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Ummagumma

Reviews

Tron (Arcade)

Greetings, Programs

The Good
Tron features four games based on the Disney movie, and each is a fine tribute to the source material and fun and interesting games to boot. There's even a grid-bugs scene, something left out of the final movie. The play is nice and tight, and accompanied by an excellent stereo audio soundtrack.

The Bad
Just four twitch games, and they keep repeating. Expected for a game of the era, but has your interest waning quickly. The game is also feels strangely sterile, lacking any real humanity or emotion. I guess that's appropos for a game dealing with the inner-life of cold circuitry, but that doesn't make for a connection with the gamer.

The Bottom Line
One of the great arcade games. Something is lost when you don't have the excellent presentation of the actual arcade cabinet: that excellent flight stick, everything bathed in black-light, the great aural sensation. But, the games are fun to play in their own right.

By Ummagumma on April 8, 2023

Hired Guns (DOS)

Gunning for a great game? It's right here.

The Good
A brilliantly designed game that helped confirm Psygnosis as one of the premiere developers for the Amiga. Fantastic level design, a wide variety of weapons tailored to your role and playing style, and the very best part... the ability of four people to play in front of the computer with a quad split-screen. Winding through the levels with my buddies in tow is one of the highlights of my Amiga gaming career.

The Bad
The graphics were pretty blah; while the psuedo-3D artwork was acceptable, the play was in a stuttered flow style like Eye of the Beholder, with an FPS of like 1. No saves between levels either in multiplay. For four people you had to use two joysticks and two people at either side of the keyboard, making for cramped quarters...although it made it easy to spit in the face of your comrade after someone died and everything went into free-for-all mode before you had to reload the level, heh.

The Bottom Line
A classic shooter, not to be missed on the Amiga platform. Another winner from Psygnosis.

By Ummagumma on January 4, 2004

Dark Age of Camelot (Windows)

Not a persistant world, but persistantly fun.

The Good
DAoC eshews the "virtual life" model of some MMORPGs like Ultima Online for a more direct "hack n' slash" approach. While this might lack depth, it's also a simpler, more direct type of game for beginners of the genre to get into. A real bane of these types of online games has been high-level PKers who get their jollies running around slaughtering newcomers. Developer Mythic has completely solved this by splitting the online world into three distinct areas, and citizens of each of these lands can not kill one another. Instead, after reaching a certain level, players may then venture into frontier lands and do battle with the other races, in epic contests to steal relics from one another's keeps for special realm-wide bonuses. This entire system makes for a great pace; as you increase levels you can match your abilities to the various monsters that roam the countryside. Facilitating this is the HUD the game provides, giving each monster a colour-code alerting you to its strength compared to your own. There is also a quick bar for easy access to spells and special abilities, of which there are a lot because each realm sports plenty of different races and classes. The graphics are also very nice, and the engine seems very stable and optimized. In fact, Mythic pulled off what has to be the most seemless, bug-free launch in the history of MMORPGs. The various quests you can undertake are also varied and seem geared to the race and class and path you ultimately decide to follow.


The Bad
Unfortunately, even though the game strives to ease newbies into the game, the quests are sometime confusing, and the journal fails to provide detailed information on how to proceed, making it necessary for the player to keep comprehensive notes, somewhat defeating the purpose of an in-game notekeeping system. I've even noticed a few instances where the journal provides just outright bogus notes, making finishing a quest rather needlessly difficult. Travel is another annoyance; since it is so hard to make any kind of money when you first begin the game, and since so many of the early quests are simply errands you have to run from one town to another, you won't be able to purchase horse travel immediately. Meaning you have to run on foot, which gets tiresome after awhile. A lot of the commands and interface controls are not intuitive either, so you'll be at a loss as to how to do what until you get used to them. And as I mentioned above, there is no real "liveability" to the game, so if you're looking for something that allows you to sink completely into another, online life, then this isn't the game. Here you just pop in, kill kill and kill again, and then pop out when you get tired of it.

The Bottom Line
A very nice, smoothly paced introduction into the world of online role playing games. It might not be particularly deep in its philosophy, but it sure beats a poisoned arrow in the eye.

By Ummagumma on February 14, 2002

Castle Wolfenstein (DOS)

Another early classic.

The Good
I would say that none of the follow-ups to this classic PC dungeon crawl can live up to the original, at least not in compelling game play. While the graphics were pretty sparse, even for the time, this game typifies the belief that to overcome visual limitations back then game designers had to rely on clever design and atmosphere. And there's plenty of that here as players sneak past Nazi guards and SS jackboots in their bid for escape from the bowels of Wolfenstein. Every sneaker shooter from Thief to Deus Ex owes a debt of gratitude to this one. And they still haven't sorted out some of the play mechanics on display here, such as the ability to interrogate soldiers at gunpoint (before mercilessly executing them), as well as swiping the uniform of a dispatched guard and moving around unmolested...until too many dead guards got the dreaded SS thugs on your trail. Sound was also a standout here, with the shouted German curses (Voss es loose? Shwinehundt!) making one's jaw drop (or making you jump out of your seat when the SS guy comes barging into a room).

The Bad
There was a really annoying lag in the control scheme, often causing players to bump into walls and causing a disturbing fanfare with loud beeping and flashing screens. As well, the game gets mind-numbingly repetitive after a bit. And, especially in the C-64 version, there were some horrific load times to be had, sometimes making you think you're being subjected to some terrible new Nazi psychological experiment in patience.

The Bottom Line
No one who was into computer games in the early days would have missed this gem. It also had to be one of the most widely bootlegged programs of the era. It's a thrilling actioner that keeps one on their toes and coming back to give those Krauts your own version of the "Final Solution".

By Ummagumma on January 20, 2002

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (Windows)

A polished, but regressive, tactical FPS.

The Good
GR puts the emphasis on sneaking about and staying hidden more than its counterparts, something I always appreciate in a shooter such as this. The game seems more similar to Sierra's classic SWAT 3 than to the other Clancy tactical games. Only here you're more liable to find yourself beating back bush in outdoor terrain than the close confines of a convention hall. The graphics are slightly refined, with the biggest improvement coming with those pesky tree textures that most games of this ilk seem cursed with. They're certainly a big improvement over the horrible visuals of Operation: Flashpoint. The missions are nicely varied as well, and are of a decent length so you don't have to invest 4 precious hours trying to clear one level. You can also save whenever you like, which makes things much less frustrating. Also simplified is the command scheme for controlling your teams. With a keystroke you can call up a map whereby you can send your fireteams to locations with different battle stances and weapons readiness. There's also a nice compliment of weapons....

The Bad
...which unfortunately you won't have instant access to. In one of the many limiting design flaws of GR, only specific team members can use specific weapons so you can't outfit your entire team with your favourite armaments. There are a lot of such limitations forced on the player, which ultimately gives Ghost Recon a feeling of going one step back in the genre instead of two steps forward. Even though in certain missions you are tasked with blowing up targets, you are unable to trigger the explosion in-game and it is automatically handled when the mission is over. And while the command system may be simple to handle, it also leaves out any advanced orders for your teams, like flanking maneouvers or target selection. Add to this the lack of a weapon view in first person and it all leaves the gamer feeling they're playing an unfinished product.

The Bottom Line
GR is definitely the best tactical shooter since SWAT 3, only with wider environments and military attitude. Also noticeable are the refined animations for the AI team. Crouching in a bush watching your teams advance is a real treat. And the sound is also a standout, using surround EAX touches to great effect. You won't do wrong putting this FPS in your sights.

By Ummagumma on January 20, 2002

SimCoaster (Windows)

Who knew having fun could be so annoying?

The Good
In this pseudo-sequel to Theme Park World, Bullfrog has shifted the focus of play to achieving goals rather than the open-endedness of its predecessors. In each of the three worlds available, there are blocked-off sections of park and latent attractions that are waiting to be activated. To do this you must meet different challenges such as keeping a certain level of happiness in the park for a certain amount of time, or prevent a certain ride from dropping below a certain level of repair. By doing this, you earn golden tickets which you can put towards activating the hidden elements of the park, as long as you have trained the needed personnel to do the job. This new way of playing adds more incentive to keep going, and some of the challenges are surprisingly tough to accomplish. You can tackle these assignments in any order and at any time you like, so it never seems to hold you back from enjoying the other part of the game, which is building rides, concession stands and sideshows to make your park the greatest one around.

The Bad
I call this a pseudo-sequel, because the whole thing really comes off more like an add-on pack to TPW. The graphics engine is the same, and the AI is still as frustratingly annoying with your workers blatantly ignoring your orders, and wandering around one section of their patrol route while the other part goes all to Hell. I'm not sure what the gardener is good for, but it sure isn't for landscape care as you can have three of them with overlapping patrol routes and your fauna will still perish left and right. The on-screen announcements by your helper just add to the confusion, doing things like telling you to put your scientists to work even though there's nothing currently for them to research. And you can tell that this current incarnation of Bullfrog is only a pale shadow of the former great Molyneux days by simply listening to the sound. It is oddly sterile, doing absolutely nothing to draw you into the game. And this version carries on the great travesty that it's predecessor did, that of the horrible technique of building coasters. While arch-rival Rollercoaster Tycoon really put forward the feeling that one was wraughting wooden and metal giants out of cold lumber and steel, with SimCoaster you merely stretch paper-thin textures like taffy over hollow pylons, an entirely unsatisfying experience and totally defeating what's probably the main draw for people buying a game with 'Coaster' in the title...building coasters.

The Bottom Line
However, I'd still recommend picking up SimCoaster, even if you already have Theme Park World. The new challenge system adds quite a lot of fun to the game, and will keep you playing to see what's next. Now get out there and create a park that would make Walt's cryogenically frozen head proud!

By Ummagumma on November 21, 2001

Flames of Freedom (DOS)

Roam free and enjoy the scenery too.

The Good
The real selling point to this game is the free hand it gives you in playing it. Using a linking structure on the strategic map, you can move out in many different directions; either go straight for the most key islands or build up your support before moving in for the kill. You also have an almost daunting character generation system, almost CRPGish in its complexity of skills, behaviour and appearance. Plus, of course, you have an incredible variety of transportation available to you, from trucks to submarines to jets. And the game allows many ways of executing your missions. Either engage in an all-out firefight with the enemy or sneak around assassinating key targets and blowing up important installations. If only every game, even these days, would allow such unrestricted gameplay! Plus the visuals were impressive for the day, rendering the world in true 3D graphics. It also had a very intuitive icon system for your actions, again giving everything an "action game meets CRPG" feel.

The Bad
But even when I first played this game, the graphics were pretty sparse and static, sometimes almost eerily so. I dunno if it was the tense music you heard when you were travelling, or the fact that entire helicopter platoons would turn to attack you while on foot and you only had a lone palm tree for cover, but I would get creeped out sometimes. Plus the villages were ghost towns, well rendered but void of signs of life except for your target, who would unfailingly be standing in the middle of town looking like the polygon dude from I, Robot.

The Bottom Line
Blending the best elements of action, strategy and CRPG games, Flames of Freedom makes for some great, unrestricted play.

By Ummagumma on November 19, 2001

PowerMonger (DOS)

Another Molyneux classic

The Good
Powermonger was a seminal event for any computer gamer at the time, with the game making its first appearance on the Amiga and then ported to the PC. It further cemented Peter Molyneux's position as a game programmer to be reckoned with, coming soon after his triumph with Populace. Here though, the player is demoted from all-controlling God to bloodthirsty general, tasked with taking over a huge map one chunk at a time with little more than a small platoon to start with. The graphics were nothing short of spectacular at the time, sporting a 3D landscape that you could rotate and zoom in and out. The army units were rendered in blah 2-D, but were given life in that limited palette nonetheless. Human touches like your unit huddled around a fire or hungrily decending on a helpless sheep for food gave life to the little pixelated blobs. Powermonger also continued Molyneux's trademark of immersive sound, with your huddled army mumbling around that crackling fire, the blatting of the sheep, or the clash and cry of raging battle. It also sported online multiplayer support, something of a rarity at the beginning of the 90's.

The Bad
The endlessly repeating gameplay. All that was required was to run as fast as you can to the various villages on the map and attack with a medium posture, ensuring maximum recruitment for your army. Once you were sporting 50 or so peeps then it was time to take out the other guys. Then do it over and over and over and over and over and over again across a map than spanned something like 4 full screens. Plus it suffered from icon creep, cluttering up the screen with a tonne of confusing buttons to press. This would be something that would haunt Molyneux until he eventually abolished icons in his magnum opus, Black & White.

The Bottom Line
A definite hall-of-famer, which sadly seems underrated and forgotten by many gamers. A real-time old-timer that paved the way for the Starcrafts and Command & Conquers of today.

By Ummagumma on November 10, 2001

Links LS 2000 (Windows)

By Ummagumma on June 24, 2000

Out of This World (DOS)

By Ummagumma on May 2, 2000

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (DOS)

By Ummagumma on May 2, 2000

StarCraft (Windows)

A good, but ultimately flawed, RTS game.

The Good
Hopes were pinned on Starcraft that it would be the next-generation RTS game, which is not surprising as it came from Blizzard, who have established themselves as one of the great computer game producers making games today. And the play balancing IS top-notch, the cinematics are of Hollywood quality and quite clever, the races are incredibly diverse and their various storyline plights involving. Plus, multiplay on Blizzard's Battle.net can't be beat.

The Bad
Unfortunately, while Starcraft is a very fun game to play, it is hardly revolutionary. It has some serious flaws which keep it from being truly great. It is surprisingly retro in its unit management scheme: you can only queue up a certain amount of units for production, and once they are created have no kind of behavioural commands to allow you to detirmine how they react in battle. As well, the unit AI, especially in pathfinding, is truly attrocious. Why oh why do player units still run around and bump into each other and the scenery when we tell them to go to a position three screen inches away?! Another AI deficiency is the old "my buddy is getting whacked right next to me but damned if I'M gonna get involved" problem.

The Bottom Line
Your typical "gather as many resources as you can and build units as fast as you can" RTS game. Play as the human Terrans with their familiar and durable tanks and fighter aircraft, the Zergs with thier disturbingly organic and rapidly produced creatures, or the enigmatic and powerful Protoss. Each race has its own buildings and units, and the balancing between the three is pretty good, if slightly slanted towards the might of the Protoss. If you're any kind of fan of the real-time strategy genre, you should play this game. Even in spite of its many flaws, there's lot of fun to be had, and an interesting story to get sucked into.

By Ummagumma on April 18, 2000

Syndicate (DOS)

By Ummagumma on April 14, 2000

Sid Meier's Pirates! (PC Booter)

By Ummagumma on April 14, 2000

Sid Meier's Civilization II (Windows 3.x)

By Ummagumma on April 14, 2000

Sid Meier's Civilization (DOS)

By Ummagumma on April 14, 2000

The Sims (Windows)

By Ummagumma on April 14, 2000

Beneath a Steel Sky (DOS)

By Ummagumma on December 3, 1999

Circle of Blood (Windows)

By Ummagumma on November 30, 1999

Zork: The Great Underground Empire (DOS)

By Ummagumma on November 29, 1999

One-on-One (PC Booter)

The Birth of EA Sports

The Good
"One on One" was a seminal sports game, one no self-respecting owner of one of the early PCs would have ignored. Its large, detailed sprites representing the players were nothing short of revolutionary at the time, along with a variety of different shot types triggered by the distance and angle the player was to the basket. You must also keep an eye on the energy level of each player, in order not to overexert them and end up too exhausted to play effectively. The audio portion of the game was also a standout, from the various sound effects on court to the impressive theme song (sounded better on the SID chip on the 64 than the tinny PC speaker). The smashing of the backboard was another irresistable detail to the game. There were also quite a few different play options available to lend variety to the game.

The Bad
The AI was pretty simplistic, and even at Pro level it didn't take long to work out a pattern where you could consistently shut out the competition.

The Bottom Line
This is a classic piece of early computer gaming, just another EA product that raised the bar of quality about 20 meters.

By Ummagumma on November 29, 1999

Age of Empires (Windows)

By Ummagumma on November 28, 1999