Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..

2017-artwork-free-cyberpunk-stuff-article-sketch

Well, I’d originally planned to make a “reading list” of books, comics, films, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre for people who want inspiration for making stuff in this amazing genre, but who don’t know much about it.

But, since many of the things I could think of were commercial products (eg: games like the original “Deus Ex” and films like “Blade Runner”), I was worried that this article would sound like a giant advert. Likewise, not everyone has a large enough budget to instantly buy lots of films, games etc.. just because they saw them on an online list.

So, instead, I thought that I’d challenge myself to create a list of inspirational cyberpunk things that can be legally viewed for free, legally read for free and/or have been released as freeware by their developers. Although all of the things on this list are still copyrighted (the genre isn’t nearly old enough to have any public domain works), their creators have made them freely available to anyone who wants to look.

Before I go any further, if you’re not sure what the difference between taking inspiration from something and copying something is, then check out this article which might enlighten you, and help you to avoid plagiarism.

Oh, and one more thing – I originally wrote this article a couple of weeks before I discovered an amazing free cyberpunk flash game called “The Last Night[Note: The page will start playing music as soon as it loads]. It’s a really short, but astonishingly atmospheric, “Blade Runner”-style game and it’s well worth playing if you like the cyberpunk genre. But, I found it too late to “officially” add it to the list in this article.

Likewise, I also forgot to mention a freeware cyberpunk first-person shooter game called “Hacx: Twitch ‘N Kill” despite writing a review of it last year (you’ll also need a free Doom engine source port – like “ZDoom” – to play this game).

Anyway, here’s the list……

1) “Cyberpunk” By Bruce Bethke: This is the short story that started it all and it can be read for free on the author’s site. Yes, although the genre was only really popularised and defined by films like “Blade Runner” and novels like William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” in the early-mid 1980s, it technically began with this short story that was written in 1980.

The story itself doesn’t contain all of the features that would later come to characterise the genre, but it provides a slightly more comprehensible example of the cyberpunk narrative style/ visual style (which usually includes a lot of information overload and/or sensory overload ) and an early example of the futuristic computer hacker protagonists of cyberpunk fiction.

2) Valenburg’s Art Gallery: All of the awesome cyberpunk art and animations in this amazing online gallery can legally be viewed for free. And, if you’re an artist, then this gallery is well worth checking out if you want to learn some general things about how to make cyberpunk art.

For example, pay close attention to the artist’s use of colours in many of the pictures. There are many possible cyberpunk colour schemes (in fact, any complimentary colour scheme, or combination of complimentary colour schemes, will work), but the blue/purple/pink/black one here gives the art in Valenburg’s gallery a very “modern” look.

Likewise, his artwork also contains many great examples of how lighting should be handled in the cyberpunk genre – namely that it should come from things like computer screens, neon signs, windows etc… and that the lighting should be emphasised by setting cyberpunk art and comics at night.

3) Dreamweb:Dreamweb” is an old cyberpunk computer game from 1994 that was later released as freeware by it’s developers. In order to get it running, you’ll probably have to use another free program called “DOSBox“, which emulates an old MS DOS computer.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played any of this game but, although the game uses a fairly minimalist top-down perspective, it isn’t short on atmosphere. If you want to see an example of a grimy, gritty, dystopian cyberpunk story then this game might be a good place to start.

This game might also give you some inspiration for creating cyberpunk characters, as well as giving you an interactive example of the well-used “high tech low lives” quote that is used to define the cyberpunk genre.

4) “Vurt” Partial Comic Adaptation by Leo Connor: This intense, nightmarish cyberpunk comic by Leo Connor [NSFW] is an adaptation of the early chapters of an old cyberpunk novel called “Vurt” by Jeff Noon, and it can be viewed for free.

Although it is quite far from some of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it provides a great example of how the cyberpunk attitude, narrative style and atmosphere can be applied to stories that don’t actually involve computer hacking or high technology. It also provides a good example of how to incorporate elements from the horror genre into the cyberpunk genre too.

The story focuses on a group of stoners who access an alternate dimension, similar to cyberspace, through the use of hallucinogenic feathers. It’s strange, it’s bizarre, it’s disturbing, but it’s still cyberpunk. Somehow.

5) Beneath A Steel Sky:Beneath A Steel Sky” is another freeware game from the 1990s that you’ll probably have to use DOSBox to run. If you can’t be bothered with setting up DOSBox, then it is also available for free (with a pre-made DOSBox launcher) from an online game shop called GoG, although you’ll have to create an account there in order to download this version.

Although I go into more detail about the game in my review of it, it’s a slightly unusual example of a cyberpunk game. Although it still contains all of the classic features of 1990s cyberpunk (eg: cyberspace, mega-cities etc..) a lot of the artwork in the game is significantly brighter than most things in the cyberpunk genre. Likewise, the tone of the game is slightly more comedic than you might expect from the cyberpunk genre, even if the humour can be slightly dark.

Still, as an example of something that is both within and outside of the traditions of the cyberpunk genre, it’s well worth playing. Although you might need to find an online guide for some of the puzzles though!

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Review: “Hacx (1.2)” (Freeware Computer Game )

2016 Artwork Hacx 1.2 Review Sketch

A few days before I wrote this review, I was looking around online for “Blade Runner“-themed levels for “Doom II”. Although I couldn’t really find one, I was reminded of a classic 1990s cyberpunk FPS game that I’d been meaning to play properly for some time. I am, of course, talking about version 1.2 of “Hacx: Twitch ‘N Kill”.

At the time of writing this review, I’m about three-quarters of the way through this game (since I’m stuck on one of the puzzles!), so this review will only reflect my impressions so far.

Although “Hacx” was originally a commercial add-on for “Doom II” released by Banjo Software in 1997, it was later re-released by Banjo as freeware in 2000. In 2010, several members of the “Doom II” modding community and possibly one of the original “Hacx” team, released an updated freeware IWAD version of the game that doesn’t require a copy of “Doom II”. However, you will also need to download a free open source “Doom Engine” source port in order to play it.

In other words, just download “ZDoom” (ignore what it says on the site about “ZDoom” requiring “Doom”, “Doom II” etc…, it will also work with just “Hacx”) and then copy the ‘HACX’ WAD file into your “ZDoom” directory. Once you’ve done this, just start ZDoom and a menu should come up. Select “Hacx” and start playing. It’s that simple.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Hacx (1.2)”:

Screenshot_Hacx_20160506_155026

“Hacx 1.2” is a cyberpunk FPS game that contains 20 levels (plus a secret level), new weapons, new music, new monsters, new textures etc…

Since this game uses the “Doom” engine, it’ll be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the old “Doom” games, or possibly “Heretic” or “Hexen”. There are a few minor enhancements (eg: destructible objects) but, for the most part, this is just the good old “Doom” engine.

 Does anyone else remember the days when FPS games had a large status bar at the bottom of the screen? Yes, you can remove it (and I did), but it's still wonderfully nostalgic.

Does anyone else remember the days when FPS games had a large status bar at the bottom of the screen? Yes, you can remove it (and I did), but it’s still wonderfully nostalgic.

Like in the classic “Doom” games, jumping and vertical mouse-look are disabled by default in “Hacx 1.2” (and the old keyboard-only controls are default). Thanks to modern source ports like “ZDoom”, you can enable both of these things and change the control scheme to something a bit more modern if you want to.

However, I would only recommend enabling mouse-look and modern controls, since some puzzles in this game rely on the player not being able to jump. As such, the game might be considerably less challenging and/or fun if you enable jumping.

Since the download of “Hacx 1.2” doesn’t really come with a manual, I have no clue about the backstory behind this game. Although this game obviously has a story of some kind, I have no clue what it is. Even so, the story is relayed by the fact that you occasionally finish levels by entering an office-like room with a computer terminal and/or by finding various forms of transport.

Ooh, a computer in a computer game. How ironic!

Ooh, a computer in a computer game. How ironic!

Oooh, this reminds me of the level endings in "Exhumed"/ "Powerslave" :)

Oooh, this reminds me of the level endings in “Exhumed”/ “Powerslave” 🙂

In terms of the level design, it’s surprisingly good. Although some of the earlier levels can be visually monotonous, the design itself is well and truly up to standard. If you like your FPS games to contain non-linear levels that reward exploration, challenging puzzles and intense combat, then you’re going to love “Hacx 1.2”.

One interesting thing about “Hacx 1.2” is that it places much more emphasis on puzzle-solving than “Doom II” did. In other words, the gameplay can often be a lot closer to something like “Duke Nukem 3D” or “Hexen”, since you’ll often be searching for hidden switches and trying to work out what you’re supposed to do next.

Whilst most of these puzzles can be solved with careful exploration and logical thought, I’m completely stuck on one of the puzzles in level 15 (?)

 Dammit! I've worked out what the eight buttons in this room do. But, I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to do WITH them.

Dammit! I’ve worked out what the eight buttons in this room do. But, I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to do WITH them.

In terms of visual design, although some of the levels I’ve played look a bit boring (eg: generic caves, generic buildings and “Quake”-style industrial areas), there are some interesting locations here too.

For example, you get to explore an old-fashioned Chinese village, you get to explore parts of a city and you get to break into (and out of) Alcatraz. Plus, since this is a cyberpunk game from the 1990s, expect to spend some time IN CYBERSPACE! :

I'm SURE I had a Windows 98 screensaver that looked a bit like this back in the day....

I’m SURE I had a Windows 98 screensaver that looked a bit like this back in the day….

I'm guessing that this is one of the more dubious parts of cyberspace....

I’m guessing that this is one of the more dubious parts of cyberspace….

This bit reminded me of "Duke Nukem 3D" too :)

This bit reminded me of “Duke Nukem 3D” too 🙂

As for the combat, it’s slightly more challenging than “Doom II”. The levels sometimes have a slightly higher monster count than in many of the earlier “Doom” games, and you don’t really start getting many of the decent weapons until a few levels into the game.

The new monsters are fairly well-designed, although they don’t really look quite as distinctive as the classic “Doom II” monsters do. In keeping with the cyberpunk theme, you’ll be fighting various robots and/or mutants.

Although some of the monsters are clearly just the old “Doom” monsters with new sprites (eg: the shotgun-firing robots), some of the monsters have new attacks and/or attributes, which helps to keep the gameplay unpredictable.

 This robot is just a shotgun guy from "Doom" with a new sprite.

This robot is just a shotgun guy from “Doom” with a new sprite.

 The creatures standing on top of the castle may look a bit like the Mancubi from "Doom II", but they're more like a souped-up version of the Hell Knights. Seriously, these creatures can kill you within about three seconds if you don't use the right tactics

The creatures standing on top of the castle may look a bit like the Mancubi from “Doom II”, but they’re more like a souped-up version of the Hell Knights. Seriously, these creatures can kill you within about three seconds if you don’t use the right tactics

These humanoid robots are like a toned-down version of the Arch-viles from "Doom II". They still have a lot of health and they'll resurrect other monsters occasionally, although their main attack is a moderate-strength projectile attack rather than a powerful fire-based attack.

These humanoid robots are like a toned-down version of the Arch-viles from “Doom II”. They still have a lot of health and they’ll resurrect other monsters occasionally, although their main attack is a moderate-strength projectile attack rather than a powerful fire-based attack.

As for the weapons, they’re fairly similar to the classic “Doom” weapons, albeit with more of a futuristic look to them.

One interesting thing to note is that the pistol is a much better weapon than it was in “Doom”. Although it gobbles up two bullets per shot, it fires considerably faster than it did in “Doom” which actually makes it a vaguely useful weapon. The chainsaw has also been replaced with this awesome electric glove.

Yes, it feels as badass to use as it looks!

Yes, it feels as badass to use as it looks!

The super-shotgun and shotgun replacements look suitably futuristic, although they sound a bit underpowered. The chaingun has been replaced with a SMG, which fires a lot faster (so, only use it in short bursts) . The rocket launcher has been replaced … by a “torpedo” launcher.

The BFG has also been replaced with a small nuclear weapon of some kind. But, best of all, the plasma rifle has been replaced with something that looks a lot like the Jaffa staff weapons from “Stargate SG-1” !!!! 🙂

 Kneel before the will of Apophis, vile robot!

Kneel before the will of Apophis, vile robot!

Yes, it looks cool but, if you aren't careful, you can run out of bullets within about five to ten seconds.

Yes, it looks cool but, if you aren’t careful, you can run out of bullets within about five to ten seconds.

As for the music, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Some of it sounds slightly generic, some of it sounds quite catchy and – in the tradition of “Doom” – at least one or two of the songs were *ahem* heavily inspired by classic heavy metal music. Seriously, the background music in either the first or second level sounds a lot like “Exciter” by Judas Priest. Not that I’m complaining though 🙂

All in all, although this game isn’t quite as good as “Doom II”, it’s still pretty awesome. If you like your FPS games to be challenging things that actually make you think, or if you’re nostalgic for how much cooler the future seemed in the 1990s, then you can’t go wrong with “Hacx 1.2”.

Best of all, it can be legally downloaded and played for free right now (although, again, you’ll also need to download a free “Doom Engine” source port too). So, what are you waiting for? Give it a go!

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

Mini Review: “Rosemary” (Freeware Adventure Game)

2016 Artwork Rosemary freeware game review sketch

Well, a while before I wrote this review, I was in the mood for playing a “point and click” adventure game and I eventually found a vaguely gothic short freeware game from 2009 called “Rosemary“, which was apparently developed by MIT students in America and/or Singapore (there’s even an academic paper about the game). So, out of curiosity, I thought that I’d check it out.

Before I go any further, I should probably warn you that this review will contain SPOILERS also, for technical reasons I’ll explain later, some of the screenshots here are cropped slightly more than they should be.

Plus, despite what “Rosemary” might look like at first glance, I should probably point out that this is NOT a game for kids – for reasons I’ll explain fully near the end of the review.

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

Again, despite what it looks like, this isn't a kids' game.

Again, despite what it looks like, this isn’t a kids’ game.

“Rosemary” revolves around a woman called Rose who, after her parents’ deaths, is looking through their old stuff and finds a photo album containing pictures from her childhood. One thing that she notices is that she used to have a best friend (called Tom) who she had almost forgotten about and had believed to be imaginary. So, she returns to her childhood home town of New Rye to see if she can learn anything about him:

Of course, the place has seen better days.

Of course, the place has seen better days.

This also introduces one of the game’s more interesting gameplay mechanics. Although the town is abandoned in the present day, Rose can travel back to an earlier version of the town and talk to the people who used to live there (this is done by clicking the tree icon in the bottom corner of the screen).

I guess that you could say that her memories were rose-tinted.

I guess that you could say that her memories were rose-tinted.

Occasionally, when you find certain items, you can place them into a scrapbook (provided that they are in the correct order) which will unlock more of Rose’s childhood memories. Although there are only three of these memories, this is a really interesting gameplay feature:

The rest of the memory isn't unlocked until you find the relevant items.

The rest of the memory isn’t unlocked until you find the relevant items.

As for the rest of the gamplay, it involves fairly ordinary “point and click” type stuff – you can talk to people, pick up items, combine items, look at things and even smell things.

Although the puzzles in this game require a slight amount of searching and trial and error, you probably won’t need a walkthrough for this game. This is mainly because the game only has four areas that you can explore. Even though each of these areas exists in two versions, this means that there isn’t really a huge amount of exploration in the game and the game will probably take you less than an hour to complete too.

Even so, you'll find a fast-travel map, which you can only use when you are in "look" mode.

Even so, you’ll find a fast-travel map, which you can only use when you are in “look” mode.

Graphically, I really liked the whimsical – but dark – art style of this game. However, although the animations in the game work fairly well, they can be a little bit slow and not quite as fluid as I would have expected. Even so, they still work fairly well.

One annoying technical thing that I found with this game is that it runs in a large window instead of in fullscreen. What this means is that, if you don’t shrink the window, some of the option buttons can be difficult to press (hence why they don’t quite appear in some screenshots in this review). But, if you minimise the window slightly, then you can see all of the option buttons – but trying to click on the lower ones will result in clicking on the taskbar instead.

Thankfully, you don't have to use the "smell" and "put" buttons TOO often.

Thankfully, you don’t have to use the “smell” and “put” buttons TOO often.

Earlier in this review, I pointed out that “Rosemary” isn’t a kids’ game- despite looking very much like one. This is mainly because of the ending. This game has a very chilling and depressing twist ending, which is kind of like something out of a horror movie.

Although this is foreshadowed somewhat by the creepy abandoned town, by one line of dialogue and by the fact that the game’s story begins with Rose being bereaved, the sheer darkness of the ending still caught me totally by surprise.

Seriously, despite this obvious piece of foreshadowing, the ending still shocked me.

Seriously, despite this obvious piece of foreshadowing, the ending still shocked me.

All in all, “Rosemary” is an interesting little freeware game. Yes, it’s fairly small and it isn’t perfect on a technical level – but the art style is really cool and it’s also one of the most chilling horror games that I’ve played in a while.

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

Mini Review: “Dullahan” (Freeware Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Dullahan review sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a rather interesting little freeware game called “Dullahan” which was made in just ten days by someone called “Like A Hundred Bears”.

Dullahan title screen

One of the first things that I will say about “Dullahan” is that it’s very reminiscent of the old “Castlevania” games (the “Game Boy” version especially) – if you have fond memories of these games, then you’ll feel right at home when playing “Dullahan”.

In this game, you play as a headless warrior (armed with a whip) who must solve puzzles and fight monsters in order to find his head again.

 Insert Iron Maiden "Eddie The Head" joke here,

Insert Iron Maiden “Eddie The Head” joke here,

In terms of the gameplay, one innovative feature in this game is that you can carry items on top of your neck. This forms the basis for several simple puzzles throughout the game and there are a variety of different items that you can carry, such as keys (which have to be thrown into locked doors), rocks (for activating switches) and bombs (which need to be activated by jumping into one of the torches in the background).

You're holding a candle and there's a bomb below those crumbling blocks. The challenge in this puzzle is working out where to throw the candle from.

You’re holding a candle and there’s a bomb below those crumbling blocks. The challenge in this puzzle is working out where to throw the candle from.

As for the monsters and the combat, it’s fairly similar to “Castlevania”. It takes you a second or two to swing your whip, so good timing is essential.

However, most of the monsters have fairly predictable movement and attack patterns that you’ll learn fairly quickly. So, with the exception of flying skulls that you have to dodge sometimes, the combat is – for the most part at least- not too challenging:

Well, except for THESE bloody things!

Well, except for THESE bloody things!

In truly epic “Castlevania” fashion, you find health power-ups by whipping gravestones and picking up the skull that falls out of them. However, there are only a couple of health power-ups in the game, so try not to rely on them too much.

I guess you could say that I was DEAD lucky to find this power-up. Haw haw haw!

I guess you could say that I was DEAD lucky to find this power-up. Haw haw haw!

Like old platform games, “Dullahan” doesn’t really feature a proper saving system. Instead, it uses a fairly basic form of checkpoint saving. But, since the whole game can be completed in under an hour, this isn’t really a huge issue.

Interestingly, this game is also compatible with the XBox and the PS3, but not having one of these modern consoles, I played it on the PC. Like all good 2D platform games, the PC controls are strictly keyboard-only 🙂

Yay! There's none of that "aiming with the mouse" rubbish here!

Yay! There’s none of that “aiming with the mouse” rubbish here!

For the most part, the controls are fairly simple, although the mechanic of pressing “up” and “c” to throw objects can be a tiny bit clunky and imprecise occasionally.

Musically, the game is fairly good and a lot of the background music is suitably reminiscent of the old “Castlevania” games.

All in all, this is a fun little game that’s worth checking out if you’re in a nostalgic mood or if you just want to enjoy playing an old-school platformer for half an hour or so.

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

Mini Review: “SkyRoads” (Freeware Computer Game)

2015 Artwork SkyRoads review sketch

Well, I was watching some random Youtube videos a while ago when I saw that one of them contained some rather interesting-looking gameplay footage from an early 1990s computer game called “SkyRoads” (or, more accurately, a special Christmas edition of the game ).

Since the game was later released as freeware by the developers (and can be downloaded from their site), I thought that I’d take a quick look at it. However, I’ll be looking at the original version of the game, rather than the Christmas edition that was released later.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that you will need to use the “DOSBox” DOS emulator in order to run this game on a modern PC. Likewise, at the time of writing this review, I’ve only had a chance to play this game for about an hour, so this will be more of a “first impressions” article than a full review.

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

Skyroads title screen

“SkyRoads” is a 3D platform game from 1993, but it’s completely unlike any platform game that I’ve ever seen before. Basically, you control a spaceship that has to fly across a number of 3D obstacle courses. As you may have guessed, the gameplay requires precision jumping and lots of old-school trial and error gameplay.

This is one of the easier obstacles in the game, but it can get a lot more challenging than this.

This is one of the easier obstacles in the game, but it can get a lot more challenging than this.

Surprisingly “SkyRoads” handles a lot more like a 2D platformer than a 3D game. You use the left and right arrow keys to strafe, the forward and backward arrow keys to accelerate/decelerate and the spacebar to jump. The game also seems to offer joystick and mouse support too, but I stuck with the default keyboard controls because, well, keyboards are awesome.

But, although the controls are fairly simple, the gameplay is anything but simple. This is one of those games where you should expect to fail very often and where you need to memorise the layout of each level fairly carefully.

Personally, I find games like this to be strangely meditative, but you may well find it to be incredibly frustrating.

However, one cool feature in “SkyRoads” is that it allows you to play the game’s levels in any order you want. So, if you get stuck on one level, you can just skip to the next.

However, since the levels get progressively more difficult, you'll probably want to (mostly) play them in order

However, since the levels get progressively more difficult, you’ll probably want to (mostly) play them in order

In addition to this, most of the levels I’ve played have been fairly short. The levels may possibly get longer later in the game, but the short levels also help to prevent this game from getting too frustrating.

However, the 3D platforms are drawn using one-point perspective and this can take a little bit of getting used to. Most of the time, it isn’t too confusing – but there are at least a couple of parts of the game where the perspective can get in the way slightly.

You're actually supposed to jump off of the middle part of this platform, even though it looks like a tunnel

You’re actually supposed to jump off of the middle part of this platform, even though it looks like a tunnel

The game contains a number of interesting obstacles, such as basic tunnels (which you can either jump on top of or drive through) and parts of the track which will affect your spaceship (eg: light red patches on the ground destroy your spaceship, light green ones make you go faster and dark green ones slow you down). In addition to this, some tracks in the game have a different gravity level which can affect how high your ship can jump.

Graphically speaking, this game is fairly good for 1993. Yes, it isn’t exactly “Doom“, but the painted backgrounds all look really cool and the minimalist 3D objects help to avoid distractions whilst playing. So, yes, this is a pretty cool-looking game:

 Is it just me, or does that track look like the bi pride flag? Awesome!

Is it just me, or does that track look like the bi pride flag? Awesome!

 Whoa! Rad! This is so 90s! TO THE MAX!

Whoa! Rad! This is so 90s! TO THE MAX!

Musically speaking, this game is pretty cool and the background music really adds a lot to the gameplay. However, there doesn’t seem to be a volume control option for it (other than turning the music off entirely), so if you use headphones (like I do) then the music can end up being slightly too loud.

All in all, from what I’ve played “SkyRoads” is an incredibly cool game. The gameplay is simple enough to be intuitive, but challenging enough to never quite get boring.

It’s a fun casual game that can be enjoyed for either five minutes or for an entire hour (any more than that and you’ll probably get some kind of repetitive strain injury from hammering the spacebar repeatedly). But, if you like old-school games that require a lot of memorisation and trial and error, then you’ll love “SkyRoads”.

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

Review: “Tyrian 2000” (Freeware Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Tyrian 2000 review sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I last reviewed a computer game, so I thought that I’d take a quick look at a freeware game from the 1990s called “Tyrian 2000“. I got my version of this game from GoG (since it came with a built-in DOSBox launcher), but it can also be legally downloaded for free from several other sites, like this one.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that I’ve only had the chance to play this game for a couple of nights before writing this review. Although I’ve completed quite a few levels (and am currently on the second episode of the game at the time of writing), this review will only reflect my experiences of the game so far.

That said, let’s take a look at “Tyrian 2000”:

Tyrian 2000 title screen

“Tyrian 2000” is a vertically-scrolling sci-fi shooter game. Surprisingly, I haven’t actually played that many of these types of games before (I can only think of possibly one or two others before this one) but I’ve been having quite a good time with this one, for reasons that I’ll explain later.

Although “Tyrian 2000” has a surprisingly detailed backstory (which is revealed through data cubes that you collect throughout the game), the basic plot of the game is that you’re a fighter pilot of some kind who is up against an evil corporation.

But, like in many action games, you’ll probably be focusing more on the gameplay than the story itself. Even so, I was quite surprised at the sheer amount of backstory on offer here:

Wow! This game actually has a story!

Wow! This game actually has a story!

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it reminded me a lot of classic early-mid 1990s FPS games. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that this is probably the highest compliment that I can bestow upon an action game.

Like in a FPS game from the golden era of gaming, the gameplay in “Tyrian 2000” mostly revolves fast-paced combat with a creative array of enemies, frantically dodging projectiles and working your way through fiendishly difficult levels that require large amounts of strategy, trial-and-error and level memorisation.

Yes, if you like your action games to actually be challenging – then you can’t go wrong with “Tyrian 2000”. Don’t expect to get through most of the levels in this game on your first attempt, or even your second….

There's no mid-level saving here. So, if you get squashed by one of the game's many level bosses. Then you're going to have to play the entire level again. Don't worry, it gets easier with practice and you'll usually breeze through the rest of the level from about your fifth attempt onwards...

There’s no mid-level saving here. So, if you get squashed by one of the game’s many level bosses, then you’re going to have to play the entire level again. Don’t worry, it gets easier with practice and you’ll usually breeze through the rest of the level from about your fifth attempt onwards…

Not only that, you can also play this game using keyboard-only controls if you want to. I don’t know why, but there’s just something reassuringly solid about good old-fashioned keyboard-only controls. Seriously, apart from the top-down third-person perspective, the only real gameplay difference between “Tyrian 2000” and an early-mid 1990s FPS game are the scrolling linear levels.

 It might not look like an old-school FPS, but the gameplay has more in common with "Doom", "Heretic", "Duke Nukem 3D" and "Rise Of The Triad" than anything else...

It might not look like an old-school FPS, but the gameplay has more in common with “Doom”, “Heretic”, “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Rise Of The Triad” than anything else…

Between levels, you can use credits that you’ve earned in the previous levels to upgrade your ship and it’s weapons (don’t worry, there’s absolutely no microtransactions here – this is a proper computer game, from the 1990s). This is actually a really cool part of the game since, although there’s a rather paltry selection of upgrades available at the beginning of the game, more become available the further you progress through the game.

Likewise, different ship configurations work best for different levels and – forgivingly- the game actually gives you your credits back if you remove an upgrade from your ship. So, if you’re using the wrong weapons for one particular level, you can always remove them and buy some new ones easily.

Yes, your ship is surprisingly customisable in this game.

Yes, your ship is surprisingly customisable in this game.

“Tyrian 2000” also has a really interesting health system too. Basically, you have an armour meter (which needs to be replenished through pickups that the game dispenses when your armour is low) but you also have a regenerating shield meter, which acts as a second health bar.

When your armour is low, a loud alarm will sound and a warning message will flash across the bottom of the screen – even if your shields have regenerated:

 And, yes, it DOES get kind of annoying after a while....

And, yes, it DOES get kind of annoying after a while….

Although I’m normally extremely sceptical about regenerating health, it’s handled in a really clever way here. Because both your shields and your main weapon are powered by your ship’s generator, your shields will regenerate a lot more slowly when you’re firing your weapons.

Since the easiest way to play these kinds of games is to just hold the “fire” button down constantly, this gameplay mechanic actually forces you to stop firing from time to time and to focus on dodging enemies instead whilst your shield regenerates.

“Tyrian 2000” has an astonishingly large number of levels. I’ve been playing it for at least six hours (if not more) and I’m only on the second of the game’s five episodes. Not only that, I’ve actually lost count of the number of levels that I’ve completed. Even though some of the backgrounds are repeated in several levels, no two levels are quite the same and there’s a lot of them on offer here.

And, yes, at least a few of the levels are set in space....

And, yes, at least a few of the levels are set in space….

Not only that, the game will occasionally allow you to choose to play optional bonus levels or to choose which level you want to play next.

Usually these choices both lead to the same destination, but it’s still great that the game actually gives you a small level of choice over how you wish to progress through the levels:

Yes, you can actually choose which route you want to take in this part of the game.

Yes, you can actually choose which route you want to take in this part of the game.

Like in many great games from the 1990s, there’s also a creative array of enemies on offer here. Many of them are just robots, turret guns and spaceships that sometimes shoot projectiles at you, but they come in all shapes and sizes. Not only that, “Tyrian 2000” seems to introduce a new type of enemy every level or two, which really helps to prevent the gameplay from becoming dull or repetitive.

One thing I will warn you about is that, if you play this game for more than a few minutes, you’ll probably start to experience a mild version of the “Tetris effect“. In other words, after playing this game for a while, don’t be surprised if you still see spaceships and projectiles whenever you close your eyes.

Finally, the game has a really great soundtrack. Interestingly, the first time I heard a song from this game’s soundtrack was when I played an absolutely excellent “Doom II” WAD and later found out that some of the amazing music in this WAD was originally from “Tyrian 2000”.

In fact, that music may have been the thing that made me curious about “Tyrian 2000” in the first place. If you find this hard to believe, just listen to it on Youtube and tell me that you don’t instantly want to play old computer games.

Although there isn’t much in the way of voice-acting in this game, your ship’s computer will occasionally say things like “danger” and “unexplained speed increase”. The voice-acting in these parts of the game is fairly ok (even if the ship’s computer occasionally sounds slightly bored). Plus, your ship also has an English accent too, which is kind of a rare thing in old-school computer games.

All in all “Tyrian 2000” is an amazingly fun game. The gameplay is simple enough to be casually enjoyable, but also complex and challenging enough to be enjoyed during longer play sessions. Best of all, it’s completely free too (and not in that horrible modern “free-to-play” way), so there’s really no excuse for not playing it.

Seriously, if you want another piece of evidence as to why the 1990s were the best decade in the history of gaming, just check out “Tyrian 2000”.

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

Review: “Treasure Adventure Game” (Freeware Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Treasure Adventure Game review sketch

The old saying that you should “never judge a book by it’s cover” doesn’t just apply to books, it also applies to computer games too.

After I signed up to GoG a few months ago, I noticed that one of the freeware games on offer was a game from 2011 called “Treasure Adventure Game” ( this game is also available from several other sites that are linked to on the developer’s website).

Anyway, since “Treasure Adventure Game” had a rather generic title and some rather simplistic cover art, I passed it by and looked at other games. But, after reading that it was actually a 1990s-style 2D platform game, I just had to check it out and write a review.

Before I go any further, I should point out that – at the time of writing this review – I’ve only completed about 53% of the game. Since the game is both fairly long and quite non-linear, I’ve seen a fair amount of what it has to offer. Even so, this review only reflects my impressions of the game so far. This review may also contain some mild SPOILERS too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Treasure Adventure Game”:

treasure adventure title screen

In “Treasure Adventure Game”, you play as the son of an explorer who disappeared ten years ago after going on an expedition with both you and his friend Baggus to recover twelve ancient treasures.

After the treasures were collected, there was an explosion which scattered them around the world (and also injured your character badly enough that his right hand had to be replaced with a grappling hook). Since Baggus didn’t know how to care for a young child, he left you on the doorstep of an elderly couple who raised you as their own.

Anyway, ten years later – you are given a treasure map by your adoptive mother and it soon becomes clear that you need to explore the world and recover the twelve treasures once again…..

I really haven’t done the story of this game justice in this summary. Although the story starts off fairly simply, there’s a pretty large backstory to this game that you will uncover as you play more of it.

Seriously, “Treasure Adventure Game” has got the most well-developed backstory that I’ve seen since I played “The Longest Journey” back in 2011. But, I don’t want to spoil too much more of the plot….

Plus, it also breaks the fourth wall at least once...

Plus, it also breaks the fourth wall at least once…

One of the first things I will say about “Treasure Adventure Game” is that it isn’t your typical platform game.

Yes, if you played a lot of 2D platform games back in the 90s, then quite a lot of this game will be fairly familiar. But, although platforming is a large part of the game – there’s also quite a lot of emphasis on exploration and, well, adventure.

In many ways, “Treasure Adventure Game” is more like a RPG than a platformer, since you’ll be spending a lot of time exploring the game’s gigantic world (which consists of a collection of islands that you can sail between).

Early in the game, you’ll find a compass which you can use in conjunction with maps in order to find the different treasures. This is a really cool system since, although the game tells you where you probably should go – it doesn’t really push you in any one direction:

The compass is in the top right corner of the screen and each map you find will give you a new set of X and Y co-ordinates.

The compass is in the top right corner of the screen and each map you find will give you a new set of X and Y co-ordinates.

Although some parts of this world are inaccessible early in the game ( until you find certain items- like a sail that will allow you to cross more turbulent parts of the sea ), you’ll soon be able to explore the whole world and this means that you can find the treasures in pretty much any order that you want to. You can also just wander around and explore if you want to.

So, “Treasure Adventure Game” is a lot less linear than you might expect. Seriously, it reminded me a lot of the old “Zelda” games on the SNES and the Gameboy – hell, even the items screen is very “Zelda”-like:

Now, where did I put that boomerang?

Now, where did I put that boomerang?

As for the platforming parts of the game, they’re really good. I’ve seen this game described as being fiendishly difficult on the internet, but it really isn’t. It’s about as difficult as platform games typically were back in the 1990s. Yes, it’s much more challenging than most other modern games probably are, but it’s no worse than most actual 1990s platformers were.

So, yes, there will be times when you’ll end up shouting four-letter words at your computer screen in frustration – but, if you played a lot of platform games back in the 90s, then this game will also be refreshingly nostalgic and refreshingly challenging.

Plus, this level reminded me a lot of Paganitzu. Does anyone else remember that game?

Plus, this level reminded me a lot of Paganitzu. Does anyone else remember that game?

Plus, like many great 1990s platform games – “Treasure Adventure Game” also contains a variety of interesting level bosses that often have to be defeated in very specific ways. Most of the time, it’s fairly easy to work out what you’re supposed to do to defeat the bosses, but don’t expect to defeat most of the bosses on your first try…

This is an optional boss that you can find near the beginning of the game. He's frustratingly difficult to defeat... and he isn't even the most challenging boss in the game.

This is an optional boss that you can find near the beginning of the game. He’s frustratingly difficult to defeat… and he isn’t even the most challenging boss in the game.

One other cool thing about the platforming parts of this game is that the gameplay is fairly varied. Yes, you’ll have to fight monsters and make lots of split-second jumps – but these parts of the game also contain a lot of innovative puzzles and gameplay mechanics that stop the game from being too repetitive.

To give you an example, in one part of the game, you’ll enter a cave that is filled with living mushrooms. Some of these mushrooms try to jump into you. When they do, this happens…

They're magic mushrooms alright, but NOT the "Super Mario" kind...

They’re magic mushrooms alright, but NOT the “Super Mario” kind…

At first, this is more of an amusing annoyance than anything else. However, a bit later in the level, you’ll start to notice that extra platforms appear when you’re hallucinating.

These platforms also disappear when you stop hallucinating (after about ten or fifteen seconds). So, not only do you have to jump across these platforms quickly, but you also have to do it when your character is tripping the light fantastic. Needless to say, this adds a lot of challenge and variety to the gameplay in this level.

However, although the gameplay in “Treasure Adventure Game” is enjoyably challenging, it can also be annoyingly confusing at times. Seriously, this is pretty much the only platform game I’ve played where I’ve actually had to consult walkthrough guides on the internet. So, it was obviously at least slightly inspired by old “point and click” games…

One other great thing about “Treasure Adventure Game” is the soundtrack. Seriously, this game contains some of the best music that I’ve ever heard in a 2D platform game. Seriously, it’s the only game I’ve played where I’ve actually looked forward to the boss fights because of the epic music that plays in the background.

All in all, “Treasure Adventure Game” is amazing! Don’t be put off by the generic title, this game is one of the most unique (and yet familiar) games that you’ll ever play. It’s got a compelling story, a vast explorable world, amazing music and great gameplay that could have been taken directly from the 1990s.

Seriously, I wish that more modern games were like this one. It’s also completely free and will run on pretty much any computer, so there’s no excuse not to play it…

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