10 January 2018

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol 2)

Here we go again! FWS is laying down another 10 more examples of mostly forgotten military science fiction video games. Like the blogpost before, these examples are culled from all platforms, eras, and regions with only one exception: no shoot'em ups title like R-Type. I hope you enjoy the list and be sure to comment below to know me anymore titles I can add for volume 7 & 8!

1. Strife (Rogue Entertainment 1996)
Video gaming in the 1990's would be dominated not only by a hyped up hedgehog or two Italian brothers journey into a far off magical land, but also by computer games that featured the perspective of you behind a weapon and kicking ass. This was the domination of the First Person Shooters genre that given rise via two consuming computer games from ID Software: Wolfenstein and DOOM. Speaking to the cultural impact, at one time, DOOM was installed on more computers than Windows 95 and was scourge of the university computer labs!
The descendants of DOOM and Wolfenstein were given the unflattering title of "DOOM Clone" and they spammed the computer and home video game market for nearly a decade. There are many DOOM Clones lost in the fury of titles released due to steer amount of FPS games and the quality of said titles. One of those lost titles was 1996's Strife. Released by Rogue Entertainment that itself was formed in the aftermath of a mutiny of some of the employees of Cygnus Studios. Strife was born out of a deal between Cygnus and Id for a FPS game being created using the original DOOM id Tech 1 engine. The remains of that cancelled Cygnus game were completed by Rogue Entertainment as Strife.
Unlike DOOM and other FPS games, Strife attempted to offer different endings, choice, and interactivity via NPCs. In addition, Strife was not a ALIENS inspirited space base with a space marine, but a post-apocalyptic medieval world ruled by a religious cult known as "The Order". You play as a mercenary with no name that is working with resistance, "The Front" to stop the religious zealots with a host of weapons and several paths to the end of the game. While interesting and different than other shooters, it was graphically behind the times and lost among a sea of other titles at the time. In 2014, Night Dive Studios re-released Strife as "the veteran Edition", allowing the game a new lease on life by exposure to new and old fans. 
Strife was a game I was oddly aware of back in 1996, but it would take until 2014 until I learned its actual name. In 1996, I was in college in northern Oklahoma, and some friends and I packed into my car and we made a short trip to Stillwater to eat at Eskimo Joe's and see what kind of trouble we could get into. During that trip, we made a stop into a local Hastings to buy some CDs and they had a computer running the demo-disk of Strife. While my friends hunted down the CD, I played Strife and rather liked it. But, I could not recall the title and it wasn't until 2014 that I bothered to research the name of this long-lost DOOM Clone.   

2. Sewer Shark (Digital Pictures 1992)
During the shift from cartridges and disks to CDs bought about a sea change in storage space and speed, allowing for full-motion video (FMV) to be accessed by the video game industry.  For a few years, the video game market was flooded by FMV titles that were mostly painful to play and watch. Oddly, there several military sci-fi FMV games and chief among them is the more well-known Sewer Shark. What the forgotten part of this shitty game is that is a military SF setting. Sewer Shark itself has an interesting history. Developed by Tom Zito’s Digital Pictures to be the premier game for the aborted VHS-based Hasbro Control-Vision console. Not to waste the work, the game was salvaged for the SEGA CD add-on hardware for the Genesis/Mega-Drive and later, the Panasonic 3DO. There was to be a port to the SNES-CD add-on, but Nintendo cancelled that project. The game sold well, given the trendy gimmick, and then was packaged with the CD add-on.  Adding to the success was positive reviews at the time, despite the obvious shortcomings when played today. The FMV sequences and the game itself cost $3 million due to the sets, actors, and on-location shoots for "Solar City". The gameplay is itself an on-the-rails-shooter with your in-the-sewer attack craft mowed down various post-apocalypse monsters living in the sewers with your rotary cannon.
You play the role of a recent graduate of the training program for sewer attack craft pilots/gunners, nicknamed “top rat”. This a dark future where most of humanity is living in massive underground sewer systems that are being invaded by radioactive monsters. You are paired up with the experienced and crazy pilot Ghost and his attack craft, “the hole hog”.  The object of the game is to kill as many monsters, follow the robot “Catfish” through the tubes while recharging. Get the kills and living through the missions, puts you one step closer to the beachside surface city of Solar City, your reward for your time in the tubes. The FMV sequences are over-the-top with a cheesy stupid plot, poor acting, and difficult unrewarding gameplay. Today, the game is a favorite subject of retro gaming channels for delicious mockery, but it is often missed that it was an military SF game. Here is my buddy Half-Bit's video review on this game.

3. Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (Monolith Productions 1998)
Did someone say mecha FPS?! That was the immediate draw of this computer first-person shooter from Monolith Productions (F.E.A.R) and the anime-sounding name only completed the draw for us fans of Appleseed, Gundum, and Patlabor. The most unique elements of this mech PC game was that you played both in and out of the 20 foot mecha suit. In some portions of the game, your character of Sanjuro dismounts from his powered armor and takes the action head-on. This changes the scale, setting, and abilities of the player. You go from a powerful, well-armed, well-armored mech to being a weaker flesh-and-blood human that can die very quickly in combat. There are four different types of mecha to choose from and these can transform into a hovercraft. The setting itself was anime/manga classic with cyberpunk and MSF element heavily mixed in...what could go wrong? Modern reviewers have often commented that the game is an expert at cheap kills and you will die...alot from direct fire, splash damage, and faulty programming. These errors are due to the goals of the original concept falling short of the actual realization of the game.
Time ran out for staff to fix the game prior to release, causing the gameplay to be muddled and buggy. So, what does "shogo" mean? It is primarily a Japanese male first name and it likely that it was used by the developers for the sound of the name and possibly as a hidden reference to someone famous that has the first name of "Shogo". The game was released between 1998-2001 across various computer platforms that was to be a new franchise with expansion packs for Shogo being planned, but the game failed and the plans were shelved.

4. Metalhead (SEGA 1995)
One of the most costly wars of my teenager years was not the Gulf War, but the Bit Wars (AKA the Console Wars) that was waged up until the turn of the century. For the early part of the history of home consoles, ATARI ruled the day until the Video Game Crash and then the Japanese NES came over in 1985 to crush the other 8 Bit consoles of the time, the ATARI 7800 and the SEGA Master System. It seemed like Nintendo rule unopposed when SEGA came back with a roar: the Genesis (AKA Mega Drive). This was the true beginning of the Bit Wars: the 16 Bit Genesis vs. the SNES. This was waged on Christmas lists, in the toy stores, in the magazines, and on the playgrounds. SEGA seemingly came out of nowhere to outsell Nintendo. While these two titans waged bloody conflict, the old master, ATARI, would not enter into the fray of the 16 Bit battles. Then came the decision that both SEGA and Nintendo: what do about the next console? SEGA did the most unusual move of developing an graphical update add-on to bring the Genesis and the new line of games up to 32 Bits and Nintendo decided to avoid the 32 era entirely and move up to 64 Bits. ATARI made the same move with the cancellation of the Panther 32 system and rushed the first 64 system to market with the Jaguar.
SEGA's graphical add-on hardware sold for $169 in 1994 with a limited amount of games, like the subject of this entity: Metalhead. This is a mech FPS combat game, where you battle enemy forces in urban spaces. You gain points to upgrade your mecha, or, "Metal Head". The story has the World Federation rolling out mechs to maintain world peace through superior mech firepower. You are to take your mech into 3D polygon environment and kick terrorist mech ass! While that sounds great, the game was not. Muddy graphics, laughable story and facial animation that looks like Terrance and Phillip; the game
What caused Metalhead to disappear was the same for the entire 32X catalog: the add-on failed commercially. It was an strange move on the part of SEGA to extend the life of their best-selling home system when they already had an 32 machine in the works: the Saturn. This confused and conflicted their customers. What were they to spend their money on: the 32X, the upcoming Saturn, or just buy an PlayStation like everyone else? The sad story is that three biggest mistakes in SEGA history started with the 32X, then continued to the Saturn, then ended with the failure of the Dreamcast. This ended SEGA as a hardware manufacturer, and it seemed in hindsight that the Genesis/Mega Drive days were their apex. Of course, it didn't work out for ATARI either.      

5. Battlecorps (Core Design 1994)
Along with our above piece on the failed 32X update to the SEGA Genesis/Megadrive, we are going to also address the SEGA CD-ROM add-on to the 4th generation video game home system. Dropping in 1992 in North America, this add-on would go on to sell 2.24 copies by its disconnection in 1996, to make room for the Saturn. The selling point for this $299 hardware upgrade was to play FMV games like the infamous Night Trap. What killed the SEGA CD was not only its high price point, the Saturn, but also the other CD-based consoles, like the 3DO and the PlayStation. Among the 200 released games for the SEGA CD was the CORE Design Limited's mecha shooter, Battlecorps. Released in 1994, this mech combat game was set in 2085 with the player inhabiting three different mech pilots to take down a virus inflected planetary AI mainframe on the mining colony of Mandelbrot's World. Your task is to pilot your mech (called BAMs) across 13 levels against robotic foes and restore of control of the colony back to your contractors hands. The gameplay is a first-person view with 3D graphics that was a showpiece for the power of the SEGA CD add-on and was released in the US, Japan, and Europe. While the game was well reviewed for the time and even in retro reviews, it is not well known even in the discussing mecha games. Why? My guess is due to the game's only release on SEGA CD hardware limited audience and exposure. All of this caused Battlecorps to be denied a sequel and further its audience. 

6. Space Griffon VF-9 (Panther Software 1995)
Cover-art is a critically important part of selling books, movies, and games; with mixed results. Back in the 1980's, there were a ton of Mad Max rip offs that flood VHS rental stores, some complete with masterful, but deceiving, cover-art (I'm looking at you 1985 Def-Con 4!) This also happens with video games, especially in the crowded gaming rental sections of video stores in the 1990s, and I was a victim of cover-art playing me...hard. Space Griffon VF-9 directly played on my ROBOTECH past, my love for mecha, and the word "griffon". I rented this piece of shit video game from a Block Buster when I first moved to Fort Worth around 1997 based on the mecha being on the cover and I paid dearly for that decision. Released by ATLUS and designed by Panther Software of Japan, this game was originally released under the title of "HAMLET" for the PC-98 home gaming computer system in 1993. It was re-released under the name "Space Griffon VF-9" and graphically updated for the PlayStation One and the SEGA Dreamcast (Japan only). The story focuses on a corporate mecha response team to the unresponsive moonbase of Hamlet. During the exploration of the maze-like interior of the extensive moonbase, you encounter a number of aliens and fetch tasks as you upgrade your transformable mech for the final battle on the moon.
The game is played from a first-person perspective with cut-scenes that are actually fully voiced and there is some soft RPG elements. Overall, this imported mecha-shooter game was mixed with survival-horror and RPG elements. While this seems like a hidden gem on the original PlayStation, it is just not that good that overstays its welcome by hours of boring searching of corridors with slow controls. Space Griffon VF-9 was lost among the better known titles of the time of release and it didn't help that the game was a misfit.

7. Project: Overkill (Konami Chicago 1996)
While I am a solid Xbox man today, the original Playstation was a revelation for me and it caused my return back to home console system from PC gaming. During this time, I rented games a great deal due to a messy breakup and I was drowning myself in drink and gaming. One of the standouts of that time was bloody Project Overkill by Konami Chicago. This 3D isometric perspective shooter allowed you to unleash all manner of death and destruction in an effort to drive off the settlers of a colonial world that the Terracom Corporation desires.
To achieve their goals, Terracom has hired four experienced mercenaries to spill Viscerian blood on this alien world. The game was bloody fun that challenged you across fifty locations and various enemies. You play as one of the four mercenaries armed with several ammunition types and even custom melee attacks. Your victims scream and bleed with gory results as you grimly undertake your task. This was a commonly owned game for my friends and I, but the game was drown out by the massive amount of titles that came out for the new PlayStation console. Besides that, this was the era of the Doom Clones, and Project Overkill was not a manic FPS. Many reviewers criticized the game being a Loaded ripoff, difficult controls, and the level of difficulty. All of these factors caused this game to slip into forgotten status. There was to be ported to the failed SEGA Saturn console, but the project was cancelled, making Project Overkill an PSOne only game.

8. Omega Boost (Polyphony Digital 1999)
Some games are just ahead of their time and they pay for being a beachhead force, thus is the sad tale of 1999’s Omega Boost. Developed by the creator of the Gran Turismo series, Polyphony Digital, this 3rd person mech-in-space rail shooter featured live-action Full Motion Videos sequences, similar to Panzer Dragoon, impressive mecha design by Macross legend Shoji Kawamori and a muddy plot that wasn’t up to the impressive visuals and crazy space combat action that mimicked the classic Macross action scenes...so, what happened? It did sell well in Japan, it did cause motion sickness, was not well promoted, nor understood. Today, Omega Boost is a favorite among mecha-fans and is called a sleeper hit that was a revolution in mecha combat video games. To put a fine point on it, Omega Boost is not even listed on the developers website! Another odd element of Omega Boost was that it did have two released mecha action figures, of which I owned one and they were of poor quality.

9. Disruptor (Insomniac 1996)
In early 1997, I was heavily renting games for my brand new PlayStation system from Blockbuster Video on Camp Bowie in Fort Worth, and given my love for First-person shooters, I rented Disruptor. Developed by Insomniac Games originally for the 3DO console, the developed was switched over to the wildly successful Sony PlayStation and published by Universal Interactive Studios in winter of 1996. At the time of release, there were two trends within the video game industry: Full Motion Videos (FMV) and First Person Shooters (FPS) that were often combined, such as with Disruptor. What side this FPS with FMV briefing scenes apart was the incorporating of five psionic powers over the course of the game. The plot of the game has you playing the part of rookie being trained in the United Earth Special Operations unit: the LightStormers.
Using both KE and DE weapons, along with gifted psionic powers, the LigthStormers are the Earth’s killer elite for defending the Sol system. While the game wasn’t bad for the time and the reviews were solid, it had two major flaws that caused to be forgettable: less than engaging gameplay and being released among a flood of similar games. While the psionic powers were cool, it was easy to get lost in the levels, boring enemy types, and it was easy to run through ammo. This was a rental that I only rented once and did not bother to buy it. It is too bad that there was never a sequel to Disruptor, could have been interesting. 

10. Kileak: The DNA Imperative (Genki 1995) and Epidemic (Genki 1996)
One of the originally 1995 release titles for the PlayStation One was Kileak: the DNA Imperative that was a mecha shooter from the first-person perspective. The story takes place in 2038 when a UN mech assault force is assigned to stop a mad scientist that is fooling around with genetic engineering to spread a virus to reshape humanity. The action takes place in a south pole complex that makes this mecha game similar to other FPS games of the time. It reminds me a great deal of Space Griffon VF-9...that is not a good thing (trauma trigger). The sequel, Epidemic, was released in 1996 that takes place some thirty years later when the survivors of humanity are living in a underground city that is now under threat from the leader of the city. Once again, a mech is needed to solve the problem and save what is left of the human race. Why are these games lost to time? They are nothing special for the time and were released early in the lifespan of the original PlayStation and they are simple FPS game that was better done by other titles, even at the time. I used to see these titles on the Blockbuster rental rack, but was never tempered and it seems that no one else was.     

Next Time on FWS...
The term "Metal Storm" seems like a lost 1980's hair metal band that opened for Poison or Whitesnake back in the day when MTV ruled the airwaves. However, in the world of firearms, the term "Metal Storm" represents both a company and firearms technology that looked like it could be a cutting edge concept in military firearms that was the brainchild of Australian J. Mike O'Dwyer. In the next installment of the ongoing FWS serial Armory, chief contributor Yoel will be exploring and explaining one of the most interesting Military SF like firearms companies and technologies.   

1 comment:

  1. Actually had a ton of fun playing Shogo back in the day. Would totally play it again if it was updated and written for modern PCs.