From a game written by some of the guys who did Doom, I’m moving onto a Doom clone. Cybermage is a FPS designed by the person behind the Wizardry series (D W Bradley). This isn’t a name that means anything in particular to me but then I’ve never played any of the Wizardry games.
The game comes with a cyberpunk comic which sets the plot. I think this was part of a series of 3 but you had to buy the others. They wouldn’t be a bad collectible if I could get my hands on them although I don’t think the game sold all that well so I can only expect the comic to be a lot rarer still.
The plot tells how in the near future, large corporations have taken over and nations no longer exist. These corporations have their own armies and all wars are fought between them. There is a fashion for cybernetic and genetic enhancements developed by the corporations and these have become commonplace. The existence of psychic powers has been proven and these have been researched with the idea of using enhancements to enable these powers. Early research created what are known as Exotics (humans enhanced with animal DNA) and the story tells how I see one of these exotics (who looks something like a Kilrathi) about to be assassinated. I jump in to save him and take a bullet. I would be about to die but he drags me off to some sort of lab where I’m put into the place of some other test subject for an unknown procedure. The recovery process will take weeks and I’m sealed in a tank in the meanwhile.
We jump forward to the present time where a small army storms the building killing everyone in the process. This army is led by some strange looking supervillain type called Necrom who has a sort of steaming crystal on his forehead. The comic ends with me (looking something like a superhero myself) waking up and bursting out of my tank.
I can’t say I’ve ever been into comic books but it gets the story rolling. The start of the game shows Necroms ship landing in full 3D (the video quality here blows away Wing Commander 3) then the last part of the comic is played out with digitised speech instead of captions. Its a nice intro actually and I hope the game will keep this up later on.
From the main menu, there is a training option. I pick this and I’m thrown straight into the game.
On first impressions this is every bit a Doom clone. I run around the first area blasting guards with my psychic fireballs. The graphics are the usual blocky affair for 3D games from this period. They are in 640×480 SVGA though and the textures are really sharp. The people running around the level are near enough photo quality. The guards talk a bit as well which adds to the atmosphere and this is definitely a step up from Doom.
I can use the mouse to move around but it doesn’t quite work. I can reassign some of the keyboard controls but not others with some keys are hardset and unchangable. I can’t change the keys for forward and back so I’m stuck using the cursor keys. The left and right keys turn me rather than sidestepping though – I have to hold shift to sidestep. This system is more or less what Doom came with originally and I try to use the mouse for a while but in the end just give in and revert to using solely the keyboard. Its really poor that I can’t reassign the keys how I want them – this is the only thing stopping me from using similar controls to a modern FPS. I reassign the keys to use ctrl to fire and alt to sidestep just like Doom back in the early days. I slip back into this pretty easily but I’d prefer to have been able to use the mouse.
Just down from the entrance is something that you definitely did not see in Doom – a tank.
I jump in this tank and can drive it around blasting people. The tank has an armour level, if this gets to 0 my tank will explode and I’ll be thrown out. Driving this around is intuitive enough and just uses the same controls. I have to fight off another tank, this is more of a slugging match than anything as movement is limited.
This gets me into a new area with watery channels. I can’t actually swim in this game it seems – I can just wade through shallow water.
From here I find some sort of technical equipment which I can use to open a new area. These are keys in effect, just like the access cards in Doom. There are various types of these key which open up new areas as you work through a level.
I’ve got three menus in the game which I can access using F1-F3. F1 brings up a menu of standard weapons, laser guns, blasters, etc. F2 brings up my psi-powers. These are just the same as guns really but instead of ammo I use mana to cast them. This mana is shown next to my health in blue and recharges itself over time. F3 brings up an inventory where I can use regen packs to heal, or use any object I might have picked up. This isn’t required very often, most items I pick up are just keys which work automatically.
There seem to be plenty of weapons and powers judging by how fast I’m picking them up here. Whenever I kill a living being it also leaves behind a sort of blue ghost for a few seconds. If I’m quick and run over this I gain some sort of bonus. This can be health/mana boosts or I can gain permanent increases to my max health/mana. These boosts are somewhat random although I do notice larger boosts from bigger creatures. This almost adds a roleplaying element to the game but it is definitely still a FPS at heart – moreso than System Shock from what I’ve seen so far.
The textures on the level are quite varied and I enter a church/garden area at one corner of the map. This place is full of some sort of religious zealots who want to light a pyre with me.
In this area I find an icon which lets me throw fireballs. These icons can have various effects from protection or healing to being weapons like this one – they have a limited number of uses but I don’t know how many until it runs out. Incidentally if you are wondering why I’m firing a weapon in every screenshot on here, its because the keys I’m using to take a screenshot are the same as the one I’m using to fire in the game.
There are climbable ladders in some areas of the map that I can just walk into to go up. The map is split into 5 vertical levels which I move between constantly. This appears to be standard for each new map in the game. I’m guessing that each vertical level is 2D in the sense of Doom where I can’t go under a bridge on the same level for instance, but once you stack the levels on top of each other like this it becomes to all intents and purposes a full 3D environment.
A level in this game is big – really big. Every one is a small world in itself. This can be a problem if you don’t know what to do next. It takes me some time and a lot of walking around to figure out that I’m supposed to use a demon eye (which I didn’t even notice picking up on this icon on the wall here to get into the church. For a training level this is seriously difficult and not what I’d regard as training – its more being thrown in the deep end. After reading the manual later I discover that this level was the demo version of the game.
Inside the church I’m attacked by some sort of super-monk who takes a bit more killing than the rest.
As a reward, I discover a keycard which will get me into a locked area way back at the other side of the map.
A lot of running around later, I find a police car which I hop into.
This isn’t a car in the conventional sense. I can fly around through the air all over the entire map – I fly around perfectly horizontal to the ground but have two additional keys to go up or down. Being able to zip around the whole level like this is pretty nifty for a 1995 FPS. I find a previously unaccessable corner of the map and fight my way past some tanks to the end of the level.
The end of the level is a brief message from Necrom on a video screen.
Each level is ended/begun with a comic book cover. It doesn’t exactly feel like being in a comic book while playing the game but thats clearly what Origin were going for.
The demo level has no connection to the rest of the game and at this point I’m not sure what to make of it. I didn’t know what I was attempting in this level and just ran around all over the place looking for somewhere new. The size of the level is impressive and the game looks good for its day but I’d like to see some story introduced in System Shock style + I found this level quite difficult and confusing.
I start the real game now and wake up in the lab. There are loads of skeletons in all the other vats so I guess no one else has survived this procedure.
I have to escape from all these guards and run into some sort of caverns. There are some very strange creatures down here that attack on sight but they aren’t very deadly and serve as a much more gentle introduction to the game than the start of the training level.
In an open area is a suspicious looking ghost hovering in the middle.
When I walk into this, I’m visited by the earth mother who gives a long speech about how I am now a child of the mara-tach-mang just as she is its daughter. She says I have a dark future ahead and that the face in this darkness is that of Necrom. I’m also told about how I have been given the power of the darklight (mara means dark, tach means light or maybe vice-versa). The light gives me my power and the dark is its manifestation. This power lets me see the lifeforce as it leaves a body and if I run into this it is absorbed into the crystal on my forehead and my power will grow. This is basically a load of fantasy gobblededook and not a promising start to the dialog in this game – I’m glad to say that after this the conversations improved markedly.
I head out the back and run into what look like zombies. These again have no range attacks so are not a big problem.
I collect my first weapon – a cyberblade.
You might not be able to see it too well in this screenshot but after running through the caverns for a while I find an alternative entrance back into the lab. From here I use a terminal and get a message from a dwarf called Mung who tells me how implanting the crystal into my brain saved my life but that I will have lost some memory due to the procedure. He says somehow Necrom found out about me and wants me dead. We are cut off by the sound of gunfire.
I find Mung locked up behind a force field so have to attempt to rescue him.
Finding the way in takes some time but I set him free in the end. He now tells me to find the control room and get further instructions from him there. He gives me another keycard to give me access.
I get another brief drive around in a tank in the meanwhile – blowing up a small army with this in one shot is strangely satisfying.
I find the control room and use another terminal to talk to Mung. He tells me I need to get into the city and find Katt (who is the guy who’s life I saved). I will need to go through the sewers to do this.
The entrance to the sewers is just down the way. There is a large central pillar here with a few subrooms11` – one of which needs a pipe to fix a panel.
I look all over for this pipe and find plenty of zombies including ones that throw energy fields at me. As soon as I’m hit I learn the same skill – this field stops an opponent moving for a few seconds damaging them in the meanwhile. It costs twice as much mana as a straight fireball to cast though.
I find the pipe nearby and fix the panel. This raises a bridge which gets me to the end of the level.
I’ve enjoyed this first level more than the demo. There has been a bit of a story to get me between sections and I’ve been less overwhelmed. The demo level threw weapons and enemies at me in an attempt to get as much in as possible but skipped the best aspect of the game which is the fact that there is a story to each level.
I head straight onto level 2 which is the slums. The moment I get out of the city I’m attacked by a load of strangely dressed people who seem to take offense to me crawling out from the sewers.
Just down from here is a guy called Rook who gives me a bit of the background and says that there is a bounty on my head which would explain why everyone is out to get me. He advises me to stay off the streets as I’m not exactly inconspicuous.
I can enter a lot of the buildings in the slums and find money/artifacts and the like. I find some armour in here which is something I’ve not mentioned yet. I have 5 areas of armour on my body, the state of which is shown on my hud. As this takes damage it absorbs less and less. As long as it doesn’t get destroyed entirely I can fix it with armorseal or I can pick it up from around the place.
I see a sign on the wall for the arena and follow a series of these.
I find the arena quickly enough.
There is a guy at a desk here who says I can enter for 2000 credits which I don’t have. I feel a quest coming on here.
I walk upstairs and can see a fight between a big green bloke and 3 warriors. The green guy wins.
There is a pillar with tv’s broadcasting the news in the town center. I’ve been making the news myself as has Necrom who is attacking the city and attempting to take it over. The textures for the tv screen are very basic and there are only a few different frames. Its the same sort of thing when I’m talking to someone – they usually just loop through the same movements over and over.
I run into Rook again. He tells me the only way out of the slums into the city is to win in the arena although no one ever beats Mongo I gather.
I have to run around town finding buildings and taking any money I find in them. Its a big place and this takes some doing. After fighting a particularly large and tough woman I find about $800 which is way more than anywhere else I’ve been + I get this electro shock mace.
Once I’ve got enough money I head back to the arena and the gate is opened for me.
Mongo is big and tough and it takes everything I’ve got to knock him down.
I get there in the end and pick up a razor axe off his body.
On the way out there is a machine that I can use to bet on the outcome of fights between Mongo and 3 warriors. I gamble myself to be a multi-millionaire using this but when I get to the next level my cash balance is 0 – I must have needed to use the machine again to claim my winnings. I’m not too impressed by this and am left doing the next level the hard way.
The end of level is always marked by a sort of 4 pronged switch like this.
Level 3 is in the city. On the way in I meet a cop who recognises me from the news. I’m expecting him to attack but he’s actually on my side which is a rare occurence so far. He tells me how police HQ has been taken over by Necrom and they have even turned the robots against them from there. He wants me to make my way over there and fix this for him.
Sure enough on the way out, I’m attacked by robots as well as the usual lot of Necroms troops. These robots are a bit tougher and to rub this in they don’t turn into ghosts when they die (since they aren’t living in the first place).
The city is quite a different environment again. The cops are fighting Necroms troops so its like walking into the middle of a battle. The cops are not doing well and I’m on my own pretty soon after starting. When the cops die they give off a yellow ghost which drops my powers if I run over it.
I make my way into a nightclub of sorts, where a scantily clad woman sends me to another club called Bliss and gives me a pass to get in.
There are loads of shops around here which I can buy weapons/ammo/armour/health and the like or at least I could if my millions hadn’t gone missing. I’m finding this level quite tricky because of this, especially with a couple of police cars zipping around all over the place and shooting me in the meanwhile. A hit from one of these can knock off 1/2 my health so I’m having to nip between buildings for cover.
Theres more news on the screens about Necrom’s storming of the city. Theres actually a mention of Tri-Optimum although I don’t expect it will come to much. I guess it’s credible that this could be set in the same universe and I don’t mind seeing or hearing links between games like this.
I fight my way to the Bliss nightclub where a couple of identical women suggest that I will need a vehicle to get to the police hq and suggest a guy to borrow one from. There is some sort of meeting about this in the park so I have to head there next.
When I get to the park there is a squad of troops and robots and a lot of bodies. One of the injured men tells me that someone talked and they were ambushed. He sends me to yet another club and gives me another passcard.
The clubs owner here is all against this war as its bad for business. The whole city is now united against Necrom despite their disparate interests the rest of the time. He has just had his car upgraded and lets me borrow it for now. He mentions possibly wanting some payment depending upon what state I bring it back in.
His car is on the roof. I hightail it straight over to the police building which ends this level.
Police HQ is yet another very different environment – although everything is still rectangular as ever. I run into a keypad but I don’t know the code yet.
I free an emprisoned police officer who tells me that most of the police force have been imprisoned in maximum security. His chief might know how to get them out of there and he is on the next floor up so my next job is to find him. He gives me a keycode to get through the locked door – he reads this out like a machine so this code is clearly randomised.
I catch a glimpse of maximum security in this new section through a window in a very long corridor. Its looks like some sort of fortress.
At the far end is a pit of some noxious substance and its a dead end. I’ll have to come back here later.
I find the police chief and set him free. He tells me the only way into maximum security now is through the jetboot course. He gives me another code and sends me off in a new direction.
He’d also mentioned the posibility of reprogramming the robots. I find a couple of CD’s in my travels with robot programs – one activates them, the other purges them.
I find an computer terminal to use these in and now the robots are on my side. This is emphasised in a room containing a blast pack where about 20+ troops appear from nowhere and the robots manage to fight them off for me. Thats where I stopped for now.
I had my doubts when I was playing the training level but this is a game that has really grown on me. It’s more Doom than System Shock but its not that far behind SS in most areas and even ahead of it in a few. The graphics are really crisp and varied for the time and the world is impressively detailed considering the technology limitations. More importantly the gameplay is striking the perfect level between challenge and frustration and things always seem to be moving on at a decent pace. If it keeps going like this to the end, I’d go as far as saying I can’t think of a better 2.5D FPS. It does for Doom what Half-life did for Quake, only it does it better.
However good the graphics were at the time, they are of course horribly dated now (moreso than System Shock) but this is still immensely entertaining to play and really is a forefather of the modern FPS. It makes me wonder what went wrong and why it isn’t better known. The demo was quite impressive but I don’t think it did them any favours – it threw far too much at me and was way too difficult for a new player. I think I vaguely remember playing and dismissing it back in 95 myself – if I’d just been given the first level to play I’d probably have bought this game new instead of second hand years down the line.