Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Cannon Fodder (Amiga)

Cannon Fodder Amiga controversal poppy title screen
Okay straight away I should admit that I'm only playing this game to give me an excuse to link to the theme tune on youtube. It's maybe not the first video game theme with vocals, but I reckon it's pretty good for something running off a floppy disk.

It'd be fair to say that I've played Cannon Fodder before. In fact I've played it a lot, and I even played the Cannon Soccer special for the site last Christmas, but I'm going to write about it anyway. Because the game's a classic and I had to get around to it sooner or later.

Cannon Fodder Sensible Software credits photo
Sometimes developers use their game's intro to kickstart the plot, other times they like to start with narration to set the scene... Sensible Software on the other hand thought 'fuck that, we're going to rent some uniforms and go and do a photoshoot!'

Actually if you've got the CD32 version of the game, the sinister truth is revealed. The photos are actually taken from a music video (youtube link) featuring the developers messing around with toy guns and army trucks that they filmed to go with the theme tune.

Sinister Mario mask gif
 Plus it features a surprise cameo from one of gaming's most beloved characters!

Cannon Fodder Amiga boot hill
Right, these guys are going to be my soldiers. New recruits lining up around the hill to sign up for a (short) life of adventure in service of their country. The exact country they're fighting for is never stated, so you're free to fill in the blanks yourself.

There's still one thing I'm confused about though. Why the fuck did they stick the army recruiting office in the middle of nowhere? You have to walk across the hills to reach it.

Anyway before I start the first level there's something I have to get done first...

Cannon Fodder format disk screen. Banana in disk drive error!
I'm playing the Amiga version so I need to format a save disk before I can save my game, don't I? Actually I doubt I'll make any progress worth saving, I really only sat through this to make this gif for you guys.

Cannon Fodder Amiga game helicopter flying scrolling forest to mission
I tried to make an animated gif of this screen too, but the filesize was getting ridiculous. Still, it looks pretty good even without the parallax scrolling. The music's good too, very dramatic.

But then once I'm actually playing the game the music stops, and there's nothing to hear but gunfire, screams, and the jungle.

Okay basically the game works like this. I have a couple of soldiers and a crosshair. If I left click my mouse they walk to the crosshair, if I right click they shoot at the crosshair, and I've got to steer them around the jungle to complete my mission objectives. In this case 'KILL ALL ENEMY'.

This stage is only as big as the screen, so I think I've just killed the last of them.

Cannon Fodder Jools Jops Heroes in Victory promotion screen
And everyone gets a promotion! If I remember right, higher ranks mean better weapon range, and possibly other things too. The trade off being that now I'll cry if they ever get shot.

Most missions have multiple phases (levels) that have to be completed before I can get back to the hill for some new recruits and a bit of saving. But mission 1 only has the single stage, so I can just get my promotions and go.
FUN FACT: The song for the 'Heroes in Victory' screen is an instrumental version of a track called Narcissus (youtube link), by lead designer Jon Hare. He co-wrote the theme tune too in fact.

MISSION 2 - PHASE 2 OF 2: "TRASH ENEMY HQ".


The next mission is split into two phases, and is considerably longer. Fortunately I've still managed to hang on to my original crew, so it looks like double promotions all round this time!

I like the way the camera leans towards the crosshair as I move it around so I can look a bit further ahead into the level. I'm not as fond of how they've put that grenades pick-up behind a pile of fuel drums. I need those grenades to destroy the infinite enemy spawning shack, but one stray shot could set the whole thing thing off... which would also destroy the shack and finish the level. But fuck that, I wanna blow it up myself!

Cannon Fodder grenade house explosion
A single grenade sorted the shed out, and thus the enemies could spawn no more. Look at the roof and door flying off though. Any of my men caught in the way of that door would've been instantly killed, and the roof was launched off in a random direction, then exploded on impact. I mean what the fuck?

I know war is generally supposed to be hell, but the theme tune assured me that in this particular case war has actually never been so much fun, and senseless random roof-related deaths just aren't much fun


MISSION 3 - PHASE 1 OF 1: "BUGGER ME IT'S COLD".


Holy shit, that was close. That flaming debris to my squad's left is actually the front door flying off like a bullet, annihilating any life in its path. You know what, I think I'm going to split up my team before destroying anymore buildings. It'll reduce my firepower but at least that way I can't lose the entire team to one explosion.


MISSION 4 - PHASE 3 OF 4: "VILLAGE PEOPLE".


The game's been pretty easy so far, but the levels are starting to get a little bit more massive.

I'm meant to be destroying the enemy buildings, but I'm not sure if those huts on the bottom left count. I'd like to avoid blowing up someone's village if I can help it.

Crap, there goes one of the villagers, caught in the crossfire. I was determined not to harm or inconvenience these poor civilians in any way, but it's funny how priorities shift when your team is in serious, immediate danger of an ass whupping. I've already lost Jools, I'm not losing Jops as well.


SOON.


THEY'RE COMING FROM EVERYWHERE... THEY TOOK OUT HALF MY TEAM... THEY, THEY KILLED JOPS!

BURN EVERYTHING! BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND! SCORCHED EARTH, NO SURVIVORS! IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE.


MISSION 4 - PHASE 4 OF 4: "QUICKSAND".


Well that didn't really go as planned. I'm still not entirely sure where the enemy were coming from, but destroying everything seemed to put an end to them. And now I'm stuck with a team of newbies again.

This mission's called 'Quicksand', so I'm guessing that mud over there is probably instantly lethal. But do you see that rock next to it?

This rock here. That's actually a trip mine that would explode and wipe out my team if I tried walking around the quicksand. Lucky I'm playing on a nice sharp monitor screen, because I'd have probably never seen it on a blurry old CRT TV.

I guess the idea is that I'd learn from my mistake, and would start sweeping everywhere I go with gunfire to detonate any hidden mines. But who wants to have to do that? This is supposed to be fun war, isn't it? Or was the theme tune being ironic.

The game definitely doesn't make light of casualties. They may have been faceless little pixel men, but they had names and they'd levelled up to be more useful than the average grunt. I shall miss them, and their enhanced attack range.


MISSION 5 - PHASE 1 OF 3: "THE VALLEY OF ICE".


I've lost my confidence now after that massacre. Instead of running and gunning, this time I'm edging across the level cautiously, trying to pick off enemies from a distance if I can. Aww look, the enemies made a little snowman!

Holy shit, I think that explosion was the snowman landing! What did they made the thing out of, C4? A stick of dynamite for the nose and grenades for eyes?

At least I'm doing better on this level. I'm halfway through with zero casualties. These enemies aren't actually that much of a threat to my team because we're carrying better assault rifles. As long as I don't get too close I can easily pick them off before they get me.

Okay, what the fuck was that? Oh right, that was half my team getting wiped out by a single shot from across the screen. I think I've just remembered why I never got anywhere in this game.


A FEW DISASTERS LATER.
 

These rocket launcher enemies require a completely different strategy to regular infantry, because they can get me the second they appear on screen. I need to fire off one my own rockets their way, then get the fuck out of there. And even then the guys in the back of my squad might not get out of the way fast enough.

I've lost so many men to these guys now it's ridiculous. My new strategy is to split my team up and send them out alone or in pairs, so I can identify the rocket sniper locations and still have someone left alive to do something about it.


MISSION 5 - PHASE 3 OF 3: "MY BEAUTIFUL SKIDU".


That's nice of the level designer, sticking a crucial vehicle next to a building I have to destroy. I'm lucky the thing didn't blow up along with it.

Okay, I'm splitting the men into two teams again. One will scout out the area to clear a path for the skidoo, while the other team...

Cannon Fodder Amiga game skidoo ramp jump ice level
...will jump right over the river and kill everyone on the other side! Look at that jump, I got it lined up perfectly on my first try.

Well, fuck.

Maybe 50 years from now someone will find Windy and Donald preserved in the ice, then revive them to be superheroes in a new world they don't understand. Though it's more likely they're just going to get crushed by the next skidoo I drop down there.

HAH! That's what you get you bazooka wielding assholes! Cut in half by snowmobile skis.

These troops are going to keep pouring out as long as there's still a enemy shed on the level, but I think I'll do a few more laps before I sort that out.

Damn, and I thought mission 4 was a slaughter. I know the game's called 'Cannon Fodder', but I only get around 15 new recruits between missions, so I can't afford to keep playing this badly.

Cannon Fodder Amiga games hill graves
There aren't many games that force you to look at the graves of everyone you've let down. They've never once mentioned what we're fighting for either, what we're trying to achieve. There's no context for any of this.

Of course there could be a story in the manual explaining how we're actually trying to save the world from an evil cult or something, but in the actual game there's no hint that we're even fighting for the 'good guys'.
FUN FACT: The Game Boy Color version has a unique FMV intro (seriously), difficulty modes, a story, mission briefings, voices, and even lets you name the main villain yourself. Which almost makes up for the fact you're playing on tiny little screen without a mouse... but not really.


MISSION 6 - PHASE 1 OF 2: "THE GRAND CANYON".


And that's my entire team getting wiped out by a falling roof after blowing up a shack near the start of the level. TRY AGAIN.

I'm just surprised it hadn't happened sooner to be honest. I've managed to make it all this way without anyone stepping on a mine, falling in quicksand, or getting impaled on a spike trap, so I must have been burning through all my good luck.

Oh and then I managed to send a group marching right off the side of a bridge! Why is that even possible? The next team did the exact same thing as well, just followed each other off into the canyon like lemmings. I even lost one squad in that tiny dark gap where the plank has snapped off.

I get that the game's about senseless death in war (the clue's in the title), but c'mon, I'm just trying to cross a bridge here!

Look at that, I could have won then if that hut had bothered to blow up properly.

I didn't have any trouble with the other sheds (fluke roof catastrophe aside) but getting close to this ain't easy. It's like the enemies are stepping out of it in waves, and to get close I have to fight against the tide. Usually I prefer to take out each group of enemies carefully, but it just doesn't seem to be an option this time. Plus it seems that some bastard has given the enemy decent guns on this mission.


10 MINUTES LATER.


Well this is it. I started this mission off with like 60 soldiers, and now I'm down to my last 3. Which means I must have already failed it 14 times by this point. Three of those times because they fell off a damn bridge.

It's completely hopeless of course, but I might as well go out fighting.

Bison, you magnificent bastard! The other two were killed off near the start, but Bison here managed to complete the rest of the level single-handedly like a big damn hero.

Oh shit, that says phase complete, not mission. That means I've got just this one guy left to finish the entire second stage.


MISSION 6 - PHASE 2 OF 2: "THE GRAND CANYON".


Well, it's a big level, but I think that if I'm careful I can do this. I just need to conserve my explosives, draw enemies into my line of fire, and run like hell if I see anyone carrying a bazooka.

Cannon Fodder game game over hanger 18
Well I managed to kill two enemies! A kill/death ratio of 2 sounds like a success to me.


This is a game made by people who love being a bastard to the player. I know this because they decided afterwards that this game was far too easy, and worked to make the sequel more of challenge. I felt like I was the victim of bad luck and the game conspiring against me rather than my own lack of talent more often than I'd have liked. But then again I suppose that's part of the strategy side of the game, identifying ways to tilt the odds in your favour, and minimising risk. I don't think it's the kind of game you're likely to make it through on reflexes alone.

But let's face it, sooner or later I'm going to end up playing this again. And I'll probably even enjoy it again, up to a point. Possibly a point with those damn helicopters in next time. So yeah, have a gold star Cannon Fodder, enjoy your victory. I'll get my revenge when Cannon Fodder 2 comes around...


Congratulations, you just endured (or scrolled past) about two and a half thousand words of bitching about Cannon Fodder. I can never give you that time back, and I apologise for that, but I can offer you the opportunity to inflict some words of your own upon readers in the comments box below.

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