Part 3 of my countdown of Origin games brings us to the middle of the pack.
Starting us off is the last of Chuckles’ Origin games. 2400AD is a sci-fi RPG with an engine bearing striking similarities to Ultima 4/5 although I gather that it didn’t use either. It’s a simpler and smaller game than the Ultimas in which the player has to help the underground resistance of Metropolis fight back against the invading Tzorgs. 2400AD really didn’t sell especially well at the time but was something of a hidden gem in the Origin catalog as far as I’m concerned. Origin’s early output was extremely heavy on the fantasy RPG’s so a futuristic setting was a pleasant change of scenery if not genre. A sequel called 2500AD was planned at the time but was canned after the poor sales as were most of the home computer ports.
29.Super Wing Commander
Super Wing Commander almost didn’t make the list but since it’s got a different name to the game it was based on it gets a spot of its own. In some ways Super Wing Commander is everything that was wrong with the early era of CD gaming. I.e. pointless lengthy cutscenes and truly horrible acting. I can’t say I was exactly a fan of the new artwork – it takes a bit of getting used to after years of playing the regular Wing Commander series. It’s still Wing Commander underneath though so how bad can it be and the flying sections when you get to them did look a good deal shinier than the already aging original. My main complaint is the lack of proper analogue controls with the 3DO joystick support or this would have been considerably higher up.
This has to be the only game I’ve ever played that was programmed in LISP. It was developed and sold by crack dot com before being published by Origin around the mid 90’s. I seem to recall it being described as a 2D platforming version of Doom but I reckon it would be closer to say it’s Robotron from the side instead of overhead. It uses mouse/keyboard rather than twin stick (since none of us had twin stick at the time) but the same principle is there. The gameplay is polished but there is little variety and no plot to the game so it doesn’t build toward any sort of climax as such. If Abuse had incorporated some of the Origin flair for presentation it could have been a bit of a classic.
I gather this is quite a rare and expensive title these days having seen it on a list of the 10 most overpriced retro games recently. All I say is this definitely wasn’t the case when I picked up my copy as I don’t think they could give them away.
27.Wing Commander Armada
Armada was an attempt to turn Wing Commander into a multiplayer game. This was long before the internet was in common usage and I remember playing this one over a null modem cable back in my student days. It was the first Wing Commander to be in full 3D coming out shortly before Wing Commander 3 and I have to say that the graphics in Armada really looked glorious in their day. They were far more colourful than Wing Commander 3 in fact although only in VGA rather than SVGA.
A basic strategy element was added to the game involving resource mining and ship building to break up the combat. Prowess in the cockpit would always win out in the long run but I had some fun with this at the time. Maybe it was just the way we played it but combat was in essence a series of head on chicken runs and did show the limitations of Wing Commander physics in a multiplayer environment. It still bridged the gap to WC3 far better than Academy managed.
Shadow Caster was a strange game developed by Raven that could perhaps be described as a first person slasher as much as an RPG. It was based on the Wolfenstein engine but you would be hard pushed to tell as it was quite the looker back in 93. The unique selling point was the ability to morph between different creatures which was required to get through the varied worlds in the game as each creature would have different strengths and weaknesses. I can’t say the gameplay was ever truly successful with too much melee combat but it got away with it largely thanks to the presentation and I did play this quite a bit at the time. It’s probably doesn’t hold up especially well today though.
I always liked the Ultima 6 engine which for me marked something of a sweet spot between the pure RPG’s of Ultima 3-5 and the more adventuring/exploring nature of Ultima 7-9. As such I was always bound to like the two spin off games using it which proved to be the case. Savage Empire was designed from the outset to be Ultima-lite though and the setting never quite gelled with me. The plot is fairly lightweight with a lot of individual quests but not that much of an overarching plot. There is still a decent RPG here and as an introduction to Ultima it did everything it needed to. Ultima 6 and Martian Dreams had more meat on their bones and are much higher up the list.
24.Wings Of Glory
Wings Of Glory was the last in the “Strike” series moving further back in history once again to WW1. The simplistic nature of the planes actually made the game more approachable and showed off the 3D engine far better than Strike Commander in the process. The tacked on plot was hokey and clichéd but the gameplay lifts it above its two predecessors as far as I’m concerned. Wings Of Glory had one ace up its sleeve with head-tracking support on the VFX-1. This sort of game is a perfect match for VR since the in-game player never gets out of their seat. I’m hoping some of these old VFX-1 games can get modern VR support one day.
Ultima 5 was the last in the series to be what I would consider a traditional RPG, i.e. heavily based on character stats and combat. It continued to iterate the previous formula with larger conversations, a bigger game world and introduced the famous day/night cycle for all the residents of Britannia. The plot was much better developed than Ultima 4 with more subtlety and this is undoubtedly a great entry in the series. It no doubt deserves a higher place on the list but doesn’t get one for the sole reason of the pace of combat which just dragged the whole game down for me. Every other aspect of Ultima 5 shines through and for anyone who can enjoy that combat, this could easily be the best of the series.
It may be almost entirely forgotten now but Origin’s first attempt at a space sim wasn’t Wing Commander but was in fact Space Rogue coming out a year earlier. Paul Neurath’s Space Rogue is something of a cross between Elite and Ultima 5 consisting of 3D space flight/combat sections and tile based RPG sections when you land on planets and stations. The difference between the two components is jarring but I still love the whole idea of combining these gameplay styles and Space Rogue succeeds in creating something not quite like any other game I’ve ever played. It’s something of a prototype Privateer with added RPG.
Cybermage was an FPS designed by DW Bradley (of Wizardry fame) around the time of all the Doom clones hitting the market in the mid-90’s. It distinguishes itself from the pack by being in SVGA, having a plot told throughout the game and including vehicles that you can drive/fly around the map which was a real novelty at the time. The comic book plot is fairly nuts and largely delivered in one go by a bipedal talking tiger but I still reckon this game was way more fun than nearly all of its contemporaries. I’ve always had the feeling I’m about the only person who likes it so you may not want to trust that opinion.
Just 20 games to go now and part 4 will get truly into the big hitters in the Origin back catalogue.