Is it that time of year already? four months ago we looked at a truly great game, so now it's time to look at something utterly dreadful. Blimey.
My nomination for this year's review a bad game day is 1985 Spectrum title "Give My Regards To Broadstreet", a game based on a long-forgotten Paul McCartney film of the same name.
As you probably haven't seen the film (not many people have!) the plot for both game and film involves some gubbins about Paul McCartney having to recover missing master tapes for his new album (thanks Wikipedia.) Intriguingly however, the developers decided against turning McCartney's quest into a fashionable flip-screen or isometric platformer. Instead, they opted for the braver option of creating a game that is, well, tantamount to a stalking simulator.
You see, Paul has twenty four hours to recreate the final track from his new album. If he fails, a shady loan shark will call in his debts and gain ownership of his record company (quite why someone as loaded as an ex-Beatle needs to go to a loan shark I'll never know.) Rather than simply rewrite it himself, Paul (well, you) has decided that the best way to recreate the track is to crib the chords from the memories of the people present at the recordings, even though they're scattered all over London.
Rather than, say, give them a ring on the phone or pop round to their house for a chat, the only way Paul can contact them is to drive around town in his slightly rubbish-looking McCartney-mobile and ambush his chums as they leave one of London's iconic tube stations. He (well, you) have to do this while avoiding clamp-happy traffic wardens and dodging cars driven by the loan shark's kamikaze thugs. Crumbs.
Actually, that doesn't sound too bad does it? And that's not the best bit either. Viewed from above, the game gives you the freedom to roam around a reasonably detailed recreation of the whole of central London. Starting off at Abbey Road studios in the north west, if you want to zoom down to Vauxhall in the south or across to White Chapel in the east, it's entirely up to you. Such freedom is impressive in any era, but it's always amazing to see in a humble 48k Spectrum game.
Hang on though! This isn't review a great game day! Presumably, this must be the part where it all goes horribly wrong, right? Right! Though large and reasonably accurate (well, aside from some seriously narrow roads and incredibly angular corners,) the map of Give My Regards to Broadstreet is also completely empty: The pedestrians and traffic you would expect to find in a bustling modern metropolis are completely absent (bar the aforementioned kamikaze hitmen,) leaving a city that feels empty, lifeless and a tad post-apocalyptic.
Worse still, you're effectively viewing it through a postage stamp. The bulk of screen is taken up by Paul McCartney's special computerized stalking aid (so THAT'S where all his money went,) leaving you a pathetically small block in the middle of the screen in which to work out what's actually going on around you. Not only does this take the shine off the (already pretty basic) visuals, but from a gameplay perspective it gives you little to no idea of what is lurking at the end of your bonnet.
Mind you, this lack of viewing distance doesn't seem to matter much. Aside from the kamikaze mobsters, who are few and far between, you can't actually crash! Even if you plow straight into a wall (which you inevitably will, thanks to those ridiculously angular junctions) you just bounce right off, free to continue on your (not so) merry journey.
That is not to say that Give My Regards to Broadstreet is an easy game. No no, not at all. In fact, if you don't have the original manuals and a good working knowledge of old London town, it's practically impossible.
You see, though Paul's special stalking computer allows you to see when his buddies either enter or exit a tube station, it doesn't actually give you any clues as to which station they're going too next, or where any of the stations are relative to you. This makes it practically useless for finding out where you need to go.
For a game where the primary skill being tested is navigation, it seems a pretty massive oversight to provide the player with next to nothing in the way of in-game navigational aids. If you don't have access to the clues provided by the maps and character biographies found in the original box, you're basically done for.
In fact, even if via some miracle (or by cheating ) you manage to make it to the correct station at around the correct time, that often isn't enough. If you stop at a station a second after your band mate has arrived, you won't find them. If you arrive too early, however, you risk having to leg it away from one of the many roaming traffic wardens before Paul's managed to extract the chord information he needs.
Take these draw backs and add in some unintuitive controls and a complete absence of music, and you end up with a game that's very difficult to love. Try playing Give My regards to Broadstreet today, and you will most likely end up driving around in circles in a massive but empty alternate London, with little idea where you actually need to go.
Now, in mitigation, it's worth remembering that Give My Regards to Broadstreet isn't a modern game. Its a mid-80's game. Generally, 8-bit games were more happy to be manual-dependent than games from our own massively over-tutorialised era, so is Give My Regards to Broadstreet a good game that has been misunderstood by us impatient modern gamers? No. Not only was it universally panned by the Your Spectrum Joystick Jury, but even the more favourable CRASH review noted the problems we have looked at above. This wasn not viewed as an AAA title back in its own era.
A further excuse then: Was the visionary game design realistically beyond anything the Spectrum was capable of technically? No. The Spectrum would go on to host many more open world games (like Turbo Espirit) with some even boasting 3D vector graphics (like Mercenary.) Technically, Give My Regards to Broadstreet attempts nothing that isn't done better else where. It is, I think, indisputably a stinker.
But, it is at least an interesting stinker. The likes of Turbo Espirit may have gone on to do Open World a whole lot more proficiently, but Give My Regards to Broadstreet was first. It should probably be respected for that. It is also worth remembering just how daring and visionary game it is: it really IS refreshing to see a licensed game that has its gameplay elements constructed around the constraints of the license, rather than having the licensed material unceremoniously trimmed to fit existing gameplay mechanics. Good or bad, Give My Regards to Broadstreet is clearly an important game.
But, when push comes to shove, being important, visionary, brave or daring doesn't matter if the gameplay on offer is utterly utterly woeful, which this is. Give My regards to Broadstreet is unarguably a great museum piece, but a museum is where it should ultimately stay, far away from the tape decks of any unsuspecting modern gamer.