Manhunter: New York review

For those who had the privilege to experience videogames during the 80s and 90s (like yours truly), you probably noticed that the period between the late 80s and early 90s was probably the most prolific in terms of novelties. Basically, developers back then (but especially during that specific period) threw every idea they had at the wall to see what stuck and what not. In other words, developers and companies weren’t afraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts, and creativity was the most valuable asset when creating new games. And sometimes, they came up with some interesting games like the one we’re about to review. I’m talking about Manhunter: New York.

Manhunter: New York is an adventure game developed by Evrywere and published by Sierra. It was originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Apple IIgs and DOS. The following year, it was ported to the Macintosh by Fairfield Software.

The game was designed by Dave and Barry Murry and it was programmed using a modified AGI interpreter. It’s considered the first computer game featuring a point-and-click interface.

But, as always, before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the cover:

222972-manhunter-new-york-apple-ii-front-coverTalk about ominous covers! You can’t get much more ominous than this cover that depicts New York in shambles with some giant eyes above and a red background. Is somewhat reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. It gets you in the mood for the game’s dark and grim backstory, but not its animations as we’ll see next.

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

The game starts with an intro showing New York being invaded in 2002 by an alien race called the Orbs that are basically giant eyeballs (no, this is not a Doctor Who episode). Two years later, the inhabitants of New York (and presumably the rest of the human race) live enslaved by the Orbs and some of these humans are selected by the Orbs to become manhunters (basically police officers), whose functions are to solve crimes and apprehend criminals and anyone who oppose the Orbs.

Our nameless protagonist is a rookie manhunter who’s first case is to solve an apparent simple murder but its investigation will lead him to find the truth about the Orbs. To aid him in his task, he’s given a MAD (Manhunter Assignment Device) computer, where he can track the movements of any human (all the remaining humans carry a chip for localisation, cloaks and are forbidden to communicate with each other) and request any information from his targets.

The intro also features a nice music theme. When the game properly starts, the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of a text parser. Like I said before, the game uses a rudimentary point-and-click interface with some simple commands for various actions, like traveling or accessing your MAD computer, although using the mouse can be a bit troublesome as the cursor moves a bit slow and it can get stuck sometimes.

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How would you feel being woken every morning by a giant eyeball?

Another thing you’ll notice is a very distinct lack of text. Since humans aren’t allowed to communicate with each other, there isn’t any dialogue whatsoever and very little text and almost no exposition. Due to this, Manhunter is a very visual game, with all the hints and story being told purely in visual form (which makes the puzzles incredibly hard). And apart from the puzzles, you’ll also have arcade sequences throughout the game (which I personally think are a little easier than the puzzles) that get increasingly harder as you play along.

But at least, the game doesn’t have a proper game-over screen. Everytime you die, the Murrys pop in, dressed in cloaks, to give you a hint to bypass the part where you died and the game restarts right before you died. And the key to solve the harder arcade sequences is basically patience and luck, because you’re going to die and restart a lot! The game it’s usually in first-person perspective except in some cutscenes and the arcades sequences. And although the story is dark and grim, the animations in the cutscenes can be somewhat funny (and sometimes also weird), which creates a mood whiplash when compared with the backstory.

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Tracking a suspect.

The game is divided in four acts (or days, as is depicted) and you need to accomplish certain actions (or solve certain puzzles) in order to “finish” a day. When a day comes to its end, you’re contacted by the Orbs through your MAD computer, requesting the name of the suspect of your investigations. Then the protagonist simply returns home and in the next morning, he’s contacted again to solve another seemingly unrelated crime.

The game features quite good graphics for the limited AGI engine it was made in and the animations might be a bit weird but at least they’re quite fluid. The game might not have a lot of music in it but what little there it’s good along with several musical cues everytime your cursor passes over something it can be clicked on (which reduces the pixel-hunting) but the sound effects are a bit poor. And like I said before, the point-and-click interface is very cumbersome with a very slow cursor on screen and the keyboard controls during the arcade sequences could have been more responsive.

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The Murrys taunting the player after dying.

In conclusion, Manhunter: New York is a very ambitious game that is very limited by its game engine because you can see the concepts the Murrys wanted to bring to the table (like when trying to transverse the park). So personally, I’m kind of torn in this one; in one hand, we have a very interesting game with intriguing concepts and backstory, but on the other hand, those concepts are badly executed due to the limited engine. So, if you like games that go beyond the norm, you might want to give it a shot, but if you have little patience for hard games with limited mechanics and design, then I can’t really recommend it.

The Commodore Amiga version looks and plays just like the DOS version and the Apple IIgs version might be the superior version due to better sound and music (just like all AGI titles).

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In the park.

Manhunter: New York had some critical acclaim although it didn’t had a great commercial success, but it had enough for a sequel (which we’ll also review at a later date). With its concepts and backstory, I think this game it’s just ripe for a proper remake (although I think Activision has the rights for it). And if you want to experience it for yourself, then click here to play it in your own browser.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. I’d like to give a special shoutout to Florin9895, who recommended this game to me. Tell me what you think of the game by commenting below or on our social media. Next week we have a very special date which will prompt a special occasion: our 2nd year anniversary! And we’ve prepared a very special review depicting one of the best computer games ever made! So come and join us next week and until then keep on hunting and playing.

Space Racer review

Last week, we reviewed a futuristic sports game and today we’re going to review a futuristic racing game. Yup, you can’t tell me I don’t have a lot of variety in my reviews! Anyway, today’s subject is Space Racer.

Space Racer is a futuristic racing game released by Loriciels in 1988 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, Thomson MO, Thomson TO and ZX Spectrum.

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

223510-space-racer-dos-front-coverNow this is an interesting cover. It shows a hoverbike smashing through a sort of window with a race track full of skulls behind said window. Both the race track and the hoverbike seem nice, but my only problem is that it seems the pilot is smashing into the limbo because of all the empty black space. Was he supposed to smash the computer screen? If so, why is it circular? Or was all the blackness supposed to be outer space? If so, where are the stars? Well, at least the title looks nice.

And it’s time to boot this scooter:

The first thing you’ll notice is the fantastic title screen, which blows the cover out of the water, not only because of the artwork, but also because of the awesome digital music theme playing out of a PC speaker! This blew my mind when I was a kid. But then I realized how much the game was outdated for a late 80s computer title. The title theme is actually an ensemble of several music samples, arranged together. I have to confess that’s actually a very clever way to come up with a music theme, if successful.

Then a menu appears where you can choose between three tracks. And apart from the backgrounds, the tracks don’t appear to have any difference between them whatsoever, as you’ll find out. Then we go to the race screen and the first red flag appears: the title is very misleading because none of the races occur IN SPACE! All of them occur in what appears to be alien planets. At least the backgrounds look nice. We then see our hoverbike in the middle, and on top of the screen; the number of the level, the score, an energy bar that doubles as the timer and something on the right which I have no idea of what it is or its function.

1018-space-racer-dos-screenshot-on-your-marks-get-set

On your marks, get set, GO!

The game is an arcade-type racing where you don’t actually race against other racers but against the clock. Like I said before, the energy bar on top is the clock, if it reaches zero before finishing the race, then it’s game over (although you have an opportunity to replenish part of it once). You automatically get points the more you stay on the race and I think you win the race when your score reaches a certain number. If you win a race, you move on to the next race, keeping your score, until game over.

On the tracks, you encounter several obstacles; like traps, posts and other racers. Because of the race track (the white line) being quite small, it’s very hard not to bump against one of the poles every five minutes. With enough time, any person could master the hoverbike and the tracks, if it wasn’t for the other racers. To bypass another racer, you have some options: the easiest one would be to blast them, but you end up using some of your energy. You can also put yourself alongside one and push him to a post or simply go over them. And there seems to be an endless supply of the buggers.

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Damn you, you bloody sign!

Now with the technical aspects: the CGA graphics have very little color and apart from the aforementioned title screen and the backgrounds, the rest of the graphics and sprites aren’t really that good. The animation, including the parallax scrolling, isn’t also anything to write home about. However the digitized music and sound effects in a PC speaker were a surprising and welcome addition, although the engine sound gets grating after some time. But the controls are a bit stiff, in both the keyboard and the joystick (although the latter is still the better option).

In conclusion, Space Racer is an outdated title for a late 80s game and apart from the title screen, the music and the tracks’ backgrounds, the game isn’t really that good. It’s very repetitive and after awhile, it becomes rather monotonous. If it had better controls and more variation in general, it would be a better game. As it is, I can’t really recommend it, not even for a quick-play. If you want to try it though, you can go here to play it in your own browser.

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The Amiga and the Atari ST versions appear to have better graphics and sound but I haven’t play them, so I can’t really compare. Also there seems to be another version of the game released in the US by Broderbund Software that has a championship mode and more stuff, but I can’t find a copy of it.

So, what is your favorite sci-fi/futuristic game? Tell me in the comment section below or on our social media. Next time, let’s leave the future and travel someplace else. Until then, keep on racing and playing.

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.