Theme Park DOS review

Now, we’re just upping the ante, aren’t we? Still, it’s impossible to make a Bullfrog retrospective without mentioning another critical and commercial successful title, which is perhaps their most colourful game that also begun its own influential series. I’m talking about Theme Park.

Theme Park is a managerial strategy game developed by Bullfrog and published by Electronic Arts. It was originally released in 1994 for the 3DO, Commodore Amiga, DOS and Macintosh. The following year, it was ported to the Amiga CD32, FM Towns, Genesis/Megadrive, Jaguar, PC-98, Playstation, Sega Mega-CD, Sega Saturn and SNES/Super Nintendo. In 2007, it was remade for the Nintendo DS and in 2008, that remake was ported for the Playstation 3 and PSP and in 2012, it was ported for the PS Vita. In 2013, the original version was re-released for Windows and Macintosh. There’s also an iOS remake with microtransactions which was released in 2011, but it wasn’t as well received (I wonder why).

Whew, Theme Park might just be Bullfrog’s most ported title. But, like always, before we take a look at the game itself, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?

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This is perhaps the most famous cover and it’s quite adequate for this game. It could perhaps show more on the background, but you really don’t need anything else.

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If you saw my Populous review, this cover looks very familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a lot better than the original cover and it’s not only more colourful but also conveys better what the game’s about.

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Now I know this one’s just a image taken from the CD intro but it’s better suited for the cartoony and comedic look of the game. It’s perhaps not as busy as the previous cover, but I like it.

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Meh! Although truth be told, the design isn’t that bad, but it could definitely use more colour.

And now, let’s boot this sucker into the roller coaster, shall we?

The intro is from the CD-ROM version of the game and between the eerie music and the Willy Wonka lookalike, it feels like the start of an horror movie. And that hole at the end of the roller coaster? Believe me, it goes straight to Hell! The menu screen could use a bit more work. It reminds me a bit of Syndicate and it really shouldn’t. Perhaps a rounder font would be better suited.

When starting a new park (and game), you have quite a range of options to customise your gameplay: from the park’s name, to the difficulty levels and more. Your gameplay can be just focused to build and customise theme parks or it can have a lot more depth to it in the several managerial options (like buying stock for your stores, negotiating your employees’ wages or researching new rides and attractions). The fact that you can make your gameplay more or less complex, just bring a whole new level to the game itself, as it caters to both casual and hardcore strategy players.

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In building your first park, you have no other option than to start in the UK, because you don’t have any money to buy lands and in the UK, it’s free. So, you always have start there. At the beginning, you only have a few rides and stores to build. You unlock the rest as you play along or research for it (depending on the type of gameplay you chose). You even have the option of a mini-tutorial which explains the basic game mechanics. But to properly understand the most complex mechanics, I recommend reading the manual first.

You also have to hire employees to manage the rides and stores, including handymen to fix broken rides, mascots to entertain the public and janitors to keep the parks clean, among others. Every now and then, a new screen pops up and you have to play a minigame in order to negotiate the employees’ wages with their representative. Also a small hint: make sure to program your janitors’ routes to make sure they actually clean the entire park.

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The very start of the game.

Not only do you build and decorate the park, but you also have to micromanage every little aspect, like the ride’s efficiency, the tickets’ prices, the shops’ stocks, services, etc. And when building the big rides, like roller coasters, you can customise its length and altitude to your liking (even create unrealistic rides that would be too dangerous in the real world). The objective is to make sure that your park’s visitors always have a good time and leave satisfied (and hopefully, also with their wallets empty).

In case your park isn’t going well and the money starts running low, you can always take a loan from the bank, but of course, you have to be aware of the interests and if your park still doesn’t have any success (and no money to pay the interests), the bank can always take it away from you as payment. You also have to keep an eye in the stock market and make sure your stocks are high or else, one of your competitors can make an hostile takeover of your park. But these options are only available in business mode.

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Now this is more like it!

And after a few years, you have the option to auction your park for a hefty sum of money (if the park was successful) and start in a different country, whose location and land price determine the difficulty in building and manage a new park.

This is just a light review of the game mechanics, because Theme Park in business mode has a lot more depth and micromanagement to it, but because it also has the other two modes, it doesn’t scare away players who aren’t very good with this particular genre, making Theme Park a great entry for it.

Technically speaking, the game has good graphics and very colourful sprites and animation. You can even change the resolution ingame, but I don’t like the bigger resolution all that much (it makes the sprites very small, although it increases the view). The music is very obviously upbeat and the sound effects are also very good (although you’ll get tired of a particular sound sample).

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You can build your Roller Coaster any way you like.

So in general, I have to say that Theme Park is a very deep managerial game, but also very customisable, which is great for both beginners and veterans of the genre. If you want a fast and casual game, you have that option; but if you want a deep, slow micromanagement simulation, you also have that option. In other words, I highly recommend it, whether if you’re a fan of this genre or simply want an easy introduction to it.

Theme Park had an enormous success with both players and critics alike and spawned a successful series. Its direct sequel might have taken a different direction (Theme Hospital), but it came back to its original theme for the rest of the series. It also inspired the RollerCoaster Tycoon series. You can find Theme Park here at GOG.com.

So here ends our Bullfrog retrospective. I know some of you were expecting a Dungeon Keeper review, but like I said before, my work took a lot of my free time. But don’t worry, I promise to review it some other time. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective and hopefully, there’ll be more to come. See you guys around and until then, keep on playing.

Mean Streets review

And again we’re taking a look at a game series, that like many others, started in the 80s or 90s (80s in this particular case), still continues to this day and became famous around its 3rd entry. But this time, it features perhaps the most famous private detective in computer gaming: Tex Murphy. I’m obviously talking about Mean Streets.

Mean Streets is an adventure game made by Access Software and originally released in 1989 for the Commodore 64 and DOS. It was ported the next year (in Europe only) for the Amiga and Atari ST. And it was re-released in 2014 for Windows, Macintosh and Linux by Night Dive Studios under the title Tex Murphy: Mean Streets.

But as always, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?

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I love this cover! It’s very reminiscent of the original Blade Runner movie poster, with a shot of Chris Jones (the designer and face of Tex Murphy throughout the entire series) holding a gun over an image of a futuristic city and an image of his love interest.

But however, the European release had this interesting cover:

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Where to begin? 1st, both the title and the art style definitely has an European urban sci-fi look, like taken from a Métal Hurlant magazine. 2nd, the characters depicted here look nothing like the game’s main characters. While the woman resembles one of the lesser characters in the game, the man resembles more like Conrad B. Hart, the protagonist of  Flashback. And 3rd, while the background is undoubtedly futuristic, it looks nothing like the entire series’ dystopian look. Overall, it’s a good cover, but as you’ll find out soon, it has little to do with the game.

But, it’s finally time to boot this sucker:

As you can read in the short intro text (or more detailed in the manual), you play as Tex Murphy, a down-on-his-luck private detective living in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, in the distant year of 2033. You’ve been hired by Sylvia Linsky (the blonde woman depicted in the cover and the title screen) to investigate her father’s suicide, of which she suspects of murder. Of course, the story spirals into something a lot bigger than a simple scientist’s death.

Right from the start, you’ll notice that Mean Streets isn’t a traditional adventure game, but more like a mix of different genres.We start with a flight simulator section (taken from another Access game, Echelon), where you take control of your speeder flying car and travel through the game’s various locations in California, but you can only land in landing pads. The controls aren’t too complicated and the speeder is indestructible, so there’s no risk of dying in this section. However, you don’t actually need to control the speeder itself, because you can simply introduce the nav codes in the navigational screen and press “A” for the auto-pilot to take you there. This section occupies more or less 80% of the game and travelling greater distances can be somewhat boring. And also is the only part in the game where you can access the inventory and the save and load screens. You can also contact Vanessa, your secretary and Lee Chin, your informant, which brings us to the next section of the game.

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Well, is good to know that the Golden Gate bridge won’t be destroyed in the future.

Then we have the interrogation section, where you’ll interview the several characters in the game. You can ask them about other characters and locations by typing them perfectly (the game doesn’t recognise badly written words) and they’ll answer if they’re familiar with it. But sometimes they’re not willing to talk and then you have the option to either bribe them with money or threaten their physical integrity. But only one of these 2 options will work because you’ll find people, that when uncooperative, can only be bribed or threatened. Then after being bribed or threatened, they’ll reveal new information, like a name, or if you’re lucky, a nav code for a new location to explore, which brings us to the next two sections.

When arriving at a new location, sometimes you need to pass an shooting section, where you’ll take full control of Tex and have to cross two screens from left to right, shooting infinite mooks (that look the same, there are only be two at a time and are apparently made of glass by the way they shatter when shot). Tex can duck to avoid the bullets and use the several obstacles to his advantage, although it’s easy to get stuck behind one while bullets whizz above him. The several shooting sections can range from easy to hard, depending on your skill. The secret in passing through them consists in timely dodges and pressing on.

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I love this screen.

After the shooting sections, you’ll reach the search section, the closest to an actual graphic adventure. In here, you again take full control of Tex, but this time, you only need to explore one screen where you’ll first need to walk to several places inside a room, like a table, a TV or a sofa, then click “Enter” to access a menu of several options. Then you can search through the several objects, open drawers, move objects or get items. The only complaints I have in this section is that there’s no point and click interface, so you’ll need to do everything using your keyboard. You can’t access your inventory (in fact, any objects in your possession are used automatically when needed) and sometimes, if there’s an object inside a small box and if you get the box before opening it, you’ll get the object inside stored in your inventory, but then you need to get back to your speeder to access your inventory and examine the new object there or even to know you got said object. And also sometimes, you can trigger an alarm that gives you a limited time to find and turn it off in order to continue the search or leave the area. And the alarm resets everytime you leave the area.

And apart from all this, you have limited money and ammunition. But you can always find more ammunition, money and objects that you can pawn for more money in the several search areas. But you need to be careful when pawning objects, because there are some obvious valuables that can be pawned freely (like diamonds, necklaces, etc.) but if you pawn an object that you might need later in the game, you have to buy it back for double the cash it was pawned off. Or you can collect bounties on several criminals, whose map coordinates can be found on the manual that takes you to harder shooting sections. And the money is only used for bribes (or to buy back some important object you accidentally pawned off), especially when dealing with Lee, as she’s an invaluable source of information but only gives it when paid.

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The somewhat boring flying section.

But that’s the game’s mechanics. How is the rest of game, you ask? Well, apart from being one of the first games to introduce VGA graphics, it also features Real Sound, which could produce small digitised speech samples through the PC speaker. Yes, really! And it isn’t badly garbled nonsense, it’s actually quality digitised speech, albeit quite short. But the rest of the sound effects are of equal quality, from the sound of the speeder’s engine to the sound of the shots in the shooting sections. Unfortunately there’s only one musical theme in the game but it’s actually a good one, in my opinion.

But back to the graphics, the game features some nice backgrounds, still images (albeit it repeats the later a bit much for my liking) and some digitised photos of the several characters you’ll meet in the game, including the mutants, with some gruesome visuals. The only complaints I have about the graphics is that Tex’s sprite is a bit EGA-looking when playing with VGA graphics. It stands out in both the shooting and the search sections. And the animation’s a bit jerky.

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Talking to our client, Sylvia Linsky.

But for me, the best part of the game, it’s the story and characters. I love how the plot gets increasingly more and more complex and interesting as you play along and the majority of the characters are equally interesting, despite some red herrings and dead ends your investigation can run across. Still, I recommend reading the manual before starting the game, just to get your bearings and know where to start. And another thing: near the end, when you think you know the entire story, it still throws a good twist at you. Also, this game introduces a bit of the comedy that the series would be known for.

So in conclusion, Mean Streets is a worthy introduction to the Tex Murphy series, albeit it doesn’t know which genre wants to be, unlike its sequels, which are proper graphic adventures. And if you personally don’t enjoy flight simulators, you might not like it. Still, if you’re a Tex Murphy fan, I recommend it.

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The shooting section.

Mean Streets was remade in the fifth titles of the series, Overseer, but it’ll get its own review later on for 2 reasons: 1st, in Overseer, the events of Mean Streets are told through flashbacks in a conversation with characters that were introduced in previous titles and 2nd, it uses game mechanics that were introduced in the 3rd game of the series, Under A Killing Moon.

So, where can you get this awesome game? Well, you can get it here on Steam or you can get here on GOG.com bundled together with the 2nd game of the series, Martian Memorandum. And if you’re looking for more stuff about the game, then you can go here to the unofficial website and get all sorts of goodies, like save states or a mod that lets you skip the flying sections.

So, do you like the Tex Murphy series? If so, what’s your favourite titles of the series? Tell me by commenting below, in our Facebook page, our Twitter feed or on our new Steam group. See you all next time and until then, keep on playing!

688 Attack Sub review

Like I said before, most genres started as computer games before being made for consoles. In fact, due to the limited fast action in favor of a slow, methodical gameplay, most simulations thrived in the computer realm in comparison with consoles. However some companies did try to port them to consoles, but most console players in the 80s and 90s preferred a more action-oriented approach to gaming. Today’s subject although more known in the Sega Megadrive/Genesis’ library, begun its existence as a computer game. we’re talking about 688 Attack Sub.

688 Attack Sub is a submarine simulation (or subsim) developed and published by Electronic Arts and originally released in 1989 for DOS. It was re-released a year later for Amiga and ported in 1991 to the Sega Megadrive/Genesis and PC-98.

But first, let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

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Man, this envelope went through a rough patch, hasn’t it?

The first cover isn’t bad in theory, with a simple vanilla envelope with the word “CLASSIFIED” stamped on the front. But it doesn’t say anything about the game itself, except that it might be a military type game of some sort.

The consequent variants were a lot better and my favourite is this one:

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A bit better, right?

With a simple image of two Navy boats, it gives you a better idea of what the game is all about, but I still don’t know if this a subsim or a Battleship videogame based only on the cover.

But the Megadrive/Genesis cover is totally different:

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Confirmed target destroyed!

Now this is a great cover! You don’t need anything else to tell you about the game.

But let’s launch this boat, shall we?

As you can see, the title screen shows nothing more than the image of a submarine resurfacing featuring an adequate theme music. It’s not bad and the theme sets a good atmosphere for the game.

Then we have the mission selection screen, where we can choose between 10 missions to play. We can take control between an US 688 class sub or a Soviet ALFA class, except in the first mission, where we can also take control of a 700 class (but it’s absolutely identical to the 688 sub).

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I just shot an E at the B!

The lighting icons next to the missions’ name mean that those missions can be played with another player, each one controlling a different sub. However I have to apologize because I couldn’t play any multiplayer match. These matches could only be played through a modem direct connection and since this game was released before the existence of the Internet, I lack the necessary knowledge to configure it in modern computers. So consider this a single-player review only.

After choosing which mission to undertake, you then have access to the configuration panel, where you can dial up your modem for multiplayer matches (if available) and/or choose your difficulty level.

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Is the guy on the left smoking a pipe in a confined closed space?

As you can guess, this game occurs during the height of the Cold War and the majority of the missions are between the US and Soviet forces. The missions, while being only ten, are very varied, ranging from training to surveillance to open naval battles.

At the start of every mission, you’re required to go to the radio room to receive your orders and objectives and then you can properly start your mission.

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“So, where’s comrade Sean Connery?”

From a screen called the CONN (Conning Tower) depicting the inside of the sub and its crew, you can access 6 control panels in which you have access to the different functions for operating the sub:

  • The aforementioned radio room, where you can review your mission orders and objectives. Also at the end of each mission, you always end up here in case of whether failure or success.

  • The status panel, where you’ll see all the damage done to the sub.

  • The control panel, where you’ll basically drive the sub, controlling its depth level, speed and direction.

  • The weapons panel, where you’ll have access to the torpedoes, missiles (only in the 688 class) and noisemakers.

  • The periscope panel, where you can use the periscope to take a look at the surface.

  • The navigation room, where you can trace routes to navigate through using the autopilot function.

  • And the sonar room, where you can use sonar to detect and analyze your targets.

And during battles, if the panels suddenly turn red, that means you have a hull breach and you need to resurface before your sub sinks!

In almost every panel, you’ll also have access to a map where your sub is depicted by a square in the middle of it and all the other ships are depicted by color-coded letters. But using your controls at the left bottom, you can also have access to a rough 3D vision of the ocean’s bottom, but it doesn’t depict any other ships. Which is great for navigating slowly at the bottom of the sea, avoiding any rock formations and other environmental dangers.

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“Luckily we won’t hear Amerikan pigs singing this time, comrade kaptain!”

There is basically no difference between the American and Russian subs, only cosmetically. The only big difference is the lack of missiles in the ALPHA class, but then again you only need to use the missiles in one mission (although seeing missiles being shot in the periscope view is cool).

There are no limits to what you can do while controlling the sub, whether it is to sail away or attacking your allies, but of course, you’ll fail the mission. I do like the little portraits of your crew almost every time you do something, like raising your periscope or arming and firing a torpedo. Usually it takes two torpedoes to sink any ship, but sometimes they might miss the target, luckily you can guide them remotely to any chosen target.

At the beginning of every mission, any targets you detect are unidentified and to properly identify them, you can either use the periscope (if they’re at the surface) or use your sonar analyzer, which will reproduce their distinctive sounds and no, nobody sings the Russian National Anthem in this game.

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No, this isn’t the mission success screen.

Due to this strategic way of playing, the game isn’t very action-packed and it might look very slow-paced to most gamers. But if you prefer this kind of gameplay, then 688 Attack Sub is right up your alley.

The Megadrive/Genesis version plays exactly the same, with all the missions intact. And although it has better graphics and the gamepad controls aren’t bad, it also has worse sound and music, even if it has more themes than the DOS version. Also it lacks the crew’s portraits of the other versions.

688 Attack Sub wasn’t the first subsim to appear in the market, nor the most influential and it was followed by SNN-21 Seawolf in 1994 and by Jane’s 688(i) Hunter/Killer in 1997.

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Select your pain!

I haven’t played a lot of subsims to properly compare them to 688, but from a general gamer’s perspective, it might be a bit slow-paced, especially at the start of every single mission, but it grows to a certain level of action at a harder difficulty level and the objectives’ variation gives it a small replay value, but after beating all the missions with both subs, you’ll hardly play it again. So if you like subsims, give it a shot but it might be a bit complex to serve as an introduction to the genre.

So, what do you think of this game? Feel free to leave your comments below and next time, we’ll take a look at one of my personal favourite games, in both genre and theme. Till then, keep it under the sea and avoid the Crazy Ivans.