Have You Played… Z?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I played Z so long ago that I don’t remember if I really like it. I remember that it threw out the base-building and resource collection of Command & Conquer, which I did like, in favour of a control point system where resources and units were generated by capturing terrain.

Z tried to add complexity in other ways. The need to steal terrain and materials from your opponents meant you could do things like kill the driver of an enemy vehicle and commandeer that vehicle for your own army. I remember trying to orchestrate this far more than it was actually useful, for the simple novelty.

It also had a fancy, computer-animated opening cutscene which established that the robots you were controlling were drunken dudebros. I remember being more impressed by the animation than the comedy, even as a kid.

I also remember, since it was by the Bitmap Brothers, that it felt even at the time like part of a wave of Amiga developers who were struggling to change or keep up with the times. The Bitmap Brothers had made Speedball and The Chaos Engine, but seemed to fizzle out not long after Z and a sequel, Z: Steel Soldiers.

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22 Comments

  1. Warwise says:

    One of the missing games from my childhood. You know, one of those games you really wanted to play, but couldnt, either because you couldnt find or afford it.
    Dunno if it was good or not, but it remains one of those games you kind of want to play, even if you would be just wasting your time.

    • Zankman says:

      Reminds me of my own saga with Swarm Assault, Swarm Rampage and Think Tanks.

      I played the Demos for those games mercilessly, but, never had the full versions.

      • Zankman says:

        Speaking of which, Swarm Assault/Rampage are kinda comparable to Z/Z: Steel Soldiers, in the sense of eschewing standard resource collection and basing the gameplay around “time and territory as the only resources”.

        I prefer the former two, tho.

    • d3vilsadvocate says:

      It’s one of my favorite games. I replay the campaign every 1-2 years (it’s fairly short if you know what you’re doing). It has aged well in my opinion and the game runs well under dos box.

      The new version on steam and gog, however, sucks ****s

    • Massenstein says:

      A missing game from one’s childhood, that is an useful concept and I wish there was a short word for it. I had very many games like that, games I would read about in computer- and game magazines but could not play because our family’s computers were always lagging years behind.

      And then when I moved out on my own and got a newer pc, I could play all of those games. :D Those were happy times!

  2. Shaun Green says:

    I was also ambivalent about Z back in the day. Much to like about it, but as I think the PC Gamer review back in the day noted, sometimes victory in a level could hinge on whether the AI arbitrarily sent a unit down the left or right path out of a factory.

    Still, if anyone is curious about the game, it’s worth noting that there’s an open source remake project: link to zod.sourceforge.net

    It is also, somewhat inexplicably, available on iOS and Android as well as the more explicable Steam.

    • Alphadrop says:

      The phone and Steam version of the game have broken a.i so are kinda crappy in comparison, units will try and walk into their targets rather than shoot them. Makes the game very easy as you just wait for the enemy to walk into your troops.
      Currently got the original version installed with an xp patch which works for Windows 7 as well, Zod engine you linked is the easiest way to get a decent experience but no cutscenes sadly.

  3. int says:

    Yeah. I remember a time when being able to enter and drive vehicles in a game was the coolest thing ever. Z did that with an RTS which I’d never seen before.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    I have a question about this that has been bugging me for a while.

    When I was a kid, my friend got his hands on a version of Z that had some differences from the regular version — the most significant being that it had tons of cursing. Like, your robot soldiers would say stuff like, “We’ll fucking kill him.” The animated bits also had lots of cursing, if I’m remembering correctly.

    It wasn’t the complete game, I think, but more like a demo or shareware. In fact, I thought it was just a demo until I played the full game a while later and was initially confused by the lack of profanity. My best guess is that it was a novelty promo thing, but I have no idea where it initially came from. It definitely wasn’t bootleg, because I remember the packaging pretty vividly and it was rated “15” by the BBFC.

    It’s not mentioned on the Wikipedia page, and searching “Z cursing” or whatever on Google is just too vague to get any relevant hits. So…

    Anyone else remember this?!?

    • nanotramp says:

      I remember this. It was a disk called Z-Xtra. It was a few level demo of Z that had an alternate speech pack that you could import into the full game.

      • Premium User Badge

        Thulsa Hex says:

        That’s it! Any idea where it came from? Like, do you remember if it was a magazine freebie, or an in-store thing? Even armed with the full name, I can’t find mention of it anywhere online. But at least now I know someone else who remembers it.

        • unacom says:

          In Germany it was simply “Z: Director´s Cut”.
          Sold in a box. It was definitely not sold with a magazine.
          Complete with a pack of wallpapers, desktop-symbols and .wav-files.

          I liked Z, pretty much because it kept me on my toes, forcing me to cover the different approaches to my base and thus making me think up other strategies than “swarm and crush”. Sometimes just running up a bunch of bots to the blue castle made short work of an otherwise uncrackable map.
          I still dig the idea of soldier-robots being portrayed as some kind of blue-collar workers, who´d rather crack open a can of beer than the skull of an enemy.

        • deadlock says:

          My copy of the game came with an extra disk, which was a demo of the “director’s cut”. As far as I could tell, it was pretty much the same game except the robots swore all of the time; I pretty quickly figured out that if you copied the .wav files from the director’s cut to the full game’s sound directory, the former quite happily loaded them and you essentially got the director’s cut for free.

  5. backlikeclap says:

    American here, I remember going to a British friends house and seeing him play it before we even had a PC at home. I was VERY impressed.

  6. Replikant says:

    IIRC, most maps were practically deciced in the first few seconds: If you failed to rush as many factories as possible at the start you would get overwhelmed. If not, you could start to slowly push the AI back.

  7. frogulox says:

    I loved this game with my entire face.
    The humour didnt land in the way i think they wanted, but i loved the idea of robots with a variety of personalities, not just servile or militaristic.

    The animation and liveliness of everything was great. tanks bouncing along bots that would sprint as they got closer to flags, little snakes popping out for kicks.
    The sound design was nice, with the barks adding more character than supersoldier or ‘clangclang your villager is dead’

    I was terrible at it, for ao so long. Then one day I finally got to grips with its pace, and it was actually the game that taught me not to turtle. Its not a game where you have to Rush, but you gotta be doing something more than waitwait..wait

    Great memories.

  8. Schnallinsky says:

    ah, don’t remember much about this game, except that we played it so much over the LAN (4 player maps).

    one thing i do remember is that when you were down to your last few valuable units and bases and being attacked by a much stronger player you could start “micro moving” them to out-maneuver single shots from enemies. this really extended engagement time *a lot* because your unit didn’t take a lot of damage.

    the stronger opponent usually couldn’t do this because he had to command more units in multiple engagements.

    this might even let you win the brawl, gain some time to produce more units and get back in the game.

    i remember the multiplayer mode to be a whole lot of fun.

  9. SuicideKing says:

    No PlayZ joke yet?

  10. Konservenknilch says:

    One of the big mistakes of my childhood. I loved the demo, but the full game was just much too hard and fast-paced for me.

    Still a great game, for those who can stomach it. The humour and character are wonderful.

    • inspiredhandle says:

      Played the demo back in the ps1 days. Played the full version on iPad a few months ago and got bored with it. Got to the ice planet I think. The cutscenes are nigh on identical between the levels and it’s difficulty level didn’t age well, a good strategy game should need (imo) at least 2-3 attempts to pass each stage.

      With that being said, the core gameplay is still solid. I find that 20 or so year old rts’s hold up well, your C&Cs and the like. My personal favourite is probably 7 kingdoms: ancient adversaries. I humbly request that you do a have you played of that, sir.

  11. cheesysmell says:

    I certainly saw it being played. Don’t think I quite understood it myself.

    Could we have more 90s RTS HYPes please? What was that one with a near-future theme and heroes?

  12. ThePuzzler says:

    My main memory of this game is my discovery that I could set it to high resolution, which caused the frame rate to drop, which made the game easier to play.

    Also, some of the cut-scenes were direct repeats of earlier cut-scenes, with the same dialogue.

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