Age of Empires III (Including The War Chiefs and The Asian Dynasties Expansions) – Review

Keeping sequels fresh whilst staying true to the original franchise is a tough challenge for game creators. You can’t change things too much or too quickly without a backlash of disgruntlement from fans, but you also need to be seen as being progressive and innovative. The Age of Empires franchise has always been innovative in the way it has taken the gamer through history and given them control of countless civilisations from around the world. After the success of Age of Empires II and its spin-off, Age of Mythology, what new features would its creators include to keep the franchise fresh whilst still staying true to the originals concepts?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Age of Empires III (AOE III)is a real-time strategy game and the third in the Age of Empires franchise. Developed by Ensemble studios, it was published for PC by Microsoft Games in 2005 (The Mac version was published by Destineer’s MacSoft in 2006). Glu-Mobile published a mobile version in 2009. A remastered version was released in 2020. For this review, I revisited the original PC versions.

AOE III focusses on the European colonisation of the America’s between 1492 and 1876. The story mode focuses on the Black family and their fortunes and failures in North America. The story mode has a similar style to that of Age of Mythology (AOM) where there are cut scenes before and after each mission which progress the story along.

The game is broken into three acts:

Act One: Blood – The first campaign begins in the late 16th century and introduces Knight of Saint John, Morgan Black who must travel from Malta to South America in a bid to prevent the Circle of Ossus from finding the Fountain of Youth.

Morgan Black must travel to South America to prevent the Fountain of Youth from falling into the wrong hands (Screenshot taken by the author)

Act Two: Ice – The second act takes place in the mid-18th century, and sees Morgan’s grandson, John Black and Mohawk companion Kanyenke, ally with General Washington during the Seven Years’ War against the French.

John Black and Kanyenke join forces with George Washington against the French in the Seven Years’ War (Screenshot taken by the author)

Act Three: Steel – The third act takes palce in 1817, and sees Amelia, John’s granddaughter, who is trying to expand her railroad empire, pursue a French prospector to South America where he intends to find the Lake of the Moon and the Fountain of Youth.

Amelia is trying to regain her family’s fortune by building the new railway in the US (Screenshot taken by the author)

Thankfully, AOE III has moved away from the simple mission objectives of “build up your base and destroy the enemy base”. Although there are many missions where that is the end goal, there are also other interesting missions to ensure the game doesn’t become monotonous. An example of this is the Pirate’s Help mission where Morgan must gain 8000 experience points by doing a number of small missions in order to impress a pirate named Lizzie. Another is the Bring Down the Mountain mission in the John Black campaign where you need to use miners to hack down rocks to block mountain passes.

Secondary objectives do very little other than give you extra experience points with which to have more shipments sent from your home city or enables you to add features to your home city. Other than that, they are pretty pointless.

Another improvement is that there is greater differentiation between the civilisations. There are plenty of unique units to each civilisation, encouraging the gamer to try them all in Random Map mode in order to find their preferred units.

Different from AOE II but kept from AOM the gamer has the opportunity to choose how they wish to advance to the next technological age. Each path will offer different improvements and units and it is up to the player to decide which path is best suited for the mission at hand.

Although AOE II had ‘Heroes’, (e.g. Joan of Arc etc.) they fought like every other unit. AOM introduced the concept of a special ability or attack that ‘Heroes’ performed but these were automatic and could not be controlled by the player. AOE III has introduced special attacks that CAN be controlled by the player. ‘Heroes’ such as John Black can either use Hawk Eye – which kills almost all units with one shot, and Eagle Eye which is a powerful shot that damages enemy units in an area. Once used, you have to wait a minute or so before it can be used again. Some ships have a similar special attack where they pepper their intended target with cannon. 

Interestingly, sea battles and the use of ships in general seems to have taken a real backseat in this game. If memory serves, other than the Pirates!, Great Lakes, and Last Stand of the Boneguard missions, you can quite happily do without worrying about a naval presence. Whilst we’re on the subject of ships, they have dramatically increased the number of units each ship can carry. The problem with this is that there is no automatic disembarking button, so you have to manually click the unit’s icon for them to disembark, and when you’re carrying large numbers of troops, this can prove tricky in tight spots.

To make things a bit more challenging, and realistic with regard to technological advancement, Morgan Black’s campaign can’t advance past the Fortress Age, and John Black’s campaign cannot advance past the Industrial Age.

Other new features include:

Gaining experience points – Dotted around each map are several treasures or captured units, mostly protected by human or animal ‘guardians’. Defeating the ‘guardians’ and taking the treasures or rescuing the prisoners will gain you resources, units and/or experience points. These experience points enable the gamer to have shipments of resources, improvements or units sent to your town centre. Killing enemy units also gains experience points.

Build your shipment deck – After every mission you are unable to unlock more improvements for your shipments. This gives you the opportunity to build you own deck of shipments that you prefer to use during missions and Random Map modes. For example, one mission may require artillery, so provided you have unlocked an artillery card, you can swap that card in for another and have a shipment of artillery sent to your town centre.

Trading posts – There are two types of trading posts: The first consists of building a trading post in the village of local tribes. This enables further improvements to your units and resrouces as well as being able to train unique Native American units. The second consists of building trading posts at specific areas along trading routes. These routes regularly have traders travelling along them. At first, all these trading posts do is help gain experience points. As you move through the ages, you can upgrade the way the traders transport their goods, and also which resource you would like to have added to your stockpile.

AOE III has greatly improved graphics from AOEII. They have moved away from the 2D isometric view to a 3D model giving different parts of the screen a slightly different perspective. The buildings are incredibly detailed with animated, realistic looking smoke arising from fires and chimneys. The units are also very detailed, and beautifully illustrated and animated. This goes especially for the artillery, whose artillerymen are a hive of activity carrying, reloading and firing.

I very much enjoyed the story mode and the fact that you follow the same family over a 300 year period. Although fictional, the story is compelling and keeps you from skipping the cutscenes.

I really liked the experience points and shipment system employed in this game as I think it can certainly give you a tactical advantage when you get it right. I love the fact that parts of the buildings are blown off when they are under attack, adding the realism of warfare. Last but not least, AOE III has managed to create a beautiful score to go with the game. These are the types of musical scores that I find myself listening to simply because I enjoy them so much.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have played through this game several times and thoroughly enjoy the missions.

What the critics said:

1up.com: “It’s a rock-solid package, one that tightens every part of the existing game with a facelift worthy of the most talented plastic surgeon. Ensemble has proven no one can beat it at its own game, but neither will it be Age of Empires III the wannabes are aiming at in the coming months. Overall B-“.[1]

Game Revolution: “But no one buys strategy games for the sound effects – they buy them to agonize over tactics and statistics and this is why Age of Empires III is still a recommendable RTS. The steps it has taken in the gameplay department since Age of Empires II are negligible, but at least the new card-based bonus system adds an element of customization and depth to the genre. This result is as detailed as a history book, and about as much fun. Overall 3/5.[2]

Gamespot: “Age of Empires III has some very big shoes to fill, and on top of that, the real-time strategy market has grown hugely competitive due in no small part to Ensemble Studios’ previous accomplishments. This latest game offers a lot of what made Age II so great, and it’s got plenty of depth and lasting appeal, despite how most matches tend to begin and ultimately pan out similarly. Age III does seem surprisingly rough around the edges in some respects, and those expecting the game to revolutionize or even refresh this style of gaming may come away disappointed that their high expectations weren’t met. But those looking for a complex and interesting real-time strategy game with fantastic good looks and some historical flavor will find just what they want in Age of Empires III. Overall 8.2/10.[3]

Gamespy: “Age of Empires III is an absolutely fantastic title with superb graphics and tight gameplay. Single-player or multiplayer, no matter what your skill, you’ll get hours of joy out of this sucker online or off. Age of Empires III may not redefine real-time strategy gaming, but it sets the bar so high that we’ll be comparing games to this for years. Shoulder your musket and pony up: this one’s a real trip. Overall 5/5.[4]

Gamezone: “Age of Empires III is a must have game for any Real Time Strategy gamer. There are so many new additions in this game that it will boggle your mind. This is one of the best looking games, much less an RTS game, that is out on the market currently. This is one purchase you will not come to regret. Overall 9.5/10.[5]

IGN: “Age of Empires III is a superbly balanced and polished game and it definitely ups the ante for the C&C and ‘Craft developers. Discounting a few niggles in the interface, the whole presentation is rock solid. Each new release in the Age of Empires series has added something to the mix. But while Age of Empires II seemed to focus on quantity, Age of Empires III sacrifices some units and civilizations in order to make the whole experience much tighter. Overall 8.8.[6]

Awards:

2005 PC Turn-Based Strategy – 2005 Gamespy Gamers’ Choice Awards[7]

2005 Best Graphics – 2005 Gamespy Gamers’ Choice Awards [8]

2005 Outstanding Award – Gamezone[9]

My verdict:

“Great graphics, fantastic soundtrack, challenging gameplay, and lots of new features to keep you interested. It is easy to see why the Age of Empires franchise is so popular. I love these games and I find myself returning to them again and again.“

Rating:


AOE III: The War Chiefs was the first AOE III expansion pack to be released. It was developed by Ensemble Studios (Destineer’s MacSoft on the Mac), and was published by Microsoft Games for the PC in 2006 and MacSoft for the Mac in 2007.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This expansion continues to follow the story of the Black family.

Act One: Fire – Nathanial Black is the son of John Black and Nonahkee of the Iroquis from Act Two: Ice of AOE III. His story begins in 1775. The campaign begins with Nathanial and his uncle Kanyenke trying to persuade the Seneca and Mohawk tribes not to join in the American Revolutionary War. Nonahkee is soon kidnapped by the Mohawk and a group of Hessian soldiers led by Colonel Sven Kuechler. It turns out Kuechler has gone rogue, so Nathanial joins forces with George Washington to pursue the leader of the Hessian Soldiers and rescue his mother.

Nathanial Black must join forces with George Washington in order to rescue his mother (Screenshot taken by the author).

Act Two: Shadow – The year is 1866. We are now introduced to Chayton Black, son of Amelia Black from Act Three: Steel of AOE III. His father, a member of the Lakota tribe, died when he was young. When American prospectors begin to encroach on Native American land in search of gold, Nathanial must decide which side to fight on.

Clayton Black is present at The Battle of Little Big Horn (Screenshot taken by the author).

Primary Objectives: Again, there is a nice array of different primary objectives to win the each mission. I found mission 6: Valley Forge particularly interesting because the first objective is to build 6 houses to shelter the men through the winter. The issue is that the cold depletes your gatherer’s energy bars and so you need to head back to the fires to gain your health back. Then you need to amass 3000 food before your town centre arrives and you can build a farm etc. This is before you build an army and destroy the enemy fort.

One new building that features is a fire pit. This enables you to instruct villagers to dance. There are up to 16 different dances, some of which vary depending on which tribe you are. Some of these dances are:

Fertility Dance – Increases unit training speed

Population Dance – Speeds up the production of units

Gift Dance – A slow trickle of experience

War Dance – Increases damage to enemy units

Holy Dance – Spawns Medicine Men.

Fire Dance – Increases damage to buildings and ships

Earth Mother Dance – Increases your population

The Fire Pit allows you to assign villagers to perform various dance to increase attack, resources, population etc. (Screenshot taken by the author).

Other new features include:

6 New Maps – These include: The Andes, Araucania, California, Northwest Territory, Orinoco and the Painted Desert.

Trade Monopoly – For Random Map players, a new ‘Trade Monopoly’ winning scenario has been added. Once a player owns more than half of the trading posts on a map can begin a timer. Your opponents need to destroy some of your trade posts before the timer runs down. Whilst the timer is ticking down, the player who started it cannot rebuild more trading posts if some of his has been destroyed until the timer stops.

More Native Tribes – Another four minor tribes to bring the overall total to 16.

Unique Technologies – Each Native civilisation has unique technologies.

Revolution – When advancing to the Imperial Age, European colonies have the option to revolt and form their own nation. A revolution gives your military a boost but can damage your economy as your settlers all change to colonial militia.

Stealth Mode – Certain Native tribe units have a stealth mode, allowing them to sneak past or sneak up on the enemy. However, this slows down your unit’s movement, and if you get too close to the enemy you will still be spotted.

New Skills for Heroes – Native heroes wuch as Wind Feather from the first mission can use Nature Friendship which convert treasure guardians to ally units.

What makes this expansion a bit more challenging is that not only are you unable to advance further than the Fortress Age, but you are also unable to build walls, an incredibly useful defensive necessity. There are also no watchtowers. Instead, your barracks act in a similar way and will fire arrows from a turret.

There is also less artillery available to the Native Americans. Instead they have either mantletes – Iroquis who carry a shield, and falconets – small cannon. There is only one mission where an allied army supplies bigger artillery for you.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Gamespot: “The WarChiefs expansion adds a solid amount of new content to the existing game, and while many of the new features provide interesting new ways to play and win the game, it’s fair to say that fans of the series will appreciate the changes. The WarChiefs does a lot to shake up the formula, but when you get down to it, the tried-and-true Age of Empires gameplay remains pretty much intact, and the expansion offers more depth and strategy to an already deep strategy experience. Overall 7.8/10.[10]

1Up.com: “…WarChiefs turns into an exciting exercise in completely rethinking old strategies. And this, after all, is what the best expansion packs do: not just add, but entirely revise. Overall A.[11]

Eurogamer: “All told, it’s quite a lot of newness from an expansion pack, and in many ways makes for a pretty considerable shift from how the original game works. Not everyone’s going to agree with me here, as Age Of Empires III certainly has its fans, but, for me, this is redemption (but only redemption & we’re not talking elevation to high levels of acclaim) of a sort for the original game. I laughed one of those laughs that sounds a little like crying when I heard that AOE3 had scooped the Best Online Game award at this year’s Golden Joysticks. What a baffling decision – it wasn’t a terribly interesting game, it was just by the numbers RTS, and in many ways, pretty boring. I prefer my strategy over-the-top, even slightly silly, so being able to vanquish a foe by setting a horde of hypnotised bears on him is far more like my idea of fun. Overall 6/10.[12]

Gamespy: “In the end, The WarChiefs is yet another demonstration of why Ensemble Studios remains among the first rank of strategy game developers. The single-player aspects of the game may indeed be just more of the same, but in this case it’s pretty damned good. On top of that, the multiplayer additions elevate the expansion to a must-own. Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs has managed to re-invent and reinvigorate the game. I’m sorry guys. I’ll never doubt you again. Overall 4.5/5.[13]

IGN: “As we said at the beginning, Ensemble’s not known for producing expansions that alter the strategies of concepts of their core games. Given the popularity and quality of the core games, who are you to argue? Fans of Age of Empires III who are just looking for more content are definitely going to be pleased with the expansion. Those who are hoping for something new or different aren’t going to find it here. Some of the Native American concepts offer a nice twist, as does the inclusion of revolutions and monopolies, but to be totally honest, they could just call the game More Age of Empires III and we’d still line up to play it. Overall 8.2.[14]

My verdict:

“Personally, I really enjoyed War Chiefs. The limiting of the artillery and defensive structures were a challenge. The stories and scenarios were good, and it was nice to return to play as some other members of the Black family.”  

Rating:


Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties is the second expansion pack for AOE III. It was developed by Ensemble Studios in collaboration with Big Huge Games and published by Microsoft Games for the PC in 2007; and developed and published by Destineer’s MacSoft for the Mac in 2008.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

This expansion pack leaves the Black family behind and introduces three more civilisations: Japan, China and India, and is broken down into three campaigns respectively.

Japan – This campaign focusses on the reunification of Japan (a scenario of Age of Empires II: The Conquerors) and the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It begins with The Siege of Osaka c.1614-15.

The Asian Dynasties expansion saw some beautifully designed Asian buildings and a whole plethora of new units unique to these ancient civilisations (Screenshot taken by the author).

China – This campaign is based on the controversial hypothesis that China reached the Americas before Columbus.

China’s campaign sees the introduction of the Treasure Ship, which regulalry generates a resource of your choice (Screenshot taken by the author).

India – This campaign introduces a new character, Subedar Nanib Sahir who serves the East India Company, and focusses on the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Follow Nanib Sahir as he joins the Indian Revolution (Screenshot taken by the author).

As well as the design of the buildings, which fit with their respective Asian cultures, there is the introduction of loads more unique units. Other new features include:

Wonders – When advancing to the next age, you must choose to build a wonder. Each wonder offers either units or a resource bonus.

Rice Paddies – Instead of farms, rice paddies can be built. They can be used by villagers to gather food or gold.

Consulates – This new building allows your base to ally with a foreign power. This allegiance will allow you to buy foreign units not otherwise available to you. Export (symbolised by a green leaf) is automatically generated as your villagers gather resources. However, it is generated a lot slower making it more difficult to buy foreign units.

Treasure Ships: For many of the Chinese campaigns, you have a treasure ship which generates a resource of your choice every minute or so.

I didn’t enjoy this expansion quite so much as the others. To me, it felt like there were so many upgrades to use resources on and they were so expensive that I found you could complete each mission before using them.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Gamespot: “Like The WarChiefs expansion from last year, The Asian Dynasties does a good job of introducing distinct new civilizations to Age of Empires III–only this time, instead of Native American tribes, there are three iconic Asian civilizations to play with now. There’s a fair amount here to dig into if you’re a serious Age of Empires fan or someone who likes Asian civilization. Overall 7.5/10.[15]

Gamespy: “No self-respecting Age III fan would want to miss out on all the East meets West fun, not to mention the new artwork: such gorgeous pagodas, arches, minarets and colors that those musty old Europeans could scarcely imagine in their new worlds. This expansion pack is a rare and generous package of new visuals, new gameplay, and absolutely crucial improvements to the core game. If you weren’t an Age III fan before Asian Dynasties, get ready to be one now. Overall 4.5/5.[16]

IGN: “Asian Dynasties is another great chapter in the Age of Empires series and one that strategy gamers with a yen for the Far East should definitely investigate. The units are colorful, the combat is exciting, and the story, though not as thrilling as Age 3 or as historically relevant as Age 2, is still strong enough to carry the action. It’s true that the missions leave a bit to be desired in terms of but I don’t want to come down too harshly on the campaign here because at the end of the day, Asian Dynasties is a heck of a lot of fun. I mean, the elephants alone are worth the price of admission. Overall 8/10”.[17]

My verdict:

“I enjoyed the storyline and the game still looks and plays great. My only gripe is the increase in expensive upgrades that are not worth the effort of gathering resources for. Other than that, it gets a thumbs up from me.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Age of Empires III and its expansion packs? 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] Lee, G., (10/14/2005). ‘Review – Age of Empires III’. 1up.com. (https://archive.is/20100105233119/http://www.1up.com/do/reviewPage?cId=3144773&did=1 Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[2] Dodson, J., (November 1st, 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Game Revolution. (https://www.gamerevolution.com/review/36011-age-of-empires-3-review Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[3] Kasavin, G., (October 14, 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Gamespot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-review/1900-6135842/ Accessed 14th November 2020).

[4] Kosak, D., (October 18, 2005). ‘Review – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii/659812p1.html Accessed on 14th November 2020).

[5] Amer, N., (10/18/2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. Gamezone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20071011063943/http://pc.gamezone.com/gzreviews/r25458.htm Accessed 14th November 2020).

[6] Butts, S., (14 Oct 2005). ‘Age of Empires III Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2005/10/14/age-of-empires-iii Accessed 14th November 2020).

[7] (November 23rd 2006). ‘PC Real-Time Strategy Game of the Year – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061123230259/http://goty.gamespy.com/2005/pc/index15.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[8] (November 23rd 2006). ‘Best Graphics – Age of Empires III’. Gamespy. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061128225404/http://goty.gamespy.com/2005/pc/index20.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[9] Knutson, M., (10/16/2005). ‘Age of Empires III’. Gamezone. (https://web.archive.org/web/20061214005041/http://pc.gamezone.com/gzreviews/r25458.htm Accessed 15th November 2020).

[10] Ocampo, J., (October 20th, 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Review’. Gamespot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-the-warchiefs-review/1900-6160294/ Accessed 15th November 2020).

[11] Chick, T., (10/17/2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs’. 1up.com. https://archive.is/20131219221713/http://www.1up.com/reviews/aoe-iii-warchiefs Accessed 15th November 2020).

[12] Meer, A., (9th November 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The Warchiefs’. Eurogamer. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/aoe_wc_rev_pc Accessed 15th November 2020).

[13] Rausch, A., (October 20th, 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii-expansion-pack/740899p2.html Accessed 15th November 2020).

[14] Butts, S., (18th October 2006). ‘Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2006/10/17/age-of-empires-iii-the-warchiefs-review Accessed 15th November 2020).

[15] Ocampo, J., (October 23, 2007). ‘Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Invasion Review’. Gamespot. https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties-review/1900-6181567/ Accessed 15th November 2020).

[16] Chick, T., (Oct 24, 2007). ‘Reviews – Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties’. Gamespy. (http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties/830070p2.html Accessed 16th November 2020).

[17] Butts, S., (23rd October 2007). ‘Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2007/10/23/age-of-empires-iii-the-asian-dynasties-review?page=3 Accessed 16th November 2020).

Golden Axe – Review

Video games set in fantasy lands have always been popular. There is something enthralling about controlling musclebound and bronzed barbarians, big-breasted Amazonian women and axe-wielding dwarves who can not only hack their way through masses of monsters but also use incredible magic when the situation warrants it. I mean, who doesn’t want to play a video game like that?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe is a side-scrolling arcade hack ‘n’ slash developed and published by Sega, and released for the arcade in 1989. Over the next few years, it was later ported to the following:

Mega Drive/Genesis

Master System

Sega CD

IBM

PC

Amiga

Atari ST

Amstrad CPC

Commodore 64

Turbo Grafix-16

Wonder Swan

ZX Spectrum

For this review, I replayed the Mega Drive version from 1990.

You can choose to fight as either Ax Battler, Tyrius Flare ot Gilius Thunderhead (Screenshot taken by the author)

Set in a high-fantasy land of Yuria, the evil Death Adder has risen to power. His soldiers are responsible for the massacre of thousands of peaceful villagers. Soon, he kidnaps the King of Yuria and his daughter and steals the Golden Axe. Thankfully, three warriors emerge who are capable of saving the kingdom:

Ax Battler – a mighty barbarian from the far plains. He seeks to avenge the death of his mother. He is brave and strong, and wields volcanic magic.

Tyrius Flare – an Amazonian from deep within the jungles whose mother and father were killed by Death Adder. She has skill with the sword and possesses immense magical power that can rain down fire upon her enemies.

Gilius Thunderhead – a dwarf who wields a mighty axe and uses his speed and cunning to defeat his enemies. He seeks to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Death Adder. His magic ability sees bolts of lightning strike from the heavens.

Together, they have sworn to purge Yuria of the pestilence that is Death Adder’s army and rescue the king and princess.

My personal favourite is Gilius Thunderhead (Screenshot taken by the author)

To progress through the game, your heroes must battle through hordes of Death Adder’s ugly minions. Along the way, you will come across elves whom you can attack for magic and food. If things become too desperate, all three can use their individual magical powers to destroy their enemies. Galius is limited to three bars, Ax to four bars and Tyrius to six bars. Tyrius magic is the more powerful out of the three.

Some Bizzarians can come in very useful (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls are slick and responsive, and the hit detection is spot on. The two main tactics you will use is to either hack and slash your way through or charge at your enemies from a distance and either kick, shoulder barge or headbutt them. So, it’s not just a case of button mashing. You need to change your strategy depending on the enemy you’re facing. Occasionally, you may capture a Bizzarian. These weird creatures consist of one weird pink creature with a beak that uses its tail to swipe at your enemies, or dragons who breathe fire (blue = flame, pink = fireball). Interestingly, thetail swiping Bizzarian looks similar to the one’s seen in Altered Beast. Could it be that Golden Axe and Altered Beast are in the same universe?

The graphics look fantastic, expecially the backgrounds which are very detailed. The sprites look great and are animated well. Interestingly, Gilius Thunderhead seems to appear as a shopkeeper in Shining in the Darkness. Even one of his sacks in the store contains a face of one of the elves from Golden Axe. Again, does this mean that Golden Axe, Altered Beast and Shining in the Darkness are all set in the same universe?

Naturally, the game can be played in one- or two-player mode. There are three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal and Hard, and you can adjust the number of life bars you begin from three to five. You also begin with three lives and three continues. Watch out though, in two-player mode as you can damage your co-op buddy.

Arcade mode sees you play through all the stages whereas Beginner mode only takes you to level 3 where you fight Death Adder Jr. Duel mode sees you fight in 12 consecutive battles against increasingly harder opponents.

I have a lot of memories with Golden Axe playing with my siblings. Again, it is a game that has given me many hours of fun, and I have returned to year after year, even though I can easily complete the game. When I play in two player mode, I don’t necessarily think it is about the challenge, but more trying to recapture an adventure with my younger brother.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years on easy. Strangely, I don’t think I have ever played this game on the Normal or Hard settings. I must remedy that.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “The screen graphics are perfect, with exceptional detail in in both the characters and background. The game is almost exactly like the arcade, with endless fighting filling each round. Axe moves slow, but has all the hack and slash action you could ask for. Overall 29/40”.[1]

Mean Machines: “A flawless conversion that even improves on the arcade game! Superb! Overall 91%”.[2]

Game Machine: “The character sprites are all big and bold, with more than a rainbowful of colours. The pounding soundtrack only adds to the involving and inviting atmosphere of the game. Fast action, superb attention to detail in the fight sequences and some breathtaking magical spells makes Golden Axe a must for all arcade action fans. Overall 92%”.[3]

Zero: “Everything about this game is good; graphics, sound and playability. One-player is brill; two-player is unbeatable. Overall 94%”.[4]

Wizard: “Again, another first generation Sega game. Medieval action game. Overall C”.[5]

Sega Power: “Hack-‘n’-slash with all the frills of the classic coin-op. Two-player mode isn’t as smooth as expected and for one it’s easy to finish. Still, hugely playable and addictive! Overall 4/5”.[6]

My verdict:

“An excellent coin-op conversion. It looks great, plays great and the two-player mode will have you coming back again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe? 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: Genesis – Golden Axe’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1990). Issue 8:22.(https://retrocdn.net/images/6/6e/EGM_US_008.pdf Accessed 23rd September 2020)

[2] ‘Mega Drive Review – Golden Axe’. Mean Machines. (October 1990). Issue 1:42-4. (https://archive.org/details/Mean_Machines_Issue_01_1990-10_EMAP_Images_GB/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 23rd September 2020).

[3] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. Game Machine. (March 1990). Issue 28:30-1. (http://amr.abime.net/issue_841_pages Accessed 24th September 2020).

[4] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. (April 1990) Issue 6:74. (https://archive.org/details/zero-magazine-06/page/n73/mode/2up Accessed 24th September 2020).

[5] ‘Game Reviews – Golden Axe’. Wizard. (January 1993). Issue 17:24. (https://archive.org/details/WizardMagazine017/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 24th September 2020).

[6] ‘The Hard Line – Golden Axe.’ Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 6th October 2020).

Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2 – The Hidden Empire – Review

Occasionally, even though the first game in a series may be panned by critics, creators will get a second bite of the cherry. When this occurs, one would hope that the creators learn where they went wrong in the first instalment and remedy these mistakes to help ensure the success of the sequel. Alternatively, they could just ignore all feedback because, let’s face it, it has a trademarked brand name in the title and will therefore sell anyway.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2 – The Hidden Empire is an action rail-shooter developed by Lucasart (Factor 5 for the PlayStation), and published by Lucasart. It was released 1995 for DOS/Windows, PlayStation and Mac OS. I chose to review the PC version.

Rail-shooters are fine, but at least sort out the jittery aiming! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Set after the destruction of the Death Star, you play as Rebel pilot Rookie One. After a series of mysterious disappearances, you are sent out on patrol near the planet Dreighton to investigate. Your party soon receive a distress call from a ship whose pilot explains that he has valuable information regarding a secret project that the Galactic Empire are hatching in order to destroy the Rebel Alliance once and for all. Sadly, the pilot carrying the information is killed before you can reach him and your party is then attacked by Tie Fighters.

These levels would have been better suited with a light gun (Screenshot taken by the author)

The gameplay is almost identical to Star Wars: Rebel Assault, in that there are three gameplay types. The first is a rail-shooter where, for the most part, the computer pilots your ship whilst you take control of the crosshair and try to shoot at the enemy. Occasionally, you will be called upon to steer when a flashing arrow appears, indicating that you need to press that direction on your joystick/control pad etc. The second sees you shoot at stormtroopers, killing a certain number before you can progress to the next screen. The third sees you take control of a ship/speeder, and you must fly through a course, again, with occasional flashing arrows showing the safest way through.

I found the controls jittery, and it is very difficult to determine depth perception (Screenshot taken by the author)

The intro to this game is awesome. It’s great to have the original music from the movies, and text giving a brief backstory to the game. The opening scene really pulls you in and gets you straight into the action. Sadly, James Earl Jones didn’t reprise his role as Darth Vader. The graphics and sound are good, just what you’d expect from any Star Wars game.

Sadly, that’s about as many positives as I can give this game. The issues that plagued the first game were not fixed for the sequel. The controls are still just as jittery and frustrating to use. Whenever you release control of the cross hair, it immediately centres, which is incredibly annoying when you are trying accurately shoot moving targets with a joystick/control pad. I even tried to turn the sensitivity of my control pad down to 0, which helped aiming a bit. Annoyingly, you cannot change the axis for the joypad during the game. It is easier to have the controls as up is up and down is down for the shooting scenes, but have down is up and up is down for the flying levels. I don’t know why, it just feels more intuitive that way.

I can’t understand why they didn’t learn from the first game. If you’re going to have a rail-shooter then a light gun or allowing the user to use a mouse makes more sense. Using a joytick etc. to aim is just too annoying and inaccurate. The issue with the flying levels is that it is difficult to distinguish depth perception. For the levels where you need to shoot and occasionally direct your ship, ensuring you don’t collide with asteroids or the side of the space stations, is the pits and doesn’t compare at all to Star Wars: Tie Fighter.

Did I complete the game?

No, I rage quit after Mission 3 – The Mining Tunnels as I was so fucked off with the jerky, shitty flying controls!

What the critics said:

GameSpot: “There’s also a serious gameplay problem in the vehicular levels. The controls are too loose and jittery, meaning that you have to constantly fidget with the directional pad just to fly in a straight line. This also makes it almost impossible to dodge obstacles in your path. An even larger flaw is that, even with that awful control, the game is still much too easy to vanquish – any average player should be able to rip through it in two or three hours. Overall 4.9/10.[1]

GameSpot: “Rebel Assault II’s fine musical score, well-written script, and decent acting will be enough to satisfy those seeking a worthwhile multimedia “experience,” but the limited gameplay will most likely send hard-core gamers running back to Tie Fighter. Overall 7.5/10.[2]

Next Generation: “…you aren’t playing a game. You’re watching a movie that requires you to move a stick around and press a button at certain points until you get to see more of the movie. Overall 2/5.[3]

My verdict:

Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2 – The Hidden Empire seems to be unsure just what type of game it is. It has no redeeming features that would make a gamer choose this game over say, Tie Fighter or Dark Forces, as they are superior in every way. Jittery controls and poor targeting just make for a frustrating game that is no fun. What makes this game worse than Star Wars: Rebel Assault , is that they clearly didn’t learn from their mistakes.

Rating:

What are your memories of Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2The Hidden Empire? 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]  Gamespot Staff, (May 2, 2000). ‘Rebel Assault II – Review’. GameSpot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/rebel-assault-ii-review/1900-2549039/ Accessed 3rd September 2020).

[2] Gamespot Staff, (May 5, 2000). ‘Rebel Assault 2: The Hidden Empire – Review’. GameSpot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/rebel-assault-ii-review/1900-2532726/ Accessed 3rd September 2020).

[3]  ‘The Empire Strikes Out – Rebel Assault II’. Next Generation. (March 1996). Issue 15:92. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-015/page/n91/mode/2up Accessed 3rd September 2020).

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon – Review

For better or for worse, game creators are always looking to innovate with video games. They strive to make games more realistic, to give gamers a feeling of awe and wonderment when they first see the game. They want the experience to be immersive, drawing the gamer into an imaginary world of escapism. Sometimes, the innovations are ground-breaking and the game in question is revered by creators and gamers alike, going down in history and regularly being referred to as “the game that broke the mould”. Sometimes, however, the game is a dud. Sometimes, creators try too much too soon before the technology has been fully realised, affecting the gameplay, sound and graphics, leading the game to be panned and unappreciated in the annuls of video game history.

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon broke the mould of the format of the games that went before in the franchise. The question is: Is the game a dud or is it hailed as a giant leap forward in adventure gaming?

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon is a single-player adventure game developed by Revolution Software. It was published by THQ in Europe and The Adventure Company in North America. It was released on Microsoft Windows, Xbox and PlayStation 2 in 2003. It is the third instalment of the Broken Sword series. For this review, I chose to play the PC version.

The story begins a few years after the events of Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror. We find that Nico Collard and George Stobbart have parted ways. George has returned to the US to continue his career as a lawyer and Nico is still that hungry journalist we met during their first outing.

It is a dark, stormy night in Paris. Beneath the city, a clandestine meeting is taking place. We are given little information other than a moment in time of great significance is drawing near. An individual known as the Preceptor sends his minions on an important mission…and failure will result in Armageddon!

Next, we find George on a chartered flight, flying over the jungle in the Congo. His pilot is unable to evade an oncoming storm and the plane crashes.

No more point and click (Screenshot taken by the author)

Back in Paris, a software consultant by the name of Vernon Blier is working at his computer. In the background, the news is reporting occurrences of extreme weather around the globe.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon is the first and only game of the series to break away from the point-and-click style of gameplay. The game itself is more action driven. You can control your character making them walk and run, and creep, and there is an introduction of a new action menu. When you near something or someone that you can interact with, a little animated star-type cursor will appear on that something or someone. At the same time, a symbol will appear in the bottom right screen where there is a template of four buttons in the shape of a diamond. You have the choice to click which action you wish to take. There are also instances in the game where you need to time your actions precisely, else you may die and have to restart the action scene.

Straight away I can tell you that judging by the way the game is designed, it is clearly created with a joypad in mind. When playing on the PC and using a keyboard, the game feels awkward and clumsy. I was unable to get my PC joypad to work with the game but that may simply be down to my technological ineptitude. Eitherway, it shouldnt be that difficult to switch to a more game-friendly way of playing.

One rather annoying aspect of the game is that you cannot seem to skip conversations that you previously have had.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Spoiler Alert

Occasionally, there is a convoluted puzzle like when you need to use an iron bar to break some silver coins out of a laminated book cover. I know, right? Also, there is a lack of inventivness in the puzzle department. On several occasions, the puzzles are simply the same tired moving crates and square boulders around in a logical way to climb over a wall or onto a ledge.

The graphics look great. This is the first instalment of the series where Broken Sword moved into 3D graphics, and thankfully they did a great job. The characters do not look polygonal at all, the backgrounds are detailed and well designed. When the camera gets a bit too close to Nico, it seems she has a bit of a pig nose reminiscent of Christina Ricci in Penelope (I may be exaggerating here).

Even though the game contains voice actors, the subtitles appear in different colours, signifying that a different person is speaking, which is a nice touch. It would still have been nice to have the name of the individual talking or a little portrait box indicating who is speaking.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Adventure Gamers: “An amazing, brilliant story, at times told with such directorial excellence as to bring out emotions normally reserved for Final Fantasy. Gorgeous, eye-popping cutscenes. Infuriatingly stupid puzzle design at nearly every step of the way. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a game of breathtaking (sic) highs and ridiculous lows, and thankfully the highs definitely outnumber the lows (moreso(sic) if you’re better at crate puzzles than me, which apparently shouldn’t be too difficult). The bold attempts to innovate and push the adventure to new places are generally successful and quite welcome. Overall 4/5.[1]

Edge Online: “Extravagance was one of the signatures of the graphic adventure: extravagance to bring them in, and a cracking story well told to keep them. Both tenets of the Broken Sword series remain intact here, and that’s all the devoted fans could have wanted. A fairytale (sic) comeback. Overall 9/10.[2]

GameSpot: “Even if Broken Sword can at times be frustrating to play, it’s a joy to behold. The graphics sure aren’t cutting edge, but the attention to detail, vibrant colors(sic), and smooth animations give the game its own attractive style. (The “idle” animations of Nico repeatedly brushing her shoulder or stretching are odd and distracting, though.) The wonderfully elegant and evocative soundtrack varies from bold fanfares to jaunty comic bits to pensive piano interludes to suit the locales and situations. The voice-overs really bring the game to life, too. By and large, the actors are really acting here instead of just lazily reading their lines like you find in so many games. Unfortunately, the voice-overs highlight the game’s biggest flaw, a major sound bug. Occasionally, dialogue can cut out, a character will make two statements at the same time, or two characters will speak over each other entirely. This bug can ruin the mood or make it hard to know what on earth is going on when you miss vital dialogue.

It’s a shame problems like that mar Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. With its blend of cinematic style, 3D immersion, sharp writing, and likable characters, this is otherwise an adventure game that does the genre proud. Overall 8.1/10.[3]

IGN: “Cartoonish graphics, incredible voice acting and an engrossing story all make this a game to look at, that is – if you can get past the horrible interface and somewhat repetitive block puzzles. Finishing the game also has a reward associated with it, in addition to the impressive ending. This is something far too few PC games do. The ending left it open enough for the next incarnation of Broken Sword – the adventures of George and Nico. I just would ask one thing of the developers – please improve the interface and skip the block puzzles! Those are the two things preventing this from being the perfect adventure game. Overall 8.4/10.[4]

Game Chronicles: “Adventure gaming is alive and well thanks to designers like Revolution and publishers like The Adventure Company. Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is a stunning achievement in interactive entertainment. With a solid story, engaging characters, stunning visuals, and delightful dialogue, this is one adventure you simply won’t be able to tear yourself away from. This is a must-own title for anyone looking to relive the golden era of adventure gaming Overall 9.2.[5]

Eurogamer: “In many senses The Sleeping Dragon is a leap forward for the genre. The actual play mechanics, the interface and the visuals are great, but you’ll be wishing Revolution and THQ had invested as much time and effort polishing the narrative and puzzle element to the same high standards. We’re in no doubt that it tried, but we can’t lie just because we think Charles is a good bloke. We’re caught in two minds, ultimately. One says we’re excited to be talking about a largely uncompromising adventure game that does much to revive a dead genre, the other is that we’re gutted that it’s populated with cast hired from Stereotypes Anonymous that should have been subjected to the firing squad at the concept stage. There’s much potential here, but Cecil and co. have some work to do before they can awaken The Sleeping Genre. Overall 6/10“.[6]

My verdict:

“It’s great to have another Broken Sword game to add to the franchise. The game looks awesome, the music is cool and the story is…ok. However, the controls are awkward when playing on PC, and I didn’t like the move away from the point-and-click style of controls. I also found some of the puzzles montonous and tiresome. I just didn’t enjoy this game as much as I enjoyed the previous instalments in the series.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon? 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] Dickens, E., (December 16, 2003). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon – Review’. Adventure Gamers. (https://adventuregamers.com/articles/view/17657 Accessed 1st September 2020).

[2] Edge Staff, (December 1, 2003). ‘Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon review’. Edge Online. (https://web.archive.org/web/20140911031744/http://www.edge-online.com/review/broken-sword-3-sleeping-dragon-review/ Accessed 1st September 2020).

[3] Osborne, S., (November 25, 2003). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Review’. GameSpot. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/broken-sword-the-sleeping-dragon-review/1900-6084646/ Accessed 1st September 2020).

[4] Krause, S., (13 Dec 2018). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Review’. IGN. (https://www.ign.com/articles/2003/11/25/broken-sword-the-sleeping-dragon-review Accessed 1st September 2020).

[5] Smith, M., (January 11, 2004). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon Overview’. Game Chronicles. (http://www.gamechronicles.com/reviews/pc/brokensword/sleepingdragon.htm Accessed 1st September 2020).

[6] Reed, K., (26 November 2003). ‘Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon’. Euronet. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/r_brokensword3_ps2 Accessed 1st September 2020).

Return to Castle Wolfenstein – Review

There is something inherently violent about humans, there really is no way to ignore it. Archaeological evidence of mass graves where the occupants show signs of sharp and blunt force trauma, and historical records of battles throughout history attest to this. This may be why gamers are drawn towards to violent games. Although, it is not so much the killing but the hero fantasy that we seek. We are never going to take on an entire castle of baddies using only our guile, sharpshooting and hand to hand combat skills in real life (thankfully). So we immerse ourselves in artifical worlds. Some may think there is something wrong with that. I say, what’s wrong with a little hero fantasy every now and them?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a first-person shooter, and a reboot of Wolfenstein 3D (1992). It was developed by Gray Matter Interactive (Nerve Software developed the multiplayer) and published by Activision. It was released for the Microsoft Windows in 2001, Linux and Macintosh in 2002, Xbox and PlayStation 2 in 2003, and Steam in 2007. I chose to review the Microsoft Windows version.

It’s 1943 and World War II has been raging for four years. The Nazis have uncovered an ancient demon named Henrich who has been trapped deep underground in magical prison for 1000 years. They’re also developing a super soldier capable of destroying the allies and winning the war. You play as US Army Ranger William Blazkowitz who is charged with investigating the Nazis’ SS Paranormal Division and stopping their evil plans.

Even after 80 years, games about World War II are still popular (Screenshot taken by the author)

The missions consist of assassinations, data retrieval and sabotage. Some of the missions rely on stealth and your mission is over if you are spotted, which adds an extra layer of difficulty and breaks up the action nicely. It’s quite a long game, with some of the missions being quite lengthy for the time. There are plenty of authentic World War II weapons to choose from as well as fictional weapons such as the Tesla gun. Along the way, you will find ammo, armour and health packs to restore you weapons and health.

Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valour (Screenshot taken by the author)

The story, although fantastical, is engaging. The graphics and sound effects are good for the time, but the AI, as with lots of gmes of this era, still needs work. Enemies vary in strength and difficulty, these include standard German soldiers, experimental soldiers and the undead.

There is not much replay value here but the multiplayer addition was critically acclaimed.

Did I complete the game?

I am adamant that I completed this game when I first played it after its release. However, this time around, I couldn’t get defeat the final boss.

What the critics said:

Computer Gaming World: “If all you want to do is blast your way through countless Nazis and zombies, then this game is probably for you. But if you want a deep, engaging storyline with surprising twists and turns, this probably isn’t for your cup o’ tea. Overall 3.5/5.[1]

Eurogamer: “Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a worthy addition to the stable of id Software affiliated shoot ’em ups. The single player game is average to good and takes quite a while to finish, but the game really earns its salt by shipping with a first class multiplayer element. Overall 8/10. [2]

Game Revolution: “But in all, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is not what it could have been. As a story it’s utterly bizarre, as a sequel it’s sub-par, but as a stand-alone game it’s very good. The simple truth is that regardless of the detractions, killing Nazis will always be fun…always. There are few times that you can play a game and feel you made the world a better place. Wolfenstein 3D was one of those times. If the world isn’t any better after playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein, at least it might brighten your day. Overall 3.5/5.[3]

Gamespot: “In a weird inversion of the typical shooter model, Return to Castle Wolfenstein features an amazing multiplayer component coupled with a good if somewhat underwhelming single-player game. Then again, fans of id Software’s previous 3D shooters should be familiar with this model. But honestly, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is well worth buying for the multiplayer game alone, so the fact that you get a solid single-player game in the box can only be considered a bonus. Overall 9.2/10.[4]

IGN: “The single player campaign is certainly decent and will hold people’s interest long enough to get them accustomed to the various weapons in time to jump into multiplayer. It’s not quite the revolutionary trip back to Castle Wolfenstein that people may have been hoping for, but that’s no reason to discount it, as it is nothing less than a solid and satisfying experience. But it’s no doubt that the real value in the title falls on the multiplayer which is definitely one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in quite a while. It all adds up to a really fun game that fans of the genre will love to get a piece of. Overall 9/10.[5]

My verdict:

Defeating the Nazi’s always feels fun and for the most part so is this game. I like the story, I like the graphics and I like the variety of missions. Unless you play multiplayer, there isn’t much replay value, but the game is long enough to certainly justify the purchase.

Rating:

What are your memories of Return to Castle Wolfenstein? 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] Price, T., ‘Reviews – Return to Castle Wolfenstein’. Computer Gaming World. (March 2002). Issue 212:74-5. (https://archive.org/stream/Computer_Gaming_World_Issue_212#page/n75/mode/2up Accessed 3rd August 2020).

[2] Bramwell, T., (25th July 2001). ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein’, Eurogamer.net. (https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/r_rtcw Accessed 4th August 2020).

[3] Radakovic, N., (1st July 2001) ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein Review’. GameRevolution.com.  (https://www.gamerevolution.com/review/32806-return-to-castle-wolfenstein-review Accessed 4th August 2020).

[4] Wolpaw, E., (27th Nov 2001). ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein Review’. Gamespot.com. (https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/return-to-castle-wolfenstein-review/1900-2827475/ Accessed 4th August 2020).

[5] Adams, D., (1st December 2001). ‘Return to Castle Wolfenstein’. IGN.com (https://www.ign.com/articles/2001/12/01/return-to-castle-wolfenstein Accessed 4th August 2020).

Altered Beast – Review

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 – Review

“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 chose to review was purchased 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 – Review

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 chose to review 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 – Review

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. For this review, I chose to play the NES version.

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).

Star Wars: Dark Forces – Review

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 for this review 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 Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[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.