By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
n honor of this week's cover story that takes you through the history of Raven Software, I thought it would be fun to crack open some of those classic games and give 'em a fresh look. So get ready to get nostalgic!
CyClones is an odd title. It was developed at the same time as Heretic (which is undoubtedly a better game) and it uses an original in-house Raven engine. It's hardly a competitor to the Doom engine, but it does have some interesting features. The game's interface is what distinguishes it from the other early FPS titles. In CyClones, you move with the keyboard, and use the mouse as both a cursor (to open doors, and use inventory items) and also to aim and fire. Since it's a 2D game, calling this "mouse look" is probably an overstatement, but it does allow you to aim all over the screen.
When the interface works, it's pretty good, but it can be horribly frustrating to try and aim your weapon at times. Graphically, the Doom engine simply mops the floor with CyClones. The game runs at a reasonable resolution (640x400, which is pretty beefy considering when it was released) but the graphics are blurry and not especially well defined. There are a ton of image glitches, no doubt a side effect of being played on a system that was far above its original target platform, but they are a constant reminder that you're playing a "classic game" and not anything current. Contrast this to Doom, or even to a lesser degree Wolfenstein 3D, where the game still runs perfectly with no glitches, and you really start to see what distinguishes Carmack in this industry. The music, being MIDI, sounded pretty good on my system, however try as I could, I was unable to get the wave output to run correctly. Oh well.
The game isn't bad, although it certainly isn't a winner by any means. The interface can get in the way of actually accomplishing anything, and despite its sci-fi plotline, some of the enemies look like they belong in Heretic, not CyClones. The level design isn't terrible, and some areas are genuinely fun, although they are few and far between. CyClones was an admirable effort, and next to Wolf 3D it looks pretty good…but it was too little, too late to make any sort of impact. For a similar title that manages to pull off what CyClones was aiming for, I recommend Looking Glass' excellent System Shock.
In his spare time, programmer Rick Johnson has been working on porting Black Crypt, Raven's very first game. Played from a first person perspective, this game is essentially another Dungeon Master style trek. In many ways, Black Crypt is hopelessly generic. There isn't anything here that isn't available in other games of its day, but the thing that's difficult to understand as we look back on it, is that was okay then. I say this, because I must have played a dozen games like this a month, I kid you not. EA (the original publisher of Black Crypt) must have published about 25 dungeon crawlers, and I must have played them all (except this one, since it was an Amiga-only title). There's a definite novelty in playing Black Crypt after all this time. For one, you can see Raven's beginnings here…elements of Black Crypt did eventually make their way into Hexen and other games.
But also there's the fact that well…heck, it's free! If you never played a Dungeon Master game, and want to experience what we all played so much of, then download Black Crypt. It's free, and not half bad.
I don’t care what Raven does in the future. They could make a dozen lousy games from here on out. My reason? They hit their peak with Hexen. For this column I played a great deal of every game in here…but Hexen was the only one of them I actually played all the way through (and this was my third time doing so…five, if you count the two times I played through the shareware episode!). Hexen takes the RPG elements of Heretic and adds to them a genuinely immersing environment, a great soundtrack, some really excellent level design, and really damn cool scripted sequences.
Here's an example. You pull a switch, and a wall opens up. That's been done before, and many times since, but in Hexen it just looks really, really, cool. If you've never seen it before, I highly recommend checking it out for this reason alone.
The game isn't without its flaws. The hub system can be frustrating at times, especially when there's one switch buried somewhere deep in another level (and you don't know which one that is) but it grows on you. The multiplayer isn't fantastic, but it's not terrible. In the end, Hexen is just a really damn good game. Go download the shareware episode and you'll understand (or you'll think I'm insane).
Take No Prisoners
I gotta hand it to Raven…they really tried hard to make this game good. Take No Prisoners feels like so much work went into it, and in the end, it turned out to be a pretty lousy game. The fundamental problem with TNP is the game's biggest premise: it's a top-down game. I don't mind the top-down view, but Take No Prisoners has Hexen-style puzzles in it, and they just don't work in this perspective. The controls are just plain funky, the 3D acceleration minimal, the multiplayer a dud, and well…in the end, it's a coaster. But like I said…it just screams effort. The levels are elaborately laid out, with some remarkable architecture (they really did try to make whole buildings inside an entire city) and you have a remarkably large arsenal at your disposal (21 weapons!). It's an alright distraction…but not one you're likely to play through anytime soon.
When it was first released, I actually bought Mageslayer, and got together with a few friends to play it. I was always a big fan of Gauntlet, and that's essentially what Mageslayer is, a Gauntlet clone. The concept is simple: you and some others (you can play it alone, but I wouldn't suggest it…it gets pretty tiresome) each pick a character, and jump into a top-down dungeon to hack thousands of little enemies to bits. For hours on end. This is fun. Trust me.
Mageslayer does an admirable job of trying to move things into 3D. Like TNP (which uses the same engine) it has some very nice 3D architecture, and also like TNP, it can be very frustrating to navigate through it. Because Mageslayer was influenced by Quake (it shows in more ways than one) you have the option to play with a mouse and keyboard. Don't do it. Play this game the way you would have played Gauntlet: with a joystick. Playing with a mouse got so frustrating that I almost ripped it off my hard drive and couldn't figure out why I ever liked the game. Once I switched to a joystick, I found myself enjoying it…especially once I did it in co-op multiplayer.
In the end, Mageslayer runs into the same problem Gauntlet did. There are too many levels, and the novelty of playing can run thin very quickly. But if you can stomach it (and I can from time to time) you'll enjoy Mageslayer. A classic it ain't, but it's worth a look or two.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Bargain Bin is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and like, in poor taste, dude.|