Continuing my list of favourite Origin games, let’s see which games didn’t quite make the top ten.
Starting us off is Origin’s answer to Alone In The Dark in the shape of Bioforge. It was a fantastic looking game in its day, with a warped sci-fi plot and some decent puzzles to break up the action. The basic game mechanic may have been borrowed but Bioforge was very much its own beast and presented an alternative approach to the interactive movie which Origin never really pursued any further. Bit of a pity really as it’s one of their better told stories provided you don’t object to reading the lengthy documents you pick up along the way. The main things holding Bioforge back are the lack of an ending since the sequel never happened and the clunky combat. The combat is awkward enough that I strongly recommend playing this one on easy which makes it play more or less as it should in the first place as far as I’m concerned.
This is the Wing Commander game that wasn’t really a Wing Commander being headed up by Erin rather than Chris Roberts and set in a separate universe. The FMV portions had one of the best casts ever assembled for a video game but were a lot less Hollywood and more original series Doctor Who in terms of style and presentation. This didn’t bother me one bit mind you.
The in flight engine was quite a bit smoother and better looking than the Wing Commander 4 equivalent if less satisfying in combat. Flying the ships in Privateer 2 was a very different experience all round but one I always enjoyed. It’s a game that seemed a little under-appreciated in my eyes and might have been better off without that Wing Commander branding that got applied at the last minute.
Ultima 7 and Serpent Isle are two games that I really should go back and play again one day as I don’t feel I spent enough time with either. Both used the same engine but had quite different structures with Serpent Isle offering a more linear experience to Ultima 7’s open world approach. I’m usually all for a strong storyline but in this case the latter appealed to me more plus the slightly unfinished nature of Serpent Isle was apparent at times. I’d never played this prior to the blog and definitely rushed through it too much – I may well appreciate it more second time around but it still gets a lofty place in the list.
It may be a contradiction but I’ve never been more disappointed by a game than Ultima 9, yet I still enjoyed playing it immensely. The seamless open world and the accompanying music were a revelation back in the 90’s. The dungeons were challenging and varied, the world itself beautiful (for 1999) and I can’t say I ran into half as many bugs as other players were reporting at the time. The disappointment came from aspects of the storyline, voice acting, general treatment of the series legacy and especially the ending with its almost mocking techno-stones music. You would have thought the story should have been the easiest part to get right, at least where they referred to previous events. Overlooking this and all the pregame hype, there was still a great game here that was years ahead of its time. More development would clearly have helped and it’s not how the trilogy of trilogies should have ended but I’d never played anything like this in the 90’s.
16.Crusader No Regret
An RPG engine shouldn’t ever have worked as the basis for a running and gunning action game but in the case of the Crusader games they would turn out far, far better than Ultima 8 whose engine they shared. A few extra years of PC horsepower allowed the move to SVGA which didn’t hurt of course.
Both Crusader games had near identical gameplay in which the silent and conspicuously red silencer would roll around various locations mowing down enemies and searching for keycards and buttons. The controls really took some getting used to but became second nature after two or three levels. Near enough everything in the environment could be blown up, there were a plethora of weapons to choose from and I can’t think of any other games that play quite like them.
No Regret was the sequel and introduced some new weapons and enemies but dialled back a little on the copious FMV of the original. Since I’m a sucker for FMV, I’m placing the sequel slightly behind in this list.
15. Ultima 4
Ultima 4 has to be the most significant game in the series. It was where it truly became the franchise we are all hopefully familiar with by now introducing the virtues and Britannia. It’s also the entry in the series to introduce the name, job, bye conversation system. Talking to the characters in the world is undoubtedly my favourite part of any Ultima and started a welcome new aspect to the gameplay learning all the clues needed to beat the game by asking the right people the right things.
Playing the game now, the simplistic mechanics are readily apparent and it’s perhaps hard to appreciate its impact at the time. Despite this it remains approachable and far more relevant than any game over 30 years old should be. I’d prefer a slightly smaller party size if I’m honest but Ultima 4 is a true classic.
Chris Robert’s seminal space shooter heralded the start of PC gaming becoming a serious force back in 1990. It was one of the first games that would have made an Amiga owner jealous after Commodore’s machine had led the way for years. Amiga owners did get a decent version of their own some years later but by then the Amiga had truly lost the race.
The sprite scaling engine behind Wing Commander does show it’s age these days but the rest of the game still looks and sounds as good as ever. It’s all the extra effort that went into Wing Commander that really impresses. Origin could just have put out a basic shooter with the same engine and it would have sold by the bucketload. Instead we got a space epic with flashy cutscenes, brilliant graphic design, a branching mission structure and even lip-synced dialogue (for the very few who noticed). It epitomizes what Origin were all about and why I bought so many of their games in the 90’s. I do think later games in the series improved on the formula so it just fails to make the top 10.
13.Crusader No Remorse
As already mentioned there wasn’t a whole lot to choose between this and No Regret. No Remorse included a section where you got to return to a rebel base between missions and talk to all your comrades, buy armour from a shady character (in more ways than one) called Weasel and generally have a good time with the b-movie cast. Origin got everything right first time around in the Crusader series so with the FMV in No Remorse providing a good bit of incentive to progress and getting some extra points for getting there first, No Remorse warrants being a couple of places higher on the list.
12.Wing Commander Prophecy
Prophecy is a game I have mixed feelings about. The FMV sections were a huge step back from Wing Commander 4 or Privateer 2 and a real disappointment. The script for these was similarly average at best. The 3DFX powered flight engine on the other hand was simply stunning and the combat in this game is as good as it ever got in the Wing Commander series. I also loved the new alien ships which all had plenty of character and unique traits. Looking back at it now, I can’t think of an arcade/action space shooter that plays better to this day. The fan enhancements and games that have been made since using this engine take it even further and show a glimpse of where the series might have gone next had it got the chance. As an overall package the FMV, storyline and the fact that I didn’t get to play Blair keep it out of the top 10.
Ultima 7 arguably remains the seminal open world RPG to this day. Having said that, it’s debatable how much of an RPG it is with the stats and combat really taking a backseat to world exploration and conversation. The overall storyline is a little simplistic involving a chase around Britannia but works very well within the open world allowing the player to wander off course at will and take on all the side quests. The full screen engine used for this and Serpent Isle was visually a huge leap forward from Ultima 6, if notoriously fiddly to get running for years prior to Exult/Dosbox. I did find the inventory system quite frustrating it has to be said – give me Ultima 6’s slot based approach over the disorganised piles of things in a backpack any day. The combat became a little random also but not to the extent that it ever felt frustrating. Other than that I think Ultima 7 succeeded at nearly every thing it went for. I’m surprised it didn’t end up in the top 10 but something had to give.
I’ll count down the top 10 in the next and final post. I expect the final 10 will have been largely predictable for anyone who knows my tastes but there are possibly a couple of surprises.