Sunday, September 27, 2020

Game 35: Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom

Name:Midwinter: Flames of Freedom
Difficulty: 3/5
Time: 11 hours

I try not to give up on games all willy-nilly. As evidenced by me pretending I'm still trying to win Galactic Empire. Its not a good sign when I'm staring at the screen in in this game, having combed an entire island and missing one of my objectives. I could have always restarted and just done other islands, but do I really want to play this game for effectively the rest of 2020? October is coming up, and I don't want to deal with a horror (two really) game in addition to this, Blake Stone and Galactic whatever else I'm going to be playing. Its too much for any man.

Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom, so called because Midwinter means something rude in Germany, is the sequel to Midwinter, set entirely off Midwinter and without any winter. You play as a secret agent, sabotaging (destroying everything that moves) islands of the evil Saharan Empire. Of which there are some 40-ish islands. They're planning on invading Verde, the only island controlled by the Atlantic Federation after Midwinter sank. You have to make it so the invasion force isn't going to steamroll the island. You do that by performing objectives on each island. These being buildings to blow up or commanders to kill. You don't know where the objectives are, but you get a contact which will create a web of contacts.

Some contacts may need to be convinced, by using various skills (that the player chose at the start) or by performing a task for them. Some are spies, and you'll get thrown in prison. Where you can also convince your jailer to let you out. This doesn't really trip you up too much, just a loss of a day per action. Since the invasion is measured in months this isn't a good place to be.

That's effectively the strategy portion of the game. What about the action? Well...Flames has an interface like any good shooter would, weapons, health, gas. And controls like any good shooter would, freedom in aiming, shooting, all that good stuff. On paper, its just as good as any other shooter. In practice, you use the mouse's vertical axis to control your speed, space bar to shoot, and a combination of the mouse buttons and horizontal axis to aim. This is not very easy to control. In fact, it's very difficult. Turning is very tricky and up and down even more confusing. If it weren't for homing missiles it would be completely unbearable to actually attack anyone.

Which brings me to the combat. You have a lot of choice here, weapons, vehicles, underwater, land and sea. None of it means anything. The only practical way of dealing with enemies is rapidly turning around and shooting homing missiles. There's only so long you can do that before it gets extremely mundane. Its not really a kill or be killed thing, I didn't get really hurt once. Its certainly possible to get into a situation where you're screwed, but that's unlikely and requires some stupidity on your part. You can literally just drive vehicle to vehicle hijacking each one. A bigger flaw with the combat is that the game stops each time you kill a commander.

See, each time the player enters a different screen, they have to load, probably because the game is big or something. Talking, hijacking, map, and of course killing an enemy commander. Each has a loading time of 10-15 seconds, less for hijacking. And another back again. You have to do this a lot. A lot. Why? The game is basically just a massive space of absolutely nothing. There's barely any interesting elevation and no scenery beyond a stray tree or building. Midwinter's abstraction worked because it was permafrost. Why is this tropical setting so barren? Could it be that making 40ish islands and the surrounding sea resulting in a game that's properly massive was a bad idea?

Before I go to the scoring, I'd just like to mention the special weapons. They're effectively small "I win" devices. Be it for a singular objective or just kill all nearby enemies. You get these depending on how well you do on a singular island. In practice mode, you can get some of these for free, in regular mode, you have to actually complete an island first.

There are dozens of weapons, but none of that matters. You're going to go through vehicles until you get something with homing missiles, then hold onto that as long as you can. The aiming is too inprecise to do dumbfire attacks. 1/10

There are a dozen vehicle types, all of which have the same basic AI. The only real difference is whether or not you can capture one on foot. 1/10

This is the first game I've played that has a real nice setting here. There are a dozen characters on every island. In theory, some are enemy spies, some are your allies, and some are neutral. In practice, some are enemies, some are your allies. 3/10

There are fourty or so islands and no real barrier dividing them up. You can even explore underwater. Now, I only really visited the one island, but I would have to describe it as Lego Island, without the charm. 2/10

Player Agency:
The entire time I was playing this, the controls were there, but completely wrong. Turning 180 or even 360 was not uncommon. The way looking up and down was also unwieldy. Let's not talk about anything out at sea. 2/10

There isn't really any interactions with the environment, except blowing things up, I guess. 1/10

I don't get a coherant sense of atmosphere here. There's no sense of desperation, no sense of a calm country drive, no sense of violence. Just that I'm there and doing a mission. There is a sense that I get no rest, but that's different from desperation. 0/10

The 2D artwork is really nice, but the 3D somehow feels worse than the proceeding game. It doesn't really look like much of anything. With snow, you have an excuse for why its all white, but all green? 2/10

The Saharan Empire is going to invade and you have to stop it. Just because the setting is a bit more grand doesn't make it any more interesting. 1/10

The music in this is very nice, even moreso in the Amiga version. The DOS version, on the other hand, barely has sound. What sound there is greatly annoying. I'll take the Amiga setting, you're going to want to play that version anyway. 7/10

That's 20. That's 8 points lower than Midwinter and puts it in the same rating as Dino Defender. Does that make Dino Defender bad for a newer game or Flames of Freedom good for an older game? That's up to you to decide, because I don't really have any thoughts on that. What I do know is that Flames is guilty of only trying to make a better game than technology would allow at the time. Its kind of like a Far Cry game made in 1991.

Contemporary reviews were much more favorable. Many seemed surprised that the Amiga and Atari ST could run something this big. Only Computer Gaming World actually cared about whether or not there was content inside that world, and only enough to give it a score in the 60s. There are no modern reviews, because anyone doing this in DOSbox is going to be bored out of their mind on loading screens and I'm sure its worse on a real machine. You can't really escape this by speeding it up, because then the game goes way too fast.

In other news I'm doing Legacy - Realm of Terror over at The Adventure Gamer. If everything goes well any future adventure reviews from yours truly will be done over there. It goes without saying, but anytime I'm doing something over there will be less time I'm dedicating here. I know the last month hasn't had a lot of stuff from me, but I needed a break from the stuff I was playing. Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold will resume after October, because I'm going to play something spooky.