21 March 2020

FWS Top 10: Forgotten Military SF Games (Vol. 6)

While research is going for the upcoming What We Will Fight Over blogpost about water, I thought we should return to our on-going series on the lost and forgotten military science fiction video games. Here is number six out of ten. Enjoy!

1. Astro Marine Corps (A.M.C) (Creepsoft 1989)
In 1989, British software company Creepsoft developed and Dinmaic released a side-scrolling shooter with some awesome cover-art and cool name: Astro Marine Corps (AMC). Released for 19.99 pounds in the UK (about (50 pounds today), it  was widely available mostly on cassette on every major micro-computer system in the United Kingdom. While the cover-art is amazing, the game was nothing really new in the realm of side-scrolling shooters at the time and that reflects in the middle-of-the-road reviews, like ST Format Magazine's 69%. For the most part, you control an Astro Marine that battles on an alien world using all manner of weapons against robotic enemy and fleshly alien creatures of shape and size. This game was released and then forgotten because another space marine in a shooter came along soon after and doomed older games like this to the realm of retro-reviews.

2. SDI (Cinemaware 1986)
During the 1980's, President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative or "Star Wars" was a hot topic and a major field of research and political engineering. This made a topic that video game developers could use and oddly, there different two very different video game using the term "SDI" in their titles that came out in 1986 and 1987. We will be discussing the 1986 SDI computer game game and not the 1987 SEGA arcade SDI also known as "SDI" or "Global Defense" in western markets. The 1986 SDI was developed and published by Cinemaware. This was their 2nd title and the company went out of business in 1991. SDI is set in 2017 when the KGB stages a coup against the Soviet government takes over the Soviet spaceports. They demand that the USA stop the use of SDI. When the USA refuses, the KGB launches nuclear weapons via several delivery systems. It is now up to the USA SDI and some Soviet units to defeat the nuclear onslaught from outer space.
You play as the commander of the US SDI space station, Sloan McCormick, who is also a space fighter pilot. In most of the missions, you take joystick and take on incoming KGB space fighers and missiles while attempting to save US space assets and prevent missile strikes on the US and her allies. Also, your lover, a Soviet space commander counterpair, is being held by the KGB, and you must rescue her. This PC game blended elements of Star Raider and Missile Command to form a very unique game for 1986. However, the game is repetitive and I wished for more strategy elements to round the odd space fighter scenes. I also wished it can been more realistic with MiG 105s and the dual US and Soviet space shuttles. This game, like many PC games of the 1980's disappeared as the technology got better and it was also confused with the SEGA title as well.        

3. Klendathu (Tandy Corporation 1982)
The founding literature classic of military science fiction is Robert Heinlein's 1958 Starship Troopers and given its popularity and cultural impact, several video games have been based on the book and its themes and technology. The first video game was designed by famed Tandy programmer Leo Christopherson for the Tandy TRS-80 and released on cassette in 1982. The game has a highly detailed manual that lays out the world, enemy, and technology of your M.I Trooper. Your character is fighting during Operation: Bug House and you dropped into kill some bugs with a hand-flamer. Once encounter some bugs on the grid field, you engage from a first-person POV with a flaming prompt and you attempt to light the bugs on fire before they attack and weaken your powered armor. While a cool concept, the game was developed using BASIC and given the limits on computer processing power, it is fairly limited. However, Klendathu is a bold attempt at bring Heinlein's Bug War to life in the computer era with a cool concept and title. I wished this game had developed as a DOOM clone. It is mostly remembered today by fans of the SST universe and by TRS-80 fan crowd. It is able to be easily downloaded today, but was forgotten from some time due to its limited interaction and the time period it was developed.

4. Zarlor Mercenary (Epyx 1990)
During the mid-to-late 1980's ATARI was struggling hard to survive and still be a force in the video game industry after the invasion of Japanese home console system as it was during the 2600 days with systems like the 7800, the XE, and the ST line of home computers. I was a big of ATARI, and owned an 7800 in 1987 and I badly wanted the color handheld ATARI handheld system, the Lynx, that came out in 1989. Developed for ATARI by Epyx, the 1st generation Lynx was a monster that did feature the first color LCD screen on a handheld system...but this came a heavy price tag and it ate AA batteries. That price tag was $179 in 1989 (or $381 in 2020 money) and it was powered by 6 AA batteries that lasted around 4-6 hours. The Nintendo GameBoy had come two months prior the release of the ATARI Lynx and nearly a hundred bucks cheaper. While praised by critics and those that owned it (I knew one person that owned this in 1989/1990 and he also owned an GameBoy as well), it was expensive and lacked some of the brand name games that the GameBoy had. It was successful enough to warrant a Gen2 with improvements to the ergonomics and battery life, however, this did not lead to success over the powerhouse GameBoy. By 1993, ATARI put everything into the Jaguar and folded their handheld division. One of the more rare titles for the LYNX was this shooter MSF title called "Zarlor Mercenary", which Metal Jesus says sounds like a bad 1980's movie. This is more or less a vertical scrolling shoot'em up video game set in a military sci-fi with some cool features that set it apart from the normal Shoot'em Up genre, but due to it being on the expensive ATARI Lynx system, it was limited and died along with the handheld system.

5. Warhawk (SingleTrac 1995)
The world of home video game consoles altered when Sony released the original PlayStation in December of 1994. This was the gaming system that turned me back to home consoles and away from PC gaming. I played this title in Toys R Us at the PlayStation display along with Wipeout! and I badly wanted this game and this title.This game mixed flight simulation with elements of Starfox. This game seems to takes place on an alien world with similarities to Terra. The game has you taken control of a VTOL gunship via two pilots during a war against a warlord named Kreel. He is using a new fuel source, Red Mercury and it up to you to stop him. Cool for its time and the gunship even has a Macross-missile attack, Warhawk was terribly uneven and its concept and first level were better the rest of the game. The original Warhawk was lost in the massive amount of titles that came out for the original PlayStation. However, it was saved for completely going out of the general gaming public's mind by a PS3 multi-player only experience in 2007.

6. Metal Wolf Chaos (FromSoftware 2004)
Mech combat is one of the core concepts of Military Sci-Fi that is popular with both Eastern and Western audiences. However, Japan is the land of cool mecha shit for sure, and Japanese mecha games outpace the rest of the world. One of the oddball mecha video games for the 6th generation Xbox, which that system did not sell well at all, was a Fuck Yeah America 3rd person mecha game called Metal Wolf Chaos. When the President of the USA Michael Wilson, is ousted in a coup by the Vice-President, the President dons an Mech suit and attempts to take back the White House. No shit. That is story for the game. Metal Wolf Chaos was only released in Japane and due to the underwhelming sales of the Xbox in Japan, it was never regionized for the US Xbox system. Due to press and the crazy plot, the game has a cult following in the west, which surprised the Japanese developer. The game was exported to the west by Devolver Digital in 2019.

7. V (Ocean 1986)
For those that did not live during the 1980's, The V miniseries then TV show on NBC here in America was amazing (and terrifying) from a kid's point-of-view. In a future Forgotten Classics article will dive more into V. Given its success and the tie-in merchandise market, Ocean Software, being the whores that they were, published a licensed V PC game for a number of micro-computers and it was quickly forgotten. Programmer by Grant Harrison, the game has inhabit the role of resistance fighter Mike Donovan. His mission to enter one of the lizard's motherships and set 5 bombs to destroy it and escape alive. Featuring advancing puzzles, aerobatic flipping, teleportation pads, and robots, the game only shows the docking bay and corridors. One major fault of the PC game was that you never engage in laser blaster fights with an Lizard Visitor shocktroopers! Nothing but little robots in the mothership. This was a major source of criticism of the game back in the day and likely one of the reasons for the game disappearing. However, the game came out as the TV series was cancelled.

8. Laser Squad (Target 1988/1992)
One of the more impressive box arts we've ever featured here on FWS for 1988's Laser Squad by Target Software and published by Blade. This British military science fiction turn-based tactics game was released on every major home micro-computer system back in the day and Laser Squad earned a number of awards. It was even updated with better graphics in 1992 when it was ported to the PC along with lifted some art from 1979's ALIEN as well. You take control of a squad of a freedom fighters in a distant future where oppression is a way of life across the settled systems. While this game has moved into the ranks of being a classics and widely unknown by gamers today, it is the games that Laser Squad inspirited that gamers of today know. Games like X-Com and UFO: Enemy Unknown. 

9. EPIC (Digital Image Design 1992)   
When our planet is threatened with a supernova, your race packs up into 8,000 starships, searching for a new homeworld. Defending the civilian miragtion fleet is another vast fleet. You play the role of a starfighter pilot of the expermential EPIC class starfighter. During the mirgation to the new homeworld, the fleet must pass close hostile alien territory...and then the fun starts with the Rexxon to defend 60 million civilians on their star trek. The story and overall design was directly shamelessly lifted from the classic Battlestar Galactica with other elements from Wing Commander. At its heart, the game is a space combat sim with both space and dirtside action that are all designed around the mission to get the mirgation fleet to the new homeworld. The game was released in 1992 for the Amiga, ATARI ST, and DOS computers with good solid reviews. While there was a seque;, it was terrible, the original game was quite enjoyable anbd product of its day. The reason for it being forgotten is that EPIC came out at a time when space combat sims were hot and there was some amazing titles released around the same time, including X-Wing, there was just not the legs to keep it going. 

10. Chasm the Rift (Action Forms 1997)
With the arrival of the video game DOOM, the industry and what the consumer wanted, altered, It seemed that over the course of the 1990s, there was no end to the number of DOOM clones that flooded the market and some were better than others.One of the games that attempted to win the familiar to set it apart was 1997's Chasm the Rift. Developed by Action Froms and published by GT Interactive for MS-DOS PCs. Taking the role as a marine sent to defeat time travelling aliens across different time periods. While no bad then standards, it was just another FPS in a very crowded field.