20 March 2019

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol. 4)

 On of the missions of Future War Stories to be a place where not just the popular elements of the genre are given a seat  at the table, but also the forgotten and the lost. Military science fiction is packed with manner of lost stories that are not confided to just one type of media. Over the course of the last nearly two years, FWS has been hard at work cataloging a range of forgotten military science fiction video games. Some are lost classics, some "meh", and some are best left in the past...but nevertheless, they deserve a place and here they will be. This is the 4th installment and they will be a total of 10.

1. Power Slave (Lobotomy 1996)
You could be forgiven if you thought we were talking about the Iron Maiden album, but Power Slave (Exhumed in Europe) is at first glance a DOOM clone…but it is much more. Appearing on MS-DOS machines and the failed Sega Saturn console in 1996, it would be ported over to the original PlayStation in 1997. This is a solid shooter with you going up against all manner of ancient Egyptian themed enemies in the ruins of Karnak. Some believe that Lobotomy Software was inspirited by the 1994 film Stargate.
In this first person shooter, you use human and Kilmaat ET weaponry to battle for control of King Ramese’s mummy that could be used by the aliens to take control over Earth. While some may write this game off as a simple DOOM clone, but Power Slave was something better than that like Strife. Interestingly enough, the Saturn, PSOne, and MS-DOS all had difference versions with different gaming mechanics and endings. What was this shooter forgotten? It is better remembered in Europe than the US, but it poor sales performance in the States is partly it is due to the crowed DOOM clone shooter market at the time. Given the current culture of resurrecting old games for review and/or modern graphical upgrades; Power Slave been dug up and reviewed allowing for many of us to discover a DOOM clone that is anything but typical and was a unique title during this era.

2. Krazy Ivan (Psygnosis 1996)
Back in the early days of the original PlayStation, all manner of titles were unleashed on us and it was good times for we were spoiled by choice. One game I saw often at my local Dallas BlockBuster was this title and I avoided it. For some reason, despite being a mech combat game, I just never was into this game. This game is a mecha-based shooter with you, a Russian soldier, taking the helm of a mech to defend the Earth from invading alien robots. Tongue-in-cheek, FMV sequences, and not bad overall, Krazy Ivan was lost in the sea of much better game at the time. It was only released on the original PlayStation here in the States, and the announced SEGA Saturn port was not imported to the US. It was a good thing, too. The reviews of the Saturn were terrible.

3. Knife Edge Nose Gunner (KEMCO 1998)
First Person POV futuristic flight simulators are not uncommon in the history of video games, even on home consoles. One of the core consoles of the 5th generation, the N64, was the only system to receive a very interesting flight shooter that allowed you to be the gunner on a endoatmospheric gunship vehicle called “the Knife Edge” while doing battle on a colonized Mars against aliens. Developed by Japanese game company Kemco (which is still around) in 1998 and takes some influence likely from Star Fox and Descent. Unlike many other spacecraft shooters, Nose Gunner has the player only controlling the weaponry of the gunship and according the game, the gunship is controlled via a computer. Odd. While interesting and one of the bestselling systems of the 5th generation, it not garner good reviews and was largely forgotten to other much better N64 spacecraft shooters.

4. Iron Storm (4x Studios 2002)
In 2002, the French 4X Studios would release a PC game that attempted to show an alternate history where World War One never ended and dragged on for fifty years. The game picked up in 1964 when one faction in the world war was developing nuclear weapons and it is up to the player to locate and sabotage the weapons program. The combat was a marriage of familiar WWI concepts and tactics with mixing in 1960’s technology as well. It was a basic shooter that received some good reviews and garnered fans, but it never achieved liftoff when compared to other shooters at the time despite the cool setting. I was never that impressed with the actual mechanics and it quickly bored me. The game has an interesting release history. It would release for Windows machines in 2002 with later releases coming onto the PS2 console as an updated game called Iron Storm: World War Zero in 2004 and 2005 by Rebellion Developments. There was to be a sequel, but it never materialized and portions of the work and some of the same staff were thrown into the spiritual sequel called “Bet on Soldier: Blood Sport”.

5. Battlestar Galactica (VU Games 2003)
There has been talk of resurrecting the 1978 TV series Glen A. Larson Battlestar Galactica for some time with Richard Hatch leading the charge with his own money. In the late 1990s, there was seriously talk of reviving the series via either Richard Hatch’s second coming project or the Battlestar Pegasus project with Glen A. Larson and Todd Moyer. In 2000, the most serious attempt was helmed by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto for new mini-series set in the classic universe some 25 years after the original series. This attempt was serious and pre-production was undertaken…then the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened and Singer dropped out.
Then in 2002, the leadership at Universal/Sci-Fi Channel ordered a rebooted mini-series rather than a continuation of the original 1978 universe with the new project under the leadership Star Trek alum Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. On December 8th, 2003 the first episode of the four-part mini-series aired to massive numbers and praise…and the rest is TV history. Just before the mini-series came an oddball space shooter game on the PS2 and Xbox under the name “Battlestar Galactica”. While basically forgotten today by the larger gaming public, the 2003 BSG game was developed by UK developer Warthog Games and Universal Interactive as their swan song, and it is sort of a mash-up between several BSG projects.
According to the game itself, the game is set during the Cylon War and as William Adama as a Viper pilot onboard the Galactica. While some sources claim that this game takes place before the 2003 rebooted series that is untrue. Elements from the classic 1978 series, the abandoned Singer project (seen in the design of the Cylon Centurions), along with the new mini-series were all blended into this game. This makes the 2003 game only related onto itself. I can remember this game being reviewed in a gaming magazine I got back in the day and the review was very meh…and that is one reason why it is now largely forgotten. Another reason could be that the game came out a month before the new mini-series and the audience for BSG was limited. This game was eclipsed by later strategy games that are set in the proper rebooted BSG universe.

6. Ghen Wars (Jumpin' Jack Studios 1995)
SEGA always seemed to be in the shadow of Nintendo when it came to home console gaming systems. That was the case for the majority of SEGA’s existence with the balance in power altering with the release of Genesis/Mega-Drive gaming system.  For that generation alone, SEGA beat the mighty Nintendo…but it would not last. On the heels of the aging Genesis was SEGA next system, the 32 bit Saturn. This was to battle with the PlayStation, the 3DO, the “64 bit” ATARI Jaguer, and the SNES. While we all know that the Sony PlayStation was the dominate console in the 5th generation wars, it was really it was the battle that SEGA had to win…but lost. The inertia of the popularity of the Genesis/Mega-Drive had to be maintained via a new console, but the Saturn was not the system to accomplish that mission.  It lacked 3rd party support, it was overpriced, and too complex, along with the marketing campaign was not able to compete with the Sony PlayStation. While the Saturn was launched in 1994, it would not last has long as the home system it replaced. By 1997, SEGA America was laying off employees and the path was being prepared for the last gasp of the SEGA console market: the Dreamcast. During the NEXUS-6 like lifespan of Saturn, it is amazing that 600 games were released for the system, including this forgotten military SF game: Ghen Wars. Descent, Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, and Tunnel B1 were similar was that were also on the much more successful PlayStation.   
Originally published in summer of 1995, Ghen Wars is one of the earlier games in the Saturn library and is a first-person mecha combat game. Developed by Jumpin’ Jack Studios that folded shortly after Ghen Wars was released, this FPS game was centered on off-world warfare on the planets within the solar system with the hero using an exo-suit to defeat the Ghen alien race. At the time, the game was praised for somewhat destructible environments, upgradeable weapons, many locations, and multi-path endings. However, the game was generally accepts as just okay and similar to other games at the time that also included FMV scenes. Why this game became forgotten was its inclusion on the SEGA Saturn and being similar to other games at the time, like Descent, but it was not as good as that vehicle-FPS. The difference for games like

7. Zero Tolerance (TechnoPop 1994)

Throughout the 1990’s, the video game industry and its fandom were dominated by the aftermath of the release of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D. For years, there was a bumper crop of FPS games for us fans of shooters across all consoles and computer systems. On the very successful SEGA Genesis/Mega-Drive, there were three exclusive shooters, and one of them was Zero Tolerance. Developed by Technopop and released in 1994, it was military sci-fi corridor shooter taking place on three separate environments. The game was set in the future when humanity was establishing off-world colonies in other star systems when aliens attack the Terran flagship, causing the elite space commando force, Zero Tolerance, to board the flagship and investigate the situations.
Praised at the time and gained enough success to have a sequel in development, it was still on a console that had much success then faded along with the game company that developed it by the time of the PlayStation invasion. After watching some videos on the gameplay, it is a rather pretty shooter that appears to be a hard game with lackluster weaponry and players that stay dead once they are killed in the game. It is after the release of the original game that the story becomes much more interesting. There was a planned sequel called Beyond Zero Tolerance by the same studio and its story was to have the Terran space commandos travel to the alien homeworld to end the threat once and for all, but it was not released despite being nearly finished. According the information I found, the game was quite similar and was being worked on by Technopop in 1995 and the game was slated to be released on the Genesis/Mega-Drive and the 32X maybe in 1996(?). However, it was ended due to the winding down of the hardware in favor of the Saturn. Today, the ROM is available for download in its still unfinished state. Much later on in 2005, Tomb Raider publisher Eidos was eyeballing resurrecting the Zero Tolerance franchise for the PS2 and original Xbox. Eidos was going remaster the original 1994 game for the PSP system and put out a new game called “Zero Tolerance: City under Fire”. However, after legal trouble, the Zero Tolerance connection was dropped and the work on the game later came out on as the rather middle-of-the-road 2006 Urban Chaos: Riot Response.

8. Star Trek: Shattered Universe (TDK 2004)
Many Trekkies know that the Mirror Universe episodes and storylines are some of the finest in the Trek…and it seems a no-brainer for a video game to be set in the Mirror Universe. That seems like a solid concept until you experience a game like TDK’s Shattered Universe from 2004. The story has the Excelsior under the command of Sulu traveling into the Mirror Universe could have really worked, given the power and advanced nature of the Excelsior class battlecruiser. However, Starsphere Interactive screwed it up by included an ISS Excelsior as well.
This concept was somewhat explored in the original DC Comics Mirror Universe storyline in issue #09-16. While you may think that this game would be about you taking control of the USS Excelsior battling the forces of the Empire, but you actually take control of a Federation fighter and do battle with the forces of the alternative universe while trying to protect the Excelsior and find a way home. With poor reviews and having a space fighter-based game in the Trek universe all added up to this one being quickly forgotten.

9. Renegade Legion (SSI 1990)
With the popularity of Star Wars and D&D, the 1980’s were a fertile time period for table simulation games and RPGs, with all manner of companies spring up to fill any void they could with a vast array of games. A majority of these games were some form of military science fiction and some went on to become long remembered…and some did not. One of those companies that arose to popularity in the 1980’s was Chicago-based FASA. Having the license for Star Trek and Doctor Who made them a force on the RPG scene; however, it was Battletech that made them unique. In that inventory of games and licenses was Renegade Legion, a military sci-fi hex-based wargame about a war in the Milky Way in the 69th century. Starting off as a space fighter combat game called Interceptor, Renegade Legion took a different than FASA titan title Battletech. That premier title started off with a hex-based ground combat with Mecha and then expand into fighter and ship combat games, books, an RPG, then computer games. Renegade Legion would follow a similar path with ever expanding titles, books, an RPG, and then two computer games at the end of its lifespan. Again, very similar to the path of FASA’s Battletech. And why not?
The formula for Battletech had been extremely successful, why could it not happen with Renegade Legion? FWS will cover this forgotten classic of 1980;s MSF RPGs at a later date (hint!), but for now we need to examine the two computer games associated with RL. Given that RL started in the realm of space fighter combat with Interceptor, it seemed like a good place to start with the computer games. One of the features of Interceptor was a system to catalog the damage done to your space fighter that this pen-and-paper feature as carried over to the first computer game from and developed by Strategic Simulations and released in 1990 for DOS machines.Let us be honest here, Interceptor is a difficult game that has more in common with the tabletop warfare game than a space-sim.
Given it is complex and plotting nature caused Interceptor to be less engaging and ultimate forgotten when such classic space combat simulation games like X-Wing and Wing Commander came out. SSI sensed the way the wind was blowing and in 1995, Midnight Software would created an very similar MS-DOS space combat sim for the FASA created for the 67th century Renegade Legion universe: Renegade: The Battle for Jacob's Star. Unlike other games at the time, there was no FMV sequences. While this was a step in the right direction, it was no Wing Commander. However, it sold well enough to earn work on a sequel: Renegade II: Return to Jacob's Star. This was never completed and by this time, the franchise was sold off from FASA.  

10. Bethesda Softworks Terminator Series (Bethesda 1990-1996)
The Terminator franchise has seemingly always had good relationship with the video game industry, and many of us know the arcade games and the based-on-the-film titles. However, there video game titles that explored the war against the machines in the dark future…something the film franchise seems to be adverse about. In 1990, Bethesda Softworks released a first-person shooter called Terminator: 2029 (not related to the Dark Horse Comics series). The plot centers the results of a daring Special Operations mission undertaken by John Connor’s SOG unit, during the mission, the SOG Resistance unit captures an experimental (and abandoned) CLASS-I powered armor called A.C.E. (Advanced Cybernetic Exoskeleton).
Seemingly developed before the humanoid Terminator units, the Resistance recognized that this ACE APS could allow one specially trained human resistance fighter to transform into a one man slaughterhouse for the machines of Skynet. Originally sold on a 3.5 disks (how I had it) for DOS machines, it was later repacked on CD-ROM with the expansion pack “Operation Scour” that could be bought with a “Deluxe CD Version” that had voice actors and music. I had this game on my original HP computer on 3.5 disks, and it was a solid game that quickly became boring due a recycled format and some bullshit gaming mechanics.
While a solid game, it was older when placed onto the new medium of CD-ROM and given the rapid progress of computer games at the time, Terminator 2029 was lost, especially as the glow of T2 faded.  What followed is one of the weakest Terminator games of all time: 1993’s Rampage. This has Skynet send a pieces of its core back to 1984 to the HQ of Cyberdyne Systems, allowing it to survive, make Terminators and plot taking over the world (of course!). Again, Conner sends a Resistance fighter to do battle with the Skynet and hunt down pieces of a plasma weapon. Boring, buggy, and not well done. Easy to see why this one is forgotten. In 1995 and 1996 Bethesda would release two more FPS Terminator games set around the war against the machines: Future Shock and Skynet. Both are very similar and are a standard FPS game set in the dark future with you shooting Skynet’s metal minions with all manner weaponry and even taking control of various vehicles. Well received back in the day, but lost in the flood of CD-ROM FPS games of the time. 

10 comments:

  1. I loved the depiction of the M-60 in Power Slave. I tried and failed to find a file in the Mod community to port the gun into Duke Nukem 3D.

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  2. Sean Robert MeaneyMarch 21, 2019 at 12:50 PM

    Psygnosis put out a game in three parts in a gaming magazine. I remember it involved driving a battle tank around a landscape. Dont even remember its name.

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  3. Where is the Ken Burnside interview?

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  4. I played the BSG fighter game. Its main draw was Dial-A-Yield missiles. You could have a salvo of 10 KKV's or 1 nuke for shooting at space stations

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  5. I actually recalled a segment on the now cancelled G4TV channel that mentioned Iron Storm of it being a FPS set in a universe where World War 1 (aka the Great War) never ended. It sounded like an interesting concept at the time but beyond that segment I haven't heard a thing about it. I couldn't even remember the name until I saw this article. Sad that it didn't really take off despite the premise.

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  6. Not sure if starsiege or bioforge count, but I loved those games.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daCE2PmtCFc

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    1. Wow, that game series actually does has a interesting history. Dynamix created Metaltech: Earthsiege after they lost the Mechwarrior PC game options to Activision. Then we got Earthsiege II, CyberStorm, Starsiege and then Tribes. Many of the games are now apparently freeware as well.

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  7. Does anybody remember an old game for PlayStation (1) and Sega CD called Crusader: No Remorse? It was an isometric top-down shooter but you controlled your character like in an FPS, that is by walking forward/backward but turning left/right. The gameplay was decent, with kinetic, energy, & explosive-launching weapons fighting soldiers & mechs & some cool FMV cutscenes.

    And another one from the Sega Genesis/SNES era, Subterrania, which I think had a sequel. You played a fighter pilot sent to clear out an alien infestation in a mining colony. Over the course of the game you had to turn your atmospheric fighter into a submersible & all along make sure you had enough fuel.

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    1. The only thing I recall of Subterrania was seeing advertisement for the game in a Wizard Comic Magazine way back in the day. Doubtful I still have that particular issue.

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  8. I have good memories of Crusader: No Remorse and No Regret.

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