Saturday, June 11, 2022

Day of the Viper

Name:Day of the Viper
Developer:John Conley & James Oxley
Time:6 hours
Won:Yes (43W/48L)

I've been waiting for this one. A lot of people have said some very interesting things about this game. An interesting blend of action and adventure, and many comparisons to System Shock abounded. For such an important title I should check on Youtube to see which version I should play. the DOS version looks interesting, but it is 1989 and PC Speaker is still very common...and its Slaygon again. Except now we have slightly more complex combat. It seems like the Atari ST version was the primary platform, but after having failed to run that, and having had a text display error in the DOS port, I decided to run the Amiga version. Only, two of those didn't work, so it was back to the DOS version. Despite seeming crap, this game was actually fun.
The game tries to have a complex intro to introduce the game, well, the Amiga version did, but it just feels slow. My ship is somewhere out in space and somehow its been horribly damaged. This is the copy protection. Solving that the game gives me the real plot, in the Parin system, the defense base was attacked by an enemy, presumed to be allied with GAR, I think a hostile robot. Because this base was developing weapons and shield research this was the reason why, and I have to go in as a last ditch effort, and using floppies found around the base, reactivate the place's defenses. Easy enough in theory.
GAR, as explained in the manual, was a biotechnical robot AI, something in an assault vehicle that can think. Unfortunately, the design process created something that had pain on thinking and it went mad and decided to take out the human race. Because it was more intelligent than humans, he developed more powerful weapons and things haven't been going too well for the Sun League. This is where the game starts.

The game, pretty much as it opens
Once inside the game proper, I see that the interface has thankfully been simplified somewhat from Slaygon. Its down to map, radar (show more of the map for a slight power charge), gun and shield. The general gameplay loop is mostly unchanged, endless maze, key and door puzzles. The colors blue, green, yellow, red, white serve as an indicator of how powerful something is. Several defense items are no longer inventory items, and instead appear like upgrades in a menu. The game calls these circuits. There are also special attack items, which deal set damage to enemies. In addition to the usual health and energy recharges, you also get toxic waste, which recharges energy but hurts you. As health slowly heals, and shields deal with most problems, this isn't that bad a deal.
Keyboard commands are rare, but necessary. Home, my screenshot key, pauses, and I can only continue by pressing a different key. Otherwise its the same as Slaygon, annoying mouse only controls.
One of the more common enemies, there isn't much trouble finding their target point

Its combat where things have obviously changed for the worse. Its now a real-time affair, and enemies follow you, and attack from multiple directions. There are like ten enemies near the start of the first floor and all of them seem difficult to kill. Seems to be like Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3, where I don't know if there's a spot I have to hit or not, and because they're moving, I'm missing. Weapons overheat too. Guess I don't want a remake of that game with mouse controls then. The first time through I nearly bite it.
Gradually, things appear clearly, enemies have foreseeable patterns, and the real problem appears. Mines. Randomly placed like items, these can hurt you, teleport you, or worst of all, cause you to move around erratically for a few moments. That last one can and has resulted in a chain of setting off those mines. Of course the defense items help, but as the game's bigger, its a longer time before you find though. Later on they start damaging circuits or the map, which is where the real hurt starts. You get spare circuits and general repair items, but its an uphill battle. The game gives you grenades, but there are more of these than grenades and you might not even realize that the grenades are helpful if you don't read the manual.

The game is randomly generated. It seems like its just item/enemy placement that's random. Hence why the first time I played the game I nearly died. Its also slightly related to the version you play, the DOS version seems to be easier, but the weapon overheats faster.
So to recap, we have repair items, which heal damage taken if you get hit without a shield, energy charges, which come in many flavors and recharge energy, and then we have various stationary locations, that, with an item, can be used to recharge or heal. Later, there are items that upgrade one's weapons or shields. Also returning are various items that do something with the environment. Which yes, means that inventory management is once again a thing. This leads to the problem where some items, if their purpose isn't very obvious, does lead to tossing aside some items as useless. Later on there are dark areas, and if you don't figure out that a high color card works on lower color doors.
One of the later enemies, not quite the nastiest variations
The game has 25 smaller levels. The game divides these among 5 buildings, but all this means is that there's a certain block you can move around freely, whereas between buildings require one special thing. And yes, this does mean backtracking. You need keys to unlock doors, and to unlock certain crates. Passcodes are used to unlock special storage areas which have several items in them. The game even requires you to go through everything again once you reach the end, so it might be a wise choice to leave some levels for later. That said, the game is fairly fun as a dungeon crawler come FPS.
This leads to a problem though, as the game has a fairly linear layout at times. This game works like Blake Stone in that most of your inter-level transportation is done by an elevator, which you will have found fairly readily, or inter-building transport, which is usually at the opposite end of the map from the elevator. The three other areas of interest, computer room with the floppy, and the healing stations, are usually fairly removed from these locations, and often require extensive search. This isn't a problem the first time through, but if you need to find a recharge station its a pain in the butt.
One of the more boilerplate messages

One of the curious aspects of the game is the story. Its fairly standard, not especially well-written. Various terminals explain what happened before you got here, much like The Colony. At first I ignored it, because it seemed to me that it was more impressive that it existed rather than what the quality was. Basically, they were building weapons, noticed something funny on one of the planets, then got invaded. Where it gets interesting is that as I got nearer to the end, GAR and the robot army started talking on it. About how they missed one member of the team that was here. That changed things for me, and made me genuinely curious about the direction the plot was going to take.
Deeper into the complex, the robots started noticing that some of their number were disappearing. Its an interesting touch, since they're not on the lookout for a machine, they're only predicting a return attack by humans.

Every single red mark on the map is a mine, it is doable though
So this maintains my interest to skip ahead to the end section of the game, since that's what its building towards and I want to cut backtracking down as much as possible. Still clearing out areas as I reach them. This works well...until building 4 floor 5, or as the screenshot I've taken shows, the motherload of mines. And beyond that, there are enemies, just hordes of them. This is actually where the game shifts from being fun into being actually interesting. The last couple of buildings are quite the interesting challenge.

You know, a lot of the dungeon crawlers I've been playing seen to be focused on fetch quests...
GAR himself is in front of the master computer, having had found the prototype weapon and shield. That means for my not having the best weapon and shield, a direct fight is suicide. Luckily for me, he dies easily to 4 or so explosive weapons. Its at this point what the game expects one to do sinks in. Now, the final objective of the game is to get a floppy from each floor of the base, and then upload them to the master computer. I assumed that the game expected me to get all the floppies, but they were locked behind some of the later keys, and then after uploading them all to the master computer, return to the computers where these floppies were. The game does not expect you to do this, but it might be a better idea to head to the final floor quickly anyway, since the later cards are more helpful if you get them sooner.
The ending to the game isn't quite as interesting as the plot was developing towards, and a text crawl to end it isn't great, but its okay.
While the gun is generic, we get a bunch of single-use items that can change the tide of a battle. 2/10

While every enemy was basically the same, the targeting system made each new kind of enemy an interesting encounter. For a while, you might not even know if you could succeed in fighting one, and be forced to use explosives. 4/10


There is some genuinely nice dungeon crawling going on here. Unfortunately, the game expects you to walk through the entire map about three times, which is just insanity. 4/10

Player Agency:
Its nice that they removed some of the fat here, but interacting with things feels too much like work at times, and this game desperately needs keypresses for some of these actions, especially moving. I hit the wrong arrow quite a lot. 2/10

Hey, I get a description of what it is I'm looking at, thus usually telling me what something does. This includes rooms too. Everything is simple otherwise. 2/10

Its a very 1989 game. What I mean is the VGA that doesn't look like VGA plus the PC Speaker sound evokes the area it was made in quite strongly. Its not so much that the game itself has an atmosphere, just that it carries a general atmosphere of an era I have a fondness for. 4/10

Its fairly simple-looking. It all works but its nothing special. The Amiga version is interesting, because the walls are blue, which is something I have said in the past wouldn't work. Shame I couldn't test that theory. 3/10

I was surprised by this. The manual felt poorly written as a military document, while the first bunch of computer texts were standard. Then GAR takes over and things got interesting. Not quite well-written, but interesting. 3/10

While it is PC Speaker, it isn't terribly intrusive. Sound effects only happen whenever something important happens, like a door opening or a lasershot. The Amiga version isn't really that much better, only having an intro tune. 3/10

That's 27, which for a game I didn't go out of my way to play, is a nice score.

None of the reviews seem to say anything interesting about the game that I failed to mention. Basically, fun if you want a dungeon crawler without that pesky map-making or RPG stuff. Otherwise not really worth playing.

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