Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Game 43: Highlander - The Last of the MacLeods

None of the titles really appeal as a title screen
Name:Highlander - The Last of the MacLeods
Developer:Lore Design
Genre:Survival Horror
Difficulty: 4/5
Time: 5.5 Hours

I have mixed feelings about what I have played. Its well-made; I can look at any part of this game and tell you the developers intended it that way and put as much effort as they could into making that part. But...that doesn't make it good. Which ironically enough makes it an argument against my usual thoughts on game design. Make something you want to make and damn the consequences. For Lore Design, the consequences were pretty steep, they never did another game.

Let's start with the obvious, fighting. The game starts off with a soldier running at you, you have no weapons. This is the first thing that happens in the game. There is no tutorial. You have around ten seconds before he starts cutting you apart. If you run, you will inevitably get chased into another guard, who will promptly flank the hell out of you. This is entirely intentional on the developers part, its mentioned in a note. It is a brilliant tactical move in-game and a devious difficulty increasing act by the developers. But this clever intro bit, this opening combat, can you spot the problem? This is the first thing the player sees, which means if they aren't held at gunpoint, they are going to quit and never play it again. This creates a sort of chicken and the egg problem in regards to the Jaguar CD's failure. Did it fail because it had few exclusives, or did it fail because its exclusive starts off with arguably the most difficult encounter in the game?

To continue, combat is smarter than it seems at first. Take that first encounter again. If you execute a jumping kick at the right time when he executes a jumping slash, he's taken out in one hit. Clearly, there was thought put behind the combat system, after all, it is the focus of the game. You've got dodges, you've blocks, you've got all kinds of punches and stabs, but the defensive moves are seemingly of limited utility, and you're probably just going to stick to two attacks. I can't remember what unarmed attacks I did, but sword attacks were usually a side slash or a stab. I was generally concerned with hitting my target, that meant the closest I had to a reach attack and the wide attacks.
Let's take one of the later encounters, some random combat against two guys. Unlike the first encounter, you know they're there. Its very difficult to just slash apart the guys and actually win, but it is possible. What is ideal is my usual scrub tactics of getting them to charge you single-file. Enemies don't have any movement advantages over the player, and they actually have it worse, because they get stuck on plain walls. If I use cheap tactics, I win, but it honestly seems reasonable to use less cheap tactics to win as well, just really hard. I don't know if its barely tolerable crap or a hidden masterpiece of Alone in the Dark-styled melee combat. At least I hit things here, which is more than I can say for melee in more well-known survival horror games.
That leaves the adventure aspects...somehow I didn't think a game would beat Alone in the Dark 2 in that regard, but there's nothing of value in the puzzle aspects here. You have no way of examining objects in the world, but you can examine items, which is where you'll solve most of the puzzles. If they're not blatantly obvious. Because there's such a limited pool of non-combat items, its hard to call any puzzle hard, you just don't have the item. Finding that item could be hard. I also draw criticism towards the three bar puzzle, which if I wasn't using modern technology, I.E., taking screenshots, would be annoying, because of the bars imprecise nature.
There were a whole host of bugs that I'm honestly not sure if I should condemn the game for. Multiple game ending crashes, the inventory bug, issues with sound. On one hand, they negatively impact the game, on the other hand...what are they screwing with? There's nothing interesting in the endgame, the sound is only useful in hearing enemies approach...uh...I'm sure I'll figure it out at some point in the next hundred years.
An interesting point that sounds weird from me, but the camera really didn't do the game any favors. I generally don't have an issue with pre-determined camera angles, unlike some people. But...Highlander has some issues. There's something to be said about walking in a straight line, switching to a different camera angle, then back to the previous one. The village and the canyon are really bad about this...which is unfortunate, since those open the game up.

Surprisingly, playing through the game reveals that the melee combat is well-done. Its honestly fifty-fifty if I suck or if the game is cheap. The guns, when they appear halfway in, stink. Just what I wanted, four different ways of shooting forward. Its a miracle I ever hit anything at all. 4/10
Yeah, I'll be honest, there was only one guy who was really interesting to fight, the rest were the same, prone to ganging up on me, or getting stuck on walls. There might have been a lot of thought and care put into their strength, speed and position, but it ultimately didn't really matter. They were just another generic dude to fight. Even the guys with guns weren't terribly interesting. 1/10

There might have been some near the end, but I doubt they're going to do anything. 0/10

Most of the game is wide open areas you spend running around in. This isn't bad...just there. Then there's the close quarters...which isn't any better. This game can't win on this front. 1/10

Player Agency:
Once upon a time, I was amused by a game just letting me walk into a wall continuously. I don't know if it was a Resident Evil game or some other clone, but I thought of that poorly at the time. Now I realize that was the second best of a whole host of bad options. Having the player turn in place against a wall is the worst way of doing things. This is annoying if you get backed into a corner by an enemy, you might as well reload if there are multiple ones.

And the jumping is bad and adds nothing. 3/10

There's literally nothing. I mean, you can usually infer from context what you're supposed to do in a puzzle, but that's not really what this is about, is it? This is about actually doing something in the environment. 0/10

The futuristic fantasy setting is one I don't see much of. It doesn't really have anything to support that feel beyond the general look of things, but it is still there. It doesn't really do anything interesting with it though. 4/10
The FMVs put Sega CD games to shame, amazingly
I have to appreciate that the developers knew not to use textures on the game characters. Look at one of the backgrounds, you think a texture worse than that is going to be fun to look at for 7 hours? Characters don't really look all that distinct from one another, but that's of little concern when everyone is mostly the same. Items pop up from the background.

But what about the backgrounds themselves? Honestly, the closest comparison I know of is Horse Illustrated, which when you think about it, an appropriate comparison. Low budget and oddly low-resolution pre-rendered graphical backgrounds. Although, in this case, since this has to have a thousand backgrounds, I can see the reason why they're so cheap looking. 3/10

I think to a certain extent, this is pretty story-intensive for an action game released in...uh...1995. Its just the story from the animated series slapped awkwardly into the game and it didn't give me any reason to pay attention... 1/10

Thump thump thump thump thump thump. Spend hundreds of dollars on a Jaguar, a Jaguar CD, what do you get? 5 second music loops and the constant sound of boot against metal. That's not the end of it, the rest of its nice, sword swings, enemy grunts, and the odd voice-over...but you're mostly going to remember the annoying bits. Its shocking to know that the audio artist didn't get any work after this. Although one of the guys for the TV series went on to work on Urban Runner. Curious. 1/10

That's 18 if I'm not mistaken. Right next to Hovertank 3D. This actually makes it the worst game I consider a survival horror game by 2 points, beating out Dino Defender. Of course, I haven't really done a summary as a shooter for Zombi or Legacy, but those two are probably high 20s.

Period reviews were surprisingly positive. And by positive, I mean mixed. ST-Computer is very positive, but also says its better looking than Alone in the Dark. They don't really give much reason to like it though. The one from Electric Playground, a place I'm starting to recognize. The only bit of their review that still exists is just a wistful screed about the past. I don't disagree, but is a Highlander review the place for that? He also says its a RPG and recognizes its flaws, the difficult controls and the camera angle issues.

Then there's the modern reviews. First there's some guy who didn't get very far and wasn't very positive, not sure I blame him. Then there's Spoony's review. Spoony goes over the story a bit more, because he cares about the story in a Highlander sequel for some reason. His distaste for it is more pronounced than my own. Going farther in his criticisms of the graphics, environments, combat system and general logic nitpicking. Curiously, it seems there are more than a few differences between this game and the game he played. The Jaguar CD version obviously doesn't have the weird stuck-against-the-wall turning system the version I played had, and apparently there's a joke weapon...a rubber chicken. His version of the combat system seems gimped compared to the PC one, but whether or not that's because he never noticed it or because it was added, nobody really cares. I also know because of him I didn't miss anything by quitting when I did.

Was it worth it? I dunno man, Doctor Hauzer is translated, and you've got a wide variety of survival horror games. If you've replayed Resident Evil 20 times already, what's 21? Learn a new language, learn to paint. Learning a new skill is easier than you think, and its more valuable than spending 7 hours on what amounts to a bad precursor to Devil May Cry.

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