Sunday, April 9, 2023

Hovertank 3D (1991)

Name:Hovertank 3D
Developer:iD Software
Time:1 hour 40 minutes
Won:Yes (66W/59L)

We're back here again. Nearly five years later and 170 games. A lot of knowledge between then and now. I had a certain tone towards this game back then, while not necessarily positive, placed undue weight on the game for it's supposed place in gaming history, as the first FPS. The first real FPS, because the other games I was aware of then didn't really count as such. Since then, I've played Star Cruiser, the first unarguable FPS, Midi Maze, a weird MP-only game, and Wayout, which is less a FPS and more a maze game, but still beat everyone to depicting this kind of world graphically.

Of course, for most people who had a subscription to Softdisk, this would not be a problem, because this would likely be one of their only ways to see something like that at the time. Outside of Sleeping Gods Lie, maybe, but that didn't do great numbers. For a simple monthly gaming magazine who rarely put out titles that really last more than a few days, it's very impressive.

How charming.
Hovertank has a fairly simple story, you're a mercenary entering the mutant infested cities to rescue kidnapped civilians; There's a time limit, they're going to blow up the city. Get in, save them, find the portal, hopefully don't die to some weird monster. Each mission has some vaguely satirical introduction briefing about whatever's going on the upcoming level. Controls are likewise simple, arrows move, ctrl shoots, hold down for a charged shot that goes through enemies, and alt is the speed forward button. It works, and that's it. I'm playing what appears to be a rerelease of the game, I note that originally I complained about there being no way of saving levels, now as you finish levels you can instantly warp to any you've finished. At least until level 8, you need a cheatcode to skip past that.

These guys just sort of wander around, making them relatively harmless to you and dangerous to the hostages.
And really, simple is the keyword of the day, because really, this game is basic. After nearly five years and a considerable number of games, it's clear that most people who play this game only do so because it's supposed to be the first FPS or at least the first iD FPS. Stripped of this impressiveness, it's really hard to play, but not as hard to play as some Wolf-clones can be. Though I sometimes get the feeling I'm on a ship with how much up and down bobbing the screen does.
Enemy hovertanks are actually dangerous, as they can shoot back.

Moving around is something of a chore, your only navigational aid amid the endless bland walls is a radar, showing hostages in white and enemies in other colors. Sound, at least most of it, is annoying and sounds like it was done by someone imitating the sounds with his mouth. In particular the gunfire, enemies dying and wall bashing sound effects are this. It discourages doing these actions, which given the objectives of the game, practically encourages quitting the game. I suspect most players don't make it very far for this reason.

To give you some idea of how long ago it was when I last played this, a coomer joke wasn't even possible here.

Still, the game manages to compensate for this somewhat by having an end screen on each mission give you money for saved hostages and time remaining, along with money deduced for how much you got damaged. I feel like this would be better served if I didn't have to work to ensure I wouldn't be rich enough to not worry about this after a few missions. You don't even need to worry about the hostages except to get out of a level.

The red guys would become the demons in the Catacomb series, and just like there, they blindly chase after you.

While combat at first is merely a matter of not getting snuck up from behind, soon enough there are enemy tanks, which makes things interesting. They shoot back at you. I should remind you at this point that you can't side-step, so you better get good at quickly turning and backing up. A group of these guys is the only reason why you'd ever need to use the charge attack, because they tend to really clump up. Enemies only have collision with you, not each other.

One of two hostage designs, because of the scale these guys look like children, odd with her "physical" design...

What I find interesting about this game as I play through it is that I actually enjoy it to some degree, but the problem is actually those hostages. Dealing with all the various baddies is fun, wandering around a featureless maze trying to find the one hallway that leads to the final hostage is another. The radar, while often helpful, is also like a car mirror, objects are closer than they appear. To say nothing of its uselessness in finding the actual path you need.

Annoyingly, enemies can make noise and shoot no matter where they are, even if they're on the other side of the map, which can be very annoying. I turned sound off after a while.

It appears blue on the radar, white/yellow are hostages/escape route, pink are demons I think.

After a certain point, shield recharges start popping up. This tends to correspond to levels where I get shot a bit more often, either way, these ensure I have just enough to survive some of these levels.

Despite being curious about it, I never really tried to see what would happen if all the hostages were dead, perhaps you lose in that case.

Despite breaking the rule of not having enemies in the location you start, I found level 12 to be one of the best levels in the game. There's no superficial level exploring, just go in, fight some tanks, gather the group of hostages, and get out. I can't help but feel that even if it would be somewhat samey, it would be the best path for this game to try taking.

There's not really much worth talking about besides that. There's not really a lot the game can do befitting it's simplistic nature. The most it can do is increase the maziness of the game's levels, something I find doesn't help the game at all. Imagine a level of Wolfenstein 3D where you can't win until you have all the treasure. And despite enemies killing hostages if they walk into them, it seems to only happen with the enemies least likely to pose a threat to you. Despite being one of the central objectives, it's really not that big a penalty if they kill any or even all of them.

Level 16 is downright evil. At first I thought it was only difficult because I was trying to play it while sick. (as it turns out, hearing the sound in this game while under the weather is awful) I kept getting killed by tanks or snuck up on by demons. It's a large hallway connecting with two interior areas. But that aside, it's still a very difficult mission. Rescuing all the hostages is impossible, not just because the game puts some hostages in very dangerous positions, but because you cannot actually reach all the hostages. Instead, you have to wait for a monster in a hidden room to reach both hostages to kill them, allowing you to reach the next level. Considering the nature of the AI, it's entirely possible for this to not happen. Perhaps there's just a secret wall people are just missing, but I checked and I'm not the only person who noticed this problem.

Level 17 is also pretty bad, deceptively so. There is a massive group of enemy tanks here, and they tend to clump up, and shoot at one. This means you can get insta-killed by an unlucky shot. But fortunately, the hostages aren't really around this massive group of tanks, so you don't need to worry about them, right? The hostages are on a side where there's a more manageable group of tanks, along with a huge group just completely unprotected. Wrong, that massive group of tanks is protecting the way out.

Now THIS is what people should have shown Ebert!

Level 18 is kind of clever despite continuing the game's trend of just having big interior areas and large outside hallways. Level design here feels really lazy at times. It actually works as a level despite having very little combat, just walk in, shoot a few demons/mutants, and save all the hostages. It's an easy level. No, what's clever about it is the level description and the interior. The building is a modern art museum, being bombed by Dadaists. Despite being incredibly primitive, the game pulls this off with various colored tiles breaking up the usual single colored walls.

Level 19 continues with the constant tanks, despite making the game more interesting once upon a time, now all they do is clump up and make the game annoying. It's the same as all the previous levels, except this time the outer hallway is full of tanks and you need to clear them out to reach the hostages. Whichever ones are left, because the interior is full of the enemies most likely to kill hostages. Remember, when dealing with clumps of enemies, you have to shoot then get out of the way, or just merely hope you can deal with them as they're rounding a corner; a task made quite difficult by how you have to turn, slowly then back up.

I wonder if this is the first "slaughterwad" as such in FPS?

Level 20 is just chaos, befitting as it's supposed to be an attack on the player's HQ. There are so many enemies that the game is constantly slowing down. Some tanks are so far away they don't even register on the radar. It's a grand affair that I'd be a lot more appreciative of if I didn't have to try to beat it and there were no health items. Seriously, this somehow manages to be a grand old journey despite being almost constantly circling hallways. It was a long fought battle, but eventually I win.

Would it have really been that hard to code in some color variations on the hostages in-game?

Resulting in an ending screen in which the leader of the organization the player works for says he wonders about those he lost, and the player character asks if he dropped some money. Yeah, this game where money has practically zero purpose is throwing in an anti-money aesop. The satire of this game was never really strong, but I can't help but feel like this ending is very disappointing.

While at first glance not terribly useful, the charge function of the cannon does serve a useful function, if only one brought on thanks to awkward game design. 2/10

Despite only having three enemies, each acts in vastly different ways which require adapting to. 2/10

Basically power-ups you can destroy. 0/10

Mostly generic, with a few clever levels and a few annoying levels. 4/10

Player Agency:
While it's obvious today, a FPS without a side-step function is practically insanity. Turning feels too stiff too, lining up a shot right felt like luck rather than skill at times. Also, the radar is wonky, characters are a bit further to the left than their orientation would imply. 3/10


It certainly has a mood, what, I'm not certain. 1/10

Somehow, I didn't hate it. It's not great by any means, but it doesn't give me a headache like some other games of this era do. Then again, there's just not much point in looking at the walls, since there are no secrets. Enemy sprites are simple with limited animation, and big fancy backgrounds are decent but not amazing. 2/10

Some nominal backstory and an ending, along with some briefings. 1/10

I don't mind some of the sounds, but the sounds made with some dude's voice actively hurt the game. Special consideration to the cut off swear that accompanies every death. 0/10

That's 15, or 1 less than I originally gave the game. The rating has almost completely shifted, as the categories I gave more this time, the first five, all had lower scores originally, while the latter had a rather bloated rating. Level design could be excused as I tended towards the lower ratings early on, and I didn't get very far, but I'm not sure why I gave it a 3 in atmosphere.

Taken out of it's former context as the first FPS, Hovertank 3D is just kind of there. I'm sure the people who owned it at the time were quite impressed, as I tried to be when I first played it. Now though, it kind of feels like it's mere existence is there for an, um, actually by people who don't actually know what they're talking about. Which, I, of course, would never, ever be guilty of! It feels like some people's knowledge of DOS shooters lives and dies with Id and maybe Duke. Nobody ever talks about the first FPS from Epic or the first FPS from Ken Silverman.

Oh, yeah, I was sick this last week. I wasn't sick through the entire thing, I finished most of this last Sunday or so, as one of the games made with the Freescape Engine's commercial release turned out to be something I couldn't get running. It was lucky I did, because I don't think I could have gotten anything out this week otherwise. This is not the kind of game you want to play when you're under the weather.

No comments:

Post a Comment