Advent Calendar - December 20th.

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Robotron 2084 (arcade/MAME/everything)

It was really hard coming up with games for these later numbers. I had to get creative in a few cases, bending the rules and possibly even flat-out cheating. Hey, needs must. It didn't help, then, that the person I bought my "20" game from on eBay accidentally posted it to the wrong person. I had my money refunded, but it basically left me up shit creek for the blog.

Still, not to worry. I've said I didn't want to use years wherever possible... but in those cases, I meant the back ends of the years, with games like Tiger Woods 10 or FIFA 11. However, when it comes to futuristic games... I'm going to allow them. And so my fallback for today is the awesome arcade shooter, Robotron 2084.

Things are pretty easy at this point. Don't get used to that.

These days, Robotron 2084 is regarded as a classic. And rightly so - it's not just a brilliant game in its own right, it's also been (and continues to be) the inspiration for any number of modern games, Geometry Wars possibly being the most famous of them. However, I have to say I didn't so much as see one machine back in the arcade heyday, and so I never got to play it in its proper form. I've only ever played it through emulation, which is great, but this is one game that emulation has apparently never got quite right. Maybe one day...

What made Robotron 2084 such a revolution was its twin-stick controls; one stick to move your character, and one to fire in any of eight directions. It's not just clever, it's absolutely essential for this game to work properly. It simply wouldn't be the same if you had to shoot in the direction you're moving... not only that, it would be insanely difficult.

Now that's more like it. Watch where you're walking!

It's hard enough as it is. Right from the off you're overwhelmed by sheer numbers. You do get a bit of a chance to play yourself in... to begin with, you only have slow-moving grunt robots to contend with. Now is the time to get used to the controls in readiness for the imminent assault. And then, there's The Last Human Family to rescue...

Yes, the only silly sods left alive have to go putting themselves in harm's way on every level. Luckily, there are no consequences to their getting wiped out... but saving them gets you valuable bonus points, which all go towards the collection of precious extra lives...

The Brain Wave. Do this right and you can really rack up the points.

And you do need those lives. It's not that difficult a game up to around wave six or seven... but once the tanks are introduced you're in real trouble, and if you get past them then sheer numbers are likely to overwhelm you and bring about your downfall. The number of grunts homing in on you is frightening at times, but the sheer exhiliration you feel when you manage to fight your way through them and come out the other side is something that few other games can match.

When it comes to "zone" games, there aren't many better than Robotron 2084. I never got to play it when it first came out, but I've probably made up for that over the last decade. I've never been very good at it... I know people that can score over a million whereas I'd be happy with 200,000. I've never reached that yet... but I was over the moon to finally reach Wave 10 recently. That might not sound all that great, but you just give it a try and see...

Advent Calendar - December 18th

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Firefighter F.D. 18 (PS2)

This was a brave move from Konami. I don't mean in terms of the game's scenario... video games live or die on their heroes and villains, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone more heroic than firefighters. No, I mean in the choice to actually make a game that's filled with fire. What were they thinking? In a world where so many people seem to prefer graphics over gameplay, with fire being so notoriously difficult to recreate, that was almost commercial suicide!

Firefighter F.D. 18 is, apparently, heavily influenced by Backdraft, which is a film I've never seen. Having read up on it, I see that the fire engine in that film is Engine 17, so I wonder if Konami saw this as a kind of video game sequel?

Wonder if real firefighters get trained like this?

The game starts off with a massive fire in a tunnel, and people are trapped. Naturally, you want to rescue them all. You have to fight your way through the tunnel, putting out fires strategically so that you can reach everybody in time. It's impossible to extinguish all the fire, so really you're clearing a route for yourself, whilst avoiding injury as much as possible.

Fires are dangerous enough in themselves, but they cause other problems as well. As you're moving through the tunnel, cars explode and rubble drops from the ceiling. This can have a couple of effects... obviously, you could get injured, but your path to survivors can be blocked at any time by any of these obstacles, meaning you might have to find another way around. Fortunately, you have the world's longest fire hose at your disposal, so it doesn't matter how far you travel, you never run out of water. And you have your axe, so certain obstacles can be overcome.

If you're strong you will survive, you'll feel the fire, burning on forever more.

One obstacle that can't be overcome is the terribly cheesy dialogue and voice acting. Right from the start, where there's a novice, over-eager female reporter covering the fire, we're in bad script and cheap actor hell. Just to give you an example, here's some actual dialogue from when you rescue the last survivor at the end of level one:

"Oh my God, it's Blackwell!"
"Do you know him?"
"He's an upcoming senator, young and prominent! Didn't you see him on TV?"

It's a bit crap, but luckily, although the game is story-based, you don't have to put up with the chatter too much. The biggest problem really is that the gameplay is repetitive. Stroll around, out out some fire, rescue a useless incapable survivor, rinse, repeat. They've thrown in interesting elements to try and help with that... smoke lessens visibilty, so you have to crouch and get around, for example. And there are actually boss fights, with each end-of-level having a particularly vicious fire to tackle. Cleverly, they've portrayed them as monsters... not in terms of how they look, but they roar and spew out fireballs and the like... it's pretty well done.

Mmmmmm, this one's got a smashing orangey bit.

Firefighter F.D. 18 is an interesting game. If you break it down and think about it, it's actually a twin-stick shooting game, but it's different to almost anything else you've played. It can get pretty intense, especially when a survivor's health bar is draining and you're struggling to get through to them. That extra human element really adds weight to proceedings. It's a shame in a way that the repetitive nature of the game overshadows things to a degree, but if you keep sessions limited to fairly short bursts, Firefighter F.D. 18 could be a very welcome addition to your games library.