Review: “Devil Daggers” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Ice Station” by Matthew Reilly), I thought that I’d take a look at a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for a while. I am, of course talking about an indie game from 2016 called “Devil Daggers” (V.3, I think), which I happened to notice was on special offer on GOG several days before I prepared this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Devil Daggers”. However, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some mild gameplay SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) BLOODY IMAGES.

“Devil Daggers” is a minimalist 1990s-influenced first-person shooter game and, in true ’90s tradition, there isn’t much of a story. You play as an unnamed person who finds a mysterious hovering dagger in a gloomy room. When you pick it up, you are transported to an arena in hell where skeletal monsters constantly attack you. There is no end, no victory. Only survival until cold, inevitable death.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 1990s/ early-mid 2000s FPS games then you’ll really enjoy it. Not only does it do some innovative stuff with a familiar formula, but it is also a game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, like a lot of great classic games, the emphasis is very firmly on the actual gameplay.

: Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at a group of floating skeletal monsters in a dark, blood-spattered arena. Text in the upper left corner reads New High Score.

Yes! Gameplay! In a modern FPS game! Who would have thought it?

And what gameplay it is! In essence, this game is a stripped-down version of a classic ’90s shooter, with the player only having a small number of attacks (eg: a continuious fire mode and a shotgun-like blast attack) at the beginning of the game – both of which are accessed via the same mouse button. These attacks become more powerful after collecting a certain number of crystals dropped by fallen enemies (and there’s an incentive to stop shooting occasionally, since they float towards you when you do).

In the classic fashion, you can also run and turn very quickly. You only have one health point. Various skeletal monsters keep spawning endlessly (in a predicable, pre-set fashion that you’ll have to learn). There is no way of “winning” and, instead, you are scored on how long you managed to survive. At the time of writing, my personal best is 149.7742 seconds.

This took me way too much practice. Not to mention decades of playing old FPS games before finding this game.

All of this adds up to an incredibly fast-paced, frenetic, thrilling and streamlined game that also feels a lot like learning a skill 🙂 It is a game where, every time you fail, you’ll want to pick yourself up and practice some more. Not only do you need quick reflexes but, like in many of the classic FPS games of the 1990s, there are tactics and strategies you need to learn in order to stand a chance.

Whilst avid 1990s FPS gamers will probably be very familiar with some of them (eg: circle-strafing etc..), each of the game’s monsters have different weak points, attack patterns etc… that you’ll need to learn if you want to do better than you did last time.

Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at the middle of a giant floating eight-legged skull creature. A smaller skull, the creature's weak point, is glowing from being struck by the daggers.

For example, you need to hit a very specific spot in order to harm this monster.

For example, one of the game’s monsters is a horned skull. After you’ve died a few times, you’ll realise that if you don’t see one of these on screen then it often means that it is right behind you and you have less than a second left to live! So, you need to fight these horned skulls before fighting other types of monsters.

:  Image of an outstretched hand in front of a horde of levitating skeletal monsters. A horned skull looms large in the close foreground.

Yes, this is actually a good thing. It’s when you can’t see the horned skulls that you have to worry.

Plus, since you only have one health point, literally all of the game’s monsters are a serious threat to you – although this is balanced by the classic “bullet hell” technique of giving the player a tiny hitbox. All of this brilliantly replicates the suspenseful and challenging fun of old FPS games like “Blood“, where every battle actually feels like a genuine struggle for survival.

Like in a classic FPS game, there’s a really good variety of monsters too. Like in “Doom” and “Quake”, most of these have a skeletal, hellish and/or Lovecraftian theme to them. And, as mentioned earlier, they all have different attack patterns, weak spots etc.. that you have to learn too. This really helps to prevent the game from becoming monotonous and also sets it apart from famous horde-battle games like “Painkiller” and “Serious Sam“, in that mindless shooting won’t really get you very far.

Although this game doesn’t have a saving system, it doesn’t actually need one. Since you are scored on how long you survive, the game only needs to save your highest score. Plus, like in old-school FPS games, there is a very fast iteration time too (which helps prevent your numerous deaths being too frustrating). Once you die, you can just click “retry” and start a new game less than a second later.

Of course, this can easily lead to a fairly bad case of “just one more go…” where a quick five-minute session can turn into half an hour or more without you even really noticing or caring. So, yes, this game is a serious time-guzzler – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

The game has a lot of options too. In addition to a field of view slider, you can also enable/disable various flickering effects etc… and even better, you can actually choose to play as a left-handed character. It’s a tiny thing, but is still really cool to see (given that I’m left-handed) and it also places the game in the tradition of the original “Doom”, “Quake II” (you have to choose it in the options though), the old “Zelda” games and a few others 🙂

Image of an outstretched left hand, the thumb little more than bone, in front of a giant hovering centipede like creature made out of bones.

Seriously, it’s so cool to play as a left-handed character 🙂

One of the cool things about the DRM-Free GOG version of this game I played is that it actually contains an optional “offline mode” 🙂 So, if you believe that single-player games shouldn’t require an internet connection and that the best form of competition is against yourself, then the GOG version of this game is well worth playing 🙂 I haven’t tested the online mode but, from what I’ve read, it seems to involve competing for a place on an online leaderboard.

In terms of the graphics and art style, this game is very heavily influenced by both the hellish atmosphere of the original “Doom” and the creepy Lovecraftian aesthetic of “Quake”, whilst also being it’s own thing too. The game contains deliberately old-school 3D models that still somehow manage to look cooler, creepier and just generally more awesome than the most “realistic” modern “AAA” graphics. Seriously, the moment where the giant skull-spider appears for the first time is something that you’ll never forget. This game is a work of art, and proof that a distinctive aesthetic beats hyper-realistic graphics every time 🙂

An image of the game, but the colours are bright, highly-saturated yellows, reds and pinks.

Plus, whenever you gain a weapon upgrade from collecting crystals, time slows down for a second or so and this cool effect plays.

Plus, like in a lot of great older games, there is a lot of emphasis placed on lighting too. Whether it is all of the various glowing projectiles or the fact that the game tells you that you’re getting dangerously close to the edge of the arena (which, of course, has a bottomless pit behind it) by how dark the floor is, it is so awesome to see a game that uses light and darkness in such a conscious and cool-looking way 🙂

In terms of the music and sound design, this game is really good 🙂 The sound effects are all suitably crunchy, which really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and weight to the game. The music is the kind of ominous, creepy ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the original “Quake”. But, whilst this certainly adds a creepy atmosphere to the game, it is slightly at odds with the fast-paced and frenetic gameplay. So, after a while, I just went through my music collection and put some heavy metal music on in the background instead.

All in all, this is a really cool tribute to classic 1990s/early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Doom”, “Quake”, “Blood” and “Painkiller” 🙂 Not only is it enjoyably challenging and incredibly thrilling, but it also sticks to the traditions of innovation and creativity that used to be standard in the FPS genre. It is both very similar and very different to the classic games that it takes inspiration from. It is unique. Just don’t expect to get anything productive done after you’ve installed it though. It’s a time-guzzler, but in the best possible way.

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

Review: “Hard Reset Redux” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“The End Of The Day” by Claire North), I thought that I’d review a rather cool-looking “AA” cyberpunk first-person shooter game from 2016 called “Hard Reset Redux” (made by the same people who made the modern remake of “Shadow Warrior) which I’ve been meaning to play for ages, but only ended up getting a few weeks before writing this review when it went on special offer on GOG.

Interestingly, this game is an altered/expanded version of another game from 2011 called “Hard Reset”. Since I haven’t played that game I can’t really compare the two properly but, from what I gather, the “Redux” edition includes a new katana-style weapon, possibly an integrated expansion pack and at least one new enemy type.

So, let’s take a look at “Hard Reset Redux”:

Neon lights? Flying cars? Sprawling mega-city? THIS looks interesting 🙂

Set in a neon-lit cyberpunk future, you play as an official CLN operative who has been tasked with protecting the sprawling metropolis of Bezoar City from evil robots and cyborgs who want to gain access to a database of stored consciousnesses in the centre of the city. Of course, in a shocking twist, the robots break into the city and the game begins….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, although the gameplay isn’t anything too surprising, I was absolutely gripped during the early-middle parts of it. If you’re a fan of the film “Blade Runner” and thought that “Deus Ex” didn’t include enough fast-paced combat, then the early-middle parts of this game will absolutely astonish you. It’s basically “Blade Runner, but a FPS game” and you have no clue how long I have been waiting for something like this 🙂

Oh my god! YES!!!!

And, yes, there is a “Blade Runner” reference or two 🙂

You’ll notice how I’ve only mentioned the early parts of the game so far. This is because – although I have completed the game – this awesome “Blade Runner” style aesthetic, lighting and location design fades slightly as the game progresses, with everything becoming a bit more grimy, industrial and/or post-apocalyptic in a way vaguely reminiscent of early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Quake 4”, “Killzone”, “Red Faction II” and “Doom 3”. This is really cool, but I’d have loved to see the really cool cyberpunk cityscapes appear more consistently throughout the game. Even so, I can’t praise the general style and atmosphere of the first half or so of the game highly enough 🙂

Although this isn’t to say that there aren’t some cool-looking places later in the game too.

Even so, the later parts have much more of a post-apocalyptic look to them (probably due to the “Redux” edition also containing an expansion).

But, visuals and location design aside, what about the actual gameplay? If you’ve played the “Shadow Warrior” remake, you’ll know what to expect here. This is a “Serious Sam“/”Painkiller”-style FPS game where you have to fight waves of monsters in an arena-like room/area before moving on to the next one to do the same (and so on…), with the occasional boss battle to spice things up. This results in lots of thrillingly fast-paced and frenetic combat-focused gameplay that is also a lot more streamlined than the traditional FPS games of the 1990s.

However, one side-effect of this is that the level design is a lot more linear than you’d expect in a traditional 1990s FPS. Yes, the game does try to compensate for this by having a few “hidden” areas (though easily-findable by 1990s standards) where you can find extra stuff, not to mention that there were at least a couple of moments where I had to spend a minute or two working out where to go next. But, since this game is heavily combat-focused and is part of a well-established (and very fun) sub-genre of FPS games, I can’t criticise the linear level design here too much.

Yes, the levels are fairly linear but thanks to the fact that this game focuses almost entirely on intense, frantic combat , the level design actually sort of works here.

In terms of the combat, it is kept interesting by a good variety of small, mid-level and large monsters in the way that you’d expect from an old-school FPS game. Some of these monsters have different behaviours or attack patterns, which helps to add a slight element of strategy to the combat. Likewise, whilst you’ll rarely be fighting giant “Serious Sam”-style hordes, the monsters still attack in good enough numbers to keep the combat feeling suitably fast-paced and badass.

The design of the cyborg enemies is also strongly reminiscent of the Strogg from the second and fourth “Quake” games, which helps to add an extra level of 1990s/early-mid 2000s nostalgia to the game 🙂 But, that isn’t even the coolest part! There are also “Doom 3”-style zombies too 🙂 Seriously, cyberpunk sci-fi and zombies, it doesn’t get cooler than this 🙂

Woo hoo! Zombies! In a cyberpunk game 🙂

The boss battles are fairly interesting, although they don’t really follow a consistent difficulty curve. The first and second bosses that you encounter are “Painkiller”-inspired giant monsters that, like in the “Shadow Warrior” remake, require you to shoot their weak spots between battles against waves of smaller monsters.

These two bosses present a formidable challenge and, when you begin getting lots of hints and foreshadowing about the final boss, you’re ready for a truly epic battle… Only to fight a smaller robot that, whilst there are a couple of extra puzzle elements (eg: you have to get it to swallow barrels in order to lower its shields), isn’t anywhere near as much of a challenge to defeat. Yes, the final boss battle took me 10-15 minutes to complete, but I didn’t even die once during it! Again, this could be due to the “Redux” edition also including an expansion, but it still ruins the pacing/progression a bit.

This giant, towering behemoth is the first boss. And, yes, he presents quite a bit of a challenge.

This little tin can isn’t the first boss. It’s the final one. Expect a long, but not that challenging, battle 😦

In terms of the weapons, you only get three – an assault rifle-style gun, an energy weapon and a futuristic katana. However, this limited roster of weapons works surprisingly well, because you can collect in-game items (and there are absolutely no micro-transactions here 🙂 ) that allow you to choose and unlock upgrades and/or numerous alternate fire modes for two of them (the katana isn’t upgradable, and isn’t really that useful. But it looks cool) and for your character too. What this means is that the game actually includes something like 11-20 selectable attack types, which makes this game much more like a classic 1990s FPS than a modern-style two-weapon shooter 🙂

The katana looks cool (and is a cool reference to the “Shadow Warrior” remake too), but don’t expect to actually bother using it that often.

However, once you get the “Smartgun” upgrade (and its alternate fire modes) for the energy weapon, there really isn’t much reason or point to using anything else. So, for the later parts of game, expect to stick to just this one weapon almost all of the time.

Another cool 1990s-style element is that, like any proper computer game, you can save anywhere 🙂 Yes, the game auto-saves too and you only seem to get about one quick-save slot per segment/area of the game (and these quick-saves didn’t always load on my computer, although it was cool to see a proper loading menu where you could go back to some older saves). Even so, it is still very refreshing to see a proper “save anywhere” system in this miserable age of console-centric checkpoint saving 🙂

Likewise, another cool thing about this game is that it doesn’t fully use the dreaded regenerating health. Yes, your character’s armour and ammo regenerate slowly to an extent, but this is a game that requires you to actually find health and ammo. But, although the fact that these are dropped by fallen monsters encourages you to play in a more fast-paced and aggressive way, there is also no shortage of random health/ammo items just lying around. So, don’t expect to run out of either that often (compared to, say, a challenging 1990s FPS game).

Yes, this element of the game is wonderfully retro and helps to make things a bit more fast-paced and fun. But, on medium difficulty at least, don’t expect quite the same level of enjoyable challenge here though.

As for music and sound design, this game is pretty cool. In addition to the kind of fast-paced futuristic music you’d expect from a cyberpunk game, the sound design is fairly good. Yes, some of the weaker weapons deliberately sound a bit weedy, but this is probably an intentional design choice. Plus, in the earlier parts of the game, there is also lots of hilarious robotic dialogue from the many random vending machines that you’ll walk past. Seriously, it’s always good to see actual humour in a FPS game.

In terms of the game’s story, it is “so bad that it’s good” in the best 1990s-style way. There are some rather cool comic book-style cutscenes between segments of the game and, not only do these feature lots of gloriously cheesy and over-the-top moments, but the dialogue also uses a hilariously large number of four-letter words (in a way that comes across as immature/ “edgy” in the most ’90s way possible 🙂 ). And, yes, the actual story itself is generic as hell… But, this just adds to the 1990s-style charm.

And, yes, the cutscenes also include comic book-style titles and speech bubbles too.

As for length, this is probably a medium-length game at the least. Although I wasn’t really timing how long I was playing for, it wouldn’t surprise me if it took me at least 8-13 hours to complete it. Like with FPS games of this style, it is at its most enjoyable in relatively short 1-2 hour sessions. This game has a reasonably decent number of levels (again, I wasn’t counting. But, at a guess, probably at least 10-15, if not more). In other words, this game still felt like a full length FPS game, albeit one that was slightly shorter than the classics of the 1990s.

All in all, whilst this game is just another “Serious Sam”/”Painkiller”/ “Shadow Warrior (2013)”-style game, it’s still a really cool one. It has a really awesome aesthetic that is inspired by things like “Blade Runner” and mid-2000s FPS games, which is always awesome to see 🙂 The combat is reasonably fun, even if there are some difficulty curve issues with the bosses and the level design is (as you would expect) fairly linear. Still, for what it is, it is really cool 🙂

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

Review: “Shadow Warrior (2013 Remake)” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book that I plan to review (“The Sinner” By Tess Gerritsen), I thought that I’d review a computer game I’ve been waiting quite a few years to play. I am, of course talking about the 2013 remake of the classic 1997 first-person shooter game “Shadow Warriror” 🙂

When I first heard about this remake back in 2013, I was really amazed. After all, growing up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s and being a fan of FPS games, the original 1997 “Shadow Warrior” game evokes a lot of nostalgia for me (even if, by modern standards, some elements of that game haven’t aged well). However, back in 2013, I had a very old and low-end computer and I was uncertain about whether it could run the modern remake of “Shadow Warrior”.

Of course, about three or four weeks before I prepared this review, I got a modern refurbished computer and, since “Shadow Warrior (2013)” was on special offer on GOG at the time, I had to get a copy. To my delight, it still ran fairly well and also looked good on medium to low graphics settings with my computer’s integrated Intel HD 2500 graphics.

However, I had problems taking gameplay screenshots using my usual method (eg: using “print screen” and pasting the image into MS Paint didn’t work [Edit: And, no, I didn’t know what the Windows 10 “Game Bar” was when I prepared this review]). So, apologies about the lack of screenshots in this review.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Shadow Warrior (2013)”.

The game begins with a mysterious animated cutscene about demonic creatures in another world. Then we see Lo Wang, a top assassin for a powerful man called Zilla, rocking out to some classic ’80s hair metal whilst he drives through the forest to meet a man called Mizayaki.

Mizayaki has an ancient sword called the Nobitsura Kage and Zilla wants it. So, Lo Wang makes Mizayaki an offer, two million in cash or death. Mizayaki, of course, chooses the third option – commanding his henchmen to kill Lo Wang. Needless to say, this doesn’t end well for the henchmen. But, when Lo Wang confronts Mizayaki, he is captured after Mizayaki summons a mysterious supernatural creature.

After escaping, Lo Wang decides to get revenge on Mizayaki and his henchmen. However, there is just one problem, the henchmen are already dead and the surrounding area is filled with hideous demonic monsters….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, even though it’s a bit different to the 1997 classic, it is still a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 In essence, this game is like a “Shadow Warrior”-themed version of something like “Painkiller” or “Serious Sam” – with much more of an emphasis on fast-paced combat than on exploration or puzzle-solving. Even so, this game still keeps a lot of what made the original game enjoyable, whilst also adding some more modern features and drastically improving both the story and characters too.

As mentioned earlier, the gameplay focuses heavily on fast-paced combat – with Lo Wang having to clear arena-like portions of each level before he can progress. This combat is a really cool mixture of the original game’s combat (eg: you can carry lots of different weapons, battles are ludicrously gory, you can use some monster body parts as weapons etc..) and some more modern innovations.

In addition to being able to upgrade your weapons (eg: alternate fire modes etc..) and/or melee attacks with bonuses/coins you find in-game (no micro-transactions here 🙂 ), there is also a lot more emphasis on melee combat than in the original game. Lo Wang’s katana becomes more powerful throughout the game and remains a surprisingly useful weapon in even the later levels – plus, you get a higher score after each battle if you use it.

In addition to this, there are a few “standard” FPS game weapons (eg: shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher etc..) and some creative 1990s-style weapons like a crossbow, throwing stars, magical abilities (that require button combos), a flamethrower and a couple of monster body parts. Plus, the basic pistol reminded me a little bit of Deckard’s revolver from “Blade Runner” too 🙂

Given the more combat-focused nature of the game, a lot of effort has been put into this part of the game. Many battles will be frenetic, crunchy and blood-drenched things where you’ll be dodging, healing and fighting in equal measure. Not only does the game help you out with generous ammo caches (and the option to “buy” ammo with coins you find in-game), but it also has a really cool health system too.

In addition to finding 1990s-style health kits lying around and being able to take health from some defeated monsters, you can also replenish health at any time using a special ability. However, to avoid the unfair boredom of *ugh* regenerating health, this ability actually requires skill to use.

In other words, you have to tap a button combination and hold the right mouse button to heal. Doing this quickly in the middle of a fast-paced battle can be a challenge in it’s own right and is made a little bit more forgiving by the fact that Lo Wang can still fight (with reduced accuracy etc..) whilst healing. Likewise, Lo Wang’s attacks also become more powerful when he drops below a certain health percentage. It’s a really good middle-ground between the mercilessly unforgiving health systems of old and ludicrously over-protective modern ones.

The game also keeps the constant combat interesting via a fairly decent difficulty curve and – more crucially- excellent monster variety too 🙂 In classic 1990s style, there are several types of low-level monsters with different attacks, there are teleporting and shield-bearing mid-level monsters and there are also about three types of larger monsters that pose a serious challenge to the player. The toughest of these are stone creatures that can only be harmed by shooting a weak spot on their back. They only appear in about four or five moments in the game, but each one of these moments is practically a boss battle in it’s own right.

And, yes, there are boss battles too. In the style of a game like “Painkiller”, the bosses are absolutely gigantic – and, in true 1990s fashion, they have to be defeated in a very specific way too 🙂 Yes, the game tells you what to do and keeps feeding you a steady supply of ammo, but it’s still really cool to see this style of boss battle in a modern FPS 🙂

As for the level design, it is very linear – to the point where most of the “secret areas” are practically in plain sight. After each battle, the game will quite literally tell you where to go next via glowing doors/gates. Although it’s sad to see a remake of something like “Shadow Warrior” succumbing to this dreary modern trend, this is mitigated quite a bit by the “Serious Sam”-inspired gameplay.

In other words, the game uses linear level design as a way of placing the player in lots of fun fast-paced arena battles. Not only that, the levels all look really beautiful and have a decent variety between urban, rural, industrial, snow and hell-like areas to keep things interesting too. Seriously, it’s so nice to see 1990s-style visual variety in this game 🙂

Following on with my comments about how this game balances 1990s and modern features, the saving system is a really strange mixture of the dreaded checkpoint saving and the proper “save anywhere” system that should be mandatory in FPS games on the PC. Although you only have one save file per profile and the game will auto-save after every level segment, the game’s menu includes a “save” button that functions a lot like the quicksave feature in many older games.

Best of all, in true 1990s FPS fashion, this game actually has personality and a sense of humour 🙂 Unlike the 1997 original, the game’s humour is a lot more sarcastic and, although some of the things that Lo Wang will shout during battle seem a bit generic, there are still quite a few funny lines, a few pop culture references (eg: I’m sure I heard Eddie Izzard’s “cake or death?” referenced at one point 🙂 ), easter eggs and loads of comedic dialogue exchanges.

And, in true modern fashion, this game actually has a story and characterisation. Although Lo Wang’s character arc is the classic “a badass becomes even more of a badass” one, he is more of a “realistic” character than he was in the 1997 game. He also spends most of the game accompanied by a supernatural character called Hoji – who has a much more complex and interesting backstory that is slowly revealed throughout the game. Not only does this make Hoji a more complex character, but it also means that the events of the game end up taking on a truly epic level of drama and significance too 🙂

The voice-acting is really good and fits in well with the characters, giving them personality whilst also being much more “realistic” than the cartoonish/stereotypical voice-acting in the 1997 game. However, the game’s background music is the kind of ambient instrumental music that you’d expect from a modern game. It adds atmosphere to the levels, but isn’t really as memorable as the more distinctive tunes (eg: Doom’s E1M1 music, Duke 3D’s “Grabbag” theme etc..) that used to be a mainstay of the FPS genre in the 1990s.

As for length, this is a full-length game consisting of about seventeen or eighteen levels. And, in terms of actual gameplay time, it didn’t differ that much from a re-play of the original 1997 game. Of course, your mileage may vary, but this is still a decent medium to long game. Plus, things like a survival mode and an unlockable “Ex mode” (where you can start the game with everything you ended it with) also add some replay value to the game too.

All in all, even though there are some major gameplay differences, this is a really great mixture of the old and the new 🙂 Plus, it’s great to see a modern FPS that has been designed primarily for PC gamers rather than ported over from a console. Yes, it has more in common with something like “Serious Sam” or “Painkiller” than the original “Shadow Warrior”, but if you want a modern FPS game that contains things that used to be standard in the 1990s (eg: personality, creativity, fun, humour, ludicrous gibs etc..) then this one is well-worth playing 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just get a five.

Partial Review: “Eradicator” (Retro Computer Game)

2017-artwork-eradicator-review-sketch

One of the problems with being a fan of sprite-based FPS games from the 1990s is that there aren’t that many of them out there.

Sure, there are more fan-made “Doom”/”Doom II” levels than you could ever play – but there aren’t that many different games. So, imagine my delight when, during a sale on GOG I found a mid-90s FPS game that I’d barely heard of called “Eradicator” for £1.99 (I think that it’s about a fiver at full price).

Since I bought a few games during this sale and don’t have time to complete them all, this is another partial review. In other words, at the time of writing this review, I’ve only played a little under half of the game. So, whilst this is more than just a “first impressions” article, it isn’t quite a full review either.

So, let’s take a look at “Eradicator”:

And, as you would expect, heavy metal/ hard rock music plays during this screen. \m/

And, as you would expect, heavy metal/ hard rock music plays during this screen. \m/

“Eradicator” is a sci-fi FPS game from 1996 that uses wonderfully retro sprite-based graphics.

Although “Eradicator” uses it’s own unique game engine, it is remarkably similar to the Build engine used in “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Shadow Warrior”, “Blood” and “Redneck Rampage“. Seriously, you can barely tell the game engines apart!

 I can't believe it's not "Build"!

I can’t believe it’s not “Build”!

However, unlike some Build engine games, there’s no source port for this game. The edition on GOG comes with a pre-made DOSBox launcher. What this means is that you can’t really use modern controls with this game (due to the lack of vertical mouse look). So, if you miss “Duke Nukem 3D”/”Blood”-style keyboard only controls, then you’re in luck here 🙂 However, you can also use the mouse for movement and/or shooting if you really want to.

Unusually for a mid-1990s FPS game, you actually have a choice of characters. There are two alien characters (Eleena and Kamchak) and one human character (Dan Blaze).

Although your choice of character mostly just affects which voice actor you’ll hear throughout the game, each character also has a different first level and two unique weapons too. Plus, if you want to, you can also switch to a third-person perspective whilst playing- although the game is a lot more playable in the traditional first-person perspective.

Kamchak looks quite cool in third-person perspective, but I imagine that the combat probably gets confusing if you use this perspective.

Kamchak looks quite cool in third-person perspective, but I imagine that the combat probably gets confusing if you use this perspective.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, in terms of gameplay and aesthetic design, it’s a bit more like a late 1990s FPS.

In other words, the game’s locations mostly seem to be gloomy, industrial, understated and -sometimes- boring. Likewise, most levels require you to complete one or more mission objectives before you finish the level.

Fun fact: This game came out the same year that "Quake" did. Although, interestingly, the location design is slightly more reminiscent of "Quake II".

Fun fact: This game came out the same year that “Quake” did.

However, some of the worst elements of mid-1990s FPS games are present here in abundance. As well as the dreaded first-person platforming segments, there are puzzles! Some of these aren’t that bad, but there are at least two timed puzzles within the first half of the game which will frustrate the hell out of you.

One requires you to navigate a maze-like base and shoot out three generators within a limited time frame (otherwise you have to do it again). Likewise, another puzzle requires you to press four switches within a limited time (and you pretty much have to memorise the level layout to do this). Plus, there’s also one part of level three where you can get totally stuck if you do things in the wrong order.

Yes, after sprinting around it and pressing switches more times than you remember, you will come to absolutely loathe and despise this particular level!

Yes, after sprinting around it and pressing switches more times than you remember, you will come to absolutely loathe and despise this particular level!

On the plus side, some parts of this game includes the kind of challenging, intense combat that classic FPS games are famous for.

Not only do you get a ridiculous number of imaginative sci-fi weapons (I think that there are something like 15 different weapons available – one of which is like a primitive version of the Redeemer from “Unreal Tournament”), but there is also a reasonable variety of different cyborg/ alien monsters to fight and even at least one boss fight too.

I almost got stuck on this, until I remembered that -whilst the flamethrower looks cool - the rocket launcher is a MUCH better weapon to use!

I almost got stuck on this, until I remembered that -whilst the flamethrower looks cool – the rocket launcher is a MUCH better weapon to use!

Another cool, imaginative thing in this game is that you can actually remotely control things like robots, security cameras and guided rockets.

Learning how to do this can be a bit annoying (through trial and error, I learnt that you have to press the “action” key twice) but it’s really cool when you know how to do it. Needless to say, this imaginative feature is an integral part of the game and you’ll have to use it in a few areas in order to progress.

Yes, controlling enemy robots is cool - but it can take a while to work out how to do it.

Yes, controlling enemy robots is cool – but it can take a while to work out how to do it.

In terms of the level design, it’s ok. It’s fairly standard mid-1990s level design. Compared to more linear modern level design, it’s brilliant. But, compared to other games from the time, it’s nothing spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still have a lot of fun exploring the non-linear levels (even if some look a bit dull and/or are a bit confusing) but it’s nothing special.

Like many classic 90s FPS games, “Eradicator” also comes with a level editor. Although this apparently also includes a feature that allows you to convert “Doom” WADs into “Eradicator” levels, there seems to be little to no documentation about how to use the editor.

Not only that, it’s a proper old-school DOS program too. For example, in order to convert “Doom” levels, you apparently have to manually type out the file path for the level in question:

This looks cool, but unless you've memorised the exact location of your "Doom" WADs, then you're going to have problems.

This looks cool, but unless you’ve memorised the exact location of your “Doom” WADs, then you’re going to have problems.

In terms of music, the best music in the game is probably the title screen music. The rest is either forgettable or nonexistent. But, like in many classic 90s FPS games, your character will occasionally make comments during gameplay. Most of the time, these are just “realistic” functional comments about the mission, rather than humourous comments though.

In terms of the voice acting, it’s kind of meh. The voice-actors for Eleena and Dan Blaze both sound at least mildly bored and unenthusiastic. The voice-actor for Kamchak seems to be trying to impersonate a Klingon from “Star Trek”, which is kind of amusing. Still, it’s cool to play an old-school FPS game where your character isn’t ominously silent throughout the game.

 If you play as Eleena, then she will quite literally say "This must be a factory" in this area. Thank you, captain obvious!

If you play as Eleena, then she will quite literally say “This must be a factory” in this area. Thank you, captain obvious!

All in all, from what I’ve played, “Eradicator” is an ok game. Although it’s absolutely great to play a sprite-based FPS game from the 1990s that I haven’t played before, “Eradicator” doesn’t quite reach the high standard of “Doom II”, “Rise Of The Triad” “Blood” or “Duke Nukem 3D”.

Yes, it’s miles better than “Star Wars: Dark Forces“. But, it’s still just sort of average. The visual design is a bit dull, the game’s more innovative features can be a bit clunky at times, and the puzzles can be annoying too. But, it’s still fun nonetheless. It’s a game from a time when FPS games were about exploration and imagination, rather than just online multiplayer and mindless corridor-like levels.

If I had to give what I’ve played so far a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

Review: “Blood II: The Chosen” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Blood II improved review sketch

First of all, let me say that I’ve been waiting a long time to play this game. In fact, I’ve been waiting since late 1998/ early 1999 when, as a kid, I found a demo of “Blood II” on the cover disc (anyone remember those?) of PC Zone magazine.

Well, about seventeen years later, I finally got round to getting a full copy of this game when I noticed that it was on sale on GOG back in November.

This wasn’t for want of trying, since I’d found a second-hand CD of “Blood II” in a charity shop when I was a teenager – only to find that the disc was scratched to hell and totally unplayable. So, yes, this has been a long time coming.

The version of “Blood II” (titled “Blood II: The Blood Group”) that I bought on GOG also comes with the “Nightmare Levels” expansion pack (you can read my review of it here). If you want to read a review of the original “Blood” (which I played in early 2015), it can be found here.

I should probably point out that, for reasons I’ll explain later, I foolishly didn’t play as Caleb when playing through “Blood II”. Likewise, I should probably warn you that this review will obviously contain some GRUESOME IMAGES. Then again, what do you expect from a game with the word “Blood” in the title?

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blood II: The Chosen”:

blood 2 alternate title

“Blood II: The Chosen” takes place a century after the events of “Blood”. After defeating Tchernobog at the end of the first game, Caleb absorbs his powers and the Cabal is in disarray. Over the next century, it is rebuilt into a modern corporation by a man named Gideon. However, in the year 2028, Caleb (and the other members of the chosen) mysteriously return to fight the cabal once again.

One of the first things that I’ll say about “Blood II” is that it looks nothing like the original game. I’m not talking about the fact that it uses fairly impressive (for the time) 3D graphics, rather than the wonderfully cool sprite-based graphics of the original game. No, I’m talking about the fact that – for the most part – it looks like pretty much every generic sci-fi FPS game since whenever.

What? This is a "Blood" game? Seriously?

What? This is a “Blood” game? Seriously?

Although there is a greater variety of slightly more interesting settings later in the game, this game really doesn’t make a great first impression.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the game monotonously re-uses a few levels in a crude attempt to imitate a “Hexen”-style hub level system. If you go into this game expecting it to be a cool gothic horror game, like the first game was, then you’ll be disappointed.

Still, there are some cool settings in this game.

Still, there are some cool settings in this game.

Don’t get me wrong, the near-future sci-fi settings aren’t a bad thing (I mean, they reminded me a bit of a cross between the “Red Faction II” and “Half Life”) – but they’re not what I’d think of when I think of a “Blood” game.

Apart from an old cathedral, you have to wait until the fourth "chapter" of the game before you really start seeing any "Blood"-like settings.

Apart from an old cathedral, you have to wait until the fourth “chapter” of the game before you really start seeing any “Blood”-like settings.

In terms of gameplay, “Blood II: The Chosen” is a 1990s FPS game. It certainly isn’t a perfect one, but it still blows most modern-style FPS games out of the water.

The levels are challenging and non-linear, it contains a proper saving system (none of this “checkpoint” rubbish), you don’t have *ugh* regenerating health, there are bosses that you have to fight, there are an imaginative array of monsters (as well as generic modern-style soldiers), the combat is gratuitously gruesome, you can carry an array of creative weapons (rather than just whatever the world’s militaries are using these days) and the game actually has a sense of humour.

 Thankfully, this is the closest thing that you'll see to a checkpoint in this game.

Thankfully, this is the closest thing that you’ll see to a checkpoint in this game.

Yay! It's a "Revenge Of The Nerds 2" reference :)

Yay! It’s a “Revenge Of The Nerds 2” reference 🙂

In terms of difficulty, this game is probably slightly easier than the original “Blood” was – but it still gives you a reasonable challenge. Not only are most of your weapons slightly underpowered (eg: even the basic “cabal soldier” enemies can require two shots from the sniper rifle or napalm launcher to kill), but some parts of the game require careful exploration in order to progress (either to find the exit or to find the game’s ludicrously small keys and keycards) – so, yes, I got stuck a couple of times.

This was a little frustrating, but it was still nice to play a FPS game that required me to actually use my brain occasionally. From what I’ve heard, you won’t usually find things like this in modern FPS games.

Likewise, the wide variety of enemies help to keep the combat challenging, since you need to use slightly different tactics, depending on which types of enemies you’re fighting. Even the small enemies in this game are a formidable threat, since there are three types of “facehugger” enemy (a leech-like creature, a red spider and the disembodied hands from the original “Blood”) which will quite literally grab your face and can only be dislodged by hammering the “action” button repeatedly.

And, yes, this made me jump the first time it happened.

And, yes, this made me jump the first time it happened.

Yay! The hands are back and now they can also give you the finger too.

Yay! The hands are back and now they can also give you the finger too.

As for the weapons, this game comes from the tail end of the time when FPS weapon design actually used to be creative. Although you get a few *yawn* “realistic” guns (eg: an assault rifle, dual SMGs, dual pistols and a high-caliber sniper rifle), you also get things like semi-automatic flare guns, voodoo staffs, ludicrously-sized machine guns, tesla cannons and other interesting things:

Yes, this ISN'T a "Call Of Duty" game.

Yes, this ISN’T a “Call Of Duty” game.

I haven't actually seen the "Phantasm" movies, but I still got the reference for some reason.

I haven’t actually seen the “Phantasm” movies, but I still got the reference for some reason.

However, this game limits you to carrying just ten weapons at any one time. So, you’ll have to make a few hard decisions about which ones you want to carry and which ones you don’t. Still, compared to modern games and their *ugh* two-weapon limit, this isn’t that bad. Still, it’s probably where the rot started to set in.

 Back in 1998, you could just carry ten weapons. In 2008, you could often only carry two. In 2018, FPS protagonists will be prohibited from carrying any weapons.

Back in 1998, you could just carry ten weapons. In 2008, you could often only carry two. In 2018, FPS protagonists will be prohibited from carrying any weapons.

As you would expect from a game called “Blood II”, this game tries to be as gruesome as it can. However, it’s relatively tame – I mean, although there are some cool blood spatter effects, the gruesomeness of the gibbing effects are somewhere in between “Quake II” and “Soldier Of Fortune II”.

Yes, this is probably one of the goriest parts of the game

Yes, this is probably one of the goriest parts of the game

I'd have expected a larger amount of blood spatter from this game though

I’d have expected a larger amount of blood spatter from this game though

Still, this game was made in a much more censorious era in gaming history and this can be also seen by the fact that about half of the profanity in the game is actually bleeped out. I’m not kidding here – if you talk to some of the NPCs, parts of their dialogue will actually be bleeped out – yet their gory death animations aren’t censored in any way. You’ve gotta love contradictory 1990s American censorship!

One interesting feature in this game is that you can choose to play as one of four characters (Caleb, Ophelia, Gabriella or Ishmael).

Each of these characters has different voice-acting (and, yes, this is a game from the good old days where the main characters in FPS games actually used to make sarcastic comments 🙂 ) and, from what I’ve read and experienced, your character choice also has both small and large effects on the gameplay.

The small effects that I’ve read about is that each character’s melee weapon looks like a slightly different type of knife. Apparently both Ophelia and Ishmael also have a much larger ammo capacity when using magic-based weapons. Whereas, Gabriella can wield the minigun more accurately than the other characters apparently can.

Using this gun accurately is a good thing, given that it can eat through literally all of your bullets in less than a minute.

Using this gun accurately is a good thing, given that it can eat through literally all of your bullets in less than a minute.

In terms of the large effects that your character choice has, Caleb gets all of the good stuff.

Thanks to the fact that the game was apparently rushed into completion, you will only see any in-game cutscenes if you play as Caleb.

If, like me, you choose to play as one of the other characters (I played as Gabriella mainly because I’d briefly tried out all three of the other characters, and I’d already played a few levels as Gabriella before remembering the thing about the cutscenes) then there are no cutscenes whatsoever.

Likewise, in one part of the game (the meat packing facility level), Caleb’s dialogue will occasionally play instead of Gabriella’s.

To cap this off, when I finally defeated the final boss when playing as Gabriella – instead of even seeing some credits, the game just unceremoniously crashed. I reloaded my saved game and finished off the boss again – the game crashed again. I did this about five times.

If you aren't playing as Caleb, then defeating this guy is anticlimactic to say the least.

If you aren’t playing as Caleb, then defeating this guy is anticlimactic to say the least.

As you may have guessed by now, this game is notoriously glitchy. Sometimes, it will just crash for no reason whatsoever and – sometimes – when you die, you’ll still remain alive (but with zero health) and the enemies will just completely ignore you until you find some more health.

 This glitch isn't as bad or as common as it was in "The Nightmare Levels", but you can still end up being a member of the undead sometimes.

This glitch isn’t as bad or as common as it was in “The Nightmare Levels”, but you can still end up being a member of the undead sometimes.

All in all, “Blood II: The Chosen” isn’t a perfect FPS game by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, it isn’t even really a worthy sequel to “Blood”. But, taken on it’s own merits, it’s still an enjoyably challenging 1990s sci-fi FPS game. You could do a lot worse than this game.

Yes, there are prescient hints of annoying modernity in this game, but it still contains a lot of great gameplay features which prove that the 1990s were indeed the golden age of FPS gaming.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get three. It’s fun, but it’s nothing special.