Friday, June 30, 2023

Red Baron: Introduction

So for the fifth anniversary of this blog I at first tried to rush to the finish line of Star Fighter 3000, but that's going to have to wait. A good second choice struggled to come up, I at first considered a later game, but decided that would be best for the 200th game. Instead, we shall play a sequel of a game that was the first I hadn't ever played before, A-10 Tank Killer. Technically not, but in a sense it is, as the apparently Dynamix's flight sims were all in a series, though an official sequel exists in Silent Thunder.

This is also the first game of Dynamix's that Sierra published. The company previously either self-published, as with A-10, or published through EA, as with Deathtrack. This relates to the other reason why I wanted to play Red Baron, it's rumored that Id, once upon a time, tried to sell themselves to Sierra, and they weren't going to get a deal they wanted because Ken Williams showed them Red Baron and doubted it would be any better. History, of course, condemns Williams choice, as Id and everyone involved became filthy rich and be credited with everything of note regarding the FPS genre, short of regenerating health; Williams, after a series of bad choices throughout the '90s would eventually retire.

Incidentally, Damon Slye attempted to make a modern remake of Red Baron back during the first Kickstarter craze. Which is rather indicative of that historical condemnation, it didn't get funded at a time when practically any half-baked game from a classic developer would see millions in funding.

The Red Baron, of course, is the most well known fighter pilot of all time, though Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are arguably more famous, just not for their flying abilities. Chuck Yeager is probably super famous among people older than myself, but I suspect his popularity will be short-lived. Then there are pilots like Jack Broughton, Pierre Clostermann or Hans Rudel, who aren't known for their flying as much as for having written books about their flying.

You can read about our good title character elsewhere, but the short version is that the Red Baron, or Manfred von Richthofen was the WWI ace with the highest confirmed kill count with 80 kills, some shared, some not. Richthofen was something of a late addition to the war, getting his first combat air time in 1916, but as that kill count suggests, this didn't hold him back any. He's known for flying in red planes, usually stylized as a bright red plane with a German iron cross in a white circle. He did not survive the war, but rather than dying in an air duel, he was merely killed by some form of AA.

So in addition to being a simulation of this period, there's also the subtle desire to give Richthofen a hero's death, rather than uninspiring one he had in real life. And hopefully not have a legacy consisting of plastering his face on mediocre pizzas.

Firstly, I note that I'm using the same version from the combo CD with A-10 Tank Killer, which comes with the Mission Builder expansion pack. I don't know if this is the best version of the game per se, but since the A-10 version was, I'm sticking with this. 

I'm not going to start off with the campaign, instead, I'm going to start off with individual missions. To start with, fighting a flying ace in single combat. Now the main campaign offers the player the choice of playing as the Allies or the Central Powers, I'm not sure which one I'll play just yet. At first there was no question of the Allies, it would be robbery to not shoot down the legend himself in the main campaign, but looking up the Allies best flying ace, or ace of aces, Rene Fonck, it seems like he might very well be a better pilot despite his lesser fame, at least here in the States. So, first a practice ace of less skill, and then a fight against the two great aces themselves.

I suppose that's one way of putting it.
Who's my practice ace? Hermann Goering, the only other name I recognized.

The game allows quite a bit of control over the simulation, from simple things like the weather to how your controls can act up. I have chosen a middle of the road approach, I may make it easier later, I've already done a few practice things and running around with no ammo limits is a bit too easy, and I want the weather to affect things. Or at least it would if the day I chose to fight Goering wasn't a cloudy day. Later on, despite not wanting the game to be too hard, I figured I should play with the highest flight model setting, but not necessarily with all the rest of these optional things.

The battle begins. Me in my Sopwith Camel, Goering in his Fokker D VII. A grey plane, which you would think would be hard to spot against the grey skies, but isn't. No, the problem is I can't genuinely spot him at first. Even though going around and around in circles probably isn't the best flying approach, I do it. Huh, can't spot him. Better level out and try to look from other angles. Which is something the game allows you to do, much like in A-10. the first six function keys change your view.

That's an image you don't want to see.

F2 changes to the rear view, in which Goering has just gotten me. Curses. But he's not on my tail for long. In the ensuing twists and turns in the sky neither of us gets a good shot off for a while, I just barely miss him every time and I don't quite know what he was doing. After the first attempt I switch up my circling, if didn't spot him in a while, do a barrel roll and circle in the opposite direction. With the odd looking around.

Finally, we each get a good solid hit in...and by hit I mean we crash into each other. My wings are useless now, I'm falling. I uselessly try to turn, only for nothing to happen. I try to pull my plane up, but it is too late, I crash into the ground with a great explosion. Goering too, is dead, though a tie is still a failure even in a situation such as this. To me anyway, I get points for killing him regardless. Right, let's try again.

Damage forms on the bits of wood, which is a nice touch.

Attempt two, this time I didn't set up the weather right, no matter. It's a straight shot, he isn't turning, so I open fire. So does Goering. I get many good shots in, but so does he, and I'm wounded...and my engine or wings are useless, because I can't turn anymore. I can still shoot, so I'm not dead yet. For about five seconds before I crash into the ground. Once again, Goering and I are dead.

Attempt three, huh, maybe Goering is somewhat hidden against the sky. We start off like last time, but wanting to actually win, I adjust my plane enough so I'm not about to just bite it. I think he got in more hits than I did, but the game conveniently doesn't tell me when I shoot him. Nevertheless, thanks to having figured things out on this plane, I strike well the second time. Smoke pours from his plane. It's only a matter of time, I think. Muahaha.

But after one poorly chosen time to look around, Goering gets me, and he gets me good. My oil pressure starts dropping. Which means I'm losing oil. I ignored these earlier, as it doesn't really matter when the ground is getting closer and your head is several pounds lighter. This time though, I get to deal with it. It's not so first. I get another good shot in at Goering, but after an attempt at slowing my plane down, I slow down completely, and can't fire the engine back up to full power...or at all.

The mission ends uneventfully, with me landing behind friendly lines and Goering flying around as if we're still about to fight. Go home, Goering, it's over. Both of us live to fight another day. I think the sky is giving Goering a bit of an advantage, let's keep it even for now, no weather effects whatsoever. Attempt four ended like attempt two, though I tried to pull away before the deadly event.

Attempt five nearly goes like attempt four, but somehow I manage to escape without biting it. I'm okay, but Goering is smoking. I get in a few lucky bursts, and Goering is dead. Missions don't automatically end, instead you press escape and then end the mission if you so desire. I make it back safely, with of course, the thought of having beaten at least one flying ace. Considering the amount of time those two took, I'm going to fight both the Red Baron and Rene Fonck once, with whoever gives me a harder time being the side I am against.

We'll see if the Red Baron is the only (enemy) plane that has special colors.

First, the Red Baron, and we do the usual suicide dance, in which he comes out smoking heavily. I guess I'm going to be speaking German then. And then he's practically a joke, with the two of us doing a spin turn with me constantly hitting him. Gee, this is taking a while, I think. Huh, I'm low on ammo. Guess I better get a little bit closer...and I'm out. Can't run away, so the Baron shoots me down. Technically I lost, though I suspect funny stuff is going on with this guy under the hood because there is no way any plane could survive the amount of shots I put into it. What about Rene?

With Rene, despite being in a German plane that felt inferior to the Sopwith Camel I was used to using, I got him. We didn't even do the suicide dance. And I figured out why I didn't take out the Red Baron, bullets have much more extreme distance change than I was thinking, I had to lead my shots so much Rene wasn't even in my sights. Though I did see him do a barrel roll. With that knowledge, and with the way these two were flying in combat, I think in a duel neither are particularly threatening, but I like the Allied planes more, so the Allies it is.

Onward to the real missions. Ah, crap, I guess I gotta talk about all these then. We'll see about custom missions after the campaign though, but for now we're just dealing with the regular stuff. Right, let's do a regular old dogfight first of all. Four Sopwith Camels against four Pfalz D IIIs. No idea if I just created a massive power imbalance here, but I like the Camel, shame it's not going to be here much in the campaign.

Oh, cool, you can chose your flight formation and ammo here. Uh...I'm just going to stick with what we have, since some of the formations seem...stupid here.

As we enter the battle, I am blindsided by the enemy, who quite literally, flew nearly into me. Damn those Prussians and their gray planes! It slows down the default DOSbox quite a bit, but increasing the speed in combat is inconvenient. I end up being a loose wheel in the chaos, as while I get a few shots in, my squadmates all take out the enemy planes. I don't even really get a chance to try out all the lovely command keys. I guess that was a power imbalance.

Patrol the Front, go through some certain territories, taking out any enemy pilots along the way. It was at this point that I pulled out the manual, before now I was just winging it with A-10 experience. Patrolling is like dogfighting, except you have to go through a certain area. This also made me decide it was a wise idea to turn off realistic travel, simply because I'm not opening up a PDF map while trying to figure out where I am. It's kind of boring, you fly around wondering if those clouds are clouds or enemy fighters. Unfortunately, I end up discovering this the hard way and we all die at the hands of the Germans.

Protip, do not fire this far away.

Stop a bombing raid, your enemy tries to destroy a supply dump with a bomber. Meaning for once the enemy has multiple different planes. Unfortunately, that means I haven't a clue as to which one was the bomber, and while things didn't go terribly as far as the air fight went, I had no idea how to deal with the bombing. I did a few replays, and despite the enemy planes using a single file formation, I basically couldn't effectively deal with the attack, until I just sort of started hanging out above their formation before attacking.

Escort a bombing raid, ensure that a bombing raid is carried out. The first time through I didn't even get a chance, I got hit, presumably by AA, and lost oil pressure. Once I play through a mission that didn't result instantly in my death, I have to say it's very difficult. In contrast to other missions where failing to spot an enemy plane can be recovered from, in this case, because they know which one is the bomber and I don't. Kind of. In the middle of action I've no clue, but fighting through it? Eh...

On my second attempt things go well, we manage to stop the Germans from destroying the bombers, but because in the ensuing dogfight I haven't the faintest idea where the bombers are, it seems like disappear entirely, and they return home. Hopefully a bit on intelligence from the AI. Well, I'll worry about that when I play the campaign.

I didn't catch a screenshot of a burning blimp, but that's okay, it's not that spectacular.

Hunt a zeppelin, the big old fancy blimps, which, judging by the fact that the game defaults me to incendiary ammo, means this is about to go down like the Hindenburg. You get no choice in which party you play as, it's always the Allies against the zeppelin. Because the Germans were, as far as I know, the only power to use a zeppelin. It's another wait to get to the action kind of mission. Because of the ship's size it's very easy to accidentally do a kamikaze attack...which I did the first time I did the mission.

Trying to track this thing, especially at night, the game's real fond of that, is something of a challenge. You wouldn't think a blimp could be hard to track, but it's grey from a distance, like a cloud. And that's when it's up against the night sky. When it's against the ground, practically impossible. It's also quite different from the usual combat. By the time I usually spin around, I'm far too close to do anything but crash into the thing. If I try to build up some distance, I lose track of the zeppelin. That's not even getting into it fighting back.

The friendly recon plane, being within a reasonable distance is paramount at this point in the mission.

Escort reconnaissance, protect a recon plane from getting shot down. Ah, that's kind of not great. In the mission I ended up trying to replay to win for once, the big problem was that the game spawned four enemy planes to my two, meaning we had to take out multiple planes, and quickly. We had two photography planes, but they don't have weapons.

It goes on for much longer than I ever intended it to, because I seem to very rarely be able to actually down one of these guys. The recon planes offer no resistance and my compatriot apparently never gets one in either. Speaking of the game's graphical problems, on my last attempt, I assumed that my compatriot downed two enemies planes, leaving one damaged by myself and one intact. I think I'll get them now...only to discover that all four planes are intact.

Balloon defense, air balloons were used for reconnaissance missions too, from a great height so as to not get hit by flak. This is the defense mission. And...I didn't really contribute much to this one. Part of the problem is that I'm assuming wrongly that planes below me which aren't moving are crashed, when it seems like the game doesn't do that, and partially because the rigging, or whatever the technical term is, of a plane is getting in my way. Very immersive, also obnoxious.

Balloon busting, and I found out why it's so damn hard to protect the balloons. They really are that easy to take out. Even in this sortie, one in which I barely seem to offer much help, I took out one of the balloons.

A few observations from this point, before I end this. Early on, when you're just starting, it's a smart idea to give your squad the full number of planes, and decent ones too. The enemy is randomized, but they very much don't play fair. Which combined with something of my incompetence on the realistic flight model, resulted in these things going badly. This, I suspect, is why I had such a harsh shift from being able to take down flying aces to failing in any multi-plane scenarios.

Next time, the war begins.

This Session: 2 hours 50 minutes

Friday, June 23, 2023

Catacomb 3D (1991)

Name:Catacomb 3D
Developer:iD Software
Time:1 hour 50 minutes
Won:Yes (72W/60L)

Catacomb 3D is kind of the weird kid out of Id's FPS series. It's not the "first" FPS like Hovertank, and it lacks the cult status of Wolfenstein or Quake, and Doom apparently Citizen Kane-like longevity. It's also the only series without any sequels made by Id themselves. It's also something of a convoluted series, as every game seems to be unrelated to the others outside of the name and general gameplay concept. This includes the original Gauntlet-like and the bizarre number of semi-sequels that had.

The story is that your evil enemy Nemesis has kidnapped a friend of yours, and you must traverse his dungeons to recover him, facing many deadly foes. This is not the version of the story that happened originally or indeed what the story was actually supposed to be. Instead, you were supposed to recover your friend, named Nemesis, from the evil Grelminar, the lich. Somewhere along the line in this series the names got changed around and now they retroactively changed it. John Romero has said that yes, that's the right way, Grelminar is the bad guy. Because the boys at Id had a habit of nailing together their games awkwardly, another series of Id's, Dark Designs, had Grelminar as a long dead wizard whose staff you have to find.

This time around I'm not playing it in DOS, instead I'm using the sourceport CatacombGL. This adds all the usual conveniences like mouse aim and, my real concern, a map. It's utterly bizarre playing a game like this with mouse aim, modern control-style or not, it's basically cheating as far as the original game's design is concerned. Even if the game really exploited it's slow turning speed for the worse.

That said, Catacomb controls more or less like a typical FPS of this era. Arrows move, with strafing being some strange thing off somewhere in the alphabet keys. Ctrl shoots, and esc is the menu. Of special note are the various magical abilities, a rapid fire attack activated with the z key, an exterminator, which shoots around you. both requiring use of a special items, a cure spell, activated with C, and a charge attack, which you hold down the ctrl key for. Inserted later, but now usable in the source port, V to quick turn, and O to open the map. The space bar does not activate anything, it's merely an alternative for C. Instead you walk into objects or shoot them. Curiously, and this might just be the source port, but the charged attack seems to be next to useless as an attack.

Unfortunately it took me a level to realize that I could turn the modern effects off.

Scrolls are also a thing, which you read whenever you first run over then, and then you can read them anytime later by pressing the number indicated on that particular scroll. The game uses this system, because you don't change weapons with the number keys. In retrospect this is the game that least needed to use this system, as there's not a lot for the game to talk about

The game is fairly simple, but with a slightly cruel bent. Enemies lie in wait for you, and when they see you, they come after you, with no alert sound. Which feels curle, especially since Hovertank 3D had a radar and indeed the later Catacomb games would also have a radar. I do dig the HUD though, especially the compass, more than you got in Wolf. There's not much enemy variety, basically just an orc, a troll and a few others. Also a big part of the game, locked doors, with multi-color keys. They're still disposable keys, but it's not longer a generic key to door thing, but color key to color door.

This time around I decided to try to search for secrets more than I did last time. There are three on this first level, with which I found somewhat easily thanks to the map now showing me the general area, which is defeating the spirit of the original about as much as using mouse look. Interestingly, there's an alternative portal to the one you're supposed to take, which skips about half the game. Which, if you play those levels right, means you're out a lot of items.

Oh, yeah, there's music in this game, one track. If you've played Commander Keen 4, you know it, that short and mysterious track, which played in a lot of that game's levels. After having played this, I assumed that this version was just shorter for whatever reason, but even that version lasts a whopping 16 seconds. No wonder I thought the music was repetitive originally. I just turned it off. The sound is some very soft adlib sounds which seem to be getting on my nerves. They should work...they just don't. This is also the introduction of that cursed "walking along the wall" sound that really makes you hate searching for secrets in Wolfenstein. Here it sounds like some kind of manic woodpecker.

As to general level design, this tries to be cleverer, but it doesn't really have much capacity to be clever. It's an early texture-based wall design, but there isn't a lot of variety here. Those little text bars on the bottom are the game's attempts at creating rooms, something that later entries in the series would take good advantage of, but this is basically just telling you what would be here if the game could depict it. Like a Scott Adams text adventure, but without the charm. Oh, yeah, it violates the cardinal rule of level design by spawning enemies in a position where they're alert right away.

To be somewhat fair, it is tries to be somewhat consistent with the kind of design first implemented in Catacomb, just that when it's in first person you absolutely feel every time you have to go back and forth on a key hunt. It's just that now, when the game puts a key in a secret area, it's no longer considered polite, it's a dick move. There's just not that much to talk about otherwise. Occasionally the game will pull out some things that later games would refine. One level has Blake Stone's more secrets than actual level approach, but Catacomb lacks the splendor that game had when it did it right. There's also a hub area, less in the sense we think of a hub area today and more, pick a destination and one will actually allow you to advance. 
Because of this, the hub areas don't really offer any stuff, instead they seem intended to wear you down for the final section, there are no secrets here, and some small number of potions. Of particular note is the hall of doors. Dozens of doors, which may contain treasure, but really contain three trolls and another key. Of course one of these identical doors is hiding the exit...of the hub. Drat, missed two of the areas, how will I ever recover?

Basically an EGA version of those wizards from Heretic.

In this final section, now there are wizard enemies, some fancier name probably exists. They're ranged, but a bit disappointing, because they take forever to decide to shoot. Difficulty in general is weird like, because while this game can be hard as originally intended, this sort of isn't in the source port. You can easily stunlock enemies and besides that you're rarely ever in a position to need an exterminator, so if you find a lot of the secrets, you can quickly get more magic than you'll ever need. The only level with some number of monsters was that hall of doors, which you can't fight all at once anyway.

The primary source of difficulty is in the level design itself, it's very hard to find your bearings in an area where the walls are mostly all the same. I think having a small number of wallsprites might actually be worse than no wallsprites at all. This comes to an annoying head on level 18, a secret wall maze, except it obviously isn't very secret considering you start in a room with no exit. Even with the map this is tedious and an endurance test. Which I should clarify, of your patience, you can save and load at any time you wish.

Then we get the hell level, in which demons appear. Now you can choose whether or not to hammer the fire button for a minute waiting for these demons to die, or you can use a zapper. I'm sorry 2 zappers. That's some great enemy progression, from simple to take out, to burning through your items. On top of that, there's some teleportors here which, if you pick the wrong one, will send you back to the hub area.

Nemesis's Lair is an absolute joke in comparison to those two levels. You'd think with Nemesis alongside 2 demons that he'd make them look like jokes, but no, he doesn't really take as much damage as they do, and his piddly ranged attack makes him the least important member of this final fight. I'm not entirely ungrateful though.

After killing him, you walk towards a man in a glass case, freeing him. The game is over and this is the ending screen. Better than nothing I guess. Starting to feel like the story of this game.

You are given a decent arsenal, yet, none of them really help you that much beyond the basic blast and a rapid-fire attack. The exterminator is something you never actually need and the charge attack is inefficent compared to just hammering the ctrl key. 2/10

Enemies mostly result in a flat increase in health, with two ranged enemies and a weird bat creature. It's not that bad outside of the demon, the harshest damage sponge I've seen chronologically. 3/10


Ranges from forgettable to downright player unfriendly. Every single thing I consider a sin of level design is here in great gusto. 1/10

Player Agency:
Curious, playing this kind of game with mouse look still feels wrong, and that comes across in how the game works. Obviously the game didn't intend for mouse aiming and the map, the latter of which despite it's cheat factor is practically essential. That said, somehow the mouse aiming didn't quite feel like cheating, instead removing un unfair advantage the AI has. Mostly functional though, despite the awkward walking speed. 7/10

You can walk into things and shoot some walls. 1/10

This game just gives me a headache with how it feels to make any kind of progression. 0/10

While everything is nice in isolation, there's not a whole heck of a lot of animation here, enemies only ever look towards you, even when they run away. Walls look ugly as you're trying to figure out where you are. The big fancy backgrounds are nice, and make me wish that Id tried their hands at an adventure game, like the other shareware titans did. 3/10

Not really a consideration, even ignoring the continuity issues. 0/10

16 seconds of music and some sound effects that really got on my nerves. 1/10

That's 18. Five points less than I originally gave it and 3 points more than Hovertank. I kind of begrudgingly respected Hovertank in my recent playthrough, but this one just felt like noise. Honestly, a bit of a shame, considering that the non-Id Catacomb games are mostly better.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Silent Debuggers (1991)

This looks less like a space station and more like a mecha.
Name:Silent Debuggers
Developer:Data East
Time:4 hours 10 minutes
Won:Yes (72W/60L)

Welcome back to the Turbografx-16, the system for pre-Wolfenstein console FPS games. Yeah, it is just two games, but it's kind of weird that there are two games on the system that most people ignore that feel very advanced for something that competed with both the NES and the Genesis. Obviously the Game Boy and the Genesis had their own games, but those were very lacking.

This was released both in the US and Japan. While the English version of this game has a questionable grasp on the language, I will be playing it in English. The Japanese version is only in Hiragana, and I'm much too reliant on Kanji to be able to read all that in a fast paced action game.
(Every other line this guy says is hilarious, but probably not in a way the original author intended)


This doesn't really sound good in-context either.
In the aftermath of a great war, humanity is united and begins to leave the planet. Alien bugs have been encountered, so the government calls upon the remaining military units of the great war. One of these groups are the Debuggers, the best of the best. You're a new Debugger, working under Leon, to retrieve treasure from the abandoned space station Gane/Ohme. (the name switches between the two) Unfortunately, no one has ever come back from the station in a year, including other Debuggers.

Music plays throughout this intro, and the menu, and when you select your name. Your given a paltry 5 characters, which makes me wonder why they included such a thing to begin with. It's very repetitive. The conversation continues. Myself and Leon are to find our way to the core computer from the shuttle bay. Leon kindly informs me that there are aliens here and that I should take them out. The player is actually offered a choice in the matter, in the sense that the game does a "yes/no" option after Leon asks you. Why would I have to be asked? This doesn't even offer an illusion of a choice, Leon just tells you to not be afraid if you say no.

This opens up the weapon screen. There are 3 primary weapons and 3 secondary weapons. The game itself doesn't explain any of these, but the manual does. When I originally started up this game, I didn't have access to the manual and the story from there, so I was playing this under the impression that the story in the intro was all there was. Before I get to the weapons, I'm just going to mention that batteries, the two batteries you get, power special equipment and act as the player's health. You only have one active at one time, and batteries are only switched when you want them to be. If the active battery runs out, you're dead.

  • Hand Gun, battery powered, always available to the player. To compensate for always being available, it shoots much slower.
  • Motor Cannon, a machine gun which "fires explosives at high speeds". Fancy description aside, it's just a machine gun. Uses ammo. Takes out most enemies in under two bursts.
  • Mega Beamer, a laser cannon, uses the batteries. Takes out a lot of enemies in one shot, but takes a moment to recharge and eats up power.
  • Lipp Shot, semi-auto cannon, uses ammo. Does decent damage, but moves around the target reticle every time you shoot with it. Supposedly hits the target every time, but your side weapon will miss unless you reaim. Somehow the worst of the three choices.
  • Grenade Launcher, shoots grenades, of which you can carry 5 at a time. Kills most enemies in one shot if you can hit them.
  • Sonic Launcher, causes nearby enemies to flee. Uses the battery. Kind of useless. Making enemies run away from you is not very helpful unless you desperately need to recharge your batteries, by which point you probably ran out of charge to use this, and you're screwed anyway.
  • Sleep Launcher, puts enemies to sleep, assuming you aren't too close to the target. Comes with 10 shots. Kind of hard to use, but surprisingly helpful.

There are 6 levels to the game, the only real difference consists of the outer sections of the map. Each level consists of a central section, where Leon is doing something to the ship's computer. Then we have the central rooms, these must be defended later, the aliens take out three of these and it's game over. Some of these are very important, like the battery, the light room or the ammo room, others can be destroyed without any real harm to you. I note that it takes a long time to reach these rooms from anywhere else. Finally, you have a big central ring, from which you enter the new parts of the level.

The game controls pretty well. The D-pad moves fairly well, though I'm not on original hardware. Takes a section to build up speed though. The button 1 controls where your target reticle is, and the game does allow you to target different parts of the body. It's inconvenient to adjust it in the middle of the battle though. Button 2 shoots your primary weapon, while the Run shoots your secondary weapon. Select opens up the menu, which allows you to open up the map, select your battery and other things.

This is all Dungeon Master-esque, 90-degree angles, everything is tile based, including the location of you and your enemies. We've seen it before, we'll see it again. I can't say I felt any issues with the game were down to this, perhaps beyond a general boredom with the level design. Then again, it's hard to do generic sci-fi metal hallway in a way that isn't boring.

I like the HUD, it feels very modern in how much information it gives to you, but not so modern it feels like I'm being handheld. That mini-map isn't too effective as anything other than a general indication of where you are, but it's nice for the time. I would have liked the ammo counter to be lower, seems like it needed to be up there since the rest of the lower hud is taken up by other things later on, you don't even get an ammo count for the secondary weapon. Sound plays a big role in this game, a rarity this early. You have a radar that detects when aliens are near you. Turn in the right direction? It gets louder. And should an alien sneak up behind you? An arrow pointing to the direction the alien's in. Quite possibly the best such system for a while.

Level 1 consists of one giant corridor from which enemies remain in, so you can kill them at a leisurely pace. I say that, but beginning here is a bit creepy. These guys are your typical alien killing machines, though I don't quite think I've seen something like this before. Even with that sound system, it's easy for aliens to sneak up on you. Sure, they'll die in one or two bursts of machine gun fire, but they're fast, they're aggressive, and even as they're dying they thrash around, possibly missing a limb or two. Even the way they fight is a bit unsettling, they can get up right and close, and should they hit you, they knock you back. This first level does a pretty good job of putting the atmosphere of Aliens into a video game, better than any other game I've ever seen.

After taking out the aliens here, Leon unlocks the computer, called DR. DR tells us that we can now go to level 2, which I guess consists of moving the entire central room downwards. And Leon's access activated the self-destruct program and locked all the doors out. Lovely. To deactivate it, we need to reach the computer on Level 6. So, the rest of the game is on a 100 minute time limit. (Time limit is paused whenever a cutscene happens though) We do have enough time to read a log from the last captain of the space station, which insightfully tells us aliens have taken over the space station. This ends the cutscene and I can begin level 2...except Leon calls me back to the computer right away to inform me that some of the aliens, the green ones, can reach the central area.

The action here is so frantic that I'm not sure if I shot off his head or what, which you seem to be able to do without killing them.

Once I can actually do something in level 2, one of the green aliens breaches into the interior. This basically amounts to the alien running through doors as it runs away from me. I said I thought the game controls pretty well, it does, but the movement screen is somewhat awkward when you're chasing down an enemy running away from you down snaking corridors. The game isn't shy about having them enter either. As I began my incursion into the outer regions, another one entered. By the time I tracked it down, one of the blocks was about to be destroyed. I reloaded, it wasn't terribly vital, just the light room, but at this stage, wandering around in darkness would be suicide. There are no actual saves, but for sanity's sake I used save states.

The death animation of one alien.

And it's a good thing too, because dealing with the invading aliens is kind of distracting. I go out into the cargo area, I'm quickly pulled back because I need to take out another one. And if a block is about to be destroyed, I have to reload because losing one this early basically guarantees I'm going to get a game over halfway through this level. I switched out the grenade launcher for the sleep launcher, and when that works, it works, but I still have to travel halfway across the damn interior area just to hit the guy. Unless you're chasing the thing across the outer hallway you have no chance of getting a good shot off, and even then you have to get lucky. Even though I eventually won, the amount of motor cannon ammo I've used is over 450 rounds, not very sustainable even though I haven't used the Lipp Cannon at all. Worse yet, these guys have been damaging the blocks despite them not being destroy, and the damage is enough that I have to restart despite what I've done. So...just camp out in front of the areas they can enter. Or...not, because the system the game uses to decide whether or not the green aliens can invade seems to be random, but mostly only happens whenever you're outside the area, primarily on changing in and out of the interior area. Which means if the game feels cruel, you can be put in an infinite loop and entering and exiting the interior area until all the green aliens are gone.

I save up a lot of ammo for the second time through. Use of short, controlled bursts and not wasting ammo on chasing the green aliens helps a ton. Aliens have death animations, but you can shoot them while they're dying, wasting ammo. It's pretty cool and reinforces their creepy factor, seeing them thrash around as they die. This level isn't terribly hard in of itself, but ensuring that you're not going to die on level 3 can be tricky.

Referring to the aliens, of course.
Like with the first level, more information is given. Not really important information, just that they faught the aliens before dying. The game is trying to make this all sound much more impressive than it really is, but compared to these days when every single horror-related game has some logs like this, it's kind of bland. I can see this being incredibly impressive in 1991 though. There's also someone at the bottom of the ship, as in someone else, not an alien. Probably.

The aliens, in addition to the space station, have a different kind of symbolism to them than your usual Giger knockoffs.

Level 3 adds black aliens, ones that are invisible to your sound detection system. Again, Leon teleports me away from combat to inform me of this. I do admit I wouldn't have given it much thought until one inevitably snuck up behind me, but I would have preferred it that way. If I leave Leon and then return to talk to him, he'll then give me a sensor capable of seeing the black aliens, and only the black aliens. Dealing with green aliens is still top priority, because battery power is quite expendable compared to blocks.

This makes me wonder, not about them specifically, but as to whether or not spawns are predetermined. It's hard to tell because aliens often move around, but the green aliens, based on their focus in running towards the interior, can be tracked. I know this level started off with me having to rush to deal with an alien south, then east. I sincerely hope that's how you're supposed to deal with it every time on this level, and not just get screwed randomly. I switch out the weapons a bit on this level, as I was using the motor cannon constantly. Seems like the mega beamer is the best, though if an enemy turns as you shoot, exposing his arm to your blast, while he loses an arm, you're still out a shot and have to wait for it to recharge. Sometimes when enemies advance their arms get in the way, and you get hit anyway. It's great when it hits though.

You get to see this person later, of course, and funnily enough they used the same image in both cases, but it doesn't quite work here.

Eventually, when I won this level, we get a message from the other person on the stage, basically just telling us we'll regret ever coming here. And then a mysterious side cutscene from someone saying he'll test our real abilities. Sentient alien leader being the same person saying both of these, I guess. Level 4 was going to be annoying anyway, all four doors lead to monster filled areas. Which means that green aliens can come from anywhere! And...there are doors everywhere in the exterior? Huh.

Once again, when I return to Leon, he gives me something, with a very forgetful tone. This happened on the last level too, but in that case you were kind of aware that was going to happen. Here, not so much. Considering how frequently the game pulled you away from the action to tell you something, like a modern game, you could get used to relying on the game to tell you things. I figured better. What do I get, why a muzzle breaker, which increases my attack power, but apparently I shouldn't use it too often?

The green aliens get really annoying on this level. No longer do they seem to obey any real rules, just popping out of any door you didn't just open. Which is great, because if they're far away from where I started the level, a single block loses a bit under 50% integrity, three of those and the block goes. One block, just the lights, is already in the danger zone. I sort of figure out how to defeat these guys without getting hit. Check each door, if an enemy is outside it, it should be a green alien. Walk in and out quickly, green aliens only head towards the center when you're outside the center. And now I can go through the area at my leisure.

Even with these guys dead, I'm struck at how often I need to circle around the level. First I do a general clean-up of the area, then I go around again, to clear up any stragglers. Okay, one final sweep...and there are still quite a few more. And again. I haven't even used the scanner for the black aliens yet, though some have been eliminated. In the end I just got the black aliens by sweeping for the rest of the regular ones. Huh.

[Random] words the game seems to think are [important] are randomly done up like that for some [reason].

End level briefing, Leon tells me that there's just one more floor, guess that's the last regular floor? I sense something's going to seriously change up for the sixth floor. Leon got another message from our enemy, mocking us for trying to loot the place. Leon brings up some interesting points, talking about how there are no humans or cargo here or any sign of it, along with how we get convenient information and use of the computers. I admit, I wouldn't have noticed that if the game didn't bring it up, because it's not unusual for games to work that way. It's fairly typical for a first-person game around this time to gloss over anything remotely realistic, so I just sort of don't pay any attention to it. It's interesting to see a game work in a limitation that in most other games would be completely ignored.

Level 5's design looks to be the most annoying yet. Before now it was all sort of simple, easy to maneuver blocks, as opposed to the vaguely mazey design of this one. Well, I won't complain too much...yet. I try my new method of killing the green aliens on this floor. It first, but while I get one, another one always gets in while I'm killing the first. From places that don't seem to have one to begin with, and then it seems like they don't come in anymore. It's a trap, it's a trick, but there's not a lot I can do about it.

The green aliens work really strangely now. There are some on the inside, but they never seem to be the ones that appear inside, instead, green aliens seem to warp inside, always at a door I'm not in. So the game is just straight-up breaking its rules. That's fun. The new rules seem to be that if you encounter an enemy, a green alien spawns in the central area.It's not that other aliens aren't that difficult to kill, they can be, it's just that between aliens that charge after you, aliens that try to trick you into following the, and aliens that just run away from you, while potentially giving you a game over, one of these is more important than the others.

Finally, level 6. In preparation when I ran out of green aliens, I switched to the grenade launcher. Something told me the gameplay would switch up, at first it seemed in the opposite direction I was expecting. An alert sounded and...nothing happened. Instead I get another warning from the bad guy, saying that these aren't ordinary monsters. Look man, I've seen Alien, I know they're really colonists or something. Leon tells me there are no monsters here. More concerning, there is no map for this level. Just guess.

Once you see it, it does look like enemies are always in the same pose...
Level 6 starts, Leon says "Morpheus, look out, there are monsters". Couldn't Leon have just said this looks funny when he talked about the monsters? Only...they're in the central area, and they're invisible. Oh. They're tough to fight too, eating more than one grenade and two laser shots. I die, for the first time this playthrough. The game allows you to continue, with energy restored, but not ammo. Unfortunately, there is no way to recharge energy at this point beyond that. After the fact, I found out there's supposed to be an energy recharging device, but I imagine you only get that if you lose the battery block. Thankfully I had 27 minutes when I started this level, hopefully that'll be enough. Still, there are only four or so aliens here.
Given what's just about to happen, I presume this means we're the only Debuggers to make it this far.
After defeating this, I can then open the only door out, which enters a room with a computer explaining what's going on. Leon tells me that this is a trap, which tracks, and that the station was used by Project Bioroid...he dies. That sucks, Leon actually kind of improved this game. I mean, not as much as a character in a half-way decent modern game, but you know, pretty good for an oldie.
He doesn't look very impressive, but previous aliens were missing legs too.

Then I meet the head bioroid...who tells me I'll make a good bioroid...he doesn't look like the character mocking me the entire time. So who is that character?

That's a very polite way to put it...

And it turns out that the character mocking us the entire time is actually a friendly of some sort...? And a woman, which I think was supposed to be secret revelation, but those boobs are kind of obvious. Everyone I shot was formerly a human. Leon comes back to shoot the evil bioroid...and someone called Smith was doing the experiments to turn humanity into a stronger version of itself, which obviously wasn't working out considering these aliens have the intelligent of a potato. Guess Smith is the head bioroid.

We escape without incident, we find out that the friendly's name is Sara Bentury, and that this whole thing was done by rogue members of one nation's army. Leon, apparently, used to be in that nation's army and isn't surprised they're doing this kind of crap. The two argue about some stuff, but seem resigned to continuing to work together and the player is completely forgotten in the scuffle. 

And they never saw them again. Why is it that games having a "to be continued" bit at the end always seems to result in never showing up again? That was a bit lame for a final battle, but it shouldn't affect the rating too badly.

Seven weapons, a dinky pistol, three primary weapons and three secondary weapons. Only one of these weapons is truly useless, a weapon that causes enemies to flee, useless when enemies are faster than you. That said, there is generally a best primary weapon in the laser weapon, which kills most enemies in one hit, though it fails to completely outclass the others thanks to a slow rate of fire and it's thirst for battery power. 4/10

There are basically four enemy types, though mostly reskins of the same general enemy. The green aliens, which run to the interior of the station to damage the blocks, which is the most troublesome aspect of the game; The rest of the aliens, some chase after you, some try to bait you, some need a special scanner, but mostly they come to you; Slimes, which are sort of there, walk into them and they die; And the boss aliens, not that they seem all that bossy at the time, considering you fight four of them in a row. They're invisible, but your sound system still works. There's enough variety here to last the game and not just make you feel like you're killing the same thing over and over again, also helped by how creepy they are. 5/10


Very plain, to the point at times where it doesn't quite feel like they did much to think up the levels. But designing these kinds of levels is a rare skill, and what the game does works in context of how the rest of the game plays. It also helps that when the game does try to get more complex level design you have a decent map. 4/10

Player Agency:
The whole aiming mechanic feels half-baked, I could take out an alien's limbs, but I for the life of me can't figure out why I would want to do that. It's cool, I guess. I kind of question how the keys are laid out. Button 1 is aim, button 2 is your primary weapon and for your secondary weapon you press run, the Turbografx-16's start button. Select instead opens the menu. Speed is an issue, but I guess they're trying to increase the length of the game by making your sprinting speed, when you've walked over several tiles, less than the green aliens. Otherwise I have no complaints, in fact, otherwise it seems incredibly modern by 1991 standards, the menus practically are! 6/10


I said the game felt like it perfectly captured the atmosphere of Aliens, and I still feel that. Sure, no acid blood, but that's a minor quibble. A heavily armed soldier in an isolated place against a horde of terrifying, practically unknowable alien creatures, flitting between the corridors as you try to track them down with your radar. Nearly perfect. 9/10

The aliens look great in motion, I think they might have a limited amount of animation, but they shift around so much that it's hard to notice. The faux-3d looks pretty good, but generic sci-fi corridors are hard to make spectacular. The anime cutscenes are okay, not the kind of anime where the characters eyes are so big you could punch them, but not something inspired. 5/10

I actually grew to like my companion with a questionable grasp of English, Leon. It's a fairly obvious story, but it just feels that much better in having your companion note that the suspicious happenings are in fact, suspicious. I do wish he would give me the items he was going to give me without me having to go back to him. 3/10

What I thought before playing this game was that this early, you couldn't make a game on this kind of hardware and it would have great environmental sound. All with a single beeping sound and some deep breathing. I never thought that beeping sound was annoying, I was too focused on killing the thing that was making it. Music-wise it's okay, wisely it never overlaps with the sound, but that sound is just a step above every game I've played so far it's hard not to be impressed. It's just that good. 6/10

That's 42. Which is as of this writing the highest I've rated a pre-Doom FPS, and any game released before 1992.

I really liked Silent Debuggers, at the very least, of the faux-3d FPS titles, it's the best. Well, the best so far, Amiga developers have really tried to make that system work. It takes a genre that at this stage, still didn't quite work and makes something interesting and tense out of it. While the game resorts to several cheap tricks to lengthen the game, these aren't so bad as long as you're not on original hardware.

There aren't a lot of period reviews, but the ones I could find are positive. Helps that the sound system is just as impressive then as it is now. Modern reviews are somewhat mixed. Firstly, I'm going to go over the Gamespot, Nintendolife and IGN reviews, because they're basically the same old garbage. "Oh, faux-3d, it's like walking down the street and blinking. Oh, my head." before describing the gameplay as repetitive and slow. Now while the general gameplay loop doesn't change up that much throughout the game, what they write reveals that they just finished the first level and then their review. No mention of protecting the blocks, and the time limit is practically treated like an afterthought. This is the reason why people treat games journalism as a joke. Imagine someone for a major publication writing a review of a silent movie, only to complain that nobody talks and only describes things that happen in the first 5 minutes of the movie.

More positive reviews, though still not quite as positive as myself, point out the interesting aspects of the game, but also point out how dealing with the blocks is something of a chore. Which is a good point, since a shot of bad luck there can put you in an unwinnable situation, especially when the game decides to just spawn green aliens without any logic to them.

There's only one "new" title left in 1991, Armored Trooper Votoms: Dead Ash, a Japanese-exclusive game with a somewhat thick story. It's going to take a while on that one.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Keen Meets the Meats (2015)

Name:Commander Keen in Keen Meets the Meats
Developer:Keen Meets the Meats Team
Genre:Side-Scrolling Shooter
Time:3 hours
Won:Yes (71W/60L)

Before I begin, I'll mention that I'm treating this as a game rather than a mod, owing to it being released as a standalone mod, and everything is more or less original or at least modified from any Keen assets that the resemblance is middling.

So, for a brief period of time, Id Software once had the idea of making a sequel to Keen Dreams. As Id didn't really continue working with Softdisk for very long and soon after that abandoned the series, these ideas were long forgotten. This idea was so long ago that only the original release ever had a mention of the sequel. The shareware release floating around all over the internet doesn't make any mention to my knowledge.

Enter the Keen community. Much like the Doom, Wolfenstein and Duke communities, they too, have made their own levels and mods of the original games. There are many fan games, fan sequels and just general levelsets released for the primary 6 games. But what about Keen Dreams? Well, that one was more tricky. While mods existed before, the community had to band together to purchase the source code and release it under the GPL. Now people could really mod Keen Dreams, and soon enough people began work on making Meet the Meats a reality.

The team seems to be a group of veteran Keen modders, along with DoomJedi. This seems to be the dream team as far as Keen Dreams modding goes, but I'm afraid I only recognize DoomJedi. Who has had some pretty major controversies over the year about supposed anti-Semitism, despite living in Israel for most of his life. Considering he's just an artist, I'm probably picking out the least important member of the team.

This is, if you don't know, a joke about how real fast food chains try to play up the quality of their beef; though none go as far as to show the cow

The story is Keen's little sister has just had her birthday party at Rick E. Rodent's, and Keen was there. Being miserable, as one tends to be when one is at a place full of animatronic rodents and screaming children. Keen apparently ate too much fast food and now has a stomachache. As he tries to quell the gastric distress he falls into a deep sleep and awakes in a strange cell.

This is McZargalds, a fast food place on an alien world lead by some kind of evil butcher. The burgers they serve are earthlingburgers, children. Keen knows this takeway...Takeaway? Keen isn't British. After this, Keen is going down to the bloody pub, mate. How will Keen get out of this mess without his trusty neural stunner, pogo stick and helmet? And how will he defeat this mad butcher now that he isn't using newspapers and Foobs to make his patties?

Before Keen can attempt his escape, a sentient meatball breaks open the door, hygiene here is so lax the food has gained sentience. Before he can be turned into burgermeat, he grabs some "Ultra Spicy Arcturian Megameatballs" and throws one at the bigger meatball, turning it into a pile of ash.

For those of you who aren't American, Rick E. Rodent's is a take off Chuck E. Cheese, a sort of cross between a sitdown restuarant and an arcade. I've been there once and I don't have the strongest memories of the place. Apparently it's supposed to be a truly awful experience, but it's just one of those things to me, that I guess is true. McZargalds is an obvious take-off on McDonalds, which has translated across the planet much better.

Gaze into the eyes of the demon burger...

Meet the Meats is much the same in gameplay structure as Keen Dreams was, since it's basically an overgrown mod of that game. Keen is still missing his pogo stick and the weapon, the meatballs, still stun enemies. Technically. On easy, the developers were kind enough to increase the time enemies are stunned to a number high enough that it is unlikely you will still be in the level by the time it would get back up. Hard lives up to the name, trust me.

Keen is a typical side-scroller of the time, Keen can walk around and jump. He can also look up, but seemingly can't look down. He can throw his meatballs in a slight arc either left or right, up or down. He can do all those things on poles or jumping. Jumping on enemies does not hurt them and in fact kills Keen. Keen's design is unique for this game, not the helmet design he has in most or the bedwear he has in Dreams, instead, just casual clothes. I like how they're colored, the light on the pants is well-done.

Nevertheless, the concept of the game is pretty neat. I'm a sucker for this sort of game. The sort of game where if you described it in a certain way it would come off as a creepypasta, but is plausible enough to actually exist and not be a cheap, jumpscare filled horror game. It's not quite the same as some games, since it wasn't actually made by a team of professionals looking to get paid, rather quite skilled amateurs.'s just plausible enough to have existed. After all, what better way for Adrian Carmack to express his hatred of the series better than to have Keen throwing ground up chunks of dead kid at other ground up chunks of dead kid?

The hygiene is awful even on the streets.

The overworld here is that of a nasty, industrial planet. I don't mind the way this looks in theory, but the dithering going on here is just way too damn aggressive. It looks like scanned art, but isn't, so it just looks ugly. Even though it's supposed to look ugly already, it looks badly done because of that dithering.

Enemies are broadly the same as the ones in Keen Dreams, seemingly a problem with editing the game. There are a few seemingly new enemies, at least according to the Keen Wiki, but these seem to be different variations on already existing enemies. There might be other slight differences I know about, but I'm still going to go over these as if they were "new". I'm going to go over them in the order they appear on the Keen Wiki.

  • Beefburgarian, the tater trooper replacement. One of three burger enemies. These guys appear a handful of times and are basically a joke in this mod, probably why they don't appear often. They're only lethal if they attack, but they never even got off an attack against me.
  • T-Bone, another of the more mundane enemies. These guys introduced me to the game's neat new trick, enemies that stick to the ceiling until you walk under them, then drop down and start moving regularly. Outside of that, they're not much more threatening than the Beefburger. Right down to having to attack before being able to hurt you.
  • Manic Weenie, the low end of the jumping enemies. They're slow enough and can only see you if you're close enough that presuming you have ammo, they're easy enough to deal with. If you don't, well, that same slowness can make them tricky to deal with.
  • Skreedish Meatball, how the hell do these meatballs have teeth? They're fast, they're annoying, and they're hard to hit. The game just loves these, but not as much as it loves...
  • Quarter-Ton Zargburger with Cheese, the worst of the bouncing enemies. I swear the dev team calculated these guys so they were the hardest to hit, and then put them all in places that would be a pain to hit even if they weren't jumping. It's so bad that the sneaky ones on the ceiling are the easiest to fight. 
  • Frankenfurter, HOT DOG DEATH! These guys shoot hot dogs practically half-way across the map, and when the game remembers it has them, they are a huge pain to take out.
  • Fowl Meat, a chicken or maybe a turkey. I thought all the food here was sentient ground up kid? Are they making weird shaped meatloaves out of people? If it's other food, why am I not taking out a sentient milkshake or soda? These are the questions I ask because as actual enemies, I don't remember them. 
  • Splatty, they wait on the ceiling for the player to walk under them...and then fall down...and stay there. You don't even get hurt by them after they fall. Because of their color scheme, it's tricky spotting them in advance, but otherwise they feel somewhat mundane.
  • Mach Pizza, running ground enemies. I think I saw two of them. Not very intimidating.
  • Sausinch, I thought these were worms until I checked the wiki. I like that implication more, a fast food joint so crummy that they're got worms harrassing people. Another jumping enemy, because of their placement in one level I didn't get a good grasp on really dealing with them, just more dealing with having to get a trick shot over a barrier.
  • Walking Liverbug. What the hell even is this? Unless there's a secret facility with giant kids from which the butcher is taking these livers, I don't get it. I don't get it in general, either. Apparently this is a replacement for the apple enemy from Dreams, which climbed up and down poles, and I NEVER saw these enemies do anything anywhere near poles.
    Upon dying Keen turns into a burger...for some reason.
  • Lambchopper, ranged enemy. Walks around, kind of annoying, but only appears once or twice, so there's not much I remember about them.
  • Shishkaboob, fast enemy. Unlike the asparagusto from Dreams, the game doesn't really exploit these guys, instead they just sort of hang around.
  • Black Pudding, the pea shooter replacement. You know, the enemy from Dreams that spawns other enemies but only appears once? Unlike in Dreams, you aren't going to miss this guy, and he's every bit as eager to spawn enemies as he seems. It's a very memorable encounter, and basically requires advance knowledge so you can get a shot off before he does, but I remember this guy.
Those signs are helpful, especially here, walking on a hot grill or that boiling oil kills you.

The first level is surprisingly difficult. You start with no meatballs and if you don't exploit the game's logic and let a sausage walk past a locked door slightly off-screen, you'll end up killed. That's the easy part, because while this level is non-linear, you still have to explore the entirety of it. You need four keycards to get out of here, and each area isn't easy to get through. Of particular note, I found the area just east of where you start to be the cleverest. One of the t-bone enemies is sitting on a pipe on the ceiling, so I thought, oh, this must be the grape enemy replacement. No, they just put a regular ground enemy on the ceiling somehow, which is pretty cool, even if I find dealing with him on the way out annoying.

On the path between the meaty side and the boney side.

The second level I entered was The Meat Grinder, a very grotesque looking place. This isn't really holding any punches. Both visually and gameplay wise. I'm basically down to a single life here, and the game is not letting up. That trick with the t-bone? It's possible with all the ground enemies, apparently, because these shishkebobs can do it to. There's barely any meatballs in the first half of this level and worse yet, the jumping up the pole trick isn't working. This is a problem, let's talk about the difficulty. I didn't bring up the difficulty selection in Keen Dreams because it didn't really matter much, unless you went out of your way to start a new game every time you started up the game, you were defaulted to easy. This defaults to hard. All that changed originally was how long enemies remain stunned, 15 on easy and 5 on hard. Meets the Meats adds enemies on harder difficulties.

Maybe the issue here isn't that the mod is intentionally trying to screw over the player, but rather unintentionally has broken. Unintentionally clipping the ground on some ledges and some poles. Bombs, or rather the eggs, are not noted to the player as he enters a level with them, which is intentional but feels janky along with everything else. And considering we're talking about a game which requires a certain number to beat the boss, feels cheap besides.

Oh, yeah, the game crashes a lot and has two modes. A normal, "hi-res" mode, which is what I've been playing so far, and a low-res mode which changes how the game looks as well as removing some enemies. Unfortunately, using the low-res mode just completely crashes the game as far as I can tell, even if you start a new game, and for some levels the hi-res mode just won't start. I had to get what the KeenWiki describes as an alternate download for the game to get it working. 

Seriously, this is some real bull. This does seem to fix the movement issues though.
Still, the game isn't wholly ungenerous. After the first level meatballs and points items are quite generously placed. And despite the game throwing quite a few new hazards into the game, they're not that difficult to dodge. It also seems that on easy the length enemies remain stunned is jacked up to a rather generous amount.

Jumping towards an egg I can't reach from down below.

The Freezer Building level was pretty interesting for an ice level, one always appreciates an ice level that doesn't actually revolve around an ice gimmick. All these levels are stunning, but this one takes the cake for the neat little view of the outside world. It has a bunch of the new enemies in nice little isolated pockets, so you can get used to their gimmicks. It'd be perfect, if I didn't have to jump down off a pole to an egg you can't see until you've already passed it.

I don't understand the shaded floppy poster here.

Mz Chamburger seems like a weird level and weird level name. At first I assumed it was some weird magazine office, of a certain nature, but then it seemed to be a clubhouse akin to some old McDonald's advertising? To say I don't quite get what's going on here is an understatement, but there are a lot of burgers here. Both in the environment and as enemies. The cheeseburgers are just incredibly annoying to deal with, gotta get lucky with those shots. You can't just throw meatballs over them, often they're placed in such a way that you can't hit them in the little hidey-holes they spawn in.

Really, the cutting boards don't have any blood on them?

Secondary Kitchen was where I first encountered the grape enemy replacement. They don't quite work like how they did in Dreams, instead they just flop down and stay there. Also, the burger patties are stealthier than the grapes, so they can get you, despite now working alone rather than in groups. I really like all these posters that plaster the background.  They got the right mix of creepy and believability, the sort of thing that wouldn't be out of place with one of these restaurants thirty years ago. As opposed to now when they're all trying to be hip and cool.

What are they actually exporting? Don't tell me they dedicate this one planet to all their meat needs?
Export Warehouse is interesting. Not quite a level that throws you straight into an encounter with an enemy, instead you're on a conveyor belt that does take you to the first enemy. Also, holy crap, graffiti on the side of an object. Lotta turkey enemies here, and they're coming off as...well, turkeys. This one's really nice. I particularly like how you can expect the bouncing enemy meatballs to come out of anywhere, but not so much the series of conveyor platform jumping. The speed of these things is much too fast for it to work well.
Warning, crushers are hazardous to your health.

Meat Processing Plant doesn't have many enemies and instead focuses on environmental hazards. The crusher hazards, added for this mod, fill the level, often just giving the player enough time to get by. While they do get annoying at times, and sometimes it didn't feel like things were working, this is a marvelous level. The kind of level where you should explore everywhere just so you can get stuff from all those nooks and crannies.

I have never seen the table of a restaurant look that bad, but perhaps that is ignorance on my part.

Once you get to the McZargalds restaurant level, it's more amusing than a difficult challenge, though those falling patties are quite annoying. A bit too dirty to be a fast food chain even in the worst parts of the country, usually the disgusting stuff is safely away from where the patrons can see. Not really sure the giant basement full of meat lying around is accurate, but the disgusting bathroom is spot on. Very simple level outside of that fun stuff.

Waste Management is more interesting for the way it looks than the level itself, each new level looks pretty neat. A lot of the tricks here have been done before, you've got stuff like patties placed just out of view, so you get suckered by them. Or jumping over crushing walls to advance or get treasure. This level does it very interestingly, giving the player the option to grab some optional treasure by jumping over some poles above one of the walls. Because of the way sliding down works, you have to be a lot more careful with where you're positioned on this level. I do loathe the ending to this level, where there's a hotdog enemy behind a door. Because of the way their AI works, you have to get lucky in approaching it when it isn't near enough, and then hope you don't get hit as you retreat. I even nearly got hit off-screen because of the way that blasted thing works.

These are the apel replacements and they can't even climb poles, why are they here then? Because they're not very difficult to deal with.

Soup River Store, ah, how I forgot about Keen Dreams love of these kinds of levels. I guess this is a tribute to that since this whole outdoor mountain climb level hasn't been used elsewhere in the game. It's not really like that, just visually similar. Instead it's more of a terrifying series of jumps over soup. Guess that boiling liquid is soup, I assumed it was frying oil. The giant kidney enemies are practically a joke compared to having any jump you make ruin your progress.

The background could have stood to use that trick that makes it appear

The Mad Butcher's Lair, the final boss. This is actually available to you from the start, and unlike in Keen Dreams you aren't prevented from going straight to him. (In Dreams King Tuber was in a level hidden behind the big castle level) In contrast to other levels this is kind of boring, easier than Dreams's final level, not even a key hunt. While the final boss is slightly harder to deal with since I guess either the layout of the boss room works against the player or the boss is faster, I defeated him just as handily as I did King Tuber. Perhaps more so, the game was incredibly generous with the egg bombs, which meant by the time I was halfway through the game, I had already gotten enough to kill him, after I finished the rest of the levels I somehow had 31 eggs.

After this, Keen sets the butcher's abducto-ray for his bedroom, but before he leaves, "his officially endorsed hostile takeover by Bipotle begins." At first I thought this was some unmentioned alien species, or perhaps one from a game I hadn't yet played, but then, is that a Chipotle reference? I'm not sure if the writer intended this as a compliment to Chipotle or an insult. Because in my experience and from what I've heard, Chipotle has the laxest freaking hygiene policy of all the major fast food chains. Compared to evil space McD's, space Chipotle should have a sea of dead bodies, each spewing a gusher of brown liquid, and a color palette of mostly reds and browns. I apologize for that mental image.

Waking up back at home, Keen discovers that everyone in his family had horrible gastric distress after eating at Rick E. Rodent's, and as the only member of the family who isn't spewing from both ends, he has his choice of breakfast. I question the game's insistence that everyone merely overate, but maybe that's just me being the kind of person who doesn't really overeat enough to the point that it would cause me gastric distress.

Overall I found the game to be really clever, the game's so packed with secrets that I didn't find anywhere close to all of them. Pretty sure I missed a secret level or two as well.

On easy, the meatballs shift from being an entirely useless weapon to just a mildly annoying one to use. In contrast to the harder difficulties, where it merely gives you a second of breathing room. 1/10

Despite a few consistent themes, somehow the enemies here felt cleverer than Keen Dreams. Maybe it was just better use of them, maybe they're generally better designed, but these guys felt more impactful than their vegetable themed counterparts. 5/10


A very well crafted series of open-ended levels full of cool secrets. Barring some merely average levels and a few clipping issues, damn near perfect. 9/10

Player Agency:
More or less the same as Keen Dreams. 6/10

Basic door stuff. 1/10

I'm a sucker for this sort of game, something that feels like a lost game that's made in a way that feels plausible. Even with that removed, the game does a good job of depicting a disgusting, industrial planet devoted to a single fast food franchise with almost a religious worship of it. 8/10

Very well-crafted EGA, for the most part. I don't like the heavily dithered parts, but otherwise this is pretty effective. Something they did just made any repetitive backgrounds not feel that way. 7/10

Slightly more involved than Dreams, and yet, despite it's increased presence, feels worse off than less story-focused games. I shouldn't wonder what's going on in a game when the story only appears in two places! 0/10

More or less just sound effects from Keen Dreams along with a few from Wolfenstein 3D. Soft Adlib/Soundblaster, not especially notable, but better than silence or PC Speaker. 2/10

That's 39.

Usually when I talk of a game being too ambitous for what's possible, I talk of games on systems like the ZX Spectrum or the Apple II, where every byte counts. Not of games that use technology from the '90s. Keen Meets the Meats, despite coming out years later, is firmly in that category of '90s tech. While I don't hold for it the same appreciation I do for some of the finer '80s tech, I still find that despite the numerous issues, this is impressive. Better yet, unlike a lot of those games, the merits this title has as an actual game are very much worth it.

You know, I sure could go for a burger right now...