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William Shatner's Tekwar lives again... for some reason

Tekwar

William Shatner’s Tekwar, released way back in 1995, was exactly the sort of game you’d expect to see from a meeting of minds as brilliant as Ol’ Bill Shatner (baffler of evil computers, aspiring writer of words) and Capstone Software, the studio behind such classics as Surf Ninjas and Terminator 2: Chess Wars. It combined stilted FMV Shatner monologues, incoherent level design and more bugs than you can shake a cyber-stick at.

It stands to reason, naturally, that there’s a mostly-complete engine port, allowing the game to be enjoyed at modern widescreen resolutions on whatever cutting-edge machine you use for your modern-day manshoots. A pleasant(?) side-effect of Blood’s revival on modern machines thanks to the efforts of Russian modder and coder Alexander ‘M210’ Makarov.

In all fairness, Tekwar was not a game without ambition. Breaking from FPS tradition, it was highly non-linear. You’re tasked with assassinating seven high-tech drug lords, each one holed up in a hideout somewhere in a massive city, its multiple districts connected by a subway system. While this sounds interesting on paper, the result is one of the most confusing and directionless shooters of its era, with each map being a sprawling mess of buildings filled with oft-identical FMV-sampled goons, turrets, androids and holograms, with little sense of where you should be going. Imagine Duke Nukem 3D’s very worst keycard hunts on a massive scale and you’re halfway there.

Owing to both the open-plan nature of the game and the wonky Build engine’s handling of moving environment objects, first-time players will likely lose many hours of pointless wandering and dying to Tekwar, with roaming buses honesty being a greater threat than any gun-toting minion. Public transport waits for no man in the grim future-world of Shatner’s imagination. The game also implores you avoid murdering civilians, despite most of them trying to gun you down too if given half a chance.

Thankfully, speedrunners have managed to trim the experience down to a slightly more palatable 10 minutes, 34 seconds, the entire latter-half of dedicated to the even more baffling and nonsensical Cyberspace level that makes up Tekwar’s finale. Sadly this also involves skipping the Shatner-tastic FMV sequences of him standing in front of a vaguely cyber-esque looking backdrop while paraphrasing excerpts from his tacky (and ghostwritten) series of sci-fi detective novels.

If this sounds like the retro experience you need in your life, my condolences. But if you must experience Tekwar on modern machines thanks to the wonder that is TekwarGDX, you’ll first need a copy of the original game. Unfortunately, nobody has seen fit to re-release the game since its original debut back in 1995 (most likely due to it being a production of three long-defunct companies; Capstone, Intracorp and US Gold) so you’ll have to source it yourself. Luckily, it’s not hard to track down either through common abandonware circles or on eBay, where original CDs tends to hover under the $10 mark.

There’s also a third GDX-series port in the works, looking to make Capstone’s FPS/RPG hybrid Witchaven more palatable for modern machines. While not quite as incoherent as Tekwar, I’d still struggle to describe it as a good game. Still, it’s good to see these things preserved and made functional again, even if they serve only as object lessons in how not to design a shooter.

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Dominic Tarason

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