Author Archives: ian80

Podcast 25: 101 Films You Should Have Seen

It’s here! It’s here! The long-awaited sequel to 101 Video Games! Well, almost. Next week our new series of podcasts begins – 101 Films You Should Have Seen (Probably). To whet your appetite we have a short introduction to the podcasts: a trailer if you will. As you’ll have guessed from the new title, we’ve followed in the footsteps of Street Fighter, Resident Evil, House of the Dead and Super Mario Brothers and turned from video games to films. And if our conversion is as half as successful as some of those films, then boy you’re in for a treat!

So join us on our new journey every Thursday. We’ll try to get through it a bit quicker and a bit more regularly than the last one – head to http://101films.wordpress.com on Thursday 13th October to listen to the first in our next illustrious series of 101.

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Podcast 25: 101 Films Intro

You can subscribe to our 101 Video Game podcasts through iTunes by clicking on this link, or you can subscribe to the 101 Films podcasts by clicking on this link.

Ian and Lewis: The Boys Are Back.

Ta ta for now.

Ian & Lewis

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Podcast 23: The Games That Didn’t Quite Make It… Part 1

We know, we know. Surely Post 101 was the end of this thing? Well it was. Kind of. But we couldn’t finish without having a not-so-quick look at the games that didn’t quite make the magic 101. The games that made an impression, that were loved, that were remembered, but lacked that special something.

The next post and podcast will feature Lewis’s games that for some reason weren’t quite up to scratch. In this post though we will be looking at Ian’s selection. Games that due to the pressure of time he never got round to writing about. And by pressure of time we of course mean laziness.

Just to warn you this is a long podcast, but it feels fitting to give these games that time. C’mon, you owe this random collection of old games at least that!

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Podcast 23 Games That Didn’t Quite Make It Part 1 – Ian

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Ian & Lewis

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Filed under Feature, Podcast

#101: Journey’s End

Format: Spectrum Genre: Adventure Released: 1985 Developer: Games Workshop

Nothing lasts forever. Here we are then, at game number 101. The last in our (not really) definitive list of games that made our lives slightly better. What game do you pick to adequately round off this 3 year journey? How can you represent 100 entries, thousands of words and several podcasts?

We’ve been through a lot on 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. Doing this blog has been fun, has brought friends together and has given Lew and myself a great sense of achievement. At times it’s also been frustrating, has caused arguments, has been distinctly annoying and seemingly never-ending, and there have been long periods where nothing has really happened. Our final game was all those things for me, plus its name is perfect for the last post (natch). We have reached our Journey’s End.

My best friend for most of my childhood was a guy called Tony. Between the ages of 9 and 16 we saw each other pretty much every day. We lived on the same road, walked to school together and were in the same class at school. During the school holidays we would hang out together along with my younger brother. When you’re 10 years old, school holidays seem to last forever and we were often bored and struggled to think of things to do. Things got pretty desperate at times; one holiday I’m pretty sure we went to Woolworths every single day just to look at the videos and toys, never buying anything. Those were the days eh?

Tony had an old Spectrum (a hand me down from his older brother I think) and we used to dig that out and play on it, especially if it was pouring with rain outside. Even back then the Spectrum was pretty old fashioned, but we had no other options. I may be wrong but I think Tony didn’t own any two player games either. We were forced to play collectively, with one person controlling the game while the other two gave advice. This was surprisingly fun and kept us occupied for hours at a time. By far our favourite game to play this way was Journey’s End.

To the castle comrades! Just to warn you it's further away than it looks...

Journey’s End was a fantasy game, featuring the usual fantasy tropes – bands of warriors, spells, dragons, goblins (or was it orcs?) and so on. The game stood out by being split into four distinct parts which all played quite differently. It was also a long game. A very long game. So it was the perfect distraction to fill those long summer holidays.

Everything about the game took time. To begin with, of course, you had to load the game. It’s an obvious point to make but it did take aaaaages to play a Spectrum game. I remember we would sit there waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a game to load. Or should I say try to load? Often games would crash half-way through loading so you would have to start again. I’m sure Journey’s End often did that. It was quite possible to spend 45 minutes just trying to start a game. Looking back it absolutely amazes me that two 10 year olds and a 7 year old had that level of patience.

Here you can see all the gems, pots of gold and potions. But you can't see the stupid invisible traps.

The first part of Journey’s End was set in a maze. You would move around, exploring more of the maze until you found a key and a gate to escape. There were gold, gems and potions to find as well. Unfortunately there were also traps. Stupid, invisible, impossible-to-avoid traps. One of the most frustrating things about the maze was that you would only find the traps once you had set them off. The mazes were randomly generated and there was no logic behind where the traps were so it was sheer luck whether you ran into them. Not only that, occasionally you had strength points taken off because of a trap your character had fallen into during the bit between mazes, when you weren’t even controlling him. IT WAS INFURIATING. But we played it all the same.

ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

After a certain amount of mazes (again it seemed random the number you would have to tackle) you start the second part of Journey’s End: recruiting your band of warriors, wizards and warlocks (I know warlocks and wizards are kind of the same thing, I just wanted to use another ‘w’ word).

Using the treasure you found in the mazes you recruit a group of men to come on the quest with you. Not enough gold? Well make some on the rat races!

Just like my old Grandad used to say, always bet on the Green Rat.

Being 10 year old boys we particularly enjoyed renaming the mercenaries so they had stupid and/or rude names. As a 31 year old man I suspect I would still find that funny.

After advertising this is all I got. Rubbish!

Once you’ve got your gang together it’s time to go to the enchanted castle where the ‘Elixir of Hagar’ is being guarded by a giant dragon. How exciting! Oh, first you’ve got to get there.

Yes the third part of the game was you making your way to the castle. It’s actually quite similar to walking around the map in Final Fantasy 7, with the same random annoying fights. It’s this stage of the game that I really remember. The image of Tony, my brother and I, sitting on a large cushion transfixed in front of the TV, using the cursor keys to sloooowly move our group up the map while being watched by Tony’s haughty cat Claude is burned onto my mind’s eye. That stage was hard and often we wouldn’t reach the castle. The battles would pick off your men one by one, it was easy to get lost, and of course there was always the danger that the game would crash.

So here we go. Easy right. Nope.

Looking back, this stage of the game does successfully recreate the feel of the first Lord of the Rings book, which emphasises just how far the Fellowship of the Ring actually have to travel. The problem is, while a book can use that time to concentrate on character, and while a film can distract you with flashy CGI and battles, a 1985 Spectrum game can only recreate the feeling of travelling nowhere fast. Again, the patience we had was incredible.

Thrilling action from the map screen.

If you did manage to survive the random battles, find the bridge to take you over the river and then find the castle itself, you could move on to the fourth and final part of the game – the Dragon’s Castle.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about this stage as we rarely reached the castle. Even if we had got through the previous three stages without dying, by the time we got to the castle it was usually dinner time and my brother and I had to go home.

The couple of times we did get there though it seemed impossibly hard. I think we reached the Dragon once, but by then our party’s strength had been massively depleted, and we had used all our spells so there was little we could do.

Saw this screen a lot.

Despite all of this we loved the game, and I think there was more to this adoration than just being able to call one of your warriors Arsebum. The very fact the pace of the game was so slow allowed Tony, my brother and myself to play it together. We gave our characters personalities, argued over the way to go, shouted at the TV in unified anger when we had tripped over an invisible bit of stone in the maze losing 5 strength points, laughed at each other’s jokes during the dull slog looking for the Bridge across the river and cheered when we found the castle. We may have never actually reached the End but the Journey was fun in itself.

Speaking of endings, we’re at the end of this post and this blog. Well, we do have two more podcasts to come about games that didn’t quite make the magic 101, but our list of games is now complete. For those who have read/listened to all 101 posts I hope you enjoyed them and Lew and I would like to think that the blog has made your lives (very, very, very slightly) better. Or at the very least not worse.

Every ending is a new beginning though and our new project will be launched sometime in the summer. Hope you can join us on that journey too.

One last thing before I go: fancy playing Journey’s End? Then go here for this excellent repository of old Spectrum games. Isn’t the internet marvellous?

Ian

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Filed under 1985, Adventure, Games Workshop, Spectrum

Podcast 22: Crazy Taxi (#100)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Racing, Arcade, Sandbox Released: 1999 Developer: Hitmaker

Here at 101 Video Game Towers we often enjoy games that somehow turn mundane activities into fun adventures. Yes, you may have a good time being a space fighter pilot, or the heroic saviour of a post apocalyptic wasteland, or even a low-level gangster in the 1980s clubbing someone round the head with a baseball bat, but it can also be just as satisfying walking a dog, fishing or running a railway business.

Despite this fine pedigree there must have been some consternation when, during a meeting at Hitmaker HQ, the Big Boss pointed with his fat cigar at a lowly, nervous looking  programmer and demanded he make a game that recreates the thrills and spills of driving a taxi.

The advertising was very subtle.

Still, they don’t call Hitmaker ‘Hitmaker’ for nothing. They know how to make hits. In case you haven’t noticed it’s literally their name. Hitmaker… a maker of hits. If they didn’t know how to make hits their name would look stupid and boastful. Which it certainly isn’t. Though they did change it a couple of years ago to Sega AM3 which suggests they tired of putting so much pressure on themselves and instead became extremely early risers.

Anyway, all it took to turn mini-cabbing into a successful game was to add a bit of *pause* ‘Crazy’ (raise eyebrow when reading the word ‘Crazy’).

A taxi flying into the air? How crazy.

Welcome to the 22nd 101 Video Games Podcast! Listen as Ian and Lewis discuss Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, the disappearance of Tower Records, how pretty much anyone can’t help but like Offspring while playing this game even if they don’t usually, what a British version of the game would be like and once again reminisce about wasting time at university.

So, as someone with some kind of throat problem once said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey its time for Crazy Taxi!’

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Podcast 22 Crazy Taxi

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In many ways Gena is Ian's perfect woman - beautiful, cool and, most importantly, she can drive.

Ian & Lewis

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Filed under 1999, Arcade, Dreamcast, Hitmaker, Podcast, Racing, Sandbox Game

Podcast 21: Fallout 3 (#99)

Format: Xbox 360 Genre: Action Role-Playing Released: 2008 Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

So, Fallout 3. It’s buggy. Occasionally awkward to control. The in-game characters sometimes know stuff they shouldn’t and/or the conversations get stuck in odd loops. It is also fantastic.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3

2008 was not a great year for Ian. All sorts of horrible things happened and his life took a very different direction to where he thought it was going. Come November he found himself single and living with his Mum. The best laid plans of mice and men eh? Ian’s personal misfortune coincided with a global misfortune, as the economy went belly-up. Basically to Ian circa November 2008 everything seemed f*****d.

So what did he do? Ian sulked for a bit, then went out and bought an Xbox 360 and Fallout 3.

Now let’s just stop a moment and think about this. Ian’s not happy. Banks are going under. The Russians are showing off in Georgia. Global Warming. The possibility, however slight, that McCain and Palin might actually win… The sense (and admittedly that sense is still kind of around today) that the world was falling apart, that we are, in best Daily Mail tradition, going to hell in a hand cart. And what does Ian buy? A game which depicts a horrific, post apocalyptic waste land. Where the inhabitants live hand to mouth, struggling with radiation, marauding gangs, mutants and monsters.

Take that mutant!

Take that mutant!

It was just the tonic! Ian plays the game as a virtual saint, becoming a hero to the people of the Wasteland.

Fast forward to Christmas 2010. Lewis receives Fallout 3 from the kindly old soak that Ian has become. Lewis is newly promoted, happily living with the love of his life in his own flat (bought that year) in a trendy-but-not-to-trendy-but-still-nice bit of London. Lewis is happy and comfortable. He plays the game as a ruthless evildoer, enslaving, murdering and looting as he goes.

There’s an important lesson there. Do write in if you work out what that lesson is.

Lewis's trusty companion Sergeant RL-3 - never leave home without one. His 'lively' phrases have a knack of sticking in the memory, such as: "Do that again and I'll put my boot so far up your ass you'll cough up boot polish!"

It’s the 21st 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better Podcast! In this one we discuss Fallout 3. For ages. Seriously, it’s about 45 minutes long. Sorry about that.

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Podcast 21 – Fallout 3 (Post #99)

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We’ll leave you with something that goody-two-shoes Ian never got to see – the stirring sight of Megaton being annihilated…

Ian and Lewis

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Filed under 2008, Bethesda Game Studios, Podcast, RPG, Xbox 360

#97: Civilization II

Format: PC Genre: Turn-Based Strategy Released: 1996 Developer: MicroProse

One of the great difficulties in writing this blog has been picking just one game to represent its respective series. This is especially tricky if ‘the best’, ‘the one which we played the most’ and ‘the original’ are actually all different games in the series. Argh!

I faced this problem before, when trying to decide which Resident Evil game to write about, and I’m having the same debate with myself about which Civilization game to cover. The thing is I… is love too strong a word? No, it’s not. I love the Civilization games. The late, great Sid Meier (N.B. at time of writing, not actually dead) created something very special when he came up with the idea of Civilization (it either came to him after he got a bang on the head while fixing a toilet or stole the idea from a board game, can’t remember which).

Sid Meier. My hero... Sigh.

I think I’ve played six different Civilization games over the years, and I’m not even counting the various add-on packs and downloadable content. Collectively I’ve probably spent more time playing Civ (get with it Grandad, that’s what we kids call Civilization) games than any others. Deciding which one to cover for this blog has not been easy and, again similar to Resident Evil, I put the decision off as long as I could. With only four slots left on the blog my hand has been forced and, after careful consideration, I’ve decided to write about the one I probably played the most and returned to the most often – Civilization II.

By the way, despite being English and becoming increasingly annoyed by how American spellings are creeping into general use in the UK (it must be my age), I’ll be using the US spelling of ‘civilization’ rather than the actually-correct-as-we-invented-the-language civilisation, as that’s the spelling the games use. When I was a kid and had the first Civ game on the Amiga I made a big thing about spelling it ‘Civilisation‘ not ‘Civilization‘ on the labels of the copy disks I made. I was, as has been established in several other posts, a strange child.*

The premise of Civilization is that you control a nation/civilization for 6000 years of history. It is a massive, sprawling game in which you start with the founding of a small city state, often not even having invented the wheel, and can end up with a continent-spanning empire, putting people on the moon and nuking your neighbours.

I got the first Civ game for my Amiga 1200 sometime in 1993. Despite the simple visuals the 12/13-year-old me was instantly hooked. The game’s genius lies in how it starts off relatively simply and gradually becomes complex as you play it. Initially you just have to choose the location of your city, and then decide what unit or building to make. Easy.

The first Civilization. Looks like the German's are doing well.

After a couple of hours’ play you might have adopted a monarchy, hit the middle ages and have six or seven cities. Suddenly there’s a lot more to worry about. What’s your tax rate? What technology are you going to research? Do you change political systems? You’ve just met the Russians, should you attack them or try to build an alliance with them? Hang on, the people in one of your cities have started to riot! Do you send in the troops or build a temple to try and make them happy?

Five or six hours later you’d have become a republic and have a dozen or more cities. Your civilization has grown but now you’re in the middle of a nasty war with the French which you seem to be losing despite your new musketeer unit. By the eighth hour you’ve defeated the French, turned Communist, cured cancer but lost the space race against the aggressive and technologically advanced Zulu Empire.

Still, unlike the real world, if it all goes wrong you can start again and try to get it right. Before you know it you’ll be shouting at your pixelated army “Repel the Mongols you cowards” and renaming the recently conquered Berlin after youself. Ianstown does have a ring to it…

Early in the game. Looks lonely for the English.

One game could last days, and the sheer complexity of Civilization meant that each time you played it the experience would be slightly different. Wiped out by an invading Aztec army in 1457? Simply start again and try to get it right.

1996’s Civilization II took all that was great about the original and added so much more. Graphically the game was obviously vastly better, with an isometric viewpoint and a much more intuitive interface. The world map became larger, with lots more civilizations to play as (ever wondered who would win in a fight, the Vikings or the Egyptians? You can see in Civ II). The military side of the game is also much better. In the original Civ you occasionally had tanks beaten by archers and other slightly ridiculous things like that. Now units have ‘firepower’ and ‘hit’ points. Y’know, just like in real life!

One nice touch was the videos of advisers telling you what to do. The help they gave was minimal, pretty much asking you to concentrate on whatever area they represented (military advisor asking for more military units, economics advisor asking for more banks or market places), but for a game that in many ways was so serious, it was good to have some amusing (well, amusing the first couple of times you saw them) bits. I especially liked the Elvis guy, and the way the advisers’ costumes changed through the ages. When your Civilization was in a state of anarchy they even argued:

One innovation that Civ II introduced, and that all subsequent Civ games have had, is having different ‘scenarios’ – WWII, Fantasy Kingdoms, etc. Civ II also allowed you to create game scenarios and soon there were hundreds of fan-made ones online. My favourite was a steampunk one where you could control the Anglo-French Empire and take on the ‘Evil Society’ led by Fu Manchu. There was even a War of the Worlds-esque Martian Invasion half way through the game.

The Civilization series is the crack-cocaine of games, with a ‘just one more go’ aspect that I’m sure has led to all sorts of missed appointments/late homework/failed relationships. This is despite some pretty slow loading times. Civ II wasn’t so bad, but the original Civilization? Towards the end of the game, when your Empire would be pretty big, you would sometimes have to wait nearly 10 minutes between turns.

The games are especially appealing to people like me with a God/Napoleon complex. If only humans had always had this game, I really feel it would have saved our race a lot of bother. All those dictators and mad men who have caused so much misery because of their lust for power… If only they could have played Civ II, they would have just sat in their bedrooms, living out their power-crazed fantasies virtually.

Half the fun was creating an entire alternate history for the world. Remember the great Greek Empire across 19th Century Europe?

I sometimes worry that without this game I would end up seizing power and MAKING EVERYONE PAY. Ahem. Don’t worry though, even if this does happen I’m a pretty good ruler, conquering the world as a communist before creating a worldwide democracy. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? See my Syndicate post for more evidence of my disturbing dictator tendencies.

I got a good 8 or 9 years of play out of Civilization II. Not many games you could say that about. I bought Civilization III but it seemed overly complex to me, and I returned to the simple elegance of II. It wasn’t until I got Civilization IV in 2006 that I felt ready to leave it behind. I’ve not played Civ V, though my brother has and he’s not impressed, so I’ll probably stick with IV for now.

If you treat the series as one game then I would say it’s the best game ever. Really. It’s addictive, has incredible depth, and has taught me all sorts about history and ancient civilizations (I first learnt about what happened to the Aztecs, the Manhattan Project and Ironclads from Civilization). It also manages to realistically reflect real-world politics. For example, in Civ IV I often found myself starting wars because I wanted access to oil a rival had in its territory. They should play it in schools! Though it might lead kids to think Cardiff had pyramids…

Taken from Moby Games (http://www.mobygames.com/)

To finish, here’s a description of a particular game of Civ II I played years ago, taken from an old blog of mine. Enjoy!

I dug Civ II out the other day on a whim. I decided to be the Japanese and play on the ‘real’ world map (as opposed to a world the computer randomly makes up). I didn’t do very well. I made some elementary mistakes which meant that I fell well behind in technology compared to other civilisations (especially the Greeks curse them). I ended up having a pointless war with the Chinese which gave me a bad reputation with the rest of the world, then accidentally angered the Greeks who conquered half of my territory with frightening ease. I gave up when it became obvious that I was on the brink of becoming a 4th rate power in the world, appeasing the massive Greek Empire and their Chinese lapdogs. I refuse to live in a world like that!

I named one of the Japanese cities on the Asian mainland after Lewis (Lewisville?). It was one of the first to fall against the Greeks. I blame him and his cowardly city on my eventual defeat. I will make him suffer for your betrayal.

ALL HAIL IAN!!!

Hmmm, writing that reminds me of this bit from Red Dwarf…

Ian

*[Lewis puts on his copy-editor hat and attends the lecturn.] Actually, ‘-ize’ endings have been in use in British English since the 16th century, and are derived from Greek (whereas ‘-ise’ comes from French), so they’re not merely an ‘Americanism’. Also, the OED usually lists ‘-ize’ endings first, although it takes great pains to point out that ‘-ise’ is an “equally correct, alternative spelling”. Having said all that, I still prefer ‘-ise’ endings, even though I spend all day at work changing them to ‘-ize’.

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Filed under 1996, MicroProse, PC, Turn-Based Strategy

#96: Syndicate

Format: Amiga Genre: Tactical shooting/Real-time tactics Released: 1993 Developer: Bullfrog Productions

I’ve always been interested in politics and, well, power. I distinctly remember aged 7 or 8 explaining to a classmate that Margaret Thatcher was a Prime Minister, not a President as Britain didn’t have Presidents. When I was given the action figure of Hordak (main villian of She-Ra and former mentor of Skeletor of course) I considered the ramifications amongst the villians of suddenly having the old boss back. Who would they back? Could Skeletor be deposed? Could civil war break out on Snake Mountain?

I was an odd child in many ways.

By the time I was 13 I had started to think about how power should be used and, most importantly, who should be in charge. My conclusion? That I should be in charge. Yes, me. Sadly at 13 I realised I was some time away from seizing power. Sorry, did I say seizing? I obviously meant to say ‘become politically active, maybe getting involved in local politics or something’…

While I waited to get old enough to fulfil my political destiny I played games that seemed to have a political or, ahem, power-hungry bent. Civilization, Command & Conquer, Colonization, Rise of Nations, and, the subject of this post, Syndicate.

See my Empire grow... Ooo har har har!

Syndicate is set in a Blade Runner-esque future where nation states and governments have been replaced by corrupt corporations. The people have been numbed into submission by having a chip inserted into their heads which alters reality, making them see a world of sunshine and lollipops rather than the dystopian nightmare it actually is. Imagine the iPhone ten years from now.

Rather than make you a freedom fighter or something similar (booooooooring), Syndicate puts you at the head of one of these naughty businesses. The aim of the game is to forcibly take over all other rival corporations – effectively take over the world. You do this by sending a team of four heavily armed cyborgs into various global hotspots to commit sabotage, oppression and bit of old-fashioned political assassination. Successfully complete the mission and a chunk of the world would become yours. It certainly puts the aggressive in ‘aggressive takeover’.

A rival suffers from an unfortunate 'accident'.

Each mission takes place in a city. One of the most impressive things about Syndicate, especially considering when it came out, is the way each level felt like a real city. Yes, they all look the same, but they seem like living, breathing places. Police are patrolling the streets, cars and trains are moving around the place and people are going about their daily business. Well, they were going about their daily business until cyborgs got in the way.

Sorry everyone, boss says I've got to clear the area.

Of course you didn’t just have to kill people, you could also hypnotize them, kidnap them and turn them into cyborgs to use in future missions. You could raise taxes in each territory you owned and invest those funds in weapon research and upgrading your cyborgs, giving them fancy new legs, skin and eyes.

We can rebuild him...

The great thing about Syndicate was, though simple to play, it had a surprising amount of depth. It wasn’t a case of just shooting everything that moved (though there was thankfully a lot of that) but also managing your resources. The way each of your cyborg agents reacted in missions could be altered by adjusting their IPA (Intelligence, Perception and Adrenaline). Raise taxes too sharply and you might have a rebellion on your hands in your territory. Want more intelligence before you start a mission? OK, but that info will cost you money.

There’s something about seeing the colour of your empire slowly spread across the map of the world that is just so appealing. Every time you successfully completed a mission you saw the cut scene below. I never got tired of watching it.

In the manual it explains that like all power mad villains your base of operations is an airship. Oh yes!

Unfortunately, for various reasons I never played either of the follow ups – ‘American Revolt‘ (an expansion pack for the original game) and Syndicate Wars, a full sequel released on the Playstation and PC in 1996. I would love an updated version though. Even though it’s not something I ever do, an online Syndicate would be awesome, especially as the world of Syndicate seems to get a bit closer every day…

Ian

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Filed under 1993, Amiga, Bullfrog Productions, Real-Time Tactics