Monday, August 26, 2019

Spear of Destiny: The End

I feel both wistful and not wistful. I'd quote something from the lyrics of Black Sabbath - After All (The Dead) but that wouldn't make any sense.
Hitler's face right outside the door. Lovely. Naturally, this level starts off with two SS that alert everyone else on the level. Except for those officers soon after that think its a good idea to ambush you. Kickass music though, first new track in forever. Enemies everywhere. Enemies hiding in a single square room containing a portrait of Hitler. Enemies hiding behind purple walls, blue walls, not red walls. Red walls would be weird. This level has no mercy, so now I gotta screw around finding some secret wall or something. Because you cannot win without more ammo. Did you know that the oldest employee at iD software* got the coveted Hag Spot, of which they were then allowed to expose their wisdom? Apparently his knowledge of the '70s frightened the other employees, and his name has been lost to time.
So there are two secret areas at the start, with just enough health and ammo to ease me through this difficult part. This is supposed to be some kind of rampart, with all the mutants hiding in the single square rooms. Most of these rooms are traps, except for the two that have a key. The problem is that the regular alert enemies open the door to the exit and alert all those goodies. So you've got to fight twenty or so mutants and others while on low health and ammo. This level would be so simple if it weren't for that. Even with that I manage to actually beat the par time.
Almost there...almost there! Guardian of the Spear. Gatling right outside the door. Ammo and health too. A sign fro John Romero that this level is going to be hard. I like the layout of this level, it actually follows the previous level's design! Imagine that! Anyway, the Death Knight is literally right behind the door of the starting area. Thanks, Romero. Getting squashed the first time, I make a mad dash outside the Death Knight's arena and his little mutant goons. Behind there are a horde of officers, but ammo, and health! Enough to be an actual stockpile! This level just turned real easy. After this, its just a matter of getting his goons before he can get you. He takes a lot of bullets, but he goes down...eventually. There's a secret, but that's just for completionists.
That leaves us the Spear...A simple implement, due to it being a Roman Centurian's spear. I wonder what's going to happen when I take it? A triumphant interlude plays before the music turns to a different track. I appear to be in hell. I sense Doom was never far from their minds after all. The final boss is the Angel of Death, who isn't terribly challenging by himself, he only throws orbs at you, you can dodge orbs. No, the problem is all the wisps wandering around, contact hurts you and they never die. Just what I always wanted. Health is slightly scarse...from a certain point of view, but ammo is plentiful.
Looks like the score counter wasn't the only thing I broke.
A little cutscene goes on at the end to tell you how you beat the Angel of Death, nearly died and how the president thinks you're a neat person who deserves a medal. An interesting twist would be that he thinks you only deserve a Purple Heart.

And so, with that, we have discovered prove that God is real and Christianity is the only way to love in the Wolfenstein universe. This would also mean that Keen Dreams likely takes place in some kind of hell, and that Doomguy may very well be the second coming of Christ. Now we only have to discuss how good or terrible Spear is.

Final Score: 1744000

*At the time.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Spear of Destiny: Castle

The castle, the part where we return to the castles we spent six episodes trying to get out of. As a certain cartoon mascot would say, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Straight out of the elevator, two faces of Hitler. That one gave me a right old laugh. It looks like this level is a maze, straight from the start. There's only one route to my right, so I take it. An SS dies and no shouting can be heard. Oh, this is going to be one of those levels, isn't it? Yep, lots of little guys in cubby holes. They're not put in there cleverly, its not like I don't know they're probably there. Way to drop the ball, iD. Just a while of this, with the odd searching for the level's twenty secrets. I discover an interesting secret about a third through the maze, a room with columns followed by a long hallway with two officers and no way out. Very curious.
The next area is a five door room leading to three areas. The south area leads to a room with a few enemies and some locked doors. Of course, enemies behind the locked doors open them, and with their elimination I do a quick scouting. Trucks huh? That must've cost a lot of time and effort. I return to the other areas before continuing on. The north mostly contains a medikit and the east a series of blue hallways that also contain a key. I continue on, through a couple of enemy filled rooms before finally coming across the exit, and a gatling gun in a room that I can't get to. Interesting, was the enemy alert behind the door an intentional tactic on iD's part, or am I just misjudging things. No matter, I decide to not spend anymore time on this level. The exit contains a surprise, a mutant. An indicator of what's to come no doubt.
"Barreling through the castle" is the level title. Boy, Romero sure loves his barrel puns, because there's no doubt this is Romero. A nice and gentle Romero level, a secret in the little opening alcove reveals three boxes of ammo and a chaingun. The area outlying this sorely needs the firepower, as a nice smattering of enemies surround the two doors out of the alcove.
The gimmick of the level soon reveals itself. After a choice between two doors (one of which only held a secret) the second reveals barrels herding me through several killing zones full of enemies. The few I can see the end of don't appear to have any entrances. A secret not too long after finally breaks the score counter. I have 1,000,000 points. We finally get some regular undead hanging around. Back to fearing the silent killer. A few more close calls and I reach as far as I can go in this direction without a key. Back to check the other doors...and walls. So many walls so little time.
A little side door I almost miss contains a few dogs and an undead who thinks he's being sneaky. More dog food on the ground, so far the only unsecret health items. Thanks, Romero. Another door I almost miss as an officer so eager to kill me he screams before I even open the door. At least the dog has the courtesy to wait until you're dead first. Lots of guys trying to be sneaky on this one. The room past them just opens up with a bunch of officers eager to gun you down. Almost bought it. At least there's a key in this room.
It opens up the door very near to its location, featuring more patrolling officers in a wide open area. Very effective trap location. There's a further alcove inside this area with a SS and an undead. Not so effective. Unfortunately at this point I have to start the level over again, because while secret hunting I accidentally lock-off the secret level. You know, I could be playing Shadowcaster right now. This is real fun, I'm not ticked off I died three times to the same undead or anything!
When I reach past the point I had to restart on, (thanks for making it impossible to get 100% secrets* too guys!) I'm nearly out of ammo and ol' BJ looks like he's been missing his peas, if you know what I mean. The northernmost locked door, near the start becomes a bit nail-biting now. Is there going to be a horde of enemies? Are there going to be a few, that now, are quite challenging? Why am I dragging this out? Its the later. Another dude in the elevator. It was clever once, guys, now I always prepare for it. Still having five secrets left to get and a health percentage that's currently single, I guess its time to hump the wall again. A hidden prison brings me up to a much more reasonable 58%. That leaves four locked doors on the southeastern side. Which had the undead I died three times on.
Its just more undead, but at least there's some non-secret health items. Joy! Onto the secret level.
At this point, I want to say I've taken two breaks during the writing of this section. Several days. I just want this game to be done with at this point. A sign of quality design, I might add. The level's name is Pushwall Panic! which makes me briefly ponder the meaning of life, the universe and everything. There was the Aardwolf maze in 3D, but this one you're supposed to just waltz through if you find it. To quote George Lucas: "I may have went to far in some places." Well, Tom Hall, and I'm just assuming its Tom Hall, you went too far.
The way the level works is that there are a number of pushwalls in a corridor, 0-3. These pushwalls usually lead to other corridors, but sometimes there are rooms at the end of them. Sometimes treasure, sometimes a horde of undead. I'm not feeling it.
One interesting level design choice is a series of four-way rooms, each with four doors. Some of these doors are locked for no reason. There are enemies in these rooms. Its interesting. Not good, not bad, but interesting. At the end of this maze, there's a long spiral corridor full of officers guarding the key. Its very weird, but its too late to start questioning key locations in this game. There is a completely locked room, but it contains nothing.
It takes me all the way back to the start, but I finally find somewhere I haven't already explored. Something no doubt full of undead. I'm not wrong. Not completely, there are a lot of undead, but a lot of SS and guards too. Far more than my measly supply of ammo can defeat. Down to the knife. This is going to end badly. Surprisingly, there's another key hidden in a subtle hidden area after my rather successful knife fight.
The last room has a real oh, crap moment. You think you've gotten all the undead, but then you find a couple more, shoot them, and then realize there could be many more here. That realization is cut short a few moments later when you realize they're all ambush undead.
"Castle Hastle", huh? I also blame Romero for this. Sure, he could've just given the title, but he isn't known for making suggestions on other people's levels. Starts off making you wonder where the enemies are. A slightly sneaky undead becomes my victim. Okay, is there anyone else, or am I going to be ambushed? Both, the tell-tale sign of a door opening reveals that the hordes of the undead are on the prowl. Better run away down the hall, where I am greeted by a barrel maze. Joy. Another mutant, blamo. I just about escape this barrel maze before an undead who I presume was following me, guns me down as I chase after a different one at the maze's exit.
I go the other way this time. A different mutant becomes my prey. No doors opening this time. Interesting. I go back to get rid of that other mutant, he's alert. Were these the only two undead who could hear me? I cautiously go through this area, now appearing to surround a central castle. Gunning down every mutant I find, of course. The barrel maze proves to be a solid dead end in the middle of the bottom area. That leaves all these doors to be opened.
Starting from the south eastern doors, I fight my way through a guard, some dogs and three officers. It was a bit tense. A bit, because I saved before entering this section and reloaded from there several times. This area contains several medikits outside of a secret. Its a miracle.
Northwest area this time. A quick bursting through several different kinds of enemies, including a small group that is curiously deaf to the deaths of their comrades, yet the areas that would be a natural trap have no enemies. Its here that I discover a couple of secrets, one with some treasure, like most at this point; Another, inside this secret, leading me to the first locked area, but sneaking up on some undead.
The second key is behind another locked door, requiring the same key as the exit, which leaves some questions as to the security to this area. Too late to question logic in this game. You know what's real fun? A maze with mutants just hiding in the corridors. This maze turns out to lead to the elevator. I get out of there before I get shot in the back by some sneaky mutant.
Okay, maybe Romero just named all the levels. Militant Mutants are what we have for this level's title. Maybe that's how they remembered it, the ol' Stan Lee method.
Enemies right out of the gate, and their deaths trigger no sound. Undead or actual peace and quiet? The latter turns out to be true. I go to the northern door. Its a maze full of crosses and undead. I won't talk about the utter joy I had upon finding this out. The maze leads me to the gold key. That's good at least, spent less than a minute and already solved a third of my problems.
Another secret passage to a different part of the level is soon found. Its obvious, because its in the doored room right behind the key. Its not subtle.
Because of this entrance into this room, I'm in a prime position to gun down the enemies in this room as they approach, save for a group of mutants hiding in a more central room. These are a slightly tense few moments, but they turn out to be no trouble. Unfortunately, a lucky guard's shot drains away all the advantage I had by having a few spare medikits.
I take the eastern exit from here, which includes some easily dispatched guards. The central, doored room here has a mutant in a winding corridor, who once again gets a hit on me. North from that is a hallway with a lot of doors. To the west is a door I can't open in a weirdly designed hallway. After that it goes to hell fast.  The first door I open has enemies, which alerts some enemies to my right on one of the doors. Not the other door, that guy is taking his chances. Enemies just coming pouring out of the doors, leaving me without any ammo.
I retreat, grabbing an ammo box I saved for later. I return and get rid of my previous problem, creating the same problem as before. This is becoming a nazi clown car. A few tense, almost knife-fighting moments, I break for the interior, hoping to find ammo. I get another box to ease my problems. A little further, the key and another box. Well, no wonder.
Returning to a doggy area with an unopened door, I almost bite it to a mutant assault, but its worth it. Treasure and ammo and health. I'm back at full force. Now to check that locked door to the west.
More rocky walls, at least they're full of treasure. A mutant I happily gun down, as I already know his companions have left him. More treasure, more mutants, one almost gets me. Then finally the level exit...exits. This isn't suspicious at all. One of them turns out to be a secret, which after a little secret hunting earlier reveals that I've missed three enemies somehow. Weird.

Box of ammo right outside the door, huh? I guess these "Gauntlet Guards" will be tough to beat. As it turns out the level is a series of corridors with wells on each end, a door on the opposite side of the corridor, and mutants walking behind the wells. Pistol start my Alfa. A lucky burst through, because good luck gunning them down, and you've got to deal with a horde of regular nazis out for blood. Its only thanks to a lucky secret find that I make it past this early part.
The level is curiously designed, you have a choice of two corridors, each with seemingly many doors, but most of those doors lead into the other corridor. Such a strange way to build a hallway. There's a series of 3x3 rooms to the east containing a bunch of things, but the real thing in this first area is the series of secret rooms, eventually leading you to the "gauntlet guards". There doesn't seem to be a way to get to the others, which seems lame to me.
Where the corridors diverge is at the end, each one having no way to get back to the other** and the doors inside lead in opposite directions. So I take the eastern corridor and the eastern door.
This leads to more snaking corridors full of enemies. To make a long corridor short, it leads to a 3-shaped room with a small group of enemies hiding out. Not really a problem. The area to the west of the three contains a few more mutants, getting close to killing me. Ammo hasn't been a problem, this level dumps ammo in your lap like the nazis are having a firesale. This maze proves to be most a source for score and an exit back to the main corridor. Onto the west end.
The west end turns out to not matter much as to which door you pick. Either way you're facing a horde of enemies. So many that they force me to retreat, dry of ammo and health. Takes a couple of retreats too, this is another clown car. Eventually I think the hordes arriving have stopped an advance carefully. A couple of attempts turn BJ into mush after getting ambushed by mutants. After these, I sneak up, or just get lucky on them. After clearing it out, I search the place for secrets, putting me back at full strength.
The western locked room is no problem now that my coffers are overflowing. A few mutants that try to be sneaky don't even get the first strike on me. The north contains a group of mutants guarding far more supplies than they are worth. Not a problem at this point.
The eastern locked door proves trickier, containing a normal smattering of enemies. Behind those enemies prove a clever trap. A horde of ambush-ready mutants. Clever, but not impossible for me now. Takes a bit of careful edging, but they fall in two different groups. On, to the final floor of the castle.
King of the Mutants. I should call this Stubbs's monster. They're not screwing around on this level. A horde of nazis coming from all directions as soon as you step off the elevator. Some able to get up close, some hiding behind columns. Probably should've given me more than a single box of ammo, guys! Takes some clever maneuvering before I manage to get rid of the guys outside of the columns. Got a full amount of ammo too.
So I explore, the first area I enter, to the north, has two doors, each some distance from each other. These two doors each contain a single guard. The guard is a trap, as several enemies jump out of a central room if you shoot in here. These are a bit of trouble as ammo is tight early on in this level. Another group of enemies lie deeper, killing me once before I alert them and pull back.
At the end of these rooms lies a long corridor full of mutants. They're not place in tricky locations most of the time, unlike in a proper maze. The end of the corridor has a large room filled with enemies. These have some carefully placed mutants that can really screw with you if you aren't careful.
This room has a single door in it, containing the silver key. This key unlocks the door at the end of the treasure corridor to your left. This leads back into the central hallway, and into a trap if you haven't previously completely cleaned the area out.
The UberMutant is kinda tricky. If you aren't careful, you'll get in a position where you can't get out of his field of vision, thus killing you. There's no easy cover here, but he seems eager to stay in the closed area he starts in, giving me ample ability to duck in and out of cover. With that, the castle is more or less done. There are mutants guarding the elevator, but they aren't too much trouble.

Three more levels. I'm feeling reasonably confident about it being all over soon.

*Okay, I don't know that for a fact. I don't care.
**Without backtracking

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Game 8: F-15 Strike Eagle

There's not a good title screen, so here's the mission select.
The year is 1985, not only are the Soviets still around, a fear of a nuclear war is constant. At any moment a group of nuclear subs could unleash Hell on Earth, or a platoon of jet fighters could drop a nuke directly on the President's summer home. F-15 Strike Eagle comes in as the most realistic* flight sim of the era, bringing all the thrills of thermonuclear war and Mutually Assured Destruction, minus the dropping of the bombs. The developers at Microprose have developed the most faithful* depiction of the F-15's HUD humanly possible. The president of MicroProse, one Captain Bill Stealey, assures me it is so in the manual, and asks to drop him a note if I have any way to make it better. Oh, I don't think I'm going to do that.
The manual also goes on to laboreously explain the concept of how flight works.

This game is not so much difficult to start as it is difficult to play, although you will want to turn down the speed. The game requires use of the manual to understand, and even with the manual its very confusing to play.

I'm going to let you know right away, this isn't something I worked to complete, this game would've been fine in the '80s, but when you already know what wonders the '90s will bring it kinda brings a damper down on a plucky little CGA simulation from 1985. If this were the movie industry there'd be a fancy reissue bluray with special features next year, so I guess that's one point in favor of the people calling video games not art. Perhaps that's for the best, as my first impression of this game is one of confusion and disgust really.

Like some games from the era, it starts off with a simple mission selection screen. I pick the first one, it starts. Things happen, I guess. I test my abort and eject options, really could've used that in the A-10 I used to use, but I guess that's for the fancy F-15 pilots and their fancy strike eagling. You're kidding, spellcheck doesn't think eagling is a word? A bit more seriously I screw around with my weapons. The machine gun is automatically switched back to whenever you fire off a missile. I guess that's one way to increase feedback. I, uh, hit an enemy with my missile. Its a sign. The simulation is, uh...well...see for yourself.
You know, I'm no Sid Meier, but I'm going out on a limb and say that if this was the best I could do for a game, I wouldn't do that. I'm no computer programming pioneer though, in fact, I'm not a programmer. I'm not saying it looks bad or anything, but I know very few games that are worse on the graphical scale. This certainly wins for worst-looking 3D game...
At first I thought I would just play the first mission, call it unenjoyable today, then forget about it until the sequel/prequels, but I played through the first mission and didn't completely hate it. There are many problems, enemy planes just seem to spawn in. I feel like I'm going to have a seizure if I play this for an extended period of time. Bombing targets are difficult to hit thanks to your bombs being dumbfire and very easy to miss. (there's a real reason for this, I'll explain) You need the manual to understand what your mission is. Oh, and the sea turns the ground purple.
I promised to explain the bombing problem. You see, this game takes place between 1972-1984, on all very real missions. This I suspect is before many systems we now take for granted. The missions take place in the entire map of the country they're supposed to be in. I slightly question the scale, but I admit I don't know if an F-15 could cross the entire country of Egypt in under 5 minutes. The manual tells you of an additional mission you can do in Egypt where you replicate some anti-terrorist strike in '86 and a bombing run against some tin-pot dictator. Playing A-10 before this was a horrible mistake, wasn't it? Now, its worth pointing out that originally this was supposed to have copy protection. Given the immense amount of information in the manual you need in order to understand this game, I can't honestly understand that, but that's just my opinion.
There are four areas of the screen:
The playing screen, which at first seems useless, but is actually slightly useful. I like the little sun that shows up.
The map screen, which is very useful and lets you figure out where you went wrong.
The radar screen, which is what you'll be mostly looking at. Pressing the R key changes the radar distance.
The ship screen, which tells you how much ammo you have left.
That leaves combat, which seems to be a bit of a point and shoot affair. I only went as far as the 3rd mission on Rookie difficulty, so it probably gets more difficult later. Probably.
Let's see what that gives the game:

Its worth pointing out that this is supposed to be an indicator of not just how interesting a game's weapons are, but how these weapons feel. Given the almost complete lack of sound, this game is suffering a handicap already. Given the lack of any feeling beyond anticipation whenever you fire off a missile or bomb too, it has another handicap. The machine gun might as well give 25 bullets to the bullet fairy each time you pull the trigger. If you need to use that you might as well head back to base for a refill. 2/10

The enemies come in four flavors, three planes, one SAM. I can't say I ever found the planes a threat or that they were anything more than blobs I shot. 1/10

There are none. 0/10

The gameplay loop is a very simple one once you get the controls down. Avoid SAMs, shoot down enemy planes, hit target, hopefully have enough fuel to return home. The problem is that due to the way the game looks graphically these missions all come off as essentially being identical, despite being not. I didn't really have the desire to get past the 3rd mission. 1/10

Player Agency:
There's a lot of clever stuff going on under the hood here, despite the game's rather lackluster control scheme. Movement doesn't come off quite ideal to me and the game doesn't have any good methods of letting you know what problem is going on without extensively focusing on the manual. There's nothing wrong with the controls beyond the usual finicky not always responding to controls thing. However, I do question having both a eject (premature end of mission) and a quit option, but that's just me. 5/10

There is nothing beyond shooting planes and targets. 0/10

This game does not give any atmosphere, in fact I feel like a disconnected blob in a sensory depravation tank. 0/10

You know, I'm not going to say these are bad, since you work with what you had at the time. I'm sure there was a competent artist on staff who didn't have much to work with, and there are special CGA modes that make it look better. A bitterly given 1/10

This game functions as a greatest hits of the F-15's operating history. It doesn't have a story and the missions jump all over the place. 0/10

Kill me. Kill me now. There might be sound, but it is simple PC speaker and very annoying to my modern ears. The bluops are fine, but making someone listen to the jet engine sound is probably torture in several countries. 0/10

That's...10. Its not so much bad as horribly outclassed by most later games. I say most because I'm certain there are going to be games worse than this. Its certainly worth a shot if you're one of the twenty or so people still interested in flight sims. For the rest, I'd suggest picking some at least from the EGA era.

Its worth pointing out that the designation Strike Eagle refers to the F-15E, introduced in 1986. There is no sign that they were influenced by the title of this game or if this game was influenced by a common nickname for the F-15. The eventual replacement of the F-15 is not the F-16, as some might think, but the F-35, a fighter intended to be modular and replace all the planes in US and NATO service. As of 2019, it is apparently nothing more than a paperweight the Air Force uses to shuffle around money**.

*For 1985.
**Okay, so its a conspiracy, but do you really think the Air Force is going to list "Top Secret Floating Plane" or "Alien Tech Plane" on their list of expenses?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Game 7: A-10 Tank Killer

 A-10 Tank Killer is one of the first games to represent a modern simulation of combat. While it is perhaps not the most accurate simulation, it is a fun, if very frustrating experience. A-10 is also the first in Dynamix's Aces series (or Great War Planes) a series that will last until about 1997. It might not be the intention, but I walked away from this with a bit of respect for the machine those that had to fly it. How many games can you say gave you that feeling?

Because of the game's late cold war era, it doesn't follow any real wars or conflicts, except a theoretical invasion of West Germany by the Soviets, or just East Germany gone rogue. It also ends quite predictably, not just due to any ability and the obvious plot thread, but also due to my modern knowledge of the Soviets military strength. Which is to say this would've been the actual outcome.

One thing I was disappointed by was the lack of a level editor. This game goes as far as the first Gulf War, the first real life appearance of the A-10, but I'd like to see it in more theatres. Korea, China, Africa, maybe the War on Terror. Maybe something crazy like the Lebanon war or the Yugoslavic wars. The Gulf War came in a later version, so that shall be finished off in another post.

Another thing I didn't discuss was your co-pilot's reaction to you hitting the wrong targets, nor Cord's reaction. Most of the co-pilot's reactions are lame, but Cord gives a right chewing out depending on your actions. Let me give you some of his greatest hits:
This one happened right after the crop-duster comment.

You have the Avenger machine gun, overheats real fast but that might be realism. You have five missiles, two of which are for special targets, one only on air targets, one ground homing and one ground that misses all the time. Now, the problem is that these are all going to be fairly realistic depictions of said weapons. Presumably actual pilots have a decent idea of how their dumbfire missile is going to hit. However, in this game I could never get that down. Point for realism and minus point for uselessness balances out. 4/10

Effectively, there are three types of enemies, targets, targets that kill your allies, and things that will destroy you. The things that actually have a shot at killing you almost alway succeed and the things that don't rarely touch you. Befitting a modern setting, there's no real difference to you what an enemy is except for what missile you use against it. 2/10

Characters supposedly have their own AIs which they use to handle problems, but I call bull on that. They have a pre-programmed routine they use and they stick to it, even if it means your death. Admittedly, impressive for 1989, but that doesn't make it good. My allies were rarely allies, just people I had to babysit. 2/10

Each level is effectively an action puzzle of figuring out what goes where and how-so. There's not much replay value, hence my complaint of no level editor. Once I burn through the Gulf War, which was added later, this monkey has gone to heaven. 7/10

Player Agency:
Befitting a flight sim, there are tons of little things you can screw around with. You can activate the landing wheels on and off. Speed and movement were almost never something I felt I couldn't control. Almost, sometimes buttons failed to work and I needed some kind of visual indicator that missiles were fired. I didn't mention it in any of the levels, but you can screw around with the camera a ton by using the function keys. More than humanly necessary, you're only going need it on like two missions, only to see your wingmen. 7/10

Interactivity: can destroy civilian targets. 1/10

There's a real feeling of this being a simulation, even disregarding the actions of your allies. Maybe its just that I restarted a mission too many times, maybe its the now unimpressive graphics. I think I'll piece it together later, with other games. 3/10

It's worth pointing out that despite being little more of a wireframe that this is really impressive. Before this a flight sim involved barely more than a blue sky and a green ground. Hills? With multiple colors? This is some dark magic. The 2D sections are mostly real photographs, converted nicely to VGA. 3/10

A hesitate to call this game story-based, but there's no denying that it contains a lot of dialog, more than would be in regular shooters until 1994. On the other hand, remembering the overly melodramatic stories of some modern shooters, a simple continuous story without any WCW-level swerves is a nice thing to have. 3/10

It's hard to describe in terms of genre. You've got a steady drumbeat with a synth instrument over it. Feels nice. Even if you just screwed up, there's the music to sooth you.
On the other hand there's the sound, or lack thereof. In the manual the pilot of an A-10 says you never get used to the explosive force of the Avenger cannon. I never got that feeling. It felt weak. I didn't get the feeling that the plane was shaking. The missiles were worse, having a sound effect of a click and no other indication. 4/10

That brings us a total of 36. Perhaps a bit low compared to other flight sims and my fun level. The only comparison currently up is Inca, at a 32 for not even being a good shooter at all. We'll see how that compares to other games released this year later, but first we're going to go to the past to play F-15 Strike Eagle, or maybe I'll finish Spear of Destiny first.

Friday, August 16, 2019

A-10 Tank Killer: Central Europe 2

Previously, we were single-handedly responsible for stopping (probably) the Soviets from invading "Central Europe", probably West Germany. From my perspective solely as an armchair commander, I imagine this would result in the Soviets losing much ground. The game however, continues roughly as normal. Before we start, I would like to point out that during the first campaign and some of this one I was under the impression that the Rockeyes were general purpose clusterbombs, but they are not supposed to be used against tanks. Our first mission is to gun down some tanks that have been sent out without air defense. Speaking as someone who has been made paranoid by years of Doom 2 wads stuffed full of monster closets, I smell a trap, but they just haven't brought in their SAMs yet.
Its times like these I wish I could hold more mavericks
Even with this terrible loadout I demolish a goodly number of tanks and SAMs. Nothing like being a one-man killing machine to get the blood pumping. A couple of clusterbombs and a few bursts of machine gun fire takes out most of the platoons until I run out. The short-ranged SAMs show up? Mavericks and they might fire off a missile distracted by chaff and flares. The command carrier? A Maverick I saved just for him. What, out of missiles? That's what the machine gun is for. Nothing left on the map except for the long-ranged SAMs. I'm not that eager to die all guns blazing, if'n you know what I'm saying.

Uh-huh. Sure is a Whiskey Delta, whatever that means...
Mission two, air support for tanks, followed by tank busting. In a city. This city is Wolfburg. Real clever guys, I'm sure no one north of Berlin will have discovered your genius depiction of their city. Of course, I have to avoid bombing the inhabitants, because otherwise twenty years from now some German will whine about America policing the world. Come to think of it, some German will whine even if I kill every Soviet all on my lonesome, so who cares what they think? My field commander for this mission is a whiny army Captain. No wait, its fair that he complains about the Air Force. Have you seen my success rate? Its gotta be in the single digits.
The mission itself goes south, not because of the army's incompetence but because the man in the A-10 can't hit tanks in cities for anything. And what do you know, but the Soviets break out the MiGs. They take me out in one hit. Feels weird to be on the recieving end of that missile.
So my "plan" and it was absolutely planned out, not accidental whatsoever. Gun down as many tanks as possible, then when they say they're getting close but before the boss man says get to the base, flee. My hope being to lure the enemy into SAM range, but they're too smart for that.
Eventually, and by eventually, I mean long after I was actually hoping to win, I finally win. It involved a combination of luck (apparently Mavericks aren't perfect) and a changed loadout. (apparently the clusterbombs are lighter than Mavericks) For my reward, I just get my CO saying congratulations.
Sounds like my kind of job, Colonel, what's the catch?
Mission three, kill some armor. This sounds real easy, but that's where the mission's title, Crippled Bird comes in. We have to protect a A-10 undergoing repairs. Personally, I can't blame the Soviets for taking the easy way out with an A-10. Apparently its my old friend Captain Stokes. Who I presume was my squad leader during the escort mission, I didn't write it down. I'm also not surprised at this revelation if my suspicions are true. Now, the question is where this mission is going to throw a curveball.
If this were the X-Men, Mr. Sinister would make a joke about mountains
 Tanks, SAMs not to far afield. This would be easy if it weren't for those hills. Shooting tanks isn't as hard as it seems, its easier than aiming Rockeyes for the most part. Assuming you aren't over 300 or 400 on the altitude meter. Then its more of a challenge. Hills, of course, make it more difficult to aim at tanks. Stokes turns out to be surprisingly difficult to keep alive even with me downing tanks like its open season. Hills, plus SAMs equals pain. When its down to the Avenger, and it will be, because there are a lot more than eight tanks. Plus the SAMs are closing in as you work, meaning you have to save a few Mavericks for them.
Several dozen more attempts and I'm starting to suspect I'm playing a goddamn Kobayashi Maru. Because trying to actually kill off the tanks results in me taking so many missiles I'm in worse shape than Stokes is. You have to jam on F & C while monitoring your speed, altitude, where your gun is pointing and if you should use a missile. Imagine doing all this while bits of your plane keep breaking off. Clearly, then my next plan is to fire Rockeyes at tank clusters I know a SAM is in and hope for the best. And I'm starting to suspect the game is working against me, because my targeting system is focusing on the hanger of all things. This is getting on my nerves. That's not something I noticed before. I mean, yes, I could get better at turning around, but there are flaws in the targeting system that don't make any sense.
I finally say screw it and mess around in single missions as an invincible killing machine with infinite ammo. Testing out new flight manueveurs, testing Rockeyes at closer ranges. When I get to the mission I'm currently stuck on to check out the amount of enemies, I see some startling news. Apparently my failure to completely kill all the enemies in the first mission has screwed me over here. And the game has a curious method of how it handles difficulty. In something like Doom it just doesn't spawn them, but here, it just kills them when you don't have to fight them. What makes it worse that even with all these handicaps in my favor Stokes' survival isn't guaranteed. Its like trying to get better at running so hard your leg snaps off. So instead you compete at the Special Olympics, but Usain Bolt lost his arms so he's there too. But I've got to figure this thing out. Somehow.
Still, I am getting cleverer. You can aim your gun on the ground. Its a bit harder than it sounds. I do finally figure out the thing that's going to solve this once and for all. You see, once again, I missed something in the manual. In my defense, this has been because I haven't needed it thus far. Tab cycles through targets. I've never had to perform a precision strike like this before.

Am I dreaming?
Nice to see someone else crush some tanks for once!
A combination of luck and figuring out the right way to approach to get rid of the SAMs, it wasn't even all the SAMs for once, and Stokes finally breaks free. The few tanks that are left I'm gunning down on the ground and he's shooting missiles at. I can't even get up off the ground now. I'm not even upset. Will this be the big difficulty spike of the campaign?
It's cheaper to use a tank, sir.
What's the catch?
The next mission, the Soviets' defense has been weakened, no doubt by their previous offensive, to get a single plane. Our army shall destroy their supply bases. I provide air support once again, bringing back our old friend Riker. No doubt I will have to further destroy a few bases on my own.
Well, Riker, you ever see the film Dead of Night...?
The mission turns out to be deceptively easy. I say deceptively, because if you're not careful, like I wasn't, you'll end up losing a squad of tanks. As we've previously seen in Central Europe part 1, this will bite me in the ass. So, I've got to go flirting with the enemy's SAMs so I can take out tanks so they won't take out our tanks. Fun fact, I didn't realize it until now, but the Rockeyes carry momentum from your plane, so you go full speed, drop a missile, then slow down and the missile travels ahead of you.
Hey, Riker, I don't have those kinds of nightmares anymore.
After far more tries than I want to admit, I win. The CO's very brief debriefing betrays how quickly I was supposed to blaze through this one. Even in the final victory my run didn't go as smoothly as I hoped, I had to double back on one group of tank-killers. Their sneaky trap for us was a group of HINDs. The only time I didn't get them was when I accidentally landed and couldn't get back up. Quality strategy there, what's next? Guarding the Kremlin with a single short-range SAM and a pair of T-80s?
Do I ever do anything else?
Mission five, Deep Strike. Soviets are reinforcing the region, so we have to stop that post-haste. Destroy airbase, kill some tanks, don't attempt to introduce Mavericks to the very lonely Soviet SAMs. I don't even have to deal with some futzy ally forcing me to adhere to a schedule...there's going to be a swarm of MiGs dropping in, I just know it. You can't just have fun with a mission, there's always got to be some kind of twist. Which is of course, that I have to take out the tanks before I bomb the airbase before the SAMs swarm their airbase, introducing me to their overly friendly girls. So to speak.
Wow, that's the first time you've contributed something here
It's actually quite telling of my abilities that this mission caused me less trouble than previous missions. The tanks, of course, are no problem. You've got to take a long time getting to the base, since you have to fly all the way around their SAM line. Only the south way, the north will cause you to get killed. So, naturally, I get there just in time, blow up their base before being told I should've gotten the runway, turn around, get my wing blown off, destroy the runway. This completes the mission, but my co-pilot, for once actually contributing something beyond letting me ignore landing, notices something ahead of me. Its a HIND base, and guess who has more bombs? Its not quite a barrel shoot, barrel shoots involve you not missing because your right wing was destroyed. Barrel shoots also don't involve you crashing into the ground. You want to know a fun thing I discovered on the next attempt? SAMs can't hit you if you're lower than them. Like if they're next to a river. Like on this map.
Naturally, because I perform perfectly, in a way that assures me getting a medal from the president, I get the lowest score so far of just under 35k.
Just so I don't sound like I made the part about missing a wing

Should I dress up like Prince Charming?
Mission six, The Vise, so named because armor has surrounded. We have no armor, so its me against the Soviet zerg rush. Well, scratch that, its me and Stokes against the Soviet zerg rush. Will Riker and co be riding in at the last second or are they being save for the last mission. I already have no doubt in my mind as to the Soviets plans, take out SAMs, take out base with MiGs. Then my CO informs me there shall be no MiGs. Wow, this campaign has really come together for me. I'll be protecting the south side of the base, presumably until Stokes screws up. The default loadout gives me LGBs. Will I need them, or are the developers trying to psych me out? I'll see in a moment.
What? What? What? Five squads of tanks, only two of which I had to kill? Are you serious? No, no, let's keep flying. There's gotta be something hiding south or west. Its a big map. Hell, if Stokes was dead I don't think I'd have too much trouble. That's it. Something that was literally a stepping stone in the last mission is my entire job this mission. This was the map from the last mission too. They pulled out their SAMs. Wow. I still get a higher score than the last mission despite basically doing nothing.
And I've been RSVPed, joy.
Mission seven and the final one, Air Support. I wonder what my objective is going to, all the armor and all the MiGs. We won't be seeing Riker, as only Quaid's platoon has survived. Is this a glitch or was this supposed to happen? Thanks to my efforts during Deep Strike, AKA turn the Soviets into blubbering messes, they won't have any HINDs to screw with our remaining tanks. Cord also says the mission will be difficult. That was what he said about the last one. It wasn't true then, will it be true now?
I'm not saying the Soviets have alien tech, but those MiGs have been hovering there for a while
The mission starts off with Cord telling me to look out for choppers. I thought I stopped that already. Make up your mind! I start suspecting someone at the Dynamix rushed out this mission because Riker tells me he needs air support. Now there are some problems with this mission, namely, I'm back at humming the Mission: Impossible theme for giggles because if we don't I'll scream. You see, I have to kill three seperate groups of tanks and SAMs. The SAMs because I need the skies clear to clean out the tanks. The tanks because they'll take out our tanks. Then I have to take out three groups of tank killers. Then I have to hope my left wing isn't blown off because there are still MiGs to deal with. By the way, when the enemy tanks are all dead, they say the battle is over. Its not. That screwed over a couple good runs. Which gives me three options, figure out this mission while cheating, playing this mission until I feel the desire to use the disc the game came on as a gardening tool, or play a different game.
Now, after a few failed attempts at defeating the mission. I get to thinking. Why do I need Mavericks for this mission? It isn't like I'm going to be killing anything that needs only a Maverick, but even if I do, I have the cannon. That doesn't work. Just take out the tanks? That completely wrecks my plane and makes me unable to fight. Hug the ground like I forgot to fly, however, works like a charm. SAMs can only rarely hit you on the ground, usually if you've just landed in front of them. Barrel in front of them from a distance and by the time they realize what's happening they're already dead. Only even fails the first time because I spent too much time aiming at an enemy tank killer. This sounds like an exploit but as previously mentioned they still fire SAMs at you. Combined with opening up with a rockeye, this starts working really well.
Is that a little dot there? Let me get it out.
Despite the appear of enemy MiGs at the last second and the game's insistence that the battle is over before its over, the final part of the mission is rather easy. Really, the difficult part is the aforementioned tank-busting. All I have to do is sneak behind some hills and over some fields before dropping a couple of bombs on the enemy base. I'm not even sure I needed to sneak behind the hills, those MiGs seemed pretty content at testing out their alien tech as long as I didn't jump them.
...You can do that? I guess if anyone deserves it, its me for being the main force behind our victory.
Colonel Cord tells me what a wonderful job I did, and how this will probably be my last mission. Of course, if you're already familiar with the game, you know this isn't the last we'll be playing of it, although its the last we'll see of Cord. First, we'll discuss how the game itself stacks up.
As per last time, my scores. So much for bridge-busting.