Review: “Bio Menace” (Freeware Retro Computer Game)

2014 Artwork Bio Menace Review sketch

Despite being both a massive fan of action platform games and of classic Apogee/3D Realms games ever since I was a kid, I didn’t actually play “Bio Menace” for the first time until I was about eighteen. Yes, I know, I should have been playing this game when I was eight – but I unfortunately hadn’t heard of it back then.

Anyway, I was trying to clear some space on my hard disk when I rediscovered my old copy of “Bio Menace” and decided to review it. You can get the full version of the game as freeware from the 3D Realms website – although you’ll probably need to use DOSBox to play it. Although 3D Realms now seems to be hosting a revamped version of the game on their site, this review is of the original version from the early-mid 90s.

Although I played “Bio Menace” quite a bit a few years ago, I only really had a chance to re-play it (using my old saved games) for about an hour before writing this review – so this review reflects both of these facts.

Anyway, let’s get started:

Yes, this game is gloriously retro AND badass!

Yes, this game is gloriously retro AND badass!

In “Bio Menace”, you play as a CIA operative called Snake Logan, who is ordered to fly a plane into Metro City (*cough* Escape From New York *Cough*) in order to stop an evil scheme by the fiendish Dr. Mangle .

Dr. Mangle formerly worked with the US government on an secret project called Operation Bug Glow, which was a series of experiments aimed at enlarging various insects for unknown reasons. However, Dr. Mangle “spliced some very violent genes into the mix” and has used his newly-created army of evil mutants to take over Metro city.

But, as Snake flies his plane into Metro city, it is shot down by one of Dr. Mangle’s robots and he must fight his way through the city and rescue as many survivors as possible.

Ah, remember the days when the story was an add-on to the gameplay rather than the other way round....

Ah, remember the days when the story was an add-on to the gameplay rather than the other way round….

Like most of Apogee’s games, “Bio Menace” is split up into three individual episodes – so you basically get “three games for the price of one” when you download this game.

Another cool feature is that you can “practice” any level in the game- this is basically a level select feature which allows you to select a level and play it for exactly 15 seconds. The time limit is kind of annoying, but I guess that they didn’t want people to feel that they’re cheating.

Yes, you can select ANY level... for only fifteen seconds.

Yes, you can select ANY level… for only fifteen seconds.

It also seems like “Bio Menace” uses the same game engine that Apogee used for “Commander Keen 4 -6“. How do I know this? Well, in case you haven’t noticed yet, just take a look at the game menu. It’s a heavily modified version of the one from “Commander Keen 4”:

But WHERE is "Paddle War"?

But WHERE is “Paddle War”?

The gameplay is, as you would expect, classic action platformer gameplay. You have to explore non-linear levels, fight monsters and find keys in order to progress.

One interesting feature of this game is that you also have to rescue a survivor in every level too.

Like this one.

Like this one.

And, before certain well-known critics on the internet start complaining that this is a “damsel in distress” game mechanic – there are a fairly equal mixture of male and female survivors that have to be rescued. Yes, the company that created “Duke Nukem” can actually be more progressive than some critics give them credit for.

See!

See!

The level design in “Bio Menace” is reasonably good and there are a moderately interesting variety of settings on offer here – such as cities, forests and robot bases.

But, whilst this game features the kind of non-linear level design that makes 90s games better than most modern ones, the levels are all relatively small when compared to some other Apogee games (eg: the old 2D “Duke Nukem” games). So, by 90s standards, “Bio Menace” is a fairly easy game – even if it’s still a fairly challenging game by modern standards.

But, the small levels are made up for by the many fiendishly difficult adversaries that you will have to fight. Many of these are fairly tough and require a decent amount of firepower to destroy, some can only be killed by grenades and some are best dodged rather than fought.

...And if you've seen the movie "Critters", you'll recognise the creature at the bottom of the screen.

…And if you’ve seen the movie “Critters”, you’ll recognise the creature at the bottom of the screen.

Another interesting feature of “Bio Menace” is the sheer array of weaponry that you can find throughout the game. Your default machine gun can only fire in short bursts, but you can find a powerup that will give you 100 rounds of fully automatic fire.

This can be combined with another power-up that quintuples the damage that your bullets do (although this power-up can be used on it’s own too). Plus, you can also find a power-up that converts your machine gun into a laser gun.

There’s also a secret weapon too – if you hold the “up” arrow for long enough, you will hear a strange sound – if you then hit the “fire” button, Snake will fire a large green energy pulse out of his gun. This is cool, but it comes at the cost of several health points every time you use it:

It's SO awesome, that you will actually disappear for a second when you use it!

It’s SO awesome, that you will actually disappear for a second when you use it!

But that isn’t the coolest thing about the weapons in this game. No, you get grenades too. This is literally the only 90s platformer (for the PC, at least) that I can think of where you can actually throw grenades at things.

Yes, you can throw grenades here. (And.. wow... Cosmo the alien has really let himself go in this game)

Yes, you can throw grenades here. (And.. wow… Cosmo the alien has really let himself go in this game)

As well as “ordinary” grenades, you can also find incindiary grenades which will set fire to anything within a certain radius and land mines that you can place on the ground too.

Although the text that appears when you pick up the land mines for the first time is probably, well, slightly ill-advised from a modern perspective:

"Cool! Land Mines!" ... Yeah, this game probably would be made these days....

“Cool! Land Mines!” … Yeah, this game probably would be made these days….

Still, “Bio Menace” absolutely littered with cool easter eggs. Although I didn’t get round to rediscovering most of them when I briefly re-played it for this review, you can find references to most of Apogee’s other games hidden in each episode. And, for a 90s geek like myself, this is absolutely heavenly!

Awww... It's a yorp! :)

Awww… It’s a yorp! 🙂

Even though, like most Apogee/3D Realms games, “Bio Menace” thankfully doesn’t take itself very seriously – it’s slightly more “gritty” than most early-mid 90s action platformers are.

In fact, this game was one of the earliest games to include FPS-style ludicrous gibs whenever you kill a monster. Every creature that you destroy will explode into a satisfying pile of bones and body parts – seriously, not even the old 2D Duke Nukem games included this!

Splatterific!

Splatterific!

In addition to this, the very first level of the game is literally littered with the corpses of everyone who didn’t survive the initial assault by Dr. Mangle’s mutants. Seriously, for a kids’ game from the early 90s, this is refreshingly dark and it just makes me wish that I’d actually played this when I was a kid in the 90s even more.

Yes, kids. Alien mutant invasions aren't all fun and games...

Yes, kids. Alien mutant invasions aren’t all fun and games…

All in all, “Bio Menace” is a game which sums up why games from the 90s are still much cooler than most modern games are.

Yes, in terms of level design, graphics and/or gameplay, it isn’t quite as good as other games from the time (like “Duke Nukem II”), but it’s still an incredibly fun and cheesy game which is worth checking out if you love platform games.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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