|Every platform needs its Resident Evil: a frightening,
action-packed gorefest with plenty of firepower. Well, the Dreamcast will have its RE
installment sometime (hopefully) early next year, but for now fans of the genre can more
than make due with Blue Stinger, the only action-adventure to debut with new system. And I
am only counting fans of the whole genre of sci-fi/horror adventure games, not rabid RE
fans, who will probably come to my house and chew at my neck for making such a comparison.
However, the fact remains that Blue Stinger is not only worth remembering for its
timeliness, but because it is one bad-ass play experience.
The game begins with Eliot Ballade, the main character, chatting up his buddy while on vacation from his job with the sea rescue team, ESER, on Dino Island, a research facility built on the island that is formed from the newly resurfaced crater of the meteorite that hit Earth and killed off the dinosaurs. As the two float on the boat, yapping it up about the Christmas party and such, another meteor (a big, glowing, blue meteor) hits the island. There is a huge explosion, and a force field of sorts forms a barrier around the place, dividing the boat in half. Eliot is trapped inside, and his friend is paralyzed, stuck in the wall of energy. Then a glowing ball comes flying along and takes the shape of a model angel in a bottle. The next thing you know, Eliot is waking up on the dock of the research facility.
Very quickly you progress to within the facility, and meet up with the other two main characters, Janine and Dogs. Throughout the game you can play as Dogs or Eliot as the two try to figure out what happened to the island, why it happened, and how they can get out of there. They are often accompanied by Nephilim, a glowing blue angel/alien thing. Janine mans the control room because she is wounded, which is kind of a ripoff. Playing as Janine would have a certain appeal. She seems way tougher than Lara Croft, and her butt isn't as square.
In fact, it's quite round. Everything in Blue Stinger that ought to be nice and rounded is that way. Characters lack any trace of sharp-edged bicep or pot-belly. If anything, the rounding is almost taken too far, as the illusion of volume is slightly overdone. In layman's terms, they all kind of look like they're made from rubber balloons, which is a definite step up from cardboard boxes, but not quite photographic. The great graphics don't stop with a radical smoothing out of normally blocky characters. The lighting effects are impeccable. You travel through sunlight, harsh flourescent tube lighting, and dark sewers (or freezers). In each environment the lighting is impeccable, and your shadow follows you perfectly. Blue Stinger is also not afraid of the light, having the courage to illuminate more of the elements, and never resorting to shadows to cover graphic imperfections.
Early reviews of Blue Stinger have criticized the well-lighted segments of the game, saying the lighting ruined the horror ambience. While Blue Stinger is billed as, indeed is, a sci-fi/horror title, it isn't your typical sci-fi/horror game. The whole story takes place over Christmas eve and day. The main thrust of things, while the advertising doesn't really allude to this, is a monumental birth of sorts. Just the basic premise of the storyline begs to be seen as something different. In a lot of ways, Blue Stinger is edgier than other games that have more gore and horrific elements. Blue Stinger is dangerous because it doesn't take itself seriously.
Imagine: You're roaming through the supermarket of the future. Food is nearly photo-perfect behind the glass, and each shelf and counter is unique. You are trying to collect stickers of happy-go-lucky, superdeformed, anthropomorphic mascots with silly names. Christmas music, like the kind you hear in the grocery store through the tinny, synthesized musak speakers, blares over the sound of you chopping away with your "emergency" axe at a mutated-humanoid-zombie-thing with four arms. Well, two arms and a couple of fleshy pincers. You hack off a pair of arms, and he's still coming. The other pair come off with another blow, and they flail around on the ground, unattached, spewing blood everywhere. The monster falls to the ground. Then gets back up. He doesn't stop until his head comes flying right past the camera, and he slumps forward for a final time into a pool of his own blood.
Then a bunch of money flies out of him and you run around picking it up.
All the while, the colors are bright and cheerful, there are ads of girls in Christmas bikinis advertising Hassy, the maker of fine health-boosting soft drinks, you find yourself humming along to Jingle Bells, and it's just a matter time before you run into another monster who needs a good whacking. Later in the game, you must play a big game hunter game to win a stuffed animal for a little girl. You put in the token, but does it take you to a mini-game? Nope. The lion pops up, and you blow it away with whatever you have handy bazooka, shotgun, rail gun, laser, rocket launcher.
Control in Blue Stinger is great as well. Aiming is automatic, as long as you're pointed the right way, and buttons are well-placed. The trigger shoots the gun, and, when playing Eliot, you have an extra short-range attack. Eliot finds a bat, an axe, a stun rod, and a ray sword to whack baddies more effectively, and with these he can pretty much whoop-ass on anything close by. The camera movement sometimes makes it difficult to see properly in close quarters, despite the fact that this aspect of the game was reworked for the US release. I guess we can just be glad it's a lot better, because any worse would begin to interfere with gameplay. As it is, the best strategy is to get out of doorways and corners fast. In the open environment the camera is great.
A standard menu system is incorporated, through which you can switch between characters, peruse and use items, and change weapons. Saving must be done at save points, which are frequent. In addition to the requisite health, ammo and weapons availability at vending machines all over the city, you can occasionally purchase dinner plates which will increase your overall constitution, giving you a longer health bar.
While maintaining a very standardized user interface, Blue Stinger manages to incorporate some way cool play elements. Along the way you are presented with small sub-tasks that usually revolve around saving an innocent. If you complete them within the alotted time, you get a bonus. If not, you continue on in the game. There are only a couple of sidelines that you must complete to continue in the game. Otherwise, the only people hurt are the people you don't save. There are environmental hazards in the game as well, such as freezing or burning temperatures, toxic fumes, and water hazards. Although the requisite key-collecting tasks are there, you generally only find keys in a more realistic "along the way" kind of manner. Most of the game play is plot-oriented, and the difficulty lies in surviving the hordes of monsters, many of whom regenerate upon returning to an area. There are not many "puzzles," but the focus is on interacting with the environment to solve problems.
The place where all action games fail is in the replayability. Most are one player games, and the plot can only change so much. Blue Stinger avoids this by providing bonuses for completing the game several times and while completing different sets of tasks. Similar to Resident Evil or Silent Hill, hardcore Blue Stinger fans could play it over and over to get the special laser gun and "mad mode." Also like other action games, Blue Stinger is on the short side. It isn't as short as other titles in the genre, but the brevity is still frustrating, mainly because the game itself is so involving.
Regardless, Blue Stinger is a great offering. The overall quality, from graphics and sound to playability, is incredible, and it definitely makes the Dreamcast look attractive. All the time I played it, I kept reminding myself that Blue Stinger is a first-generation Dreamcast title, and it can only get better from here. When it does, we are sure to see another installment of the Blue Stinger saga. So get on the wagon early, and start hacking up the dino-mutants.