Altered Beast

Altered Beast was one of the first 16-bit games I played as child and I have idealised memories of how good the game was. The question is…how will I feel revisiting it after 25 years?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Altered Beast is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with some platform gaming elements. It was developed and published by Sega, and released in the arcade in 1988. It was later ported to the Master System, PC, NES, Atari ST, Mega Drive, ZX Spectrum, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and MS-DOS. It was later released in the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox and PlayStation. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version.

After rising from your grave, you must fight your way through a graveyard whilst collecting orbs that turn you into an anthropomorphic beast (Screenshot taken by the author)

“Rise from your grave!” demands Zeus, as you emerge from your tomb. You play as a Roman Centurion who is resurrected by Zeus (I know Zeus was a Greek God and the Roman equivalent was Jupiter, but let’s overlook the mythological inconsistencies). Your mission is to rescue Zeus’ daughter, Athena, (Minerva for the Romans) from the evil Demon God known as Neff who has taken her to the Underworld.

The cutscenes are accompanied by some incredibly eerie gothic organ music (Screenshot taken by the author)

you must punch and kick your way through graveyards and caverns to reach the Underworld, all the while fighting numerous undead minions and monsters. In order to meet and defeat the end of level bosses, you need to collect three orbs which increase your strength and eventually morph you into anthropomorphised animals such as wolves, bears, tigers and dragons, each with unique abilities.

Chicken Stingers, as they are called in the manual, are similar to the pink creatures you ride in Golden Axe, with a similar attack. Does this mean Altered Beast and Golden Axe are in the same universe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game is tougher and more frustrating than I remember. The screen scrolls slowly from left to right automatically, meaning you have no choice but you advance. The controls are sluggish and your punching and kicking range is so small that you need to get very close to the enemies. They are quicker than you and so can kick your arse pretty easily. Modern critics argue that the game doesn’t hold up to today and I have to agree.

The graphics are clearly, early 16-bit. The sprites and backgrounds would be cleaner and more detailed if this game was released a few years later. Having said that, I still think the games looks good. The creepy gothic organ music during the cutscenes is pretty cool.

In a previous review, Shining in the Darkness, I discussed the possible links that suggest Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe were in the same universe, due to the presence of Gilius-Thunderhead, the green dwarf. During this review, I noticed that the Chicken Stingers, are identical (except for athe colour palette change) to some of the Bizzarians in Golden Axe. Does this mean that Altered Beast is also set in the same universe as Shining in the Darkness and Golden Axe?

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “Altered Beast is a spot-on conversion of the coin-op. The trouble is, the game wasn’t exactly a smash-hit – it’s a very simply beat ‘em up with only five levels. The gameplay is very samey, and it doesn’t take long to get all the way through the game. Overall 67%.”[1]

Sega Pro: “For its day, it was amazing – speech, smooth scrolling and lots of playability. However, its finest hour has truly passed. Overall 74%.[2]

The Games Machine: Altered Beast turns out very close indeed to its arcade origins, complete with two-player mode. The main characters and enemy sprites look ever so slightly washed out, but the detail is all there, and background graphics are spot on. Overall 87%.[3]

Sega Power: “However much you enjoy the coin-op, give this one a miss. Poor scrolling, jerky animation and limited gameplay. Overall 2/5.[4]

My verdict:

Does Altered Beast deserve the accolade of being a classic title? There are many video games that acheive the accolade as a ‘classic’ but not all of them are worthy of title. Having revisisted Altered Beast, I can say that the concept was great, but the execution was lacking. The game is too short, the controls too sluggish and frustrating, and the graphics should have been better. I think this game is better remembered than played.

Rating:

What are your memories of Altered Beast? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Altered Beast’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Software Showdown – Altered Beast – Mega Drive.’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 28th July 2020).

[3] ‘Review – Altered Beast’. The Games Machine. Issue 19:17.  (https://archive.org/details/the-games-machine-19/page/n15/mode/2up Accessed 28th July 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Altered Beast’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:52. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

“It belongs in a museum!”

I was introduced to the Indiana Jones movies by my older brother. I soon became a huge fan as a consequence. Controversially, I don’t think the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a bad a movie as most think. For the record, these films had nothing to do with me going into archaeology as a profession. Time Team holds that honour.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is a point and click adventure game developed and published by Lucas Arts. It was released in 1992 for the Amiga, FM Towns, MS-DOS and Macintosh. In 2009, a version was also released on the Wii. The version I reviewed was purhcased from Steam.

“We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot.” (Screenshot taken by the author)

It’s 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. After a Nazi agent tricks Indy into opening an artefact before running off with its contents, Indy finds himself in a race to find Atlantis before the Nazis do. Whilst dodging Nazi henchmen, Indy must solve a plethora of puzzles and learn the secrets of Atlantis. Indy is accompanied on his adventure with colleague Sophia Hapgood, a former archaeologist turned psychic.

“What is Shankara?”, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.” (Screenshot taken by the author)

The game plays in a similar way to the early Monkey Island series. You have several commands at the bottom left part of the screen (“talk to”, “pick up” etc.) and need to use your cursor to highlight a command before clicking on the object or person you wish to interact with. Your inventory is located in the bottom right of the screen. When talking to a person, dialogue will appear at the bottom for you to select. Asking the right questions will help you progress in the game.

Originally, there was no voice acting. This was added to the enhanced version released in 1993. Alas, Harrison Ford didn’t reprise his role as Indy, which, for me, shatters the illusion of the game. The theme music is an 8-bit version of the film’s main theme which, let’s face it, would have been ridiculous if Lucas Arts couldn’t get the rights to a movie theme produced by Lucas Film.

“Half the German army’s on our tail, and you want me to go to Berlin?” (Screenshot taken by the author)

One thing I will say about Lucas Arts is that they know how to make a game look great. The graphics and animation are fantastic! The characters and backgrounds are very detailed and beautifully illustrated and animated.

Although this game was critically acclaimed, I just didn’t enjoy it but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Some of the puzzles were frustrating and convoluted, and I question whether an Indiana Jones game works in this format. Surely, an action-adventure game would work better!? After all, the beauty of Indiana Jones films is not necessarily the intellectual intricacies of archaeology, but more the action of swinging with your whip, fighting a foe who is twice as large as you, and beating him, and running from falling boulders or indigenous tribes.

There are three “storylines” giving the game good replay value, but I struggled to maintain my interest in one storyline let alone try the other two. There are also two alternative bad endings. I have been reliably informed by chums who have played the game that it is best to allow Sophia to join you on your quest, so i will no doubt return to this game in the future.

Did I complete the game?

No, I’ve yet to complete this one.

What the critics said:

Dragon: “We can’t speak highly enough of this offering, and we ask Lucas Arts to consider future Indiana Jones game releases to please gamers of all ages. Overall 5/5”.[1]

PC Review: “Fate of Atlantis is simply brilliant. I can honestly say I haven’t really enjoyed playing an adventure game as much since Indiana Jones and the Crusade. Overall 9/10”.[2]

Electronic Games: “The graphics here are spectacular, studded with the sort of period effects expected from the Indy films. Overall 97%”.[3]

Mega Zone: “Overall, this is one of the best adventure games I’ve seen in a long time (and I’ve seen a few). The combination of excellent graphics, great game play and the multiple plots (sheer genius) makes for great value for money. Overall 94%”.[4]

Awards:

Best Adventure – Mega Zone Game of the Year Awards ‘92[5]

My Verdict:

“This game is beautiful! The detail and animation of the sprites and backgrounds are first rate. The game play is simple but can get tiresome when trying to find the exact command needed to progress. I have to confess that I just didn’t enjoy this game all that much. I found myself becoming easily bored with it. For me, Indiana Jones is an action-adventure, not a slow-paced point and click.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Reviews – Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’. Dragon. (May 1993). 193:60-1. (https://www.annarchive.com/files/Drmg193.pdf  Accessed on 22nd July 2020).

[2] Presley, P., ‘PC Review – Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis’. PC Review. (September 1992). 11:40-4. https://archive.org/details/PC_Review_Issue_11_1992-09_EMAP_Images_GB/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed on 23rd July 2020).

[3] Video Game Gallery: SNES – Indiana jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Electronic Games. (October 1992). Volume 1 Issue 1:823. (https://archive.org/stream/Electronic-Games-1992-10/Electronic%20Games%201992-10#page/n81/mode/2up Accessed 22nd February 2020).

[4] ‘Review: – Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’. Megazone. (October/November 1992). Issue :46-7. (https://retrocdn.net/images/5/55/Megazone_AU_24.pdf Accessed 23rd February 2020).

[5] ‘Game of the Year Awards 1992 – Indiana jones and the Fate of Atlantis’. Mega Zone. Issue 25:20. https://retrocdn.net/images/c/c8/Megazone_AU_25.pdf Accessed 19th February 2020).

Age of Mythology and The Titans Expansion

Ancient mythology has always fascinated me. It is the religion of the ancients before monotheism took hold. Although ancient mythology is not quite given the respect it deserves by modern theists, our world would certainly be poorer without it. Tales of heroes, gods and demi-gods have been the subject of legends and epic sagas for thousands of years, and more recently, movies and TV series.

Title Screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Age of Mythology is a real-time strategy game, and a spin off of the Age of Empires series. Developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Games, it was released in 2002 for the PC. An extended edition was released on Steam in 2014 but I reviewed was the original version.

The civilisations are based on Greek, Norse and Egyptian mythology. You follow the story of Atlantean hero Arkantos who is hunting a cyclops. This cyclops is in league with Poseidon, whose plan it is to release the Titans and bring the rule of Zeus, Odin and Ra to an end. To stop the Titans from being freed, Arkantos and his army must travel from Atlantis through Greece, Scandinavia and Egypt to find and re-seal doors to Tartarus.

The gameplay is more or less the same as Age of Empires series. You must collect resources to build a base and an army in order to wipe out the opposition. However, there are a few features that distinguish this from the Age of Empires series. Firstly, you are able to train and use mythological creatures, but in order to do so, you must gain favour from the Gods (favour replaces stone in this game). Each civilisation gains favour in different ways (Greek – send villagers to worship at the temples, Norse – gain favour in battle and Egypt – gains favour by building statues). Secondly, when advancing to the next age (the four ages are: Archaic, Classical, Heroic and Mythical) you must choose which God to follow into the next age. Different Gods offer different units and abilities. You will also gain unique God powers to add to your arsenal. Some will aid in attacking the enemy, others will add to your resources gathering abilities. A great new feature is that whilst building your army, you can now produce up to five units at a time, meaning that five units will be released from the barracks instead of one which rememdies a gripe that I have had with the Age of Empires series. Interestingly, there is also a slight difference in how you gather resources and build with the Norse civilisation. Not only will you have a portable storage caravan, but the Ulfsarks, who are an infantry unit, can also build. Your villagers will gather resources as normal, but you can also produce dwarves who are better at mining gold.

The new 3D engine looks great! (Screenshot taken by the author)

The effectiveness of units is based on the rock-paper-scissors model: Infantry are good against cavalry, cavalry are good against archers, and archers are good against infantry. Mythological units are great against normal units but are vulnerable to heroes. Heroes are few and far between in the Greek and Egyptian civilisations, but any Hersir units can be upraded to hero status provided you have enough resources.

Throughout every map stage, there are hidden relics which are valuable to collect. Your hero can carry them to your temple where they will assist you in either supplying a trickle of a particular resource, making certain improvments cheaper, or regenerating certain units when they die.

The graphics have moved into the 3D realm and are stunning by 2002-3 standards. The music is memorable and fitting to the atmosphere of the game. Ensemble Studios have a habit of creating great music for their AOE series and AOM is no exception.

You must choose which God to worship. Each God will offer different units and abilities (Screenshot taken by the author)

There is plenty of replay value in multiplayer mode and changeable difficulty settings. I have played through this game multiple times over the years, and even spent hours on Random Map mode. You will quickly learn which civilisations and Gods you prefer to play with and use. In 2016, another expansion pack, Tale of the Dragon was released but I have yet to play this expansion.

Did I complete the game?

I have played through and completed these games many times, and I enjoy them so much, I’m sure I’ll play through many times in the future.

What the critics said about Age of Mythology:

Gamespot: “Of course, what’s most important is that Age of Mythology plays remarkably well. Featuring lots of interesting, inventive design decisions, plenty of fun-to-use units, and tons of variety, Age of Mythology is the last real-time strategy game you’ll need for a long time. It’s a necessary addition to any real-time strategy fan’s collection, and the game is accessible enough so that even those without much experience with the genre should be able to pick up and enjoy the game without getting overwhelmed. Novices and die-hard RTS players alike will all note the remarkable amount of care and quality that clearly went into every aspect of Age of Mythology–the sorts of things that have already established Ensemble Studios as one of the leading developers of real-time strategy games and that now reinforce the company’s position as a leader and innovator in one of PC gaming’s most competitive and most popular genres.Overall 9.2/10”.[1]

IGN: “I can’t recommend this game enough. It’s particularly gratifying that, in a year with so few RTS games (and fewer good ones), Ensemble has favored (sic) us with such a fantastic complete package. It’s a real ornament for the genre and a benchmark that won’t soon be surpassed. After thousands of words of explanation, the short take is this: if you love the RTS genre, you have to own this game. I won’t take any excuses. Overall 9.3/10.[2]

My verdict:

“What can I say? This game looks great, plays great, sounds great, and keeps the player thoroughly interested with the clear distinctions between civilisations and Gods. This game is an absolute  banger and I can’t sing its praises enough.“

Rating:

In 2003, an expansion pack, The Titans, was released. Adding more Gods and units, the story follows Kastor, son of Arkantos, who is tricked into attacking his allies and helping release the Titans.

Title screen

AOM: The Titans adds a fourth civilisation, the Atlanteans, to the mix. Although similar to Greek, there are some differences including the ability to turn most human units into heroes. They do not require drop off points for resources as each villager is accompanied by a donkey.

There is also the new addition of Titan powers to use. Gaia, Kronos and Oranos are the main Titans and with each age advancement you must choose which minor Titan to follow, again, each offer different units and technologies.

A new Atlantean civilisation has been added (Screenshot taken by the author)

On some of the missions, and in Random Map mode, you will be able to release a Titan to cause the destruction of your enemies. They are slow moving but incredibly powerful. They can be killed but you need a huge army with lots of mythical and hero units or a Titan of your own. Once the Titan is dead you cannot create another.

Release a Titan to smite your enemies (Screenshot taken by the author)

Did I complete the expansion pack?

I have completed AoM: The Titans many times and will no doubt return again in the future.

What the critics said about Age of Mythology: The Titans:

IGN: “Sure, I’d still like to have seen a completely new civilization based on an entirely different set of myths, but The Titans serves as a nice coda to the previous game, which I’m not sure would’ve been possible if the series had branched out a bit more. In the end, the balance and personality are what keep me coming back for more. Overall 8.9.[3]

Gamespy: “While I was in the game, I was having too much fun to give serious consideration to what are essentially minor quibbles. The bottom line is this: Age of Mythology: The Titans is a great add-on that gives AoM fans plenty of new toys to play with that are not only fun in their own right, but make the game they’re attached to much, much better. Overall 4.5/5.[4]

My verdict:

“What a fantastic expansion…a great new story and a new civilisation to learn about and use. The introduction of the Titans as a physical entity that you can use a great addition too.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Mythology and The Titans expansion? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Kasavin, G., (November 1, 2002). ‘Age of Mythology Review’. Gamepsot.com. https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-mythology-review/1900-2896451/ Accessed on 14th July 2020.

[2] Butts, S., (November 4, 2002). ‘Age of Mythology Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2002/11/04/age-of-mythology-review Accessed on 14th July 2020).

[3] Butts, S., (September 30, 2003). ‘Age of Mythology: The Titans Review. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2003/09/30/age-of-mythology-the-titans-review Accessed on 14th July 2020).

[4] Rausch, A., (October 9, 2003). ‘Reviews – Age of Mythology: The Titans.’ Gamespy.com. http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-mythology-the-titans/498508p1.html Accessed on 14th July 2020).

Shadow Warriors/Ninja Gaiden/Ninja Ryūkenden

Throughout the 70s and 80s, the popularity of eastern martial arts rose dramatically in popularity in the west through Bruce Lee and The Karate Kid movies. Naturally, gamers are attracted to games where they can perform a flurry of punches, an array of agile kicks and jumps, and master hand to hand combat because, let’s face it, these things take years of training and dedication which many of us don’t have the inclination for.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Shadow Warriors is a side-scrolling action-platform game developed and published by Tecmo. It was released for the NES in Europe in 1991, having previously been released in Japan in 1988 as Ninja Ryūkenden, and in North America in 1989 as Ninja Gaiden. It was later ported to the SNES, PC and mobile phones.

You control Ryu Hayabusa who travels to America to avenge the murder of his father. He soon learns of a person known as “The Jaquio” who plans to take over the world with the help of an ancient demon whose power is contaminated in two statues. The game contains 20 levels broken down into six acts.

I’m not sure why Ryu has a reddish tinge to him (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls are very responsive and the movement tight, allowing for close control. Ryu’s main weapon is a sword but you are able to pick up and use limited numbers of shuriken. Ryu can jump and cling onto the walls, but can only climb if he is on a ladder. If not, and a wall is opposite, he can spring himself up by jumping between walls. Annoyingly, and this is common amongst early games, if you progress to a higher screen and you fall back down the whole you just came from, you die as oppose to simply fall to the level below.

The levels are very difficult and unforgiving, but you do receive unlimited continues. Sadly, I was only able to get to Act 3 as my version kept crashing. However, I really enjoyed playing this game and so will definitely return to it in the future. After each act, there is a beautifully illustrated anime-type cutscene furthering the storyline.

The graphics and music are standard for 8-bit home consoles in the 80s but withthe introduction of 16-bit consoles, begin to look dated by the time of its release in Europe in 1991. The Ryu sprite has a reddish glow to him, which is strange.

Between levels, there are beautifully illustrated cut scenes (Screenshot taken by the author)

Mean Machines: “A superb game, very similar to Shadow Warriors coin-op. Highly recommended top Nintendo beat ‘em up fans. Overall 88%.[1]

Mean Machines: “A superbly presented Ninja game which proves very playable. Overall 90%.[2]

Awards:

Best Challenge 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[3]

Best Ending 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[4]

Best Game of the Year – Electronic Gaming Best and Worst of 1989[5]

My verdict:

“Tight controls, beautiful cut scenes but very difficult and unforgiving. A good edition to the ninja genre”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shadow Warriors? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Nintendo Review – Ninja Gaiden’. Mean Machines. (July 1990). Issue 06:12-4. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-magazine-15/page/n107/mode/2up Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] ‘Nintendo Review – Shadow Warrior’. Mean Machines. (July 1991). Issue 10:66-8. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-magazine-10/page/n67/mode/2up Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:27. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[4] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:28. (https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20012%20May-June%201990#page/n23/mode/2up Accessed 1st July 2020).

[5] ‘Best and Worst of 1989’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1990Video Game Buyer’s guide. 5:17. (https://retrocdn.net/images/d/d5/EGM_US_005.pdf Accessed 1st July 2020).

Robocop

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!”

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Robocop is a beat ’em up/run and gun arcade game developed and published by Data East. Based on the 1987 film Robocop, it was released in 1988 for the Arcade, Apple 2, PC, Amiga and Atari ST. It was later release on the NES in 1989 and the Game Boy in 1990.

A crime wave has swept the city of Detroit and the streets are no longer safe. OCP, a private company, have developed a cyborg to assist law enforcement. Using his fists, and an array of guns, the cyborg known as Robocop aims to clean up the streets, destroy ED-209, and defeat Dick James, the mastermind behind the crime epidemic.

Before the game starts, the intro consists of a run through of Robocop’s cybernetic make-up, which I think would have been made better with a bit more backstory as to how Robocop came to be. Not everyone has seen the film after all. However, the cut scene between the levels are nicely illustrated and the phrase “Crime in progress” appears which is a nice nod to the movie.

A short but well illustrated cut scene kicks the game off (Screenshot taken by the author)

That game is very easy to play. Robocop is a big hunk of machinery and so he can only walk at one speed (As you can imagine, he cannot jump). However, he can also climb and descend stairs, crouch and block, and punch or fire his gun (Note: when descending the stairs you only need to press down as oppose to diagonally down). He can fire his gun in all directions except straight down. During the levels, Robocop can pick up and use other firearms other than his standard side-arm including a machine gun and cobra gun (Robocops standard side-arm has infinite ammo but these other weapons do not).

There is no time limit to the levels, but Robocop’s energy bar depletes as he progresses through the level. Once the bar is depleted he will cease to function and need to restart the level. Thankfully, he can pick up batteries along the way to restore his energy bar. Robocop’s health bar will deplete if he is hit by an enemy. Collecting bottles labelled ‘P’ will help restore his health.

Why unarmed criminals try to take on a cyborg I’ll never know! (Screenshot taken by the author)

At the bottom right of the screen are four symbols. When they flash they indicate the following:

Infrared Vision – Which will help you locate a weak wall that you need to punch to break through.

Punch – You can only defeat an enemy by punching.

Foe Detector – Begins to flash faster and faster the closer you get to a boss/sub-boss.

Energy/Power Alarm – Indicates when energy or health levels are low or when they drop dramatically.

Graphically, this game is good for an 8-bit console in 1989, and matches the likes of Ninja Gaiden. The sprites are detailed and clearly defined against the backgrounds, and when using his gun, Robocop even mimics the one-handed stance seen in the film. The backgrounds themselves are pretty good too. However, there is a fair bit of sprite flicker, especially from the dogs and when you’re shooting at the first boss.

Robocop will only use his gun when the threat level increases (Screenshot taken by the author)

Like the film, Robocop matches his weapon to the threat level of his attackesr, which I think is a very neat feature and adds an element of realism to the game. This means that Robocop won’t use his gun until he comes face to face with an enemy who uses guns, flamethrowers or explosives etc.

I do have a few issues with this game though. Firstly, the stupidity of the unarmed enemies and dogs. Why on Earth would you run towards a huge bloody cyborg that can dispatch you quite easily with one punch…especially when your only attack is a flying kick?! Also, you have one life, then it’s game over. You do seem to get an infinite number of continues but when you use them it takes you back to the beginning of that level. If you are going to force people to use continues and restart the level, then please give them more than one life.

This game only has one difficulty setting so there really is not much to keep you coming back once the game is completed.

Did I complete the game?

No, I barely got past the first level. I just couldn’t be bothered with getting to the end of level boss, dying and being sent back to beginning of the level.

What the critics said:

At present I have been unable to locate contemporary reviews for the NES version.

My verdict:

“Graphically, this game is good and the controls are simple and responsive. However, the game itself is very tough, and although it will certainly pose a challenge to gamers everywhere, the lack of lives sees you having to repeat the same monotonous levels over and over again. This game could have been so much more.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Robocop? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.

Star Wars: Dark Forces

In the early 90s, I was at the height of my Sci-fi geekdom. I watched and re-watched Star Trek and Star Wars movies with unhealthy regularity. The video games that the franchises were producing in the early 90s were also filling my daily quota of science fiction. Resisting the entreaties of my parents to go out into the summer sun, I preferred to stay in a darkened room and lose myself in these cherished universes. Some would say it was an unhealthy hobby for a teenager, and they could be right…if it wasn’t for the fact that I played competitive football at least twice and week, and worked part-time jobs that is. However, the memories I have playing these games with a childhood chum (who I shall refer to as MC), are not to be discarded lightly.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Star Wars: Dark Forces is a first-person shooter developed and published by Lucasart in 1995 for MS-DOS and Macintosh. A year later it was released for PlayStation. In 2009 it was re-released on Steam. The version I played was for the PC.

A map can be used whilst still moving around the levels which is very helpful (Screenshot taken by the author)

You play as Kyle Katarn, who is studying agricultural mechanics with the intention of working in the family business. Whilst at the academy, he is told that his parents were killed by the Rebels, causing him to enlist in the Imperial Army. Whilst working for the Imperial Army he meets Jan Ors, a double agent working for the Rebels. She informs Katarn that it was an Empire raid killed his parents. With the truth known, he helps Ors escape. He then becomes mercenary and begins to take on jobs for the Rebel Alliance.

The first mission is set during Rogue One, and sees Katarn charged with stealing the Death Star plans (naturally this storyline is not considered official canon). It then skips to after A New Hope. Once the Death Star is destroyed, the Rebels ask Kyle to investigate an assault on a Rebel base by a new type of Imperial soldier.

This first-person shooter sees Katarn navigate his way through several locations including a Star Destroyer, Jabba the Hutt’s Palace, and the planet Coruscant. The levels are well designed and challenging, and really give the illusion that you are in the Star Wars universe.  Throughout the levels, there are lots of secret doors which contain power-ups and goodies to help you on your way.

“There he is, blast him!” (Screenshot taken by the author)

You can choose between a number of different weapons with which to fight the Imperial soldiers including blasters, thermal detonators, land mines, and some more explosive weapons. All weapons have a secondary mode which offers a different effect when fired. All weapons need ammunition so use the more powerful weapons sparingly.

The map unfolds as you progress for the level, adding to the feeling of isolation and the unknown. You can toggle this map to be overlaid whilst you are walking around the level too which is a useful tool to have. There are times in the game when you need to use night-vision goggles and breathing apparatus which are nice touches. Just remember that you’ll need to pick up batteries for the night vision goggles as they only have limited power.

The in-game music is atmospheric, but very basic. Don’t expect John William’s well-constructed musical themes blasting through your speakers in high fidelity. The in-game graphics are generally good. Although the levels are 3D, the baddies are 2D. However, they are well illustrated and use familiar exclamations such as “You’re not authorised in this area!”, and “There he is, blast him!”. Sadly, they do become a little pixelated as you get closer to them. The cutscenes are beautifully illustrated but sadly, it’s not the real Darth Vader’s voice.

Even animated, Darth Vader is an imposing figure (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls let this game down a little. Whilst you are able to run, jump, duck, swim and look around, the mouse only allows you to look horizontally turning left and right. You need to use the keyboard to look up and down. This makes it unnecessarily difficult when shooting at enemies on high ledges. The jumping is frustrating too as the player doesn’t stop instantly when landing which, although realistic, means plummeting to your death alot as it’s difficult to gauge when you are near to falling off the edges.

The three difficulty settings, and the fact this is a Star Wars game, give this game some replay value, but I don’t think this is a game that will have you returning time and time again.

Did I complete the game?

Yes!

What the critics said:

Gamespot:Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game is set in the Star Wars universe. It’s much more fun to blast Imperial lackeys than faceless monsters. The familiar setting is enhanced by your enemies’ taunts, like “Stop, Rebel Scum!” Dark Forces’ only real flaws are its tragically short length – less than a dozen levels – and its lack of multiplayer options or add-ons, which severely limits the replay value. Overall 7.6/10”.[1]

Next Generation: “Ultimately, Dark Forces offers nothing that Doom didn’t provide a year ago apart from some pretty Star Wars cut-scenes. And Technically, it’s on par with the most accomplished 3D games, but it seems that LucasArts’ reputation as a software pioneer has made it wary of producing an instantly playable title. Dark Forces will be judged by Doom Standards, and in most areas, it falls just short. Overall 3.5/5.[2]

PC Zone: “The best Doom-inspired game to date, based on Star Wars. Overall 95%.”[3]

My verdict:

“Overall the game has a good storyline and is fun, even for non-Star Wars gamers. Some of the controls need a little fine tuning but the number of weapons you can use, the level designs and familiar phrases such as “There he is, blast him!” make this game worth playing. However, single player limits the replay value a bit.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Dark Forces? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Dulon, R., (1st May 1996). ‘Star Wars Dark Forces Review’. Gamespost.com https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/dark-forces-review/1900-2538507/ Accessed 17th March 2020.

[2] ‘Finals: PC – Dark Forces’. Next Generation. (May 1995). Volume 1 Issue 5:94. https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-005/page/n95/mode/2up Accessed 17th March 2020.

[3] ‘CD Rom Review – Dark Forces’. PC Zone. (March 1995). Issue 24:52-56. https://archive.org/stream/PC_Zone_24_March_1995#page/n55/mode/2up Accessed 17th March 2020.

Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered

Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Revolution Software and published by Virgin Interactive. It was released in 1997 on Microsoft Windows and the PlayStation. A remastered edition was released in 2010 on Microsoft Windows, OSX and iOS. For this review, I looked at the original version on the Playstation and PC, and the remastered version on the PC.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

It has been six months since George Stobbart and Nico Collard stopped the Templar plot. Stobbart has returned to France from the US, where he was visiting his ill father, and plans to resume his relationship with Nico. Together they visit the house of archaeologist Professor Oubier in order to learn about a Mayan artefact that Collard has been researching. After arriving at Oubier’s house, they are ambushed, and Nico is kidnapped. Stobbart must rescue her whilst learning about, and preventing, a conspiracy to release the Mayan God Tezcatlipoca during an imminent eclipse.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”, or so the old saying goes. The graphics have remained in the classic animated film style, which I am a fan of. The music, whilst subtle, is atmospheric and fitting, and usually indicates either danger or that an important puzzle has been solved. The controls and gameplay also remain the same, that is, you can control George and Nico (at separate times during the game) and direct them to walk or interact with objects by using a cursor. The cursor icon will change depending on what action you can do. For example, if you place the cursor over an item you are able to pick up, the icon will turn into an animated hand that motions as if to pick up an object. It’s all very clear and straight forward. You are also able access your items from your inventory by moving your cursor to the top of the screen, where your collected items will appear. Similarly, when talking to another character, icons will appear at the bottom of the screen, indicating that more information can be gleaned from that person.

The Remastered Version

After replaying the game years after its release, Charles Cecil, who originally designed the game, wished to fix several issues he noted about the original version. He felt that the backgrounds were too pixelated, the movies were of poor quality, the audio needed sharpening up and that some of the dialogue seemed a bit out of place. With these issues addressed, Cecil explains that they decided to add a diary and a hint system. He also enlisted the help of illustrator Dave Gibbons to create new artwork for an interactive-comic bonus.[1]

A large brick building

Description automatically generated
A comparison between the original (top) and the remastered (bottom) versions (Screenshot taken by the author)

There is a small difference with the original in how you gain access to your items. In the corners of the screen are slightly translucent icons. The bottom left is a satchel where your can find your collected items; the bottom right is the diary, reminding you of your journey; top left is the option menu, and top right is a question mark for when you need help. When talking to another character, a box will appear onscreen with icons that you can click on to gather information from that person.

A person standing in front of a building

Description automatically generated
A comparison between the original (top) and the remastered (bottom) versions (Screenshot taken by the author)

I enjoyed playing this game, but I think I still prefer the first instalment. It was great to see some familiar faces from the first game, and there were some interesting new characters added too.For me, there are two things that let this game down. Firstly, I felt that they didn’t provide enough information on the Maya and Tezcatlipoca. Other players may not feel they needed more information but I’m an archaeologist and a historian by trade, and so my curiosity naturally seeks more information on such subjects. My second gripe was slightly rectified in the remastered version in that I wish they had added something new to the game to.

In the remastered version, the graphics do look a lot smoother, and the colours have been toned down a bit to add more realism to the scenes. The little portrait character boxes that appear during conversations is a nice new touch too.

Did I complete the game?:

Yes, but I found this game tougher than the first and so probably used hints more often.

What the critics said of the original Version:

Gamespot: (Playstation) “The horrendous loading times that plagued the original have been trimmed a great deal, and the animation runs a lot smoother. Still, the game is not for everyone. Earfuls of semi-relevant conversation and the digital pad’s inability to properly replicate a mouse make Broken Sword II tedious at times. But while Broken Sword II certainly isn’t revolutionary, it’s still refreshing to see a game of this nature done well. A compelling story, plot twists, offbeat humour, great graphics, and solid sound makes Broken Sword II a game with great aspirations. It’s simply too bad the game’s format and the Playstation’s limited capabilities keep Broken Sword II from fully realizing them. Overall 6.9/10.[2]

Gamespsot: (PC) “George is slightly more sophisticated (a consequence of all that traveling he did in Circle of Blood no doubt), Nico has been fleshed out a bit and takes on a few adventures of her own, and the quirky humour of Circle of Blood raises its oddball head once more (i.e., the minor character who gets up from his desk only to reveal that he works in bikini underwear – not pants – because it makes him feel friskier). It’s Circle of Blood with new characters, a new storyline, a new threat to world harmony, and a few omissions and additions that help to streamline the adventure. Overall 7.9/10.[3]

Next Generation: (PC) “What’s new helps the game immensely, and the already intuitive interface is still there. Smoking Mirror may not be an outstanding leap in graphics adventures, but much like the sequel to a good book, it’s a fun romp with familiar characters and well-worth the price of purchase. Overall 3/5.[4]

Computer Gaming World: (PC) “All in all, Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror is above average, but it’s not great. While the engine and the graphics have been refined, there are some minor slips in plot, dialogue, puzzles that bring the whole experience down a bit. Overall 3.5/5.[5]

What the critics said of the remastered version:

Gamezone: (PC) “Among the most impressive things about the Broken Sword series are its animated cut scenes, which look fantastic on the iPad. The animation itself is a bit dated, but it also brings a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of cartoons and animated movies of the same time period. The voice acting is solid, and the game sounds great on the iPad. The remastered version of The Smoking Mirror is compatible with both the iPad and iPhone, and though the game can look a bit stretched and blurry at times on the iPad, the bigger screen is preferable for gameplay purposes. Overall 8/10.[6]

My verdict:

“A great sequel and enthralling storyline. Great graphics, and tougher puzzles than the first instalment. Pity that about the lack of innovation in gameplay, and information regarding the Mayan culture”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Hoggins, T., (January 4th 2011). ‘Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror Interview’. The Telegraph. (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/video-games/8238685/Broken-Sword-II-The-Smoking-Mirror-interview.html Accessed 7th March 2020).

[2] Stohl, B., (May 5th 2000). ‘Broken Sword II Review – Playstation’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-ii-review/1900-2545928/ Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[3] Muldoon, M., (May 1st 2000). ‘Broken Sword II Review – PC’. http://www.gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-the-smoking-mirror-review/1900-2538230/ Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[4] ‘Rating: PC – Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror’. Next Generation. (December 1997). Issue 36:170. (https://archive.org/details/NextGeneration36Dec1997/page/n171/mode/2up Accessed on 7th March 2020).

[5] Nguyen, T., ‘Review: PC – Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:162. (http://www.cgwmuseum.org/galleries/issues/cgw_164.pdf Accessed on 13th February 2020).

[6] Chase, S., (May 4th 2012). ‘Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror – Remastered Review’ Gamezone.com. (https://www.gamezone.com/reviews/broken_sword_ii_the_smoking_mirror_-_remastered/ Accessed 7th March 2020).

Saboteur

I was born in 1983, and had an older brother and father who were interested in computer games. Although I vaguely remember some sort of computer system that we played Pong on, the first computer system that we owned that I really remember was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Games on cassette tapes, multi-coloured loading screens, and games frustratingly crashing often were my childhood memories. One game that holds a special place in my heart is Saboteur, as it was the first game that I completed. I remember playing it alot as a child. My dad even spent time creating a map showing every room and all the features. The version I reviewed is from the ZX Spectrum 128.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Saboteur is a single-player stealth action-adventure game. It was developed by Clive Townsend and published by Durell Software in 1985 for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 16. Enhanced versions were released for the PC, iOS and Android in 2017, and the Nintendo Switch in 2018.

Beware of the Dog! (Screenshot taken by the author)

You play as a ninja who must infiltrate a warehouse to steal a floppy disk, which contains names of rebel leaders, before escaping in a helicopter. Along the way you may have to evade or engage in hand to hand combat with guards and guard dogs. You can also pick up and throw projectiles such as shurikens, knives and bricks. To add to the excitement, you’re given a time limit with which to complete the mission.

There are nine skill levels which increase the difficulty of the mission by including more guards, more locked security doors and giving the player less time to complete the mission. This feature adds to the overall replay value of the game.

Let’s start with the music. The music is only existant once the game has loaded, and you see the first option screen where you can opt to play with a joystick, keyboard or Kempton interface. You also have the option to redefine the command keys. The music that plays over this menu is actually pretty good. It reminds me of the sort of music melody that might be played over any number of 80s action movies. It tells the player that the game is serious and means business. Sadly, there is no in-game music.

Use your kung-fu skills to take out the guards (Screenshot taken by the author)

As far as SFX goes, the game is quiet. I don’t know whether the lack of in-game music and SFX was intentional or not, bearing in mind that this is supposed to be a stealth game. You can hear the boat as it arrives at the dock and your saboteur’s footsteps as he runs. There is a noise when you’re being fired at and when you attack a guard, but other than that the game is eerily silent. This silence, intentional or not, actually adds to the atmosphere of the game.

The graphics are smooth, and I like the way that there is a stark difference between rooms that are lit and rooms that are supposed to be in darkness. The sprites are clear and well defined, and there is virtually no colour bleed between sprites, and the backgrounds.

The game is easy to learn and control, and there are plenty of places to explore, even if you don’t necesarily need to visit them to complete the mission.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games: “Saboteur is an addictive, exciting and challenging game. A mixture of Exploding Fist and Impossible Mission. It’s a winner – watch it climb the charts! Overall 9.25/10.[1]

Sinclair User: “The game is very realistic, the graphics are outsnaindgly smooth and there is no colour clash or flicker to speak of. There are nin levels of play, ranging from extremely easy to extremely difficult. Overall 5/5“.[2]

Your Sinclair: “Saboteur manags to combine the good graphical representations of the other kung-fu games with a solid background of an action-packed story. One to be recommended. Overall 9/10”.[3]

Computer Gamer: “An exceptional game that takes the kung-fu game a stage further to perfection. Overall 4.75/5.[4]

My verdict:

“Modern gamers, don’t be fooled by the seemingly crude graphics and lack of music and SFX. This game is challenging and fun, and there is enough here to have you wanting to continue playing on harder difficulty settings.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Saboteur? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] ‘Software Review: Saboteur’. Computer & Video Games. (January 1986). :23. (http://live.worldofspectrum.org/infoseek/magazines/computer–video-games/51#22 Accessed 26th February 2020).

[2] Edgely, C., ‘Spectrum Software Scene: Saboteur’. Sinclair User. (January 1986). Issue 46:20. (http://live.worldofspectrum.org/infoseek/magazines/sinclair-user/46#20 Accessed 26th February 2020).

[3] ‘Review: Saboteur’. Your Sinclair. (January 1986). Issue 1:66-7. (https://archive.org/details/your-sinclair-01/page/n65/mode/2up Accessed 26th February 2020).

[4] ‘Reviews: Saboteur’. Computer Gamer. (December 1986). Issue 9:74. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gamer_Issue_09_1985-12_Argus_Press_GB/page/n73/mode/2up Accessed on 26th February 2020).

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut

Original cover art

Ah the city of Paris, home of the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre. A city that countless visitors seek for romantic getaways, art and culture. George Stobbart was visiting Paris. He was enjoying a coffee and minding his own business…then a bomb exploded in the café he was sitting by.

Screenshot taken by the author

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (also known as Circle of Blood) is a point and click game developed and published by Revolution Software in 1996. It was released on multiple platforms including Android, Game Boy Advance, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Palm OS, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii, Windows, Windows Mobile, Xbox, Xbox One. Here, I will review the Director’s Cut which was released in 2009.

Director’s Cut cover art

This is the first instalment of the Broken Sword series. You play as American George Stobbart who witnesses the assassination of a man named Plantard. Whilst enjoying a coffee at a Parisian Café, Stobbart observes the assassin enter and then leave with a briefcase moments before an explosion destroys the establishment. Naturally Stobbart begins to investigate the murder because, let’s face it, the explosion almost killed him too and to rub salt into the wound, he appears to be a suspect. During his investigation he meets and allies himself with French reporter Nicole “Nico” Collard. What starts as a murder investigation soon unravels as a conspiracy plot involving the Knights Templar, taking Stobbart and Collard to several different countries including Ireland, Spain, Syria, and Scotland in search of the murderer.

Screenshot taken by the author

The game is designed to be reminiscent of the classic animated film genre. The story is engaging, and the puzzles are challenging but not convoluted like in the Monkey Island series. I did need assistance to help with the odd puzzle, but I never got bored of this game.

Screenshot taken by the author

The Director’s Cut has several differences when compared with the original release. The graphics have been improved and are smoother. There are extra scenes; In the original you begin with Stobbart at the Café, but in the Director’s Cut, you begin with Nico needing to escape a Plantard’s house. Artwork of character profiles appear during conversation scenes, and there are extra puzzles to work your way through.

Did I complete the game?

I did, but there were one or two occasions when I had to use a walkthrough.

What the critics said about the original game:

Gamespot.com “Without question, Circle of Blood is an adventure of epic proportions and ranks as one of the most intriguing games to roll out this year. Its only drawback is that the graphics might be too real. After playing the game, you might find yourself wanting to pack your bags and take in the European sights first-hand. But if you’re lacking for travel funds and must stay home and play computer games, Circle of Blood definitely won’t disappoint you. Overall rating 9.2 superb[1]

What critics said about the Director’s Cut:

PC Gamer Magazine “Wonky visuals, but this is as close to the Da Vinci Code meets Monkey Island as we’ll get. Did I mention the hot French accent? Overall 69%[2]

Awards for the original cut:

Best Adventure 1997 – Generation 4 Magazine

Best Quest – Quest Magazine[3]

Awards for the Director’s Cut:

Pocket Gamer Gold Award 2010 – Pocket Gamer [4]

(Wii version) Best European Adventure 2011 – European Game Awards[5]

My verdict: “I love this game, and am a huge fan of the franchise. I love the graphics, the story, and the puzzles. If you like point and clicks, and even if you don’t, I’m sure you will find this game entertaining.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Anderson, R., (October 3rd, 1996). ‘Review – Circle of Blood’. Gamspot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/circle-of-blood-review/1900-2538410/ Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] PC Gamer. (October 31st 2010). ‘Review – Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars Director’s Cut’. PC Gamer. (https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/broken-sword-shadow-of-the-templars-directors-cut-review/ Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] Cecil, C., (July 18, 2011). ‘A New STEAM Age’. TED. (https://web.archive.org/web/20131217015330/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcUcl23D7mA Accessed 10th December 2019).

[4] Usher, A., (Jun 28, 2012). ‘Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut’. Pocket Gamer. (https://www.pocketgamer.com/articles/042432/classic-point-and-click-title-broken-sword-the-directors-cut-makes-its-way-onto-android/ Accessed 13th December 2019).

[5] European Game Awards. (https://web.archive.org/web/20120415092901/http://www.european-games-award.com/ Accessed on 13th December 2019).

Age of Empires (Including Rise of Rome Expansion Pack)

The history of the world is full of civilisations competing for resources, wealth and glory. Age of Empires offered the chance to relive those struggles, and immerse ourselves in a world that we are so far removed from.

Age of Empires was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Games. It was released in 1997 for the PC, spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, and has gained a loyal following.

AOE is a real-time strategy game which sees you lead the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Babylonia and the Yamato, through the Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, in order to rise up and become dominant empires. In order to progress through the ages, you need to build your base and grow your army. To do this you send villagers to gather resources of wood, food, gold and stone. Upon reaching a new age, better soldiers, weapons and technologies become available to you.

Screenshot taken by the author
Screenshot taken by the author

You have the option of playing single player campaigns, as well as a Random Map mode in which different maps are generated for each match. Other adjustments can be made to make the matches harder such as adding a Death Match mode. You can even create your own scenarios in the Scenario Builder and set your own match parameters. Multiplayer is also available to play online. These features give this game tons of replay value.

The Rise of Rome extension was released in 1998 and contained four extra campaigns based on the Roman Empire. These campaigns included the Rise of Rome, Ave Caesar, Pax Romana, and Enemies of Rome. The expansion pack added some extra features such as being able to queue the production of units, allowing you to continue with other objectives whilst your army is being created. It also allows the player to double-click a single unit to highlight all similar units on the screen, handy for when in the height of battle.

Screenshot taken by the author

A few negative points include the lack of diversity in the units amongst the different civilisations. If you didn’t know from the campaign menu or didn’t select a civilisation when beginning a Random Map game, you could be forgiven for not knowing which civilisation you were. Regardless of what colour your army is, an indication to which civilsation you are can be found by looking at the style of the border at the bottom of the screen.

The hoplite armies are also very overpowered. If you have a squad of about 10, you can pretty much decimate any confrontation with ease. Your only hope to defend against such an army is to either have an equal army of hoplites or get a few lucky strikes with a catapult. Lastly, some of the missions can become monotonous. Most missions are simply building an army and destorying the enemy base. There are a few more interesting missions such as finding and marking ancient horse symbols, but these are few and far between.

That being said, this game is utterly brilliant. Whats not to like? The game is easy to learn and highly addictive. There are plenty of different units with which to build your mighty army. The missions increase in difficulty, challenging your strategy to the end, and the replay value will have you coming back year after year.

If you would like to learn more about the origins of Age of Empires, I would recommend you listen to Season 3 Episode 22 of The Life and Times of Video Games podcast.

Did I complete the games?

I have successfully completed all campaigns without the use of cheats and loved every second of it. I will no doubt unsheath my sword again in the future, just to ensure I can still cut the mustard.

What the critics said of Age of Empires:

Allgame.com: “Although the building at the beginning of a mission is slightly repetitive at times, the game is still extremely enjoyable. Overall 4.5/5[1]

Gamespot.com: Age of Empires looked, and pretends, to be so very much more. It still has tons of potential and a fundamental gameplay that remains entertaining enough to overcome the flaws and merit a fair rating. The system can go very far with some fine-tuning, but as it stands it seems downright schizo. Is it a simplified Civilization or a modestly beefed up Warcraft? It’s almost as if the designers started out to create one game and ended up with another. Overall 6.8/10[2]

PC Zone Magazine: You’ll have to spend a few hours getting to know it before you’ll be able to find the fastest routes to each main advance and what you should be researching first to get to the weapons and buildings that suit your style of play best. But then this is the sort of thing that gets people hooked in the first place. And hooked you will be. Overall 9.4/10[3]

What the critics said of Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome:

Computer Games Strategy Plus: “If you enjoyed Age of Empires, Rise of Rome will put fresh blood on your sword. Overall 4/5[4]

Awards:

Finalist – 1997 Computer Gaming World ‘Strategy Game of the Year’[5]

Outstanding Multiplay – CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Special Award[6]

My verdict: “A classic real-time strategy game, and you even learn a little about classical history too. It has tons of replay value, and although it’s not perfect, I find myself drawn back to this game year after year.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Facebook.


[1] Couper, C., (14th Novermber 2014). ‘Age of Empires – Review’. Allgame.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20141114122303/http://www.allgame.com/game.php?id=714&tab=review Accessed 10th December 2019).

[2] McDonald, L.T., (October 27th 1997). Age of Empires. Gamespot.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080726183453/http://www.gamespot.com/pc/strategy/ageofempires/review.html Accessed 10th December 2019).

[3] Anderson, C., (May 19th 2008). ‘Review – Age of Empires’, PC Zone Magazine. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080518133649/http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=2701 Accessed on 10th December 2019).

[4] Finn, D., ‘Strategy Review – Rise of Rome’. Computer Games Strategy Plus. (January 1999). Issue 98:106 (https://archive.org/stream/CGStrategyPlus_assorted/CG-StrategyPlus-98#page/n105/mode/2up Accessed on 3rd January 2020).

[5] ‘Best and Worst of 1998: Strategy Game of the Year’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:84. (https://archive.org/details/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_164/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed on 6th February 2020)

[6] ‘CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Special Award – Outstanding Multiplay’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:89. (http://www.cgwmuseum.org/galleries/issues/cgw_164.pdf Accessed on 13th February 2020).