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!

Home Alone DOS review

Well, it’s that time of the year again (not that I’m complaining, mind you). Yuletide, Hanukkah (although that ended past December 10th, I think), Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, St. Nicholas Day, or more commonly known as Christmas, the Winter Solstice celebration is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year (and my personal favorite). And here in Retro Freak Reviews, we decided to review a game based on a movie whose plot just happened to occur during Christmas (which makes it a Christmas-themed game in my book). I’m talking about Home Alone for DOS.

Home Alone (based on the movie of the same title) is an action game developed by Manley & Associates and published by Capstone Software. It was released in 1991 for the Commodore Amiga and DOS.

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

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And just like most games based on movies, it’s easier to simply put the now iconic movie poster in the box cover, although I do like the little detail “…comes to your computer” added to the sub-title.

But it’s time to boot this wet bandit:

And as you can see, the subtitle “A Family Comedy Without the Family” also appears in the title screen. Then we have a small recap of the game’s story using still images: the McCallister family travels to Florida for Christmas but due to all the rush to catch the flight, they end up forgetting and leaving 8-year-old Kevin behind (which I’m sure any Child Protection agent wouldn’t find funny). And now Kevin is the only line of defense against Harry and Marv, the Wet Bandits, who want to rob Kevin’s house.

The game starts during the movie’s final act, where Kevin must prepare all the traps and then face the bandits by himself. In the first half of the game, Kevin has one hour to prepare the traps (around 20 minutes in real time). To accomplish this, you need to explore the entire house, including the entrance and the basement for any objects that can be used for traps. You’ll know which objects you can grab because they’ll start blinking every time Kevin walks by. However Kevin can only carry up to three objects with him (because he’s only eight).

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The beginning of the game.

To grab objects you simple press F1 (if you’re playing with a keyboard, that is), although sometimes you need to jump to grab objects located above Kevin, then you scroll through the inventory with F2 and finally you use F3 to put the objects in specific places for a trap. When you’re scrolling through the inventory, some yellow crosshairs appear on screen and when Kevin goes near any of these, the crosshairs might turn to an “here” sign with an arrow (if you select the correct object) and then you can press F3 to use the object to create a trap.

You can create some of the traps seen in the movie, like the blowtorch above the door, but you can also create new traps, like using toys on the floor to slow down the bandits. When the clock reaches 9 PM (or when you press N), the bandits arrive, whether you’re ready or not. In the second half, you run around the house armed with your BB gun (if you grabbed it in the first half) thwarting the bandits as they fall for all the traps you’ve planted before. Both Harry and Marv need to reach 50 points of damage each to win the game, but if each of them grabs Kevin, then it’s game over and back to the start.

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Setting up a trap.

Luckily, the notepad located above the main screen informs us where in the house is each bandit located, although there’s no map available. But at least Kevin’s house isn’t too big and can be easily memorised. But when entering a room, if Harry or Marv are right at the door of said room, then they can grab Kevin before you have any time to react. And the BB gun only counts as damage the first time is used against any of the bandits, but it can still be used throughout the second half to temporarily paralyse the bandits, enabling Kevin to run past them. However, you still need to be careful when encountering your own traps, as Kevin can trigger them (although he doesn’t suffer any damage), nullifying the trap. So I suggest jumping over any traps laying around the floor to avoid them.

The game is quite easy to get into but hard to win as the time limit during the first half might not be enough to prepare all the traps you need. If that’s the case, you might as well restart the game. And after winning or losing the game, you can enter your initials in the scoreboard. The score is determined by the number of damage each bandit suffered and the time it took to stop them (if you’ve managed to do so).

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9 o’clock is here and Kevin’s ready to deal some punishment.

The graphics look nice and colourful with somewhat big sprites. The animation, however, could be better. The music isn’t bad, although I recommend playing the game with a Roland MT 32 soundcard (or emulated sound) over the PC Speaker, as the latter sounds horrible. The sound effects are also pretty average, but they get the job done. The keyboard controls are somewhat responsive, however. I’ve only encountered a slight delay when using the BB gun and jumping. Also the control scheme is a bit weird, since it uses the F1, F2 and F3 to manage the inventory during the first half.

So in conclusion, Home Alone for DOS isn’t a bad game and it has its positives, like how easy it is to understand the controls and the gameplay during a first playthrough, but the time limit in the first half and the lack of a map make the game unnecessarily hard. If you’re a fan of the movies or enjoyed the console versions, then you might want to give it a shot. And if you want to play the game on your own browser, then go here.

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Ufff, right in the “pescis”.

I’ve played the Amiga version a little, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, it’s just like the DOS version. The console games, however, were made by different companies and therefore are considered different games, although the majority share the same premise and some gameplay mechanics. But unfortunately I haven’t played those.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this special Christmas review and just to say that this’ll be the last review of the year. I might write a special message before the year ends, however. Until then, keep on playing and have a Happy Christmas, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or simply Happy Winter Holidays.

Speedball review

One of the most famous developer studios from the late 80s and early 90s was The Bitmap Brothers. If you had a Commodore Amiga, you know what I’m talking about. The Bitmap Brothers is one of those studios that started small but valued quality over quantity which resulted in fantastic games and a rockstar fame among video game companies. Perhaps one day I’ll write a retrospective about them. But today, we’re going to take a look at one of their earliest games: Speedball.

Speedball is a futuristic action/sports game developed by The Bitmap Brothers and published by Image Works. It was originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, DOS and Atari ST and re-released the next year for the Commodore 64. In 1990, it was ported to the Sega Master System and the following year to the NES (as KlashBall). And in 2013, the Amiga version was ported to the BlackBerry.

But as always, let’s first take a look at the covers:

52003-speedball-atari-st-front-coverThis is the European cover and it nails down the futuristic sports imagery perfectly, with the player’s gear full of spikes and the blood splatters all over the stadium field floor. It conveys perfectly what the game’s about, but the artwork could be better.

242973-speedball-dos-front-coverThis is the US cover and I think is a lot better. It conveys the brutal, futuristic sport part even better, but the spikes and the violence are definitely toned down. Still, the quality of the artwork is way better and more colorful.

194416-speedball-nes-front-coverThis is the NES cover and as you can see, they’ve put back some the spikes and a bit of the violence too. It’s also a pretty cool looking cover but I have no idea why they changed the title.

236442-speedball-sega-master-system-front-coverNow this one’s the Sega Master System cover and as you can see, it’s definitely the most brutal one. They’ve doubled the spikes and the blood on this one and it could perfectly be a death metal album cover.

But as always, it’s time to boot this sucker:

As you can see, Speedball features a pretty cool title screen, with the fist coming through the screen and then we have the main menu screen with a fist constantly pounding his own leg, just to reinforce how hardcore this game is. In the menu screen, you have several options: you can either play against a friend or against the AI. The single-player options are League and Knockout. League is your typical league gameplay where you face down against other ten teams for points and you can also choose its duration. The more matches you win, the more points you have. Knockout is more akin to a cup tournament, where you face the other teams in a best out of three matches against each team in direct elimination style (you need to win two matches against each team in order to move on to the next round).

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“Pounding it. Pounding it. Pounding it.” – Jim Sterling

After choosing which mode to play, you then have three teams to choose from along with the portraits of their respective captain and the stats below. There are only three major stats: Stamina, Power and Skill. Stamina is the energy each player has to tackle other players and to shoot the ball. It goes down everytime one of your players is tackled by an opponent; Power is the force each player employs when tackling an opponent, the stronger your player is, the more stamina the other player will lose when tackled; and Skill is used when performing any action, the higher it is, the more chances your player has in performing said action, whether it’s tackling other players or shooting the ball. Power seems to be the most important stat in the game because the AI tends to perform better when controlling teams with high power.

And then we finally get to the match. Speedball is sort of a no-holds-barred handball sport, played in a top down view, with teams of five players. The objective is, of course, to score goals, but you can tackle any other player to get the ball or to avoid them getting the ball (except for the goalies). There are also black bumps randomly distributed throughout the field where the ball can ricochet, as well as the field’s walls. There are even are two openings in the midfield that when the ball is shot through one, it comes out the other one in the opposite side of the wall (like in Pac-Man). With practice, you can make awesome trick shots that’ll dazzle your opponent (especially if you’re playing against a friend).

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There are also bonus items that appear randomly throughout the match that when touched by any player, it’ll have several different effects on the gameplay, from freezing the opponents for a short period of time to electrify the ball, turning it into a throwing weapon, among others. You can also collect coins during the matches and if enough are collected, you can have several choices at the end of each match that’ll affect the next match, from bribing the ref or the official to downgrade the opponents’ stats, among others. It would be better if we had this option at the start of each match, because it’s near impossible to predict if the next opponent will be strong or weak.

Now for the technical aspects, I have to say that the EGA graphics are quite good. Although the game isn’t very colorful, the sprites are however very detailed. The animation is okay, nothing spectacular, but quite serviceable for such a fast-paced game, but the game tends to slow down if there are many players on screen at once. And also the music themes are very good, despite having a PC-speaker quality (press F3 to enable the music), but the sound effects are mediocre. The control scheme is quite simple but it gets a bit used to, whether you’re playing with the keyboard or a joystick (I personally recommend the joystick), but after a while, I didn’t had much problems controlling the players. And like I said before, the AI performs better the stronger the team is, so the difficulty changes a lot from match to match.

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So in conclusion, Speedball is a fun game to play, whether alone or against a friend. Sure, it has its flaws (like the slowdowns or the random difficulty), but I had fun playing it. A difficulty select option would be much appreciated, among some other small tweaks. If you like fast-paced action sports games that are very easy to get into, then I recommend this one. If you want to try it for yourself, then go here to play it in your own browser.

Speedball, according to its devs, was based on the 1975 movie Rollerball (but it’s not an official adaptation of) and it shows, right down to the spikes (but not the roller skates nor the bikes). The Amiga version not only has better graphics but also digitized sound effects and music, although the controls remain the same and the AI’s more polished, resulting in a harder difficulty.

Speedball received critical acclaim and it was very successful among the public (as with almost every Bitmap Brothers’ title). But it was quickly surpassed by its vastly superior sequel (which we’ll review in a later date).

So, do you prefer Speedball or its sequel? Tell me in the comment section below or on our social media. Next time, we’re going to continue exploring the future. Until then, avoid any spikes in your clothes and keep on playing.