– Originally written in Polish, in 2011, translated in 2017 –
Doctor Kovacs’ shoes were making a distinct sound as he was walking across the impressively big hall. The room seemed colder than usual. The wooden floor, polished fifteen minutes ago by one of Kovacs’ pupils, was so shiny that a small boy could see the reflection of his bald head when he looked down.
The doctor was nervous. He reached the wall, turned on his heel, stared briefly at the double entrance door and began walking towards it. He didn’t know what to expect. Even though he and his colleague were working together for a long time now, he never managed to guess what goes on inside of his head. A textbook example of a mad scientist. Nothing would surprise Kovacs anymore. The scientist could even kill him right here and now and make all of these children watch the act. Honestly, that would not even be that unlikely the more Kovacs was thinking about it.
Beside him, inside the hall were twenty kids. They all stood neatly in line, at a perfectly measured distance from each other. This painted a quite unnerving image not only because they were all standing up straight with their heads up. All of the kids looked the same.
Not even clothes were differentiating them. They were all six-year-old boys with bald heads and ice blue eyes. All had serial numbers tattoo’d on the back of the head – their only unique gift and the only way Kovacs could tell them apart. Thus, their order in line was determined by their order of “birth”.
Today, two groups were present. Kids numbered 2 to 12 and 37 to 47. One of them sneaked into a doctor’s office the night prior. Even though he used his skills and chances in the best of ways, the ever present cameras captured him in the act. Albeit, the quality of the recording wasn’t good enough to determine which of the boys was the culprit. The staff facility wouldn’t even know an incident like this happened if not for an unfortunate event. 18 heard a strange noise during his late night bathroom break and his curiosity was “rewarded” with a broken nose. Kovacs found him unconscious, lying on the corridor floor and that’s what led to this very situation.
Another man dressed in a white lab coat entered the hall. A pair of circle-shaped glasses was digging into his nose but it didn’t seem to bother him. Kovacs stopped, cleared his throat and suddenly, all of the boys bowed down. Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer usually smiled at seeing his pupils so well-behaved but even this gesture didn’t make him lift the edges of his lips today.
“Enough!” he exclaimed. His voiced echoed through the hall. Kids returned to their original position. The scientist stood next to his colleague and, even though in English, spoke with a heavy German accent:
“You know exactly why you’re here. None of you will leave this hall until the culprit admits to his nighttime escapade.”
Twenty pairs of blue eyes turned in his direction. Nineteen of them only learned about the incident ten minutes ago. One felt his stomach twisting. As much as he didn’t want to come clean, he knew he will eventually be forced to. What kind of punishment will he have to endure? Swiping and licking the floors clean for months with no end? Will there be any corporal punishments? Maybe he will be this year’s cook for his “brothers”?
“One of you attempted to access doctor Ort-Meyer’s office at night”, Kovacs said in a calm manner trying to contrast the obvious anger of his colleague. “We do not care what was the reason behind it. And we will not question it. If one of you admits to his mistake, there will be no investigation and no punishment. We will only ask him to never do it ever again.”
Tears started filling one of the boys’ eyes so he blinked a few times to make them go away. Showing any emotions was unacceptable. They were a weakness, so the men taught them. The boy always felt as if hiding those weaknesses was much easier for his “brothers” than it was for him.
Many thoughts were crossing his mind at the moment. Was Kovacs telling the truth? Maybe there really aren’t going to be any questions or punishments if he confesses? He didn’t trust either of the men in white coats but Kovacs seemed to be somewhat reasonable at times. Maybe he should just swallow his pride and speak up?
“We all know who did this!” yelled one of the boys at the front of the line. 6 took a step forward and looked Ort-Meyer straight in the eyes. He already seemed triumphant with his chin held up.
The culprit felt even more ill. 6 had no idea who truly sneaked into Ort-Meyer’s office but since he spoke up already, there was no doubt whom he is going to blame.
“It was 47, of course!” he promptly stated. Ort-Meyer’s eyes looked at the boy at the end of the line.
“Come forward”, the scientist said. “Is that true?”
The boy gulped down his tears and broke the line. His small hands turned into fists thinking of 6. His heart was filled with hatred towards his “brother”. But now, he was assessing his options. If he denied the claim, 6 would definitely find a way to shift the blame. He was the best. The strongest. He knew how to fight. Ort-Meyer will stand by his side. And 47? 47 was small, slim and fragile. With tears in his eyes. The only thing he could count on was Kovacs’ good will.
“Yes”, he mumbled. All of his “brothers’” eyes turned towards him. It was uncommon for 47 to open his mouth. Some thought he was mute. This reaction made the boy feel even worse.
“I should just dispose of you at instant. Kovacs turns a blind eye at you way too often. But trust me, my boy, your life is going to get much more difficult from now on.”
47 tried his best to justify.
“But… doctor Kovacs said no one will get punished if one of us confesses… I… I thought that–”
“What did you say?” Ort-Meyer interrupted him. The hall was suddenly silent. “Repeat what you just said.”
“I thought that…”
The scientist chuckled making Kovacs’ hair stand on end. Ort-Meyer took a few steps and stood in front of 47. Kovacs wasn’t sure if there’s anything he can do to protect the boy. He almost wanted to grab his colleague by the arm as he was passing him but ended up not even moving a finger.
It was Ort-Meyer who lifted his hand instead. His palm hit 47’s cheek painting it bright pink and making the unsuspecting boy falter and fall to the floor.
“You know very well I don’t need you to ‘think’. Your purpose is to act on my order. And that’s to all of you. I allow you for too much freedom. Remember that you can lose your white fluffy friend just as quickly as you got it.”
47 tried getting up but was too scared to move a muscle. Ort-Meyer stared at him for the very last time and the boy was sure there was a certain sense of pride hidden behind the circle-shaped glasses.
“Kovacs, take him to his room and lock the door. Up his training sessions to at least twice what they are now. He won’t have time to ‘think’”, the scientist said angrily to the other man dressed in white before exiting the hall altogether.
His evil chuckling was still heard echoing the hall after he has left.
After the weirdly quiet announcement back in August, a brief confirmation weeks later, a period of complete silence, and a delayed release, it’s finally here! Agent 47: Birth of the Hitman – an origin story set in 1985. A treat for all of the Hitman fans, or so it would seem, if not for the fact that there have been multiple attempts of telling said origin story. In Codename 47, we were told the tale as it was, which led to the fallout in Silent Assassin. In Contracts, we came back to the Romanian facility, seen via 47’s point of view. Both of the Hitman novels tried their take on the concept of “young 47”, Absolution mirrored the possible upbringing by introducing Victoria and telling her tale. Not just that, we also got an insight into the ICA files and could read all about both 47 and Diana before they both began working for the Agency. I don’t believe I have to mention H6’s Prologue but I’ll give you a nice bit of trivia instead – a short video series called Hitman: Origins does exist and, what do you know, it’s actually done in a graphic novel aesthetic. Knowing all that, it’s difficult to look at the new origin story in a vacuum, especially since it attempts to bring even more to the already full table. That’s ignoring the movies ‘cause… let’s just ignore the movies… What we can’t ignore is the previously established lore as Agent 47: Birth of the Hitman clearly plays into that with a major character of the series being present. Honestly, if not for a certain German scientist, I’d be okay to just deem this a completely different take on the story, maybe even use the scary word “reboot”. ‘Cause apparently no one else can bear those mere six letters…
I ain’t the biggest comic book fan. I don’t follow series, but I read a few in my days. My own upbringing reminds me a lot of the Donald Duck comic books and W.I.T.C.H. paperbacks and later on I’ve become quite partial to the Batman universe. Still, maybe it’s the culture of the place I reside, graphic novels never seemed to catch on, at least in my personal experience, thus me having to catch up. As I cannot speak as comic book enthusiast, my opinion will be solely reliant on the fact that I’m quite a big Hitman lore nerd… and honestly, that’s the position people want me to speak from…
The first issue of Agent 47: Birth of the Hitman(can we settle for some shorter name like we did with HITMAN? A47BotH?… that… looks weird… We can’t call it Agent 47. That would be confusing… Birth of the Hitman sounds a tiny bit too pretentious… I guess I’ll have to keep using the mouthful…) isn’t a very long read and it only sets up the bigger picture. Considering there are only three issues planned, I’m a bit surprised not much has happened in the introduction, especially as I don’t really see the point of it being presented to me visually.
Our main characters are… our main characters – 47 and Diana, just back in 1985 when they’re 21 and 13 respectively (although in one of the first scenes Diana states she’s 14, so I’m slightly confused already… according to the pre-Absolution promo materials she was born in 1972). A secondary character to 47’s side of the story is 6, (Not Enemy Within 6… I think… ‘Cause Enemy Within 6 is dead…) whom he’s having his adventures with. Surprisingly, those take place outside the Romanian facility, even though occurrences like these were never mentioned before. Not even in Ort-Meyer’s diary which seemed to inspire at least one of the plot points.
Whilst 47 and 6 are having their grand old time and discussing their purpose in life in the process, we witness Diana Burnwood getting her life destroyed and slowly rebuilt after her parents’ deaths. A series of unfortunate events (told in a few sentences) led Diana’s brother to get seriously ill, a pharmaceutical company blamed for his sickness, Diana’s parents investigating the situation and thus becoming targets for knowing too much. The girl managed to survive and realizes she now has to care for herself. Which she does in a very violent way.
So what is happening on the other side of the coin? Exactly what I already said – 47 and 6 follow their assignments all around the world whilst discussing the meaning of their creation. 47 seems to be quite talkative outside the facility, as the clones are not permitted to talk to each other inside. But if they aren’t supposed to, why does Ort-Meyer specifically state 47 is uncommunicative in his diary? There is also a mention of their escape and the incident at the farm to link all of it to H6 as well as their plans to take vengeance on the Institute in the end.
Wait, the Institute, you ask? This isn’t Fallout 4! No, it is not and this is where the pretty picture starts to get ugly. Remember how I said it is difficult to look at A47:BotH(…ugh…) in a vacuum when there’s already so much established lore? This is where it gets tricky. Retroactively adding more plot points completely changes some of the characters’ motivations and thus makes their behavior a lot less relatable, not to mention logical and forget about unique or interesting.
In the original lore, Doctor Ort-Meyer and his legionnaire friends decided on experimenting with human life due to their extreme greed and lust for power. The four great criminals who gave their DNA and funds to the process wanted their own armies, full of perfect human beings to rule their respective little criminal empires. The scientist himself got so involved in playing God, he believed he was better than that. Better than even the aforementioned God. Without the need for his friends, his ultimate goal was to get them killed and establish his own perfect minions. Ideal warriors with no free will.
This picture changes now, when new details are added. You may call it a minor detail but even one brush stroke can ruin a grand painting. What we learn in the comic is that Ort-Meyer isn’t working for himself. There is no mention of the French Foreign Legion, instead we get The Institute of Human Betterment (liking the mouthfuls?) being presumably owned by Providence. You know, that mysterious wannabe Illuminati organization in H6. Thus, the main motivation for the professor’s actions and his predominant character trait is now reduced to him simply being a tool in someone’s hands. His Codename 47 monologue barely makes sense now as it states he accomplished all of this by himself with no one to believe in him and how he was setting new standards. All of that feels as if it’s gone now with him working for somebody else completely contrary to the behavior he previously portrayed.
Same could be said about Diana Burnwood. Here though, I was personally more interested in how her backstory will (or will not) link to the pre-Absolution promo materials as the old school titles (and thus, the old writing team) never gave us much insight into her private life. She was always in the background, and while obviously caring for 47, she never ceased her professional demeanor. This also made her a truly intriguing character in an already hostile world as we never got to know whether she’s loyal to 47 or to the Agency. She seemed to pick sides when they fit her ultimate goals. Never pursuing 47 after Codename 47 but going out of her way to save him in Contracts and Blood Money. Absolution marked the beginning of what I like to call the “new writing team era” thus I’d expect everything after that to at least be consistent. Therefore, let’s whip out the Diana Burnwood ICA Files Absolution Trailer and see what we can learn.
Diana Penelope Burnwood was born in September 1972 as a daughter of Sir Peter Lloyd Burnwood and Lady Nancy Burnwood. The files do mention her brother James and a younger sister Emma. Funnily enough, we also get some dates which are a complete mismatch to what the comic establishes. Not only is Diana’s mother presumably alive and remarried, her father died in 1987, James’ whereabouts are unknown and Emma died at the age of 27. We can deem the family photo irrelevant too as there is a new one present on page 14 of the comic. Not only is Diana’s natural hair color is now red, Emma is nowhere to be seen. My Consistency Theory has not only been denied, it’s been thrown out of the window with a loud cry. It also makes my lore expert role a lot trickier.
New idea is that Diana’s parents were killed. Presumably even as targets of one of 47 and 6’s assignments although the story is a bit vague on that front. Forget about the actually interesting, resolute and always composed ICA handler. She’s simply witnessed the death of her parents and with nothing left to lose, she turns to a life of crime. After such life experiences, we should never wonder why she hasn’t shown even the tiniest shred of empathy towards her later assignments featuring a complete wreck of a man Joseph Clarence and eliminating Vinnie Sinistra during his daughter’s birthday party. There are no more mindtwisters as to why she decided to join the ICA. In fact, it’s even more mind boggling that she ends up working with professional killers after her parents’ deaths at the hands of hired guns…
In fact, her story arc reminds me of another Christopher Sebela character. Heartthrob’s Callie Boudreau completely changes her life and becomes a criminal after she realizes she has nothing left to lose. Albeit she does so in quite unique circumstances with an unusual partner and an 80’s aesthetic. She also goes through her adventure wondering about life and death and how experiences shape us. At this point, I should mention that I actually do enjoy the writing of A47:BotH(ugh!…) but that’s because after reading some of Chris Sebela’s previous work as research for this piece, I got to truly enjoy his writing style and it’s simply more of that. The theme of life and death, the purpose of living and so on are the emphasis of the Hitman franchise but those also seem to be the ongoing motives in the author’s work so there’s not much I could really comment upon except for maybe giving a thumbs up for the choice of the writer. Especially since Mr. Sebela himself is a fan of the latest installment of the series. A quick look at the credits is enough to show us (maybe unfortunately) the story is not entirely his own.
We are left with only one more character to analyze and that’s Mr. 47 himself. You’d probably think I’d have a lot to say considering it took me months to produce a huge analysis of his character but to be honest, there’s not much to cover here. The white bunny returns, but we learn it’s not the same bunny as the one in Ort-Meyer’s diary. In fact, it’s one of many, deeming the original bunny somewhat less of a nuisance now. I actually do enjoy how 47 states he is scared of his work becoming more than his profession albeit I doubt he would confess it to the scientist himself. There is also a case of sudden almost teenage rebel-like outburst towards 6 with lines such as “What makes you think I wanted to be saved? You’re not even my real brother,” and this peculiar scene:
In conclusion, the theme of H6 has now been proven to be inserting more and more plot points into the already existing lore and hoping they work and no one will question any of it or look at it as a bigger picture. I’m not particularly interested in how the comic’s storyline is going to play out. In fact, I’m eager to see if any of it is even going to end up relevant in H6’s Season 2. We now see major events happening in the past and it would only be logical if those were cited somewhere in the game. Otherwise, players might get even more confused about character behaviors. But then, wouldn’t the comic itself be pointless? At this point, I expect every possibility. After all, none of the lore is consistent, not to mention logical, forget about unique or interesting.
Remember Gex? If you’re like me, you probably don’t. I certainly didn’t until I came across a screenshot of it years later.
“Oh yeah,” White mumbled to themselves as they often do. Who else is there to speak to? Their cat? …Well, they talk to their cat… a lot… “That’s that game we used to have installed on our school computers.”
We all have “those” games. There’s an array of old Windows software you probably don’t recognize by name yet you immediately get nostalgic about once you see a screen grab of it. For me, those would be Black Hole Pinball, Slime Volleyball, Captain Claw (which, as I’ve learned lately was developed by Monolith Productions. Go figure!), some DOS version of Wheel of Fortune and a PC port of Super Mario Bros. which, I’m pretty sure, does not have the Nintendo Seal of Approval. Also JezzBall. JezzBall was the… ball…
And then there was Gex. The first Gex. The game everyone played ‘cause for some reason, they were more fond of 2D platformers than other genres. Maybe because of their simplicity? Everyone could launch it, press the right arrow key and watch the character move. Maybe that’s all they ever wanted. Maybe this is why we actively cheered one of the people in our class once they’ve gotten to World 6 in the aforementioned Super Mario Bros. Maybe that was their drive. Maybe. Not mine though. I was the odd one out even in my tastes of gaming. I barely gamed back in those days, usually preferring more arcade titles which could be started and finished in a short amount of time. Without much need to invest myself as a player. Just something to pass the time. Maybe this is why I am so fond of The Binding of Isaac. Maybe.
So why come back to Gex if I wasn’t interested in it in the first place? Well, I never said I didn’t play it. I have played it before. Two player one controller style, as that’s what those “normal” folks (remember, I was the odd one) nagged me to do. I was mostly responsible for jumping and attacking and they were in control of the movement. Suffice to say, it wasn’t the most efficient way of interacting with a video game and we never got far. So that’s one point in favor of returning to Gex. Second being that I love to come back to titles I missed out on as a kid. You know this if you’ve read some of my other pieces (you’d also know I mentioned Gex as early as in my ‘Goon 47 and the Curse of Huge Levels’ piece so it had to be done eventually). Third, because I was curious as to what others have seen in it. Maybe there was something I just didn’t get. Maybe.
The first surprise came once I Google’d the title. There were sequels! Multiple, in fact. And even two GameBoy Color games! Gex 2 and 3 being 3D platformers was also unexpected but seen before in otherfranchises known to yours truly. Especially likely as it was the era of the big and scary 3D. Many failed to land the leap safely. Some, as our little lizard, slithered through the gaps but went mostly unnoticed.
How do you get noticed if your platform of origin is the Panasonic 3DO? Actually, you do it by coming with the system itself. Gex was released in 1995 and became one of the bestselling 3DO titles rivaling such classics as Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties and Putt Putt’s Fun Pack. I digress though as the platform was also a home to games such as The Need For Speed(before it dropped the “The”), Primal Rage, Theme Park and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. If you’re looking for more library picks, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D also came out on the 3DO. So did Policenauts. It doesn’t help however if one of the biggest video game markets defines you as a “host for pornographic releases”… Now maybe it’s not that surprising that it was the origin point of our little lizard… Maybe. Following the 3DO release, the PlayStation US crowd got their taste of Gex 6 months later whilst the Europeans had to wait an entire year.
A Sega Saturn port was released in 1996 as well and the one I personally remember – the PC one, came last with November 1996 for the Americans and 1997 for Europe. It scored middling compared to today’s standards but back in the day, the scale had more than just eights, nines and tens and the average of 75% qualified the title for “Best of” lists. Weirdly enough, I found this review of the PSX version boldly saying “Gex is voiced by genuinely funny comedian Dana Gould, which makes the whole exercise pretty painless. Usually, wise-cracking voice overs suck, but here it really does work.” I guess we’ll have to test that theory. And if you are partial to the strange 90s ad aesthetic – Gex was marketed with a set of offputting photographs featuring a close-up of a human mouth eating a fly.
Nowadays, the GoG reviews praise it for being “one of the best 90s platformers”. It was heavily wishlisted, as is now Enter the Gecko – the sequel. Albeit, one of the users does say that “it’s more about nostalgia” which is, if you remember, the main reason as to why yours truly began growing curious of the title. The very first review warns “You will enjoy the main gameplay, but you will sometimes hate the level design, that sometimes can be cheap”, therefore I am considering myself warned.
Gex is an odd game. It feels to me as if it tries so many unique things it loses itself in the array of gimmicks. It is one of those slower paced 2D sidescrolling platformers with a maze-like level design similar to the original Rayman. As you may remember, that game was definitely not for me. Arguably maybe I’m not the best of people to be talking about it then but it’s not like my opinion matters less because I don’t particularly go out of my way to play titles in said genre. Maybe.
The titular character is a lizard, which brings many perks to the table. First and foremost, IT’S TAIL TIME, as he has the courtesy to inform us almost every single time the player pushes the attack button. Gex’s attack is a short-ranged tail whip. Enough to prevent dangerous situations if used strategically, usually not enough if our little lizard gets taken by surprise. This happens more often than necessary as, similarly to Rayman, the viewpoint is already small to begin with and the sprites take up a major portion of the screen. As seems to be the case back in the day, they are also placed in such areas to inconvenience you as much as they possibly can and send you back to the previous checkpoint… if you even found one. If you haven’t, it’s back to the world map!
The review I quoted wasn’t kidding. The level design can indeed be cheap. Not only because of the enemy placement but because of the devilish traps as well. Since the stages are labyrinths and you are required to acquire keys (or, I guess, TV remotes in this case) to even progress through the game, level designers took their time planting devious ways to stop you. This can be done via various obstacles such as trampolines sending you backwards in the level or even straight up dead ends with nothing but a teleport to an earlier point in the maze. The player quickly learns to not trust anything and hug walls as much as they can. And as Gex is our beloved (?) little lizard, clinging onto walls is a skill he can do particularly well.
Exploration is key to find not only the keys but also video tapes. Those are the only way you can get a password to save your progress. Unarguably an odd and very extreme mechanic. Almost as if the game wants to glue you to your TV screen (ironic?), unable to turn off your console until you manage to get the elusive set of letters. And that’s as fun as being Mike Tyson’s friend on Valentine’s Day!… ugh… Both of those key items are hidden so well you will end up replaying stages multiple times, scratching your head over where they are. Perseverance is a necessary feat for playing. A one which maybe I lack. Something I’ve quickly learned after getting so fed up with one of the New Toonland levels that I closed the game in silence and decided to just try a different stage instead. Not only the levels are long and large to begin with. This one’s gimmick was to add switches which change the available tiles. Hitting the switch doesn’t telegraph what happens and as the level drags on, the puzzles get more and more obscure leading the player to aimlessly wander around the maze entering each door multiple times in the vain hope that something will eventually take them off the stray path.
Almost all stages carry some gimmick to them. Whether it’s riding on rockets or attempting to squeeze between electrical eels and huge spikes, my personal worst offender is the Kung Fuville (…I know…) autoscrolling level as it is not getting offscreen which kills you. You die by touching the left edge of it instead. Remember how I mentioned hidden passwords? The only thought crossing my mind when I was playing some of the levels was “how did they expect anyone to get through this game?” and the only answer I came up with is “memorization”. The player gets straight up assaulted by enemies at times, as the camera moves too slowly to give you enough heads up. And when you add timed platforms to all of that, you can see how fast the frustration can build up.
I do however appreciate interesting design choices when I see them. The power-up mechanic in Gex is quite unique at that. Every time, the player can choose between using them as an extra hit or the actual power-up the sprite represents. Unfortunately, the game does little to inform you of what each of them does, meaning that’s something you’ll have to discover on your own. With how many are thrown at you right at the start, it may get confusing to distinguish the ones you find useful and those which will end up as extra hits fodder. Unless you have the manual! But even that doesn’t get you much further as it only describes the sprites, not actually shows them.
I can definitely see the appeal of the game. It’s not a title I’d particularly get drawn into playing, although admittedly, you might argue that’s exactly what happened. It’s a good example of its genre. A genre which nowadays sees little to no traction as the playerbase maybe isn’t ready to be spending hours on one level just so they can save their progress. Maybe gamers don’t want to be stuck in a huge labyrinth afraid to move knowing that once the camera moves, they may be ambushed by an enemy and thrown back to start. Or encounter a trap which will impede their attempt to solve a confusing maze. Maybe we have way too many choices of entertainment nowadays that we don’t have to play that one single game we rented for the weekend. Maybe there’s something to that… Maybe.
What is definite however is that Gex was meant to be the new mascot. A rival for Mario and Sonic. And for many years it was, appearing in a heavy portion of Crystal Dynamics’ promotional materials. Was it because they were proud of it however? Or was it to remind them of the development hell it took to get the game out? As one of the developers states in his huge blog post on the topic – the concept was flawed from the beginning. The team wanted to set the title in the real world Wild West but that clashed with the overall platformer level design. Thus, The Media Dimension was born. A fantasy land where everything could happen. Unfortunately, this fantasy world does not extend to ours and not everything can be fixed with a simple click of a TV remote. The content wasn’t ready on time or was cut ‘cause it wasn’t on par. Some of the levels were left out as bonuses and there’s even a secret boss stage you can access via cheats. There wasn’t enough people working on the title and it was showing. The design was a mess – “The designers didn’t have any idea what a theme for a level was. Most of the levels they had built were huge and used as many different things they could cram into them. This is not good design and it also meant that the levels took too much memory or didn’t leave enough space for sounds so when sounds were finally added all the levels had to be redone to use a theme.” There was even some office drama and a scary moment featuring Panasonic themselves. The post ends with a bittersweet “Most of the people on the team were not happy with it. (…) But, the public and the press really liked the game and so I guess that made us feel alot better at all our hard work.”
Nowadays it seems like just another tale of a video game development cycle.
Following that was, as mentioned before, a big leap into the third dimension of media! Ironic or purposeful as the TV universe in Gex is literally called The Media Dimension? Here comes Gex: Enter The Gecko. Released again on the PlayStation and apparently PC although I can barely find traces of it, as well as debuting on a Nintendo platform – the N64. The title is largely inspired by Super Mario 64 like many which followed the Nintendo mascot into the world of 3D.
Interestingly enough, when it was launching for the Japanese market, many changes were made including even the title and the character’s name. Gex was renamed to Reno (not this Reno) and the game itself to Spin Tail (SUPIN TAIRU more accurately)… and that was the last game of the franchise which saw the light of The Rising Sun… It’s even more perplexing that Gex 1 also saw a Japan release… as Gex.
“It takes a lot of courage for a widely-loathed game character to attempt a comeback.” – Computer and Video Games magazine, Issue 198
Enter the Gecko was, once again, developed by Crystal Dynamics. It used the same engine as the first Tomb Raiders and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver later. The back of the box of the US Nintendo 64 release claims it is “THE ULTIMATE FREE-ROAMING 3D EXPERIENCE!” with “Over 125 slick gecko moves!” and “Talkin’ trash!” as one of the selling points. There’s also apparently an “All new N64 exclusive deep sea level with new swim mechanics and scuba gear!” but after playing the dreaded space levels, I think I’m glad I opted for the PlayStation version instead. This and the fact that the Nintendo port is lacking in content. Both level-wise and in regards to dialogue as many of the lines were cut to fit the tiny space of the N64 cartridge compared to the PlayStation disc. That also means, if you’d prefer to hear less of Gex’s quips, that should be your version of choice as that one is awkwardly silent comparatively.
It seems as if the reviewers had mixed feelings about the quips. This time, “It doesn’t help that Gex 64 sports subpar graphics and the most annoying sound effects in the history of video games (yes, I’ve played Cruis’n USA). Dana Gould’s gecko wisecracks, which were hilarious in the original 3DO title, grate on the nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.“ The article ends up with “Do yourself a favor and stay away from this lizard.” The reviews for the PSX version are a bit more forgiving: “I’m hesitant to call it a good game, but one thing’s for sure – it’s better than Croc.” Which reminds me that maybe I’ll get around to covering Croc at some point as well… Maybe.
The story is simple. Rez escapes the captivity and the government secret agency tracks Gex to make him go back into The Media Dimension and do his duty as the one and only who can slay the bad guy. Gex isn’t thrilled so he… farts… at them… but then they offer him a huge briefcase of cash and it’s all good. Our little lizard outfits himself in a fancy suit and is off. And we’re off with him. To a vast empty hub world… Part of it is because we only get access to two of the levels at the start of the game. Understandably. The other is that the draw distance is absolutely abysmal and if everything wasn’t so saturated I’d ask myself if I was playing Silent Hill. Either that or BioShock Infinite since it seems like everything is suspended in the sky. Or maybe that’s the impression I’m getting because of the horrible draw distance and the bright background?
What else is in the background is some funky music which, either fortunately or unfortunately, I always find stuck in my head after I’m done playing the game. It’s just close enough to evoke a secret spy Bond feeling yet not to the point of being on the nose. Granted, a few of the music tracks in Gex 2 are. Speaking mostly of the bonus levels soundtrack. I can’t believe those passed as an original tune. Actually, I can’t really say anything bad about the music. It may not be the most memorable of backdrops but it does its job. The toon theme is quite obnoxious but I’m sure that was the point. While we’re at it, let’s talk about the environments. We have different aesthetic choices for the levels. There is the already mentioned toon world which only makes me want to play any of the PSX Looney Tunes titles instead (Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time and its sequel Bugs Bunny & Taz: Time Busters were both actually okay video games! And Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf, also known as Sheep Raider in the US is absolutely fantastic and worthy of not only White’s recommendation but also a big contender for a future topic of White’s Mind), the generic Asian-themed world (reminiscent of Deus Ex’s Hong Kong level in that weird intriguing sort of way), the cyber world (“How’d I get inside Bill Gates’ head?”… ugh), the mash of stereotypical horror-related aesthetics, the dreaded deep space levels (we’ll come back to those) and the… Pre-History Channel – a name I actually find quite clever – featuring a bunch of prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs and… well… only dinosaurs. Plus some one off bonus stages and Emperor Rez’s secret lair – Rezopolis.
Given that Gex 2 is based on the Super Mario 64 concept (“It’s about as close to Mario 64 as you’ll ever get on a PlayStation” apparently), every world has a couple of different objectives, all granting a Sta– TV remote. In addition to the main goals, there also exist a secret hidden remote and a bonus for collecting trinkets. What I don’t understand is the collectible sets design. Instead of having one distinct trinket (coins in Super Mario being the best example), Gex first collects a set of 30, then a set of 40, then a set of 50. Each of them grants an extra life but as the only thing which changes is the sprite, I see little reason as to why the game can’t simply say “Collect 120 shiny things to get the shiny reward”.
Is it overcomplicating things just for the sake of claiming it can be unique? No idea. In fact, is there anything Gex can do which cannot be done in other 3D platformers of that era? I arguedRayman 2 doesn’t do much in regards to mechanically distinguishing it from other products. Instead, it held well over the years thanks to its varied gameplay, solid platforming, basic yet tight controls, charming characters and a fairy tale-like aesthetic. Does Gex: Enter the Gecko accomplish the same thing?
The good news is that it can still be played and enjoyed. The levels themselves start off quite open to exploration with collectibles and extra hits rewarding you for taking a stray path. Objectives are also placed in such ways as to not make you take the same route each time, instead taking you to other parts of the world. A lot of it changes as the game progresses with more and more stages failing to disguise its inherent linearity. This makes it not only dull to replay but also annoying to pinpoint a route leading to a different goal. Many times I found myself getting a separate remote from the one I was attempting to as the intro cinematic does show the location of the chosen objective but not how to get to it. This creates more annoying moments than it should which paired with the biggest issue of the title and the fact that checkpoints are only a handful throughout the adventure means the player could end up feeling discouraged. Fortunately for Gex: Enter the Gecko and, to be fair, the entire franchise, the advancements in technology mean we can now play by our own rules. And if you get what I’m hinting at, honestly, I fully recommend it if you wish to enjoy your time.
Gex: Enter the Gecko isn’t difficult. It’s a fair platforming challenge, requiring you to at least familiarize yourself with the controls and the overall physics. Those can feel wonky at first, especially due to the character’s sluggish movements but can be gotten used to. What can’t however and is, therefore, the main issue, is the godawful camera. More often than not, it gets stuck behind some physical wall leaving you only with an annoying “cuckoo” sound effect instead of showing you the way forward. It can completely interrupt your jump as it swivels around the player character. It can switch to a predetermined position in the middle of your platforming action and it can move about not caring if you’re about to walk off a straight path or not. Not only that, coming back to my question of “does Gex 2 do anything different from other platformers of its era?”, the answer would probably be: “the main character can climb on walls”. “Some” walls, let’s make that clear first and foremost. Those sections are also probably the most disorienting out of all because of the shoddy camera. It kills all proper enjoyment of the title, making you replay huge sections simply because it disrupted your otherwise easy platforming. And when you add time limits and death pits as a gimmick (echoing the “dreaded space levels” I’ve mentioned), you are left with having a bad time. Changing the camera settings makes little to no difference either. I found it randomly switching on me even though I kept it on Semi-automatic most of the time. The optimal way would be probably to play the game with a manual camera mode. Never automatic. As Gex would say – “Forget about it.”
Oh yeah, there are also boss levels. And bonus levels. I haven’t mentioned those as they aren’t memorable. Bonus levels make you race the time limit as you collect a set of shiny trinkets of a particular sprite variety and bosses are all barely challenging with the worst offender probably being MechaRez. You’d think for a battle of such scale, it would be much more difficult than just wagging your tail around for the entirety of the encounter. And the final boss? He’s a bit more advanced and I’d even argue he poses a threat. It doesn’t change the fact however that the main antagonist of Gex: Enter the Gecko isn’t Emperor Rez and his TVs. It’s what’s makes television happen. The camera.
As the title loads, it welcomes us with a familiar tune. Enter The Gecko’s hub soundtrack in MIDI form. As much as I don’t mind the song and I actually find it quite catchy, this version of it makes my skin crawl. Not the best first impression. The game is an adaptation of the console version of Gex 2, meaning you get the hub, the semi-open levels, the Super Mario 64-esque objectives and odd tiered collectibles mechanic. No annoying camera, as the title is, obviously, in 2D. If you were lacking in annoyances, there is something for your sweet tooth.
The controls or, rather, Gex’s movement physics. Our little lizard does not begin running at his top speed and a lot of the jumps require covering as much distance as possible. You can’t really stop once you start clearing narrow platformer sections meaning you will end up falling off. Many times. And it definitely doesn’t help that Gex managed to somehow slip off solid platforms to immediately kill my satisfaction once I finally got to them. He falls right onto his face causing the action to pause for a brief second until he gets up. Odd choices seem to be a running theme in the Gex franchise.
Other than that, the title is a straight-up 2D recreation of Enter the Gecko. Nowadays we’d even call it a demake! It carries all of the same gameplay principles and I’m honestly surprised the developers decided on that instead of creating a spin-off.
“This isn’t just Gex 2.5, this is Gex 3. Part of what happened when we developed Gex 2 is that people along the way came up with so many killer ideas that we couldn’t implement them without screwing up the game schedule. Going into Gex 3 we had a lot of ammo to start with. The big thing that was really important to us was to make sure everything is all new”, the product marketing manager at Crystal Dynamics said to the Official US PlayStation Magazine.
What I find interesting reading through this article is how different the priorities were. It seems like all the crowd wanted to hear was how many enemies the game featured, how many levels there were, how many secret costumes and bonus stages the developers came up with. It seemed so simple to market a video game back then. Thankfully though, the camera issue has been noticed and worked upon. “The idea was to minimize the frustration to the consumer and make the camera simpler. (…) [T]here were instances in Gex 2 that the camera moved to direct the consumer, and in some cases the gamer felt like the camera was getting in the way of gameplay—you’d miss a jump and such. We’re eliminating some of those scripting cameras for left-to-right movements so you’re not knocking Gex off platforms and off ledges when you’re trying to make a jump. (…) We’re gonna keep the camera more inside the world this time.”
The reviews were once again more kind to the PlayStation version and that’s the one yours truly went for as well.
Gex is back. Again. This time accompanied by a Baywatch star placed in a 3D world in her real world glory – as full motion videos. Agent Xtra has been captured by the evil Rez and who else is there to save her other than our favorite (?) little lizard? An awfully spy-ish tune calls to action. Gex is back into The Media Dimension! …Although, to be fair, he isn’t very keen on rescuing her as she has to remind him time and time again that is in fact his mission… If you wish to watch your favorite Baywatch babe, you will need to play the PSX version of Deep Cover Gecko. The N64 port has simple static images and voice overs explaining the… ugh… “story” instead.
You’d never think the first world would be a snow level but it is! Gex seems to have a thing with level themes coming earlier than you’d expect. Same could be said about Gex 1 and its Cemetery being the game’s introduction. But we’re past Gex 1, so what is the first impression of Deep Cover Gecko? We are welcomed by an obnoxious soundtrack which “is just a bunch of different, poor-quality tracks mashed together”, a quote by my dear friend Mad Max whom I linked the song to. I could not put it better. In addition, there are burping mailboxes and penguins making chicken noises once tail whipped…
The game is deeply inspired by Super Mario 64 once again, taking it a step further. Levels can now be accessed via multiple hubs. Each of them also carrying their own sets of collectibles. No weirdness there this time around. There are exactly one hundred fly trinkets to be gotten in every world plus bonus coins and gecko paws. And by “exactly”, I truly mean it. If you wish to go for the collectibles remote this time around, you will be scouring the stages to find each single one as they can be in plain sight but also hidden in secret areas or dropped by enemies. The title also does not save your progress when it comes to those so you’ll have to get them all in one sweep. That goes for hubs fly trinkets as well. So what is the purpose of the Paw Coins? They grant you an extra hit once you collect enough of them. And the bonus tokens can be used to play extra (Xtra? Ugh…) stages placed nearby each of the levels. Simple enough.
If the first few levels make you feel as if there is a lot more player freedom this time around, you quickly learn that that is false. The dip in quality happens early, requiring you to replay portions of stages just to get to its next part. The worst example would probably be Buccaneer Station, needing you to literally retrace your steps and pass the first objective to even get to any of the others. Or Fairytales TV. Even though climbing the beanstalk is only one of the goals, you will end up doing it multiple times to complete the level in full. The linearity can get on the player’s nerves this time. As the worlds get bigger and trickier, this becomes more of an issue. Especially once a stage gimmick requires you to receive a power-up and then backtrack with it to clear a way forward. Yes, I’m looking at you, Mythology Network.
Bonuses and bosses also make a comeback. Time trial collectathons have a bit more to them as there are also three player characters to choose from. There are also timed challenges based on the overly present gimmicks. For some reason, there is one repeated one. Even though it clearly says “Whack 10 evil elves”, you only need to kill 5 of them. Same as the previous mini game. If you ask me, though, it’s better than it’s just five again. The enemy hit boxes are just awful. But of course, I’d prefer if there were no repeats. Or even better – bad mini games. Thankfully, they aren’t required, only giving you extra content. And bosses? Defeating big baddies is how you access new hubs. They are as easy and forgettable as in Enter the Gecko however, mostly requiring running around and having some grand old tail time.
It’s time to speak of the controls. The platforming itself is nothing special, although the game does require Gex to use his GECKO CHOP BABY YEAH(ugh) this time around which can be fiddly at best. It seems as if our little lizard needs to achieve an appropriate amount of speed before executing the move and I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact time of a run-up. Overall, it feels like the character moves are a bit more sluggish in Deep Cover Gecko but that’s not much of an issue seeing as there are less pure platforming challenges than in the prequel. There are, of course exceptions. Here, I’m talking mostly about Fairytales TV which has you climbing a beanstalk. The “disguise” of choice for said level is a Red Riding Hood outfit – and yes, it does make him look fat, I’m saying that out of spite. The cape lets our gecko glide if you figure out how to do so. The weirdness isn’t over just yet as the gliding both starts and ends immediately once the button is pushed and released. There is no additional momentum, as you’d expect, making you have to climb said beanstalk over and over. And over. And over again. No worries, though. This mechanic is used in multiple other costumes, too! I’ve also managed to hit a few points where Gex would just not jump when I needed him to. That’s a problem, especially ‘cause later worlds feature platforms placed in such a way you can barely even make it.
Swimming controls? Absolutely awful. Controlling our lizard underwater is reliant on the jump button to move forward instead of the analog stick. Terrible controls and time limits maybe are the reason as to why players have so much distaste towards water levels in video games. Maybe. Gex 3 enjoys its gimmicks – there are vehicles he can ride, guns he can shoot. The snowboard and the donkey both have huge turning radiuses making you fall off platforms or make wide circles around the enemies you’re trying to hit. The tank controls… like a tank. It uses tank controls in an overall 3D camera-dependent movement scheme. And the guns are… well… guns. The issue being that someone forgot to put a targeting reticle on the screen making you guess where you shoot instead. I’m of a mind that you do not need a targeting reticle if you have a good weapon model or a zoom-in camera which allows you to see the aiming sight – take Metal Gear Solid 3 for example. This isn’t a good model though…
Finally, the quips. I’ve been quoting others’ opinions on the voice acting but never gave my own. In fact, let me quote another: “The sound effects are pretty good, but the speech simply drags the entire game down. Dana Gould, a genuinely funny stand-up comedian, deserves better. Instead, he’s been reduced to making lame comments, several of them via a truly horrible Austin Powers impression. Once you’ve heard Gex shout: ‘It’s tail time’ in about a hundred different intonations, you’ll want to start shoving safety pins into your ears until you’ve permanently damaged your hearing. I eventually wanted to beat my television with a bat. You can turn the commentary down or off, but considering that the game’s entire selling point is based around these pathetic one-liners, you kind of feel obligated to leave them on.”
Some love ‘em, some hate ‘em. Personally, I’m indifferent. I do cringe every now and again after hearing one of the more interesting voice lines, but as they get repeated over and over again, it ends up being just another sound effect as the player attempts to clear a jump either battling with the controls or the camera. The references can be either forced or completely obscure for gamers nowadays. This is a big problem with popular media references overall and something you simply have to accept if you decide to create a character based on the concept. Keep this in mind once we get around the closing words of this very piece.
As with the previous Gex title, this one had a GameBoy port too. It looks as if Eidos was banking on the popularity of the franchise, offering what appears to be a physical pre-order bonus if by some chance the customer managed to order the game online. An exclusive plush toy version of our favorite little lizard was mailed with the product itself and a quick search on eBay proves the pre-order culture also existed back then.
It was developed by the same company as the last Gex GameBoy title and features levels adapted from the home console Deep Cover Gecko. Are they as annoying as their PSX or N64 counterpart? Yes and maybe more-so, as we’re going back to Gex’s roots by placing enemies and traps in tough spots to see. You definitely know you’re playing a Gex game as the controls feel sluggish and the platforms are set apart so you can just make the jump. Thankfully, as we’ve learned, the more the merrier and thus big numbers were impressive in video game marketing. A review I found mentions “an astonishing 4500 frames of animation, which explain why every creature moves as smoothly as a lizard’s tongue in slow motion.“
As it’s a handheld title, the levels are small. And yet somehow they manage to be frustrating to get around. As many of the objectives require you to find a certain amount of items inside the stage, replaying the same portions becomes tedious. Again, the game does a poor job in hiding its linearity and I’d argue that it’d be a better choice to simply have it be a spin-off title, like Wario Land for example, instead of an adaptation. Some forms are better left unchanged. At least there are no odd movement physics this time around. You know what still does hang around? The pause after a longer fall. Guess the devs didn’t get the memo about that one.
But if there was at least one thing that I’d like you to remember out of this piece, it would be Gex’s story. No, we’re not talking about the franchises history. We ain’t talking about the story featured in the video games either. Did you know Gex has an extensive backstory to him?! Given you didn’t remember him to begin with, it’s very unlikely, so… Let me just get to the point.
Believe it or not, there is more to Gex than just “you are the hero, go and kill the bad guy” plot seen in so many video games. Especially of that era. The manual for the original game comes with six pages (out of twenty five) dedicated to our protagonist’s backstory. And that is quite a treat.
Gex’s hometown is Maui, Hawaii, where he lives with his entire family. He’s a young lad as we start off this story and he’s the oldest out of three tiny lizards his poor mother’s raising. Why Hawaii? The manual states it’s the world’s largest population of geckos and maybe there’s some truth to that. Apparently Gex used to be the sociable kind. Going out with his friends, playing ukulele and even surfing on the waves of the Pacific Ocean. All good things must come to an end and for Gex’s family that was when his mother received a terrifying call from NASA. See, the head of the family was an employee of NASA and that’s how they made their living (apparently geckos also need money. And can work for NASA). Not long ago he and ten other brave… men?… creatures?… the manual doesn’t state… volunteered to be part of an experiment to decide if it’s possible to eat tapioca pudding in zero gravity. A band-aid was found floating inside of one of the fuel tanks which caused the rocket to explode, killing everyone inside.
The family was devastated and Gex tried his best to deal with the loss with the use of escapism. He sat down in front of the television screen and watched it for days, imagining the characters are his friends. But that had to end sooner or later, as our bunch has decided to leave Hawaii and start anew in California. The following morning, the idiot box was also gone as the mother of three gave it away to “some gypsies” to force her oldest son to stop spending his days inside. For Gex it seemed like another tragedy. He couldn’t trust his mother anymore so he left the new family house and set his feet into the unknown.
Quoting the manual, as I cannot do a better job of describing it: “He slept in a friend’s garage and made pocket money ‘doing errands’ for frustrated housewives. His entire existence became one long, aimless haze, with none of his TV friends to help him out.” I also enjoy how it specifically mentioned him listening to music through his Walkman so they can stick a trademark symbol right next to it. The 90s were an interesting place marketing-wise, only just figuring out different ways to sell their products… He even had an imaginary friend, whom he called “The Mayor”. One day they were both approached by a black limo. On its seat sat the gecko mother herself and she quickly told Gex the great news – their rich uncle left this terrifying world leaving his wealth to the family. They suddenly had over 20 billion dollars in their paws and they began spending. Houses, cars, the entire island of Australia and 51 percent of NASA, which led to firing everybody working there and selling the rockets to third world countries and “converting Mission Control into a theme restaurant featuring robotic dancing chimps wearing space suits.”
And Gex? He came back to Maui, Hawaii. Bought himself a house and his favorite toy – the TV. Yet it seems like interrupting his pastime was life’s hobby. A fly flew by him so he got out his tongue to grab it. The bug was bugged. A miniature device has suddenly transported our lizard into the world of the television. And thus is how the original Gex begins.
If you thought that is too over the top, hold on with your assessment as this isn’t the only piece of written media. Even though all of the manuals included some backstory, they were mostly retelling the events already shown to us in the intro cinematic. There is one more piece I’d like to look at though. The Gex novel.
Back in the days, game novelizations were somehow mildly common. There are many titles you would not even think to transform into a text-based media. 1981’s Defender, RuneScape, the 1995 shooter Descent, a whole series of books based on Wing Commander… Believe it or not, there also exists a Doom novelization. But we are here for our favorite little lizard and thus, Troll Communications LLC is there to fill-in a void in our hearts by providing us with a retelling of Gex’s adventures in words of Michael Teitelbaum’s. If Sonic can have his novels, so can Gex. Oh, by the way, it’s short for Gecko Extraordinaire. That is literally how it begins.
The first chapter attempts to provide some more context to a pretty generic 2D platformer. What I mean by that is that it wants to present the first Gex games as something with more story than it originally had. It also tries to give some background to how gecko’s iconic moves got their names. A shot at an origin story, so to speak. The backstory is mentioned albeit not fully retold – something I find quite impressive as it could easily serve as a chapter of its own. All of this with the lizard himself being the narrator. A first person perspective retelling of every Gex adventure is exactly what I needed in my life… Shame it fails to mention the godawful save system and how the edge of the screen is a literal death wall.
Chapter two does a similar thing, this time establishing very briefly what had happened in Enter the Gecko. As the novel itself was a tie-in to the third game in the series, I do understand the choice of skimming through the earlier source material but as far as I remember, Gex’s second adventure through the Media Dimension wasn’t as simple as jumping through a handful of TV screens and whacking Rez in the face. Still, chapter two is where “It’s tail time!” is used three times over the span of four pages…
Then begins the story proper and after quickly establishing the passage of time and the situation which led our protagonist to go back into wearing his secret agent tux, a sudden tank battle is described in almost meticulous amount of detail compared to the previous writing. From now on, a chapter equals one game level, meaning the pacing has slowed down dramatically. Soon enough, Gex becomes a prisoner of war. Not that he cares about his status, of course, as he continuously spews quips and movie references. Maybe because they are written in plain text instead of said in-between all of the other annoying sound effects, this becomes more than cringe-worthy.
When I said, a chapter is a game level, I truly meant it is a separate story taking place in one of the generic stage themes. There is little to no mention of the annoying power-up system from Mythology Network. Instead, Gex is a part of the Greek Colosseum and meets with Julius Caesar himself. Of course, the novel would be way too long if all of the levels were addressed in that way. Therefore, halfway through Rez decides to speed things up. He randomly appears out of thin air saying he’s grown tired of waiting and begins literally telling his nemesis what to do next and then swiftly disappears. Whilst there are probably more than enough questions going through my mind about this series of events, the one I’m going to ask is why did the author decide to use Rez for this role?
There is a perfectly fine character in the series established as Gex’s butler and hint giver. Instead of dragging Agent Xtra through his adventure (even though she supposedly is captured by Rez) and make her be completely useless, why not drag the turtle around instead? It would make at least some amount of sense in this senseless story.
The chapters are barely related as the incidents inside each of the worlds are not connected in the slightest. They all feel like filler. Gex whacks some enemies with his tail and cries one-liners one after another. To be fair, that’s exactly what the games are all about as well, so maybe I’m expecting too much. The novel itself is nothing special. The final two chapters being this huge epic boss battle with Rez show some skillful writing but other than that there is not much to recommend here. I respect it for not being awful as it’s often the case with these video game tie-ins but there isn’t anything interesting here. At least, the Gex 1 backstory was so off the wall, wacky and completely unpredictable, it’s good for a few laughs. This? This you can skip. Unless you really want to tick all boxes of the Gex-related media list. Or you need something short with no further thinking involved as the entire novelization is just short of eighty pages long.
Interestingly enough, Crystal Dynamics went on to developing another 3D character collectathon. A licensed one at that. Another strange turn of events is that it is actually one of my favorite childhood video games. I’m speaking of 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue – a tie-in to promote the 2000 Disney movie. Replaying it now sets me down a long memory lane but I enjoyed my time with it even today. I can see how Gex influenced it to become a better title. Cleverly using the theme, there is a sniffing mechanic which leads the player to collectibles they’ve missed. Some are also buried in the ground requiring a chosen puppy to dig it up. There’s not much platforming going on and the title itself isn’t very difficult. The movement is basic, the levels are diverse. Not just theme-wise but also content-wise. Some set you on a fetch quest, some require to solve simple puzzles. The stages aren’t huge as it is the case with certain collectathons and yet there are still handy shortcuts dotted around. Getting a hundred percent completion is not much of a challenge but it takes just the right amount of time as to not get either boring or frustrating. There are also a few unique minigames to up your playtime. The game overall is truly charming, it holds up to this day and I do recommend it wholeheartedly if you can manage to get your hands on it.
Other than that, there are no plans for further Gex titles although the current holder of the IP – Square Enix – would love to see where developers could take the character. Thus, the series is open for grabs and publishing on the Collective – a curated indie platform launched and actively supported by the Japanese company.
How would it work though? Would Gex still be a 3D character collectathon taking inspirations off Super Mario 64? Or would he go back to his roots and transform back into the 2D world. Since like a lot of mascots (and not only) are doing justthat lately. And what about the quips? I’ve seen a bunch of comments mentioning that Gex could just as well be making current pop references or take inspiration from the internet culture. But would it really be the best course of action? Internet fads fade quickly. “The dress” phenomenon lasted barely a day and does anyone still use Rage Faces? New memes come and go and content would become obsolete too many times during the sheer development cycle. This is exactly why social commentary shows such as South Park are created on short notice. Try watching old episodes of that cartoon now and see how many times you think “oh yeah, that happened“.
Gex was unique because he was so into pop culture. His character exists to watch TV. What would he watch now? Would he be this old fashioned gecko who still stares at the idiot box all day? Or would he switch to Netflix or other video on demand platform? Who would become his Bond girl? Maybe he should change his preferred media altogether, instead spoofing popular video games? Duty Calls was quite successful at that, Goat Simulatorended up as a very profitable April Fools joke and Cow Clickerwas the birth of an entire genre. Could our beloved little lizard also accomplish such a thing? As 3D collectathons are coming back and Bond movies are still ongoing, maybe it’s tail time for Rez to pull Gex into The Media Dimension once more. I refuse to believe Gex would miss an opportunity to wear his super secret spy tuxedo.
This piece was heavily inspired by ChipCheezum’s Gextra Life 2016, go check it out and support the cause! (Basically I was wondering if it’s all as horrible as it looked like…)
– Originally written in Polish, in 2010, translated in 2017 –
The pungent scent of urine. The morbid atmosphere. The emptiness.
47 was sitting on a cold cement floor in a room he was sharing with two of his “brothers”. There was a sharp piece of hard wood in his hand. He found it a while back and was determined to keep it just in case. He didn’t know where the wooden piece came from but it was more than plausible that it was once a part of a chair, destroyed by one of the clones in mad fury.
A loud snore filled the space and 47 winced thinking 43 woke up. He didn’t want anyone seeing him with a sharp object. Guardians did not permit of such trinkets and he knew exactly why. Just a few days ago he himself was a witness of 7 tearing holes in 11’s belly using only a tiny screw. There were still no news as to whether or not the victim survived. Albeit it’s not like that information was hugely desired.
Listening to his brothers sleeping noises, 47 was pretending to draw on the light gray flooring. A symbol of some sorts. A one he felt as if he was connected to somehow. Maybe he’s seen it before? The back of his head was constantly stinging. Only a week has passed since a barcode was added to the numbers. A fresh tattoo, especially on a delicate piece of skin and a spot like this wasn’t healing as fast as he’d like. A sharp pain was clawing into not only his head but all of the clones’. Doctor Kovacs was claiming it will harden them. 47 didn’t believe him.
He believed none of the things guardians were telling them. He could not understand how other boys could trust and blindly follow each of their words. No. That’s not something he could ever do. He was proud of his individuality. He knew what he wanted. The only problem was actually achieving it. If not for 6…
47 hated 6. Always “the best”, “the strongest”. Full of self-confidence, everyone’s pupil. His brothers stood in lines to lick his very feet. How many times has 6 punched 47? How many bruises and broken bones he was responsible for? 47 wished everyone would finally see who 6 really is. Not some strong warrior who should be looked up to. He was a monster. A cold hearted monster.
47’s heart was filled with hatred for the boy. His fist hit the cement floor and he immediately felt cold sweat on his back realizing how much noise he’s just made. Especially since there was someone walking down the corridor. Three adult men, judging from the sounds of their footsteps. Yes, they always sent more than one. Predominantly to 47. He threw the piece of wood under the bed and hopped on top swiftly deciding he will attempt to fool them that he’s asleep.
The door opened with a creak. 47 heard guardians walking into the room but his back was turned towards them so there he could do nothing more than listen in. First they woke 43.
“Easy. It’s just a vaccine shot.” sounded Doctor Kovacs’ voice. 47 has heard it multiple times and could recognize it anywhere. 43 made no noise as the needle pierced his arm. He was calm, staring into Kovacs’ eyes with his own. Ice blue. The guardian forced a slight smile and patted the boy’s bald head. Now it was time for 47.
“Hmm…” Kovacs thought to himself. “Is he asleep? At least we won’t have to use much force.”
47 knew the men were coming closer. His heartbeat picked up. Thoughts were crossing his mind faster than he could catch them. In one unexpected motion, the boy jumped off the bed just as Kovacs tried to reach him.
43 was curiously observing the situation. His brother retreated to the corner of the room and he almost wanted to come up to comfort him but one of the guardians held his hand up to stop him. They knew what 47 is capable of. Kovacs still had no idea what the scientist sees in this boy. Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer and his strange ideas. Sure, 47 was doing better at some of the exercises and classes but there were clones stronger than him. Less coy. Less emotional.
“Just look at 10! Or 26!” he pointed out to the scientist one day. “How can you get your hopes so high up for a boy who cried whilst burying a rabbit? May I remind you that 47 is the single one who shows signs of any emotional connections. Why did you even let him keep that rabbit? You should have just killed him!”
“You’ll see, my friend.” Ort-Meyer replied. “I am never wrong.”
Doctor Kovacs was now seeing a mixture of fear, anger and determination in 47’s eyes. What was he planning? The guardian was trying to reap into the boy’s mind. He could usually foresee clones’ behavior. 47 was difficult to predict, though. He was asocial. Shut in his own little world. Objecting to everything.
“Little rebel.” Kovacs thought before saying aloud: “You don’t have to be scared. I won’t hurt you.”
47 could not be fooled. He knew these men too well for that. Most of all, Doctor Kovacs. He was sure he was going to remember him for the rest of his life.
“47, please. It’s just a quick shot. The faster we get to do this, the better.”
The boy shook his head. Did anyone ever heard him say something? Kovacs had no memory of even a single word spoken by this particular clone? And now, he was starting to get on his nerves.
Tired of playing nice, Kovacs made a discreet gesture with his hand. Two men accompanying him stepped closer and 47’s brain was now plowing through ideas. He took glimpse of something shiny. Kovacs was hiding a syringe behind his back. The boy felt twisting in his stomach. He hated needles.
Guardians came closer. Their plan was to grab him by his arms but 47 motions were quicker. Just as they leaned over to capture him, he ducked and crawled between their legs. In mere second he was over by the bed, reaching for the previously hidden piece of wood. The boy stood up, holding the sharp object in front by his chest in the same fashion he was taught to.
“Goddamn you! Can you not even keep an eye on one measly child?” Kovacs roared.
With all of the strength of his tiny body, 47 pushed the wooden piece into the guardian’s stomach. He was expecting it to pierce through the skin but was incorrect. Kovacs grabbed him by his clothes. The boy kicked him to no avail. Looking for a way out, he latched onto the doctor’s coat tearing one of the pockets. Empty syringes dropped on the floor with an array of sounds quickly echoing in the room.
“Get off!” Kovacs shrieked. 47 managed to seize one of the syringes. One still armed with a silver needle. Before anyone could react, the needle dug into Kovacs’ knee. The answer to that was a kick. 47 bent in half. Another guardian blocked the door. It would take ages to find the clone if he was to escape and hide somewhere.
With tears in his ice blue eyes, the boy slowly lifted his head and looked around. No… there’s no way… he can’t lose…
Kovacs took out the syringe out of his knee, grabbed the clone and applied, what he called, the vaccine. Just as he let him go, the boy jumped back on top of the bed and bundled up heads to toes under a dirty blanket. Doctor Kovacs felt as if anger was boiling inside of him. He left the room with both of the men accompanying him and door loudly closing behind him. A yell was heard in addition to the footsteps this time:
– Originally written in Polish, in 2010, translated per request in 2017 –
The underground metro was suspiciously silent that day.
A man dressed in an Italian black suit, perfectly fitted white shirt, silk red tie with gold decorations and polished black shoes let out a sigh. His hands were clothed in leather, fingers playing with a tiny silver key. There was a number engraved on it. 137. Locker 137. That’s where his equipment was stashed. Same area, same procedure.
47 remembered his last visit in St Petersburg quite well. This time he was alone. No Russians dressed in long heavy coats and furry hats, sleeping somewhere at the back of the compartment before rushing off to work. No company today. Diana explained his mission in detail. His target was expected to occupy the same office as before and the assassin already had a vast knowledge of the immediate area. To add to that, The Agency was to supply him with weaponry; thus, he himself only took his trusted fibre wire. It was his first murder weapon and the one he could not leave without. Besides, if he was to be frisked, no bodyguard would ever feel the thin piano wire underneath his clothing. Other than that, 47 was also carrying binoculars. To have a better view of the situation.
Whilst his body was in an unpleasantly cold Russian town, his mind was wandering sunny Sicilian grounds. That is until a female voice sounded from the speakers announcing the next station. Kirovsky Zavod. 47 fixed his tie. It was time to go to work. A few moments later, the vehicle stopped and the doors opened. The assassin instantly recognized the environment. In front there were wide stairs, leading to Varosnij streets. 47, however, headed towards a wall of lockers, situated to his right. Still playing with the silver key, his feet were bouncing off the floor tiles, arranged in a chessboard in various shades of brown.
137. The assassin had to crouch down to insert the key. He turned it cautiously inside the lock and opened the locker. A quick look at the state of affairs on the station. Can someone see what he was doing? There were two men wandering around. Both of them were currently near the stairs. The assassin was sure they could not notice him, especially since he was hidden behind one of the decorative pillars. He examined the contents of the locker. A Dragunov sniper rifle and one bullet. 47 frowned. Last time, the Agency supplied him with other weaponry in addition to the sniper rifle. A pistol, nightvision goggles and a stockpile of ammunition. The rifle was better than nothing but the assassin decided to leave it inside the locker. It was a bother to carry it through the Varosnij Square. He chose to trust his fibre wire instead. Besides, he had nothing more to lose…
He threw the key into his pocket after closing the metal doors of the locker. Still avoiding the looks of Russian men waiting for their train, the assassin headed up the stairs to the snow-filled streets of St Petersburg. The snow was falling onto his bald head. He felt cold when the wind started blowing and began to regret taking nothing more than his suit. There was a purpose to that choice, though. For him, it was the most comfortable of attires and he could not place comfort over the freedom of movement. Back in Japan, he was wearing a parka on top but quickly learned that it was too hindering and that’s not something he approved of.
He took a few steps forward. He was now standing in front of a not too busy of a road which he immediately crossed. A bridge on the Neva river was somewhere on the horizon. A horizon which, as 47 realized, looked completely different when it was not full of Russian army men. Last time he was to eliminate a Russian general during a meeting inside the Pushkin Building. Next, the client wished for getting rid of other members of the board. 47 was chosen for every one of these contracts. Now, he was to complete his last mission in St Petersburg. Kill the person responsible for all of the previous assignments – Sergei Zavorotko – a terrorist taking part in illegal weapon deals and currently having his hands on a nuclear bomb. The Agency usually didn’t approve of eliminating their clients, but apparently the UN had offered a significant amount of money. The situation also opened some interesting opportunities for further cooperation, thus the organization could not say “no”. They tasked their best man. Besides, 47 already had knowledge of the terrain and his handler – Diana simply trusted him to finish the job. And for him, this is all it was. Just another job.
The Pushkin Building was situated in the center of Varosnij Square. The assassin could not rely on a long distance weapon this time around. He had to strike up close. Hence, the neighboring building, from which he took the shot last time was useless. There were more and more guards appearing as he approached the center. All of them, dressed in classy black suits, Desert Eagles in gun holsters. Eyes hidden behind sunglasses. They looked just like any other generic special agent but 47 knew he was dealing with no ordinary bodyguards. These were Russian mobsters. He had to be careful.
The assassin took cover behind a corner, took out the binoculars and examined the Pushkin Building through its lenses. Most of the windows were opened but the rooms appeared to be empty. “Something’s wrong.” he thought after realizing there is nobody inside. His instinct was usually right and he could not simply ignore it. 47 went around the building to look at it from a different angle. Again, he used his binoculars. First floor was empty. Slowly, he began examining every room on the second floor, every open window. Impossible. The Agency had no reason to set him up.
Then, he noticed something familiar in front of one of the windows on the second floor and quickly hid behind a wall. Didn’t even have to make sure. It was the barrel of his favorite sniper rifle. Walther WA2000. A weapon he’d always recognize. He knew its specification, he knew what it can do. But who was behind the barrel? Sergei Zavorotko himself? Did his target know the UN wants to get rid of him? 47 had no time to think about that possibility. There was too much to think about already and yet he had to keep his mind in complete focus during the time of the assignment. He had to assess the situation accordingly but how to accomplish that if the enemy is armed with such a powerful tool?
The feeling of uncertainty subsided after realizing that his knowledge of the Walther WA2000 is so great, he surely has an advantage over his enemy. The assassin suddenly knew exactly what to do. Throwing the binoculars back to the pocket, he ran to the back of the Pushkin Building, trying to spend as much time hidden behind the neighboring architecture. Just because his enemy had a long-ranged weapon did not mean 47 had no chances of getting in. Much more important than a .300 Winchester Magnum round was always a good, solid plan. The assassin had to surprise the shooter. Sneak into the Pushkin Building and fibre wire him from behind. A plan so simple yet so difficult to accomplish, once 47 began executing it. Sergei’s bodyguards were everywhere. One wrong move and all of their Desert Eagles turn toward him. He had no answer to that one. A thin piano wire will not help once the men draw their guns.
After circling around the building, he came much closer to the back entrance. Two of the mobsters were standing next to a nearby garbage container, having a conversation and a smoke. Pretty unlikely they will pay any attention to the assassin. Another enemy was on patrol, up North but it seemed easy enough to sneak past once he’s not around. There was one more man left to deal with. The one right in front of the doors. This called for a distraction. Nothing fancy. Usually the simplest solution brought the best results.
47 came closer. Still hidden behind the architecture so the men could not spot him. After searching through his pockets, he found a couple of coins. Guess the change still comes in handy. He chose a silver five Ruble. A double-headed eagle on the reverse looked at him curiously. 47 swung his arm. The coin flew in midair for a few seconds before hitting a wall. The bodyguard reacted immediately. Intrigued by a strange noise, left his postage to examine the sound. 47 used this moment of inattention to enter the building. He’s decided to worry about his way out once he’s done with the job.
Once the door closed behind him, 47 grabbed the fibre wire. Holding both of the handles, he tightened the wire. Grasping a weapon in his hands made him feel confident in his craft. The assassin knew there was a shooter in the building. Armed with a Walther WA2000. The enemy will hear the most silent of sounds, will notice the smallest of details, thus 47 took his steps lightly. Knees bent, he was sneaking towards the stairs leading onto the second floor. He was searching for the very room he saw earlier. The gun barrel was sticking out of the window on the opposite side of the building where a meeting was taking place last time he was here.
The overwhelming silence meant 47 could hear the beating of his own heart which sounded louder than usual. His instinct was never wrong. The assassin doubted the shooter is his original target. It was probably somebody sent by Sergei to eliminate the last person who knew about the previous contracts. But 47 has seen too much in his life to be this naive, instead presuming the worst of scenarios. He walked up the steps, crossed the corridor and looked through a keyhole of one of the doors. There were huge tables made of dark wood set by the wall. The windows were open and in front stood a tall man in a black suit. Walther WA2000 in his hands. The assassin slowly opened the door and crept inside. A huge fluffy carpet laying on the floor absorbed the sounds of footsteps. The shooter was dressed very similarly to the Russian mobsters, thus 47 thought he was one of them for a brief second. A second before he came close enough to see the barcode on the back of his head.
This cannot be…
Not thinking about it too much, 47 tied his neck with his trusted fibre wire. The rifle fell on the floor as the man began to choke. Sunglasses, previously hiding his cold blue eyes slid off his head and met with Walther on the carpet. The assassin grasped the handles tightly cutting through the skin on his victim’s neck. He didn’t even count the time it took until the shooter stopped fighting him and gave himself to Death, falling next to his weapon.
“Another ‘brother’,” 47 mumbled turning the body and staring at clone’s dead face. “Thought I killed all of you. But I wonder who’s behind this, trying to kill me with a lesser hitman…”
Then, he heard a familiar voice. Leaning by the shooter, he examined him and noticed a small earpiece which he quickly untied.
“17 – Do you have problem? Report back, 17! Did he take the bait…? What is it, 17? Are you there?”
The voice was harsh and there was a noticeable note of panic heard in man’s speech.
“Where are you?” 47 asked pushing the device into his own ear.
“Far away. Why? Why do you need to know?”
“Sergei, 17 is gone. This is 47.”
“47?” Sergei repeated surprised. “But I…”
“You had your chance, Sergei,” the assassin interrupted him. “Now get off my back or I’ll slit your through.”
“There must be some misunderstanding,” the Russian replied. “Both me and my friend Vittorio think so.”
47 felt as if something was grasping and twisting his heart.
“You got Vittorio?”
“Let’s say he’s here for… spritual guidance.”
There was no point in disputing with the terrorist, thus trying his best to keep his calm, 47 simply said “Sergei, you keep Vittorio out of this. Understand?” before tearing out the cable wire in disgust and throwing the device on the floor, right next to the dead clone.
“Staging his own assassination… double-crossing creep”, he thought. This was the proof that it was Sergei who was responsible for capturing padre Vittorio. And he himself, completely oblivious to this fact was hired to do the dirty job for him. If only he knew, he’d send a bullet into his head during the last visit in St Petersburg. Zavorotko will be waiting for him when he arrives back at Gontranno. The assassin was sure of it. But he will not let Vittorio get hurt. He owes him too much.
All of a sudden, 47 noticed the Russian mobsters moving towards the Pushkin Building. He dove behind the windowsill. He had to flee. And quick. The enemy most likely covered the underground metro entrances. But 47 had another idea. His knowledge of Varosnij will be of use.
Out of the room, the corridor and down the steps, the assassin ran out of the Pushkin Building. He was wearing a similar suit to the one of 17’s so there was a chance bodyguards will mistake him for their ally from a distance. How much time will it take them to find the dead clone, though? Sergei might have forgotten to mention that detail when he let them know something’s wrong. 47 had maybe three to five minutes to disappear. An art he could definitely manage if he plays his cards right.
Paying no attention to civilians who were now curiously observing the action happening at the Varosnij Square, the assassin ran towards the streets. The snow was cracking under his feet as they were falling into the white fluff. He remembered coming through the sewers last time he was here. Now, those same sewers might very well become his only escape route.
The assassin stopped to let a truck drive past him before he crossed the street. He was hoping there were none of Sergei’s men below the ground. 17 was armed only with a sniper rifle and as it was too big of a weapon to carry, 47 was still without a firearm. He approached a manhole and pried it open. Carefully putting his feet on the ladder, he descended into the sewers to meet with an everpresent darkness.
A sewer map drew inside the assassin’s mind. His memory was remarkable, he knew that he had to cross to the other side and then follow a long hallway right below Kirovskij Zavod. At least he won’t have to spend hours in this fetid place looking for the right exit.
Not even a minute later, 47 noticed an enemy. The man was standing a few meters away staring into the darkness. The assassin hugged a nearby wall. Hiding in the shadows, there is a good chance no-one will ever spot him. He began to control his breathing. Even the quietest of sounds may echo and thus, reveal his position. Sneaking towards a slimy footbridge, his thoughts were orbiting around padre Vittorio but he could not let them distract him. No, that was not the time. He had to escape St Petersburg, leave Russia and go back to Sicily.
God, don’t let anything happen to Vittorio…
After crossing the desired footbridge, 47 jumped back into the shadows right before detecting another of the Russian mobsters. Thankfully, before he had a chance to spot him. The assassin took a few steps back and hid behind a corner. There were only a couple of meters between the assassin and the final corridor. Silence was amplifying the tension. He could not stop thinking about what happened. He has never wished death to someone and now his heart was filled with genuine hatred towards Sergei Zavorotko.
This hatred almost cost him. Two of the Russian men were waiting for him by the exit. 47 stood still going through different possibilities in his mind. Maybe be could just slip past them. They were fairly far away from the corridor he was planning to take. There was no turning back now, who knows how many of them were now guarding every corner, every footbridge, every manhole. He had to rely on his skills and natural talent. Taking each step as slowly as he could, he began to creep. Ice cold blue eyes were fixed on the enemies and at one point the assassin could swear that he is right in their view. His heart stopped for a second. He took another step, went into the corridor and crossed it to get to a wooden door. He dug up a lockpick out of one of his pockets and pushed it into the keyhole. Even though the situation was tense, his hands kept steady. He forced open the lock, ran down the stairs and back onto Kirovskij Zavod. The train was right there, almost as if it was waiting for him. 47 hopped on board.
It did not matter where he was going. It did not matter what will happen at Varosnij. It did not matter what either Diana or the ICA will think. He had to go back to Sicily and end Sergei Zavorotko’s life. This was what mattered. To him.