Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Red Scorpion

Name:Red Scorpion
Developer:Ian McArdle
Time:30 minutes

Ian McArdle released two FPS titles in 1987, one called Catch 23 and this one. Both are broadly similar, vaguely sci-fi games released exclusively on British computers, with both being released on the Spectrum and CPC, while Catch 23 was also on the ST. I have played Catch 23, and found it unplayable, with a Silent Hill level of draw distance with a basic wireframe that barely shows what's going on. This does not put me in a good mood for Red Scorpion.

The story is the player has just been selected to join the Terran Confederation Star Commandos, owing to bringing great dedication and stamina at his old sanitation job. Hey, some of that famed British humor I've heard so much about. I didn't get it at first, but when I did, yeah, pretty sweet. His first mission, to defend the Bombyx Moons from the Necron Empire, who wish to steal Talanite from the people of the moon. We on the other hand, will give them pulpburgers and synthocola. To accomplish this, the player takes control of the Death Scorpion Mk.IV. This, I should warn you, is the only part of the game that's actually good.

This wouldn't be bad if this were a strategy rather than reflex game
 I'll be playing the Speccy port, because that's what I can get running, and its another one of the annoying titles on the system. What are the controls? Hope you have the manual! Y & H move forward and back while OP turns and J shoots. The row between the shifts acts as a bunch of special functions. Once you get that down it becomes even worse! Using the controls is a battle of itself. You don't have smooth turning, you slowly turn to one of 8 directions. It very noticeably stops once a turn is completed. You have a sort of momentum when you move forward or back too. This is a very awkward game to control.

Let's go over those functions, from left to right.

  • AP missile. Armor Piercing?
  • CB missile. Cluster bomb? It destroys enemy buildings at least.
  • Manual aiming. Never, ever use.
  • Sonic blaster. The default weapon...?
  • EW system. Press 0 and 1 until you get the right pattern to destroy a missile. Its magic.
  • Identify object.
  • Various view options. 

Usually when I get one of these screens I'm just messing around, not doing what I normally do!
Now, the big problem is that your enemies do not have the same limitations you do. So you have to hit them while you're turning. It works, I can shoot them, but in a way I can't explain it just feels so awful. Like...oh, I got court-martialed. This bodes extremely well.

Manual aiming and trying to deflect missiles, fun things to do at the same time

Getting past the early game difficulties reveals that the game suffers from several poor design choices. The first enemy is behind you. Some distance away, but you have to turn around. Which takes 5 seconds every time the game starts up. Second, you can and will hit something you're not supposed to. Especially if you can't see it. And at some point someone was shooting at me, and I shot them...and the game was over. This happened several times.

After destroying some random obstacle
I should give this more of a chance, but every fiber in my being, when I play this, screams out to not play this. This game is just so unappealing to play any motivation I had to play it was zapped away. It has aged extremely poorly, if it was ever fun to begin with. Having to distinguish wireframes is a task I don't really care for and the draw distance. I'm harping on the draw distance, but its bad, and its unwieldy.

Basically a selection of different weapons for different targets. 2/10

One-hit targets, some move, some don't. 1/10

I guess there are some? They're not very helpful and might be hostile to me. 0/10

There was effort put in, its not just some random mess of stuff, but it sure feels that way. 1/10

Player Agency:
Controlling everything was a confusing task, and even when I had it figured out it was just so slow and poorly thought out. Shooting in the center of your movement cluster is just such an awful thing to deal with. 1/10



Simple wireframes and a pathetic excuse for draw distance. 0/10

Doesn't really matter once you start it up. 0/10

A bunch of clicking noises that don't really seem to be connected to anything. Could be the emulator itself, even. 0/10

That's 5. Been a while since I had a properly awful game. Considering that other people have gotten much better out of the ZX Spectrum and Spectrum-like machines, this is just embarrassing for everyone involved.

Period reviews were mixed. And by mixed, I mean even the most favorable review towards the game still criticized the controls. Nobody cared for it.

I would say that's it for 1987 and earlier, but I just keep finding more games from the period. Now there's a few titles from the TRS-80 Model III, CoCo. I didn't even realize there was something interesting on the system.


  1. The non-standard keyboard of the Speccy is a problem when emulating games, especially real time one.
    I don't know if you can easily rebind the keys, though.

    BTW, speaking of Speccy game, have you considered Gyron from 1985? It was made by the same guys that made the excellent Speccy version of Elite. Not sure if it meets your criteria, though. I remember being fascinated and frustrated by it, so it would be interesting to see others' reaction to it.

    1. Later on when I actually saw some Speccys, I noticed that the only reason why these games have strange controls is because the developers decided they should be like that for some reason. Unlike say, early DOS games using the function keys for movement because they're on the left rather than at the top. Which is still weird, but at least it makes sense.

      Yeah, I hadn't updated my list in a while, it'll be played whenever I get to 1985 again.