Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Highlander - Last of the MacLeods: Back from the Dead

 Its not often I handle current events on this blog. I know what you're thinking. "Current events, Morpheus, you're talking about a Highlander game. That franchise hasn't been relevant since the '90s at best. Has your mind finally snapped?" Because Highlander - Last of the MacLeods has for around 25 years been thought of as a Jaguar (Jag-war) CD exclusive. There are four games relevant to this project on that console. Two of those are enhanced remakes of games on other consoles, so who really cares? The other two, this and Battlemorph...are...well...I can't say I ever really cared one way or the other about playing them. This one looked nice, because I'm a fan of Alone in the Dark/Resident Evil styled games. But I had made my peace about not ever playing it, I had better things to do, like learning Japanese for Doctor Hauzer. Wait a minute, I don't need to do that anymore...uh...well, I still need to do that for other reasons.
You see, the thing about the Jaguar CD, if you're unfamiliar with it, is that it is probably the worst console of all time. It was a bad selling add-on to a bad selling console. There are only 13 games for the system, half of which are ports of PC games, and only 5 are not ports in general. Because of this, nobody really wanted to emulate the console except as a challenge. And the best part, the system itself is notoriously hard to run. As of ten years ago, most of them refused to boot up. Not laser issues, not connection issues, it literally refused to run*. Ten years ago. I'm sure the next decade will see the rest of the systems die, if they're not already dead.
With all that, it was easy to suspect the reason for the games not appearing on other consoles is due to Atari ponying up some sweet, sweet cash to a few companies. Then...an alpha for Highlander on the PC came out the other day. Which means the reason why it didn't come out is that they ran out of money. I wonder what could have ever caused that. Of course, it also means I have no one but myself to rely on for assistance if it breaks down. Actually, that's not entirely true...

Despite being distributed in a ZIP file, you need to have the thing mounted as a disc. It won't work if you don't properly install it. That is some dedication to copy-protection. Sound doesn't work straight off, but the only way I could get it working is via some kind of Russian black magic. In fact, if WERTA over at Old Games Russia didn't have a video with working audio and I never thought to ask him, this would have been played soundless. Starts off slow, but it runs like a charm otherwise.

The game starts off with a weird cinematic before the menu starts, then one explaining the game's premise, then another one explaining the backstory once you start the game. This I suspect was taken from the animated series, and is very low quality. The only evidence I have for this is the big title card from that show appearing. I'm really glad I have the sound for this generic five-second loop of swelling orchestral music. Really making my day. Oh, the menu is another five-second loop. I've heard worse sound, but not in a commercial video game made after the invention of decent sound cards.

I'd get a later shot, but whenever I press anything it skips
There's another long cutscene explaining the game, something about an evil immortal burning down a village containing the last hidden member of the MacLeods and only other immortal. I don't care about the plot too much, since this is based off a Saturday morning cartoon that lasted maybe a season. Its not a high bar to begin with. The game starts off with the usual bad gameplay choice, an enemy charging after the player. Judging by the reception of this game, this was a bad choice. Fighting defensively against someone with superior reach is bad, and you are going to be doing so starting off with no idea on how to play this. Chances are, this is where most people would give up. But the first time I defeated the guy I had less than half health, not ideal.

But its during one of my attempts while screwing around with getting sound to work that I discover something amazing. The combat system? Its not nearly as bad as the reviews would have you think. The hand-to-hand combat isn't ideal, certainly, but its a far cry from being completely defenseless. Without a sword, the player is mostly weaker than the roaming enemies, but as they're charging, when they jump, if you time it right, you can hit them with a jumping kick and boom, they're dead. Its poetry in motion. Although this time I don't do it perfectly, him dealing a little damage in the process.

Walking over the guy's corpse reveals bread, a useless map, and a note. Interesting, but useless, as it just tells me that the guard is supposed to drive me towards the other one, as there's another guarding the gate. He has another note, which is just guard the rear gate. Both of these are signed by Arak, Eternal Power to Kortan, and this plan works. Here's the problem, the way the game is set up, this works perfectly, and the player is killed by the guards. This is the start. Is it any wonder this game didn't sell if this is what happens? The only people who played it, well, it killed off their interest. Sure, I'm having fun, but I went in with the expectation of it not possibly being that bad. Its not, but how many people are going to bother figuring out the controls? Hell, everyone else was doing this on the Jaguar controller, how bad is that thing? This isn't supposed to be some difficult game right? Put in a damn training section!
Anyway, in the area is a hut, next to all the burned ones. Its got a chest inside.
Kick, kick, guess its locked...
Reaching the chest makes this cutscene appear. As an aside, I'm glad I'm currently using the Home key as a screenshot function, because using Ctrl+F5 would be hell. The cutscenes skip as soon as a button is pressed. Also continuing are the five-second music loops. They're more like two-second music loops.
Oh, man, this MacLeod is not particularly appealing. Huh, funny, somehow Mr. Carnby looks better.
For example, can you tell where I'm supposed to walk?
There are a couple more huts, one with a piece of bread, and one with a stick. This is exposing what's the real major flaw with this game. Camera and controls. I am not one to shy away from tank controls or "Resident Evil" camera. I think the latter is the only real way to make something effectively cinematic and tank controls are the only effective way to handle that. I have as much of a problem with poor scenery visibility as anyone else. Highlander has that in spades. It is not clear at all where you can walk in some of these shots, which highlights a problem with the movement. Instead of stopping or continuing to walk into the walk, MacLeod turns until he can walk. This is not fun.
A very necessary screenshot for a very necessary location
There's quite a few huts not burned down in this village, I'm starting to think this Arak guy is a joke. Health items, an amulet that starts a FMV. Is this the game's only way of delivering story? ...and then a guy who doesn't seem capable of dying. I dunno, I can't succeed in getting a jumping kick to work against him. There's nothing in the room, though. Finally, outside there's another loaf of bread. This is nice, but these health items are of little use in the middle of combat, since you stop to eat them.
This leads me to the exit, where two guys just murder me. From what I've seen, there's a sniper down the path who'll finish off the job if they don't.
The dying cutscene just has you taken to some dude who...does nothing and the game ends. Don't mistake that screenshot for an attempt at a cinematic, it doesn't end the way you think.
That leaves me with a few options, the necklace is clearly useless, but maybe the stick does something? I can always try that one guy again. Nothing on the chest, but on the back gate, it destroys a lock. Would have been nice to see that lock, but whatever.
There are definitely signs of greatness at times
This...takes me to a path. A long path. Okay, despite the annoying music, the path is very nice and epic feeling. There are two ways, but I head to the stonehedge they have on a hill.
Here, a cutscene happens...and then there's a sword. Muahahahaha! Let's see if those guys can survive a sword!
I'm distracted when I notice the tower I passed on the way out has a staircase up. There's a guard here, but thanks to the fact that I'm lower and he's higher, I get him long before he gets me. He doesn't have anything useful though, just another health item, a map and a note to make a map of the area. This does tell me that the path I just got off of leads back to the front. Interesting.
The guard inside the tent is easy pickings, and I also discover that the AI is using the same turning method I use. Interesting. Very interesting. He falls swiftly to my sword. Then I try to get the two guys at the gate. That...doesn't work in my favor. Each time they just kill me. I can't kill one of them fast enough before the other is upon me. So I take the back path inside. This takes a while.
Here, there are three guards just standing there waiting for me. I take these three as an opportunity to learn how to use the sword. Any cleverness regarding combat seems to have been diminished by the uselessness of some attacks. Not to the extent that Alone in the Dark 2 had, mind, but some moves are rather useless. All of one group of actions seem useless, and you generally want to make as much use of the sword's reach as possible. Still by the last one I have things figured out.
Or so I thought. When I reach the duo guarding the front gate, the one I drag away first is incredibly fast. I was half concerned that he was unkillable until I finished him. You have to perfectly time your attacks to prevent him from counterstriking. The other guard is a joke in comparison. Strange, I wonder why they're so different in skill? No matter, they're dead and that's what's important. I know there's a sniper once I run down the path, but I'm going to save that for next time.

This Session: 2 hours

*At least, that's how it happened for the Angry Video Game Nerd and The Spoony One. People aren't exactly raring to review the thing.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Horse Illustrated: Championship Season

The ultimate riding adventure! Champisonship Season as the game keeps calling itself, despite being the smallest part of the title, is possibly one of the most obscure titles from American budget publisher Head Games. From the second I start the title, I can see that however much I spent on this abomination against good taste was probably too much. From the low-quality company introductions, to the name Radish Works, to the low-quality horse FMV...oh...this is going to be bad.

Now, if you don't know who Head Games are, they were effectively Activision's budget for a period in the late '90s. In practice, they released a LOT of trash, just absolute trash. Mostly sports game, for which they've become known these days, but they also had a hand in a few unofficial FPS expansions. Oh, excuse me, there's a horse talking to me. Don't know who the hell Barney is yet, but he's probably not going to be fun to ride...if anything is...

Of course, actually getting to that point isn't fun either. I dare say the majority of playing time here is spent in what amounts to a weird-ass Myst-clone. I repeat. Horse simulation/Myst-clone game. Just because a sentence hasn't been used in the English language before doesn't mean you should use it. I know nothing about horses, and thus the confusing talking horse, Sylvia, while the most annoying thing ever, is vaguely useful.

Oh, but don't get me wrong, the Myst-clone section isn't fun, not even to my Myst-clone enjoying mind. Find the tack, find the bridle. Oh, you don't know what that is? Too bad. Oh, you weren't paying attention to the one your horse needed? Go back and get it. Remember to wash and care for your horse or you'll lose horse points! You really think I'm going to be here long enough for that to be an issue? Everything is hidden away in some small hidey-hole.

Once I get past that...oh...no...The training section is a trap, at least now. The third message causes the game to hang, because the talking horse's prompt disappears. I mean, this game always had issues with the talking horse, but this feels like it was just broken and never fixed. The two page manual says the controls anyway, and its not exactly hard to figure out. Arrow keys and space, like most games of its kind. By that I mean quick and simple arcade games. There are three events.
The first is Dressage, which is running at a certain speed over a series of dots. This is slightly harder than it sounds. Don't confuse that with fun though.
The second is stadium jumping, which involves jumping over a bunch of set fences. This is both harder and easier than you imagine. You need to be earlier than you might think in order to successfully jump over a fence. This caused me a lot of trouble getting used to, although that was with the final event. When I got to this, I only fell off once or twice.
The final one is cross-country, which I started first. Funny. Its like stadium jumping, except with a lot more space. This was the first event I did, but to be honest, its a tad grueling. In all these there's an announcer who speaks whenever you come to a difficult jump, and goes on whenever you jump over anything, success or failure. He's really annoying.
After that, its cleaning the horse...which is really, really lame. I'm not a horse fan or anything, but the lack of feedback in the game is a crime against good design practices. Its especially a problem when the game says it'll penalize you for screwing things up. I can't wash him? Well, why didn't you mention that? That's the only thing I got. Tell me game!
I might have been inclined to play this for a while, but this game is so unresponsive. Button prompts just don't work half the time and if an item doesn't do anything in a specific situation, it just ignores it and treats it like a normal click. Great...great...great. Let's not talk about the generic music. After finishing up perfectly I had less than 50 horse credits, enough to unlock the next event level. Continuing would require me to do increasingly strange choices of event combination, doing all three nearly perfectly got me 15 points. Playing as a different horse? 150. Curiously, there's evidence to suggestion the creation of a horse in-game, although this seems to have been scrapped.

I do not suggest you play this, even as a joke. Its bizarreness is outweighed by its unplayability. Normal service will return after Christmas.