Thursday, 19 May 2016

Chaos Heat (Arcade)

If you think way back, you might remember when I wrote about a terrible Playstation survival horror game named Chaos Break, and how I mentioned that it was a vastly inferior "adaptation" of an arcade game called Chaos Heat. This is that very game. Obviously. Before I start, I should also mention that the emulation of this game isn't totally perfect yet, but it's definitely good enough to play.

Anyway, it's a 3D action game, that's structured like a beat em up, but you mostly shoot stuff, rather than punch it. I guess kind of like the later Capcom game Cannon Spike? It's got the same plot as a million other 90s videogames: you're a member of an elite military team, and you've been sent to some remote lab full of genetically-engineered monsters. There's three characters to pick from, and they're different not just in movement speed and attack power, but in the weapons they carry.

To elaborate, the weapons can be shot normally, by tapping the fire button, or they can be charged by holding it down. So different are the characters' weapons, that even the way charging works is different for each of them. For example, one character's charge attack is a powerful laser that fires continuously for however long you held the button before releasing, while another character's charge attack only works if it's charged all the way, and it increases the power of their normal shots for a short time. The third character doesn't have a charge weapon, instead firing a powerful flamethrower that uses up ammo at a much higher rate than their normal gun when the button is held.

As you play the game more, you'll encounter various other interesting things about it, like how there are branching paths through levels, that diverge based on your ability to perform timed tasks, like protect an NPC teammate for 30 seconds while they hack an electronic lock, and so on. Different paths through stages can even lead to entirely different boss fights, too, which is more impressive than the "same boss fight, different background" offered by the likes of House of the Dead 2!

The most interesting thing from a historical standpoint, though, is a mechanic that's way ahead of its time for a game released in 1998: the player has an invincible dodge roll move. I know Chaos Heat probably isn't the first game to have such a thing, but it's still something I associate with more modern action games, like Dark Souls or Bayonetta (actually, is the DS roll even invincible? It's been years since I played it). Once you know that this move is there, it totally changes the flow of the game, as it does in most games where it exists. The only downside to it is that it's performed with a double direction tap, rather than a single button press, which does feel slightly unwieldy.

Chaos Heat isn't a great all-time classic, but it is a bit of a hidden gem, and it's a crying shame that Taito decided to make that horrible survival horror game rather than give this one the home port it deserved. As it is, though, if you can tolerate playing a game in less-than-perfect emulation (or if you somehow gain access to a real cabinet), Chaos Heat is definitely worth a look.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Doman (Amiga)

Round about the mid-90s, though most people had cast the Amiga into the past, never to be thought of ahain, there was still enough of a following for the system that commercial game releases were still coming (and, in fact, would continue until at least the early 00s). It's in the mid-90s that a small Polish developer, named World Software, released a few belt-scrolling beam em ups, that would become infamous for their grim settings and gratuitous violence. Doman is one of those games.

I can't tell you anything about the plot, as obviously, all the game's text is in Polish. But I can tell you that it's set in a dark, bleak world of medieval fantasy, where the background has giant black mountains and foreboding forests, while the foreground has impoverished villages where all the inhabitants are hung up, or beheaded, or generally suffering some kind of severe misfortune. You play as one of two absurdly muscular barbarians, one with dark hair and a sword, the other with blonde hair, a beard and an axe. You walk from left to right, violently murderering groups of soldiers, orcs, wizards, demons, archers, and so on.

Despite coming out as late as 1994, it doesn't have any option (as far as I can tell) to use two-button controllers, nor does it have the typical beat em up combo system. Instead, you can perform different attacks by holding the fire button and pressing different directions. The most effective strategy is to rely on the attacks assigned to up and down. The up attack knocks enemies to the ground, allowing you to pummel whoever's standing with the down attack, which is pretty good for attack power, range and speed. When the downed enemy starts to get up, knock the current guy down and switch targets.

The structure is pretty strange: the first time I played, I though I was just doing really badly, and failing to get past an incredibly long first stage. After getting a game over and seeing the high score table, I realised I was wrong: the scores are just a simple percentage, which I assume is how far you made it through the game. So that's pretty interesting, the game being one long stage, right? There is one bad thing about the game, though: there's a lot of loading. It stops to load every time you walk a screen's distance, it stops to load whenever a group of enemies appear, and the load times at the start of the game, and between games are very long. Also, if you plan on playing it on real hardware, it comes on five disks, which will be an immense pain if you only have one disk drive.

Doman isn't a bad game. It can seem unfairly hard at first, but once you've got a hang of how the combat works, it gets a lot more manageable. Obviously, there's many, much better beat em ups on consoles and in arcades, but as far as they go on the Amiga, it's easily the best I've ever played. Plus, there's a little bit of novelty in playing an arcade-style game that comes from Poland, when in recent years, eastern Europe is probably more known for PC games, first person shooters, and so on.