Saturday, March 28, 2020

Game 28: Space Station Oblivion

Name:Space Station Oblivion AKA Driller
Publisher:Incentive Software (Epyx in the US)
Developer:Incentive Software
Genre:Vehicle Sim
Time:8 Hours

There are very few games I've struggled with as much as this one in regards to actually playing through it. Due to the nature of the game, it wasn't quite possible to release multiple entries over the course of the game, as it wasn't long enough to provide even my sometimes meaningless commentary. But because of the way the game was played, this was long, this was hard, and this was difficult to talk about. Nobody wants to read someone flail around the same section for twenty minutes straight.
The story is...uh, something wrong happened on a planet, deadly gases are building up, and their automated defenses have come online and will shoot anyone who moves. I am to go in, drill out the gases before they explode, and then the PC's honor will be restored or something. I can't find the manual and Wikipedia's plot description sounds like a summation of events near the end of a sci-fi novel. A sci-fi novel I haven't read. Basically, drop drills in the right spot, hope you don't get screwed over.
Starting the game up, I am struck by how bad the game looks. This isn't unique to DOS either, every version looks terrible. Some worse than others. Playing a lot of this gets your brain slightly used to this. This is early 3D, very early. Not ugly cute Alone in the Dark, but 3D where rendering a person is three blocks standing on top of each other. Its not really fair to compare it to anything else, but unfortunately, I must. Things are usually distinct enough, but there are some issues with tiny lines that I'll get to in a few moments.
The objective, as mentioned, is to place drills, which let out gases. You can place one drill per room and you have to release a certain amount of gas. Doing so drains your energy, but placing them is the only way you can figure out where the gas is reliably. Multiple screens have it as a guessing game, others do not. One outright tells you and its still a guessing game. You can save and load anywhere. Guess what I did. I'm not going for the high score, just enough so I can win.
The defense systems are represented by triangles, held against a surface, not pointing toward the surface, those are health items. These come in two flavors, shooty ones, and drainy ones. The shooting ones are obvious, the draining ones drain your shield a set amount as long as you're in their range. Sometimes you can shoot them, sometimes you can't. That's when the primary part of the game comes in.
See, while everybody and their dog calls this an action and shooting game, this is really a puzzle game you need quick reflexes for. If you treat it like that, its a bit engaging. Stay alert, look out for obvious things to destroy. Oops, you just activated a destructo laser, game over. It boggles the mind how much there were able to cram into a game that makes Hovertank 3D look advanced. It is truly awesome.
Take this room. There's a swimming pool, and a switch on the wall. If you look around the room, there's no gas to drill. You can drive over the water, but can't place the drill inside the swimming pool. The switch does something else. The diving board is indestructible and jumping off it kills you. You solve this by shooting the water, then going down the stairs after it evaporates. This is one room off to the side. Is it any wonder I find something enjoyable in this despite the obvious?
The game is further complicated by the addition of a space ship. It doesn't have a drill, but it can fly. Its needed for several puzzles to open up an area before you can place the drill. These are usually quite obvious. Its about this time I had a problem, that I decided to end this for good.
You see, in another area, there's a forcefield. On one side, you're getting shot at by tiny turrets, on the other, the switch. So I get the ship, flip the switch, and some time later come back. The forcefield is still there. Okay, maybe I hit it wrong. Its the same again. I check a walkthrough. Its freaking glitched out. Well, I don't know about you, but that's a sign for me that I need to do something else. The ending for the ZX Spectrum version is up on Youtube, under the European name Driller. Its lame. It might as well not exist.

Its a shooty laser. It exists. It doesn't do anything special, really. 1/10

What is an annoying triangle that is usually hard to hit? A single tiny pixel that is hard to hit with finicky controls. 1/10

They don't exist as such. 0/10
Oblivion makes a lot out of a little. There's only 18 "levels", but these require a good amount of time to figure out, and that's not going into the sub-locations. Even secrets, something that you wouldn't think of when you think primitive shooter. 4/10

Player Agency:
There are a lot of options offered. You can change your height, viewing angle, speed of view adjustment, a lot of things I didn't think you could ever need. Awkward, but it gets the job done. The game also takes into account where your camera is angled and where the front of the tank is. This can be two different places. Because you can look up and keep looking up until you're looking behind you upside-down. Unfortunately, when it gets time to shoot, I have to use the arrow keys like a mouse to aim. All that trouble and there wasn't a way to change the speed of the cursor. 3/10

Even if the only way to interact with things is via a laser, its still very good for what it is. A lot of thought was put into how you use the various objects in the game world. These ultimately end up being fancy switches, but there are a lot of fancy switches, and sometimes the switches have multiple states... 3/10

Because of graphical limitations and sound limitations, this game has the distinct sense of nothing beyond what you see, an early 3D game. What can I say to that? Oh, sweet, it might be space or it might be night? Eh. 0/10

It is cruel, but necessary to complain here. Because of presumably limited palette options, everything looks very garish and ugly. This is in addition to the 3D that had no choice but to age like milk. 1/10

Effectively non-existent, and the explanations I could find were confusing. 0/10

Very nice use of the PC speaker for, but still, PC speaker. Everything feels distinct and I didn't hate it as much as I hate most PC speaker sound effects. 2/10

That's a total of 15. Which puts it next to Isle of the Dead and The Terminator, games similar in that they had good ideas, but were bogged down in silly things like "bad graphics" and "no idea what they're doing". I think this game is something that definitely deserves a remake. Something to sand out the rough edges and make it look and sound like something. Anything really.

Back in the day, reviews were mostly positive, but a few standouts note that there were graphical problems even at the time, interesting. There's nothing of note today. Very few people have decided to put in the time to play something like this in the past twenty years. Its not hard to see why.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Shadowcaster: Flesh, Blood & Bone

Its extra fun time now. The final chapter.
Time to redistribute some weapons from the less useful forms to the more useful forms. Grost is going to have some fun penetrating things. Unfortunately, it seems that lighting these levels is going to prove to be a losing battle. The Caun can increase light, but it lasts so short I didn't bother again. This area also tries to psych you out with some scenic mushrooms, compared to the lethal Shrooms from earlier.
There are a lot of snakes, and they prove to be very difficult to cut down. The trident has a very wide damage ability. Which means it could do between 3 and 12 points of damage, plus the Grost's modifier. That means a lot of variation in damage.
Still, I shall miss this place. Its been a while since I've gotten past this, I wonder what's going to...
Ah, its a gorey internals kind of level. This level is pretty good, though. It has the exact feel of someplace I don't want to be in. Which is what you want your "inside the human body" level to be. Underwater there's this giant fish that eats a lot of damage and dishes it out likewise. I explore a bit further, but after seeing no land in the area, I guess I'm going back to the level start. I guess I can regenerate while treading water. Perfect.
The further section of the level continues the great theme of disgusting architecture. Then there's a frigging Opsis. I wasn't expecting him. He eats up a ton of magic damage too. Glad to see I'm starting off this section right. With two freaking regeneration waits. There's going to be more of them, I know it. They're going to just eat things up.

I bring the trident back to the Kapha and then clear out the water. When I have reach and physical damage, they're surprisingly easy to kill. It looks like this is sort of a repeat of the Seaking's level. That's good news for me. I notice another Opsis when I sneak up to get a look around.
Topping off, I search through the section to the east briefly, revealing another Opsis. That's like three! Yeah. You literally can't hit them on the ground, so I take him out with the Ssair's claws. Not sure what the rest of the level's gonna be, but I'm going to clear out the rest first.

The level ends up being two very connected together sections, the underwater, and the overwater. Most of the overwater part turns out to be slightly useless. Not much point to one pocket except a single Opsis. I find a heart beating on the ceiling in on area, killing it makes it drop a blood crystal. Probably a puzzle of some kind.
Back at the section to the east, a new kind of flying enemy, a pterodactyl. I didn't see the accuracy stat they have. Works less well in this game than in Morrowind if you can believe that. The blood crystal can be used on the pillars that are here, but I don't know the connection yet.
The second section, of the level, with walls of souls, I guess. It looks awkward in motion, but other than that, it isn't entirely bad. Entirely. There are skeletons here. They're not hard to kill, its nice to kill them agian. Then, there are more pterodactyls. They throw out thousands of the fireballs. How do you know if one's spotted you? You're dying. Grost can't hit them, but he's the only one who can take their damage. That's nice. Its twenty minutes of fun.
Here, there's a stone sword. Just hanging around. While I looked it up in the manual, I discovered I can hit them as Grost....with earthquake. Right. Stone sword goes on a statue on the other side of this section. Its in an area that's constantly shooting fireballs. Well done, guys, I mean that. Well done. There, I get the second crystal. Flesh, to be exact.
Section the third. Its a bunch of skeletal walls. I feel like the last section should have been that. There was a big old group of skeletons. Put a smile on my face. Here there's a mix of skeletons and pterodactyls. One earthquake takes 'em out...eventually. With that knowledge this level becomes a cakewalk. Isn't easy on my energy reserves, but hey. A chest containing two potions and another wand round out my arsenal.
With all three crystals, I can find out where to next. Its just a random thing in the middle of the room. Okay, then. Awkward place to leave off, but there we go.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Game 27: Mig Alley Ace

Name:Mig Alley Ace
Genre:Flight Sim
Time:Under 1 hour

Once again, its time to go back to the really primitive past where my complaining sounds like complete assholery. That's right, the Microprose flight sims that only early '80s kids will remember! Mig Alley Ace takes us even further back to the Korean War, making this game rather unique in setting. I play as a pilot of the F-86 "Sabre" shooting down MiG-16 "Fagot" planes. I hope in multiple ways that that wasn't chosen because they're tailpipe bandits.
As an aside, the C64 version of this seems to have been released after F-15 Strike Eagle. Interesting.
As the game starts off, I am bombarded with dead silence. Takes a good minutes to load up, but its smooth after that. Starts off with an annoying demo, but otherwise no complaints....well, the menus have the worst possible use of color possible given the C64's palette. I don't understand the font choice. Okay, I have a lot of complaints.
I eventually make it to a fight. Its like Hellcat Ace, except the enemy moves fluidly. That's literally all I would say if the game didn't have a bad crack job. Who would have thought, almost forty years later someone would be complaining about someone's inability to properly crack the game. Works fine up to a point, you shoot, you get one burst out, but that's it. Did I mention there's enemy AI this time? Oh, I'm sorry, it is cracked, but it flashes by so fast it might as well not be there the first time you play. Did I also mention this takes a minute to load? Even when I got the gun working it was really, really, lame. Its really slow.

Also, there are wingmen now, and multiple enemy planes. That's interesting, but it doesn't really improve the game.

A single gun that fires like complete ass. 0/10

They're actually capable of giving you a challenge. 1/10

There are wingmen. They're the same as the enemy planes, basically. 1/10

Non-descript green plains. 0/10

Player Agency:
Hey, there's no eject button anymore! It still feels like crap. 3/10

None. 0/10

I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was mildly unsettling. 0/10

I guess the enemy plane looks better. 1/10

Random scenes from real life. 0/10

There are two sounds, that of gunfire, and that of the plane dropping. It might as well be silence. 0/10

6, which means it beat Hellcat Ace. I've got nothing more to say, really.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Shadowcaster: The People Mined Mud

By this point, I've triumphed over most of Veste and Melkor the Dark One's evil plot. However, the cluebook at this point explains something about the way I'm getting the forms that I don't quite explain, except that the way Veste did it, I can undue it quite easily. That explanation was needed 3/4ths of the way through.
Some cutscene that I suspect would explain me getting the Ssair form, except I only get the first part of it. In a way, its like old-fashioned film. Each shot is on a different roll of film and someone lost most of them.
Meanwhile, after something wonderful happens, I once again see the Dark Temple. The light crystal is apparently dead. Didn't need it the last two times, but its dark now. And I didn't regenerate mana properly the last time. As you may recall, the midi music doesn't work for me, so I've been listening to it over the internet. I'd listen to it on my computer, but whatever format the complete rip is in I don't understand and can't run. I'm sure not going to rip this off Youtube. And, frankly, I'm tired of it. So, something more appropriate is in order.
So this "introduction to the Ssair" section is something I really screwed up with. There are three things to note, it seems darker than it was before. The Ssair's fire attack EATS UP mana like nothing else. These guys seem to eat regular damage up like my fire attack eats up the mana. Add in a rope that doesn't seem to freaking cut, and this is a fun spell.
Right, Mud Mines. I hope that's just a description, or it isn't any wonder how the People lost. Once again, I'm on a slow burn. It takes a little while, but there are spiders, big ones, and then there are earth elementals. The earth elementals are a joke, getting torn to shreds by the Ssair's tail. I have to wonder about sending a Ssair against a earth elemental.
Lava men, but they're recolored earth elementals! Flying fire elementals. Mud geysers you can punch and kill! As soon as this level opens up, it opens up hard.  You've got a whole bunch of monsters you don't want to kill for once, bunched up against a wall fireball thrower. Whole lot of those now.
At the end of this level are a pair of pressure plates. At first, because there's a rock slightly further in, I assume I must find two rocks, put them on the plates, then go through whatever they open. So, I go back, and all I find is an obelisk tip. Okay, that's still good, but no other boulder. All the way returned, I pick up the boulder, assuming there's another boulder. It crashes on me. Thanks, guys.
The boulder, is of course, to the left as you enter the end. What do the plates do? Shoot lava out, which melts the ice above, revealing a chain. I'm impressed they could do that with the Wolfenstein engine. Its the teleport. Very undramatic here.
This one actually isn't destructible at all, unlike later ones
The next level does the same thing, start off slow. There's what seems to be a destructible wall and and a frog mouth. The wall is a trap, it does nothing, what you really need to do shoot the frog mouth full of the Caun's bugs.
In fact, this level really is more of the same as the last one. Fly around above the lava, although it truly is lava now. Its getting difficult to describe this in any meaningful manner. I do find a hourglass, that I presume will be useful for some puzzle.
The puzzle does not prove forthcoming right away, instead there are around 8 fire elementals and lavamen roaming around in a single small area. Got killed once because I got swarmed, but other than that, nothing too difficult.
The hourglass is related to a puzzle regarding the final obelisk. Its incredibly obvious. I have to say I miss Bram Stoker's Dracula a little. The final form is...Grost. A giant rock-man. A mythical rock-man. He is a tank. Slow, tough, hard-hitting, capable of tanking the damage from enviromental hazards. Starts with 300 health. He does six times the damage of Kirt.
The rest of the level, oddly, is trying out the Grost. Some of the walls from earlier were damagable, and in order to leave the level they must be destroyed. The rest of the level is just a joy. Switching between the Grost and the Ssair eliminating what little enemies remain. There's not much of the game left, and I don't know where the CD's new level goes in exactly, so there might be as many as two more entries before the review.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Game 26: 3D Combat Zone

Name:3D Combat Zone
Publisher:Artic Computing
Developer:Jon Ritman
Genre:Vehicle Simulation
Time:Under an hour

I'm unfamiliar with the ZX Spectrum for the most part. It wasn't released in the US. According to Wikipedia there was something that could be called very much like the ZX Spectrum, but is not the ZX Spectrum. You'll see the odd Brit talking about how the ZX Spectrum had some awesome titles. Because you can't hear my thick Mid-Western American accent, let me point out that I pronounce it the Zee Ecks Spectrum. Zee Ecks. Now that all the Brits have suffered a brain aneurysm, let's talk about...oh, I should have made that joke for the ZX81*. Anyway, 3D Combat Zone. Its Battlezone for the Zee Ecks Spectrum. Kind of.
You see, I couldn't find any way to actually move. I hit just about every key that could possibly do something, but nothing happened. I could turn, via the up and down arrows. Might be something to do with the ZX keyboard. Really slowly I might add. When you shoot, with the space bar, you have a really long reload time. That puts controls in nothing, slow, slow. That's quality I expect from my action games.

Now, the player fights against a single enemy at a time, might be more later, I dunno. The enemy tank ducks and weaves out of your shot accuracy. He's actually smart. Of course, that means he's impossible to hit. Even if he's pointed right at you, you shoot at him, he moves to the left or right. Which is less smart and more straight-up cheating. I don't like it when the game cheats against me and I'm not even smart enough to figure out how to move.

The game fires like a realistic simulation that the rest of the game doesn't really live up to. 0/10

I saw a single tank. A single cheating tank. 0/10

Don't exist. 0/10

Its worse than Battlezone. I guess there's trees or something. 0/10

Player Agency:
Unless someone goes back and tells me that there's a key I missed, there's nothing here. Turning and shooting isn't really my idea of a good shooting time. Even if I missed something, why are the keys for turning and moving front and back so far apart? 0/10

There's none. 0/10

Does crap knock-off have a distinct atmosphere? I think this might have it. 0/10

Its okay. I've seen quite a few ZX games and they all had a distinct look to them. This didn't necessarily have the bad limitations of that system. Not good, but just about average for the time for wireframe. 1/10

Something about a century long war and you're the only one left on one side. Nothing beyond a backstory. 0/10

Bloops and bleebs. Not good ones. 0/10

Now, if you examine this closely, you can tell there are a lot of 0s there. You can only add 0 together so many times before it gets boring. The only thing that isn't a 0 is a single 1. 1. 3D Defender had 3. Nevermind the Japanese, apparently the English can't make a good shooter. I kid, of course, but so far the ones I've had the worst experiences with have all been from England. The Hunt for Red October, 3D Defender and the bad Submarine Commander. That's just 4 games I didn't like at all. America is certainly going to keep pace with its friends across the pond eventually, but man.

*From a purely linguistic reason, I think that while the Spectrum sounds better with British pronunciation, the ZX81 sounds better with the American. Of course, either way the ZX81 sounds a bit lame in 2020.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Shadowcaster: The Seaking Suckered the Ssair into a Sorry State

The level transition video states that the Sea King is poisoning the People's old allies, the Ssair. Seeing as they've been attacking me, I guess that's a brainwashing kind of poisoning? I'm sure that's a definition of it, but its a weird choice of word. As happened at the end of the castle, I am returned to the Temple of the Dark God, where another obelisk will have risen and a new portal opened.
I try out the Kapha form, which may or may not have been a mistake. Getting some experience for him is good, but he gets crushed in close combat with a Rice Snake or a Ssair. Creating an unnecessary delay for my entering the waterworld.
The "Flooded Caverns" are really another temple, except its surprisingly empty. Feels a lot like a Tomb Raider level in parts. I encounter an acid pit, but nothing enemy related for a good chunk of time. Protip: The Kapha is not immune to acid. The only water I see is behind a locked door. I guess this level will be dedicated to getting the key to that door.
More mines? I thought I was done with mines in the mines! These mines shoot you, because they can do that. Unfortunately, this means more waiting because these things eat up magic blasts like candy. Since they're over acid, that means I have to use the Opsis again. I've had more reason to use the Opsis than the actual form I'm supposed to.
Then there are chests, they contain some items for the Kopha, a water cannon, I assume this will be useful underwater, and water armor. Not an actual weapon yet, unless the water cannon has unlimited charges. Later, I find a trident, making his collection of weaponry complete.
The rest of the ground level is nothing special, just a bunch of tar creaturess that aren't all that tough and a single ball of something. Dunno what the ball is, but the guide calls it a "Morpsphere".
Then, the only thing left is going underwater. There are three enemies down there, a kind of manta ray called...Manta. They aren't that hard to kill. The real problem child are the Skull Mines, they eat damage like nothing else so far. One legitimately took over 150 strikes to take down. There's no reason for that, it only has 100 HP. Blue Ssairs, which are underwater. They're less difficult to kill than the other ones. I put that down to the trident, its a dream to fight with.
The level starts to drag here. Or should I say, levels. This consists of two levels stuck together, an above water and an underwater level. To add to this, underwater, its hard to tell where you're supposed to surface at times, and there are traps with this. A few red Ssairs are hiding in some surface areas. Keep in mind, these bad boys are flying when you're halfway in water. Is it any wonder this game gets a bad rap sometimes?
Going through the underwater tunnels is mostly a matter of going to and from the surface, reaching the next enemy. Eventually, I just reach the Seaking. Just hanging out with a couple of Ssairs. He goes out with the entire supply of the water cannon. He doesn't even seem to drop anything. There's nothing around him. This is lame-o. And the teleporter out is just over his throne. Quality.
Thus, the final level of this section starts off with a giant hallway full of more Ssairs. Yep, that's good. I swear some of them respawned. That's just great. There are two side corridors. They don't have anything, they just exist. At the end? Well...
Now I can be a Ssair. They fly, they have a tail and they shoot fire.