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.

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