Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Hellraider (Amiga)

The most interesting thing about this game is that it turned out to be a totally different kind of game than I thought it was when I started playing. When I started playing, I thought it was an incredibly difficult Bosconian knockoff with some weird quirks, where you were supposed to fly around an eight-way scrolling world and destroy every enemy base. Turns out I was totally wrong: it's an incredibly difficult (but kind of original) shooting/escort type thing!

As the HMS Hellraider, you're tasked with collecting gems from the surface of the planet Hell (nothing to do with the Ngihtwish song though, as far as I can tell), where the intense heat and pressure cause the local volcanos to just spit them out like nobody's business. Though for most of the game, you don't actually control the Hellraider itself, but its four little scouting/escort ships, called Orbitals. The Hellraider will float around slowly, seemingly at random, picking up gems as it flies over them. When its hold is full of gems, the stage is over and you go onto the next one. The problem of course being that not only is Hell a hazardous planet to begin with, being peppered with volcanos, lava lakes, and  big rocks to crash into, but there are also apparantly rival mining interests already here, who are far more organised than you and not willing to share. So the main point of your mission is to pilot an Orbital escorting the Hellraider, and protect it from any enemy ships, turrets or mines that want to destroy it. If the Hellraider gets destroyed, you do get to fly around shooting enemies until your Orbital goes down, but you can't actually finish the stage. If all four Orbitals get destroyed, you can then control the Hellraider directly. It moves very slowly, but it can take a lot of hits (assuming it hasn't already been shot to near destruction, anyway), and can shoot in seven directions.

You might notice that all the screenshots I've taken are of the first stage. This is because, despite playing for over two hours, I never managed to complete it (though I did come close once or twice). I only know there even are more stages because I looked it up on youtube! I think there are two main problems that make this game such a chore. The first is that there's no radar, so you never know when enemies are going to suddenly fly in and start shooting your mothership to bits, or when you're about to stumble upon a nest of enemy turrets. Also, if you do chase an enemy ship and end up away from the Hellraider, there's no way of knowing how to get back to it.  The second is that the Hellraider itself just seems to move around at random, often just flying straight past convenient clumps of gems all stuck together. The stage would be over much quicker, and you wouldn't have to protect it for as long (the stages can go on for over five minutes!) if it had some kind of gem-seeking AI (apparently, you can play a kind of co-op game, with player one controlling the Orbitals and player two controlling the Hellraider, but I haven't been able to try it. If so, that sounds like a much less stressful game).

Hellraider is interesting: it's a game that I initially thought was a low-quality knockoff of an arcade classic, but it turned out to be an interesting and original game, ruined by a couple of huge flaws. I've said in the past that people's nostalgia for the Amiga keeps them from admitting that most of its games looked amazing, but played like garbage, but I have to admit that the low barrier for entry does result in a lot of experimentation in design that can result in games that, even if they aren't actually fun to play, are at least different and cool conceptually.


  1. I just tried this - drawn to the super redness of it - and yeah, it is interesting and diverting for a while. I found that there is a radar! You have to press the space bar to turn it on. Also, while you are flying an orbital with the joystick, the arrow keys will control the raider. Perhaps that's the "co-op game" you mentioned, but I reckon (only guessing, since I haven't been able to find a manual) that you're intended to control both at once. Left to its own devices I think perhaps the raider always goes in a straight line except to turn only when it reaches a large obstacle in the landscape. Playing like this I got to the second level which is coloured in a different, highly-saturated hue. I do have a soft spot for the graphic style of this game, although garish, it's recognizably similar to Black Lamp which is actually a very well drawn and animated game.

    Thanks for this blog, I like it a lot. I like that I can click through its pages, see a score of games I'd either never heard of or never been motivated to play before, and come away feeling the world (of videogames) is a little bigger than I believed beforehand.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and the extra hellraider info!