Posts Tagged ‘1990s’

BloodNet Review

BloodNet Featured

BloodNet Boxart

Developer: MicroProse
Publisher: Tommo
Platform: PC – GOG*

Ransom Stark is a New York native with quite the unique problem. At the very start of the game he has a fateful run-in with a vampire which leaves him as one as well. The only thing that is now stopping Stark from feasting on citygoers is an implanted nanomachine in his body that can stop his vampiric transformation – but only for a few days. Will he be able to find a cure before then?

BloodNet is one strange title. It meshes a cyberpunk aesthetic with classic tales of vampires. The city is fueled by technology, drugs, and a giant corporation known as TransTechnicals. Of course, the company is shady as is always the case with corporations in these types of stories. As Stark, you must investigate both in the real world and online to save yourself as well as others you’ll come to meet along the way.

The game could be considered both a point and click adventure and RPG, but most would probably just learn toward the RPG definition. Most characters have a lot to say and offer you quests. Unlike some games, the quests make a lot of sense don’t just sound like elaborate fetch quests (even if they are). This is thanks to the excellent writing. Some may find it drags on and on but I enjoyed getting into the strange world.

BloodNet Screenshot 1

Fights break out sporadically but you might have a hard time figuring them out. You see, there are NPCs throughout the city you can recruit to your team to add muscle, but that’s not all there is to it. You’re also going to want to fashion weapons from existing parts you have (and be sure to equip some to teammates as well!). None of this is explained very well and the fighting system is unusual as well. The player positions their team before initiating a strike, but then it takes on a turn-based battle structure.

The thing about BloodNet is that it’s very set in its ways but is unwilling to explain much of it to players. This goes for the narrative as well as the gameplay functionality. Because of that it definitely is not something you can just pick up and play. It’s a shame because there is a very unique world to explore but it will take most some real effort to get into it.


Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas


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Sid Meier’s Covert Action Review

Covert Action Featured

Covert Action Boxart

Developer: MicroProse
Publisher: Tommo
Platform: PC – GOG*

Sid Meier is still a pretty well known name in the gaming world thanks to Civilization and Pirates! But that’s far from the extent of his development history. One that seems to have been forgotten by many is Sid Meier’s Covert Action from 1990. Considering how neat it was, I can’t figure out why it doesn’t receive praise today.

The player assumes the role of a CIA agent (Maxine or Maximillian) and are tasked with uncovering criminal activities on a global scale. To be a good agent, you must discover clues and track down people before they can orchestrate their plans or run away. Interestingly, Covert Action utilizes two very different types of gameplay to make this all work.

First there is the information-gathering which primarily takes the form of wire-tapping and decoding documents. Decoding itself is a fun little minigame. You can take information to have it analyzed or see what your pals at the CIA have to offer. Gathering info often requires your agent to get into dangerous circumstances. Basically, they’ll have to infiltrate enemy headquarters.

Covert Action Screenshot

Checking out enemy buildings is where the game transfers to a top-down perspective. You must explore the many rooms of buildings and hopefully hack into their machines or open their safes. Enemies will meander about and even set off alarms if they spot you. Thankfully, a minimap lets you know where enemies are so you can get the upper hand.

There is a lot about Covert Action that seems tremendously intriguing. It does show its age and isn’t going to light up many modern gamer enthusiasm, though. Shooting is fairly clunky and hideouts always seem too vast and maze-like. Also, the reward of going to the beach after catching a crook is ridiculously hokey. Oh, did anyone mention the appalling artwork? Despite all this, I can’t help being lured back in for more Covert Action cases.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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DROD 1+2+3 Review

DROD Featured

DROD Boxart

Developer: Caravel Games
Publisher: Caravel Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*

DROD, known more formally as Deadly Rooms of Death, is a tremendously fun (and sometimes frustrating) series of puzzle games starring Beethro Budkin. This fellow is the exact opposite of dashing and explores dungeons, killing enemies and solving puzzles as he goes. The three titles included in GOG’s collection are DROD: King Dugan’s Dungeon, DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold, and DROD: The City Beneath.

The first game is the simplest in regards to story. In fact, it’s barely there. Still, the gameplay is practically perfect in the first anyway. It is played from a top-down perspective as you navigate Beethro through various rooms. He’s armed with a sword that can be positioned in eight directions and that’s about it. Moving occurs in a turn-based fashion which is important to note when enemies are progressing near you. If you don’t get your weapon facing them directly before they arrive then you’re dead!

Many rooms have puzzles which vary in difficulty and type. Oftentimes, you’ll have to find out how to hit buttons in the right order (and without getting killed). Puzzles are often very creative which is fun unless you get stuck on one for a long time. At times like this, just try quitting the game for a while before coming back to it. If you still can’t figure it out then you can head to the game’s official forum which serve as a great resource for confused players.

DROD Screenshot

Playing DROD: King Dungan’s Dungeon might seem hard, but you can eventually get into the swing of things with enough perseverance. The sequels continue to ramp up difficulty which is why you may want to play the original first, even though Journey to Rooted Hold and The City Beneath both have a greater emphasis on story. In any case, no matter which game you’re playing they all follow the same basic formula: Solve puzzles and stab stuff.

Visually the games are all quite similar and do not look very pretty. However, the graphics hardly matter because the gameplay is so engrossing. Wracking your brain for solutions to tough sections quickly becomes commonplace but that makes finally solving them all the more rewarding. In a weird way, struggling against the difficulty becomes pleasant too. Anyone who is ready to test their mental mettle will find a worthy opponent in the DROD series.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi Review

Wing Commander II Featured

Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi Boxart

Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC – DOS, GOG*

Wing Commander II picks up where the first game left off, with one slight problem… The Tiger’s Claw, which served as your home base, has been destroyed. Despite commendable efforts in the past, everyone thinks you were a traitor and blew it up! As such, this game picks up with your pilot completely disgraced, forced to work dull ferrying missions.

As the Kilrathi step up their attacks, everyone is needed in the fight – even you. As the game progresses, you’re able to show your worth to the crew although some still harbor their suspicions. Things only get worse once a murder occurs and everyone knows there is certainly a traitor aboard. Still, missions are passed down to you to complete, in much the same fashion as the last game.

What’s different this time around is how much attention is paid to story. In the past, story segments were mostly unveiled by talking to pilots in the cafeteria. This was good for getting a feel of each character but not so much for stringing together a truly interesting narrative. Now there are story segments between each mission (alongside mission briefings) which do much better at involving the player in Wing Commander’s world. There were definitely times I was surprised and saddened over events that took place.

Wing Commander II Featured

Gameplay has changed little. The biggest change is some new ships to pilot with their own special abilities. Beyond that though, everything is much the same. Using either the keyboard or mouse you engage in dogfights with the Kilrathi and try to make it out alive. It’s still as hard as ever, but Wing Commander II retains the ability to “lose” fights and still continue the story. There are only a few occasions where ejecting causes a game over. Unfortunately, when there are a lot of fighters on screen (or meteors), the game slows tremendously.

All in all, Wing Commander II is a great improvement over the original game in the ways I most wanted it to be. It has a deeper story, some improved graphics, and is still a fun experience. The GOG release includes Special Operations 1 and 2 expansion packs as well, although it lacks Speech Accessory Pack which patched in far more voice acting. It’s amazing how well this game still stands up as an action packed and entertaining ride.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Construction Bob Escapes from Hell Review

Construction Bob Escapes from Hell Featured

Construction Bob Escapes from Hell Logo

Developer: OSP Enr.
Publisher: OSP Enr.
Platform: PC – Direct

Construction Bob Escapes from Hell is a game that grabbed my attention purely because of the name. How could you not want to play something with a title like this? Jumping right in, I found that the game was not entirely what I expected, but an interesting shareware title from the time period.

Basically, it offers three arcade-like stages which repeat over a series of levels. Levels themselves increase the difficulty each time, meaning that getting all the way to ten is tough. Getting past the thirty stages included with a purchase seems outright impossible.

The first stage is like a vertical Frogger. Mine carts run across a series of tracks above Bob and he must jump safely past them to exit at the top of the screen. Hitting mine carts does not kill Bob, but instead makes him fall down to the lower platform. The lowest one is just a steady stream of lava – and that kills you. Second is a side-scrolling stage where you ride a mine cart across broken tracks. Jump the cart over these gaps or rocks to survive. Finally is a sequence of walking across a bridge without letting (what appears to be) water droplets hit Bob.

Construction Bob Escapes from Hell Featured

After that, the whole thing repeats again just with faster objects and trickier platforms. As you only get three lives to start, it can be tough to progress far. A save/load feature lets you return to the start of a new level at any time. Finally, and most interestingly, a 360 gamepad totally works to control Bob, if you so choose.

Playing Construction Bob Escapes from Hell is an incredibly simple experience. This game is more of an odd footnote of shareware history than a worthwhile waste of time.


Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas


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Wing Commander Review

Wing Commander Featured

Wing Commander Boxart

Developer:  Origin Systems
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Consoles – 3DO, PlayStation, Sega CD, SNES, PC – Amiga, Amiga CD32, DOS, GOG*

Wing Commander is a series that flourished in the 90s and helped bring about a whole new style for space sims to come. The first Wing Commander, released in 1990, was a revelation. The pixel graphics were crisp, the action was incredible, and the dynamic soundtrack kept excitement going. Over 20 years later, the game is still impressive.

You begin as the newest member on the TCS Tiger’s Claw. The crew of pilots are tasked with stopping the alien race Kilrathi’s plans of domination. Over the course of a dozen or so missions, you’ll have to fight against them time and time again. The meat of Wing Commander is dogfights, so you’d best be prepared.

The game is pretty tough. Battles are displayed from the cockpit, meaning less than half the screen actually shows what’s going on in space. However, the cockpit has multiple readouts that are necessary for skillful play. You can fly in any direction, speed up and break, launch targeted missiles, and order your partner about.  If you can’t shoot down the enemy then they’ll take you down. You always have a partner during missions but they can die too, or save your hide.  Whether you win or lose partners, the game continues. This is perhaps the strangest and most “modern” feature.

Wing Commander Screenshot

Shooting is difficult in part because of imperfect mouse control but also because of having to judge where bullets will land. After enough fights you get the hang of it, but sometimes it doesn’t seem correct. At least an audible cue sounds when a bullet collides with an enemy ship’s exterior.

The biggest letdown when playing Wing Commander is that there’s very little story to dig into. Although characters have been set up, they hardly bring anything noteworthy to the table. Instead, the focus is 90% on missions and battles. As entertaining as these are, the game is simply too short. Those who buy the GOG release gain access to the expansion packs The Secret Missions and The Secret Missions 2: Crusade which add more playtime via new missions.

Considering its age, Wing Commander is still an excellent introduction to the series. It offers an incredible amount of replay value (missions change based on your performance) and excellent fight sequences. Just don’t jump into the cockpit expecting a deep storyline. It seems that is only implemented later in the series.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Theme Park Review

Theme Park Featured

Theme Park Boxart

Developer: Bullfrog Productions
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC – Amiga, Amiga CD32, DOS, GOG*

Many 90s children grew up with a little game called Roller Coaster Tycoon. However, it was not the first great theme park-related tycoon out there. That honor should be attributed to Bullfrog’s wonderful Theme Park. This title gets overlooked at times due to Theme Hospital, which they developed a few years later. In any case, let’s take a look back at this classic simulation game.

Theme Park, as the name implies, has the player take on the role of a theme park entrepreneur. Starting from scratch, it is your duty to design the layout, hire staff, pay attention to visitors, and keep track of new park technology. Basically anything that you might expect to have to do when managing a theme park is in this game.

It’s a bit tough to comprehend at first. Laying out park attractions, restaurants, bathrooms, and foliage is fun – until you realize you must think ahead. Spend all your money creating a massive park and staff get left out in the cold. Similarly, if you make your park cramped by design it will be harder to expand later without demolishing buildings. Your staff also happens to be ridiculously incompetent. Janitors in particular like to run laps in the cleanest corners of a park, leaving visitors to experience a yucky walkway. Be absolutely sure to institute patrols for each of them!

Theme Park Featured

Even after roughing out the park, there is more to do. Restaurants require food supplies which don’t replenish on their own. Sometimes, union workers try to increase their wages. On other occasions, one poor visitor may become sick and cause a chain reaction of vomiting. You simply must be prepared for anything. Unfortunately, the map’s default zoom is quite close making it hard to know exactly what is happening at all times.

Although Theme Park is over twenty years old it has an art style that still holds up. The pixelated landscape has a really nice style to it. Buildings are also depicted in fun ways, such as burger stands being shaped like gigantic cartoon hamburgers. Everything looks wonderfully charming and inviting. Of course, it’s actually a pretty tough title, but at least it looks cute!

Theme Park is the kind of game that never ages. Even though many new tycoon games have come and gone, there’s something innately special about this one. It grants the player complete control but balances it with strategic elements. Making your park the best around is tough, but very much worth it.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Terror in Christmas Town Review

Terror in Christmas Town Featured

Terror in Christmas Town Logo

Developer: Michael Zerbo
Publisher: Michael Zerbo
Platform: PC – Direct

Back when DOOM was huge everyone wanted to jump in on the shooter craze. Pie in the Sky was a program which let users create their own 3D FPS titles. One game that utilized this software went by the name of Terror in Christmas Town. As the name implies, it is a shooter but with a Christmas theme.

Although there are elves, seals, and Eskimos dotting the landscape, there are also bunches of mean bears out to get you. How do you stop them? Simply pick up a shotgun or a rocket launcher! Because this is a game based around a holiday, however, using these weapons doesn’t render a big, bloody mess. Instead, the bears turn into smiling snowmen. Your own health is represented by a melting snowman. It’s kind of cute/creepy.

Terror in Christmas Town Featured

The game plays like what you would expect from a DOOM clone, except it has a more robust inventory system. But beyond that, it’s a pretty dull experience. There was no audio in game when I played, although there was an initial sound clip upon loading the game, so I’m not sure what that means. But without any sound at all, the experience is far lonelier. It’s also annoying to not hear bears roar or something to know that one has suddenly snuck up behind you.

Terror in Christmas Town is an interesting effort but there’s not much to it. The Christmas theme at least makes it stand out against other Pie in the Sky-made games, but why play it when you can just grab the genuine artifact?


Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas


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Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins Review

Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins Featured

Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins Boxart

Developer: Cryo Interactive
Publisher: Mindscape / Anuman Interactive
Platform: 3DO PC – DOS, GOG*

The early ’90s were an incredible time of change for gaming. It was in these years that developers began taking 3D art animation seriously and creating full 3D games. Of course, many of the earliest were crude, but full of exciting ideas that would eventually work out. Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins is one of these formative titles, although it doesn’t get nearly as much credit as The 7th Guest. Dragon Lore shares the tale of a young man named Werner Von Wallenrod on a quest to become a Dragon Knight.

Things aren’t so easy for the fellow, as his birthright was stolen from him when his father was betrayed by another Knight. Because of it, Werner spent his youth being raised by one of the castle’s men, completely unaware of his lineage, until his 18th birthday. From there, you must figure out the pertinent parts of Werner’s past and also try to convince the warriors of the Valley to allow you to join their ranks.

Dragon Lore plays out as a first person point and click game. Players move through the 3D environments by clicking areas of the screen they wish to move toward. Along the way, there are many items to pick up and use as weapons or for completing puzzles. Unfortunately, Werner’s pockets are not infinite, so there is a limit to the inventory. This causes issue when you’re not sure if certain items will be needed later. Here’s a hint: Keep non-weapon objects. Weapons are usually just needed for fights, and therefore a huge stack of them isn’t required.

Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins Featured

The world is surprisingly expansive, even though it is mostly empty aside from warriors and a few enemies. When talking to the council members, they discuss what they are looking for in the next Dragon Knight. Some favor wisdom while others favor bloodshed. This means that no matter what you do, some of them simply won’t vote for you. It’s a pretty neat concept and makes the final vote at the end a nail-biting experience.

Of course, Dragon Lore is also a product of the time. The point and click interface is incredibly rough, making it more of a chore to use than most. Then there are the graphics themselves which are silly to today’s eyes. Weirdly, some characters have faces fully sculpted in 3D, while others have flat faces with digital images overlaying them. Voice acting is average, and the music is mostly forgettable. As for sound effects, they are completely laughable. Still, the gameplay is mostly solid if you can handle the rest of it. The sequel, Dragon Lore II: The Heart of the Dragon Man, is currently not available on GOG or Steam.


Score: 2
2 out of 5 alpacas


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Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now Review

Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now Featured

Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now Boxart

Developer: Stainless Software
Publisher: Sales Curve Interactive
Platform: PC – GOG*

Oh, Carmageddon… Alongside other hyper violent games such as Mortal Kombat, video games were becoming an incredibly divisive past time. Some parents got up in arms about the violence their children were exposed to and this of course led to the ESRB. By the time Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now came out, it received a definitive M for Mature. Instead of fearing government or parents, Stainless Software thumbed their noses at opposition and created one of the bloodiest games of the year.

Looking over reviews of the game in 1998 it seems that gamble was for the best. Reviewers seem to have nothing but praise for the lavish depictions of blood and gore. And it certainly contains copious amounts of it. But does that make Carmageddon 2 worth playing? The rest of the experience is, unfortunately, not nearly as memorable.

There are a great deal of races to participate in, but they must all be unlocked. This is done by completing at least one race in a specific group, then doing the correlated “mission” afterward. After a mission is completed the player can move onto the next grouping of races. Three difficulty settings exist although even the easiest becomes harder later on. For players who don’t want to slick the streets with human blood, there are also options to tone gore down or completely off.

Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now Screenshot

Races in Carmageddon 2 follow the same clear conditions of the original. You can either race the normal way (do a certain number of laps in time), demolish all competing racers’ cars, or kill every pedestrian on the stage. The last option might sound fun to some but is actually incredibly difficult considering they often number in the hundreds. Also, stages are fairly open-ended meaning there’s a lot to explore beyond the exact track path. To be fair, open worlds were very unusual to see in any racers of the time and only now do we really see it coming back into favor.

Controls are where any racing game must show competence and it just doesn’t feel that way here. Cars are kind of tough to control and this is only increased by the fact that players can’t easily tweak their key bindings. Well, they can, but you’ll find that it doesn’t allow you to re-bind keys to WASD. The best solution to this problem is available in the GOG forums but is definitely an extra, annoying step. At least there are a variety of wacky looking cars to drive. You just have to demolish them in a race first to unlock one.

At this point, it seems that Carmageddon 2 best serves as a memory of when game developers pushed the edge with violence. Back then, it was a scary proposition. Today, we see so much gore in games that it has totally lost that edge over most players. But just viewed as a racing game, Carmageddon 2 offers cool concepts but unrefined execution.


Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas


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