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Bio Menace (DOS)

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MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.7
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Maw (849)
Written on  :  Mar 18, 2007
Rating  :  3.25 Stars3.25 Stars3.25 Stars3.25 Stars3.25 Stars
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Summary

Harmless but unexciting side-scroller

The Good

It's hard to say anything bad about Bio Menace, it feels like punching a little kid in the face. It was created almost entirely by one man, Jim Norwood, who did all the design, art, programming, sound etc by himself, only falling back on id Software for the game engine and music. Being a one man show, Bio Menace took years to create, and when it came out it looked severely dated alongside games like Duke Nukem 2. It didn't sell well, which is a shame because Bio Menace actually isn't that bad a game.

It's a left-to-right sidescroller and plays quite similarly to Commander Keen 2 (in fact, it uses the same engine) only with less emphasis on platform jumping and more emphasis on blowing crap up. You play as inveterate tough guy Snake Logan, who has been sent to deal with a rogue scientist who is mutating an entire city with toxic slime. You collect keys, de-activate traps, rescue hostages, and kill enemies. That basically sums up the whole game.

Bio Menace was released in a time when 3D shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom were becoming popular, and Norwood must have realised 2D sidescrollers wouldn't be viable for much longer. In Bio Menace we see many small nods to the future of action gaming that help place it above the average Commander Keen rip off. It's much more realistic than its contemporaries, you have actual paramilitary weapons like machine-guns and grenades to play with and the game progresses in a more or less cohesive fashion, with Snake Logan first exploring city apartments and then underground laboratories and the like.

This brings me to another point in Bio Menace's favor, it has a much better realised game world than most other sidescrollers. Take the destroyed city for example: you see ruined helicopters and overturned cars and half-destroyed buildings and other signs that indicate hell has been let loose. There are no floating platforms or other gravity-defying devices, you need a ladder to get to high places. Bonuses and powerups aren't just magically floating around waiting for you to get them, usually they're found in cabinets and cupboards you need keys to open. Bio Menace is also extremely violent for an 16-color EGA game, mangled corpses litter the streets and enemies explode into bloody chunks when shot. So I don't mislead anyone, Bio Menace is still an arcadish platform game at heart, only with a slightly more mature and realistic edge.

Like in Commander Keen 2 you have to rescue hostages and can chat with them to pick up clues, and thus the game treats us to some of the worst cornball dialogue since Full Metal Jacket ("I'm gonna dust that little dweeb! He can't do this and escape!"). Funny character interactions have often been the salvation of games that lack stories, and Bio Menace doesn't disappoint.

In the Apogee tradition we've got a whole police line-up of zany and weird monsters, ranging from overgrown slugs and cockroaches to huge bio-mechanical tanks that shoot grenades and laser-beams in no apparent pattern (one memorable level has you storming a series of "trenches" filled with these tanks, which could have been an exercise in frustration but is designed so cleverly it becomes one of the coolest parts of the game). Another area where Bio Menace truly shines is in the boss battles, with your final showdown against the nefarious Master Cain being one of those classic "gotta upload it to YouTube" moments.

Plus it's free, which doesn't hurt. They even patched it for XP.

The Bad

While it's a bit more sophisticated than your average Commander Keen clone, I still consider Bio Menace to be one of the minor entries in Apogee's line-up. Gameplay is the same generic side-scroller action we've seen in a million other games, and combined with the usual indy game problems like shoddy graphics and numerous bugs its sort of hard to call Bio Menace an overlooked classic.

On to more specific issues, the game doesn't let you save in-game (although we have checkpoints) and there are numerous annoyances like how you can't choose what weapon you use (you're stuck with whatever got picked up first until you run out of ammo for it) and inconsistent level length. Some levels can be breezed through in 2 minutes or less with no lives lost while others are trial-and-error nightmares that can take hours to beat. The actual level design is occasionally really good (see above) but all too often to game falls back on stock "abandoned tech base" themed levels that are made unnecessarily harder through booby traps and tripwires and other retarded puzzles. In other words: filler levels.

The graphics don't completely suck but they are incredibly dated next to the 256 color glory of Duke Nukem 2. Even Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy looks better, mainly because it has a subtle hint of perspective that is missing in Bio Menace. Animation is fine, though most of the detail has been put the main character's movements at the expense of the rest of the game. On a minor ranting note: Snake Logan must be one of the dorkiest-looking heroes ever in an Apogee game. No kidding, he's got a pancho villa mustache. Look guys, I know this game was designed under great technological restraints but I don't want to ever play as someone who looks like G Gordon Liddy with a bad comb-over. Okay?

As other reviewers have noted the game comes with a ton of bugs that range from slow performance to the game freezing every time you fire a shot. It's a shame really, since most of Apogee's games are rock-solid products and in many cases can be played with no emulation software whatsoever. With the XP patch it is fairly stable, but be advised.

The Bottom Line

Apogee has published a lot of games like this, some better, some worse. Bio Menace is an OK game, but nothing sets it apart from the pack except for relatively smart gameplay and obviously the fact that it's free. Jim Norwood went on to bigger and better things (he was the lead guy on Shadow Warrior) but it certainly won't kill you to play Bio Menace. And any "lone wolf" developers might like to use this first game of a great developer as inspiration.