Windows - 1998
Description of Barrage
I first came into contact with Barrage about half a year ago. A small company called Mango Grits, consisting of four people, was making an arcade fly-about-and-blast-anything-that moves type of game. After being somewhat disappointed by Rage's Incoming, I decided to give the demo a shot to see if it was any better, and what I saw showed promise. Now I have the finished product, I have mixed feelings about it. In terms of graphics and gameplay, it far surpasses the competition. The only problem is that there is not very much of it.
As the game starts you are treated to a really poor quality FMV-sequence which shows some vehicle flying about and some irritating salesmen by the name of Dealing Al trying to sell it to you. The only problem is that payment is delivered in the form of undertaking risky missions in this new vehicle. I'm not sure if this is a good way to sell a vehicle as both the customer and the vehicle will most likely be shot into little pieces, but the contractor reserves the right to charge the value of any equipment lost from the deceased's family. After watching the introduction you start paying off your debt, flying through five missions of carnage and destruction. Yes, that's right. There are only five missions in this game. You will have finished it in just a few hours.
Graphically, the game is outstanding. The 3D-accelerated terrain is gorgeous. The units look good enough, but it is really the terrain which shines. Coloured lighting reflect off objects and lights pulsate and glow. While underwater, you see the waves ripple on the bottom when light shines in from above. Fog is only used when there is supposed to be fog, and not just as a way to limit your field of view.
You fly about in an amphibious hover-vehicle capable of both aerial and submarine propulsion. It has the very original name FreeLancer 550. It runs on an internal battery which keeps the vehicle active for some ten minutes. This battery is also channelled to the shields and every time they collapse, power is drawn to replenish them, thus decreasing operational time. There are also time powerups scattered throughout the levels which increase the battery life.
Blasting everything that moves
As I mentioned previously there are only five missions to fly. These are Prairie, Tunnel, Canyon, Chicago and Ocean - in that order. Prairie, being the first mission, is very easy. It has you flying against a rather small group of bad guys. The objective is to fly through five power buoys thus deactivating them. When you are done, the end boss appears.
Tunnel is a linear level in which you are supposed to race to the finish and destroy a power generator. The fun part here is the rocket booster which allows you to speed through the tunnels at remarkable speeds. The bad part is the force-field that appears in front of you and sloooowly creeps along the corridor. Confronted by this situation, all you can do is stay behind and twiddle your thumbs.
Canyon is a simple destroy-everything-that moves mission; when you have destroyed every enemy unit the end boss appears. Like the other levels, it's great looking. However, it is somewhat misnamed as the canyon only occupies a small part of the level, the rest consists of mostly plains with some caverns to explore.
Chicago is the best level by far. The computer controlled police squad-cars of the city have gone haywire and are happily driving about shooting the city to pieces. Flying between skyscrapers blasting sqauddies and inflicting a heluva lot more damage to the city than the police were is very entertaining. Although the damage to the city isn't shown, there are plenty of civilian traffic that can be shot down. The whole scenario has quite a few resemblances to the attack-chopper scene in the new Godzilla movie.
Ocean is the final level and the objective is to gather five parts of a nuclear weapon and destroy the end-boss's big gun. The enemies on this level are by no means easy. There are attack choppers and fighters in the air and nuclear submarines under the surface. There is also a cruise ship going about it's business.
There are five weapons at your disposal. These are cannon, missile, plasma, laser and nukes. You start off with cannons and missiles. The cannon is a medium-range weapon which fires explosive projectiles in a straight line. The missiles are short-range weapons which lock on to your targets and home in on them. Plasma is short-range as well and can shoot through solid objects. How it distinguishes houses and geological formations from enemy targets I don't know, but it's a fun and powerful weapon nonetheless. The laser is a long range weapon which fires a laser-beam at your target. It's very effective but requires pin-point accuracy. Another advantage of the laser is that it can shoot through shields. The nukes speak for themselves - massive destruction, so keep your distance. All weapons have unlimited ammunition and they are diverse enough to make the game interesting. You will have to learn which weapons work best under different conditions. Missiles, for instance, don't work very well underwater. Plasma and laser, however, do.
You can also pick up a speed booster which allows you to fly faster. In fact, it is essential on the ocean level. The only drawback of the booster is that it replaces the cannon or the laser so you cannot fire any of these while using it
To add to longevity Barrage includes support for multiplayer. You can play all the levels except Tunnel. There is also an extra level included solely for multiplayer which looks somewhat like the Niagara Falls. The main difference between multiplayer and single-player, aside from the obvious, is that you now have a limited supply of ammunition on all weapons except the laser. Weapons and powerups lie scattered throughout the levels and you collect them by flying through them. During setup, you can choose which weapons to allow in the game and if there is to be a kill limit. Barrage appears to lend itself very well to multiplayer, but I haven't been able to try it.
All too short
All of the levels are very well done and fun to play. Many of them are humorous in places but I am left wondering why there is only one mission for each setting. Rage's Incoming doesn't come close to the gameplay in Barrage but Incoming had a lot of missions. I really believe this could have been done better as all of the hard work is really in creating the separate theatres and creating missions mainly involve scripting and minor modifications. There are three difficulty settings to choose from; the hardest setting is very challenging, but still fails to bring sufficient longevity to the game.
The FreeLancer is quite easy to fly and the controls are easily configurable. It has some stabiliser which prohibits it from flying inverted or making to steep climbs or descents. This is fine but the angle of climb is too small. It's extremely frustrating on some levels, Chicago in particular, when you have an enemy bellow you and you are unable to shoot at him because your ship refuses to move its nose down any further. This doesn't happen all that often though.
The manual that accompanies the game is a fit-the-CD-case affair. It is, however, quite extensive and covers all of the aspects of the game since there is not too much to learn. It describes all of the weapons and levels, and some general tips for how to best operate your FreeLancer fighter.
After playing through Barrage I am somewhat disappointed. It is no doubt an incredible feat for a four person team to have undertaken, and the length of the game wouldn't have bothered me if it hadn't been priced as a full length product. Those of you who have bought the two level version of Barrage will no doubt want to make use of the rebate on the finished title, and take comfort in the fact that the new levels are a whole lot better than the two in the demo. Barrage is the type of game that you can whip out and play for a few minutes when you are pressed for time. It is also a game that you can use to impress you friends, but there are many of the latter around. The levels are fun to fly more than once, as you can try to best your high-score and complete them in the shortest amount of time. Multiplayer and the hardest difficulty setting help to add to the longevity, but the cold hard fact remains--the game is too short.
Review By GamesDomain
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