNA of Tim Burton, Pablo Picasso, M C Escher, and Salvador Dali, you would engineer a stumbling hominid creature closely resembling Psychonauts. This opus is the culmination of a decade of wacky design by producer Tim Schafer (of Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle fame).
Psychonauts is the very epitome of the hideously adorable, the chaotically serene. After an uncommonly long yet enjoyable opening cinematic (a low res video of the in-game engine – my pet peeve!) the player is treated to the zen of the simulated universe – the privilege of simply standing in a lush, deciduous summer camp with an unearthly skew, complimented by a haunting acoustic guitar score that plucks the strings tied between your eyes and your heart as you drink it all in. I could speak volumes about my first glances of this game, but there’s so much more to see: a life-sized strategy boardgame, a neon velvet Elvis urban cityscape, a scene from the mind’s eye of a paranoid schizophrenic, an insane asylum wrenched from your most twisted nightmares… to name only a few of the surreal cyberscapes fleshed out in Psychonauts.
While the game is available and most popular on Xbox, do yourself a favour and purchase the PC edition. Such a feast for the senses calls for no less than high resolution graphics with as much antialiasing as your machine can muster.
Leisure Suit Larry 5 by Sierra On Line
This 4th installment, despite the name, in the Larry series, is a graphical departure from its brethren. A hint of the avant garde presentation is suggested by a debonair rendition of the recognizable theme song.
Larry 5 is a two-touch design – a touch of perversion (of form) and a touch of class. A slightly deformed Larry travels a slightly deformed America in search of the television hostess with the best broadcasting assets. Lush locales such as a Las Vegas casino, a New York computer-themed restaurant, and even the back room where Larry performs his duties as a humble(d) videotape rewinder are hand painted and absolutely brimming with artistic flare. Close-ups of the game’s very lookable lookers are framed by borders of speckled paint and jagged lines. Animations are fluid and over-proportioned, caricaturizing the already larger than life Mr. Laffer and his partner in grime, Passionate Patty.
This game is long out of print, but Sierra Entertainment is soon re-releasing compilations of its various bestselling adventure series.