Windows - 1998
Description of Forsaken Windows
It's a first-person shoot-em-up. There really isn't a lot more to say about Forsaken. In the same way that you don't go watch the new Arnie film expecting to be faced with a serious, in-depth study of the human condition, you don't pick up a copy of the latest first-person full-3D shoot-em-up and expect it to be anything other than a Descent clone. But, like I said in my preview, what a clone!
The story revolves around the Earth, circa 2113. A catastrophic physics experiment has left the Earth devoid of life, and the galactic Theocracy has declared the solar system Forsaken. Having removed everything considered valuable, the Theocracy has left the Earth protected by robot defenders and moved on to other things.
Enter "every bounty hunter, mercenary, space pirate, and free-booting scum" to pick over the pieces that the Theocracy didn't want. Playing as such a bounty hunter, you have to battle both the robot defences and other mercenaries whilst collecting valuables in various locations around the dead Earth. And, as every self-respecting bounty hunter should, you get around on a hoverbike fitted with plenty of weapons and gizmos to help you collect the loot.
Basically, this all amounts to a single-player mode in you progress through 16 levels, shooting at flying robots, tanks and missile silos, collecting weapon power-ups, gold bars and crystals. And... that's about it. The 'plot' of the story isn't important at all, and there isn't really any continuity between levels.
But don't get me wrong; that is not a bad thing. Once you start blasting away at those robotic guardians, any thought of storyline goes completely out the window. Each level is standard blaster-fest fare: fly through blasting the robot baddies, collecting power-ups to help you, and picking up keys, shooting switches, and completing other tasks (activating detonators, remembering key code sequences) to gain access to later areas of the level. As you progress through the level, you pass through restart points, where you will respawn if (or when!) you lose a life. Yeah, you've seen it all before, but it's such a joy throughout it doesn't require anything like a storyline to support it. Having said that there's no continuity between levels, each of the levels indivdually is really well designed, and each has its own atmosphere. The 'Abandoned Subway' level looks nothing like the 'Federal Bank Vault' level, and neither of those look like the 'Capsized Ship' level.
There are 15 characters to choose between, which, in the single player game, affects which voice sample set you'll hear when your character talks to you. These range from the traditional cyber-babes like the cool cyborg Loksenna and the Oriental geek-chic Nim Soo Sun through the beer-swilling Hell's Angel Beard, trucker Rex Hardy and surfer boy LA Jay, to weirder characters like the embryonic Foetoid and the genocidal computer HK-5. These come more to life in the multiplayer game, so I'll talk about them more later on.
In addition to choosing your biker, you can select between five different bike computers, which tell you about the condition of your bike ('shields low', 'hull critical', etc), the weapons you have selected ("pulsar", "suss gun") and the power-ups you collect ("power pod", "nitro"). I preferred the 'female' voiced computers Brenda and Lani-1 to the 'male' voiced computers Phil 3B, Lepracom and Roadster. I guess that's just me; you may wish to hear that you're about to die from some simulated Irish pixie.
Your bike is equipped with a primary 'blaster' weapon and a secondary 'missile' system. You start each level with a standard issue 'pulsar' blaster and 'mug' unguided missile weapons, and there are five additional blasters, and five additional missile types to find as power-ups scattered throughout the level. Each weapon has its own unique flavour and it all adds up to a really good diversity of firepower that makes shooting down those robots a joy.
First up, the blasters. The Pulsar is your bog-standard weapon, OK for both ranged and close combat, with limited damage, but it's nothing really to write home about, and you should look to upgrade it as soon as possible. The Trojax increases its charge as you keep your finger held on the fire button, and upon release fires off a blue swirling fireball. It's a pretty good all-round weapon; a high rate of fire when you need it, or one big blast of charge to deal with the particularly stuborn baddies. The Suss Gun fires a wide-angle burst of bullets and is great for close-quarters combat against multiple opponents, but its limited range makes it relatively useless for picking off targets from a greater distance. In later levels you'll encounter the more fun weapons; the Transpulse (my absolute favourite weapon) fires a big red pulse which can bounce off walls - excellent for taking out enemies around corners - and it has a reasonable rate and range of fire, too. The Pyrolite Rifle is basically a flame thrower and does massive amounts of damage at close range but is rubbish further afield, whilst the Beam Laser has a massive range and a huge rate of fire - instantly hitting a target a way off and doing a whack of damage.
The bog-standard Mug missiles are unguided affairs that do a fair whack of damage, but are a bit rubbish compared to some of the other missiles; collect a Multiple Fire Rocket Launcher and you'll be able to fire off several similar missiles simultaneously. The Solaris missiles pack as much damage as a Mug, but have an on-board guidance system, so home in on their target. Arm yourself with a Transpulse and a pack of Solaris missiles, and you might never have to see the enemy! There are also two ridiculously powerful missiles; the Gravgon, which upon detonation sucks all matter into its own gravitational field, and the Titan, armed with a matter / anti-matter warhead detonating at 5 kilotons, which basically takes out everything over a massive blast radius and needs handling with care. In addition, there is a Scatter missile, which causes your opponents to drop all their weapons, which isn't really useful in the single-player game, but which is a tactical must in multiplayer.
In addition to all these weapons, you can deploy mines at strategic points. These are available as power-ups, from the standard Purge Mine, which explodes on contact, through the very powerful Quantum Mine, to the wonderful Pine Mine, which is basically a floating missile platform and essential if you're going to take on the end of level boss characters - just fly in, drop a Pine Mine or two, fly out, and let the Pine Mine finish off the bad guy!
There are a hoarde of power-ups to collect as well. Power Pods increase the strength of your weapons (to a maximum of three); Shield Overdrives increase your bikes' defensive shield (and you'll need to find a LOT of these!); Orbital Pulsars give you additional firepower, and Nitros give you increased speed. There are additional rarely encountered power-ups; the Resnic Reanimator (an instant extra life), the Golden Power Pod (full power for 30 seconds), and the Stealth Mantle which renders you temporarily invisible. For every ten Gold Bars you collect, you get an extra life, whilst collecting the Crystal hidden in every level eventually gains you access to the secret hidden level at the end of the game. Complete that, and you unlock the exclusive 'winners only' FlyGirl skin to play with in multiplayer games.
When you lose a life, all the power-ups drop off your bike and float around in the area you bought it, so when you respawn you'll need to head to the area where you snuffed it to re-equip yourself.
The enemies in the single-player game are a good mix of the flying cannon-fodder Swarm robots, which fire slow-moving low-damage shots, but come in droves, to the less abundant but vastly more manoeuverable and well-equipped Airmobil and the almost-invisible stealthy Shade, which I hate with mind body and soul. On the ground there are various tanks, from the Mek Ton, armed with the same weapons as the flying Swarm, to the walking Legz, armed with homing missiles. Add to these various missile and laser turrets around each level, and you have more than enough to shoot at. Even on the 'easy' setting, the bad guys are difficult to do away with; I found it near-impossible to complete a level without losing at least one life. Increasing the difficulty of the game increases the shield resistance of the enemy and also seems to improve their fire rate and accuracy. In all, there are 17 different robot types to fight against, and various 'end of level boss' figures, either other bounty hunters or just weird baddies (the 'Flesh Mutant', for example, is a strange beast indeed). AI-wise, the enemies are OK; the more boss-like ones do seem to anticipate your movements and dodge your shots, but in general the baddies present a problem because they come at you in quantity, shooting heavily.
I had a couple of minor problems with the single player game. Firstly, when you start a new level, all the power ups and weapons you collected in the previous level are lost. Yup, you start each level with a simple Pulsar and one clip of Mug missiles... Ulp! Fortunately there are plenty of power-ups early on in each level, so you'll soon be able to re-equip yourself. Secondly, enemies have a habit of spawning out of nowhere. Collect that pack of Solaris missiles and watch as three Swarm robots appear before your eyes! Sometimes this is a little irritating, as you move stealthily from room to room, only to be shot at by a Hunter robot that's spawned behind you... But again, this isn't too great a problem once you're aware of it.
Controlling your bike can be done with joystick, or mouse and keyboard. I'm a mouse-keyboard fan myself, opting for freelook on the mouse and sliding around with the keyboard. Debates are going to run and run about which the best control system is, so I'll just state that I've had no problems at all with my chosen setup and have found that the game utterly flies along. In short, the single player game is tops. Wonderful to look at, with engrossing, atmospheric, stable gameplay and a great diversity of weaponry.
That's single player. Multiplayer Forsaken is an entirely different matter. It's better. All the power-ups, all the weapons, but friends and colleagues to fight against. It's tops. It's the most fun I've had in a multiplayer game since, and possibly even including, Quake II. The multiplayer levels are again really well designed; there are enough hidey-holes for those snipers among you, but not toomany; we'll soon flush you out!
Your choice of biker in multiplayer is perhaps more important than in single-player; as well as the character talking to you, your biker will appear to everyone else. Though, for the most part, they look pretty cool, and there is a wide selection to choose from, perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole game is that the bikers aren't animated. But then we can't have absolutely everything, can we?
You can choose to play multiplayer games as either a free-for-all or a team game. Team games can be played either as a regular blast-em match or capture the flag, with several different scoring options depending on whether you need one or both flags to score points. In addition, there's a Bounty Hunt game which can be played either free-for-all or in teams, when you're all chasing after a gold bar, and scoring points the longer you hold onto it.
Apart from the lack of character animation, the only other bad thing I've got to say about multiplayer Forsaken is that you need as many copies of the game as there are players. I would have preferred it if only the CD-owner need host a network game, then LAN/Internet friends could be able to connect for free with a 'spawned' copy. Oh well. Oh, one more thing: for some reason, the shift key is disabled in the message screens - so no exclamation or question marks when you scream at your opponents. Neither can you politely swear at your friends using *@!**&!@*; you'll have to spell it out direct.
In short, multiplayer Forsaken is great. It's being supported by all the major online gaming sites (MPlayer, Kali, the Zone) as well as having a really active newsgroup at alt.games.forsaken, so you'll never find yourself short of opponents. If the coming months see this game develop like it deserves to (I'm specifically thinking of custom deathmatch maps, custom clan skins and all that stuff), then Forsaken could and should challenge Quake II as the best multiplayer game out there.
OK, that's the gameplay covered. I've mentioned here and there that I think Forsaken 's graphics are totally astounding, but I haven't really spelt it out explicitly. With standard software rendering the graphics are easily on par with any other software-only 3D shooter out there, but with 3D acceleration they are simply the best 3D graphics I've seen to date. No lag, no background pop-up, no collisions, no problems of any sort. Top explosions, top lighting effect, top textures. A silky smooth framerate. Some of the guys playing multiplayer here in the Games Domain office have complained of motion sickness. Cracking. Lovely... I think you get the picture. The screenshots here don't do the game justice.
I think I can sum the whole affair up by saying that as Quake II is to Doom, so Forsaken is to Descent. Except I think Forsaken is better than Quake II. It's simply the best-looking and the best-playing 3D first person shooter I have ever come across. Utterly essential.
Review By GamesDomain
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