Return Fire

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As technically impressive as the 3DO was for its day, it’s a sad fact that anyone who met the rather immense outlay required to own one had little in the way of high-quality games to play on it, and even less that actually made use of the new machine’s impressive abilities. ~Simon Lethbridge

Return Fire

One game that appeared to do just that, however, was Return Fire, and it was an exclusive too! Well, until the 3DO started floundering at least, at which point it was also released on the PS1 and PC, but still – for a while, 3DO owners had something to show off, and it was a game worthy of envy. It’s a simple military-based strategic frolic at heart which pits two forces against one another – green and brown. Player one controls the latter while a second player or the console itself controls the former, and the object is simply to seize your opponent’s flag and return it to your base. As you might expect, however, it’s not quite that simple.

Return Fire - 3DO

There are somewhere in the region of 130 stages altogether and they are divided equally into two groups – one consisting of single player stages, another of two player stages. They are viewed from a scrolling, angled-overhead perspective and most of them consist of an island with opposing forces occupying a different end each – two player maps give each side about half of the land area each while one player maps just have a few buildings on the player’s side with most of the island taken up by enemy buildings and defences. In either case, your job is to find the building which houses the flag, destroy it, collect the flag, and return to base, and there is initially only one mission on which to do this. Once this is completed, however, the next tier of stages is unlocked which has eight new maps. Finish any of these and the next tier becomes available with eight more, and so on.

Return Fire - 3DO

Your means of vanquishing your opponent and completing these stages comes in four forms. You start each stage safely within the confines of your bunker and here there are four vehicles to choose from – the Tank, which moves at a reasonable speed and can fire shells at ground or air targets with its rotating turret, the Armoured Support Vehicle, which is slow but has meatier defences and can fire air/ground rockets and drop mines, the Helicopter, which is fast and obviously unimpeded by buildings and suchlike, and can fire air/ground rockets, but is obviously a bit more delicate, and lastly the Jeep which is fast and nimble, can move across watery areas with its inflatable air thingies, and can launch grenades, but is of course incredibly weedy. Eight of the jeeps are available for each stage and these are the only vehicles with which you can grab and transport the flag, but you also get three each of the other vehicles for blasting your way to it.

Return Fire - 3DO

If any of your fine vehicles are destroyed you’ll automatically return to your bunker to choose another (unless you somehow manage to lose all seventeen of them!), but you can return at any time anyway to switch if you want. Helpfully, doing this also replenishes their limited fuel, ammunition, and armour as well, although this can be done ‘on the fly’ too, by stopping off at one of the relevant depots nestled amongst the gun towers and other buildings of either side. The depots though, like everything else in the game can be destroyed (even the trees!). This doesn’t present a dilemma for the solo-player as you’re only up against the enemy gun towers, but with a two-player game you then need to decide whether to preserve them for your own use or to destroy them to prevent your opponent from doing the same. Indeed, despite the extensive amount of shooting and destroying you’ll no doubt engage in while playing Return Fire (its ‘tagline’ is even “Destroy, Destroy, Destroy!”), if you want to actually play it properly, there’s a lot of strategy involved as well.

Return Fire - 3DO

One aspect of this is of course choosing the right vehicle at the right time, and they all differ enough for each player to find a strategy that suits them. You might want, for example, to use the chopper to scout out your opponent’s stronghold and try to locate his flag tower (there are usually some decoy towers too) and find the easiest route to it. Alternatively, you may choose to plough head-first through everything in a straight line from your bunker to your final goal. Whichever method you employ, it’s best not to hang around for too long or annoying little helicopters will turn up and start taking pot-shots at you (although it is very satisfying to shoot them down!). Other things to consider are the design of the stage in question. They all consist of one or several islands and in the case of the latter they’re linked together by rickety (and very destroyable) bridges which presents numerous possibilities in itself. As you probably already guessed, this is therefore a game which was not designed for solo play and accordingly is immeasurably more enjoyable when playing against a friend.

Return Fire - 3DO

As undeniably awesome as this mode is, I’ve also spend quite a bit of time with the one player mode and, while it is good fun, either for practise or for mere wanton destruction purposes, it does get a bit repetitive after a while. A big part of this is down to the graphics which are quite splendid but pretty much the same throughout the whole game. In spite of the angled-overhead viewpoint, the stages are presented in 3D which allows the camera to zoom in or out rather nicely depending on how fast you’re moving. Things do get a little blocky when the view zooms right in but that’s not too often. The worst thing about the visuals, though, is without doubt the total lack of variety. All stages are set in the same environment – sandy areas with surrounding water, bridges, the odd patch of grass – and all feature the same few types of building with the same roads around them. The only differences really are the shapes of the islands and the actual location/arrangement of the buildings and features, and even then, some stages are merely mirrored versions of others.

Return Fire - 3DO

One aspect of the game that definitely impresses, however, is the presentation. From the tank that trundles onto the screen to destroy the glass 3DO logo, to the dramatic title sequence, and the FMV clip of a WWII victory parade that greets completion of a stage, everything is very slick and polished, especially the audio which, famously, consists of several pieces of classical music. The aforementioned title sequence features Requiem Dies Irae while, in-game, each of the vehicles has its own theme tune including Mars: Bringer of War for the Tank, Flight of the Bumblebee for the Jeep, In the Hall of the Mountain King for the ASV, and of course Ride of the Valkyries  for the Helicopter, and the volume of the music even increases or decreases according to the intensity of the on-screen drama! There is also the occasional use of ‘incidental music’ such as upon discovery of your opponent’s flag, and victory is hailed by the Hallelujah Chorus which certainly gives the sense of a job well done.

Return Fire - 3DO

The ingenious use of this music, as well as some spot-on sound effects, is what really gives this game its fantastic atmosphere which is helped further still by some great attention-to-detail. Shooting a building often sees its occupants flee, for example (and yes, you can squash them if you so desire, complete with squelching noise). This superb atmosphere plays a big part in drawing you back to Return Fire too, even on your own. I don’t usually play it for long at a time by myself own as, despite the tremendously enjoyable and satisfying game mechanics, it’s easy, a bit repetitive, and largely pointless to play solo, but I still return to it often. Besides, it’s nice to play it with a full-screen (well, the upper two-thirds of the screen) now and then rather than half of it which can feel a bit cramped. If Silent Software came up with a decent back-story and incorporated some sort of mission-based one-player mode this could be an all-time great. It is a two-player game really though, and offers a rare chance to outfox a friend with cunning stategies rather than brute force, and in this capacity alone it’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played.

Pataank

Pataank

Pataank (1994)
By: PF.Magic Inc  Genre: Pinball  Players:  Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: 3DO  First Day Score: 1,810,764
Also Available For: Nothing

One of the great things about videogames is that they allow designers to approach existing subjects from new perspectives. This is one of the reasons why I, and many others, love the Crush series of pinball games. Naxat realised they were no longer bound by the rules of an actual pintable and so covered their tables with all manner of scary creatures and outlandish bonuses. That was one way to play around with the accepted pinball format. Another one is explored here with Pataank. Until this game came along, to the best of my knowledge all pinball videogames viewed the action either from directly above or from the same viewpoint as though playing a real pintable (even the Crush games). Pataank has other ideas – as you might have gathered from the screenshots, the chosen perspective here is not only much closer to the table than normal but actually follows the ball around!

Pataank

There are three main tables to explore – Surf’s Up, Disaster Central, Tunnel of Luv – and they mostly include the kind of features you would expect to find on real tables including all the usual bumpers, ramps, chutes, kickers, gates, etc. The ‘ball’ (it’s actually more like an ice-hockey puck) is equipped with magnetic grips and thrusters so you are afforded a degree of control over it and can aim it towards the various bonuses. It’s a novel idea and is definitely a new approach for pinball games, one very well suited to one of the first 32-bit consoles where gamers were expecting just this kind of innovation, but it’s not without its problems. At certain points the game ‘camera’ will zoom out but for a majority of the time, the viewpoint is very much ‘up close and personal.

Pataank

This perspective is great when zooming down tunnels or chutes but it can also prove rather confusing, and it’s easy to lose your bearings when the puck starts pinging around the table. From a graphical standpoint, the console handles everything admirably. Some parts of the tables are a little bare but everything moves around quickly and smoothly. There’s also small screens here and there which show table-specific FMV clips and the action is accompanied by a hyper-active sounding commentator and a catchy soundtrack. Any game that attempts something as innovative as Pataank, however, will rise or fall depending on how well executed it is, and while PF.Magic are to be applauded for trying something different, I think it may ultimately prove too confusing for some gamers. It’s a good idea though, and it can be good fun. With some tweaking it could’ve worked well, but I’d rather get my pinball fix from Devil’s Crush!

RKS Score: 6/10

BattleSport

Battlesport - 3DO - Gameplay Screenshot

BattleSport (1995)
By: Cyclone Studios / 3DO  Genre: Future Sports  Players: 1-2  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: 3DO
Also Available For: Saturn, PlayStation, PC

Future sports games have been around a good while now, but it’s a funny genre. It’s bound by practically no rules, unlike most ‘real’ sports games, and so has almost limitless potential. Imagine the possibilities of not only creating a new sport from scratch, but having it use technology that hasn’t even been invented yet! There’s almost nothing that you couldn’t incorporate, realistic or not. So how is it most of them suck ass? There are a few exceptions, of course, such as Speedball 2 (although I never got into it personally) and others, but the genre has few offerings of note. BattleSport, for a short time a 3DO exclusive, was one of the first to try things in 3D, but did it work?

Battlesport - 3DO - Gameplay Screenshot
Well, the intro certainly gets you pumped up for the game! It shows a rendered representation of the final moments of an apparently epic BattleSport match! For BattleSport is a ‘sport’, played over three two-minute periods in a large, self-contained arena. In this arena is a ball, which is where the ‘battle’ part comes in. Each match is contested by two players, both piloting a hovercraft/tank type vehicle equipped with lasers and missiles. Using these armaments, the players must fight for control of the ball which is used to shoot at a floating goal. A successful shot will result in a goal! You can collect a loose ball simply by flying into it. Once you gained possession of it, you’ll have only a few seconds to find the goal and shoot before you ‘fumble’ it. It’s also possible to force an opponent into a fumble before he shoots the ball by shooting him with your lasers/missiles! Of course, they will also try this tactic on you as well!

Battlesport - 3DO - Gameplay Screenshot

Before you start a match, you can select from six different tanks, each of which varies with regards to its armour, speed, firepower, cornering etc. They can also perform small jumps, which are used primarily for avoiding enemy missiles, and they are also equipped with a radar which shows the location of the ball and your opponent. Each tank has an energy meter which is depleted by laser and missile fire. When this happens, the craft will be disabled for five seconds or so giving the aggressor a few precious seconds of peace to grab the ball and line up a decent shot. However, the goal can be found in different places depending on which arena the combat is taking place in. It generally hovers above the ground, but it can be of several different types. The easiest to score in is the standard four-sided goal. Variations include two and one-sided goals, moving goals and spinning goals. Scoring is achieved, simply by shooting the ball into the goal but considering you often have to take your shot while moving or under fire, it can take a lot of skill!

Battlesport - 3DO - Gameplay Screenshot
Selection of the arena you battle in is random during competitive play, but you can choose your own in a ‘quick match’ or two-player match, and there are some fifty to choose from. Some of them take place in the day, some at night, and they come in three sizes (small, medium and large, believe it or not). Each is also home to different obstacles, power-ups, hazards and rewards. Talking of the power-ups, there are a large number available. Some can be found lying around arenas and others can be bought in the equipment store, and they come in many forms. They can include offensive/defensive items such as super missiles, super shielding, double damage, ECM’s (confuses enemy’s targeting system), and heavy lasers. Others can affect the outcome of a match in a different way such as adding a period to the game, goal freeze, ball freeze, ball attract, flight, health restore, invisibility, super speed, and radar jammer.
Battlesport - 3DO - Gameplay Screenshot

If you read through all of that, you’re pretty dedicated to finding out about this game! It is at least a little noteworthy, though, what with being one of the few good games (or one of the few games, for that matter) to appear on the ill-fated 3DO system. Graphically, it’s not the prettiest game on the 3DO and there’s not a lot of variety, but it doesn’t look bad. The sound is pretty good though, with some decent effects and suitably dramatic music, not to mention an ultra-hyped commentator! Like most sports games however, future-based or otherwise, BattleSport is essentially a two-player game. There is a tournament mode but it gets hard really quickly and the computer predictably favours itself, so it can prove pretty frustrating, but I’m sure this was designed as a two-player game anyway. The tanks can prove hard to control at times, but since this is a problem that effects both players equally, it doesn’t detract from the game too much, and it’s very entertaining to play against a friend. It doesn’t really have a lot of competition on the 3DO, admittedly, but if you have one and a friend, give this a go.

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RKS Score: 7/10

Captain Quazar

Captain Quazar - Title Screen

Captain Quazar (1996)
By: Cyclone Studios / 3DO Genre: Shooting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: 3DO
Also Available For: PC

Despite its innovations, I think it’s safe to say the 3DO didn’t exactly set the world alight, sales-wise. There are various reasons for this, but when I think about how scarce some of its games were back then, it hardly seems surprising. I can’t remember how I had heard about Captain Quazar now but I knew I wanted it. But even when it was originally released, I never saw it in any shops – I had to buy it on mail order, so scarce was it. It’s therefore hardly surprising that most gamers haven’t even heard of it, let alone own it. So, is it one of those ‘flashy-but-no-depth’ games that were so common in the early days of 32-bit gaming, or is it actually any good? Read on!

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Captain Quazar is a hero for hire, although not an especially bright one, and the tasks for which he has been hired on this occasion are befitting his particular talents. In other words, a good old-fashioned spot of mindless violence! The angry policeman overseeing his work (who reminds me of that newspaper editor guy from Spider-Man) has tasked him with taking down three ‘evil crimelords’ who are turning the galaxy upside down. Namely, Doobah who runs the spice mills on the desert planet of Kragg, terrorist leader Zang who runs training camps on the jungle planet of Kesh, and Ox who is planning an invasion from his volcanic stronghold of Moog. To achieve these aims, he must basically destroy everything and kill everyone.

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 2

The game is viewed from one of my favourite perspectives – 3D isometric. There are ten large levels which are divided over the three planets, and each has a different objective. On level one, for instance, you must destroy a set number of rockets containing an addictive spice, though you’ll only get a short time to do this as they start to launch as soon as they appear on the screen. On level two, you must free a load of slaves by locating colour-coded keys and unlocking their cages. On level three, you must destroy mining equipment in a vast underground spice mine which is very dark. The only illumination is provided by lamps strategically located throughout the maze of mine shafts, and they can be shot, so no mindless blasting is recommended here – it’s damn near impossible to work out where you’re going when they’re broken! On level four – the first level of the second planet, you must find stolen items of art and free hostages before escorting them to a teleporter. This level is home to vast patches of poisonous grass and stretches of water. Captain Quazar can swim, but the water is home to lots of vicious hero-eating fish! Anyway, I’m sure you get the idea.

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 3

The levels are of course also riddled with various henchmen of the three main villains. Each planet features some unique enemies not found elsewhere too. For example, the desert planet features spice henchmen – some are puny, some are not. Some have orbiters, some are even invisible. The third level of this world also has dangerous tunnelling machines which can inflict pretty major damage as you might expect. The jungle world features terrorist henchmen, deadly plants and flying probes, and the lava planet features the most enemies of all including bullet and missile-proof military henchmen, floating turrets, radars, brutes and invincible electric snakes. All of these enemies can cut the Captain’s quest short in a hurry too as he only has a limited energy meter and a few lives.

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 4

The Cap’n has a few tricks up his sleeve to take out some of these irksome minions though. These include his rapid-fire personal cannon which can also be upgraded to a super-gun or equipped with high-powered missiles, grenades, super-grenades, flamethrower and an electric ray. All of these weapons are limited in supply, so keep an eye out for extra ammo. Some random enemies leave sparkly diamond thingies behind when killed, too. Collect this ‘mana’ whenever you see it – each time you pick some up, your mana-meter will go up by five percent. When it gets to a hundred percent, you’ll get an extra life. Other useful items are the force shield (temporary invincibility), invisibility potion, speed boots, orbiter (a drone that follows you around and zaps any enemies that get too close), antidotes (which counter the effects of the poisonous plant life on the jungle planet), snorkels (which let you breath underwater) and flares (which help you to see in the underground mine). Extra lives, continues, door passes, forcefield passes, cash and gems can all be found lying around too and there is also a shop that appears at the end of each level (and occasionally in the middle of a level). Pretty much anything can be bought for the right price from ammunition to health.

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 5

The game’s levels don’t just feature hoardes of enemies though – also to be found are various types of buildings. Each, when destroyed, has a certain effect. For example, each ‘area’ of each level contains a barracks. If this is not destroyed, the flow of enemies will be constant. If you destroy it quickly however, you can soon wipe the enemies out. Other buildings and features include teleporters and elevators (both of which require a code), guardhouses/ headquarters, which contain a henchman who can then be interrogated (they’ll usually give you teleporter or elevator codes), and safe houses (which invariably contain money or gems). The desert planet even features the odd oasis which replenishes your health to a limited degree.

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 6

With all these areas to explore and items to collect, you might be thinking that this is a big game and you’d be right! I was recently playing it for five to six hours and I only reached the start of the fifth level which is absolutely enormous! Luckily there is a save-game facility at the end of each level, and an in-game map which only shows the areas that you’ve already explored. Some destroyed buildings leave a map clue behind showing a secret area on the map, of which there are many. There is also a simultaneous two-player mode with the second player controlling Captain Quazar’s partner, Lieutenant Pulzar, but it’s not split-screen so it can get a little crowded, and both players tend to get in each other’s way. The game is tricky right from the start, and it gradually increases in difficulty from that point on – the lava planet is rock! (snigger) This is a tough game though, I still can’t finish it. Can anyone?

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 7

As mentioned near the start of the review, I have a great fondness for isometrically viewed games, probably stemming from my Speccy gaming days, and this is a good one. Each level is colourful, varied, features amusing looking enemies, and the scrolling is nice and smooth. The explosions are particularly impressive, especially after a super-grenade has been unleashed but, bizarrely, the explosion will only occur if the area in question is presently on the screen – you could throw a super-grenade, immediately run away, and come back ten minutes later and witness the ensuing explosion! There is also a bit of slow-down when things get busy, but it’s not bad enough to affect the gameplay.

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 8

Like many early CD-based games, Captain Quazar also features a rendered intro sequence which is probably one of the best I’ve seen! It begins with a short rendered story along the lines of “The galaxy was once a lovely place to live, but then things changed. A band of intergalactic outlaws started causing chaos” etc, which is narrated in an amusingly frantic fashion. This is followed by a Captain Quazar rap performed by some highly humorous robots. Equally amusing, but rap-less cut-scenes punctuate the action too, mostly showing the more-brawn-than-brains Captain himself. The game also features some great music. There is a different tune for each of the ten levels, and some superb cartoon style sound effects are also present. The best thing however, is the Captain’s voice – he sounds even stupider than Homer Simpson!

Captain Quazar - Gameplay Screenshot 9

This is a pretty tough game and a bit of practise is required before significant progress can be made. It took me a while just to get off the first level! Once you’ve got used to it though, it’s an enjoyable romp, and it’s also very satisfying to play, what with all the wanton destruction and all. Even the walls can be destroyed in some areas! Control of Captain Quazar is pretty good, athough it’s sometimes difficult to hit the diagonals in a hectic situation. But most importantly, playing this game is enormous fun. It’s challenging, occasionally frustrating, but remains highly enjoyable nonetheless, and features some nice touches like the police chief shouting at you and even singing songs if you leave the game paused too long. Unfortunately, good games are pretty rare on the 3DO, but ones that didn’t appear on any other consoles are even rarer still. This alone makes Captain Quazar noteworthy. It’s not easy to get hold of but it’s well worth the effort if you want to try something that’s not only a bit different, but also great fun.

RKS Score: 8/10