Author Archive

Doing Comics Justice: Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich

Superheroes are, my dear mole cave people recently thawed following a decades-long slumber, very much in vogue right now. Films about whiny teenagers with the least interesting powers of an arachnid are ten a penny, but video games of this kind have been oddly lacking. The superhero games we do have – for example, the Arkham series – are mainly about specific superheroes, not about the idea or the spirit of their original format, the comic book.

I have a strange bias here, as I’m one of the fifty people on earth who loves games but never cared about comics or superheroes. So I say this without exaggerating or clutching at straws: Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich [Wikipedia page], a real-time, squad-based tactical beat ‘em up from 2005, is the only game that truly shows why people love comics.

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The Ambitious Failure Of Cybervamp RPG BloodNet

I’m known for writing about old games that are worth playing today. This is something of a departure, as I can’t really recommend Bloodnet [Wikipedia page] with a clear conscience. It isn’t a good game. But it’s been lurking in my mind for the better part of 20 years.

It’s a rare game that would excite a traditional RPG fan as well as a genre cynic like me – an unforgiving, non-linear, party-based adventure with turn-based combat and minimal handholding, set in a world devoid of goddamn elves. Instead, it’s set in the kind of future that only the early 1990s could conjure up.

Cast as Ransom Stark, you’re a ‘disgrunt’ – a former employee of evil megacorporation du jour, TransTechnicals, discarded when your work made you sick. Now you’re one of many surviving the dystopian microcosm of Manhattan via illegal activities like ‘decking’ (unauthorised Matrix use. No, not that one. Well, actually….), theft, espionage, and of course murder. Then you’re bitten by a vampire.

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Screw Balance: How Warlords Battlecry 3 Blended Genres

There’s this obscure game called StarCraft – you probably haven’t heard of it. It was one of those games that was so well designed that for years afterwards, most that came after its throne were either failed experiments or pale imitations, and even those that succeeded were just more of the same. Here are a few factions, they’re unique but equal; here’s a campaign where you fight each other faction then a civil war, with each level unlocking more stuff. Get unit x to position y, hold your ground for 30 minutes, insert tab A into slot B. You must construct additional… Mylons. Yeah, that’ll do.

StarCraft numbed me to the RTS for years. Everything wanted to be it, but I’d already played it. Even to this day, I find very little to recommend from that era. In a shock twist, however, there’s an exception in Warlords Battlecry 3.

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Arx Again Later: How Arx Fatalis Blended RPG Eras

Confession time: I don’t like dungeon crawlers. The very name says it all. Why would anyone want to go to the non-sexy kind of dungeon? And crawling – the form of movement reserved for times of serious injury and distress – around a dungeon? It’s a recipe for a dreary, ugly casserole, served by a skeleton archer in a rusty slime-edged prison bucket with a bowl of kamikaze rats.

But then there’s Arx Fatalis [official site], released in 2002 by Arkane Studios. I should hate it. It’s made of brown tunnels echoing with ambient dripping and distant wailing. It’s full of goblins and trolls and spiders and rats. You start in an Easily Escapable Prison, naked, with amnesia. It should bore me rigid, but through some arca… through some recondite formula it turns these uninspiring tropes into an imperfect, but unique and underappreciated brew.

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How To Eat Your Cake: Consortium And The Fourth Wall

We can’t keep saying video games are a young medium. We’ve been saying it since I was your age (or since you were mine, if that fits better), and besides, the last few years have finally shown that there’s plenty of room for games that do more than idly amuse us. Consortium is one such game.

Unlike any RPG I can name, Consortium throws you in with no map, no introductory cutscenes or tutorial. When you start, you don’t choose a character, you sign a disclaimer. It’s disorientating and strange, and immediately different, dedicated fully to its central conceit; you the player are accessing a satellite, provided by the developer, iDGi, that allows you to control a man known as Bishop 6, on board an aircraft, in the year 2042.

It nails role playing as a person in a specific situation, to an extent no other game has. Paradoxically, it achieves this by telling you nothing.

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Darklands Retrospective: What RPGs Are Supposed To Be

A lesson that often eludes the games industry is how much names matter. Though it’s hardly the worst offender, Darklands is about as generic as a name gets, and its cover image (which mattered once) is even worse.

Even discounting that, it faced an uphill struggle, as its original 1992 release was marked by a plague of bugs, which Microprose’s patching never entirely expunged. It can still fritz during longer, complex sections – the ones you’ll save at most – and its occasional glitches compound cumbersome controls and an interface that’s awkward and often repetitive. Its sounds are few and its animations simplistic, with minimal feedback. On paper, it’s a bit of a mess.

It’s one of the best RPGs ever made anyway.

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Why Sid Meier Is Wrong About Sid Meier’s Covert Action

Spies! They’re kind of dicks®. If they’re not seducing us or gambling away our taxes, they’re shoving microphones into cats or jabbing us with umbrellas. It’s hardly surprising that so many games about them veer into cartoonish James Bond territory, or cartoonish parody of cartoonish James Bond territory, or some kind of recursive humour vacuum that threatens to make Miranda Harts of us all.

But there’s a lot to be said for the more grounded approach. Sid Meier’s Covert Action, for example, steers clear of supervillains and outlandish capers, instead presenting a sort of action puzzle, with various criminal mysteries to be solved via a collection of minigames. Say “collection of minigames” in the early 90s and the responses you’d get would likely be “take this film licence dreck out the back and shoot it”, but Covert Action is a far better game than that technically accurate description lets on – and one still worth playing today. Let me explain.

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Remembering King Of Dragon Pass

King of Dragon Pass was first released on PC in 1999, but its mixture of strategy, management and RPG, and its focus on offering the player meaningful choices at every turn, was sadly overlooked at the time. We asked Sin Vega to explain why you should still play the game today.

We’ve all dreamt about ruling over a tribe, right? And let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s not really about the feasting, the comely milkmaids, or even the apocryphal helmets. No. It’s about the decisions.

There you are, lounging regally and probably inebriated on your throne, and in come some people with a complaint. “Urgrim stole my axe!”, shouts one. “That’s a bastard lie,” screams Presumably Ugrim, kicking over a nearby cow, “you’re just jealous of my fabulous beard!”. Wearily, you motion to your advisors, who tell you all about these two, what’s really going on, what the laws say you can do, and that you could at least limit yourself to only drinking from one flagon at a time when the people are watching.

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