The Last Dynasty

A few PC Zone scans back, I mentioned spotting an advert for Sierra’s The Last Dynasty which grabbed my attention due to the high 90’s cheese factor. The game itself is part adventure game and part Wing Commander clone which certainly sounded intriguing so I picked up a copy and have been playing it the last couple of days. The Wing Commander factor justifies a quick review on here I reckon so here it is.

IMG_20180814_074823

The Last Dynasty came out in 1995 and is actually a Windows 3.1 game which uses the forerunner of DirectX, WinG. It still runs in Windows 98 thankfully provided you set the desktop to 256 colours. I did have some issues with joystick support but there is a patch available on the web which fixes that issue. The game was published by Sierra and developed by Coktel Vision who had been acquired by them at this point.

The plot is fairly simple if needlessly difficult to follow due to some extremely odd editing and pacing in the generous doses of FMV. You play the son of the ruler of a galactic empire of some description. 20 years ago, this was attacked by a bad guy going by the unlikely name of Iron. To keep the ultimate knowledge that your Dad was guarding safe, it was stuck into you and your brothers brains, split in two with either half being useless on its own. You were then sent away to Earth for safety living in obscurity with your father’s loyal squire for protection.

SIMG_20180813_211143

Now 20 years later, your brother has been captured and his half of the knowledge extracted. A spaceship turns up to rescue you from an enemy attack and you then get to meet up with Dad (briefly) and lead the fightback using your expert fighter piloting learned through simulators back on Earth.

This space combat is done in SVGA but with prerendered sprites as in Wing Commander 1, 2, etc. It all looks rather nice with the use of sprites adding some welcome detail to all those spaceships compared to what mid-90’s 3D was capable of. The flight engine has been simplified somewhat from your usual space sim with the computer controlling your speed leaving you to concentrate on steering and shooting. You can switch this feature off but I stuck with it as it doesn’t detract from the gameplay especially. The controls are odd with the decision being made to use function keys for all the commands you’ll be using. God forbid they chose keys that are actually next to each other. So you’ll be using F11 for afterburners, then swapping to F1 to select your lasers, then it’s up to F6 and F7 to cycle through enemies. It works but pretty much anything else would have worked better.

SIMG_20180813_211210

You can use mouse control, which is playable but a joystick is highly preferable. You will only be piloting the one ship but you do get access to 4 different weapons throughout from the basic laser, through missiles, rockets and mines. The rockets are particularly fun being something like the nuke weapon from the Special Ops expansion in Wing 2 except much easier to use and much more deadly. You can take out many enemies in one shot with these things if your enemy is flying in close formation and this is required in one particular mission.

The combat is quite good fun if sometimes a little strange. There were times when I’d turn my ship but whatever I’m turning towards didn’t move on my radar despite it being miles away so I had to turn in another direction instead. Trailing ships once you are on their tail works well though with the enemies often spinning and pulling various manoeuvres to get out of the way. There don’t appear to be any collisions in the game and I literally flew through a planet at one point. The engine also cheats here in that there is a maximum size for a sprite so it stops getting larger as you get closer and then swoops away when you eventually fly past. I get the feeling there was some general jiggery-pokery going on with the engine and that it wasn’t exactly a full 3D environment.

SIMG_20180813_202218

The combat missions have a large dose of strategy in them and some play quite like puzzles in the sense that you have to work out the correct path through them to succeed. This can be a little frustrating if you run into an impossible situation not realising what you did wrong to create it. I enjoyed this part of the game on the whole though. It interjects FMV during the missions to move the story along or show ships blowing up and there was a clear intention to keep everything as cinematic and action packed as possible. I wouldn’t for a minute say that the story is well told but there is no delay between transitions so it’s unobtrusive and adds to the games universe such as it is.

SIMG_20180813_211428 SIMG_20180813_211347

After doing a handful of these missions, you get to land on a space station where you are searching for a clone of your brothers ultimate knowledge so you can destroy it. This section of the game fills up CD #2 and plays like Myst with FMV transitions as you move around the station. I’m not a fan of Myst it has to be said although I don’t have an inherent problem with first person adventures. This section looks OK but it is desperately in need of more narrative and explanation. You can’t examine items or anything else for that matter to see what they are. Hotspots are often tiny so you can know what you need to do but miss out on it because of the arbitrary hotspot you haven’t found. Part way into this section I gave up on it and just flat out used a walkthrough. Having seen some of the puzzle solutions this was quite definitely the right call. E.g. you pick up a canister (which has no more description than that) which you have to drop into a fish tank to create poison gas (while wearing a space suit whose seal you have fixed in order to get rid of some guards. I had no idea the canister had poison in it or any reason to mix it with water had I known. I didn’t know that the seal on the space suit was bust either for that matter since I couldn’t examine my inventory and the interface was poor enough that using the seal took several attempts before it actually worked. Making it through this part of the game would have required trial and error which simply isn’t fun. Another complaint would be that large parts of the base being are extremely similar looking corridors. You have all this FMV, why make everything look the same. Some labels on doors would have helped at the very least. Mazes full of identical twisty passages have been the bane of adventure games since the very beginning. I should mention that you can swap back to the space sections and the adventure part at will if you wanted a change, not that I ever did.

 

Once the ultimate knowledge is dealt with, it’s back to space combat again and the best missions of the game. The plot continues to weave around and is frankly ridiculous. The general tone reminds me more of The Last Starfighter than anything else except much worse. It quite definitely doesn’t take itself seriously but the attempts at humour are often embarrassing. It’s all fun if you like B movies although this would have to be rated D or E. Make it to the end and you will have previously rid yourself of the ultimate knowledge unknown to Iron. You hand yourself in to him, he tries to transfer the knowledge into himself only for the process to backfire when it’s not there. This means that I become the ultimate knowledge myself giving me the superpowers to disarm the enemy and become a hero. None of this makes any sense of course but you shouldn’t be expecting that by this point in proceedings.

SIMG_20180813_202338SIMG_20180813_202449

SIMG_20180813_202438 SIMG_20180813_202531

SIMG_20180813_202536

The Last Dynasty is an entertaining attempt to combine a couple of genres which masters neither but has enough heart and humour to just about get away with it. It doesn’t manage to create the movie like atmosphere it’s going for but with a walkthrough ready if you need it, a good time can still be had. I kind of wish that the adventure game section had been dropped and the time spent on polishing the space combat if I’m honest. The two parts of the game didn’t gel together and the Myst section while competent was too obtuse. I’d have been all for twice as many combat missions instead. I do like a bit of 90’s FMV but the movie parts were really quite odd. I got the impression that half of them were missing and it should have been a 4CD game but they decided to save a few quid and edit everything to death. I’m not going to go as far as to recommend The Last Dynasty but it was good enough that I don’t regret giving it a go.

 

 

Prince of Persia 1-3 Reviews

It’s been a week of magazine scans on here so lets keep the theme going with a stack of Prince Of Persia reviews. These are in honour of Dos Game Club choosing Prince Of Persia for their July game. I spent the first 3 weeks of the month playing through the first three games in the series. I’m not new to any of them but it had certainly been a while.

Starting of course with the original classic Prince Of Persia, I don’t have any entirely contemporary reviews as dedicated PC Gaming mags in the UK don’t actually go back quite that far but I did find 3 articles looking back at it. This first comes from the second PC gaming mag I ever bought, PC Review Issue 8 (June 1992). This is back when these magazines had about a third of their pages at the rear printed on cheap telephone directory style paper that were full of buyers guides, directories of dealers and one classic game of the month :-

sdoc0022

Another game of the month article from PC Zone Issue 5 – August 1993

sdoc0017

And finally a much later look back from a “Games That Changed The World” supplement which came with PC Zone sometime in 2005:-

sdoc0018 sdoc0019 sdoc0020 sdoc0021

It took a while but Prince Of Persia got an inevitable sequel in 1993. Going back and playing it now I have mixed feelings. It expanded the scope and story of the first games with cutscenes, a responsive soundtrack, much more varied backgrounds + new enemies and traps. It seemed very slightly unfinished to me though with less precise controls, occasional bugs and incredibly frustrating gameplay. They really did turn the difficulty up to 11 on this one so any minor issues with jumping or combat get magnified out of proportion. That said it is still completable if you persevere and learn by rote but expect to swear at your computer a lot before you get there.

It’s back to PC Zone Issue 5 for the first review:-

doc0001 doc0002

doc0003

And another from PC Review Issue 21 – July 1993 :-

sdoc0014 sdoc0016

sdoc0015doc0004

On to Prince Of Persia 3D which came out much later in 1999. That puts it outside of the DOS era so it’s not strictly relevant for a DOS gaming club but I fancied playing it anyway. This was a much maligned game at the time as I recall but I quite enjoyed it. The formula had already been done by Tomb Raider to a large extent but Prince Of Persia 3D certainly plays much like the first games so it was more or less what I wanted from a sequel even if it’s not exactly a classic. I was playing a patched version and I gather there were some issues with the original release which may have been a factor. It is quite a slow paced game much of the time in which you are always having to plan out your moves which may have put some people off. A more controllable camera would have been nice but it wasn’t that bad and this was 1999 I suppose. The introduction of quicksaves makes it a far less frustrating experience than Prince Of Persia 2 – if I had to pick between them I’d choose this one. Before the reviews, I found one preview when trying to figure out which month I needed to look at. This is from PC Gaming World in May 1999:-

sdoc0009 sdoc0010

sdoc0011 sdoc0012

sdoc0013

The first review is PC Zone 83 – December 1999. I’m not entirely convinced we were playing the same game:-

sdoc0008

A fairer review from PC Format in the same month:-

sdoc0005 sdoc0006 sdoc0007

And the last one from PC Home December 1999 :-

sdoc0003 sdoc0004

 

 

Little Big Adventure Review – PC Format

It’s completely off topic but I was asked about this fairly negative review of Little Big Adventure and might as well post it here as anywhere. Apparently this got mentioned in a French magazine since the game was allegedly badly received purely on the basis of it being French. It’s certainly a low score for a well regarded title but the reviewer does at least attempt to justify it with more than just his apparent anti-French sentiment.

doc0005 doc0006

Blood – Magazine Reviews

Time to see what the UK press thought of Blood. I’ve dug up three reviews that are largely in line with my own opinions for once. This first review from the August 97 PC Format is a bit too harsh if you ask me:-

doc0130

The PC Zone issue of the same month is a lot fairer:-

doc0127 doc0128

And finally a brief review from the October 1997 PC Zone

doc0129

Blood – Part 2

IMG_20180613_211742 IMG_20180613_211744

For part 2, I swapped over to Windows which fixed the missing cutscenes but broke the music instead. Looking at them by modern standards the 3D models are hilariously awful but they do move the story along at the end of every episode.

In hindsight, I should have patched my copy to a newer version and I could then have had 3dfx support but it ran smooth enough at 640×480 so it’s not a huge loss.

IMG_20180615_160316 IMG_20180615_190210

Each episode of Blood takes place in a different setting which is an unexpected twist. Part 2 is in the frozen north and often has a haunted house atmosphere to the indoor locations. The enemies are mostly the same as in the shareware release but there are new additions for the registered version with sharkman things that are crazily fast underwater but not quite so nasty on land and a specter which fades in and out of existence only being vulnerable when attacking. There are new weapons in the shape of a tesla gun (which seems slightly out of place) and a hairspray/lighter combination to set enemies on fire.

These additions on their own don’t add too much but I did find I wasn’t scrabbling about for ammo or reloading anywhere near as often in these registered levels. I expect that was largely due to me becoming better at the game. I eventually started to learn techniques to deal with these enemies. For instance, the flying demons can be pushed back and stunned if you use the alternative fire on the shotgun. Four quick blasts like this and they are dealt with easily. The extra handful of powerful weapons also make life a little easier.

IMG_20180616_080514 IMG_20180616_105959

There is a new boss at the end of each section with part 2 having a giant spider that spawns lots of little spiders, and part 3 having a fire-breathing two-headed Cerberus to deal with. Neither of these are massively challenging but you do get to see them as regular enemies in later levels so it’s just as well.

IMG_20180616_093928 IMG_20180616_105326

The third episode has you travelling through Paris, it’s sewers, then through factories and dams.

IMG_20180616_114038 IMG_20180616_142024

The fourth level has a further wide-spread of levels including cult laboratories, lava filled mines, the insides of some creature and ultimately leading into a battle with the dark god himself (once you complete a boss rush of the first 3 episode ending baddies).

IMG_20180616_143420 IMG_20180616_144043

The final battle isn’t massively climactic or original. It’s just another big boss to shoot at and again the first level boss was harder (at least at the time).

IMG_20180616_144219

Once victorious, someone approaches citing the Lord’s Prayer after seeing the demon vanquished only for Caleb to nonchalantly gun him down and presumably stroll off into the expansion packs which I don’t own.

So how does Blood hold up 20 years down the line? Surprisingly well actually. Once I got into it, I really enjoyed myself with this game. It’s not particularly long lasting, I got though the last 3 episodes in one lazy Saturday morning but it’s certainly at least on a par with the likes of Final Doom in the brevity stakes. What Blood has over Doom, is way more variety in the levels and weapons, the more capable Build engine coming in handy here. Above all else, I don’t know it inside out already.

I know this is regarded as a cult classic but I’m slightly struggling with that as it seems too derivative to me. By the time Blood came out it was competing with the likes of Jedi Knight and I can’t see that as a contest. Perhaps now, when the technology/graphics are less of a factor it’s a closer thing. There are plenty of inventive levels here and I do like the horror theme. The initial difficulty is a little off-putting but persevere and you should still have a great time with Blood. Don’t expect anything ground breaking but if you enjoy DOS FPS games, it’s definitely up there with the best of them.