Tag Archives: Game review

#38: Cannon Fodder

Format: Amiga Genre: Real-Time Tactics Released: 1993 Developer: Sensible Software

[Two of The Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse (the only minor deities committed to a programme of rigorous consumer testing) are drinking tea.]

FIRST CYCLIST: Another biscuit?

SECOND CYCLIST: Don’t mind if I do. Now let me see… Bourbon I think. [Sound of munching.] Mmmm.

Cannon_fodder_box_art

[The THIRD CYCLIST enters.]

THIRD CYCLIST: Morning chaps! It’s a lovely day out on the ethereal plane, you should go for a ride. Oooh, are those biscuits? [Takes custard cream.]

FIRST CYCLIST: I would do, but I’m getting my bike resprayed.

THIRD CYCLIST: [Speaking with difficulty while chewing.] Ogh yesh? What colough?

FIRST CYCLIST: Black.

THIRD CYCLIST: [Swallows.] But didn’t you get it sprayed black last time?

FIRST CYCLIST: Yes, but it’s midnight black this time – the guy reckons it’s the blackest black you can get.

SECOND CYCLIST: But I thought black was simply the absence of colour, and hence it’s actually impossible to divide ‘black’ into shades – it’s either black or it’s not black, i.e. grey.

FIRST CYCLIST: [Pauses…] Yeah, but this is really black.

cannon_fodder_06

The mangled corpses of your enemies, yesterday.

[The FOURTH CYCLIST enters carrying a large box wrapped in a bin bag with a note saying ‘TAKE ME’ pinned on the side.]

FOURTH CYCLIST: Hey guys, look what I found! Someone just left it lying around outside the front of their house!

[The FOURTH CYCLIST whips away the bin bag with a flourish to reveal an Amiga 500+ with a stack of games.]

THIRD CYCLIST: Cool! Hey you know that reminds of that time at Amiga Power – you know, when we brutally slayed the entire staff?

[The others stop what they’re doing for a moment and gaze thoughtfully at the ceiling.]

FIRST CYCLIST: Oh yeeeahh! I’d forgotten about that!

[The Four Cyclists meditate on the thought for a moment, with wistful smiles playing across the voids where their faces should have been. The SECOND CYCLIST stands and claps his hands together, breaking the others out of their reverie.]

SECOND CYCLIST: Right! Shall we see if it works then?

Cannon_Fodder_recruits

'Cunning Metaphor For The Futility Of War', more like.

[Half an hour later the cyclists are gathered around a dilapidated TV listening to the A500 disk drive grind and sputter its way back into life.]

FOURTH CYCLIST: Right, what shall we play on then? Zool?

THIRD CYCLIST: Frankly I just have one thing to say to that: ‘up to jump‘.

FIRST CYCLIST: How about Cannon Fodder, the Game of Champions?

[Ten minutes later the quartet are watching the words ‘This game is not in any way endorsed by the ROYAL BRITISH LEGION’ appear on the screen, immediately followed by a giant poppy and the words ‘CANNON FODDER’. The accompanying music is ‘War Has Never Been So Much Fun’.]

SECOND CYCLIST: Reminds me of all that fuss about the poppy on the front cover of the game. Yet despite all the Daily Star’s accusations of warmongering and insensitivity, the game actually carried a distinctly anti-war message, as evidenced by the fact that your new recruits queue up in front of the graves of the newly dead – surely a potent image of the futility of war?

THIRD CYCLIST: Errr… yeah.

SECOND CYCLIST: Not to mention the fact that every soldier in the game had a unique name, which meant you couldn’t help but grow attached to your recruits as they steadily moved their way up the ranks. Seeing your favourite general die halfway through the game was nothing short of a tragedy – and by extension, this emphasised the tragedy of death in real-life combat.

THIRD CYCLIST: Yeah, it was annoying when they died.

1242577203-01

Igloos and snowmen were a common occurrence in Cannon Fodder. Natch.

SECOND CYCLIST: Erm, I’m not sure you’re really getting this are you? The point is that in most war games you’re in control of nameless goons or some ridiculous super-soldier that can be resurrected at the touch of a button, and as such you never really end up caring about them. But by giving the soldiers individual names, Cannon Fodder succeeds in creating a bond between the player and the game characters, and their very fragility and the permanance of their death serves to strengthen this bond. Because you know that your character can be killed by just a couple of shots, and that if he dies he’s gone forever, you take extra care to look after him. Do you see?

FIRST CYCLIST: YES!!! GOT HIM! DIE YOU MOFO! Right, that’s level 1 done, anyone else fancy a go?

THIRD CYCLIST: ME ME ME!!!

SECOND CYCLIST: Sigh.

Lewis

(Hang on – what on earth was all that about? – Ed)

Sorry, it’s a review In The Style Of… Amiga Power. You can read more about the mighty beings of Amiga Power by cruising down the InformationSuperHighway to this CyberInfoDump. If you didn’t find any of this in the slightest bit interesting or amusing, then you probably used to read (“Michael Jackson” – Ed). Tsk.

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3 Comments

Filed under 1993, Amiga, Real-Time Tactics, Sensible Software

#34: Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty

Format: PC Genre: Real-Time Tactics* Released: 1999 Developer: Pyro Studios

I’m not even sure if I actually like this game or not, but I feel it deserves inclusion for the simple fact that it dominated my life for a week or so in early 1999 or thereabouts. Whether it made my life better or just scarred me for life is up for debate…

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty Box

In early 1999 I was in the first year at university, and one of my friends in halls had a one-level demo of Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty on his PC (incidentally, the game is a standalone expansion pack for Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, which was released the previous year). The idea of the game is simple – you control a squad of commandos (sniper, driver, spy, green beret, etc.) and the aim is to sneak around behind enemy lines performing various acts of sabotage and assassination. However, the actual execution (if you’ll forgive the pun) is mind-numbingly difficult – if you’re spotted by one of the enemy troops, it’s pretty much game over, which means you have to plan every single move in excruciating detail.

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 1

Before moving anywhere you have to scope out the patrol paths and lines of sight of all of the enemy guards to ensure you don’t end up wandering across any wayward Germans. This generally equates to crawling around painfully slowly and hiding behind bushes – as you might have guessed, this definitely isn’t an action game. In fact, shooting anyone is practically committing suicide, as the sound of gunshots draws in every German from the surrounding area, resulting in a quick death for Johnny Englishman. The only way to really progress safely is to sneak up behind each enemy and dispatch them silently before hiding the body – no mean feat when the level I played was approximately the size of Normandy (you can see why it took me a week to complete one level).

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 2

The cautious nature of the gameplay and the massive penalties for detection meant that I had to save the game after practically every move I made, and there were several occasions where I had to backtrack to a previous save point and redo a whole section of the level because I’d gone the wrong way or found myself in an impossible situation. God knows where I got the patience from.

However, as they say, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward, and the sense of achievement I felt on completing the demo was utterly amazing – somehow the elation of triumph over adversity overshadowed all the hardship and frustration. I imagine it’s the same kind of feeling as being trapped down a mine for a week and then stumbling, squinting and bewildered, into the sunshine, safe in the knowledge that you can happily get on with the rest of your life.

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 3

That makes it sound like the game was a chore to play, but that’s definitely not the case – frustrating and difficult it might have been, but it was also extremely rewarding, not to mention very pretty to look at (I reckon the hand-drawn graphics still stand up pretty well today). Then there’s the fantastic sound effects, the speech in particular. The green beret (I think it was the green beret anyway) said everything in a wonderfully sneering tone, and ordering him to move anywhere would elicit a sarcastic “Yes… sir“.

But does the game stand up today? The inspiration for this post came from seeing Commandos 2 on the PS2 for a ludicrously low price in a game shop over the weekend. I couldn’t resist picking it up for nostalgia’s sake, but I was bitterly disappointed when I got it home – after less than an hour I’d become utterly frustrated with the glacial pace of the gameplay and the constant restarts. Perhaps this game is best regarded as a fond memory. Or at least as a worthwhile exercise in endurance.

Commandos Beyond The Call Of Duty screenshot 4

Although having said that, the PS2 conversion was utterly dire – the attempt to map the various controls to a joypad resulted in probably the least intuitive control system I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Plus it had the most tedious tutorial I’ve ever seen in a video game, but I had no choice but to sit through it because the controls were so damn complicated that I didn’t have a hope in hell of playing otherwise.

Still, these days I prefer my gaming in bite-sized chunks – I just don’t have the time to play games like this anymore. Anything that requires me to play a level for an hour or more – let alone a week – just doesn’t get a look in. Aaah, to be 19 again, with acres of spare time spread in front of me…

(This is actually a video of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, but you get the idea.)

Lewis

*Bit of an odd genre this – Commandos was an early example of a real-time tactics game, but Cannon Fodder (which will be appearing on the list soon) was one of the very first. A list of RTT games can be found here.

(Screenshots from http://www.gamespot.com)

4 Comments

Filed under 1999, PC, Pyro Studios, Real-Time Tactics

#33: Doom

Format: Playstation Genre: First Person Shooter Released: 1995 Developer: id

Ah, good old Doom. I remember when it originally came out in 1993 – suddenly it became cool to own a PC, which up until that point had been the sole preserve of flight sim enthusiasts and Civilisation fans. As an Amiga owner I could only seethe in jealousy as my PC-owning mates regaled me with tales of besting Cyberdemons, while I made do with Alien Breed 3D and Gloom. After a long wait, I finally got my chance to engage the hordes of hell in 1995, with the release of Doom on Playstation.

Doom playstation box

Looking back at this game, it’s just amazing how simple it is – things that we take for granted in modern FPSs (like the ability to look up and down) just didn’t exist in 1995. Then again, if the protagonist of Doom managed to defeat the army of Hades without looking up once, perhaps the ability to swivel your viewpoint vertically is overrated. Yes, looking up is definitely for wimps.

Doom playstation screenshot 1

Of course, the best bit about Doom was the multiplayer. I clubbed together with my mate round the corner to buy a link cable, and seemingly every day in the holidays he would schlep round to mine with his Playstation for a bit of a Doom sesh. In the current climate of massively multiplayer FPSs, two player link-up Doom seems almost quaint, but for most of 1995 it sucked up my spare time like a supermassive black hole.

The single-player mode was pretty addictive too. The need to find all of the hidden rooms in the game held an extremely seductive allure, and I remember spending most of the game rubbing up against walls while fumbling with the ‘open’ button. I seem to recall there was a hidden disco room, but I can’t find any screenshots of it – can anyone help?

Doom playstation screenshot 2

Then there were the enemies – considering they were just pixellated 2D sprites pasted onto a pseudo-3D background, they did a pretty damn good job of being scrotum-tighteningly scary – there’s nothing more likely to give you a coronary than rounding a corner and running slap bang into a Cyberdemon.

However, my favourite baddies were the fantastically named Cacodemons – which were sort of like massive red floating Madballs that spat fire instead of water. Fun and scary.

Doom playstation cyperdemon

I’ve just had a thought – were there any other Playstation games that used the link cable? The only one I can think of is Command & Conquer: Red Alert, but there must be others… It’s funny, that link cable cost us twenty quid, and the only game we ever used it for was Doom.

Still, it was worth every penny.

Lewis

3 Comments

Filed under 1995, First Person Shooter, id, Playstation

#32: Killer Instinct

Format: Super NES/Coin-Op Genre: Fighting Released: 1994 Developer: Rare

Killer Instinct was fantastically naff really. The character designs were generally uninspired and the graphics had an odd sheen to them that made it look like everything had been sprayed with cooking oil. On top of this, most of the levels were incredibly murky (possibly in an attempt to make the game seem ‘darker’ and more adult), so the effect was a bit like watching bits of foil leaping about down a well. However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

killer_instinct_SNES

When the game came out, most gaming magazines trumpeted the fact that it was based on hardware from the long-awaited ‘Ultra 64’ (later rebranded with the decidedly more prosaic name ‘Nintendo 64’ when it was released two years later). As it turned out, this was all complete rubbish, and Killer Instinct actually turned up on the Super NES the next year, which somewhat tarnished its ‘next-generation’ image in my eyes (although it was hugely impressive that they managed to squeeze the whole game onto a SNES cartridge – obviously Rare is staffed by tiny gaming wizards with magic compression wands).

(Incidentally, Killer Instinct emerged at about the same time as Cruis’n USA, another game that was thought to be based on Ultra 64 architecture – unlike Killer Instinct however, Cruis’n USA was entirely bobbins and not really the best of adverts for Nintendo’s new console. Even if it wasn’t actually developed on one. Does that make sense?)

Killer Instinct ready screen

Killer Instinct fought its way into my life when I was going through the teenage phase of hanging around McDonald’s for want of anything better to do. Calendars, the American-style diner next door to MaccyD’s, decided to install a single Killer Instinct arcade machine right in their entrance hall, presumably to keep customers entertained while they were waiting for a table. Not that we ever let the actual customers have a go on it, although thanks to this particular coin-op my friends and I made a substantial contribution to Calendars’ revenue during the summer of ’95.

Killer Instinct Cinder

The game’s biggest gimmick was its combo system, which went above and beyond the call of duty – if I remember rightly, some characters could even deliver 56 hit combos (which I imagine would have been intensely irritating for the recipient).* My friends and I spent most of that long, hot summer poring over combo lists in the backs of game magazines, desperately trying to make longer and longer combos. I think the best I ever managed was 24.

Killer Instinct 80 hit Combo

Looking back, there were probably better things I could have been doing that summer than hanging around in the entrance to a restaurant and memorising complicated lists of button presses. But for the moment they escape me, as all I can think about is laying the smack down on shiny robot knights and Harryhausen-esque skeletons…

Hey, I wonder how much  Killer Instinct goes for on eBay…?

Lewis

*Although from the screenshot above, it looks like an 80 hit combo was possible. Cor, and indeed, blimey.

However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

6 Comments

Filed under 1994, Coin-Op, Fighting, Rare, Super NES

#30: Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fighting Released: 2000 Developer: Capcom

[It’s a Saturday morning in the year 2000. The scene: Ian and Lewis’s student house in Southampton. Lewis picks his way through the detritus of the living room, which consists mostly of discarded curry and beer cans.  After thumbing the Dreamcast ‘on’ switch, he groggily slumps into the hideous paisley settee and waits for the ancient television to warm up. Ian steams into the room with two mugs of tea. They are both in dressing gowns.]

<I’M GONNA TAKE YOU FOR A RI-I-IDE!!>

[The impossibly jaunty, oddly inappropriate pseudo-jazz soundtrack of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 blares from tinny speakers. Lewis and Ian prepare to choose their characters.]

marvel-vs-capcom-2-cover-art

Lewis: Right, no Cable, OK? Or Iron Man or War Machine.

[Choosing Cable is expressly forbidden under House Law. This is because he has a gun – several in fact – and this somewhat contravenes good practice when it comes to one-on-one fighting. Unless you’re Indiana Jones.]

[Lewis, ever the Capcom devotee, picks Jill Valentine, Ryu and Captain Commando. Ian, a Marvel zealot, picks Spider-Man, Venom and Hulk.]

Bring it on.

Bring it on.

[The first round begins. Ian immediately launches Spider-Man’s web attack, but Lewis has already used Jill’s ‘summon’ move, and the attack collides harmlessly with a shuffling zombie. Lewis quickly follows this up by summoning a crow, which hits Spider-Man in mid-leap.]

Ian: Why do you think this game is so compelling? Could it be something to do with the enormous range of 54 playable characters, sourced from an impressively diverse selection of Capcom games and Marvel comics? Admittedly, some of them are particularly obscure…

Lewis: The obscure ones are some of the best! As you know, my particular favourite is Captain Commando, who originally started out as a fictional cartoon spokesman for Capcom back in the eighties before appearing in his own arcade game in 1991. Ouch!

[Ian has switched to Hulk and quickly begins to gain the upper hand. Jill’s energy bar plummets alarmingly as she’s hit by wave after wave of Hulk’s ferocious attacks, which see him literally rip up the ground and throw it at her head.]

This is the exact reason why Cable is banned.

This is the exact reason why Cable is banned.

Lewis: Right, now taste the wrath of the Captain!

[Lewis switches to Captain Commando, whose flying kicks and lightning quick fireballs are no match for the sluggish Hulk.]

Ian: C’mon Hulk! Anyway, you have to admit that despite the generally excellent character design throughout, the game falls down heavily in terms of the final boss, Abyss, who’s by far the most poorly imagined and least interesting character in the entire game.

Lewis: Agreed!

Ian: Yet even so, the lure of unlocking extra characters and costumes is so great that it keeps us coming back to the single-player game again and again, even if it means facing the drudgery of Abyss.

[Ian changes to Venom and the fight starts to even up. The ‘Venom Fang’ special move proves particularly effective against Captain Commando’s flying kick, and the tide of battle slowly begins to turn. Lewis begins running low on energy and taps the shoulder button to bring on Jill for a heal assist. But disaster ensues – Ian pulls both triggers on his joypad to launch a super move. All three of Ian’s characters bound onto the screen to unleash a screen-filling ultimate combo that does for both Captain Commando and the unlucky Jill, who gets caught in the onslaught. Lewis is down to one character – Ryu.]

HULK SMASH!!!

HULK SMASH!!!

Lewis: Well played old boy! But I’m afraid you underestimate my skill with this old Street Fighter stalwart!

[Venom is caught in a hurricane kick, followed by a massive blue fireball, which takes him out. Hulk comes back on.]

Lewis: Going back to your original question, I think the secret to this game’s success is its sheer delight in being utterly ludicrous. Everything is just brilliantly over the top, from the enormous sprites, to the outrageous special moves, right down to the funk-jazz theme tune.

Ian: It’s almost as if the designers just thought, “Ah, to hell with it, let’s just put everything in!”

Lewis: Yes! It’s just so refreshing to see a game that doesn’t even attempt to take itself seriously – it’s just all-out fun.

Ian: And with so many characters and unlockables, it’s very hard to get bored. Damn!

[Lewis finishes off Hulk with a dragon punch and it’s down to Spider-Man versus Ryu. Both characters have just over half an energy bar each.]

The humiliation of being pounded by Tron Bonne.

The humiliation of being pounded by Tron Bonne.

Ian: This is it my friend, to the death!

[Lewis unleashes repeated fireballs, all of which are either blocked or neutralised by Spidey’s web attacks. Seeing his long-range attacks foiled, Lewis sends Ryu in for the old jump kick-sweep kick combo, a perennial favourite of all Street Fighter veterans, but ends up jumping into Spider-Man’s ‘Web Swing’ special move. Lewis recovers quickly and manages to pin down Ian in the corner with two successive hurricane kicks, but Ryu is running low on energy. Just then, Ian unleashes Spider-Man’s super combo, which sees the Marvel hero dart around the screen, inflicting kick after kick on the hapless Ryu as the background explodes into blue light and the announcer intones ‘SUPER COMBO FINISH!” It’s all over.]

Lewis: Good show sir! Didn’t see that one coming!

[The pair shake hands, then reach for their mugs of tea. Ian takes a sip and turns to Lewis.]

Ian: Best 2D beat ’em up ever?

[Lewis gulps down a mouthful of delicious tea, lets out a satisfied ‘Aaah!’ and reclines luxuriously onto the paisley settee.]

Lewis: Undoubtedly.

[After a brief pause, Lewis puts down his tea and leans forward expectently…]

Lewis: Fancy another go?

Lewis and Ian

(Screenshots from ign.com)

3 Comments

Filed under 2000, Capcom, Dreamcast, Fighting