Saturday, May 30, 2020

Catacomb Armageddon: Dark Lanes of Destiny

The Demons Hold. We're here fairly quickly. Usually that's a sign the end was nigh. And a demon is there...attacking some kind of forcefield. This looks like a ship more than a demons hold. And the demons have two heads. Probably still damage eaters. Door to my left locked, door to the right locked. All the walls are solid. Good. Just what I need. The force field, being the first of its kind to do damage to the player as they're in a certain tile*, eats up health like no one's business. As does the demon. I can't even stunlock him properly. Two potions down. Joy.
More forcefields...more demons. Don't tell me I have to go in there? At the end of the hall, a locked door and a "hidden" door. Just a few more demons and some treasure it really wasn't worth getting. No choice. Nothing out and about in the place, just some destructible walls. That means going in. They're not difficult to kill, they just have a good shot at hurting you.
Oh...good. Well...I guess I'm going to need those. Only one of the cells has the necessary items to advance. Only two demons necessary. I say necessary, but I know the gem is going to be around here somewhere, and I can't see them on my radar yet...I'm going to need to. The room you need the key for on this side has a whole bunch of demons. Its great. Just great.
Hallway 2, only two cells and a single locked door, no doubt where another horde lie. This one also has the key easy to access, only guarded by a single demon, behind a locked door. I check the other room anyway. I think this game has the possibility of hurting my hands with how quickly I have to press the ctrl key. The second cell has another locked door, and what do you know, the key to there is inside the other locked room. Six demons later and I'm back on my journey through this place.
I see...a small mercy on the developers part. I wonder if I'll still feel the same way about the ants after this journey?
Right at the start. Anyway, four corridors. Four ways to win. Three keys and three doors, if I'm anticipating the dev properly. I'll pick one...nothing important. Just another hallway with ants. Dead ants. Right. This looks like an exploding wall.
Huh, more enemies...look like troll reskins. I realize those were demon palettes, but work with me here. Probably just tough to kill...THEY EXPLODE?
...They explode. They get close, they expand their torso, they explode. Okay. The rest of this, apparently southern area is filled with more exploding doors than I can count. This part loops back into the opening chamber. Good, just what I need.
There are several big egg rooms. They're a bit intimidating to enter, but not especially difficult. More of the explodey goblins appear sometimes, unsure if they actually explode or just die that way. I have yet to fight them in open combat yet. Mostly they seem to get hit by stray exterminator shots.
I make my way north. I've got two keys, and I guess I have everything south of here. They reuse the word musty a lot on this level. I find a western tunnel I must have missed, and another pair of explodey goblins. Only they explode on death, and don't damage you. They damage you by attacking. I find the level exit, just by turning around at the end of a tunnel. Oh, well. Next place is Halls of the Wretched Pox. I'll call them Pox, then.
I guess it is a hall, not just a maze. The Pox, while a big player, are soon overshadowed by evil eyes. And there are a lot of them. You've got the first hallway, which leads into the second hallway in a sort of {} shape. Then you've got the little side areas. The ones in the first are sort of weird, but not too out of place. Then in the second, you've got little halls jutting out, with explodey walls hiding all sorts of goodies, then more fun on the side, with enemies in side treasure rooms on top of everything.
After surviving all that. Surviving a horde of pox and evil eyes. Ones that always seemed to find another place to hide in. When the last one no longer pitter-pattering in the distance, I come to a door with two keys in my possession. Behind door no. 1, more pox. After a few too many magick missiles, I come across the words I am joyed to hear. Access to the Lair of the Succubus. Looks like we can cross another one off for Catacomb, and I get to see some boobs.
I was not expecting such a drab location. Oh, they're ugly. Maybe not ugly, just plain. They shoot flaming hearts. All together disappointing. A key, three doors. But only one of them shares the same color as mine, so the choice is non-existent.
The enemy mage's missiles are very fast, I thought these were a hitscan kind at first. No matter, these Passages of the Chaste Succubus seem to have just as many of the mages as they do succubi.  One side even has more pox. But considering the succubi...anyway, that's a lot of blood on the walls. I wonder if the devs were laughing as they put them in.
With another key I have two choices. I choose poorly, as my selection takes me to the level end, effectively. I'm sure I can get to the other location...probably. There's still more mages than succubi. I'm sure that will change.
What? Keep of the Pox? Maybe you should have put that in the last level, now known as "Goddamn, not another evil eye". At least the pox aren't lightning fast. Bit of a breather. Not that it was needed, since here, you get a key, walk back to the first door you unlocked, go to the northern side, kill more succubi. I mean, I'm supposed to be a wizard, not a sprinter.
The Twisted Path of the Succubus is neither twisted, nor succubus. The succubus are in the room at the end, and the path, despite making a few turns, is the most straightforward part of the level. With that, I can now reach The Lair of the Evil Eye, which will no doubt feature 6 evil eyes, 15 pox, and 8 succubi. Despite the panic the game puts me in, I still have 40 cures, and enough of the specials.

This session: 1.5 hour

Total Time: 4 hours

*Doom came out at the end of the year, so this is a safe assumption. Also, it accomplishes this by just being an immovable melee enemy.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Catacomb Armageddon: Head Bangin' Man

Curiously, this level starts off as if the proceeding level was not a thing. More graveyard-like stuff, some more zombies. What the hell is this level progression? A long corridor of nothing, mirrored on the other side. Really? You're pulling this now? I guess that's consistent, but the last level had terror, due to the trees. I guess nothing is going to happen here.
HAHAHAHAHA! Killer rabbits? Now we're stealing Shadow Warrior's thunder? First FPS to feature rabbits as an enemy. I'm sure they'll take a small chunk out of my health, but man, could you have any more schizophrenia enemy design? Laughable enemies, with one creepy one. The other side is not mirrored either, with a lot of bats, and at the end of a long hallway, more rabbits. This puts me in a slightly annoyed mood, but at least I have three keys.
I quickly regret my annoyed mood for the first half of this level. Thanks to my incompetence here I get ambushed. I suppose this is actually a fairly clever tactic. Player assume the house is clear, player advances, sees rabbit, shoots while backing up, sees more enemies, gets stuck in hidden side niche full of enemies. All for a couple of chests. Well-played.
Now we see necromancers/mages pop up again. This area leads to the next level and once again, I have lost the advantage. I even have to use a cure potion. I think they did something to the necromancer graphic, looks worse than before. What do you know, a skeleton statue. Hmm, I guess that they changed the skeleton graphics too. Why do they look like some '80s metalhead though?
Lost City of the Damned...doesn't look that much like a city. What the hell happened to the wall? That's just the damaged wall texture for this level. Looks like someone's head made a messy indentation. Wonder what's behind it. Also, has it been a day? That's a blue sky...I think.
A...statue? It isn't moving after several moments.
Okay, they're definitely linking monster spawning to the player's location now. Credit where credit's due though, that's one nice damage animation, something players aren't going to be seeing clearly.
Yet, weird-ass metalhead skeleton. Seem a little weaker than the last skeletons. A key behind him, nothing more. When I make it back to the start area, I notice the way back and the way forward both have the same texture. Nice. The other side is just a bunch of skeletons, nothing too troublesome.
I'm starting to think the skeletons are smart. They don't seem to be advancing when I'm not in their line of sight. But as I move along the generic hallways that make up the rest of the level, it seems they do not. The level doesn't feel like a city, but it does build up the next level by making the temple feel big. There's even an early monster closet, where what you think is a single wall is actually a series of walls.
Temple of the Vipers is interesting. There's more new assets, but they honestly feel like they've been remixed from old ones. You've got the obvious first medusa encounter, then I've got two choices. One of them has a portal, I'll try that second.
The Long Hall of Truth is code for, ton of snakes. And another portal+key. I have no choice in the matter, but I'm going to go to the first one, not this one. Hang on, there's a door here...
Oh, this must be the level exit. The mages are no trouble, but the medusa seems unwilling to activate. Well, I had to do the portal one way or another.
A sacrificial room of some kind. Nothing of note beyond another key. The medusa activated while I was here, though. Subtle. To the other portal!
The Hall of Dread starts off spooky. I think a sound activates when I enter, but that's just a mage firing magic at me. Then we have the Deadly Approach, nothing terrifying, just another altar. It explodes, which is an interesting choice. Behind it, the Chamber of Unspeakable Horrors, which has a pair of medusas who at first I thought just wouldn't spawn, but ambushed me as I reentered. There is definitely some AI in here somewhere.
Then we have another hall with a spooky name, and another portal. In the portal, another ambush. That's it here, I have the key to The Torture Chamber.
As can be seen, The Torture Chamber is subtle about its name. Three skeletons. They look an awful lot like the ones I've been fighting, but I'm sure that's laziness.
Tricked by low expectations. Of course. Four locked doors, so something behind the skeletons. More hanging skeletons. Its not that effective afterward, although the game is still pulling off some kind of trickery to make the enemies seem clever.
Oh, I'm sorry, the door isn't locked. Uh-uh. Gee, wonder where this will head to. After the obvious ambush, I find the Hidden Passage of Hope, which has medusas in it. What's so hopeful about this...? was an escape route...with corpses on the wall. I have more questions.
The first actual locked door has more medusas. Which leads to another hidden corridor. More medusas, and then the level exit. Well, I got two more doors, I'll finish it up first. Nemesis might eat up some more zappers this time. Only have 14 cures too.
The next door is an empty cell, except for the hanging skeleton. And the wall that explodes if you don't aim carefully, revealing a hidden treasure room. Full of monsters. Across there, another room full of medusas and treasures. I seemingly get sent to 0% health here, but manage to recover. Huh? Am I cheating somehow? What? I think I need to stop here, so I can figure out what went wrong.

This session: 1.5 hour

Total Time: 2.5 hours

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Catacomb Armageddon: Fearful Visions

Armageddon is the second of Softdisk's Catacomb trilogy...or now that I think of it, the first commercial episode of a proper shareware game. Usually I'm eager to point out that so-and-so game that has three entries of Mobygames is actually one...yet I have never thought the same of this game. Well, whatever, I did the first one as its own game, I'll do these as their own games. Armageddon starts of much the same way Abyss did, Nemesis asks you what your difficulty will be and off I go. I will also add that there's a gallery of the creators of this game with their heads mounted on some lizard's wall.
The story...what there is of it, starts off the same as before, only now I'm in a red robe and have blonde hair. That's a cheap way to reuse assets. No stepping sounds...but I don't remember if that was the case with Abyss. Feels weird, no ambient sound. Lightning flashes across the ceiling, but no sound plays. After an encounter with a door, something is amiss with the Adlib sound here. Well, at least the PC speaker sound here isn't terrible.
This area is just a very subtle way to get the player used to the game. Something you think would be better done in the first episode, but what do I know? Two keys, two doors, no enemies to see instantly.
We're also right off with the Satanic themes...
Oh...god, someone woke up on the wrong side of the grave. Why would you give your bad guys that kind of bad hair day? That doesn't make them look creepy, that makes them look like they have a wig on. Anyway, the two doors lead to two rooms with a receding niche behind a wall. Each side contains the key for the other side, and one of them has the gem. I feel insulted. Finding the gems was fun.
A curious technical bit, archways like you'd expect in something fancier. Probably isn't as impressive as I give them credit for, but hey. I see the art director had an off day. I mean everybody inserts giant insects, even if spiders aren't insects technically, but that feels weird given the preceding enemies. These guys are in some kind of hallway too, ants break out of eggs. With a green key I presume is the exit key.
The other side is even more of a show in this section, having the eggs right out and center, followed by a "secret" with additional ants and a zombie. But that has a green key. Hang on, does this mean the way out is more difficult to find than the keys? No, I'm just a fool, its right in front of the entrance. But the way the keys are laid out is funny...I could theoretically screw myself easily.
The end of level fight is hardly spectacular. Bunch of ants and zombies. I go back to check if the game has the door at the start here, and accidentally save over my end of level save. Nice. By the end of my second walk through the level, I become extremely less enamoured with the lightning on the sky.
Dark Forest, huh? Couldn't even draw a tree wall. Lame. I bet this level isn't even going to have a forest. buggers too.
I...that seems unnecessarily brutal. So much for the laughable monster designs. And they stick around too. Chalk up enemies that still hurt you after death to the Catacomb series. That's what, two more things? That and the arches Impressive.
This quickly turns into one freaky level. There are a lot of the trees, and some in close quarters. I'm cautious about this, don't know if I'm going to get screwed out of hitting a wall by the dead tree. They still soak up damage. It feels like there's an endless supply of bats. The level design is a bit confusing...perhaps my mind just gets confused with flat wall trees. You'd think the dead enemies would improve things, but no. Somehow in this madness I find another gem. Awfully nice of the boys to just give that away, not stretching them out like last time. There's not much talking to the player in this game either.
Then, when a large group in an open space appears, I still feel unnerved, because these are the first properly difficult enemies in the series. A lot of graves around here. Some of which have the number 1751 on them. Curious choice. The key and the exit both prove to be not so difficult to find, despite the conditions. The exit, is of course on a brick wall, and not some series of keys either, just one key and you're out. Key's not that far from here either. Which brings me out of the Dark Forest. Which I think is for the best, not too long.

This session: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Game 32: Air Raiders

Name:Air Raiders
Genre:Flight Sim
Time:Under an hour

Hmm, another Intellivision game, I think to myself when this comes up on my list. One I haven't heard of before. This is going to be crap, I can feel it. Its sort of an artificial consideration. Its not on Intellivision Lives!, ergo, it must be crap. Its not like that compilation has any trash on it or anything. I don't write what console something is on before playing it, something that was a mistake here. Air Raiders is on the Atari 2600. If you're not up on your console history, well, that's on you. Imagine if Microsoft or Sony released one of their exclusives on a Nintendo system.
I think I get why, to a certain extent. Air Raiders has one stiff learning curve. Not a realistic one, but an attempt at realism for 1983. You treat this game point and shoot, you'll get your crap kicked in. You've got to time your journey out of the runway, too short, you crash, too long, you crash. You've got to be careful when you're off the ground, because the enemy is right on your butt. It isn't instant death later, getting shot just lowers you for a bit, but at 6 whatever, you're going to crash.
After that, the game gets less manic. One you're used to weaving like a madman, you can easily mosey yourself higher and your bar into the differently colored part of the bar. The enemy planes show up there. Shoot down three planes, rinse, repeat. Outside of the initial panic, there's not much to it. Stay above the ground, avoid getting shot at, shoot enemy planes. This continues until you die. You can run out of ammo, but things go on until you die.

Its a gun, I'll tell you that much. 1/10

Admittedly, I like the way they bob and wave, but otherwise not very impressive. 1/10

Non-existent. 0/10

Non-existent. 0/10

Player Agency:
Despite the altitude meter, this doesn't feel like anything more than a point and shoot game. 1/10

Non-existent. 0/10

Non-existent. 0/10

I like the plane sprites, otherwise baby's first landscape. 1/10

Non-existent. 0/10

Generic Atari. 1/10

That's 5. But then, you didn't need me to tell you that this isn't interesting from the perspective of a guy into '90s shooters.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Game 31: Midwinter

Genre:FPS (?)
Time: 16 hours

I was first aware of Midwinter as a child, my parents had a couple old Microprose games, complete in box, back when that didn't really mean anything. Midwinter was some small advertisement in a catalog of a soon-to-be dead company. There wasn't much, beyond a strange description of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It sounded interesting, but ultimately of no consequence. Every time I vaguely heard of the game since then, it was with a subtle, "Oh, yeah, I remember that."
Midwinter is interesting. Not good. Not bad. Interesting. There's a lot of little things, some I think I take for granted, that made it feel really high quality. But that was offset by key gameplay parts that were just bad. Nothing that ever outweighed the good or made me wish I was playing something else, but just enough that I have that nagging feeling in my head. Its like Sid Meier's Pirates! and Covert Action in that its a bunch of tiny sections making up a whole, but unlike those, the action sections aren't very good.
The amount of enemies is every bit as difficult as it sounds.
The backstory is very long, almost like a novel. Its okay. It explains how the game got to this point. A meteor hit the Earth, causing a new ice age, and Midwinter is some island that was submerged and then surfaced after some time. A group of people go out to it, because the land they're currently in is pretty bad. They discover some more people there, and they build up a community. Refugees come in, some good, some bad. Eventually there's a dictatorship in the southeast, while the rest are the Free Villages. The game begins with General Masters, the bad guy, starting to invade the Free Villages. What there isn't an explanation for, is who General Masters is, beyond some disgruntled Englishman. He's just some random refugee in the backstory.
If you're lucky, this is what happens when you ask someone to join.
There are two different parts to the game, the strategy section, where you see how your characters are doing and have them do things in towns. The idea of different stats for each character is clever, but changed little in my opinion. There was surprisingly little difference in shooting abilities, and it didn't matter how hard your character was breathing when the enemy vehicles were driving around like a maniac player. I had maybe three different vehicle kills with a gun. The only real difference was in endurance and skiing. Vehicle driving didn't seem different, and hanggliding was too rare to be noticeable.
Shooting these down is about as fun as simulating a papercut.
In towns, there's a bit to do. You have areas that give ammo/bombs, fuel, vehicles and food. None of that really matters since the optimal strategy is to blow everything up that the enemy can capture. There is no protecting these towns, short of a miracle in vehicle combat.
Cable Cars offer a brief respite from enemies and driving.
The action section has three parts. But first, loading times, I only mention because they're basically a non-entity. Its like Morrowind, the loading times happen so they can load the rest of the island. Might be as big as Morrowind too.
A rare finding, actually hitting someone dead on.
Your modes of transportation are skiing, snowbuggies, and hanggliding. These are all difficult in different ways. You are going to feel put upon in some way.
Towns being captured is rarely interesting
Skiing is a joy, even if you're playing as a fat Welshman instead of a ski instructor. I didn't realize how much I wanted a first person skiing game until now. A lot of good effort went into this and there's nothing like the feeling of going down a hill after spending too much time climbing it. My only complaints are that its a pain to cross not so bumpy territory, and shooting is bad. You can only shoot when your stopped and the PC breathe. As I mentioned, enemies are insane in their driving skills, add the view bobbing like crazy and you have a recipe for failure. There are grenades, but you have to get close to do that. Fighting is not fun. Fleeing isn't fun either. The enemy's missiles follow you, and they are faster than a skiier. You've got to turn like mad and hope you don't suddenly stop.
Snowbuggies are okay. They're basically snowcars. There's three kinds, with different speeds, passenger capacity, and firepower. In practice, I found I never really cared too much. I never ran out of missiles, and I usually only had two people in at once. But these are vital to the game, without it, most of your characters are just sitting around, waiting to get run over. Fighting enemies is possible, but requires a great deal of practice. Fighting a complete enemy unit, which is around 100 vehicles, good luck with that.
Character backstorys are a fun stop from the grind of the game.
Hanggliders are basically a quick burst of speed atop a mountain. They're at most cable cars. You just sort of glide around, hoping you hit one of the odd updraughts. They're equipped with air-to-air missiles, useless against ground targets. Its not very effective at long distance transportation.
It looks like I'm about to hit him, but looks can be deceiving.
At this point, you run around in a mad dash, hoping to stop Masters before he takes all the heatmines, the only source of power here. While fighting in a direct confrontation is very difficult, you can find ways around that. See, the game takes into account how well equipped the enemy is, with it being a plot point that they're not in great shape. By blowing up every equipment plant, warehouse and anything else the enemy can capture, you make their advance slower. The practical advantage to this is you slow their advance before the guy you sent into the southeast blows up the enemy's HQ, but if you're feeling confident, you can try to wait the enemy out for 40 days. That causes his remaining forces to rebel.
This actually hit, which should tell you about combat here
Fighting against these enemies is not particularly fun. All of the enemy's forces are vehicles, mostly snowbuggies, with some drones, some bombing, some sighting for mortars. You can toggle off the aircraft, they increase the difficulty quite a bit. The game offers a kind of radar where you can hear which direction the enemy is in. This a point. At one point, I was seriously trying to fight off the enemy, and half the time, the area they were supposed to be didn't have them. The AI doesn't screw around, as they move like a player would, erratically, hoping to not get hit. Supposedly there's a commander around these enemy units, but I've never seen 'em. It doesn't help that enemies attack you one at a time.

These depend on how your moving around, with the sniper and grenade being delegated to skiing, and missiles of various types delegated to driving/flying. There's not really much fun to be had in the act of using them. 1/10

They were all basically the same. There's more variety in types than I mention, but they're basically unnoticeable. 1/10

There's not really any as such. Any characters not controlled by the enemy are eventually controllable by the player. 0/10

Despite not having much to it, I really like the island. It feels like an island. An island I'd like to explore. 4/10

Player Agency:
Its clear that despite its failures, a good chunk of effort was put forth here. Little things make it fun, big things don't. I want a skiing game made in this engine, and I'm never getting it. 6/10

I am reluctant to give points here, as the only interactions are in the strategy sections. Most of which are simple strategy game actions. 3/10

Despite doing little to actually produce an atmosphere, the game does a good job of feeling like you're in a really cold environment, desperately trying to stop an evil enemy from taking over the free areas. 6/10

The pixel art has a few issues with it, leaning toward gruff-looking dudes. I like the simple terrain, but whenever a vehicle or tree or building comes on screen, it becomes obvious how bad the 3D is. Terrain far away fades into white, a fitting use of a now obvious limitation. 3/10

Despite the amount of backstory, little comes up in the game. Despite the much hyped relationship between characters, its not much deeper than a generic action game. 1/10

A lot of nice sound effects for the era. Different levels of speed, for each vehicle. The only thing I didn't feel was satisfactory was the sound for enemy vehicles. They always came off as more confusing than helpful. 3/10

That is 28 points. Below Spear of Destiny and above Catacomb 3D. I actually still suggest it despite the relatively low score. Its off the wall and most of its appeal isn't in the shooting aspect. Especially if you like other simulation/strategy/RP games like Pirates, Covert Action and Sword of the Samurai, although I would put this in an inferior category to those. Come to think of it, Covert Action applies as a shooter by my logic...oh, good, another game to add to the not win column. But enough about that.
This game is almost universally praised. In the past it was much loved by those who played it, and today its called a hidden gem by everyone who's heard of it. Its curious as to how outside of this praise there is very little in the ways of casual discussion on the game. Curiously, this consists of nearly no Youtubers. I guess nobody wants to upload something with the early 3D look. Its even gone as far as to be included in the 1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die book. Now, while I do agree that it was a good game, and certainly a hidden gem, but it isn't that good. Part of this game is action, and the action part isn't the best. Vehicle combat is tricky at best and seriously off-the-wall at worst. I'm not going to repeat about what I've said about other kinds of combat.
Next time...its getting moved up a bit, but Catacomb Apocalypse, the sequel to Catacomb Abyss. Does it live up to its predecessor? I don't know, I haven't played it, but I need something that isn't untextured polygons for a while.