Sunday, 30 November 2014

Unreal (Amiga)

Unreal Title Screen Amiga Ubisoft
Whoa, look at the size of that title screen! That ain't normal for a 16-bit game man; you could fit six SNES title screens into that thing with room to spare.

Today on Super Adventures, I'm putting an hour or so into classic Amiga game Unreal, published by Ubisoft in 1990, eight years before Epic and Digital Extremes would borrow the title for their first person shooter and the infamous engine it runs on. I don't actually know much of anything about this Unreal though, except that it was ported across to the PC and Atari ST a year after the Amiga version, and the title screen is insane. It's a hand-pixelled reproduction of the cover to the 1979 edition of the Michael Moorcock novel 'Lord of the Spiders', which makes more sense when you know that the painting was also used for the game's box art. I guess someone at Ubisoft was a fan.

Balls! I can honestly say I wasn't expecting a chrome-breathing 3D metal ball dragon hovering over an ocean of lava when the loading finally finished.

I love shit like this in games. If you leave it long enough it even starts transforming into different shapes, like a sword and the word 'UBISOFT', and believe me I would've captured that as an animation as well if I could. The game was actually developed by a company called Ordilogic Systems though, which I've never heard of before.

Ah, I've definitely seen a few of those names though! Some of them went on to work on the owl-themed Psygnosis published Amiga shoot 'em up Agony, which I looked at a couple of years back, and Outcast, which my associate mecha-neko played a couple of months ago.

There's not many options on the menu screen here; you basically just get to choose between music or sound effects. Unless you've got a stock Amiga 500 with 512k of RAM that is, then you only get music. Still, it could've been worse: I could've been forced to choose between music or graphics, sound or joystick controls, gameplay or loading screens featuring a naked bloke riding a spiky red dragon...

There's no intro or story text ingame, that's all hidden away in the manual, but I do get a picture of a naked bloke riding a spiky red dragon, and that basically says everything that needs saying. Though I'm still a little confused why Franck Sauer signed his art 'SF'.


STAGE 1.


Whoa, it's Space Harrier and it's fast! I did not see that coming. I should probably be impressed by that textured ground and those scaling objects running smoothly on an Amiga 500, but I'm too busy staring at the weird parallax effect on the sky.

The game itself is actually slicker than this, but I had to cut out half the frames because of the flickering effect they've used to give the appearance of more colours in the sky. It might look good on a CRT TV, but not so much on a modern PC screen.

Aww, look at the little dinosaurs running between the trees! I would've thought my dragon would be using his fire breath to cook them alive, but plasma balls work just as well I suppose. Dragon vs giant two colour pterodactyl: an epic confrontation 150 million years in the making.

It seems that I'm suppose to be collecting these Doritos to upgrade my weapon, while getting hit by something will downgrade it. Weirdly the blue arrows on the top left represent my weapon power, while the red flame on the right represents my shield energy, and not the other way around.

Hey I finally hit something!

Oh, I think it means that I collided with part of the scenery, and that antagonistic allosaurus over there sure finds that funny. We're not actually on Earth here, so it's not really a dinosaur, it just looks like one. I suppose it's actually closer to being Godzilla, seeing how it utterly dwarfs my dragon-sized dragon. Then again, everything dwarfs my dragon on this planet, the creature is tiny on screen!

"Go left", "go right", I wish this would make up its mind. I'm definitely doing as much swooping as I am shooting here, possibly more, which is good because the swooping controls seem noticeably more responsive than the shooty ones. Still, I could solve that problem by just never not shooting.

I think I will choose to go... right this time.


767 POINTS LATER.


Crap, I think I chose poorly this time around. I swung my dragon over to the right, but couldn't quite make it to the gap in time and ended up clipping the wall and losing the last tiny fraction of my shield.

GAME OVER.

Seriously, that's it, I get just one single life to finish the game with, it's insane.

Oh hang on, this is new. Was I so crap at the game that I unlocked a secret tutorial mode?

Well pressing fire to train sounds better than pressing nothing and getting kicked back to the title screen, so I'll give that a shot.

Huh, 'training mode' seems to be the exact same thing as the regular game except they've taken away my score. Hang on I've got to look this up to check, because I'm confused now.

Okay, it seems that training mode really is just the regular game in its entirety, with the only difference being that you trade your ability to accumulate points in exchange for immortality! Well, infinite lives and save games anyway. So basically training mode is the real game mode for anyone who isn't trying to finish the whole thing with a single life. I couldn't care less about points, so as long as I still qualify for the good ending this way it works for me.


LATER.


And that's level 1 successfully completed! I was expecting a boss at the end after that marathon, but I got a dull cave instead and I'm actually kind of grateful for that. The stage was fairly decent for what it was, but I was ready for it to be over with already by the halfway point.

Oh, if you're wondering why I've got my numbers back, it's because I decided to replay it from the start so I could finish at least one stage with a score at the end of it. It wasn't actually that hard at all to finish the level with a single life once I stopped being terrible.

Oh, we're not using the dragon for this level then? Can I at least have trousers?

You don't really see a lot of the bare-legged male warrior type in video games these days do you? There's plenty of JRPG heroes in shorts and Kratos from God of War rocks a badass skirt, but the Conan the Barbarian look seems have gone out of fashion back in the 16-bit era.

Flaming swords, on the other hand, will never get old.


STAGE 2.


Damn, I didn't even realise I was standing there at first. Even in 2D the birds won't leave me alone!

He doesn't seem all that confident with his sword does he? He kind of just holds it out and wiggles it a little until the birds explode into harmless peas. Plus the blade isn't on fire, what the fuck? You know, I don't think he's even a real barbarian.

The game's got that early Psygnosis look to it, with dull low-contrast, monochrome sprites in front of a vivid beautifully pixelled forest. A little bit like Agony now that I think about it, though with the saturation turned up and the enemies actually visible against the background.

With a heroic leap my barbarian warrior vaults over the incoming fireball, and then plummets straight down through the gap because he's crap at jumping  Well he's good at up, he's got that bit figured out, but he's not so great at forwards and he's got absolutely zero control once his feet have left the ground. Speaking of feet, he's got some balls to go jumping around rocks while absolutely barefoot. He's going to cut his soles to shreds.

Oh, this wasn't a bottomless pit by the way, I think you're actually supposed to drop down here. It's entirely safe at least.

Oh shit, laser eyes out of nowhere just sliced off 20% of my health. There is no way I could've seen that coming, and the speed of light is just a little too fast for my reflexes.

Though on the plus side, that crystal in front of me restored 20% of my life, so now I'm right back to having the same health I dropped down here with. So, uh, okay then.

Hey, I just noticed this guy hiding in the background. I wonder if that's my dragon chilling out and waiting for me to get these side view levels done already... nah, he's going to be one of those bosses who sits perfectly still and shoots things out of his mouth at me, I can already tell.

Huh, the beige birds take two hits? Well that's hardly fair, I can only wiggle this blade so fast! Seriously, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to kill these things without taking damage, and dodging doesn't seem to be an option. Maybe I can just jump over them? I'd probably have more luck with that than I will jumping over this gap in front of me.

Perhaps if I slowly creep right up to the edge and jump from there...

Well I'm across the gap, but the bloody birds keep coming! Truly this is the fantasy of every kid who ever wanted to be Conan the Barbarian: to be stuck in the corner of a level, waving a stick at birds in a desperate futile effort to make them explode or even just go away and bother someone else.

Wait a second, am I really in the corner? Whoa, this is actually the end of the level, I can just step to the right and move on.

Click this shamefully resized image to see the map in its full glory.
That's it? A few birds, three plants and a laser eye statue? We could've flown across that entire stage in about 3 seconds if my dude hadn't had the bright idea to climb off his dragon and walk.

Though when you see the whole thing at once like this, it's more obvious that the stage hasn't been built from repeating tiles like you'd expect. There's actually five unique hand-pixelled trees there in the background. They put the effort in.


STAGE 3.


This stage introduces ground spikes and dinosaurs. Also a sparkly rock, but I'll worry about that when I get to it.

There's actually four spikes in a row here that move in and out of the ground, and whatever I end up doing to get past them, I've got to time my movement so that I'm firmly on the ground at the right moment to stab the next dinosaur as he runs on screen. Not that I can't use the sword when airborne, I'd just end up swinging it over the creature's head. The tricky part here is going to be getting enough distance with my jumps to clear each spike as, like I may have mentioned already, he's rubbish at jumping.

Uh... my sword's not long enough.

The funny thing is that the bouncing dinosaur only spits a hurt-ball at me when he jumps, sending them right over my head, so right here I'm just as untouchable as he is. We can't hit each other, so it's a stalemate. I know what you're thinking: "you should going back half a screen and try hitting the sparkly rock", but I tried that already! Plus I went back after this and beat the crap out of that rock just in case and still nothing happened.

I guess I'm going to have to take a chance here and try to jump over, see if I can stab the dinosaur mid-jump.

Well... that didn't work.

Fortunately falling into the river wasn't actually instant death. Though I do have to do all the spike jumping again, with only 14 hit points now. Oh plus this time they've thrown in beige bird along with the dinosaurs for a laugh.

I didn't survive it this time.


STAGE 2.


Oh no no, not the birds again! Turns out that losing all your hit points and dropping into training mode also throws you back to the start of the section you're on, which means I have to redo all the platforming all over again from the start. Not that there's been much of it, and I certainly couldn't call it slow, but... the birds, man.


EVENTUALLY, BACK ON STAGE 3.


There you go, I just have to smack a few of these falling rocks at him! There's no way to miss and no way for him to fight back. Not really the most fearsome boss fight I've ever faced.

Oh if you're wondering what I did this time to make the rocks appear, it was absolutely nothing. There's a shower of stones dropping from the sky here from the start unless the player actively chooses to turn them off... by hitting the sparkly rock. Like I'd done.

In fact that sparkling rock only seems to be there as a cruel trap, as no player is going to resist hitting it the first time around, and its only purpose to confuse you. Oh wait, I still need to get over the river don't I, and I'd be an idiot to leap across while it's still raining boulders. Well, okay I guess the switch stone does have a point to it after all.

Anyway I'm done with this puzzle now, so all I have to do is jump over the river and...

Oh for fuck's sake! LEARN HOW TO JUMP!

I've got to do all that again now. From the start of the platforming section. With the birds. Crap.


EVENTUALLY.


Alright I'm back on the second platforming stage, the boss is dead again, and I've successfully made it over the river this time. Now I have to work out how to get across this burning log.

Oh, I've figured it out. I'll fly over on a dragon! Or... maybe I'll try hitting that floating stone and see what that does.

Well it turns out that the rock switches the falling boulders on and off just like the sparkly rock on the other side does, so that'll be handy if I ever need to... nope can't think of a reason why I'd ever want to do that. Let's try it anyway!

Smacking the falling rocks from this side of the stream magically charged my sword with the elemental power of bubbles! Now I can shoot bubbles out at the log to temporarily extinguish the flames and give me a chance to run across! It's a 'do everything you can until something works' kind of puzzle.


STAGE 4.


I'm still running around on foot huh? At least my sword's finally on fire. There was an incident with the burning log you see, and... well now I have 3 hit points and a flaming sword.

There's more falling rocks here, so I figured that I'd stay here and crack a few open to harvest the crystals inside and refill my health. Seemed sensible. Those cunning developers were one step ahead of me though, as the rocks began to release red ants! And taking a hit with 3 hp left means... back to the start of the platforming section.


SOME TIME LATER.


Okay, I'm past the ant rocks, so now I guess I have to run across the bridge before it collapses and then leap to grab the vine!

Well I guess I must have missed. Without a bridge beneath his feet the hero was left to fall into the bottomless chasm, and with only 17 health left that's a game over. Back to the start of the platforming section. With the birds. Actually I think I'm done with this now.


CONCLUSION

Unreal is one of the most Amigary Amiga games I've played since Shadow of the Beast. It's technically impressive, visually distinctive, it got showered with 80-90% reviews on release, and yet I personally didn't find it all that fun to play.

Part of the reason for that is that the hero is a bit crap to control once he's on foot. He walks around well enough, but when he jumps he's got no distance and no mid-air control, and that makes the platforming unnecessarily awkward (what little of it there's been so far). Also his sword attack is pretty terrible and it feels terrible. You're not slicing through foes, you're poking them with a stick, there's no weight or power to the thing. As barbarian simulators go, it's rubbish.

On the other hand it's definitely got a bit of variety to it. Both the platforming and flying sections dragged on past their welcome for me, but within the platforming levels there's always something new going on, and new things to figure out. I wouldn't say it suffers from putting style over substance, it's not a tech demo, it's just conspicuously stylish for a home computer game of its time and the substance isn't all that appealing to me. It was inspired by Japanese arcade games like Galaxy Force and Rastan Saga, but to me the gameplay feels more like it evolved from European Commodore 64 games; it's missing some of that dark magic mastered by top tier console game developers in the East. Basically what the game really needs is for someone to go back in time and buy the designers a NES and a stack of cartridges.

You can download the Amiga disks and learn about the making of Unreal at artist Franck Sauer's website: francksauer.com, though watch out for the autoplaying mp3. The site's worth visiting just for the artwork; makes me wish I'd stuck with the game long enough to reach the snow level.


This space reserved for a message where I remind people that they're totally free to leave a comment underneath with their thoughts and feelings about the game and my writing.

1 comment:

Semi-Random Game Box