Windows - 1999
Description of Abomination Windows
"Dead throats rattle with hollow pleasure."
Not the usual intro line to a squad-level real-time game, but Abomination is no usual game. That's obvious from the striking intro movie sequence, powerful not only in its text, imagery and sound, but also in its demands for CD power - my humble eight-speed CD barfed on it forcing me to install the video to hard disk. And some video it is; I've never seen or heard anything quite like it. The clip does an excellent job of conveying the fact that some weird unknown forces are at work in some kind of "Millennium prophecy" story... a virulent plague is sweeping across America, causing outbreaks of vile organic lifeforms and inflicting mutations in the population at large. A cult named the Faithful are blamed for the plague, and something very sinister lies behind them... the Brood... but is it an alien attack or a government conspiracy?
Your task is to lead the Project Nemesis agents in the fight to find the cause of the plague and to attempt to reverse its effects. But your team of agents is no ordinary one - each member is genetically engineered in some way... Savage has extraordinary strength, Pyro can burn enemies at a distance, Detonate can turn objects into explosives, Ninja can become invisible, Creep can take on the form of others, Doc can heal, Viper can generate protective shields and Steel has strengthened fire-resistent skin. Not quite what Agents of Justice promised before Microprose cancelled it, but the premise makes an intriguing filler for the much-craved Super Hero game that never was. A dash of Marvel comic book, a hint of X-Com, yet distinct enough to feel original in its own right.
In the first phases of the game you embark on missions against the Faithful and the Brood, and here your "superhero" agents can develop their skills via battle experience. To back up your core team of eight there's a pool of "expendable" agents; these too have skills, but mere mortal ones such as weapon accuracy and specialisation, health, reactions and stealth. Success in missions lets you spend experience points developing your team as you see fit. You can concentrate on developing the special agents, but with the tough missions ahead you need some well-trained regular troops as backup for when injuries occur. Spreading the experience around is probably the wisest strategy. The game is split into a number of Acts or phases; in each your mission types and maps are generated to be in keeping with the game situation. Your aim is to keep the enemy strength down (initially by restricting the number of strongholds they build on the map), while finding clues to the cause of the plague. This includes capturing live Brood specimens, for example, a task made tricky by the fact the only way to do this is by using stun grenades.
Each mission is generated "randomly" so that on each play you get different challenges. In practice the mission objectives, while also random (blow up X, rescue Y, kill Z), do blur into much of a muchness; to blow something up you have to kill most of the enemies in the area anyway. Mission maps are perhaps five or six screens wide by four or five screens high, and you can take up to four agents on most missions (solo assassination missions being one exception). You arrive in-mission via your combat jeep, and you have to fend for yourself from there. The style of play is rather more Syndicate than X-Com, though Hothouse designer Steve Goss worked on the second and third X-Com games. The action can be fast and very furious, with gunfire and mayhem sprayed all around, but you can pause the game to issue orders at any point. The original design (and the final manual) had a timer on the pause - shades of Space Hulk - but the final code shipped with unlimited pause ability, which I think is the right choice.
The strategic wrapper in Abomination lacks the depth of that in the X-Com games. There's no significance to the geography of the city that you begin the game in, nor any element of base design. Your facilities are merely token buildings to be defended, and a place in which to store items recovered from missions. However, you have to take on the missions thrown at you within a time limit, or face the enemy growing in strength and establishing more strongholds on the map. Choosing how to arm and equip your men (and women) for each mission is important; you can use stock weaponry such as Browning pistols, Uzis, shotguns, M4 or SA80 rifles, sniper rifles, medium machine guns, flamethrowers and M72 rocket launchers, but the more powerful an item is, the rarer it is in the game. The sniper rifle is an excellent weapon for low-risk elimination of enemies, but you need to save the precious ammo for key missions. Likewise grenades and rocket launchers. Ancillary equipment such as proximity mines and mediquik packs are also in short supply but very useful.
It's thus a shame the game makes such a poor fist of allowing you to manage your stock of equipment. First off, you have to hunt through the mission map for places where your cursor turns to a search icon so you can look for items. And the search itself takes a few seconds. You soon learn where to look, but searching in 30-40 places each and every mission to find the few mediquik packs in amongst the run-of-the-mill weapons is tedious. Moreso when you can't select which equipment to ship back to base at mission end, and you end up having to sift through each type of item one by one - with an excessive number of mouse clicks - deciding how many of each to store and how many to chuck (as space is limited). Worse still, if you don't do that sifting, once your three equipment dumps are full any new stuff you find is simply chucked away.
The searching aspect of the game is a painful chore; while finding some equipment in battle is OK, having to ferret through mail boxes to find M72's is both surreal and deadly dull. It's also weird that you only have to find the equipment to have it auto-recovered at mission end; you get to keep it even if you didn't pick it up and some group of monsters were stood over it when you left the map. A better way to manage equipment would have been through cash for missions and buying new equipment, as per JA 2. You can retrieve some kit from your "offmap" HQ, and doing so generates a special "equipment recovery" mission, but as things stand, you have to search for kit, and, rather like the required resource gathering in every Homeworld mission, it's a bore.
The curious thing is that despite the tedious item-hunting, the game keeps sucking me back for one more mission. I think the main reason for this is the very strong game atmosphere - the setting is rather original, the plot is one you want to follow to see what happens, and the introduction of new enemies as the game progresses adds an element of surprise. The first time I was shot at with a "plasma" weapon I was stunned (literally - your agents get knocked to the ground by blasts), as I was the first time I ran into one of the huge Brood creatures. The graphics are good, though not great. Fixed at 640x480 in software mode only they're comparable to JA 2. It's the scenery that makes the difference; bubbling red viral lifeforms litter the streets and buildings. Battered cars, trucks and corpses are strewn all around. The odd limitation, after X-Com, is that you can't enter buildings; you can only move around them, and because the map view doesn't rotate you rely on the "ghost" outline of characters to see them when obscured. It's also impossible to move to a position that is obscured, as the "goto" cursor will take you to the obscuring location - a rooftop for example. After a while, you learn to adjust.
Controlling your squad of four agents is relatively easy. If your men have motion scanners equipped you have the option of opening their motion scanner minimap at the top of the screen. If you split your squad across the map, rather than grouping agents together, you'll need to keep all four minimaps open to track enemies, which creates something of an "Aliens" feel to the display. It'd be nice to have the option of lining the "radars" up down the side of the screen, as they can get in the way sometimes - and turning them off is inviting disaster. The catch here is that all enemies on the minimap are shown as red dots, whether in line-of-sight or not (and for reasons which become apparent, you need to watch the white "neutral" dots too). So there's no element of surprise in running around a corner and spotting a new unseen enemy. You can also see enemies on screen that your agents can't see, but you can't scroll the map view outside of the minimap "radar" range. The result is that missions are less tense than X-Com, but you don't have such a problem tracking down that one last baddie (and you can often leave the map and get a successful result without killing all the enemies - hit and run can pay off).
Your characters can be ordered to move around the map by the conventional click-to-move method. The right-click pop-up orders menu offers some useful options. You can choose your stance (standing, kneeling, prone), your aggression (aggressive, cautious, only act on direct orders), your firing orders (fire at will, hold fire, fire when fired on), your engagement range, and whether to hold position or let the AI move your men. Sadly, the AI makes a complete hash of that movement, for example running your agents right past enemies to get into cover(!), so "hold position" is the way to go. Changing the default orders to "kneel" and "cautious" is also rather wise. Unfortunately you have to do this at the start of each mission; your personal choice of default orders doesn't get remembered. The computer is also very dumb at choosing a facing for your troops when they get to where you're moving them to - you'll move behind a row of sandbags, have enemy on the far side, and the computer will face your men back towards you. This would have been an ideal use for the Myth -style gesture-click. Then again, it's sometimes hard to tell if the facing makes any difference anyway...
There are some good elements to the interface. One is the "standoff" mode, whereby you right click an enemy, and you get a dotted line drawn to him, red if you have no line-of-sight or are out of range (two different colours would have been helpful there), green if you can shoot. Used with the cautious, hold position orders it can be an effective tactic. Another is the use of beacons which can be placed as "shortcut" buttons to ease navigation of the map. You can even place CCTV cameras with which to watch enemy movement. And another is the selection of keyboard shortcuts which, for example, allow you to toggle between three weapon types, and which let you switch to grenades... but if you have two types of grenade you have to open the inventory window to select which one, which is annoying when you have stun and explosive grenades and you need to stun the enemy creature. Grenades have another interface flaw - the only way to pass a grenade from one agent to another is by dropping it; unfortunately it's all too easy to click "fire" not "pickup" (the context of the cursor changes with a one-pixel variation) and blow yourself up. Doh. And here's the real kicker... there's no in-mission save. One false key-press, one bad move, and it's back to square one. Now, some people will say "hey, saves are cheating", but for others gaming time is precious, and replaying 20-30 minutes of action for the want of one goof is simply not fun. Would I type this 2,000 word review without saving it every ten minutes? I think not... Hothouse deserve an M72 rocket up the backside for this decision.
The style of play is determined to a large extent by the AI of the enemy creatures and, again somewhat sadly, this isn't too hot. Small groups of enemies roam and patrol in groups, but they're all too predictable. The Faithful jog around in packs of four or so, the "undead" initiates lumber along in larger numbers, and can be avoided given their reliance on your motion to track you. Satyrs usually attack in twos, while the Brood monsters tend to work solo. None actively seek you out beyond their regular patrols; Satyrs will give chase sometimes, but missions tend to boil down to clearing the map section by section, without much ebb and flow in proceedings. The missions are still tense, but with the enemies rather predictable the difficulty and the excitement isn't what it might have been. It's also a little sad that enemy strongholds are little different from normal missions - no extra defences or other obstacles to blast through.
The pathfinding is pretty decent. You can ask your troops to move to a remote beacon and they'll get there with no hassle; I've never seen a character get stuck. I've seen the AI enemies get stuck, but only behind Brood eggs due to the way the map generator has placed the enemies and the eggs... which is a little silly. There are a lot of weird "alien" objects on the maps, which do hinder movement a little. Many can be blown up, though with no apparent benefit. You can also blow up cars and trucks, taking out a few baddies if they're close enough. If you plan on using a car for cover, blow it up first! I like the way each of the main eight agents has their own speech effects; a cry of "freak-splitting time" or "lock and load" lets you know which agent has a bead on the bad guys. The agent animation is quite detailed. They'll holster weapons to climb ladders onto rooftops, for example, though the effects are spoilt a little by the way a prone agent will "pop up" sometimes when ordered to move (crawl) to a location.
One novel feature is the way any friendly soldiers on the mission map will fight with you, if you can get to them before they die. This extra bit of support can be handy at times. The game has quite a bloody nature - you can pump six or seven pistol shots into an initiate to take him down, each hit splatters blood from his head or body. Any kills will blow the target off their feet, though the effect there is spoilt by the fall not being away from the direction the shot came from... the feeling of some "physics" being in play is enhanced by the way grenades bounce around off whatever they hit (which is quite neat, but it makes stunning creatures rather hard...)
Abomination offers 8-player multiplayer, but I haven't had the chance to try it with anyone. Deathmatch and capture the flag modes look interesting. There's also a "play by e-mail" mode, but this appears to simply allow multiple players to fight one campaign by passing saved games on between themselves.
I've listed quite a few frustrations with Abomination, not least the lack of in-mission saves (compounded by the back-to-back "ambush" missions), the requirement to search mission maps for good equipment, the poor equipment management aspects, and the all-too-predictable AI. Yet I must confess I keep coming back for more, even after 50 missions of play. The fact that the game music is perhaps the best I've heard in any strategy game (right up there with, for its time, the original Command and Conquer) is a factor... a blend of many influences including the Terminator movie. The setting, the plot, and the atmosphere all help; the interface itself degenerates in appearance as the virus spreads. The weapon and damage effects are all good, and the maps littered with things that explode spectacularly. Perhaps the key factor is the "what's coming next?" angle... Will I face a new enemy here? What new weapon might I get next? Can I cope with these rookies while my heroes recover their health for a couple of missions? Where's the plot headed?
Abomination 's strength lies in its novel end-of-the-world plague storyline and its original and very stylishly presented setting. Its weakness lies in a number of bizarre design and interface quirks which one must assume were raised in the beta testing process but which still made the release version. With in-mission saves, a better system for getting equipment and some more interesting enemy AI, well, Abomination would be Award-worthy, perhaps a Gold candidate, but as it stands your pleasure will be dependent on your tolerance of these and other lesser design flaws. So close, yet so far...
Review By GamesDomain
Comments and reviews
Chainsawkiss 2020-06-14 0 point
Got it when it first came out. Read a review that rated it unplayable unless, perhaps, you used the space bar and made it emulate a turn based game. Did that and have played the game for run since 1999.I just need a way to get it to run on more modern operating systems. I still have CD and manual!
Narrow Watch 2020-05-26 2 points
hey admin! do you got any emulators to recommend me, to play this game on?
I got crashes and black screens playing this game on my Windows 10..
alexborr 2019-11-16 -1 point
RIP version is working for me, running as admin.
The only BIG problem is that i can load a saved game or minimize the game, therefore i can only finish the hole game in one go...
Ds36 2019-08-20 1 point
Unable to load a game when using RIP version on Windows 7. Navigating to the saved game directory is not picking up any files that the game can open.
Diego 2018-07-01 1 point
I See this game are make of the same creators of Gangsters and Gangsters 2, i Love those two. Lets see if it is a good game!
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