For the games that time forgot or are just worth highlighting again, this is…
As nostalgic as I like to think I am, there’s very little I miss from the last generation of console gaming. The always-on nature of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, the ability to update games with patches and DLC and, of course, the advances in graphics technology and gameplay innovation have spoilt us enough that when we go back to a game that isn’t rendered in high definition, we either grimace about it when we’re on our own, or jovially mock it when we’re in the company of friends.
Of course, there are many exceptions; games that still hold up, whether through their distinctive visuals (Okami, Jak & Daxter) or rock-solid gameplay (Ratchet & Clank, SSX). But it’s not these individual titles that I miss most about the glory days of the PlayStation 2. It’s the sheer abundance of local multiplayer titles.
Exactly why I miss this aspect deserves its own article, so I’ll leave that for another day. For now, you should know that the kinds of games that were heralded for their excellent local multiplayer are now reserved for digital download services like PSN and XBLA, for the developers who perhaps don’t have the confidence, skills or manpower to implement online multiplayer. Back on the PS2, though, you had no choice but to release your games on disc (though prices varied a lot more for these games than they do now). Not everybody has an Xbox Live or PSN account, so there are some smaller titles that they can’t experience. With every game on PS2 available on store shelves, this gave some more low-key titles the chance to share the spotlight with the big boys; case in point, Mashed.
Created by Supersonic Software, Mashed was, at heart, a racing game, in that you were trying to get ahead of your opponents. But there were no lap counters or prizes for third place. The aim was to survive. Played from a top-down perspective, you and three opponents drove along the track, picking up weapons to pester your rivals with. If someone started to fall behind, the camera would pull back slightly to allow them to get back in the race, but if they didn’t catch up, they were automatically blown to pieces and the camera zoomed back to focus on the remaining drivers. You could also knock people out by flipping over their vehicle or ramming them off the track. The last driver remaining won the round and gained points; the first person to reach so many points won the game.
The races took place across a variety of well-designed tracks in a fairly broad selection of vehicles; from standard sports and muscle cars to dune buggies, pick-up trucks and F1 cars. The differences in each vehicle were totally cosmetic but you quickly found one class you always believed brought you victory. As for the tracks, there were many standouts; Neustein’s frozen lake was a hotspot for overtakes and machine gun backstabs, Koko Bay’s tight corners and beach peppered with rocks caught unskilled drivers off guard, and Polar Wharf’s couldn’t-be-simpler, dual-hairpin circuit was a tense showdown where speed meant everything. The undeniable highlight, however, was Nukov, where the drivers were forced to board a massive ferry halfway through the race. Everyone would then proceed to shift about nervously, trying not to fall off - or be pushed off - into the lake as the ferry slowly approached the docks on the other side. If someone was crazy enough to board the ferry with a weapon, oh ho ho…God be with you.
It might not look it, but there are literally dozens of ways this little scene could end. And none of them will benefit your friendships.
Straight away, Mashed worked as a party game because it was simple; both to understand and to play. The first time you picked it up, you simply tried to be a good driver, avoid the cliff drops and dodge the incoming mortar round. A few minutes later, you would start going on the offensive, sidling up next to someone with a fully loaded shotgun, ready to blow them away. Then they’d counterattack with that drum bomb they’d been holding onto, blowing you both to smithereens with a cry of “I regret nothing!” Once you’d spent some real time with it, you’d start getting fancy with your driving, flicking opponents off the track into nothingness, or powersliding through an icy corner in order to get away quickly and leave your opponents at the mercy of the explosion-inducing camera. It was one of those ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ games. But when it came to multiplayer, learning was anything but easy.
A truly classic local multiplayer game can be determined very easily. Namely, by how much you hate your friends when the game is over. In that regard, Mashed was responsible for many a divorce. It brought out the competitive side of the most timid of individuals. It worked so well because it was fuelled by revenge; whoever knocked you out in the last round was so getting hit by a homing missile next time. If someone was nearing the point cap, all the other drivers would mutually agree that this guy needed to die. The game was at its best when a round went on for over a minute, especially if it was a deciding round. Forget a knife, you could cut the tension in the room with a brick. A brick that would almost certainly end up in someone’s face.
With every jump you’re forced to take, you skip a heartbeat.
There was one element to multiplayer that put - or should have put - Mashed on the map, though. Knocking a driver out of the race wasn’t the end for them. Their car would be replaced with a square crosshair that, if hovered over an opponent for long enough, would lock on and, with a tap of R1, fire an air strike that the driver would then have to escape from or suffer the explosive consequences. The air strikes proved to be Mashed’s defining attribute; they could change the tide of a match, force a player to change his strategy and push his skills to the limit. It proved so effective that our friend Kenneth, upon being knocked out of any split-screen game, now proceeds to ask “Where’s the air strike button?”
Mashed was one of the few games I owned that I had to stop playing because the disc decided to break. It was a genuinely sad day, for me and the friends that I played with. A lot of my favourite multiplayer moments originated from that game, and because of its obscure heritage (not to mention its unfathomably poor reception in the US), a sequel on current-gen hardware seems incredibly unlikely.