Manhunter New York – Part 2

Manhunter is set in 2004 a couple of years after the orb invasion of Earth that must have passed me by at the time. These orbs are aliens resembling giant floating eyeballs who have enslaved the population, implanted them with tracking chips and forced them all to dress in brown hooded cloaks. A select few humans get chosen to be Manhunters who work as detectives for the Orbs and the game starts with my first day on the job.

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My first case involves tracking down whoever caused an explosion at the Bellevue hospital. I do this with the aid of my CAD laptop with which I can track the movements of people involved in the crime. These tracking devices apparently didn’t include identifiers which is something of an oversight but at least I’m in a job. As may have been seen in part 1, the hospital contains the corpse of another Manhunter being eaten up by lots of baby orbs. If I look up the name on the toe-tag up on my laptop it tells me he has been transferred to Chicago…

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I have to work a case a day over 4 days discovering a human resistance movement along the way. Using their plan, I can ultimately defeat the orbs in New York. The way this story is told can be rather cryptic being almost entirely without dialog (maybe speech has also been banned?). The only time anything ever speaks in the whole game is when the orb gives you a mission at the start of each day.

The Manhunter series plays like no other AGI game. It’s nearly all in 1st person mode and as previously mentioned has no parser. There is still an inventory which can be brought up with the tab key. Select an item in here and you can attempt to use it in whatever situation you are in. For someone who had only just discovered Sierra games, the lack of a parser may have been part of the appeal. This stripped down approach is essentially point and click except without any pointing or clicking and takes the guess the word side of text parsers away.

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There are also a stack of little mini arcade games dotted throughout. I wouldn’t say any of them are great in their own right but they don’t outstay their welcome. In this first one here, I have to prove myself by throwing knives between this guys fingers. Miss and I’ll be thrown out of the bar I’m in and unable to get the vital clue hidden on the arcade machine. Like so much of the game, why there is a clue on the arcade machine in the first place is less than clear. In this particular arcade game I have to work through a maze avoiding the walls and doing so will show me a pattern which is supposed to lead me to knock down some keypie dolls in a certain order when I get to Coney Island later in the game. You will need to be using a good deal of trial and error and lateral thinking to get through these puzzles.

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Knocking down the kewpie dolls and showing a medallion I found earlier earns me a data card containing a short ditty. You want to take serious note of the name Phil here. From day two on, most of the suspects I’m chasing start turning up dead with the perpetrator showing up on the tracking system on my laptop but I’m unable to select him and follow him around. As I’ll ultimately learn it’s the mysterious Phil to blame and begs the question why I’m even on the case if the orbs have this guy killing everyone before I get chance to find them.

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One of the suspects on day 2 is led by Phil through Central Park which has now been turned into a minefield. I have to be very careful to follow the exact route shown on my laptop if I don’t want my body parts spread around central park. Phil has already done in my suspect by the time I arrive but he has scrawled a clue onto a rock with his blood (“COO …”) which is supposed to lead me to the fact that the guy doing this is called Phil Cook, in turn meaning I can look him up in my laptop and find his home address. This is where I got hopelessly stuck back in the 80’s and requires a serious leap of logic. There is another clue of sorts when I enter the park where the Murry’s warn me to “not get my goose cooked” but no real reason to tie this to his name. I seriously doubt many people figured this out – it’s frankly a terrible puzzle but did sell me a hint book which may have been the point.

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Skipping ahead to day 4, I learn that humans are being ground down for meat in true Soylent Green style. To put a stop to this I get to steal an orb spaceship and go around bombing the 4 orb centres of operation around New York.

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Manage this and there is a brief celebration, cut short when Phil vaporizes everyone except me. I fly off after him and into Manhunter 2 which moved over to San Francisco. This sequel never made it onto the IIGS so I’ll have to move back to PC again if I ever blog through that one. Manhunter 2 had even more of a cliffhanger ending only to never get the sequel I so badly wanted. It’s about time we had a Manhunter 3 Kickstarter if you ask me.

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So how well does the game hold up these days? It’s arguably a little more playable that your usual AGI title since there is no walking a little character around a screen or text parser. The puzzles can be seriously obtuse to counterbalance this. It’s hard for me to judge just how obtuse when I know the solution from nearly 30 years back but there is no way I’d have been solving all of these without a walkthrough. The sections tracking people on the laptop are quite neat and it’s a good setup for a game. Manhunter 2 would take more advantage of it.

The mixture of horror and sci-fi + the big colourful graphics and arcade sections won me over as a kid and as AGI games go it’s something of a looker. The graphics are all very strange and quirky with little touches of humour throughout. I’d have been very interested to see what an SCI Manhunter 3 could have been like but am unlikely to ever see one now. The storyline is all a little muddled and random if I’m honest but you do gradually learn about the world you are in. More exposition would certainly have helped but you are left to work it all out for yourself. The world of Manhunter is all certainly strange but it’s still one of my favourite AGI games. I’ve far too much nostalgia for my opinion to count for much here but it’s got to be worth a go for adventure game fans.

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As for playing it on the IIGS, it generally added to the experience but PC gamers weren’t missing out on all that much. You aren’t going to be overly impressed with the new soundtrack but it does have more to offer than the original. The horribly slow IIGS processor does reduce the pace when loading screens. This is especially painful when navigating the 3D maze on day 1. It also can’t keep up on the laptop tracking screens if lots of people are in a room with the framerate dropping to about 1 FPS. This is the exception rather than the rule and Manhunter runs at a reasonable speed 95% of the time. The IIGS is probably the best version to play but maybe whack your emulator speed up a bit or see if you can find one of those overpriced Transwarp cards to get some more speed.

The Horde Review – PC Format

This will be a short one as I found all of one review for The Horde in the July 1994 PC Format. They liked it a whole lot less than I did citing the repetitive gameplay and lack of enough to do.

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I don’t have the issue but it was also reviewed in the July 1994 PC Zone. They used to include scores from the old issues at the end of their magazine which are usually my first port of call to figure out which months I need to look at to find a given game. In contrast, they gave it 87% saying “Not an original concept but extremely well implemented.”

The Horde – Part 3

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I was just starting out in the swamp lands at the end of part 2. These didn’t prove to be much of a challenge all told with enemies usually attacking from the East and all my cows out to the West. Planting trees slowly drains the land which slows all the alligator horde right down allowing plenty of time for me to get my act together when they attack.

I’m starting to make much more use of my powerups during these sections, especially the boots of haste which make me run around much quicker for about 30 seconds. I’ll be using these near enough all the time from here on out. The teleportation ring is also handy for rescuing cows if I’m attacked from the other side.

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After 5 years in the swamps, it’s back to the castle with a whole heap of money. The chancellor is trying to spread a rumour that I’ve got the plague and should be confined to the dungeons. Chauncey points out that the spots are actually red stickers. He then catches the chancellor playing with his dolls before being presented with the deeds to a desert village.

As you may gather, the videos get ever more juvenile as the game goes on. You would think they were aimed at a seriously young audience but the game itself has too much going on for younger kids. They are still fun in these occasional small doses but if the game relied on the FMV for gameplay I would probably grow to hate them.

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The desert land proves to be a serious challenge. I can’t do anything on the sand tiles of the map and need to dig out water channels to slowly irrigate the land. I can only dig in already irrigated areas so this is slow going. My village gets repeatedly wiped out in the first year until I realise how useful the spiky traps are. These kill most hordlings if they walk over them and liberally spreading them about the place makes my life a whole lot easier. It has to be said that the defenders you can buy (archers and knights) are near useless by comparison despite being more expensive.

The new hordlings in this realm tunnel around in the sand and knock down buildings instantly. They aren’t too keen on water though.

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I spend the first two years losing money while slowly spreading my network of water channels. Eventually I have a big enough are to wall off a huge section and spread out my maximum allotted 30 cows. It took me a while to discover it but the overhead view shown above can be used in both strategy and action sections. The strategy section can be entirely played out like this and I used this increasingly as the game went on. I also discovered by this point that if you spread the cows out the ground doesn’t get overgrazed so I don’t have to move them around at all.

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There was a bit of a side quest on this level where a frog in a tree wants me to feed it. I wasn’t sure what this meant until I spotted a strange icon on the ground some time later which I could dig up and then place by the tree. After several of these, I’m rewarded with a meteor causing trident which I can’t say I ever actually used.

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After 6 years in the swamps, I have a healthy bank balance again. The chancellor is now trying to spread rumours of my death saying that these boxers are the only thing left. Chauncey walks in at this point of course only to be awarded yet more land, this time in the frozen north.

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These last levels would be extremely tricky if I wasn’t coming into them with a load of cash. The new enemies here are yeti that take loads of hits to kill, turn any ground they walk on into snow which I can’t build on and roll giant snowballs around destroying buildings in a single hit.

My strategy here is to hunker down and simply survive the 7 years. I have at this point bought a Morningstar powerup which makes me invulnerable for 10 seconds while I’m spinning a giant spiky ball that kills anything in a single hit. This is invaluable for taking out the yeti. By the end of 7 years, I have about 2000 gp left over but return to the king having wiped out the horde…

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… or at least that’s what I thought. The king makes me his heir which infuriates the chancellor so much that he reveals himself at last as a member of the horde.

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In a mirror of the introduction, Chauncey chokes him to death with a chicken leg, leaving behind a red pile of goo with eyes

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He becomes heir to the realm and lives happily ever after, or at least until the hinted at sequel which never happened.

I’m not going to say it was brilliant but I really liked The Horde. It’s well made with lots of variety in the levels. Each new realm seemed to subvert my strategy from the previous one causing me to have to try something new each time. The presentation was good for the era and the two contrasting styles of gameplay actually worked well together.

The FMV was probably all shot on one location in a day or two but it was amusing enough and added a little incentive to get to the end. I kind of liked the way Chauncey went from bumbling idiot to smug hero over the course of the 5 realms.

The CD-audio music is worthy of a mention and I liked the way the graphics all changed for every realm down to completely new villager sprites, tree types, etc.. I could have done with a little more screen resolution for the overhead view but it’s a limitation of the 3DO. Mouse controls would have been nice as well so the PC version would no doubt have some advantages.

The Horde comes recommended by me. I’ll see what reviews I can dig out for the next post and find out whether the UK gaming press agreed.

The Horde – Part 2

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Having delved further, I’m coming to the conclusion that there is a lot more to The Horde than I recalled. I went back and finished off the Shimto Plains level and then got sent to the tree realms of Alburga. This is a highly wooded area but I’m warned early on that the trees contain spirits and I shouldn’t cut them down. Indeed doing so knocks chunks off my health thereby ruining my strategy of using loads of trees.

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So instead to raise money I turn to cows. These cost 100 gp but return 25 gp for each season of grazing. The snag is that the horde will eat them up given opportunity which could get seriously expensive. I counter this by building a huge wall and placing them all inside. This is all well and good except these giant herds much their way through all the grass creating rocky ground that they then can’t graze on so I have to move them all about after each season. It’s well worth it as the returns are much better than they were for trees provided I can afford all the cows in the first place. There is a real knock on effect in this game. If you don’t earn enough cash in those early levels, you are going to struggle later on. I know I could have played those better in hindsight and am hoping I did well enough not to hit a brick wall in later levels.

Another bit of complexity I’d forgotten about is that you randomly get news reports halfway through some years which have effects on the game such as hot weather affecting crops, the tax collectors going missing so you don’t have to pay for a year and the like. These all get little FMV scenes to announce them. It’s a nice touch possibly adding replay value but not hugely affecting gameplay.

Finally some of the lands have unique enemies. The ones here are sneaky little thief hordlings that hide in trees, shoot at me and usually run away at speed when I get close to them. This level also introduced wizard hordlings who can teleport around. Thankfully, these are in short supply so my cows remained safe.

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I actually had to play 4 years to get through the second map. Apparently this increases with each location meaning I’ll have to do 7 years in the final world. Chauncey should be about ready to keel over by the end of this game but they clearly live longer or have very short seasons wherever this is set.

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The King awards me with a new title and more deeds, this time for a swampy land where I have to plant trees to reclaim land from the swamp. The unique enemies here are alligators who swim around the swamp at great speed but aren’t much use on the ground. All the more incentive to claim back the land with trees. So far I’ve only been attacked from the East meaning I can have a huge herd of cows to the West happily grazing in the swamp. At some point I’m sure I’ll need to move them.

This is actually a pretty nice little game so far. It came across as simplistic initially but there is some real depth to it and variation in the levels. It’s highly unusual to have no penalties for removing anything from the map which arguably makes proceedings less strategic. Any wall, tree, cow, etc.. that I place on the map can be removed at any point for a full refund. It’s seemingly vital to exploit this right before moving to the next map as nothing you have bought will carry over leaving you potentially penniless at the start of a new level. This looks like something of an oversight and maybe isn’t how I’m supposed to play. I’ll stick with whatever works either way.

The Horde – Part 1

The pronunciation of the title hasn’t changed from the last post but the spelling has for what seems like a appropriate game to take a look at next. The Horde is an action/strategy game published in 1994 by Crystal Dynamics originally for the 3DO but later ported to the PC and Saturn. It’s a game I remember reasonably fondly from renting it from my local library but we’ll have to see how it stands up these days.
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The box is certainly one of the more unique I’ve seen with a pull off top section with cut out teeth. The FMV laden nature of the game (it was for the 3DO after all) is apparent from the cover with the player character Chauncey (Kirk Cameron) pictured protecting his King inside the gaping jaws. According to the box, Cameron was on Growing Pains prior to this game apparently which doesn’t mean a thing to me but he was golden globe nominated twice so I’m guessing he was more famous on the other side of the pond.

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This one is the floppy release which misses some of the point of the game so I’m going to be playing the 3DO version instead. This version has the FMV replaced with some static shots instead and doesn’t feature the CD soundtrack either. There was a PC CD release which had smaller FMV than on the 3DO but was otherwise more or less the same game. Like many games of the era, the box comes with an entirely unnecessary paper map which is also shown during the game.
 
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The manual and FMV intro lay out the plot in which our hapless hero Chauncey was abandoned by his parents as a child, raised by a friendly herd of cows and has worked his way up to serve in the kitchens of the King. During the introduction a banquet is being held in which the evil arch chancellor (who is actually called such in the manual) is regaling everyone with a tail apparently so amusing that the King nearly chokes to death laughing. Chauncey steps in to save the day and is rewarded by being knighted by the King much to the chagrin of the arch chancellor who had initially wanted to kill him for assault. Chauncey is knighted, given the King’s old sword which he can barely lift and awarded the deeds to the Shinto Plains where he now has to go and protect the land from the evil horde.

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The FMV in this title certainly embraces the cheese factor but has higher production values than most of these games did at the time. It’s only there as a framing device rather than being integrated into the gameplay and serves the purpose quite well. FMV always worked well as the carrot to keep me moving forward in 90’s games like this even if plenty of other people skipped it.

The interactive sections contrast to the FMV being very cartoony (in a 90’s pre rendered 3D way). The game plays out in isometric 3D with two distinct stages of gameplay. In this first stage, I get to spend any money I have building, planting or transforming the landscape around the village I’m now protecting. I don’t have many options open at the start but can plant trees, dig out ground to extend waterways, remove trees, etc. I can buy cows which will return money but are a favourite food for the horde, build fences to slow down the horde or spiky pits to kill them off. Finally I can end this stage and advance to the next season (provided I can fight off the horde inbetween). For now those are all my options but I’ll get to buy more later.

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Being green pays in this game and I remember well enough that the secret to beating it is planting huge forests of trees. Each sapling I plant has a chance of growing into a full size tree at the start of the next stage. These can be dug up returning 5 gold for my 1 gold investment. All the others can be dug up again at the very end to get my 1 gold back before I advance to the next map. There is a limit on the number of trees I’m allowed but each turn is timed so managing the giant forest fills up an entire turn on its own. The trick if I recall right is to drum up so much wealth in these early levels that you just need to worry about staying alive at the end of the game.

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Once this management/strategy stage is out of the way, I get attacked by a predetermined and ravenous horde of bright red critters in an arcade stage. These guys spawn at various sides of the map and make their way to my village eating crops, breaking fences and swallowing whole any villagers they can sink their teeth into. I have to run around killing them all guided by an all too small mini map. I can hear them swimming or knocking things down which offers a slight clue as to their location but half the job is finding them.

Later in the game, I’ll have various objects available to help but right now I just have to take out the juvenile hordlings with the King’s sword. Using this swings me round in a circle hitting anything close enough. I have to be careful not to get too close and take damage of course. Swing too often and you get too dizzy to move for a couple of seconds. During all of this the villagers are hiding in their homes. Hordlings will try to knock these down if they get near enough. If any villagers do get eaten, there is a brief window where an engorged hordling will be sitting on the ground and if I kill it in time a dazed villager pops out of the remains.

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If you don’t save any of the villagers at all, then the game is over and it’s back to working in the kitchens. Succeed and you have to play one stage for each season of the year at which point the chancellor demands his taxes.

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You get to save your game at the end of each year can buy some new gear if you have the funds available. The options available are things like stone walls, food which acts as a lure for the horde, bombs, knights to fight for you and a teleportation ring. As far as I recall, there are 3 years for each land and 5 different lands to get through.

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That is basically the whole game but it will get a whole lot harder. As you progress the village gets bigger and harder to defend and the enemies tend to increase in number. New varieties of creature start to appear. First are some hound-like hordlings who still die in one hit but dash around at ridiculous speeds. Far more troublesome are these guardian like goliaths who take 9 hits to kill off and merely have to touch a building to destroy it. I ran into one of these once too often on the final season of year 3 in my first session on the game. The bomb powerup I didn’t buy looks like it might have been a good idea at this stage.
So far, I can’t say much strategy has been involved. All I’ve done is plant lots of trees and relied on being able to stop the horde without the aid of any traps or protection. I’m all for a gentle start to a game anyway and will be finding things much tougher before the end.