Space Quest II review

So, the new MCU movie, Captain Marvel, is on cinemas right now and as far as I remember, Carol Danvers isn’t in any video game whatsoever, so I decided to just review a classic sci-fi game set in space. And why not Space Quest II?

Space Quest II: Chapter II – Vohaul’s Revenge is a graphic adventure made by Sierra and originally released in 1987 for the Apple II, Atari ST and DOS. It was re-released the following year for Amiga, Apple IIgs and Macintosh.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

242965-space-quest-ii-chapter-ii-vohaul-s-revenge-dos-front-coverAs you can see, the cover is reminiscent of the previous game’s cover, but now featuring an asteroid and some guys in suits inside tubes floating in space (it makes sense when playing the game). And again it features the cool title from the previous game’s cover. It’s not a great cover, but at least the guys in suits do stand out.

But it’s time to boot this space sludge:

The game starts with the now familiar Space Quest theme and a text depicting what happened to our protagonist since the events of the first game, namely, he reaped all the fame he could until he was forgotten by the public and forced to work again as a janitor, but this time, in a space station orbiting his home planet, Xenon. When starting a new game, you can name the main character just like in the previous game. And again, if you leave it blank, the protagonist will be named Roger Wilco (which as we all know, became the protagonist’s canon name).

If you’re played any Sierra AGI graphic adventure, then you know how to play this one. You can use the directional buttons to move Roger and write any commands in the prompt below the main screen. It’s quite simple to use as long you don’t misspell any command. And also don’t forget to write GET OBJECT to grab the several objects you’ll find stashed in certain places or people (an easy mistake to make if you’re not used to this type of graphic adventures).

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At the beginning of the game.

The difficulty, however, was rammed all the way up. What do I mean by this? Well, to solve most of the puzzles (some of which are traps BTW), you need to die first in order to figure out what to do, load a previous save state and then use a specific object before encountering said puzzle. For example, you can enter a screen and meet an enemy or a trap that’ll kill you, but you use a determined object before entering that screen, then you can avoid that enemy or trap, but there aren’t any hints before that. But even with this trial-and-error method, the puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out the solution (but you still need to die to figure it out, though). Well, there are two sections, however, that’ll really test your patience.

The reason for this increased difficulty might have been the fact that the game isn’t actually very long with just two major acts. And the story is quite simple but still effective with the trademark humour common to this series with several references and winks to popular sci-fi classics, and even some parodies here and there (although I think the game missed some great opportunities for it near the end).

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Man, five minutes in and your boss is already calling you.

The graphics are okay for an AGI title, nothing special but more or less colourful. The animation is also pretty average although the sprites do look a bit more detailed than in the previous game. The music is spectacular, especially if you’re playing the game on a Tandy computer (or emulating its sound system), although there aren’t many tracks throughout the game. The sound effects, however, are also average. The control system is okay and the directional buttons are responsive.

In conclusion, Space Quest II not might be the worst game in the series but it isn’t the best one either, due to its increased difficulty, trial-and-error puzzles and small length but it also has the same solid gameplay and humour that made the series a classic. So I recommend it, especially for fans of the series or the genre. You can get it here on Steam along with the rest of series, or here on GOG.com along with the first and third titles of the series.

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Better not to ask…

As far as other versions go, the Amiga version is just like the DOS version but the Apple IIgs version has superior sound effects (as in all AGI Sierra titles). And there’s even a VGA fan-made remake, made by Infamous Studios, that features a point-and-click mouse interface, voice over and extra content. You can download it for free here.

Well, I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed the review. And I know it’s not related to the Captain Marvel movie in anyway (or any other movie for that matter), but I just wanted an excuse to replay this game. Also, I would like to apologize for not making any references to the International Women’s Day. I promise next year to write a special article or review dedicated to it. And for the next review, let’s keep it a bit down to Earth, shall we? Until then, keep on shooting the stars and playing.

Quarantine review

Everybody knows that one of the most influential videogames ever to be released for the PC was Doom. So much so that shortly afterwards a bunch of games with very similar gameplay and graphical engines were released, which became known as “Doom clones”. I’ve already reviewed one of these clones (and one day, I promise to review the original Doom), but today we’re going to take a look at one of the few Doom clones that dared to add something extra. I’m talking about Quarantine.

Quarantine is a FPS/driving simulation game developed by Imagexcel and published by Gametek. It was originally released in 1994 for DOS and the 3DO. In 1996, it was re-released only in Japan for the Playstation (as Hard Rock Cab) and the SEGA Saturn (as Death Throttle: Kakuzetsu Toshi kara no Dasshutsu).

But as always, before looking at the game, let’s look at the cover:

50658-quarantine-dos-front-coverI confess I’m not a big fan of simplistic covers because usually they don’t convey much. But this one I must confess I like. A lot. It’s just a windshield wiper cleaning what appears to be blood (the single drop in the upper part suggest as such). It simply conveys vehicles and violence in a way that intrigues everyone. It’s graphic but not explicitly so. Some versions add the tagline “driving a cab in this town… is murder” which makes said violence slightly more explicit.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

First, I must confess that I love this intro. It’s so insane and at the same time, it pumps you up for the game. It looks like a sort of dystopian and violent future but you only see the cab, its driver and the passengers (and tons of guns). Then we have a proper exposition that’s further expanded in the manual: you play as Drake Edgewater, a hover cab driver in the dystopian city of Detroi…uhh, KEMO City in the year 2047. Around ten years prior, the city was exposed to a virus that turned its inhabitants into psychotic killers by a company called Omnicorp (whose logo looks suspiciously like the OCP logo from Robocop). Edgewater, who’s immune to the virus, must carry out his job while finding a way to escape the city.

Fortunately, your cab is equipped with a machine gun mounted upfront in the hood and your initial objective is to drive around the city dodging and shooting at other cars, armed pedestrians and mines while picking up passengers and dropping them at specific points of the city within a limited time. But every now and then, you’ll get an assignment to drop a package within the aforementioned time limit and if you succeed, then some mysterious bloke will be impressed by your driving and armed combat skills and promises more undercover missions. Do enough of these missions and you’ll get a code to move to another (and harder) section of the city, where more missions and richer passengers await you.

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Extreme road rage!

The main screen is quite detailed with all the information you need in the upper and lower part of the screen with the main view on the center. I have to say that I’m impressed in how the developers were able to cram every information monitor and counter (like weapons, radar, compass, etc) without sacrificing none of the main view. And you also have two side views (where you can shoot at enemies on your left or right).

With enough money gained from your fares, you can also repair and upgrade your cab with more weapons, shields and other gadgets to make the gameplay easier. And believe me, you’re going to need it because apart from the passengers, everything is gunning for you: crazy, armed people in the middle of the road (which is always a joy to run over), other vehicles, tanks, mines, etc. But the biggest difficulties I’ve encountered while playing were the time limits and the navigation.

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Picking up a passenger.

The passengers you pick up are seemingly random (apart from the undercover missions) and entertaining in their own right, but some of them want to be dropped off on some distant spot on the map within a small time limit. And if you drop him/her past the time limit, then the fare they pay is pitiful, especially if you received a lot of damage and said fare isn’t enough to cover the repair. Luckily, you can refuse passengers and/or eject them from your cab if you believe the fare isn’t worth it (the eject option even becomes essential during a story mission). Even with the help of your map (which is probably your best tool), navigating through the city isn’t easy because sometimes you might encounter a narrow passage that you believe it’s possible to go through (and the map confirms as such) but ultimately it isn’t possible.

Controlling the cab can be quite a chore (and the time limits don’t help) and it’s mostly due to the engine used. Imagexcel developed a game engine more towards FPS action than driving simulation (which is why there weren’t many hybrids of the two genres back then) and it shows while playing it. It’s easy to forget you’re controlling a vehicle, until you try to go through a narrow passage that a person on foot could easily go through and other driving related actions. But with time and patience, it’s possible to master the driving controls enough to start enjoying the game.

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Repairing your cab.

The graphics and animations are quite good, especially the design of the city with a dark and industrial colour palette that fits the game’s dystopian aesthetic perfectly. The sound effects are equally good with several digital samples that enhance the action. And I recommend the CD-ROM version just for the cutscenes and the fantastic Alternative Rock themes that, in their majority, fit the dystopian setting and the action quite well. Although the cab can be hard to control, it’s not due to the keyboard controls, that are actually quite responsive.

In conclusion, Quarantine could have been a fantastic game if it wasn’t for its steep learning curve in mastering the driving controls and the repetitive nature of the game. Because everything else in it it’s great. If you have the time and patience to master the game, then I recommend it. But if you’re looking for a simple driving/action game, easy to get into, then I can’t really recommend it. And if you want to try it in your own browser, then go here.

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“Die scum!”

Quarantine had some critical acclaim but it was so well received by the public that it became a cult classic, despite its flaws. And although it wasn’t the first of its genre, it was one of the first games that mixed driving simulation and FPS action and therefore, inspired subsequent hybrid games that would surpassed it, like its own sequel, Road Warrior Quarantine II, and the Carmageddon and Twisted Metal series.

So, do you like these types of games? Which is your favorite? Tell me in the comments below or on our social media. Next time, we’re going the final frontier again. Until then, keep on driving and shooting. See ya!

SimCity review

And again we’re going to take a look at not just a true classic game, but also a highly influential title that helped define an entire genre, spawned several clones and influenced several other titles. I’m talking about the one and only SimCity.

SimCity is a simulation/managerial game developed by Maxis and published by Infogrames. It was originally released in 1989 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, DOS and Macintosh. It was re-released the following year for the BBC Micro, Atari ST, Electron, FM Towns, PC-98, Sharp X68000 and the ZX Spectrum. In 1991, it was ported for the SNES and the CDTV. In 1992, it was again re-released for Windows 3.X and in 1993, for DOS as an Enhanced CD-ROM version and for the Acorn 32-bit. In 1994, it was ported for OS/2 and in 1995, it was again ported for Macintosh (Enhanced CD-ROM) and Windows 95 (version 2.0). In 1999, it was ported to Symbian and Palm OS. In 2006, the SNES version was re-released in the Wii Virtual Console and in 2007, the original version was re-released for modern Windows as SimCity Classic.

SimCity was originally conceptualised by Will Wright, who developed it as Micropolis in 1985 for the Commodore 64 and pitched it to several publishers, but it was originally rejected due to the latter’s lack of belief it would sell. So Wright founded Maxis alongside Jeff Braun in order to publish the game along with Infogrames and Brøderbund.

But enough of backstory and let’s look at the covers, shall we?

22630-simcity-commodore-64-front-coverThis is the original cover and it features an over-top photo of Sydney, Australia (you can tell by the Opera House at the bottom) with some colourful drawings of some buildings juxtaposed. It’s a very good cover and it hints at the game’s content in a funny way. Definitely my favourite cover.

216372-simcity-commodore-64-front-coverThis is probably the most famous cover. It features a sort of retro-techno machine with several of the game’s options and a picture of Godzilla. It’s quite a nice cover, but I think I prefer the original cover over this one. Toho however, didn’t like the unlicensed depiction of Godzilla and forced Maxis to change the cover:

39822-simcity-dos-front-cover

I have to confess Godzilla makes this cover look a lot cooler.

But the SNES version had his own cover:

480371-simcity-snes-front-coverWhile I do like the title design, this is a pretty unimaginative cover. Probably the worst cover of them all.

100386-simcity-windows-front-coverThis is the Windows CD-ROM cover and it’s based on the second cover, as you can see. It’s quite a good cover with some very clean lines.

But enough cover art and it’s time to boot this sucker. Well, I should say suckers, because for the purposes of this review I played three different versions of this game: the original DOS version, the Enhanced CD-ROM version and the Windows 95 version (although I didn’t played the latter a lot because it doesn’t run well on Windows 10, even patched).

Right in the title screen (which has a nice touch by using a street sign) you can choose between three options: start a new city from scratch, load a previous city or play one of several scenarios. We’ll start with the first option since it’s the game’s main mode and the most played.

When starting a new city and after choosing the difficulty level and the future city’s name, you’ll be given an empty terrain (with likely a river running across it) to start building your city (unless you have the Terrain Editor, where you can create your own terrain to play in). Immediately you’ll notice a different UI than most games at the time. There’s two windows (the main one and a terrain map), which you can edit its size like it was a Windows program. On top there’s a menu bar with four menus with several gameplay options. But we’re going to focus on the main window because it’s where the main gameplay occurs.

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Starting a new city.

The main window contains a screen with an overworld POV and on its left, a group of several icons, each representing what you can build (except for the bulldozer, which only serves to remove). Below it, there’s a small graph with three coloured lines. each line representing the growth of the three main zonings of your city: Residential, Commercial and Industrial.

You see, you don’t actually build your city building by building (unless they’re public buildings). You actually plan zonings on the terrain where buildings can be built on, but however as the mayor, you have to provide all the necessary services required for living in a city (namely electricity and transportation). Building roads and rail tracks is quite easy actually, but to provide electricity you need first to build a power plant (coal or nuclear) and then power lines to distribute the electricity to your city.

As your city grows, you’ll also need to build other services, like Police and Fire stations, airports and seaports. But also some entertainment for your citizens, like parks and stadiums. Of course, not only you have to build all these for your city to grow, but you also have to manage the city budget. The budget window is also another important option because it’s here where you manage the taxes you collect and then distribute that money between your Transportation, Police and Fire departments. And unless you choose the option of auto-budget, the budget window appears at the end of every year when the taxes are collected.

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“The traffic today seems to be quite fluid on main avenue”

But don’t think is that easy to build and run a city, because not only you have to properly manage your funds, you also need to focus at not letting crime and pollution rise or your citizens, commerce and industry will leave to better pastures. And still, that’s not the worst that can happen. If you payed attention to the video above (or played the game), you probably have noticed a “Disasters” menu. Well, this is a list of all the disasters that can randomly strike your city when you least expect it (that is, you can prevent disasters from occurring at the expense of a tax cut or you can directly activate a disaster from the aforementioned menu).

Disasters range from simple fires or floods to more destructive types, like tornados, earthquakes or even a kaiju-style monster rampaging through your city, provoking all types of explosions. And if any of these disasters strike down, having fire stations helps (a lot) because they’re the ones who put out the fires caused by any disaster (don’t know if they help with the floods too, though). And, if for some reason you’re bored while playing, you can always activate a disaster to shake things up. However, a disaster might destroy a part of your city and if you’re low on funds to rebuild it, then it’s better to reload a previous save (although the game doesn’t have a game over screen, an empty city with no funds is as close to it as you can get).

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Fires strike

But if you can overcome all of this and build an actual metropolis, you’ll realise there’s no actual ending to the game. You can play until your heart’s content and even fill the entire terrain with buildings. However, if you’re looking for more challenges, you can also play one of eight scenarios that come with the game. In each scenario, you become mayor of a famous city (San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, etc.) in a specific time period and have to accomplish certain goals (fight crime or save the city from a disaster) during a time limit. You have the same options as in main mode but the city is already built (you can however expand the city and/or improve it).

Now we’re going to focus on the technical aspects of the original DOS version. Although the DOS version has both 16 colours EGA and  256 colours VGA/MCGA graphics, the former has a better resolution and therefore it’s the one I recommend. The graphics in either graphic mode are quite good, with very detailed sprites of the larger buildings. The animation is a bit limited though but for a game of this type, it’s more than enough. The sound effects are very limited and there’s practically no music whatsoever. I recommend using a mouse because this type of UI was specifically made for mouses.

Also Maxis released some add ons that change the buildings graphics to resemble ancient or futuristic cities. It’s a small but cool extra in case you ever get tired of looking at the same sprites. Every posterior version was then released with these add ons already included.

Now we’re going to take a look at the Enhanced CD-ROM version:

This version of SimCity published by Interplay adds a lot of stuff while maintaining the same gameplay, so we’re just going to focus on these extra elements. The first thing you might notice is the new animated intro along with better graphics and resolution. There’s also improved and digitised sound effects along with digitised speech throughout the game. Honestly, there’s a speech clip for every option and icon you click and even the little messages that appear just above the main window are all in speech, which gets annoying after a few hours of gameplay because it’s common to get the same message over and over again.

But that’s not all. Apparently Maxis decided to fill the CD to the brim with not just speech clips, but also with video clips. Ranging from small and random “peek” clips, which are totally random and sometimes even bizarre and serve no purpose to the gameplay whatsoever to other longer video clips from your counselors either asking for more funding or for specific services to be provided. But again, these get tiring after awhile because of its repetition. Luckily you can turn off all of these options and I recommend so because they don’t contribute to the gameplay in my opinion and are extremely annoying.

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One of the many clips that plagues this version.

I also played the Windows 95 version (AKA version 2.0) for this review, but because it had issues with Windows 10, I could only played it for a hour or so. This version UI is perfect to play on Windows because you can increase the windows sizes to your computer’s native resolution and also provide ambient music throughout the gameplay. There are even updated sprites that look better with the updated resolution (although you can always revert back to the original graphics or one of the extra graphic add ons). But the best part is that there isn’t any more annoying sound and video clips.

In conclusion, SimCity might have not aged well gameplay-wise mostly due to how the genre has evolved throughout the years and how the sequels and clones have improved over the original, adding new options and stuff. Still, if you’re a fan of the genre, then you might want to give it a shot just to see how the managerial/city building genre started. If you’re interested in playing the original DOS version in your own browser, then go here.

77446-simcity-windows-3-x-screenshot-starting-a-new-city

The Windows 3.X version

I never played any of the other ports, so I can’t make any comparisons. But I do know that the SNES version had some extra stuff, like Bowser as the monster. SimCity was an instant success among players and critics alike and won several awards. It did not just started the great Sim series, but also spawned several clones and inspired several other games and genres, like the Cities series and even the 4X genre.

In 2008, SimCity‘s source code was released for free under its original name, Micropolis, by Don Hopkins (you can download it here). But if you want to play it in your own browser, then I recommend going here or here.

Well, I hope you you’ve enjoyed the review. Next time, we’re taking a look at a game that I’ve been postponing for some time now. Until then, keep on building and playing.