Written by  :  Nick Drew (412)
Written on  :  Jan 07, 2008
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars

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A great shooter, which is somewhat underrated.

The Good

Based on an enhanced version of id software’s Wolfenstein 3D technology, Stone is the direct followup to that smash-hit, which, quite unfortunately, was cut down in its prime, namely by id’s not so secret weapon released shortly after that same year, I don’t think I have to name it.

At a mere glance, Stone appears simply to be nothing more than an austere reiteration of the formula set by Wolf 3D. Undeniably Stone shares many fundamental indiscernible traits with its older brother, as you would expect. That said, Jam Productions certainly impart some, (if only a few) fresh innovations, & touches to the game which contributes to a unique aura of its own.

The storyline for Stone is strictly inoffensive cliche’ science fiction schtick, here is the crux of the premise - The time is the future: You’re a trained soldier turned a secret intelligence agent out to stop a crazed scientist known as Dr. Pyrus Goldfire, who had butchered your family and now has a rather sinister plan for the entire galaxy involving his legions of genetically engineered mutants. You must stop him at all costs.

As for Wolf 3D, you negotiate labyrinths of corridors (the auto-map feature means you never get lost), searching rooms, building an arsenal of increasingly powerful weapons - the ‘plasma discharge unit’ (re a grenade launcher) is a very welcome new addition, as is a stealth pistol, more on these later. Of course there is the usual plethora of secret areas to discover, plenteous with spoils - hence the ‘aliens of gold’ subtitle. Not to mention the usual decree of skirmishes with countless guards, & other assorted nasties. The orthodox goal is to find the red keycard to unlock the next elevator floor. The hub-like elevator system allows you to return to previous floors if you want to scour for ammo, health etc., which incidentally, becomes imperative when tackling the ‘Veteran’ difficulty. The ultimate objective per episode is to reach the exit at the top floor of each of the six installations, which is always guarded by one of Goldfire’s exceptionally tough guardian nasties.

From the outset, I was genuinely impressed by one of the new aspects presented herein - Namely the friendly NPCs, which I believe is a first for a FPS. These are insider informants decked out as lab-coat scientists’ who will assist you with your cause. They wander around the corridors, going in & out of rooms, inspecting computer panels and so on, blending in seamlessly with the actual dirty scientists’ working for Goldfire. You can interrogate these good fellows (you read the dialogue spoken on the HUD), and they will give you some useful advice, on things like using your stealth pistol effectively, or even identifying which areas are safe and which dangerous, among other useful tips. Sometimes they will give you items like weapon charge-packs or credit tokens - the latter of which I’ll talk more about in some length later. This was the first instance of a FPS where you don’t shoot everything that moves.

There is a good assortment of enemies - big green mutant experiments on the loose, experimental cyborgs, electro-spheres, floating-drones which explode on close proximity, and more. This is good. That is, there is a solid contrast in variety of enemies. I was often surprised by how just when you though you had seen it all, something new creeps up on you. The AI presented in Stone is reasonably solid. As for Wolf 3d, the enemies can literally ‘hear’ gunfire, and not only respond on sight. One time I was slugging it out with a couple of mutants, completely absorbed by the task at hand.“Arrgh!”. Dead. I was flanked by a sneaky guard from a nearby room who had honed in on my position from all the noise I was making. This can give rise to a stealth aspect for this game. Your most basic weapon, though infinitely useful - is a stealth pistol. It makes absolutely no sound when fired, and if you can catch the opposition unaware, like say if a patrol guard was standing facing a vending machine, you could take him down with one shot with the stealth pistol, and no enemies would be alerted to your presence.

I feel the challenge herein is more or less as demanding, if not a little more than that of its predecessor Wolf 3D, particularly on the harder difficulty levels. The enemies are suitably cunning & some are particularly resilient to your assaults. The sentinel guards who wield automatic rifles are powerful enough to make short work of you if caught out off-guard. These guys can even play possum - they will lay there as if dead, and then after a time gets back up again guns blazing. So this calls for even more frequent defensive style play - hanging around corners, popping out to shoot, waiting patiently to the sides of doorways to get the drop on enemies, conserving ammo - if you run out of ammo amidst a firefight, it means having to slug it out with the pistol, which can be quite labourious. You also have to be wary of sentry turrets, which cannot be destroyed without a rapid assault laser rifle. So you have to cunningly sneak by these defences, which presents some tense moments, particularly initially, in the first level.

The grenade launcher I mentioned earlier brings forward some interesting dynamics. There are often mutants which are safely stored in status containers, some you can even see floating in liquid, which looks rather cool by the way. If you shoot the container, the nasty will be rudely awakened. What’s interesting is, if you carelessly doused a room with grenade explosions, it would effectively open up any containers that were about, as the grenade launcher has a splash damage which affects a larger radius, thus creating more pesky hostiles to deal with. As well as this, a stray grenade explosion could inadvertently kill innocent informants. So this also causes you to think a bit more before shooting.

Some of the action sequences are really cleverly constructed. One time I went through this door into a rather narrow corridor. I pursued forward, and then I was confronted by this huge menacing monstrosity, which was imposing enough to obstruct the way ahead! As I was only armed with my charge-pistol rapidly running out of ammo, I turned tail and ran back for the entrance I came through. “This door can’t be opened from this side!” “Oh, @$#*!” Then as the nasty advanced on me, I frantically strafed from side to side, shooting, shooting & shooting some more, before it finally drew its last swollen gasp, and dramatically collapsed to the ground. This was one of those truly classic moments in gaming you never forget. Also, Goldfire himself pops up now and again, something akin to the G-MAN on half-life, except here Goldfire doesn’t waddle around behind unbreakable glass windows, instead he freely wanders around, and even attacks you! “Ha, ha, ha. You’ll never defeat me!”

Now I want to talk a bit about the credits system I mentioned earlier. Sometimes when you ice the guards they will drop a coin which you can collect. Alternatively you can receive coins from some informants, as previously mentioned. There are vending machines that can be found about the place, which you can interact with. Dispense a coin, and you might receive something which resembles food, or a cold beverage to replenish some health points. You can also find things like discarded candy bars or sandwiches to eat (which leave behind a wrapper), or even chow down on chunks of raw meat which has been thrown in to the hostile mutant areas. There are still the standard med-kits which just happen to be conveniently lying around, but the realistic means of health restoration - like using the food dispensers, I think is quite nifty in implementation. Also interesting is you can shoot supply crates open to reveal ammunition, food etc.

The audio visuals herein I thought were suitably atmospheric. The pallette is full of rich bold vibrant colours, and the overall presentation has a nice subtle cartoon-like flavour. The environment textures are varied well enough throughout the course of the game, with much for interesting interconnecting futuristic impelled metallic-tapestry. For the first time ceilings and floors were also textured, making for generally more detailed scenes. The NPCs are suitably well animated, and the enemies’ death’s are particularly gruesome, e.g. when you dispatch a star sentinel guard, his right shoulder is literally torn off, and separated from the thorax in a gory animation sequence. There is a good assortment of speech samples, such as how the threatening mutant genetic guards’ say “You’re Dead!” in a charismatic deep & gravelly tone. Or if you by accident shot an innocent informant, he will cry out “Not Me!”. I liked how your health is indicated on the HUD by a heartbeat monitor, which the ‘thud-thud’ sounds become increasingly fast as you take damage. The music compositions by Bobby 'Doom' Prince are suitably energetic, and carry along the action with great style. All of these elements contribute to the distinctive ambience.

The Bad

Well the thing is . .

The Bottom Line

. . In short, Blake Stone is simply a fantastic shooter. All the right ingredients are there - Pleasingly colourful aesthetics, great fast-paced action and a fittingly emotive soundtrack. It may not have the technical clout of Doom, and even if the fundamental game-lay is firmly that of the Wolf 3D canon, I think the added aspects like more interactivity, including the friendly NPCs, and also the stealth element, even if somewhat minor, adds some welcome extra spice to the proceedings. With six episodes to prowl your way through, it will keep you blasting away for absolutely ages. It’s definitely an awesome challenge, especially if you play it on Veteran. I really enjoyed it, and I suspect you will as well.