Tag Archives: UFO: Enemy Unknown

#86: Rise of the Robots

Format: Amiga 1200 Genre: Fighting Game Released: 1994 Developer: Mirage

‘Even if you don’t believe in Father Christmas, it might be worth writing to him to make sure he doesn’t bring you a copy of this’. Jonathan Davies, Rise of the Robots review, Amiga Power 45. In 1993 various video game magazines ran previews of a beat-’em up that seemed to be from the future. It looked stunning, with graphics that promised to be far superior to anything else out there. Not only that but the gameplay was going to break new ground too, with computer opponents that ‘learned’ as they fought you, adapting their fighting style to match yours. All in all Rise of the Robots, for that was the name of this legendary game, was going to be THE game of 1994. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Davies alludes to in the above quote, Rise of the Robots was shit.

Rise of the Robots was more than just a video game, it was an event. The previews of 1993 turned into a steady stream of hype throughout 1994. There was talk of tie-in books, comics, toys, cartoons and a film. It was to be released on practically every platform and giant cardboard robots were cropping up in video game shops across the country. Brian May was even going to write the soundtrack.

Brian May pictured with a relaxed GamesMaster

Being an impressionable 14 year-old I was extremely excited about Rise of the Robots. It looked simply amazing. I mean, you got to be a kung-fu robot! Just watch the video below for a taste of the building excitement. It ‘redefines the fighting genre and raises the ante on gamers with a futuristic motif proven in focus groups’. Focus groups like the motif, what more do you want?

Just after Christmas (the same Christmas I got UFO: Enemy Unknown), with a decent chunk of Christmas money jangling in our pockets, my brother and I went to Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and, £40 later, we had picked up Rise of the Robots. I always remember how huge the box was. Well in fairness it had to be. On the Amiga 1200 Rise of the Robots came on 13 disks. That’s right, 13.

Rushing home we inserted the first disk and were confronted by a very impressive intro. ‘This is going to be great’ we thought. Then, after an hour or two, we both felt something was wrong. Could Rise of the Robots be… rubbish? Neither my brother or myself could believe it. In fact I remember assuming that we were playing it wrong, that it was our fault that you could beat every robot by doing a flying kick. That there was a way of turning round and jumping over the other fighter we just hadn’t worked out how. That you could pick a fighter who wasn’t the blue cyborg, you just had to complete it or something. How could all the hype be wrong?

It's the big Gorilla Robot! Can't wait to play through the game as him. Oh. You can't.

Rise of the Robots was crippled by its flashy visuals. So much computing power was devoted to having beautifully animated robots that there was nothing left for the rest of the game. I distinctly remember reading Jonathan Davies review and just feeling sad. Ok, at least now I knew it wasn’t my fault the game seemed to be poor. It was poor. But I felt swindled, the victim of a con.

IT'S RUBBISH!

An important lesson for any child to learn is that all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes that which glitters is simply that, a glittery thing. Not only that but rubbish stuff is often coated in glitter to try to distract you from the rubbish underneath. Rise of the Robots, covered in metaphorical glitter (plus fairy lights, shiny baubles and tin foil), taught me that lesson. So in that way, and in no other, Rise of the Robots made my life slightly better.

Ian

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Filed under 1994, Amiga, Fighting, Mirage

#83: UFO: Enemy Unknown

Format: Amiga 1200 Genre: Strategy, Turn Based Tactics Released: 1994 Developer: MicroProse

 

UFO: Enemy Unknown box art with, as was usual in those days, a picture of something that did not appear in the game.

 

Do you believe in love at first sight? That you could be at a crowded bus stop in the rain and your eyes meet with a special someone. Suddenly you know that this is the person who is going to make your life complete, that will bring sunshine and happiness into the darkest corners of your soul and will be the one who has to sort through your stuff after you drop dead from an aneurysm which struck as you were bending over to pick up a (101 Video Games) pencil off the floor?

I don’t. In fact I’ve had several relationships with women that, when we first met, neither of us was particularly interested. Or more accurately they weren’t particularly interested. But on the second or third meeting something clicks, and before you can say ‘I must warn you that there’s a history of aneurysm and pencil related death in my family’ you’re strolling through parks holding hands and kissing each other inappropriately in front of friends while they try to pretend they can’t see you and awkwardly carry on their conversation.

It’s not just love that sometimes strikes the second time around. Ever seen a film or heard an album that for whatever reason you just can’t get into? Then you’ll go back to it a few months, or even years, down the line and for some reason you see or hear something you just didn’t notice before.

Happens to me all the time. But for some reason it doesn’t really happen with video games. Maybe it’s because the video game, as a medium for entertainment, is constantly evolving. That in the same time you might try an album once then give it another go a bit later a game would have had three sequels with vastly improved graphics and game play. There was one game though that I definitely came back to years later, and got far more into than I ever did the first time around, and that’s UFO: Enemy Unknown.

I got UFO: Enemy Unknown (also known in the US as X-Com: Enemy Unknown)for Christmas 1994. Set in the insanely futuristic world of 1998, UFO put you in charge of a secret, international, military organisation dedicated to intercepting UFOs and defeating the cattle bothering, probe wielding aliens within. A mixture of resource management and turn based tactics, UFO tapped into the general popularity of aliens, conspiracy theories and the unexplained that was floating around in the premillennial mid-90s. The tone of the game was all dark shadow-y. The X-Files had just started to be shown on terrestrial British TV and I remember how every review of the game ‘hilariously’ referenced Scully and Mulder in some way.

 

Find out what makes a 'Grey' grey.

 

I was really into all that kind of stuff back then and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game and start dissecting aliens. Imagine my disappointment when I realised I was rubbish at it. My troops would be wiped out during the turn based missions. My bases would struggle to break even as various countries would pull their funding and start making secret deals with the aliens and I never seemed to have enough alien materials to build better weapons. After about a year of trying, I gave up.

 

Equiping your troops so they can face those evil aliens. The game would randomly generate a name for each soldier, all of which were ridiculous. For some reason MicroProse seemed to think that just 4 years into the future we'd all change our names to things like Boris Zachery.

 

Flash forward to the even more futuristic year of 1999. I’ve just got a second-hand laptop so I can write essays at home rather than in the University Library. And of course play games. While out one day I came across a budget collection of all the X-Com games and, on a whim, decide to get it. I more or less ignore all the follow ups but decide to try UFO: Enemy Unknown again and this time… This time I get it.

 

The mission sections had a curious feature where an enemy would only appear on-screen if a character was looking at them. This lead often led to you stumbling on a group of aliens, or worse, being killed by an alien which you somehow didn't notice as it wasn't directly in your eye line, despite it standing right next to you!

 

I don’t know if it was just me being a bit older, or by sheer chance I had stumbled on how crack the game (lots of saving basically – maybe I felt that saving every other go was cheating when I was 15). Whatever the reason the second time around it clicked with me, and I became obsessed with finishing it. I certainly wasted a lot of time playing it when I should have been writing those essays. A lot of people seem to have been similarly obsessed, there seems to be a massive on-line fan community with all sorts of updated versions of the game and mods. There’s even a new sort of sequel currently in development – a first person shooter. (An FPS? Is nothing sacred?)

It still ranks as one of my favourite games ever. Indeed writing this has made me think that maybe I should give the game a third go…

 

You were recommended to place your first base in rich countries as they'll give you the funding. The UK was always my first base's location though. National pride was at stake!

 

Ian

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Filed under 1994, Amiga, MicroProse, Strategy, Turn-Based Tactics