In 1996, an amazing first person shooter came out and... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

quakeIn 1996, an amazing first person shooter came out and changed gaming forever. Regrettably, this is not a review of Duke Nukem 3D.

Quake isn’t a game. That’s the big misconception people have about it. It was an advanced 3D demo, intended to show off John Carmack’s latest tricks so he could sell his engine to licensees. It’s a product for modders and hackers and people who knew what “IPX tunneling” and “strafe jumping” meant. If you picked it up expecting to install it and have a good time, then the joke’s on you.

Gotta hand it to Carmack, this is one hell of an engine demo. For the first time, we were three fucking D. What does that mean? Better perception of height and depth. Camera angles that lean and sway realistically. Light and shadow maps. More elaborate architecture (remember, in Doom you couldn’t even have a room on top of another room). Network architecture also got a shot in the arm, as Quake ditches Doom’s clumsy ad hoc netplay for a contemporary server/client model, meaning you got to enjoy nice low latency while a thirteen year old calls you a faggot.

But there’s no game, and that can’t be emphasised enough. The storyline could be written on a postcard (using a paintgun as a pen). The weapons are mostly copies of Doom’s. There is exactly one good monster in the game. The bosses are of the “push a button and watch it fall over dead” variety. There was more environmental interaction in Commander Keen.

Quake gets called a horror game, for some reason. Other than a Lovecraftian tilt to some of the artwork, most of the game’s ambience stems from its stark technical limitations.

Quake out of the box uses a range of 256 colors (well, 226, to be exact), meaning lightmaps utterly hog the palette (every single tone needs like 16 lighter/darker versions of itself). The verdict? You’re running around gray castles…but they’re very realistically lit gray castles! In movies, they say that it takes a lot money to make something look shitty. Quake was a game people bought 200Mhz Pentiums to play, but visually it looks like something you’d scrape off your shoes.

The single player mode is six hours of running around brown/grey castles, collecting keys. Multiplayer consists of trying to play the maps that came with the game, realising they suck, and downloading better ones from the internet.

Ditto for everything about Quake. It just feels unfinished. The weapons, the monsters…everything’s a placeholder reading [INSERT MORE COMPELLING CONTENT HERE]. This game begs you to mod it, and reskin it, and make it into something worth playing. You are the variable in Quake’s quality, not the developers. The power is in your hands!

Quake is the stone soup of PC gaming – a non-product that only becomes valuable when you put additional effort into it. It was impressive as an engine demo, but those degrade at exactly the speed of Moore’s Law. The best FPS games lengthen their replay value with great content, but that wasn’t the priority here. By the time you realised Quake was a lemon, you’d already bought it.

I still play Duke Nukem 3D and Blood. And though I don’t exactly hate Quake, I cannot fathom a universe where I play it again. It’s a museum piece now, and you know what happens to those. They put them behind glass, and you’re not supposed to look but not touch.

As the 90s gained integers, you started to hear about... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

hocus_pocusAs the 90s gained integers, you started to hear about “shareware” games. It was a new business model, enabled by the internet.

It was “try before you buy”. Instead of purchasing a $60.00 box of air and praying the game was as good as it looked in Nintendo Power, you actually got to play the fucker before you bought it. Imagine that! Next thing, you were up all night, watching a 2mb file called DOOM1_1.zip dribble down your dad’s 2400 baud modem.

My favourite part of gaming’s tidal changes (whether it’s the rise of the internet or the advent of CD drives) is playing all the weird crap that hit the market before the industry got its shit together. Apogee released a lot of oddball titles – you got the sense that they were seeing what would stick with the new shareware business model – and Hocus Pocus fits into that category.

Like many of their games, it was a new IP, made by an outsider with little history in the game business. It’s a side-scrolling platform game about a wizard who must collect crystal balls. You flip switches, ride elevators, fight enemies, and dodge identity theft lawsuits from Mario. The graphics are colorful, glossy and shiny, like someone sprayed the whole game with WD-40. The monsters and environments are visually creative.

Animation is a mixed bag. Some enemies run and move in a lifelike fashion, but your main character is a department store mannequin. Ditto for the audio in general. The music is half good, half unlistenable shit. The omnipresent PEW PEW PEW of Hocus firing his magic spell drove me to muting my audio.

I played the shareware version of this obsessively when I was 5 or so, becoming the intolerable local kid who would watch others play and fly into a rage at their incompetence. I played the nine levels so many times that I could draw a map of them from memory. When I revisit Hocus Pocus, I like it less and less. It’s playable and inoffensive, mostly because it’s hard to screw up platform games, but there’s not much too it.

Various things grate at me. The game has basically three enemies with different graphics. The gameplay never varies. There’s the sense that you’re playing the same level over and over with different graphics. Switch combination puzzles suck. The “jokes” sprinkled throughout probably sounded funnier on the drawing board. Super Mario Bros makes it look as shallow as a kid’s wading pool, and that’s bad. SMB should be the standard that platform games build on, not an insurmountable mile-high yardstick.

I never bothered with the full version. Shareware had a dark side – usually the paid version was just the free version + some more levels + maybe a new weapon or something. Very few Apogee titles were worth getting in full (Raptor being a notable exception). In some ways, Apogee made arcade games for the PC. Remember how Mortal Kombat would always leave you wanting more at the arcades but as soon as you got it for a home console you’d be sick of it, like, yesterday? Same story here. Some games are best confined to small doses.

As far as I know it works on Dosbox if you play without audio (no great loss). As was their policy, Apogee magnanimously allowed developers to retain the copyright on their worthless IPs, and so the developers theoretically could have started a Hocus Pocus burger chain or something. They didn’t.

Films such as The Cabin in the Woods are often described as... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

Blood_logoFilms such as The Cabin in the Woods are often described as “a love letter to horror.” Monolith’s 1997 first person shooter Blood is more like a rambling, 50 page Unabomber manifesto stuffed into horror’s mailbox at 2:00am, complete with the final line “ps: nice view thru yr bedroom window ;)”. Conceptually it’s one of most ridiculous and nebbish games ever made: the dialogue consists of groan-worthy riffs on famous horror movies, the levels are themed off places like the Overlook Hotel and Crystal Lake, the game shoves references to Lovecraft and George Romero under your face with such obsessive frequency that you almost want to pat it on the shoulder and say  “Relax, I get it. Stop trying so hard.”.

But it’s also one of the most fun shooters ever made. There’s just no cohesive direction to any of it, and strangely, that completely works.

You have 1) a brainless “shoot everything that moves” gameplay, 2) paired with a complicated set of RPG -style damage modifiers (as a simple example, stone gargoyles repel fire attacks). You have 1) a nonsensical throwaway plot about an old west gunfighter (with anachronisms galore), and 2) a very detailed mythos, right down to the fact that the enemy cultists speak a constructed language (there was a dictionary on the now-defunct Blood site, revealing said language to be the product of hurling Sanskrit and Latin at each other in a Participle Accelerator.) You have 1) shitty graphics (the Build engine was dated in 1996, and even more so in 1997), and 2) fairly groundbreaking use of 3D voxel imaging (for tombstones and such). Blood’s an anomaly.

The game’s a mess, in the best way possible. It’s like it was made by two different teams living on two different continents who could only communicate by carrier pidgeon.  “Throw a bunch of interesting ideas together” seldom works, but here’s the exception.

I’ve played through it several times, at various difficulty levels, and I still find it capricious, challenging, and occasionally brilliant. The Build Engine isn’t the prettiest whore on the waterfront, but it allows for destructible/deformable environments and the game takes those features and runs like they’re a pair of scissors. E1M3, “The Phantom Express”, takes place on board a moving train – it’s stunning as a visual effect, and the level design perfectly complements it: you have to fight tense gunbattles in narrow train corridors, etc. The only bad thing is that none of the later levels quite match it in creativity.

The weapons are savage and visceral (though I never figured out exactly how the voodoo doll work), and the level design fun, flowing, and filled with endearing human touches. Duke Nukem 3D was the anti-Quake. This is the antier-Quake. This is the final and complete triumph of content over technology, and nobody in gaming realised it, either then or now.

Not even Monolith did – Blood II was an inexplicable attempt at remaking this game with zero character or charm. And of course, the game still has a modding community.

Blood isn’t perfect. The final boss is the easiest one in the game. The weapons aren’t balanced all that well (generally, the cooler a weapon seems, the less useful it is in the game) and some of the enemies are truly ridiculous bullet sponges. It’s bimodal nature means it has daring creativity paired with cloddish FPS cliches – there’s the old “shoot a crack in the wall to reveal a secret area” wheeze…again…and again…

But it’s classic, and the rarest type of game: one that is impervious to time. To preserve a human body, you generally extract all eight litres of blood – and I guess this is where it all ends up. Duke Nukem 3D came out a year before and laid the ground for this type of game (gory violence + campy irreverent humor), but between the two of them, THIS is the one to play first, and perhaps last.

The Biblical Urheimat of 3D shooting games. Asking if it’s... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

Clipboard02The Biblical Urheimat of 3D shooting games. Asking if it’s fun is like asking if the Hammurabi Codex is good writing: it’s transcended such things.

In 1992, Wolfenstein 3D changed everything. It made people nauseous. And upset. There were violent games before, but their lack of immersion softened the blow. “You” didn’t rip out spines in Mortal Kombat 2, a sprite on the screen did. But from a first person perspective (with a phallic gun-barrel intruding into your viewfield), the illusion breaks. In this game, you are definitely the one pulling the trigger.

Nobody who’s played Wolfenstein 3D could be seriously offended by it. The Nazi element is played for kitsch and camp, this is Springtime for Hitler: The Game. And the game’s sense of realism is shallow at best: the corners are all 90 degree angles, the ceilings and floors lack textures, the repetitive environments make you feel like a rat in a maze, etc. The massive body count has a nugatory effect: after a few hours, shooting someone is as shocking as the 300th “fuck” on a rap album.

Gameplay kicks off with a screen saying “GET PSYCHED!” and this captures the game’s flavour: a crazy sugar rush. You charge around turning Wehrmächte into Swiss cheese. You’re not exactly thinking “only the dead have seen the end of war”.

Wolfenstein 3D is an arcade game. The more you play WOLF3D (as the DOS executable was called), the more it feels like it belongs on a CPS-2 arcade cabinet with wadded-up gum jamming the controls. You have lives, and a high score. All that’s missing is B.J. Blazkowicz telling you to insert a quarter. Modern 3D shooters aspire to be on the cutting edge. There’s the feeling that a game with revolutionary graphics needs to be revolutionary along other axes, too. Wolfenstein 3D remains (as it did at the time of release) stuck in the past.

There’s lots of fun goodies herein. A hidden “Call Apogee say ‘AARDWOLF'” message, remnants of an aborted contest that was immediately made pointless by fan-made data viewing programs. A Pacman level. Another level made entirely out of swastikas. The statement “This game is rated PC-13, for ‘Profound Carnage'”. A naff and entertaining battle against Adolf Hitler. A episodes 4-6 are called Nocturnal Missions. Barring Rise of the Triad, this is perhaps the most overtly comedic FPS until the release of Duke Nukem 3D (Ken’s Labyrinth was too autistic to be funny).

Little map design is possible with such a limited engine. You wander mazes and shoot groups of enemies. While Doom would give the player new and varied things in its later levels, WOLF3D has nowhere to go except harder mazes and larger groups of enemies. At a certain point, your brain becomes bored, and starts craving more stimulation. You could argue that the game reinforces the social message that mass murder is boring.

Even the game’s technological wizardry smacks of Uri Geller. Just fire up Ultima Underworld, which came out six months earlier, and had angled walls, textured ceilings, slopes, look up/down, swimmable water, etc. Not a fair comparison, since that game was developed over years next to this one’s months. And Wolfenstein 3D’s engine is faster and leaner. Too bad that equals a fast and lean journey through Legoland.

Wolfenstein 3D is a dated experience with immense historical. I can’t imagine myself ever replaying Wolfenstein 3D the same way I play Doom. But though I don’t play it, I can’t ignore it.

Craft the War | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

Way back in strategy gaming’s past, you find this. Way back in the planet’s past, you find dinosaur shit. It’s not too pretty to look at, but we’re standing on it.

Blizzard’s 1994 “build a town and destroy the other guy’s town” game wasn’t the first, but Dune II was crummy and nearly unplayable. This is actually sort of fun. You choose a race (orc or human), then you harvest gold, build a city, train an army, win the game, type “u suck, git gud scrub” to your opponent, bribe your correctional officer so that he lets you use good shower in Cellblock D (which has hotter water and 23% fewer rapists), and wait what was I saying

The graphics are a 320×240 assault of pixels, blocky but nostalgic and charming. The audio’s pretty good. The game’s only plot is a funeral plot where Blizzard’s scriptwriter was buried after starving to death. Games in 1994 did not need stories. The game is overall simplistic but enjoyable: 90s PC gaming in a nutshell. Most people who played Warcraft back in the day enjoyed it, and some of the people who play it now will also enjoy it.

Incidentally, the orcs and humans aren’t identical mirrors of each other. You’ll see many reviews claiming that they are, and it’s a dead giveaway that the reviewer hasn’t played the game. The human archer shoots further than the orc spearman. The orc necrolyte has more range than the human priest. The differences are subtle, but you soon get a second sense for them. Unless you haven’t played the game, I guess.

The game has two crippling flaws, neither of which relate to its age.

First: you can only move four units at a time. I hate this. Commanding large armies is aneurysm-inducing. You can roughly simulate your experience playing Warcraft by filling a huge swimming pool using a 1 liter kiddie bucket.

I think Blizzard’s defense back in the day was that they didn’t want people to just spam a bunch of units and flood them at the enemy. That’s one way to solve that problem. Another would be to pay a guy to kick down my door, yank my keyboard out of the computer, and RKO it through the nearest wall. If your only answer to “degenerate user behavior” is “take away that user’s ability to play”, you do not know how to design games.

Second: nobody thought that balance between the varying units was important.

No-fail recipe for victory: choose orcs, spam archers, get warlocks, then spam demons. The only way to counter this strategy is to do it yourself, except better. There’s just no stopping demons in this game. They cost nothing, and beat everything. Yeah, they eventually run out of magic and die. Fighting them merely makes you run out of everything and die. If the game’s cover accurately reflected the balance level, the human would be bent over, taking it in the pooper.

It’s old. It’s crappy in places. Play this to see where the Warcraft series began. Unlike many supposedly classic games, it’s fairly good for what it is, not just for what it inspired. I hold considerable respect for it, which is why I’ve waited this long before helpfully pointing out that Warcraft anagrams into Warcfart.

In 1999, Ensemble Studios made a game that changed the... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

Age_of_Empires_II_-_The_Age_of_Kings_CoverartIn 1999, Ensemble Studios made a game that changed the world.

Trivially, every game changes the world. Even a game programmed and left unreleased in a military bunker changes the world, insofar as there is now less free energy to make more games. But Age of Empires II did more than accelerate the universe’s incoming heat death. It gave us cause to regret it.

You don’t hear much about real-time strategy any more. I experienced the history of the genre in reverse, starting from AoE2 and working backwards through all the classics. It was like being a gaming Benjamin Button. Everything just getting crappier and crappier. Starcraft only lets you select 12 units at a time. Total Annihilation has craptastic pathfinding. Age of Empires I has a 50 unit limit and no production queuing. Warcraft II only lets you select 9 units at a time. Command and Conquer has clunky controls and rat-fecal AI. Warcraft I only lets you select 4 units at a time. Dune II only lets you select ONE unit at a time. It felt like the joke where a Jewish kid asks for five dollars, and his dad goes “Four dollars? What the hell do you want three dollars for?”

Curiously, I don’t experience the reverse experience when I play games made after Age of Empires II. There’s no sense of “wow, this is much better”. I suspect Age of Empires II was about as good as the genre ever got.

The game’s tons of fun. It takes the first Age of Empires’ “Warcraft but now you can pretend to mum and dad you’re learning about history” hook and takes it into the middle ages. Can Frankish paladins overcome Persian war elephants? Are Mongolian cavalry archers a match for Turkish artillery? Will your prepubescent opponent question your sexual orientation and your mother’s virtue? Learn these answers and more.

As a new player, your first instinct will be to haul ass to the single-player mode. General surgeon’s warning: AoE2’s singleplayer is slow, boring, repetitive, and teaches you bad habits. Spent as little time there as possible.

Play multiplayer instead. This game’s multiplayer is great, and at a certain skill level, transcends great and becomes godlike. There’s so much artistry, so much finesse, the axle of a 1vs1 turning on such pivots as a forward tower losing 10hp to an attacking villager, or someone having a position that’s slightly downhill. The game’s surprisingly almost balanced between civilisations and unit types, and various fan mods and patches scratch the word “almost” away from that description. 1vs1s are like a fencing match, full of lightning-fast action and counteraction. 4vs4s change the dynamic to something huge and Game of Thrones-esque. It almost feels like a totally different game.

But let’s be honest, these games are dark triad simulators.

Age of Empires II puts you in control of many putative human lives, but not in a way where they emotionally effect you. They’re so far away on the screen that your brain just registers them as “game pieces”. There’s no “grieving widow” meter in this game. Everyone’s just kind of cannon fodder. How careful you are in sacrificing men depends entirely on how much food, gold, and wood you have to make new ones.

In Grand Theft Auto, human beings behave like human beings. Even a primitive game like Doom puts you up close and personal to the monsters, so you can see them react in pain. But real time strategy games seem like how a sociopath views the world. I know I lasted about a week on my first Age of Empires II forum before I stopped calling my soldiers “men” and started calling them “units” like everyone else.

Potentially disturbing insights into your psych aside, Age of Empires II is an aesthetically nice game. Starcraft and Total Annihilation are set in dismal hellscapes. Age of Empires II takes place in landscapes as pretty as a travel brochure. Everything has a nice heft and sense of scale – castles tower above the landscape, galleons seem appropriately big. The game is visceral enough to break through the sociopath filter every now and then, although not always intentionally. You can control sheep, and send them on long journeys across the map. Demonic possession? And slain bodies swiftly decay into skeletons – often while other soldiers are still fighting around them. Disturbing, as if everyone is caught in a time-lapse vortex.

These days I see a bored programmer going “who gives a fuck, nobody will care about that” and punching out for the day. But back then, these little flaws in the reality of the game were kind of creepy. They seemed like they must have been planned. That’s one of the things about being a kid. Everything seems planned.

I first played this game as a child, and although I commanded a kingdom, mentally I was probably more like those villagers, who trustingly obey orders even when you make them walk in circles, or into enemy fire. These guys don’t realise that sometimes the ship’s captain is an idiot, or that sometimes the ship has a broken rudder.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that this game is pretty good.

This is the kind of game that gets called a... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

jazz-jackrabbit-2-04-651x535This is the kind of game that gets called a “cult classic”. But who wants to be in a cult?

Released at the eleventh hour of platforming genre, Jazz Jackrabbit 2 sees you controlling the titular character against Devan Shell, a mendacious tortoise who has made the critical mistake of being the villain in a platforming game.

The game takes the concept of the first game and pushes it as far as it will go. Basically, think Sonic, but not as fast. Or think Mario, but a bit more edgy. Visually the game draws heavily from drug-trip psychedelia, and the soundtrack is mostly slap-bass acid funk. JJ2 is basically the hippie era put into a computer game, more so than any other game I know (except maybe Timothy Leary’s Mind Mirror). Jazz doesn’t smoke a bomber joint as part of his idle animation, but I guarantee the artists wanted him to.

You get to play as Jazz or his brother Spaz (Jazz can hover in mid-air like Mario in SMB3, while Spaz can double-jump), collecting jewels and killing enemies with guns, speed-dashes, even your ass (literally). The game simultaneously looks dated yet great. The background is an ever-morphing LSD light show of color, and the lighting effects of muzzle flashes (etc) are simple but dramatic. The hand-drawn sprites are fun and cartoony. You do stuff just to see how the characters will react.

The problem with Jazz Jackrabbit 2 is that it doesn’t seem like much of a game. The single player mode took me about three hours to beat on hard difficulty. The enemies are too easy, and the bosses are rote and predictable – crack the “code” and you can beat them blindfolded and in a body cast. The levels are not very interesting, and don’t invite another play-through.

It does, however, have an extensive multiplayer mode, as well as lavish level-editing and modding tools. Forget Mario or Sonic, this game’s true inspiration is Quake. Epic’s approach was to make a bare-bones product, and throw it over to the fans to put some meat on it. Their bet paid off. JJ2 spawned a community took this game and ran with it, producing all sorts of custom levels, mods, etc, some of which are pretty impressive (tip: download Tomb Rabbit).

The game itself isn’t much. It’s like a shitty movie that has a cult following who analyse every frame. It’s the fans that turned it into a product worth owning – JJ2 isn’t a game so much as a piece of real estate, something that’s only as good as what you’re prepared to do with it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of cool stuff in JJ2. But it’s rushed cool stuff, thrown in without much polish or thought. What’s the point of giving the player tons of weapons if most of them are useless? I think I used the pepper spray once and then never touched it again. Even Jazz is pretty useless next to his brother, who can reach all sorts of high places thanks to his double jump. Jazz gets completely upstaged in his own game.

I had some fun with Jazz Jackrabbit 2 back in the day, but I don’t expect to ever play it again. Like the hippie era it pastiches, it came and went, leaving only memories. It still has a dedicated following, but somehow the Kool Aid wasn’t strong enough in my case.

Wanna live dangerously? Play a PC game from 1990-1995 that... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

doom2Wanna live dangerously? Play a PC game from 1990-1995 that has “2” in the title.

Companies used to have almost no idea of what a sequel to a computer game should look like. Should they be like level packs? Should they be entirely new games? The “shareware” model further complicated things – you’d have part 1, the free version, and parts 2 and 3, which you paid for. Publishers were cutting up and slicing games like lunatic sushi chefs, and “sequel” could mean absolutely anything.

Doom 2 was part of the problem. It has 32 new levels, one new weapon, and a few new enemies. Do you call that a sequel? I call it a glorified level pack. Some accountancy particulars set Doom 2 apart from the original (chiefly the fact that it was sold in stores rather than through mail-order), but so what? Imagine if Street Fighter II was Street Fighter I with a new character and some new backgrounds. You’d call shenanigans.

The new weapon is the super shotgun. It’s very satisfying to clear a room of zombies in one blast, but it disrupts the balance of the game. It’s just too effective – you never again use the regular shotgun, so why still have it in the game? (Yes, the shotgun has a tighter spread and is better for long-range fighting, but the chaingun’s better in that category).

The new enemies are a little mixed. The pain elementals and revenants are just tedious and annoying, no fun to fight. The chaingun zombies are neat. The arch-vile is the most inspired creation: a “healer” that can revive dead enemies. All the old enemies are back, including a fair few cyberdemons. At one point you have to face a cyberdemon and mastermind at the same time (the battle becomes anticlimactic when you realise you can trick them into killing each other).

The new levels are the meat of the game. Most of them are either designed by Romero or Peterson. Romero’s levels are aesthetically beautiful, and actually evoke the feeling that you’re in hell. Peterson’s are ugly, slapdash, and gimmicky. The contrasting approach to level design gives the game a bipolar feel – Romero actually gets what Doom’s about (bringing the atmosphere of a Cronenberg film to your computer screen), while Peterson is intent on dragging id Software back to the arcades.

There’s not much to say about Doom 2. If you liked the original game, this has more of the same. But it doesn’t push the envelope. The envelope remains super-glued to the table. If you’re new to the series, you might as well start with Doom 2. Once you have the super shotgun, it’s awfully hard to play a game without it.

But normally the genre-defining classics and the cheap cash-ins are made by different people. Who would have thought that in this case they’d be coming from the same studio?

In the early 90s, Apogee had a nice little market.... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

mystictowersIn the early 90s, Apogee had a nice little market. They’d take a popular console game, hack together a PC clone, and distribute it via the then-popular “shareware” model (episode 1 on the house, episodes 2 and 3 available through BBS and mail order). They made simple games that were FUN, something not every game remembers these days between their 200 page design documents and procedurally generated worlds and Hollywood voice talent.

Now and then, though, they released titles that were a bit different. Take Mystic Towers…how would you sell this game?

Most Apogee titles are child friendly. This game has portraits on the walls of naked pin-up girls, and you play an elderly man who scratches his balls from time to time. It’s not an adult game, like Leisure Suit Larry, but you can hear the whisper of an envelope being pushed.

Additionally, the game is not terribly fussed about sticking to a style and at various moments plays like an RPG, a dungeon crawler, a shooting game, a puzzle game, and a platform game. Combining RPG and action gaming became a pretty trendy thing when that say-Devil-in-Spanish game came out but Mystic Towers is a bit different, more redolent of a real pen and paper RPG rather than a stat-grinding action game.

You must enter a series of towers, destroy all the monsters, destroy the monster generator that is spawning the monsters, and find the large red tower key that allows you to leave. You have lots of abilities at your disposal. Your wizard can drag boxes around to make a stack and reach high-up places, use powerups to fly or become invisible, and collect coins with which he can buy weapons. It’s all pretty simple, there’s no stats or classes. Beating the game requires exploration, patience, and a Rain Man-esque ability to memorize floor layouts.

Graphics are impressive by shareware standards. The game uses an isometric perspective for that classy pseudo-3D look. Sprites in Mystic Towers are drawn so that they look like they have depth and exist in real space. There’s some basic environmental interaction, such as dragging a statue backwards to uncover gold coins, and flipping light switches to illuminate rooms. (Why do medieval towers have 20th century light switches? Because they’re mystic towers, reprobate.)

The game is cool and original, but not perfect. I hate the obsessive exploring and item collecting, I hate how the player must go around and around in ever increasing circles. To unlock a door on floor 3 you need a key on floor 2 that is protected by a force field with a switch on floor 5 which is guarded by a monster that can be beaten with a weapon on floor 1…Mystic Towers depends heavily on “whoops, you triggered a trap” level design and this also gets old fast. There are hidden bombs that drop on your head, invisible tiles that poison you, and other annoying things that can’t be anticipated.

The controls are a bit too mystic for my blood. You can only move in four directions, so sometimes you need to walk an awkward zigzag path to get to a destination. Basic movements (such as stepping to the side) aren’t allowed. Fighting monsters is often difficult due to the control scheme, although unfortunately not for any legitimate reason. Killing monsters involves lining yourself up to one and blasting the Ctrl key until it dies.

Playing Mystic Towers is like watching a movie where the director was sacked halfway through production and replaced by someone with completely different ideas. It’s confused and confusing, and a showcase of good ideas in a merely acceptable game.

René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe with the... | Games / Reviews | Coagulopath

muslim-massacre460René Magritte painted a picture of a pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” “This is not a pipe.” Of course it wasn’t a pipe, it was a picture of a pipe.

Muslim Massacre is a game made by SomethingAwful forumer Sigvatr (I refuse to call them “goons”) that lets you destroy little pixelly blips. There are lots of games where you destroy little pixelly blips, but in this one the pixelly blips represent Muslims. This has made it controversial. We can only guess at how many Muslims in real life have been killed because of this game, but it’s probably a lot.

The game itself is a nose-thumbingly cheap tribute to Postal. You control a true American patriot (hatriot?) carrying a pistol, although passing planes drop additional weapons like a shotgun and a rocket launcher. Your enemies possess everything from suicide bombs to burkas, and eventually you fight Osama bin Laden, Muhammad, and Allah himself. You use the WASD keys to move, and the mouse to aim and fire. Like games of old you can’t save your progress, so you have to beat the thing in one try.

Muslim Massacre is halal if pixelated violence is your creed. You can throw grenades that leave huge craters in the ground, fire rockets that send bodies flying like leaves in a gale, and each dead Muslim vents roughly twenty gallons of blood over the desert sand. Cheerful generic chiptune music plays over the slaughter.

However, I’ll say this: it’s probably not as outrageous as you’re hoping. As a game, Muslim Massacre is fun. As satire, it has a…mildness to it. The whole game involves shooting tiny sprites that sort of look like they have brown skin. A few changes to the art and Muslim Massacre would be just another shameless nostalgia trip to the days when Nintendo published official strategy guides and kids bought them. It certainly has some shock value (especially for people who want to be shocked), but it doesn’t go beyond what Postal accomplished ten years earlier, to say nothing of even older games like Custer’s Revenge.

One wonders why Sigvatr didn’t push the game’s concept further, into South Park territory. Why not allow pork-tipped bullets as an upgradable weapon, for example? If you’re going for edgy, why not go for the white-hot DEFCON 1 shit? Muslim Massacre is a paradox…too much, and not nearly enough.

Perhaps this game isn’t meant to be funny. I’ve read the creator’s webcomic, Electric Retard, which is a mixture of Monty Python’s comedy and Adam Lanza’s misanthropy. I’ve also seen his strange, po-faced apology where he tries to sell Muslim Massacre as an indictment of American foreign policy. Sigvatr’s funny like that. You’re never sure as to whether he gets his own jokes.

Anyway, the game came out, it upset people (but not to the extent where they’d pass up on free traffic by not writing outraged blog posts promoting it), then it went away. Maybe these games are offensive, maybe they’re not, and maybe “offensive” doesn’t matter. These kinds of games hurt nobody, and even if they do, the cure could be worse than the disease. Many people who promote freedom of speech are only thinking about their own speech. They don’t realise that there are a lot of ideas out there, and that – for better or for worse – they’ve opened Pandora’s box.