Review: “SiN: Wages Of Sin” (Expansion Pack For “SiN”)

As regular readers of this site know, I reviewed a very nostalgic cyberpunk-influenced FPS game from the late 1990s called “SiN” recently. And, because I bought a direct download of the “SiN Gold” collection (when it was on special offer on GOG last summer), it also came with an expansion pack from 1999 called “Wages Of Sin” too.

If you’re too young to remember expansion packs, they’re kind of like modern “DLC” but larger and more impressive. Often, they would be anything from one to two thirds the length of a full game (but, there are exceptions) and they would originally be sold as boxed CDs. So, yes, “Wages Of Sin” is pretty much almost a full-length game (with 15-20 levels or so). In fact, I’d even go so far to call it a sequel to the original game.

Still, you might possibly need a copy of the original “SiN” to play “Wages Of Sin” (although the in-game menu gives you the option to play the original game) but if you get the “SiN Gold” collection on GOG, then this is included anyway.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Wages Of Sin”:

Taking place a while after the events of the original game, John Blade is still hunting for Elexis. However, he has other things on his mind.

And not just dramatic car chases!

There have been reports of strange creatures killing people on a construction site, not to mention that it seems like the local Mafia boss – Manero – seems to be up to something too…..

One of the very first things that I will say about “Wages Of Sin” is that it is way better than the original game in so many ways! The difficulty curve is fairer, the combat is more enjoyable, there’s a greater degree of visual variety between levels, there’s even more humour, there’s better level design, there’s a much greater variety of enemy types and it’s just, well, cooler.

Even some of the loading screens look more badass too!

You also get some cool night vision goggles in one level too!

To give you an example, the first level or two of the expansion are genuinely creepy horror-themed levels that take mostly place in gloomy, claustrophobic subterranean tunnels (but, unlike the gloomy areas in the original game, you actually have a torch this time!).

Seriously, this one little change improves the game so much! No more stumbling around aimlessly in the dark! Plus, although the torch has a limited battery, it’s so large that you’re unlikely to run out.

Not only are there monsters that are reminiscent of the “Licker” monsters from Resident Evil 2 but, when you shoot some of the bloated “zombie” enemies that you encounter, a mutant spider crab creature will sometimes burst out of their chests in a very “Alien“-like fashion. Seriously, this expansion starts out really well. These early levels even reminded me a little bit of “Doom 3” in some parts.

And “Resident Evil 2” too 🙂

And those are just the first few levels- there’s also an art gallery, a laboratory, a nightclub, an opulent casino, a swanky penthouse, a shipping terminal that is split into three segments etc…

Seriously, the variety of locations here is so much better than in the original “SiN”. Yes, I’d have liked to have seen more neon-filled cyberpunk locations, but the focus on more opulent locations helps to give the expansion a slightly “Duke Nukem“-style atmosphere too.

Always bet on Duk… I mean, Blade.

Unfortunately, this cool-looking nightclub really doesn’t appear for anywhere near as long as it should!

Amusingly, there’s actually a silly cutscene if you jump out of any of the windows in this room.

There’s even possibly a slight nod to the “Blood” games here too, with a level where Blade witnesses an ominous robed man giving a dramatic speech to a horde of mutants. The level that precedes this cutscene is fairly short, slightly repetitive (since you sort of revisit an earlier area) and kind of random – but it features some astonishgly epic music that reminded me a little bit of the original “Blood“.

He doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game and seems to be part of the set up for a sequel that never really came to fruition, but this part of the game is still really cool 🙂

Plus, true to the original game (and 90s FPS games in general), there’s a good dose of humour here too.

Not only does Blade get a few new lines of dialogue when he defeats his adversaries (eg: “Barney Miller is back!”, “Cleanin’ up the gene pool” etc..), but the hilariously sarcastic radio conversations between Blade and his assistant JC also return in abundance too 🙂 One stand out comedic part of the game is probably the art gallery level, where Blade and/or JC will make comments when you stand near many of the paintings:

And I’m guessing that this is probably a cameo from the developers. JC seems to think that they’re rock musicians though.

Not only that, the levels also seem to be far more well-designed too, with most of them being non-linear enough to require exploration but linear enough to prevent you from getting lost or stuck too often. Yes, I got stuck once or twice – but it didn’t happen nearly as often as it did in the original game, not to mention that it wasn’t that hard to work out what to do (which is just as well, given the near-total lack of walkthroughs for the expansion on the internet at the time of writing).

Likewise, the enemy placement in “Wages Of Sin” is much fairer than in the original game. Yes, there are a couple of “trial and error” segments but this expansion avoids many of the cheap tricks used in the original game (eg: placing snipers behind the beginning of a level etc…) and the combat just feels fairer. Yes, it’s still thrillingly challenging – but it rarely becomes frustrating. Likewise, the couple of levels that could be *ugh* stealth levels actually make the stealth parts totally optional too 🙂

For example, if you get spotted by a camera in this level, Blade will just shout some (bleeped) dialogue and you’ll have to fight a few more henchmen, but you DON’T automatically fail the level.

The combat in this game is also improved by the fact that “Wages Of Sin” is a bit more generous with both health and ammo placement too, which also helps the game to feel a little fairer (without reducing the challenge too much either).

Not only that, the larger variety of enemies (various mutants, Mafia members and a few enemies from the original game) helps to add some much-needed variety to the combat.

Yes, THESE guys return – but there are only a few of them and plenty of other types of mutants, robots and henchmen too.

However, there is one “cheap” new enemy here – in the later parts of the expansion, you’ll encounter tiny flying robot drones. They blend into the shadows slightly and have a powerful laser attack (which you only have about a second to dodge at most). Given that your health will probably be below fifty for large parts of the game, trying to shoot small, rapidly-moving flying robots whilst also dodging their powerful attacks can be frustrating to say the least.

And, if they’re difficult to see in this screenshot, then imagine what it’s like in game!

The boss battles in “Wages Of Sin” also follow a much better difficulty curve than in the original “SiN” too. In the first one, you have a large monster and a medium-large arena. In the second one, you have to fight two waves of large monsters in a medium-sized arena.

Although I don’t know whether this really counts as a “boss battle” or not. Still, given that you don’t encounter these monsters anywhere else in the game, I’d say that it does.

The final boss battle, against Manero, is the most challenging boss battle in the game – as it should be. Not only do you have to shoot down his helicopter, you also have to fight him when he’s wearing a “photonic shield”, when he is using a cloaking device and when he isn’t.

And yes, the “Photonic Shield” just happens to make him look like the T2 from the second “Terminator” film…

Still, even this fiendishly difficult boss battle is beatable if you use the right strategy (hide under the platform at the beginning of the level, crouch and shoot at his helicopter with rockets. Once he’s left the helicopter, jump off the platform when he gets near you, wait for him to jump off, then run up the ramp and wait for him to run up the ramp – whilst he’s doing this, shoot at him. Rinse and repeat.)

This strategy even works when he’s using the cloaking device. Although JC annoyingly tells you to use the night-vision goggles you found earlier in the game – however, I didn’t have them during this level!

“Wages Of Sin” also introduces a few new weapons too, some of which are useful.

The stand-out weapons are probably the dual pistols and a plasma crossbow that can be used to either one-shot enemies or as a device for laying timed plasma mines (eg: the crossbow bolts explode after a couple of seconds if they get stuck in the floor or a wall).

There’s also a mediocre flamethrower, a recharging concussion gun, a nuclear rocket launcher (which you get to use three times and that’s it!) and a remote control that fires a burst of about five small missiles. These weapons are cool, but you probably won’t be using them that often. Still, it’s good to see an array of creative new weapons on offer.

Not only does this weapon look cool, but you also get a decent amount of ammo for it too. However, it’s lack of accuracy and the fact that the rocket launcher is a better long-range weapon mean you probably won’t use it that often.

All in all, compared to the original “SiN”, “Wages Of Sin” is a major improvement – it’s fairer, more spectacular and just generally more fun. On it’s own merits, it’s a reasonably solid late 1990s FPS game that takes heavy influence from mid-1990s FPS games (like “Duke Nukem 3D” etc..) in terms of humour, location design etc…

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

Review: “SiN” (Retro Computer Game)

Like with “Blood II: The Chosen” and “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division“, “SiN” is one of those games that I first discovered on a magazine demo disc when I was a lot younger – but only got round to actually getting the full version nearly two decades later. If I remember rightly, I thought that the demo was kind of cool, but didn’t really get into it that much. Then again, I was playing it on a Pentium 166 computer, so it was probably a bit slow…

Still, when I noticed that the “SiN Gold” collection (which also contains the expansion “Wages Of Sin” that I’ll review in early April) was on special offer on GOG last summer, I just had to get the full version of this half-remembered game. Although the extras for the GOG version of this game aren’t spectacular, the manual is definitely worth reading just for the hilariously immature 1990s style humour. Yes, even the manual contains comedy!

Plus, although I rarely directly recommend one game site over another, the version of this game that is available on GOG is closer to the original game than the version available on Steam. This is because the Steam version apparently contains some censorship (eg: the removal of suggestive content, marijuana references and/or pop culture references from some of the game’s textures), whereas the GOG version seems to be the original uncensored version.

Anyway, this review has been nearly two decades in the making. So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “SiN”:

“SiN” is a first-person shooter game from 1998 by Ritual Entertainment, which uses a modified version of the “Quake II” engine. Set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, you play as John Blade – an elite member of a private security organisation called HardCorps (pronounced “Hardcore”, because it’s from the 1990s).

Being from 1998, Blade only looks THIS realistic during the game’s few pre-rendered cutscenes though!

After a report of a robbery at the local bank, Blade goes to investigate – with a sarcastic ex-computer hacker called JC providing remote support for him. Of course, what begins as a routine “shoot the bad guys” mission quickly turns into something much larger and much more menacing…..

One of the first things I will say about this game is that it contains some of the best and some of the worst elements of 1990s FPS gaming. It is a game that you will hate to love, or love to hate or both.

For everything it gets right, it also gets something wrong. For every moment of gameplay that is brilliantly fun, there will be another one that will frustrate the hell out of you. Let’s just say that I’m glad I got another two decades of FPS gaming experience before playing the full version of this game!

Seriously, don’t let the easy on-rails turret segment at the beginning of the first level fool you, this is a challenging game!

Yes, this isn’t an easy modern FPS game! Even on “standard” difficulty, this game is hard. HardCorps, even! Sometimes, this challenging difficulty is achieved in enjoyable and fair ways (which fans of other challenging old FPS games like “Final Doom”, “Blood”, “Duke 3D” etc.. will love). When it is at it’s best, the combat in this game is thrillingly challenging, and well within the traditions of 1990s FPS gaming.

Yay! Late 1990s FPS gaming 🙂 Seriously, there will be very few combat-based screenshots in this review because the game’s combat requires your full attention and reflexes!

Plus, this game contains a proper saving system – with none of that annoying modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish either! So, remember to save regularly! Seriously, save your game once every minute at least! I’m not joking here…

Seriously, you’ll be seeing this death animation (and hearing the accompanying voice-over from JC) a LOT! So, save often!

But, for all of the “good” difficulty, a fair amount of the game’s difficulty is also achieved in all sorts of cheap, borderline unfair and/or annoying ways.

This can include things like placing long-distance snipers directly behind the beginning of a level (and it’ll take you several deaths before you work out where they’re shooting from), sending infinitely respawning waves of henchmen at you during one level, extremely gloomy areas with few to no light sources, a *ugh* stealth level, a (thankfully optional) vehicle segment, occasionally stingy ammo/health/weapon distribution etc…

Yes, a stealth level! One of those boring, frustrating, slow-paced levels that has no place within a thrilling FPS game!

The game’s difficulty curve is also a little bit uneven too – with earlier boss battles being considerably more difficult than the final boss battle at the end of the game, to give one example. Likewise, some of the game’s more difficult levels occur earlier or during the middle of the game, rather than consistently towards the end.

So, yes, you will need the kind of perseverance and determination that can only be gained by playing other fiendishly difficult retro FPS games and/or modern fan-made levels for “Doom II” in order to complete this game. And, yes, it can be completed! Just don’t expect to do it in a single weekend though!

Like a lot of old FPS games, “SiN” is a full-length game! It’s up to you whether you consider this to be either “good value for money” or “Oh my god! This game is so long! I’ll never finish it!“, but it contains something like 20-30 challenging levels – with some larger levels being split into two halves.

However, the quality of the level design is extremely variable. For every great, interesting-looking, thrillingly fun and/or inventively non-linear level – there’s also a level that you will probably get completely and utterly stuck on.

Often, you’ll be able to work out what to do after you’ve spent 10-80 minutes wandering around in circles. But, occasionally, you’ll find yourself so stuck that you’ll actually have to look online for a walkthrough – only to find that the solution is seemingly “obvious”, but implemented in a way that doesn’t make it obvious to the player.

For example, all you need to do to lower this lift is to press a little button. Yes, that tiny little thing shrouded in shadows that is really, really easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it! *shakes fist angrily*

I almost had to check a walkthrough for this bit. Fortunately, I eventually happened to look upwards and notice a crane on top of a tall building nearby that I was supposed to shoot.

Still, that said, some areas of this game look really cool. Yes, there are a lot of generic-looking levels, but this game can get really creative sometimes – including locations such as an oilrig, a vaguely “Goldeneye”-style jungle segment, a surprisingly good underwater segment, futuristic areas with cool lighting, a creepy mansion etc..

Seriously, more of the game should look like this!

Finally! An underwater level that I DON’T hate!

The weapon and enemy designs in this game are acceptable, but not quite as creative as many FPS games from the mid-late 1990s. Although the later levels give you some slightly more interesting weapons and include a greater variety of enemies to fight, many of the early levels mostly involve just fighting almost identical henchmen (who are very vaguely similar to the Strogg from “Quake II” but with different graphics) with the standard pistol, shotgun and assault rifle. *yawn*

Still, there is a certain element of skill to the combat, since this game allows for headshots (which you’re going to have to use regularly, since the henchmen are bullet sponges otherwise). Likewise, in the earlier parts the game, enemies will occasionally shoot your weapon out of your hands.

However, you have to manually pick up any ammo etc.. that enemies drop by pressing the “use” button. Yes, you’ll get used to doing this after a while, but it can be confusing at first.

Even so, the later parts of the game are certainly better, and the monsters on offer include robot spiders, robotic zombies (the Strogg again?), large muscular mutants and even a monster who reminded me a bit of the Bandersnatch mutants from an early 2000s Playstation 2 game called “Resident Evil: Code Veronica X“:

Yay! Survival horror 🙂

“SiN” also comes from an age where FPS games weren’t dreary, “realistic”, ultra-serious things. In other words, this game actually contains some creativity and humour! Whether it’s the numerous sarcastic conversations that Blade and JC have over their radio or lots of silly background details, this game doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously.

For example, the bad guys in the first level quite literally kiss their asses goodbye when they die.

Yes, this humour might not be to everyone’s taste, but it really helps to add some light-hearted fun to the game, not to mention that it also keeps the player’s spirits up during some of the more frustrating and/or annoying parts of the game. For example, whenever Blade kills one of the monsters, robots, mutants or identical henchmen you’ll face throughout the game, he’ll sometimes say a vaguely “badass” line such as “Ha! Schooled ya!” etc… Seriously, this is wonderfully 90s 🙂

However, I should probably also point out that this game is a bit “politically incorrect” by modern standards. I have mixed views about this.

On the one hand, the game’s immature humour can still be absolutely hilarious at times. However, some other parts of the game do seem a little uncomfortable by modern standards – such as the game’s “men vs women” theme (eg: Elexis’ speeches, Blade’s frequent use of the word “bitch” etc..). So, yes, this game can be somewhat eyebrow-raising when played these days.

In terms of music, this game is reasonably good. Although some of the music is kind of forgettable, some of the music – especially in the later levels – is fairly good, and it really helps to add some atmosphere to the game. Seriously, I’m kind of annoyed that GOG didn’t get the rights to include a MP3 copy of the soundtrack for this game as a bonus (like they’ve done with some other games).

The voice-acting in this game is absolutely brilliant too. Whether it’s Blade’s gloriously cheesy “tought grizzled action hero” dialogue, or JC’s constant sarcasm over the radio or Elexis’ melodramatic “sophisticated villain” dialogue, the voice acting is wonderfully fun 🙂

All in all, this is both a great and a terrible game. If you’re looking for 1990s nostalgia, you’ll find it in abundance here. But, don’t even think about playing this game unless you’ve had a couple of decades’ worth of FPS gaming experience! This is a game that demands perseverance, and which will barely play fair with you sometimes. Likewise, the level design is of varying quality too. Still, it’s imaginative and silly and creative and… well… FPS games don’t really do this kind of thing any more.

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

Review: “Killing Time [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at a mostly-forgotten FPS game from 1996 called “Killing Time” that I finished a few hours before writing this review.

Although “Killing Time” apparently started life as a console game (from 1995), the PC port is apparently so different that it’s pretty much it’s own game (modern developers, learn from this!). So, this is what I’ll be reviewing today.

When I bought a DRM-free direct download of this game on GOG last spring, it was on sale and had been reduced to about £2. At full price, it’s about £7-8 or so on GOG. The Steam version, at the time of writing, seems to be marginally cheaper (at a little under £7). Both versions also include a MP3 version of the game’s soundtrack too.

But, due to both my computer and the slightly old-fashioned graphics system in the game, this review won’t contain any gameplay screenshots – since any in-game screenshots I took tended to glitch out like this when I took them, and didn’t reflect my actual experience of playing the game. This is kind of a shame since the best way to show what the gameplay looks like is to.. show what it looks like. But, written descriptions and a screenshot from the intro movie’s video file (from the game’s folder) will have to suffice.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Killing Time”:

Note: This is a screenshot from the intro movie. As mentioned above, the gameplay screenshots glitched out to the point of unusability. Still, as intro movies go, this game has a really cool one 🙂

“Killing Time” is a horror-themed FPS game which revolves around an unnamed archaeologist visiting a mysterious island near Maine. His Egyptology professor mentions that the owner of the estate, Tess Conway, took an artefact from an expedition she sponsored and that the artefact’s last known location was her private island. However, ever since a “roaring twenties”-style party on the island in 1932, no-one has been seen there since…..

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is something of an acquired taste. But, like a lot of FPS games from the time, it was incredibly innovative and also included features that were at least slightly ahead of their time (eg: an open world environment, in-game FMV etc..).

The best way to describe this game is that it’s a bit like “Realms Of The Haunting” in that it actually contains a story and a large explorable environment. But, in terms of gameplay and graphics, it’s a bit more like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D“.

The gameplay in “Killing Time” is something of a mixed bag. A large part of the game inovolves exploring the island and finding both keys and spirit vessels (you need something like eight of them to unlock the final boss).

One innovative feature here is that there are no real level boundaries – you can explore about half of the island from the very start of the game. Each segment of the island loads instantly (without needing a loading screen) when you enter it and, for the time, this was really innovative. The only vaguely similar thing from the same year is possibly “Realms Of The Haunting”, but even that had defined level areas in some parts. Seriously, “Half-Life” wouldn’t come out until two years after this game – and “Half-Life” did have loading screens between areas!

But, as cool as this is, it is also one of the game’s main flaws. Since you have to search for lots of keys and items, you literally have to search the entire game for them sometimes! And, as much as I love non-linear FPS games, this can get a little frustrating sometimes. At least when games like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D” make you search for something, you only have to search a relatively small level, rather than an entire island.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the only walkthrough I could find at the time of playing the game was a series of videos on Youtube, rather than a more easily-navigated text walkthrough. Although you probably won’t get completely and utterly stuck that often, it happened to me at least four or five times throughout the course of the game.

On the plus side, the game actually features real time in-game FMV! Basically, there are glowing blue ghosts scattered around the game’s world and, if you walk into one, you’ll be treated to a very pixellated FMV movie that takes place in-game (eg: instead of displaying a full-screen video, the “video” consists of an “.Avi” file that has been converted into an in-game sprite). Or, you’ll get an error message. Or the game might crash. All three have happened to me. Still, for something made in 1995/6, this is ridiculously ahead of it’s time!

These movies deliver hints occasionally and, more often, they tell parts of the game’s story. The acting in these videos is relatively good and they really help to bring the game’s locations to life. One cool feature is that, in two locations, you can move the hands of a clock to see what happened in an area at different times of the day. However, the game isn’t exactly averse to including the same video in two or more different locations, which can get repetitive.

In terms of the combat, this game is reasonably good and as enjoyably challenging as you would expect from a 90s FPS game. The game’s various monsters attack often and in groups, and the amount of ammo available to you can vary throughout the game. It’s fun, furious and frenetic! Likewise, although the game features a vertical look system, it also includes a “Doom”-style vertical auto-aim system too.

Plus, if you use the default “Duke Nukem 3D”-style keyboard-only controls, the combat will probably bring back a lot of memories of playing FPS games during the 1990s 🙂

Although the game apparently includes options for mouse and gamepad controls, I haven’t tested either of these. Still, since this is an official version of the original closed-source game that has been made compatible with 2000s & 2010s – era PCs, it doesn’t include the features (such as modern-style controls etc..) that you would expect from a fan-made source port for an open-source game like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D”.

However, the difficulty can get slightly cheap sometimes. The first half of the final boss battle is a case in point.

Although this boss battle features something vaguely similar to the Nemesis in “Resident Evil 3” (again, this game is ahead of it’s time here!), where you are chased through the mansion by a teleporting monster who can only be temporarily slowed rather than killed, it’s one of those puzzle-based boss battles that 90s developers were so fond of. But, rather than solving a puzzle in the room where the boss appears, you have to find and traverse several monster-filled towers throughout the mansion… whilst being chased by the boss (who gloats at you the whole time).

In terms of the weapons, they aren’t really that creative by the standards of the time. Yes, they have a 1920s/30s theme (like in “Blood) but they’re mostly just a copy-paste of the weapon scheme in “Doom”.

The default weapon is a crowbar (yes, before “Half Life”!) and you can get two pistols but, apart from that, they’re pretty much just the “Doom” guns with different sprites, sounds etc.. (eg: there’s a flamethrower instead of a plasma cannon, a BFG-like ankh etc..). You’ll probably be using the shotgun most of the time, on account of the fact that, although the tommygun is the coolest weapon in the game, it guzzles ammunition at a prodigious rate.

However, the weapon sprites are based on pictures of 3D models, which look slightly out of place when compared to the slightly more cartoonish aesthetic of the rest of the game. Yes, the monster sprites are also based on 3D models, but they have a less “realistic” look than the weapons do.

In terms of movement, this game is a little bit of a disappointment. Not only is there no auto-run option, but the running speed is relatively slow (especially given the distances you have to traverse!). Likewise, if you walk along the edge of a tree or a wall, you slow down slightly. Plus, the less said about the jumping system, the better! It’s more accurate to describe it as a “hopping” system than a jumping system.

Likewise, the game’s map screen is zoomed in so much (even when you zoom out) that it is virtually useless, which is especially annoying in a game that relies so much on exploring large areas.

As for the graphics, I really liked them. Although 1996 is most famous for “Quake“, which introduced proper 3D graphics to the FPS genre – this game uses good old-fashioned sprite based graphics, like in “Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D”. I really miss this graphics style in games, so it was great to see it again. The game also has an art deco/ ancient Egypt-style aesthetic in many locations too, which looks really cool. However, there are also a fair number of rather generic-looking forests, corridors, caverns and sewers here too.

As for the level design, it’s something of a mixed bag. The game’s one gigantic level contains some fairly well-designed areas which show how cool 90s FPS games were.

These include areas where you’ll have to use your brain in order to work out what you’re supposed to do (eg: a clever hedge maze-style area where you have to follow a series of clues given by a ghost). These include areas which are perfect for more strategic combat. These also include areas where monsters can leap out at you when you least expect it. Some parts of the level design here are really cool.

But, that said, there are also some really annoying areas too. Several corridor-based areas can get confusing, one of the keys is hidden in a way more befitting a secret area (eg: a moveable pillar that is hidden amongst lots of non-moveable pillars. Good luck finding it without a walkthrough!) and there are even one or two parts that require you to use the game’s horrible jumping system. Plus, with important items spread out across the game’s map, the item placement and extreme backtracking can feel like padding sometimes.

In terms of the music and the voice-acting, this game is surprisingly good. The game’s soundtrack is filled with lots of roaring twenties-style jazz/swing music and more ominous horror-movie style ambient music. Both of these things really add a lot of atmosphere to the game, and there’s nothing quite like tommygunning zombie monsters to the sound of jaunty swing music.

But, one slight problem with the music system in the game is that the background music changes very abruptly when you move between areas, which can break the immersion slightly. Likewise, the voice-acting in this game is a little cheesy, but it fits in well with the vintage atmosphere of the game.

All in all, this game is an acquired taste. If you stick with it, then you’ll have a lot of fun. But, it has a fair number of flaws too. Still, compared to the generic military-themed FPS games of the modern age, this game has an actual personality. It’s imaginative and unique and, as I said, a lot of fun once you’ve learnt to put up with it’s shortcomings. At full price, it’s worth thinking carefully before buying this game. But, on special offer, it’s a no-brainer.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get three and a half. It has flaws, but there is a good game hidden in there!

Review: “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” (Retro Computer Game)

2017-artwork-shogo-review-sketch

My first encounter with “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” was on a demo disc from sometime in the late 1990s.

At the time, I didn’t really like it. This was probably because I was playing it on my Dad’s old computer which, if memory serves correctly, only had a Pentium 166. The game was slow and jerky, and it mostly seemed to feature anodyne, bloodless combat between robots. Being a child with a tiny attention span, I soon forgot about the game.

Last autumn, I was looking at a large sale on GOG and waiting for a game I really wanted to go on sale (it didn’t 😦 ). But, near the end of the sale, I noticed that this old game had been reduced to a little under two quid… and I thought “I remember that!“.

Since I had fond memories of playing “Blood II: The Chosen” the previous autumn and since “Shogo” was a FPS game by the same developer, I looked at a couple of reviews and then decided to check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division”:

shogo-logo

“Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” is an anime-themed sci-fi FPS game by Monolith. You play as a soldier called Sanjuro who is sent on a series of missions by his girlfriend, Karthryn’s father Admiral Akkaraju. Kathryn is the sister of his former girlfriend, who died during a previous mission. Sanjuro also gets to use a giant combat robot occasionally. There’s also something about a mysterious type of fuel called “Kato”. And, yes, the plot seems to be both intentionally confusing and designed not to be taken seriously.

Yes, like many great 1990s games, this one doesn’t really take itself too seriously. Yes, there are a few genuine laugh out loud moments, but a fair amount of the humour is the kind of generic sarcastic humour that was popular in the 1990s. It isn’t the funniest classic FPS game I’ve played but, compared to the more modern trend towards ultra-serious FPS games, it is very much a comedy game.

Yes, this cat toy is actually a weapon you are given in the game. It squeaks and shouts "magic claw" when you use it. Naturally, your foes quake in ter... no, actually they just start shooting at you.

Yes, this cat toy is actually a weapon you are given in the game. It squeaks and shouts “magic claw” when you use it. Naturally, your foes quake in ter… no, actually they just start shooting at you.

The guy in the top corner of this screenshot looks like a hilarious caricature of modern FPS game protagonists, or Fred Durst. Or both. Anyway, I laughed at him. But not with him, because he's too serious to make jokes.

The guy in the top corner of this screenshot looks like a hilarious caricature of modern FPS game protagonists, or Fred Durst. Or both. Anyway, I laughed at him. But not with him, because he’s too serious to make jokes.

In addition to this, there’s some other funny and/or cool stuff. For example, a few of the enemies early in the game will actually shout Latin phrases from the first “Blood” game at you. I literally trembled with joy when I heard this!

Likewise, the game also has a “Rise Of The Triad” style credits easter egg – if you wait long enough after the end credits finish, you’ll be treated to a few funny messages, before learning more about the development history of the game. Eventually, the credits are filled with a succinct manifesto, which explains why games from the 1990s are so much better than modern ones….

"Gameplay rules", "Breaking the rules rules" etc.. These are all things that game developers seem to have forgotten THESE days....

“Gameplay rules”, “Breaking the rules rules” etc.. These are all things that game developers seem to have forgotten THESE days….

Talking of gameplay, I should probably actually get on to actually reviewing the game.

First of all, about a third of the missions involve piloting a giant robot. Whilst this might sound like a dreaded vehicle segment that has no business whatsoever being in a FPS game (Red Faction II ‘s submarine section, I’m looking at you!), the gameplay in these parts of the game is thankfully just standard FPS gameplay – but you play as a giant robot who has even cooler weapons.

And you get to explore cities that sometimes look like something from "Blade Runner" too!

And you get to explore cities that sometimes look like something from “Blade Runner” too!

The gameplay in the “normal” FPS segments is something of a mixed bag though. Although you get a few imaginative weapons, you’ll probably just end up using the generic assault rifle for most of the game. Likewise, the combat mechanics in this game are… unique. In essence, the enemies behave in a more “realistic” way.

What this means is that the instant that they see you, they will start shooting at you with weapons that are as powerful as yours. If you turn a corner and don’t look first, you’ll end up dead. If you decide to rush towards a group of them, you’ll develop a lethal case of bullet poisoning within 1-3 seconds. If you don’t save your game often, you’ll end up smashing your keyboard with frustration. If you’ve played nothing but slow, easy, modern regenerating health-based FPS games, you’ll get very well-acquainted with the loading screen.

One other interesting thing about the combat is that you will sometimes randomly score a “critical hit” – which will do extra damage to your opponent and give you some health too. Given the relative lack of health power-ups in the game and the strength of your enemies’ weapons (as well as the fact that they can score “critical hits” on you too), this helps to keep the game enjoyable.

It's also surprisingly difficult to get screenshots of, since the "critical hit" message only appears for a second or so.

It’s also surprisingly difficult to get screenshots of, since the “critical hit” message only appears for a second or so.

Likewise, it makes you balance a fast and aggressive playing style with the level of caution and strategy you need to actually defeat many of the game’s enemies. If you like your FPS games to actually be challenging, then you’ll be in heaven here.

Plus, like many classic FPS games, “Shogo” also features boss battles. However, since these bosses are either very large or use explosive weapons, you can usually either find a completely safe vantage point or easily trick them into destroying themselves with the splash damage from their own weapons:

Seriously, in one of the game's two endings, the FINAL BOSS is a huge robot. And it can be defeated by just standing on the other side of this tiny door and shooting at it slowly for a couple of minutes.

Seriously, in one of the game’s two endings, the FINAL BOSS is a huge robot. And it can be defeated by just standing on the other side of this tiny door and shooting at it slowly for a couple of minutes.

In terms of the level design, it’s also something of a mixed bag. Some of the levels are classic, non-linear 1990s-style levels. Other levels are a bit more linear. For the most part, the levels are reasonably well-designed, although I did end up getting completely stuck on one of the “robot” levels. It was only after actually looking at a walkthrough that I learnt that the tunnel you’re supposed to go down is cunningly disguised and very easy to miss, yet extremely obvious when you know where it is.

Plus, interestingly, the game apparently has two branching paths near the end of the game that apparently affect the final couple of levels. Although, at the time of writing, I have only seen one of these paths – the idea was still at least mildly ahead of it’s time.

Yes, this one choice affects the entire ending of the game.. and it's still better than what I've heard about the ending of "Mass Effect 3".

Yes, this one choice affects the entire ending of the game.. and it’s still better than what I’ve heard about the ending of “Mass Effect 3”.

Another mixed thing about the level design is the level of visual creativity on offer during some parts of the game. Yes, quite a few of the levels are just the usual generic military bases, sewers, buildings etc.. that any seasoned FPS gamer is well and truly bored of already.

*Yawn* How original....

*Yawn* How original….

But, especially near the end of the game, there is some truly beautiful visual design. Seriously, it is Art!

Yes!

Yes!

Oh god yes!

Oh god yes!

I must be in heaven!

I must be in heaven!

All in all, “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division” isn’t a perfect FPS game. But, it doesn’t have to be. It’s a relic from an age when FPS games lived by the mantra of “Gameplay rules!”.

It’s a piece of childhood nostalgia that actually turned out to be better than I remembered. It’s a game from an age where designers knew that FPS games were just meant to be silly fun. It isn’t “Doom II” and it isn’t even “Blood II: The Chosen“, but it’s still probably more imaginative than the bulk of modern, mega-budget FPS games.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and three quarters.

Review: “Deus Ex: Game Of The Year Edition” (Retro Computer Game)

2017 Artwork Deus Ex review sketch

As surprising as it might sound, the very first time that I played “Deus Ex” was in 2016!

In my defence, I think that I once found a second-hand copy of it in a shop back in the day – but couldn’t get it to run on my old computer (which, even for the time, was ancient). Likewise, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance, so I actually played “Deus Ex” last summer.

Still, this isn’t to say that I’d never heard of “Deus Ex” before. It’s one of those games that is widely renowned as a classic. But, there are plenty of “classics” in a variety of mediums that I still haven’t seen, read or played.

In fact, the only reason that I ended up playing “Deus Ex” was the fact that it happened to be on sale on GoG during their summer sale, when I went on a small game-buying spree (so there might be some other retro and/or indie game reviews in the future). Since a couple of the screenshots vaguely looked a bit like “Blade Runner“, getting a copy was an absolute no-brainer.

The DRM-free download of “Deus Ex” ( the “Game Of The Year Edition”) I bought cost about £1.39 during the sale, if I remember rightly. This version also came with several downloadable extras, such as a MP3 copy of the soundtrack.

At full price, it apparently costs £7.99 on GoG. The full-price game is somewhat cheaper at £4.99 on Steam (although, at the time this review went out, there was a winter sale on Steam), although it’s a ‘barebones’ edition – with no extras, and with Steam’s internet-based DRM too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Deus Ex”:

Logo

“Deus Ex” is a cyberpunk sci-fi game from the year 2000, that is a strange combination of a first-person shooter game and a role-playing game.

The game is set several decades in the future, where the world has been ravaged by a plague called the “grey death”. The only reason that society continues to function is because those in authority have priority access to the limited supplies of a vaccine called “ambrosia”.

You play as JC Denton, a nanotechnology-enhanced agent (who looks a bit like Neo from “The Matrix”, if he was played by John Travolta) for a UN special forces agency called UNATCO. For his first mission, JC is sent to recover a stolen consignment of ambrosia from a terrorist group called the NSF….

This is JC Denton. And, yes, there's even an in-game explanation for why he still wears shades, even though the entire game is set at night.

This is JC Denton. And, yes, there’s even an in-game explanation for why he still wears shades, even though the entire game is set at night.

To say too much more about the plot would be to give away major plot spoilers (although there may be some mild SPOILERS later in the review).

So, all that I’ll say is that whilst current audiences will probably guess one of the plot twists within ten minutes of starting the game, the story contains a significantly higher level of complexity, intelligence and philosophical depth than most games from 2000 had.

Seriously, the game’s story is probably on par with a great movie or a good (non-superhero) comic!

Whilst this may not seem that surprising these days (or to people who have played a few “point and click” games) – for a FPS game released in the year 2000, it was probably quite surprising. This is probably why the game gets a lot of acclaim for it’s story to this day. For the time, it’s story probably seemed even more complex and unpredictable than it is by current standards.

One thing that I will say right now is that you shouldn’t judge this game by your first impressions of it!

In other words, the game gets off to a fairly slow start. Although I think that you can skip the tutorial level, it’s pretty much essential to play it if you want to understand some of the game’s more complex mechanics. Yes, this isn’t exactly your average retro FPS game….

Yay! A tutorial level! Everyone loves THESE! Still, at least you get to re-live your teenage memories of playing "Half Life" in this part of the tutorial.

Yay! A tutorial level! Everyone loves THESE! Still, at least you get to re-live your teenage memories of playing “Half Life” in this part of the tutorial.

In fact, the thing that initially made me wary about this game was the fact that the tutorial level contained a rather frustrating stealth-based segment. Since I absolute loathe stealth-based games, this didn’t exactly make me excited to play the main game. However, as I’ll explain later, the stealth mechanics are thankfully only an optional part of the gameplay.

After a cutscene or two (which can all be skipped, if you really want to. But this is one of the few FPS games where you WON’T want to skip them!), the game itself gets off to a relatively slow start with a mission-based level that is set in a very gloomy and mostly generic-looking military base in New York. But, don’t abandon this game! Trust me, if you get through the boring early parts, then it gets significantly better!

If you stick around, then not only will you be rewarded with the complex storyline that I mentioned earlier, but you’ll also be rewarded with some significantly more interesting and atmospheric locations to explore too. My personal favourite was probably the part of the game that was set in a futuristic version of Hong Kong, since this looks a lot like something from “Blade Runner”:

Dammit! Why can't the WHOLE game look more like THIS?

Dammit! Why can’t the WHOLE game look more like THIS?

Still, there are some cool-looking locations in the rest of the game too. Like this futuristic room near the end of the game.

Still, there are some cool-looking locations in the rest of the game too. Like this futuristic room near the end of the game.

Or the friendly-looking lobby of this joyful meeting hall for local philanthropists, paragons of moral virtue and ardent pacifists.

Or the friendly-looking lobby of this joyful meeting hall for local philanthropists, paragons of moral virtue and ardent pacifists.

In addition to this, the mid-late parts of the game are also significantly more fun than the beginning because you’ll have both a greater understanding of the game’s mechanics and also a much better array of weapons, items and nanotechnolgy at your disposal. So, don’t let the first few levels put you off from playing what is actually a really fun game.

The gamplay in “Deus Ex” is surprisingly innovative and it hearkens back to a time when the FPS genre was a hotbed of innovation and creativity. One of the first things that I will say about the gameplay is that it’s surprisingly open-ended.

There are multiple ways to complete each level, depending on your favourite playing style. Even though the game initially encourages you to take a stealth-based pacifist approach, it’s perfectly possible to play this game like a traditional (and mostly enjoyably challenging, if occasionally frustratingly difficult) FPS game.

In other words, if you see a couple of adversaries, you can either sneak past them carefully, render them unconscious with non-lethal weapons, or….

 ...Charge at them furiously with the crowbar of justice held aloft! No prizes for guessing which approach was my favourite.

…Charge at them furiously with the crowbar of justice held aloft! No prizes for guessing which approach was my favourite.

This extended player choice also extends to how you complete the objectives in each non-linear level. Most of the time, there are multiple ways to do this.

For example, if your route is blocked by a locked door, then you can either use up some of your limited resources to bypass the lock, you can find a key/passcode, you can (sometimes) blow the door to smithereens, you can occasionally hack a nearby computer and open the door remotely or you can find an alternative route (eg: a window, an air vent etc..) for getting past the door.

At this point, I should probably talk about the passcode system, since many locked doors require a 4-5 digit code in order to open.

Most of the time, you can find these codes via in-game documents or through dialogue. Although I think that the game keeps a record of all documents you’ve seen, it’s often quicker and easier to just keep a pen and paper handy at all times when playing this game. You’ll be using it a lot!

Another minor problem is that the game’s (otherwise well-designed) locations sometimes cross the line from being “atmospherically gloomy” to being “almost too dark to see anything”.

I understand that the copious use of shadows is meant to improve the game’s stealth mechanics (and because it looks really really cool 🙂 ) but, although the game contains a torch feature, this has a limited power supply. So, when this runs out, you can occasionally be reduced to stumbling around blindly in the dark!

This is a GOOD example of a gothic sci-fi environment. It's gloomy, but you can still see where you're going.

This is a GOOD example of a gothic sci-fi environment. It’s gloomy, but you can still see where you’re going.

THIS is either a Metallica reference, or a terrible example of gothic sci-fi done wrong!

THIS is either a Metallica reference, or a terrible example of gothic sci-fi done wrong!

Likewise, after you’ve completed your objectives, you sometimes have to trudge back to the beginning of the level (or a specific earlier part of the level) in order to progress. Whilst this isn’t too much of an issue in the smaller and/or more visually-interesting levels, it can be somewhat boring in the larger and more generic-looking “military base” levels.

But, apart from these minor flaws, the level design is absolutely superb. The game quite literally rewards exploration by either giving you points for exploring non-essential areas, or placing extra items in these area. Seriously, I love games that actually let you explore 🙂

If I remember rightly, this area isn't really THAT essential to the plot, but you can explore it anyway. THIS is why FPS games form the 1990s/early 2000s are better than many FPS games made since then!

If I remember rightly, this area isn’t really THAT essential to the plot, but you can explore it anyway. THIS is why FPS games form the 1990s/early 2000s are better than many FPS games made since then!

One innovative feature in this game is the fact that you have a choice of several upgradable “augmentations” which you can give your character during the game. These allow JC to do things like regenerate some of his health, to spend longer underwater, to run faster etc..

All of these “augmentations” drain a power meter, so they have to be used (and chosen) carefully – but they are one of the major things that makes the later parts of the game significantly more fun than the earlier parts of the game.

The weapons in this game also include a limited upgrade system. But, although there is a decent array of both realistic and futuristic weapons (some lethal and some non-lethal) on offer, you’ll probably just end up using the three or four that you really like (in my case, the crowbar, the dragon sword, the pistol and the GEP gun) because….

Well, at least you can carry more than two weapons....

Well, at least you can carry more than two weapons….

You also have a limited inventory, with different items taking up different amounts of space. Although items of the same type can thankfully be stacked (eg: seven power cells will take up the same amount of space as just one), this also means that you’ll have to plan your weapon and item choices very carefully. If you’re used to playing old-school FPS games, then this will probably be frustrating at first but it soon becomes an interestingly challenging part of the game in it’s own right.

This theme of player choice is tightly-woven into the game’s settings and storyline too. I’ve already mentioned the non-linear explorable levels, but you can also have some mild degree of influence on the game’s plot too.

This is Juan Lebedev, a senior figure in the NSF. UN law states that you have to arrest him, but one of your colleages has different ideas...

This is Juan Lebedev, a senior figure in the NSF. UN law states that you have to arrest him, but one of your colleages has different ideas…

For example, a scene in one of the earlier parts of the game presents you with a moral dilemma. You have been tasked with catching a senior figure in the NSF but, when you find him, he quickly points out that he is unarmed (and that it is against UN law to shoot him).

A few seconds later, one of your more violent and fanatical colleagues shows up and orders you to shoot him, or she will. You then have the choice of either shooting the NSF guy yourself, walking away (and letting the other agent shoot him) or killing the other agent (in order to save the prisoner’s life). Someone is going to die in this part of the game, and it’s up to you to choose who it is.

Seriously, this game has a level of genuine maturity and philosophical depth that was almost unheard of (except for in “Point and click” games, what few of them remained back then) in the year 2000. In fact, a very critical part of the game revolves around making a gigantic philosophical choice that has no clear “right” or “wrong” answer. This is how you make a genuinely “mature” game!

In terms of length, this is a proper full-length game. This is the kind of game which you can play for a couple of hours every day (with the occasional 3-4 hour marathon session too) and it will still take you at least a week to complete it. One of the cool things about retro games is the fact that they are actually a decent length, and “Deus Ex” is no exception to this!

As for the voice-acting in this game, it’s reasonably good. Most of the time, it’s so good that you won’t even think of it as “voice-acting”. However, when you are playing some of the levels that aren’t set in America, expect to hear at least a few dodgy accents (this is probably most noticeable in the levels that are set in France. Although some of the voice acting in the Hong Kong level isn’t exactly stellar either).

Likewise, like in a “point and click” game, you actually get to choose some of your own dialogue sometimes, which is really cool.

Most of the dialogue choices are fairly "realistic" but I love this one which lets you choose whether you want to sound like a cheesy 1980s action hero or not LOL!

Most of the dialogue choices are fairly “realistic” but I love this one which lets you choose whether you want to sound like a cheesy 1980s action hero or not LOL!

In terms of music, the soundtrack is amazing! Whilst it isn’t quite as good as the soundtrack to “Blade Runner“, it is occasionally vaguely reminiscent of some parts of it – albeit with a slightly faster tempo and more of an “electronic” sound. As I mentioned earlier, the download of “Deus Ex” that I bought from GoG comes with a MP3 copy of the soundtrack, and it’s worth buying for this alone!

All in all, I can see why this game is renowned as a masterpiece. Yes, it certainly has a few flaws (especially near the beginning) but, if you are willing to persevere with playing it, then you will find a FPS game that is like no other. You will get to enjoy an intelligent, complex story and have the sheer joy of playing a game that lets you play it the way you want to.

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

Review: “Realms Of The Haunting” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Realms Of The Haunting Review

I first heard of “Realms Of The Haunting” about four or five years ago. At the time, I was mildly obsessed with another game by the same studio (Gremlin Interactive) called “Normality” and, when I heard that they’d also made a horror-themed adventure FPS game called “Realms Of The Haunting”, I was absolutely fascinated.

Naturally, I … forgot about the game until earlier this year when I happened to notice that it was on special offer on GoG.

At the time, the game was reduced to nearly 50p although, even at full price, this game is still a bargain. This game is also available on Steam (for about £7 at the time of writing), but the full-price GoG version is significantly cheaper (it costs a little under £5) and it also comes with a downloadable soundtrack, no DRM and a manual.

So, let’s take a look at “Realms Of The Haunting”:

Looks can be deceiving, this is more than just another FPS game...

Looks can be deceiving, this is more than just another FPS game…

“Realms Of The Haunting” is an interesting cross between a FPS game and a “point and click” adventure game. It was released in 1996/1997 and, even though it’s twenty years old, it’s still far more innovative, complex and unique than many games that have been released since. But, I’m getting ahead of myself – I should probably start by explaining the premise of the game.

The game’s long and complex gothic horror/fantasy story begins with a Canadian man called Adam Randall who has been experiencing a series of strange dreams that compel him to visit England and travel to the house of his late father in Cornwall (yes, this is the only game I’ve ever played that is set in Cornwall!). Shortly after Adam begins to explore the house, his father’s ghost appears.

In case you didn't know already, this is a horror game.

In case you didn’t know already, this is a horror game.

Despite being a vicar who has led a fairly good life, he tells Adam that his soul is suffering the torments of the damned. Although Adam pledges to save him, he tells Adam that this is all part of something much larger and much more dangerous. After exploring further and finding secret passages and unearthly creatures within the house, Adam begins to believe him.

Not only that, a mysterious woman called Rebecca Trevisard suddenly shows up in one part of the house and offers to help Adam solve the mystery…

This is Rebecca, one of the best characters in the game. Although she doesn't have an in-game sprite, she'll often comment on things during gameplay.

This is Rebecca, one of the best characters in the game. Although she doesn’t have an in-game sprite, she’ll often comment on things during gameplay.

I could spend several hours talking about the story of this game (and the characters) but, needless to say, this brief description only covers the events of the first couple of chapters.

Yes, like a book, this game is split into multiple “chapters” (twenty of them!). The level of depth and complexity in this game’s story can be compared to another game from a few years later called “The Longest Journey“.

Not only that, without spoiling anything, the game has an ending that will probably divide opinion. Although it wasn’t what I expected, it is certainly in keeping with the themes and tone of the game.

Although some of the story is relayed through in-game documents and in-game dialogue, the vast majority of it is relayed through FMV cutscenes. Although these are fairly low-resolution and occasionally feature cheesy 1990s low-budget TV show-style acting and 1990s-quality CGI, they still tell a very compelling story.

Thankfully, all of these cutscenes are fairly interesting, and none of them feel like lazy filler material. Plus, because they are all skippable (though you really should watch them), they never really break up the flow of the gameplay. Not only that, some of them even include interactive dialogue too:

Yay, it's like an interactive movie :)

Yay, it’s like an interactive movie 🙂

 Yay! '90s CGI :)

Yay! ’90s CGI 🙂

However, if you skip the cutscenes, you'll miss out on cool-looking stuff like this!

However, if you skip the cutscenes, you’ll miss out on cool-looking stuff like this!

In terms of the gameplay, this is where “Realms Of The Haunting” really comes into it’s own.

Although the game includes a lot of “point and click” adventure game elements (eg: inventory puzzles, documents, interactive dialogue) the actual gameplay takes place from a first-person perspective and includes lots of first-person shooter elements.

For example, this part of the game reminded me a bit of "Serious Sam", although it was made a couple of years earlier.

For example, this part of the game reminded me a bit of “Serious Sam”, although it was made a couple of years earlier.

As I’ll explain later, the fusion of these different genres works surprisingly well during most of the game. However, the controls can take a bit of getting used to – since they’re slightly on the clunky side.

So, expect to move using the arrow keys, whilst also using the mouse to interact with things. Although you can use the mouse to fire your weapons, I’d recommend using the “ctrl” key instead (it’s less accurate, but more intuitive if you’ve played FPS games during the 1990s).

Some of the weapons can be selected using the number keys, but some will need to be selected in the in-game menu (which can break up the flow of the gameplay slightly).

This game also features, jumping, crouching and a limited vertical look system, where you can use the page up and page down keys to look up and down. Likewise, in order to access the in-game menu (to use items or save your game), you need to press the “i” key.

But, don’t let the clunky controls put you off, the gameplay is – for the most part – astonishingly good. Although some of the earlier FPS segments of the game are very slow-paced, this is balanced out by lots of intriguing exploration and early puzzles that are challenging, but solvable.

Later FPS segments are thankfully a bit more challenging, although they never cross the line into being unfair. But, don’t expect the same level of speed and intensity as “Doom”. Most of the challenge here comes from the strength of the monsters and the relative lack of health power-ups in the game.

Health and ammo power-ups aren't highlighted, so (like the pistol magazine in the corner of this room), they can be easily missed!

Health and ammo power-ups aren’t highlighted, so (like the pistol magazine in the corner of this room), they can be easily missed!

Even so, as long as you know when to take cover, when to fight and when to run, then you probably won’t have too much difficulty with these parts of the game. Even so, there are a few challenging boss battles but – if you’re smart enough (or have read some hints) – you’ll save the game’s most powerful weapon for the final two bosses:

This final boss battle took me all of two minutes, since I'd kept the most powerful weapon. Ironically, the boss battle BEFORE this one is significantly more difficult.

This final boss battle took me all of two minutes, since I’d kept the most powerful weapon. Ironically, the boss battle BEFORE this one is significantly more difficult.

In fact, the array of weapons on offer here is surprisingly creative and varied. Yes, you’ll get the usual pistol and shotgun fairly quickly – but many of the game’s other weapons are magic-based weapons. These are powerful weapons and, with the exception of Florentine’s Staff (the game’s “BFG), they have infinite ammo. However, this is tempered by the fact that you’ll have to wait for them to recharge between shots.

However, the best part of the game is probably the exploration that you will be doing regularly. The atmospheric and mysterious “world” of this game is absolutely huge and it’s up to you to explore all of it.

All of the game’s many settings look really cool and they also contain all sorts of passages, corridors, rooms etc.. that you will have to search. If, like me, you love games that require lots of exploration, then you’ll love this game 🙂

There are dramatic-looking outdoor areas here.

There are dramatic-looking outdoor areas here.

There are also more traditional "Doom"-style areas too.

There are also more traditional “Doom”-style areas too.

Then there's the mysterious inter-dimensional realm... I could go on, but there are a lot of distinct and interesting locations here.

Then there’s the mysterious inter-dimensional realm… I could go on, but there are a lot of distinct and interesting locations here.

If there’s one thing I love about both “point and click” adventure games and classic 1990s FPS games, it’s the fact that both genres encouraged the player to explore. So, the fact that exploration is such a huge part of this game is really cool 🙂

The only thing that I will say is that some maze-like areas take a very “realistic” approach to in-game mapping. Although you’ll receive a map before entering most of these areas, this isn’t a “Doom II”-style automap. It’s an actual document that you have to look at. Like a real map, it doesn’t contain any indication of where you’re currently standing. So, you’ll have to rely on landmarks and traditional map-reading to get through these parts of the game.

I didn't have too much trouble with the maps but, if you aren't good at map-reading, then these parts of the game will probably drive you up the wall..

I didn’t have too much trouble with the maps but, if you aren’t good at map-reading, then these parts of the game will probably drive you up the wall..

The puzzles in this game are, for the most part, fairly good and there’s a good mixture of “traditional” puzzles, switch-based puzzles, inventory puzzles and gameplay-based puzzles.

Throughout most of the game, the puzzles are fairly logical and they only appear in contexts where you would expect them to appear. Although there are quite a few of them, you’ll get a decent break (for exploring and/or fighting) in between each puzzle.

Plus, in addition to manual item selection, the game also includes an auto-select system (where the game will automatically use the right item in the right place) which really helps to make the puzzles more enjoyable.

This is also useful when encountering many of the game’s locked doors. Since many of the keys you find are (realistically) unmarked, having the game automatically use the right key on the right door can save you a lot of grief.

As someone who is terrible at adventure game puzzles, I was delighted by the fact that I didn’t need a walkthrough for at least the first half of the game. However, the number and difficulty of the puzzles increases significantly in the later parts of the game.

This includes an area where you have to solve eight logic puzzles in order to progress. Even with the use of a walkthrough, I still had to draw several charts and spend about an hour and a half getting through this part of the game.

Although this game is amazingly cool, this segment of the game ISN'T. Even with a walkthrough, it can be very frustrating

Although this game is amazingly cool, this segment of the game ISN’T. Even with a walkthrough, it can be very frustrating

Still, whilst these eight puzzles can seem slightly random and out of place, they are preceded by a wonderfully macabre puzzle that is much more appropriate for a horror game like “Realms Of The Haunting”.

In this segment of the game, you have to search a maze of H.R.Giger style tunnels in order to find sixteen gruesome brains that have to be fed into a creepy steampunk machine.

You'll have to be quite BRAINY to solve this puzzle! Seriously though, I wish more of the later puzzles were like this one.

You’ll have to be quite BRAINY to solve this puzzle! Seriously though, I wish more of the later puzzles were like this one.

But, later puzzles aside, the mixture of all of the different types of gameplay in “Realms Of The Haunting” is handled really well. Seriously, it doesn’t quite feel like a FPS game or an adventure game, but like something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. I really miss the days when games companies constantly tried new things and focused on creating innovative games.

The best way to describe the atmosphere and general style of this game is to imagine what a cross between “Doom” and “Alone In The Dark” would look like, if it was combined with the deep and complex story of “The Longest Journey”. If you’ve played any of these three classic games, then this alone should make you want to play “Realms Of The Haunting”.

Seriously, this game has a special quality to it that I’ve only seen rarely in computer games. Although the gameplay is incredibly fun, this game also contains a level of storytelling, atmosphere and depth that really makes it stand out from the crowd. If games were literature, this would be the Edgar Allen Poe, the Clive Barker or the H.P.Lovecraft of gaming history. And, yet, it’s faded into almost total obscurity.

Yes, with it’s clunky controls and occasionally frustrating puzzles, it isn’t a “perfect” game. But, damn, does it come extremely close to perfection! If you like FPS games, 1970s-90s horror novels, adventure games, the horror genre or even just good storytelling, then you need to play this game!

It’s twenty years old and it’s still more imaginative, innovative, complex and dramatic than many modern large-budget games are!

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

Review: “Red Faction II [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Red Faction II Review sketch

Although I have very fond memories of playing the Playstation 2 version of “Red Faction II” when I was a teenager, I’d almost forgotten about this game until earlier this year when I saw that the PC version of this game was on special offer on GOG. Out of sheer nostalgia, I bought a copy within an hour of seeing it.

During the sale, the game cost about two quid and this is probably what I’d recommend paying for this game (for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this review). So, it’s probably a good idea to wait until it goes on offer again. At the time of writing, this game also seems to be available on Steam for a slightly lower price than the full-price GOG version, however it also comes with all of Steam’s DRM too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Red Faction II”:

2016 Red Faction II Main menu with bot match

“Red Faction II” is a dystopian science fiction FPS game that was originally released for the Playstation 2 in 2002 (with the PC port being released in 2003). Although it is supposedly a sequel to “Red Faction“, you don’t need to have played that game first since it’s almost a completely different game.

In “Red Faction II”, you play as Alias, a demolitions expert in a team of nanotechnology-enhanced super soldiers that serve under the command of a Stalin-like dictator called Sopot. However, after a few years, Sopot becomes suspicious of the super soldiers and orders them killed.

Fortunately, Alias and the rest of the team are able to escape execution and they decide to ally themselves with the Red Faction, a group of rebels who are waging a civil war against Sopot’s government….

Although the premise of the game sounds slightly generic, there’s a surprising amount of complexity in the game’s story. Yes, it can’t exactly be compared to a novel – or even a TV show – but, for a FPS game from the early 2000s, the story is slightly more complex than you might think. However, I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers.

I have a lot to say about this game, so I’ll start by talking about the things I loved about this game and then I’ll talk about all of it’s flaws. There are a lot of things in each category, so I’ll split this review into two segments.

The Good Things About “Red Faction II”:

One thing that I really love about this game is it’s atmosphere. Although there are at least few generic “military base”/ “dreary factory” levels, some of the levels have a very distinctive cyberpunk aesthetic to them that reminded me of a cross between “Tron” and “Blade Runner”:

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory :)

Yay! An ominous-looking laboratory 🙂

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like "Blade Runner". Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

It may be a brutal dictatorship, but it also looks like “Blade Runner”. Every cloud DOES have a silver lining, I guess.

The range of weapons in “Red Faction II” is surprisingly good too. Although this game includes a few boringly “realistic” guns, many of the weapons on offer here are of the futuristic variety and they all look, sound and feel really great.

The weapon that you’ll probably be using the most is the “NICW” – a futuristic assault rifle that also contains a powerful grenade launcher. Since it’s extremely useful at both short and long ranges, you’ll probably just end up ignoring all of the other weapons once you find it.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it's secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Not only is the NICW useful during normal gameplay, but it’s secondary fire can also come in handy during boss battles too.

Plus, unlike many other FPS games, “Red Faction II” contains a ridiculous number of weapons. One of the advantages of playing classic FPS games on the PC is that you can use the number keys to switch between weapons. Well, in “Red Faction II”, you’ll also have to use several punctuation keys to select weapons too. And that’s not even including the 4-5 types of grenades that you’ll find throughout the game. Seriously, I cannot fault the weapons in this game.

As for the enemies, they’re moderately interesting. Since this game came from the tail end of the time when FPS games were at their best, there is some actual creativity here. Although you’ll spend the first few levels fighting generic “enemy soldier” enemies, you’ll soon also be facing robots (large and small), evil “nano elite” super-soldiers and two types of zombies.

Yes, they’re technically nanotechnology-enhanced corpses but, well, zombies!:

Yay! It's a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun :)

Yay! It’s a known fact that the presence of the undead automatically makes any FPS game about ten times as fun 🙂

In addition to this, the game also contains several challenging boss battles too. Does anyone else remember when FPS games used to include these? Although these battles can occasionally become frustrating due to some poor elements of the game’s design (which I’ll discuss later), they mostly provide an enjoyable challenge where you’ll have to think carefully about the tactics that you use.

This game also includes several vehicle segments too. Although I’m normally opposed to vehicle segments in FPS games, most of these segments are fairly good (especially those where you get to use a giant suit of battle armour). However, the segment where you control a gun on an aircraft plays like an on-rails shooter rather than a FPS game, which can be confusing at first. However, as I’ll explain in the other half of this review, one of the game’s other vehicle sections isn’t so good.

Another good thing about this game is the excellent voice acting. A few seconds after you see the main menu, you will be greeted by a thunderous speech from Sopot which really sets the tone for the game. Seriously, it’s something that you won’t forget – and will probably be able to recite parts from memory after listening to it a few times. Not only that, there are also a couple of famous names amongst the voice cast too:

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham :)

Lance Henriksen AND Jason Statham 🙂

Plus, as a single-player gamer, one thing I loved about the PC port of this game is that fact that instead of a multiplayer mode (that I’ll never use), the game only includes a “bot match” mode, where you can play deathmatch, capture the flag etc… games against the computer 🙂

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local  multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

The bot match system includes a classic-style health system and several unlockable levels. However, those expecting an online or local multiplayer mode will be disappointed.

Since you’ll unlock extra content for it (as well as several movie/ model/ concept art galleries) as you progress through the main game, it has even more replay value than you might expect. However, if you’re a multiplayer gamer, the lack of local or online multiplayer will probably be a critical flaw rather than an awesome feature.

The Bad Things About “Red Faction II”:

Despite all of my praise for this game, it is not without a litany of serious flaws. Most of these problems stem from the fact that this game is very obviously primarily designed for consoles. These are things that I didn’t notice much when I was a naive PS2 (and PC) playing teenager but, as a more seasoned retro FPS PC gamer, they stand out from a mile away.

The first of these problems is that this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving. Yes, I can see why this was done for practical reasons on consoles, but there’s no excuse whatsoever for it in PC games. And, as if to taunt you further, the game contains a “save game” option in the in-game menu, which only allows you to re-save your latest checkpoint.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many of the boss battles are preceded by unskippable cutscenes which you’ll have to re-watch every time that you die. And, this will probably happen again and again and again….. Seriously, I pretty much memorised the dialogue in the cutscene before the final boss battle.

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

This (approximately one minute-long) cutscene is permanently seared into my brain, thanks to a combination of checkpoint saving and the fact that it is totally unskippable!

In addition to checkpoint saving, this game also includes a limited form of *ugh* regenerating health. Since the original version of this game was released in 2002, the rot hadn’t fully set in yet, so you’ll still be able to collect health power-ups. However, these serve as more of a “lives” system and you lose one of them whenever your short regenerating health bar runs out.

Ironically, the “bot match” mode includes a proper non-regenerating health system, so I don’t see why this couldn’t have been added to the main game as well.

Plus, despite carrying the “Red Faction” name, this game has barely any links to the previous game. In fact, even the really cool “geo mod” system in the first game (that allowed you to destroy almost everything in the game) has been reduced to a few specific pre-determined desctructible items, walls and areas. I really don’t understand why this unique and distinctive feature was mostly removed in the second game. I mean, it was one of the things that made the original “Red Faction” stand out so much.

Not only that, there are only a few very easily-missed token references to the first game here:

Wow, I never that that I'd actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation....

Wow, I never that that I’d actually be happy to see the logo of the nefarious Ultor Mining Corporation….

The level design in “Red Faction II” is also more “modern” than classic too. What I mean by this is that many of the levels are of the highly linear variety. Yes, there are a few non-linear parts and a few cool hidden areas to find but – for the most part – there isn’t really much room for exploration. You just carry on walking along the one fixed path that the game designers have told you to follow.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This bridge may look cool, but it also sums up the design of a lot of the levels.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

This level is quite literally just a shooting gallery.

Even though I’m not really much of an options nerd, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that, apart from re-bindable keys and a few gameplay options, the “options” menu is fairly limited. You can’t change the screen resolution or do many of the things that you would expect in a PC game. Still, since it’s from 2002-3, this game will run smoothly on even fairly old PCs (like mine).

Although the game’s progamming is fairly stable and reliable, I had one “shout at the screen in frustration” moment when a glitch prevented me from completing a particularly difficult boss battle. After several attempts, I’d finally completed the first half of the battle and I was moving to the second half when….

 ... I got stuck in a door. I'd just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss... Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

… I got stuck in a door. I’d just spent the past five minutes fighting a difficult boss… Oh well, back to the last checkpoint to do it all over again !!!

The absolute worst part of the game by far is, of course, the submarine section.

Many of the vehicle segments in this game are fast-paced and thrilling… and then you have to spend some time aboard a … well, I can’t think of an insult strong enough to describe it … submarine. Not only does this decrepit rust-bucket handle like a slow-moving brick (unlike the enemy submarines that will be shooting you and the homing mines scattered on the ground below you), but it’s weapons are slow-firing and inaccurate too.

 I'm not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

I’m not a religious person but, in the very unlikely event that hell exists, all of the computer games there probably look like this one level!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll be spending these parts of the game navigating murky underwater caverns. In fact, once you’ve completed the objective in the last part of the submarine level, you then have the fun task of finding the submarine bay that will allow you to finally leave this despicable crime against gaming behind you. Forever.

Of course, the submarine bay doors are not clearly lit or clearly marked. In fact, they’re hidden in a part of the level that doesn’t even obey the laws of physics! In one part of the level, there are several thin metal platforms (that are thinner than the submarine) protruding from a rock. If you try to land on top of them, as any sensible person would, nothing will happen. Instead, you have to go underneath one of these thin platforms… to surface inside a large indoor facility that is obviously directly above the thin metal platform that you just landed on top of twenty minutes ago! AAAARGH!!!!

Conclusion:

All in all, this game is a real mixed bag. For every wonderfully cool thing about it, there is also something absolutely terrible. Although I miss the days when I could be naively nostalgic about this game, re-playing it wasn’t an entirely bad experience. As such, I’d recommend waiting until this game goes on sale before you buy it (or, even better, buying the first “Red Faction” game instead).

Even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, if you’re willing to put up with some extremely frustrating moments and console-centric PC game design.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would maybe get a three.