PC Zone Issues 31 & 28 – October and July 1995

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You get two more PC Zone’s for the collection this week to make up for the fact that I won’t have chance to do one next week. Loads of classic games are covered including Command & Conquer, Jagged Alliance, Fade To Black and Mechwarrior 2. I’ve seen Fade to Black panned repeatedly in recent years as the unworthy sequel to Flashback but it was actually well received at the time. I’ve also uploaded the cover CD for issue 29 which had been missing before. They are all in the usual place at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone

Blood – Part 1

I decided to pick another random DOS game off the list. I nearly went for Wizardry 6 then decided it looked too complicated and went for Blood instead. This was one of the later games to use the Duke3D build engine coming out in 1997. I just about remember trying the demo version at the time but I don’t think I ever bothered finishing it so it clearly didn’t impress me back then. It’s got something of a following these days though with boxed copies being fairly rare and expensive. I have a theory that this is partly caused by a search for the word Blood on Ebay turning up so many other titles that anyone looking for a copy is prepared to pay more just to get the search off their list and not have to trawl through all that random detritus. This was certainly true in my case.

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It’s got a distinctive box if nothing else although I prefer the American version with a big bloody handprint. Like most PC games of the time, there isn’t a whole lot of content in there with a CD, small manual and a couple of flyers.

One page of that manual gives the backstory for the game, which puts it on about on a par with Doom in terms of perfunctory plots. What little there is, is actually well written and boils down to your character (Jacob) rising to be one of the 4 chosen in a cult of some description, going to meet your chosen dark god along with the love of your life, Ophelia (also one of the chosen), then getting killed off for not being worthy. At the start of the game, you arise as one of the undead from your tomb to go and seek revenge for your comrades.

Back before the term FPS was widely used, all these games were known as Doom clones and looking at Blood it’s not hard to see why as it really does follow the established formula. Even the menus look about the same. It borrows a little off Duke as well with the “hero” having wisecracks throughout. You can look up and down here and jumping adds more than you would expect to the gameplay but it’s very much using the established formula.

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You start out the game battling zombies with a pitchfork. This will be a common theme throughout as while you can knock these zombies down with a shotgun, they will just pop back up again so the best strategy is usually to save the ammo. When you kill a zombie, it’s head pops off and it can then be kicked around like a football for comic effect. The other weapons in the game are a flare gun which sticks in the enemies and sets them on fire after a while. This is very effective from range and will permanently take out zombies. There is a fairly standard shotgun and tommy gun. The most powerful weapon is a napalm launcher which serves as the rocket launcher equivalent and there is also TNT which functions as a grenade. There is also a guns akimbo powerup which gives you double guns for a brief period.

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The flare gun is a nice touch with the other weapons being uninspired but functional. A bit of variety is added with each weapon having an alternative fire mode. The enemies are the aforementioned zombies, two different types of cultist armed with shotguns and tommy guns and a flying demon who appears in later levels. There are also some tiny bats/rats/fish occasionally who are more of a nuisance than a real enemy. You’ll be seeing more cultists and zombies by far than anything else and the variety of enemies really is quite low being about on a par with Wolfenstein 3D.

The cultists aim and shoot the moment you are in their sights making progress quite difficult even at the default level. Expect to save and reload a lot if you play this. Even with foreknowledge of exactly where everyone is, it’s still very easy to die in Blood. It could do with more enemies firing dodgable weapons if you ask me to add a little more fun and spontaneity to proceedings. The biggest problem I’ve got with Blood so far is that these enemies aren’t all that much fun to fight. The zombies are OK for what they are but the cultists deal so much damage I rely on foreknowledge of exactly where they are from saving and reloading, and/or relying on their stupidity. i.e. run into a room fire to attract attention, back out then pick them off one by one as they walk through the door. I was getting better at this as the game went on so maybe I just need to get back into a 90’s FPS mindset.

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The level design is interesting with one of the most memorable in the first chapter being set on a moving train where you have to make your way through the carriages ultimately exploding the engine. Another level takes place in a carnival apparently being run by cultists with various games and stalls and even a high wire you have to traverse. For an old school shooter, I didn’t find myself getting lost too much and the objectives are usually quite clear and the design less obtuse than numerous other games of the era. None of these levels would make any sense in the real world but this isn’t a game to take that seriously. It’s played for humour in the same way as Duke really with little jokey references thrown in throughout. They certainly steal a few more quotes from the Evil Dead movies and even have a disembodied hand threatening to swallow your soul.

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The last level drops the humour in favour of a fight with a giant flying boss demon and does it ever take some killing off. I was wondering if I was doing something wrong but he succumbed just before I ran out of ammo. It appears that my rescue attempt was in vain as Ophelia is already dead.

There would have been a cutscene at this point but apparently these only work when playing in Windows, which is odd for a DOS game. I’ll swap to Windows from here on out anyway which might mean I can get proper screenshots as a bonus. My impressions so far are that this game would already have been dated when it came out with its lack of 3D acceleration and sprite based engine. I can see why I wasn’t impressed then as we had seen a slew of these sorts of games already and I’d just gone out and bought a fancy PC and wanted equally fancy games to go with it.

It’s probably more of a novelty going back to Blood 20 years later really as the gameplay is so far removed from a modern FPS. It’s reasonably good fun for what it is and certainly better than replaying Doom yet again. The next 3 chapters definitely need to add some variety to proceedings and I’m hoping for a slew of new additions for the non-shareware levels.

Ultima Patcher 1.66

I’ve just uploaded the latest Ultima Patcher, version 1.66. The additions are:-

  • Another fix from Natreg Dragon with a minor tweak to Weblock’s conversation tree in Ultima 5.
  • The latest version of the Ultima 2 upgrade (2.1) from Voyager Dragon. This adds new graphics modes, a couple of fixes and a stat mode selector so you don’t have to count your steps.
  • Also from Voyager Dragon, an alternative Ultima 4 music upgrade with more traditional instruments.

As always, my testing was minimal so let me know if something doesn’t work as expected. The patcher can be downloaded here

PC Zone Issue 32 – November 1995

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This weeks PC Zone is issue #32 from November 1995. It must have been a good month as there are loads of high scoring games reviewed, some of which I know well but most I’ve never played. The standout games for me include Magic Carpet 2 and Burn Cycle which I expected them to hate but on this occasion they actually liked an FMV game. The novelty mustn’t have worn off by this point. The PDF is in with all the other scans so far at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone

PC Zone Issue 48 – March 1997

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I’m plugging another gap in the PC Zone scans with issue 48 from March 1997. The headline review is Ecstatica II which seems strange in a month that also features Diablo. I know which one is better remembered now (even if I would rather play Ecstatica myself). There’s not much else I’ve actually played in this other than Phantasmagoria 2 which was great fun for a fan of cheesy 80’s horror like myself. The PDF is in the archive at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone