Summing up the musical career of Scottish musician Tommy Concrete is a tough ask because it seems to be in his nature to avoid pigeon-holes. The artist’s recorded output includes releases with the likes of The Exploited, Jackal-Headed Guard Of The Dead and Man Of The Hour but also now nine solo albums, the latest being Hexenzirkel which releases this June. This time around Tommy Concrete has opted for an epic approach, with lead single ‘What Unknown Force’ clocking in at a little under eighteen minutes and boasting an impressive concoction of doom metal with touches of prog and some blackened flourishes.
Ahead of the album’s release, we’re excited to have Tommy as the latest artist to tackle Grand Thrash Auto, chronicling five of his favourite games of all time. His picks make for an exciting exploration of retro gaming and some hidden gems from his childhood. If there’s one thing this series has shown in recent weeks, it’s just how powerful a good game can be, and the ways they can stick with us. As Tommy talks of dreaming in wireframe graphics and his love of “boomer shooters”, we’re once again reminded of the impact that a powerful gaming experience can have.
Mercenary: Escape From Targ (1985)
Mercenary is the original first-person open-world non-linear exploration game and thirteen-year-old me lost an entire summer to it on my beloved Commodore 64 computer. The immersive quality and sheer impact of this game was unprecedented back then. I remember having my mind blown when I decided to fly a gigantic piece of cheese up to a pixel in the sky, ten minutes later I reached said pixel which was in fact a secret floating space station, which I duly explored over the course of a week. Basically the gist of the game is you crash-land on Targ, which is in the midst of a civil war between the Palyars and Mechanoids. Your aim is to find a way off the planet, by exploring the buildings, secret bases and acting as a merc. It was decades before its time in the fact that the game had multiple pathways to win. Such an immersive experience, as I had drawn maps and made notes that covered my bedroom in my quest to complete the game. I even had dreams in wireframe vector graphics. I recently played a PC port of it, still epic and all down to the wonderfully surreal mind of its creator, the late great Paul Woakes.
Alien Breed (1991)
I didn’t play many games in the first half of the ‘90s as I was mainly using my Atari St for music, but this game got absolutely hammered. I had a revisit a few years back on PS3 when it was rereleased and remastered, still holding up. Basically, this is a shameless clone of Gauntlet and a rip off of the Aliens film in equal measures. It got a lot of flak for being derivative and too hard, but I flat-out love it. I was a big fan of Gauntlet, but unlike Gauntlet, Alien Breed works just fine in single player. It’s a simple top-down blast through a sci-fi maze with various weapons and power-ups and an endless relentless swarm of aliens. Great atmosphere, nice and tense, and even though it’s not an official Aliens game, it’s my favourite Aliens game by far.
Quake 2 (1997)
I found out the other day that “boomer shooters” were a thing, and yeah to be honest that’s exactly my bag. Doom, Halo, Unreal Tournament 2003, Blood, Duke Nukem, Redneck Rampage etc. So anyway, I decided to only pick one and that was sort of easy, it had to be something from the Quake series and that’s easily the second one, which is underrated and doesn’t get much love at all, maybe something to do with it being difficult to get hold of, as it has compatibility issues with modern hardware. I used to love smashing through the entire campaign in an evening, which usually took me about five hours. It’s a brilliantly balanced journey into a wonderfully realised futuristic horror planet. Amazing. There have been a few re-rendered versions of it with “improved” graphics and what have you, but they don’t appeal to me, it’s sort of like listening to Transilvanian Hunger rerecorded to sound like Devin Townsend Project or something. Which brings me to the soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem which is by far my favourite industrial metal album ever and a huge influence on some of my earlier solo stuff, specifically my We Have Bift Off album.
I’ve definitely played this more times than anything else and completed it every which way you can with every single possible combination of skills across almost every platform it was released on. The first game I ever played wherein I was actually invested in the story, which is one of my favourite dystopian sci-fi tales ever. And one that, to my great displeasure, I have seen unfold in actual reality this past year throughout the world. I played Dragon Age: Inquisition last year and madly hammered the skip button through all the cutscenes, and dutily read none of the lore scattered about the game. In comparison, I read (and still read) every newspaper and scribbled note in Deus-Ex every time, becoming absorbed into every little minutiae of the story. It was ground-breaking at the time and has been much copied, and rightly so. I’d never been so sucked into a game since Mercenary: Escape from Targ fifteen years earlier.
Star Wars (Atari, 1983)
Okay so this is personally controversial, as I originally was going to say Knights Of The Old Republic, as it is such a mega important game to me, I even have a cat called Revan… but to be honest, I just think I’m fucking sick of talking about it… So to keep on the Star Wars kick it has to be the Original Star Wars arcade game by Atari, and specifically the version where you actually sat in it. Like Mercenary this is a vector graphics, wireframe first-person affair, and THE GREATEST SPACE BATTLE SIMULATION EVER! Back then, there was simply no greater rush than blowing up Tie Fighters in an assault on the Death Star. I had this via a MAME emulator a few years back, and it holds up for sure. I’ve played the Battlefront games and to be honest, the Death Star bit was ace, but just didn’t have the simple punk rock vibe of wireframe graphics. The greatest possible thing I could ever own would be an original (seated version) of this arcade game, although it’s very unlikely I would ever have anywhere to keep it! A truly fantastic game from the golden age of the arcades, which I am so glad I got to experience first hand.
Honourable mention: Commando, Wizball and Half-Life 2
For more Grand Thrash Auto pieces, click here.
Intro: George Parr