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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Intruder first look: a promising tactical shooter that demands a thoughtful approach">Intruders 1

Intruder reminds me of the golden age of Half-Life 1 modding: games like Action Half-Life, Science and Industry and Frontline Force, which experimented with the basic multiplayer FPS formula. It s a team-based stealth game where one group of players has to defend a pair of valuable briefcases from a squad of intruders. Everybody begins the game equipped with an assault rifle, a silenced pistol, satchel charges, proximity sensors, lockpicks, grenades and a camera that allows you to peek around corners. How you decide to use all of these tools to complete your objective is up to you.

Bullets are almost always lethal and being killed knocks you out for the entire round. Intruder encourages a sense of uncertainty, however, that makes it feel unlike any other online shooter I ve played. There s no kill log, so your only way to confirm a kill is to find the body. Even then, you might be surprised: players can choose to ragdoll their character at any time, and non-lethal wounds might leave a character prone but very much alive. This creates fascinating tension: I hit that guy, but is he dead? Can I shoot him again without attracting more attention?

Factor in full friendly fire and you ll see that Superboss Games have created something rare a shooter where you really have to think before pulling the trigger. It s the work of Rob Storm and Austin Roush, who originally planned to create the game as a mod. The Unity engine has not only allowed them to create a standalone game, but also to invest that game with a level of detail that wouldn t otherwise be possible.

If you make a mod, there s a strong chance that it s still going to feel like that original game in some way, says Storm. Intruder has its own feel because we built the controls and character movement from the ground up.

Interacting with the game takes a bit of getting used to. Almost everything is affected by dynamic physics, from opening doors to the players themselves. Characters have a balance meter that reflects their stability on flat ground you ll be fine, but leap onto a narrow balustrade and you re very likely to fall over. This injects a vein of slapstick that might seem at odds with Intruder s realistic tone, but it forces you to rethink the kind of actions that your character is capable of.

Our entire approach to the game isn t making things larger, but making them deeper, says Storm. I think about what I would do in real life. I wouldn t just swing a door open I d open it a crack so I could see through it. We want to make people say, If I were really here, right now, what would I be doing?

Also key is the game s use of sound. Player microphones auto-transmit by default, and any noise you make is broadcast to anybody in earshot. If you talk too loudly, people will hear you. We re so used to seeing chat as something that exists outside of the game proper that the removal of reliable communication is a strangely isolating experience. If you need to talk to your teammates at range, you ll need to use a radio and even then you are at risk of being heard by the enemy team.

During one match, I was playing as a guard when I heard gunshots from downstairs. I didn t know if one of my teammates had been shot, if we d nailed an intruder, or if there d been some kind of accident. Then I heard a voice from a nearby vent: one of the intruders, urgently radioing to find out what had happened to his compatriot. In that moment, I knew that the other team was just as confused as I was and, crucially, I knew where at least one of them was.

The game is currently in paid alpha, and keys are released in batches of 500 to keep player numbers manageable. I didn t experience any stability issues but there are bugs, flat textures, and stiff animations. One of the advantages of being an early adopter, however, is a community that is currently very small and tight-knit. Most players respect the spirit of the game, which is crucial given how badly it could be broken by the use of external voice comms.

Storm acknowledges that cheating will always be an issue but it s a risk that Superboss have to take in order to make an emergent multiplayer FPS. Private servers, coupled with the fact that the game is perfectly playable with small numbers of players, should ensure that the real experience remains available as the game expands its audience.

Keep an eye on this one. Intruder isn t ready for mass consumption just yet, but for a certain generation of FPS fan it has the potential to be something special.

Find out more on the Intruder site.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Tesla Effect delayed by two weeks, now releasing May 7th">Tesla Effect delay

Were you looking forward to Tex Murphy's grand return to the sci-fi gumshoeing circuit on April 22nd (AKA 'tomorrow')? Well I have some bad news: Tesla Effect has been delayed to May 7th, for reasons of...actually, no reason was given, but I'm assuming it has something to do with an FMV dame, or a shiny MacGuffin. It usually does.

Developers Big Finish Games announced the delay on Facebook with the above image, which should succeed at making you feel old if you played the Tex Murphy games first time around. A casual scroll down reveals that we totally missed news of a demo as well, so go grab that on Steam that while you wait.

One other thing you could do while you wait is check out Richard Cobbett's crapshoot for Mean Streets, the very first in the Tex Murphy series. It's not quite as FMV-y as you may be expecting.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Star Citizen’s expanded PAX East video shows off spacewalking and stealth">StarCitizen_solo_image

Star Citizen's recent blast of gameplay footage is what happens when you give the Once and Future King of space games $41 million to make his dream space game a reality: ie much whooping and unbridled excitement over one admittedly pretty stonking video. But what if you could watch the same video again, with added interview bits and extra footage, including stealth manoeuvers (in the dark) and a moderately terrifying Gravity-style spacewalk? If your answer contains hollering and/or whooping, you may join me after the break.

The video, below, describes the prep for the PAX East presentation, before showing the impressive demo in full, and eventually moving on to some additional footage, including an unscheduled spacewalk among the stars. It also delves into discussion of Arena Commander, Star Citizen's upcoming online dogfighting component, which will be released some months before the main event. (Thanks, Polygon.)

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to NHL 97 review December 1996, US edition">nhl 97 from the archives

Every Sunday, reviews editor Tyler Wilde publishes a classic PC Gamer review from the '90s or early 2000s, with his context and commentary followed by the full, original text from the archived issue. This week, NHL 97 is reviewed in the December 1996 issue of PC Gamer US. More classic reviews here.

I have the flu. Thanks PAX. I very much wish I weren't a sweating, shivering slug monster, but it does mean I get to regress into delirious, selfish childhood for a few days. That's a perfect excuse to whine about the lack of team sports games on PC while celebrating something I don't get to write about much on PC Gamer the NHL playoffs! I'm sick, I get the remote, and I'm putting on M*A*S*H after the Sharks game, so deal with it.

The PC is master of racing, and there's FIFA and Football Manager and some golf games. But EA's NHL series hasn't been released on PC since NHL 09, while NBA Live 08 and Madden NFL 08 were the last of their kind on our platform. Even fewer 2K Sports games made it to PC, and the nature of sports games and licensing means they've since evaporated. The PC is a sports desert.

Phaneuf remains collected as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck attempt to chase him off the Origin store. (Sorry, FIFA fans)

Things were looking good in 1996 when we reviewed NHL 97 and boasted that "top of the line PC sports games are now superior to their console counterparts." It even holds up visually, kind of the low-poly models look a bit like they could be modern retro. What hockey on PC looks like now, though, is a single, sad NHL game in the Origin library. NHL 09 is a fine game, but at five years old it doesn't carry much classic charm, just the sad state of being last.

I get it: sports are mass market, consoles are mass market, voil . Go where people are buying. I just drank some cough syrup, though, and right now I'm willing to bet that the PC is a great place for licensed sports games if done with modern sensibilities: online multiplayer, tournaments, leaderboards, a healthy metagame with updating rosters, and a business model that makes more sense than selling a new game every year. Or hell, it doesn't even have to be licensed as long as the Predatory Fish beat the Joffrey Baratheons tonight, I'll be happy.


NHL 97 review

EA's excellent hockey series just got better than ever with the hardest hitting action in the world.

After taking a look at the utterly amazing NHL 97, it s obvious Electronic Arts didn t become one of the largest software companies on a fluke. It's with a touch of arrogance that EA Sports ad campaigns boast "If it's in the game, it's in the game." But the fact of the matter is, it's true. No one makes more compelling sports games for the PC, and no division of any company has consistently put out such a high volume of good product over the years. But this year, the sports games that EA has put out for the PC are superior even to their console counterparts. Frankly, this is a milestone top of the line PC sports games are now superior to their console counterparts.

NHL 97 is the best example of this. This is, quite simply, one of the most realistic sports game ever done, in terms of look and play. The secret behind NHL 97 s seductive appeal starts with the graphics. They are the best in you ll find in an action oriented sport game, period. The virtual stadium technology that made its appearance in NHL 96 returns in a sharpened and more fluid form, with more intuitive camera views and a proper overhead view that recreates the classic view of earlier games. But the big difference this time out is that the bit-mapped players have been replaced with extremely lifelike motion-captured polygonal characters. Although sports sim fans may not really care whether the players are fast-moving 3D polygon characters are the defining characteristic of quality action games these days, a la Quake. But the fully rendered polygon characters in NHL 97 are sharper, faster and smarter than the characters in Quake.

Thanks to a wealth of motion-captured data the NHL 97 players glide, slide, check and shoot, just like the real thing. They do one-timers, sprawl in front of the net, and even fight. Like previous games you ll control the action with a gamepad, and all the different actions that you need to do are controlled with only two buttons. Score one for simplicity, but this does mean that a lot of times you will be pounding on a button to speed up or check, only to have another of your players take control of the puck and then fire off a shot or pass you didn't intend.

The artificial intelligence of the players is commendable, in that the players move where they're supposed to go and set themselves up for rebound shots and passing plays. And when they do stupid things such as rush offsides or make two-line passes, it is because the game is taking into account player ratings, and the bad players make far more mistakes than the better players.

All the player motions are quick and fluid, with stunning goalie moves, exceptional checks and realistic stick handling. During the fights however, the characters are slow and move like zombies. They stand there, locked with their opponents, getting slugged repeatedly, but that doesn't matter. It detracts nothing from the actual game itself. It's a bonus feature that didn't quite work out, and you can always turn fights off.

You can also check and hook, though with the various penalty settings, whether or not you get called for your dirty tactics is up to you, as there are half-a-dozen levels of penalty-calling to choose from. Let's just say that the satisfaction you get from checking someone driving on your goal in both visual and audio effects is more accurate, more violent, and faster than any tackle or slide or dunk in any other sports game. Last month we had our sports awards; had this game been ready then, NHL 97 would have won the gold.

The way to play this game is at the Pro or All-Star setting, with the line options on manual. You really cannot appreciate hockey strategy without the tiring of the lines, and this game takes that squarely into account. The game can be played head-to-head on one or two PCs (using the built-in local area network, TCP/IP, or modem options), and using a Gravis GrIP system, up to eight people can go at it in true team fashion.

There's little in this game to criticize, but even a diamond has flaws, however minute. EA focuses far more on in-game play and the recreation of the pageantry of pro sports, without the detailed management options and customizability of other sports sims. In NHL 97, you don't have the ability to make your own leagues, stats, uniforms, or plays as you would in the Front Page Sports series, for example, and you're not going to be going on the Internet downloading new teams and leagues, although you can create new players and trade them with other teams. The AI also seems to be slanted to keep even bad teams in the game, especially on their home ice.

And, as ever, performance has a price. This game will slog on anything less than a P90, and even on that level you had better turn off as many inconsequential sounds and graphics as is possible, in order to guarantee smooth gameplay. Only high-end machines can make this game sing, but if you ve got the system to run it, don t hesitate to experience the finest sports game around. Even if you don t care for the sport on television or can t grasp the concept of icing, once you ve taken out your first wingman or hammered in that first goal, you ll probably find yourself hopelessly addicted to NHL 97 s stellar action. If you ll excuse me now, I ve got a score to settle with the Blackhawks. Jason Bates
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Secrets of Grindea demo is nostalgic, loot-obsessed and a lot of fun">Secrets of Grindea

Today is *checks Gregorian calendar* Easter Day, and if you celebrate the occasion you're probably already catatonic on chocolate, lying on the floor under a mess of spent foil wrappers and half-eaten eggs. There's no shame in that - OK, so there might be a little shame - but I have the perfect game to unwind with later on while you try to digest the deliciously terrible thing you've done. That game is Secrets of Grindea, a very Secret of Mana-ish action RPG now with a demo (demos are what we had in the olden days before Early Access). It's a nostalgic (but not suffocatingly so) and tactile thing, boasting extraordinary pixel art and a bunch of modern features like a character creator and online co-op. I've spent some time with it this morning in lieu of eating my own weight in chocolate, and if you like Square's Mana series, I suggest you do the same. You'll find the demo here.

The demo offers a brief taste of the story and a few levels of Arcade mode, which randomly generates environments for you and up to three friends to hack and plunder your way through. The full game, meanwhile, will feature crafting and pets (though probably not craftable pets), as well as hunting, digging and fishing minigames, the latter of which makes a brief appearance towards the end of the demo.

Developers Pixel Ferrets are accepting pre-orders for Secrets of Grindea - which will grant immediate access to the beta - but as there doesn't appear to be a release date set yet, there's no clue how long of a wait you'll be in for. If you're on the fence, the following video will likely sway you one way or the other.

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Mod of the Week: Star Wars Ships, for Space Engineers">Space Engineers

While Evan continues to make a mockery of Star Wars canon, I thought I might try something different: sticking to the celebrated story that no one has a right to change (except George Lucas, who has the right to change it but really, really shouldn't). I noticed that Space Engineers, while still in early access, is a part of Steam Workshop, and that players have been busy constructing tons of Star Wars ships and bases. While I don't know if player creations are technically mods, it's player-made content, and I figure that's close enough for my purposes.

And so I present a completely accurate and above all respectful re-telling of the original Star Wars trilogy, in screenshots!

Star Wars

A long time ago (Wednesday) in an early-access game on my computer, a star destroyer approaches a diplomatic ship suspected of carrying stolen plans for the Empire's Death Star. It's a Venator-class destroyer, hence the red racing stripes, which immediately derails my promise of absolute accuracy. Though they do give the ship a sporty feel!

A lone stormtrooper seems to be the only one on board and he discovers a couple things when he reaches the cockpit: the star destroyer can only fly in one direction, straight ahead, and has no working weapons. After drifting further and further from the ship he's trying to capture, he decides to investigate an Imperial-class star destroyer. It doesn't have working weapons, either. The stormtrooper is disappointed.

Meanwhile, on a planet Tatooine, Luke Skywalker stares at the (only available) sun and wishes something would happen on his boring planet, though honestly, his boring planet has gangster slugs and daring pilots and dangerous spaceports and tribes of sandmen and pod-racing and, frankly, all sorts of things constantly happening all the time all over it. So, I don't know what Luke's problem is.

Back to the stormtrooper! He has found yet another Star Destroyer, the Chimera, and in its docking bay he finds a bunch of small flyable ships that sorta kinda look like TIE fighters. He attempts to pilot a TIE bomber out of the docking bay -- still trying to capture that ambassador ship -- but has some trouble.

Luke, meanwhile, tired of waiting for the Empire to capture the ship and set off the chain of events that will rescue him from farming chores and blue milkshakes, stops whining about his planned excursion to Tosche Station and finds the Millennium Falcon, which is promptly captured by Imperials. Han Solo tries to hide in the smuggling containers under his floorboards, but when he cuts a hole in his floor he just falls out into space, his limbs flailing.

Luke, desperate to end the movie, finds an X-wing and launches a solo attack on the Death Star. Luke wants to get this thing DONE.

Reaching the Death Star, which is immense, he discovers that his X-Wing, while cool looking, doesn't actually have any weapons on it. So, he ejects himself and manually cuts a small exhaust port into the Death Star with his grinder. Peering inside, he discovers it is completely hollow and thus, not a threat. The Rebellion is saved!

The Empire Strikes Back

Han Solo hides the Millennium Falcon inside an asteroid-hole (which I actually did but then somehow forgot to take a picture of). There's no giant space worm in it, though, because what the hell is a giant space worm living in an asteroid going to survive on? The occasional tiny modified freighter that flies willingly into its mouth? Come on. Get real.

In his ship Slave 1, Boba Fett stalks the Millennium Falcon as it clings to the side of a star destroyer. You may notice that part of Slave 1 is missing, the bit that sticks out of the right side. This is because Boba Fett was not being particularly careful during takeoff and smashed it.

The Falcon flies to Cloud City, where these weird red two-seater ships are always flying around.

After Fett captures Han Solo at Bespin, Leia shoots at Slave 1, but it's too damn late.

Luke and Leia look out the window of a Nebula-B frigate so frighteningly massive it made Luke's PC grind down to about three frames per second. They vow to get Han Solo back even it involves an overlong ruse where every single person they know is individually captured by Jabba the Hutt in the hopes that Hutt will then try to throw them all into a giant sand-mouth, which is critical to the plan's success.

Return of the Jedi

Blah-blah sail barge blah-blah Endor, and Luke finally finds an X-wing that has weapons on it, even though it's an X-wing with the wings locked in the closed position and not the attack position. Whatever! It has working guns, that's the important thing. He flies off to destroy the new Death Star that is under construction. Wait, no, that wasn't Luke, that was whatsisname, Wedge. Luke was getting electrocuted by an old man with finger-lightning.

Granted, this Death Star doesn't look much at all like a Death Star. It's basically like a rough framework of a Death Star. But that's okay! This Death Star has a very important quality that makes up for its lack of looks: it has an explodable core. Wedge flies in and shoots his X-Wing guns.

Kablooie! And another kablooie! In fact, there's a massive chain reaction of satisfying kablooies that explode their way along the entire structure. So many, in fact, that Wedge's X-Wing begins to fall apart on the way out, and he's sort of stranded there, which is okay, because I just remembered it wasn't Wedge who blew up the reactor, he just blew up the power regulator. It was Lando in the Falcon who blew up the reactor. Whatever, close enough. The End! Try to follow that, J.J Abrams!

Here are the links to the Workshop mods I used for this article, and there are lots more if you look through the Workshop.

Venator Star Destroyer

Explodable Death Star, Falcon, Slave 1, Star Destroyer, other ships

Hollow Death Star

Nebulon-B Frigate

X-Wings, Y-Wings, T-16

Star Destroyer Chimera
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The Best Free Games of the Week">free fishy

Some guy once said that the only certainties in life are death, taxes, the endless geyser of internet anger, and good games that happen to be free. I can't do much about the first three (sorry), but I've cherry-picked the best of the last one and stuffed them into this here weekly column for your edification. Read on for a charming fishing game, a maddening rotational platformer, the world's first beard-based puzzle game (I assume), and a safari adventure starring arguably the greatest predator of all: man a marble. Enjoy!

Maddening Relapse by Andrew McCluskey Download it here

Andrew McCluskey has been making madnessMADNESSmadness games since 2009; his latest adds new procedural generation tricks, visual themes and a distracting zoom feature, which I haven't quite managed to get the hang of. As before, your sharply suited Don Draper-esque hero has to evade arrays of deadly spikes not to mention the yawning abyss beneath his feat on a starkly black, endlessly revolving planetoid. Death is greeted by a poetic demise message, and the chance to instantly try again in order to hear more of the game's catchy soundtrack. As mentioned before, the new zoom mechanic which sees the level shrink whenever you leap into the air makes judging jumps a particularly troublesome affair, but I dare say the dedicated will be able to master Maddening Relapse before long.

Here's a little taste of it in action:

Fishy Waters by Fabian Van Dommelen, Joris Van Leeuwen, Ivo Van Dijk Play it online here

Not every game has to contain spikes and grisly death, and I may have found the polar opposite of Maddening Relapse in Fishy Waters, a delightful adventure that has you plundering a lake of its piscine inhabitants in order to honour the memory of your departed father. (He was gobbled up by a whale in the opening cutscene.) You'll roam the waters on a small fishing boat, collecting and selling fish in order to upgrade your equipment or to access new parts of the lake. It's not quite a game you'll give yourself over to, but Fishy Waters should make for a calming comedown after you've skewered yourself on a spike pit or fallen down a hole for the umpteenth time.

Where is my Beard by Keenblaze Play it online here

I generally keep my beard just under, and on, my chin, which makes it easy to find when a puzzle game asks me to locate it for reasons that are best left unscrutinised. In Where is My Beard you have to make a bunch of unbearded shapes more hirsute, by engineering it so that they touch bearded ones face fungus being contagious, as you know. You do this by dropping them into the scene and pressing the play button; if you've aligned said shapes correctly, they'll bash into each other with PHYSICS and set off a wonderfully beardy chain reaction. Not one for pogonophobes, obviously, but for everyone else this is a lavishly illustrated slice of hairy silliness.

Architects EP by Various Artists Download / play online here

This third Braingale EP collects short games, short short games, and the odd visual/aural scrap, from the likes of Todd Luke (Winnose), Sean Hogan (Anodyne) and Alec Stamos (Tales of the Renegade Sector). It's a wonderful jumble bag of stuff. You can download the whole lot in one go, or grab each game individually, but I've plucked three out I'd particularly recommend.

Marble Safari (pictured above) is a surprisingly expansive desert exploration title, set in an alien ecosystem of burrowing worms and beetles, with the twist that you control (for the most part) a giant marble. Yep. Sean Hogan's Superstructure is a lightly Broughian game of rule-breaking and illicit exploration, while Andrew Marrero's (it's actually the upward arrow symbol, but I can't find that on my keyboard) asks you to craft your own platforms as you ascend a randomly generated tower. I doubt any of the links on the Architects EP site will steer you wrong though, so mosey on over and poke around to see what other jewels you can uncover. (Via IndieGames)
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to H1Z1 footage shows that, yep, it looks a lot like DayZ [Update: DayZ similarities addressed in Reddit post]">H1Z1

Update: SOE's John Smedley has addressed concerns and answered questions about the stream, in a post on the H1Z1 subreddit. In addition to confirming that H1Z1 will feature both first and third-person views, and a "deep in-game economy" that will be "entirely player driven", Smedley addressed the game's similarities to DayZ in a refreshingly upfront manner.

"How is this different from Day Z? - saw this a lot. Not going to give some politically correct dodgy b.s. answer. It is a survival in a Zombie Apocalypse game. So is Day Z. They have made a brilliant game (first I might add). They have a great vision for it and can count myself and most of the people on our team as fans and contributors.

"We're making the game we're making. Long term we plan on making this about a persistent world with a big landscape with thousands of players. The way we would like to see this roll out is much more like players building small enclaves or pockets of territory and hold out against a legitimate zombie threat that's ever present while others go it alone taking their chances.. These player built structures, forts and towns are one of the ways the players try to carve out some small space in a dangerous world."

"So this is our take on the Zombie Apocalypse with a lot of friends and hopefully some great enemies both living and dead. We're proud to be up front and say we love Day Z and the job they've done and we hope they enjoy what we make too."

Original story:

The Long Dark's creative director reckons the apocalypse doesn't have to feature zombies - but, erm, here's one more open world post-apocalyptic game that does. As announced last week, Sony's entry into the DayZ genre is the wittily (if clinically) named H1Z1, a game that differentiates itself from Dean Hall and Bohemia's game by...well, that part's not totally clear yet, but it's been a fairly democratic process so far. H1Z1 game designer Jimmy Whisenhunt and technical director Tom Schenk took to Twitch a few hours ago to show off the game as it stands now; you'll find 50-odd minutes of walking, zombie-battering, scavenging and driving, in a game that admittedly looks very pretty but so far doesn't seem to boast any distinguishing characteristics.

Watch live video from h1z1 on TwitchTV

Whisenhunt took to the active H1Z1 subreddit after the stream to answer a few questions about combat. You'll be pleased (or not) to hear that combat will be slightly slower in the finished game, with one-shot-kill headshots across the board (zombies were a bit too resistant to bullets in the stream), and with rare military-spec weapons available to players who do a bit of digging, or who look in the right place - ie not in an average suburban house.)

Thanks, Destructoid.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Procedurally generated grand strategy The Last Federation out now">the last federation

Arcen Games' The Last Federation only came to light in February, and yesterday the grand-strategy-featuring-turn-based-shmup-combat-bits saw release. One day the secret of Arcen's astounding productivity will leak out - my money's on founder Chris Park owning some sort of Time Turner - but before that dread reveal we have plenty of time to wallow in their copious, innovative, if not always entirely successful output. The Last Federation is now available on the official site or on the Steams, along with your standard slight reduction in price and beautifully impenetrable launch trailer. I have no idea what's going on in the next two minutes, but just look at all the tiny lasers and explosions.

Arcen have released a lot of games in a variety of styles since their breakout hit AI War - including A Valley Without Wind, Skyward Collapse, and mech-based roguelike Bionic Dues - but The Last Federation is the first to delve into the same spacey strategy territory. This video will tell you a bit more about the ambitious procedurally generated simulation:

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Saturday Crapshoot: Amazon: Guardians Of Eden">amahead

Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, interactive movies are about to make a bit of a comeback... so let's flashback to before the technology made them possible, but people were still willing to try.

It's New Tex Murphy Week next week, and I'll be honest, I'm excited. (Though I haven't played it yet, so I'm only hoping it doesn't suck.) As well as being a big fan of the original interactive movies... though less so the adventures that spawned them... I've always had a bit of a soft spot for FMV. I remember it when it was the impossible technological dream, the future of gaming, the disappointing present, and then the best-forgotten past, and honestly it made the jump to the second half of that with good cause. Still, there's something so endearing about the goofiness of a greenscreen, amateur actors desperately trying to carry stories by first-time scriptwriters, and all that, that I still look back on them a little fondly.

But Amazon? Amazon was an interactive movie that couldn't even wait for CD-ROM. Be afraid.


Access, as we've seen before, was a weird company. Their bread and butter ended up being golf simulators, the Links series, which was ultimately why the company got picked up by Microsoft and closed a few years later after everyone realised that golf is boring. What made them interesting were the other games they did, most famously the Tex Murphy interactive movies that saw employees (led by writer/director/star Chris Jones, Access' money guy turned green screen detective) joining such high-powered names as Margot Kidder to truly redefine the word 'starring'. Okay, so that's a bit catty. They were hammy, but really fun with it, as well as bringing a 3D element to adventure gaming I'm genuinely sad never took off more than it did. Unless you count Normality and Conspiracies. (But don't.)

Before those games though, they had a couple of other cracks at the whip, including the original much less advanced Tex Murphy games, spy thriller Countdown, and this, a tribute to the classic adventure serials of old that somehow managed to have slightly worse acting and technology.

I'd explain, but I think you really need to see. The background is simply that our heroes, Jason and Maya, are escaping from the baddies, with the only route being to cross a broken bridge. The result is, I think we can agree, the Citizen Kane of gaming. Movie technology gets no better than this.

You probably need a moment to recover from the drama. It's okay. I'll wait.

Amazon, an adventure designed in wilful disregard of everything 90s adventures did to not suck.

But wait. Who's Jason? Who is Maya? We should probably go rewind a little, or indeed, a lot. Amazon is the story of Jason Roberts, man with no real personality, whose more interesting brother has been having adventures in the Amazon while Jason works in a lab. Allen gets attacked and goes missing, with Jason's boss sympathetic enough to offer him some time off to get over it. "Take the whole day if you feel it's absolutely necessary." But! When he gets home, he discovers a mysterious package that with a mysterious message with a mysterious code all wrapped in mysterious twine, and-

"Dear Jason. If you're reading this, your mouth is open. You look ridiculous. Allen."

Wow. And people say Telltale game episodes are short. Well, see you next week!

No, of course not. In trying to be a style adventure serial, each of Amazon's chapters is split up as if you walked off for a week between chapters, as opposed to in reality, where you'd probably never have gone into the cinema ever again. Even this short burst though brings more head-scratching than some whole games. My favourite is that every time you die, the game restarts with Jason in the parking lot of work and the caption "Six weeks later..." making it feel like every time he dies, a clone is taken out of a tank and sent to go pick up his work where he left off, only to find the secret message and get killed and trigger the next clone that goes in and finds the message and gets killed and then triggers the next clone that goes in and finds the message and gets killed and then triggers the next clone that goes in and finds the message and gets killed and then triggers the next clone that goes in and finds the message and gets killed and then triggers the next clone that goes in and finds the message and gets killed and then triggers the next clone that goes in and finds the message and gets killed and then the sane player screams and goes to a temple to meditate on how much better the world would have been if they'd bought Monkey Island.

Largely it's the little things that make it so unpleasant to play, from the increasing number of deaths that can best be described as 'bullshit' to the footstep sound that makes it sound like Jason is farting his way through the entire Amazon, to moments of design that just confuse and bewilder. When he gets back to his house for instance, a package is waiting inside. But you can't pick it up, because that makes sense. Instead, you have to find a letter opener and bring that to the parcel, at which point Jason just dumps everything out on the floor exactly like a sane person wouldn't. And then there's my favourite bit of weirdness. When you die, you get a death screen. But before that... you get this.

Wow. These death scenes must be brutal! Dare we witness one?!

Therapy is available if anyone feels particularly mentally scarred.

Yeah, not exactly Waxworks, is it? What's that? What's Waxworks?

This. This is Waxworks. You're welcome.

All of this comes together to make a game that has absolutely no idea what it is, being too silly to be a thriller, not silly enough to be a comedy, and not trying to be so bad it's good. Which is lucky, because it is absolutely horrible. It's a game where your brother's secret message is encoded using... seriously... a "Little Orphan Annie decoder ring", as if that counts as cryptography, and the main character's comments... well, just take a look at how he sees two guards blocking him from a secret base. I quote:

"The blonde haired, ruggedly handsome, powerful guard. He strikes fear in the hearts of those who would steal American technological secrets. His life, however, is missing the love of a good hearted woman."

Very precise. And the other guard? Psychic powers activate!

"This fun loving woman is a credit to her community. Her heart is filled with love and desire for the male guard, but he is dedicated to his career and seeks no romantic ties. Is there a way to get them together?"

And here's the thing. That's a puzzle clue. The puzzle being to take this information the main character couldn't possibly know, and make a love potion. Which he administers... wait for it... with a blow gun.

Then? Then he has to deal with a robot. Which you do by putting a rubbish bin on your head so that it thinks you're its replacement and walks away. This chapter is called "Heavy Metal Monster" incidentally, presumably because "Stupidest Shit Ever" had to be saved for the later chapters. Just wait. Juuuuust wait. The idea of Amazon is clearly to combine all the hamminess and tropes of these serials, but the result is really more like someone ate them, stuck a finger down their throat and vomitted them up.

You know, I have no idea what's going on any more.

But, plot. It takes a while to get going, partly because all Allen explains in his letter is "I'm in trouble", but mostly because the magic decoder ring you need to find out details is a single pixel in a cluttered living room because Access hates you. Even then, all it really says is "Go to Cuzco, Peru, and all will be explained." Which is a bit rubbish. Surely a "Sorry for making you fight a robot" wouldn't have gone amiss. There's also a bit of a clue dropped about the final goal with talk of giant emeralds called "The Eyes Of The Jaguar", which seem relevant for two reasons - being on a heavily protected microfiche guarded by 1950s robot monsters, and more importantly, being in the game's logo. Ahem.

Well, one is. Otherwise this would be Amazoon, and that would just be silly!

Whenever you have treasure though, you have arseholes who want that treasure. In the case of Amazon, that duty falls to one Colonel Sanchez, who the game describes as "a tall, fat policeman", and players as "Wait, this is our villain? Seriously? This guy?" I'd put in a clip, but his accent is so bad, so stereotyped, so painful that it actually manages to transcend the audio itself. We'll see him later, but for now, just imagine how he'd talk.. worst case scenario stuff... and later on, we'll see if you were right!

Truly, a villain so greasy, it's a wonder he can keep a grip on his gun.

The weird thing about Amazon's pacing is that it's simultaneously really quick and super-slow, the former because it whisks you from thing to thing without the time to think, and the second because it's full of pixel hunting and bullshit deaths where having failed to find the necessary pixel in a previous chapter rears up and bites you hard out of absolutely nowhere. Most puzzles are also on an insanely brutal timer, and largely pointless. From leaving Jason's workplace in Chapter 2 for instance, it's not until the end of Chapter 6 that he finally completes his destination to find someone who can tell him about Allen's disappearance. And what does she do them? Ask questions about him, including what year he won a trophy, that you'd only know from having anally examined every pixel back at the very start of the game, because this is Amazon and Amazon is pure goddamn evil in a can.

On the plus side you do get to feed this baddy enough peppers to make his face explode.

After a needlessly awful trek involving chartering a plane with a pilot who by the sheerest of crappy luck turns out to be on Sanchez's payroll and sorting out the guy above in his little village, Jason finally does discover his brother Allen. Allen has a life expectancy of exactly four scenes at this point, because there's a pretty girl with him and absolutely nothing is going to get in the way of a romantic sub-plot. Not even the fact that both she, Maya, and Jason are as charismatic as decapitated Ken and Barbie dolls.

That Maya is a native of these parts? You're right. All the bullshit.

While he lives though, he does explain the plot - that he was sent to the rainforest to investigate forest regeneration in previously destroyed parts, and along the way heard about a valley with magical rejuvenating water. Unfortunately Sanchez was on their trail, and soon enough attacked the camp. Allen got away, demonstrating that against all odds he actually can act as if his life depends on it. Now that the brothers are together though, nothing will stop them saving the day together.

Or, not. Because this is where we came in. Remember?

Oh, and if you don't use the vine? You die, despite not being able to see the hole. You also repair it with a vine, because... uh... um... uh... no, I've got nothing. The vines are only holding up the sides of the bridge, the bridge itself is... well... wood. And so what if there's a hole? If it can be fixed with a vine, it can be stepped over. This is the worst demonstration of bridge maintenance since the one that couldn't support the weight of the fat guy in Where Time Stood Still...

Allen is however arguably the lucky one though, because at least he's spared the rest of the game. It's mostly just Stuff rather than anything actually telling a story, best shown by how it immediately gets side-tracked by slave traders who want Maya for their collection. This being Amazon though, it couldn't stick with just basic sexism. No, it had to go racist as well. See, Access was based on Salt Lake City, Utah, which isn't exactly the most multicultural place on the Earth. So what do you do when you're making a game where you need lots of ethnic people? Apparently, you watch Short Circuit 2 and then go out and buy some boot polish, possibly with the money from pawning your last dregs of shame.

In the words of Socrates: What the shit, people?

Later on, you find a tribe of natives who insist you prove that you're a god. How do you do that? Fireworks. You launch fireworks, and for the millionth time the credulous natives don't respond "Good trick, but we know what tools are and we saw you doing stuff with your hands. You know what our favourite trick is? Making impossibly sized cooking pots to turn charlatans into soup. We know it's a little bit living down to expectation, but sometimes you can't beat the classics. Do us a favour and shove this carrot up your arse for flavouring."

But, like Allen's fate, this would still have been better than the alternative.


This is what Hell looks like. Right there. THAT is where the bad people go when they die, to forever be trapped in a mini-game that makes an eternity of dental work, a saxophone reed under every finger nail, a complete copy of the Myst series look like a blessed joy. It doesn't look like much. It's slow paced. It's quite pretty. All you have to do is travel down the river. But no. Hell. Actual, literal Hell.

You see, the river is full of rocks which you have to avoid, and you might notice that the canoe you have to do it with is practically the size of the screen. There's no health bar. One touch means instant death, and instant death in Amazon means an unskippable "SHOCK WARNING!" message, death picture, and then intro screen and shot of Jason going to work. Every. Single. Time. But it gets worse. The foreground completely obscures everything you have to avoid, the few pixels of it that you actually can, when the perspective doesn't fool you into thinking you're fine rather than on a collision course with death. WHICH IS ALL THE TIME. All to a soundtrack of screeching monkey noises. Isn't this the most dickish thing ever?

Yes! But it gets worse! Because this is Amazon, many of the rocks in the river actually set up traps - dead-ends that you can't see until you've sailed into them and have no choice but to crash. You also have to follow a set of directions given in the previous chapter, or you just magically die for having gone the wrong way. Gone the wrong way? On a linear river? No, it doesn't seem possible. But they found a way! And yes, it's a really long sequence. Of course it is. But wait! There's more! Because later, you have to do it again, by goddamn trial and funking error. At least, if there's any way to get directions, I have no idea how and every walkthrough I checked just says "We don't know, just do this."

And the final cherry on the shit sundae? After this first canoeing bit, you're taken to a conversation where you... can die. Autosaves? This game came out in 1991. There have been war crimes less deserving of a firing squad armed with torture guns. Do those exist? Invent them! I have need of their services!

Oh, and if you were hoping for a reward... this is the best that the game has to offer. Deploy fan-service!

Hiring some busty blonde models for the day. Very possibly the reason this game was made.

Oh, and that waterfall? The canoeing ends with the boat going right over it, and both Maya and Jason crashing down into a pool. Which Maya knew about and kept to herself as... wait for it... a practical joke. "I suppose I should have warned you, but I thought you might like the surprise!" she tells him. This game. I'm starting a campaign to have every copy of this game loaded onto a rocket and fired into the sun.

By gaming law though, Jason has now seen her naked, and therefore it is Love. It's just the rule. Max Payne 2, Broken Sword 4... there's no arguing with science. She finally comes clean on who she really is, which is a member of a tribe charged with protecting the land against all those who might destroy it... which of course means, "men". She promises however that she'll be the one to say 'not all men' and vouch for him, giving him at least a slight chance that they won't just cut off his dick, make him eat it, and then stab him through the dick-wound with a spear. Jason is thrilled.

And then Sanchez appears and shoots her.


I can't do justice to what happens next with just text. But wow. If you thought the bridge was good...

And now we know what the opposite of a 'special effect' looks like.

With the villain of the piece dead... who has appeared maybe twice in this whole game and Jason has never actually met directly... it's time to end this turkey by meeting her tribe, the titular Guardians of Eden. And by 'titular', I mean of course...

...that their name is in the title of the game.

Also, if you check the credits, you find that their names include - quoting here - "Denise Goodbod", "Candy Barr" and "Dixie Kupps". Also "Kerri Sluge", who really should have considered looking into a stripper name even if she worked in data processing or something. Anything but that.

Incidentally, I know it can't be easy to stand in front of a screen wearing ridiculous Amazon costumes and actually say the line "Take him to the pit of death!", but it really says something about Amazon's attention to detail that the lead Amazon actually cracks a smile during it and nobody could be bothered to do a second take. Or, maybe it's more appropriate than it seems. Let's find out. What's in the Pit of Death?

A... killer ant. Of course. Of course a giant killer ant. Totally sensible!

In time honoured tradition, Jason demonstrates to the suspicious Amazon women that he is not one of those violent, murderous kinds of men who means harm to Mother Nature and all her children by spearing the ant through its fucking thorax. As such, instead of killing him right back, they decide "Okay, sure, whatever," and give him the greatest gift that not much money in the 90s could buy - a little more fan-service, and an ending so toe-curling, an army of podiatrists can't help you walk straight.

Oh. Good. Grief. So much awful, such little time. It's somewhat hard to imagine Jason making an awesome life for himself in the City Of Misandry here, single solitary tear or not, and if you're wondering if Maya has done anything in this adventure to warrant him choosing her over the emerald, the answer is "haha, no." The whole game ends with everything resolved but nothing actually accomplished; the secret of the Amazons remaining exactly that, when the whole thing could have been sorted out by shooting Sanchez in the neck with a blow-dart. And even then, it's only a half-secret, since Allen was paid to come on this trip and his employers have no reason not to send another explorer.

Really, I suspect that Jason's main reason to stay is that if he went back, he'd have to take another trip on a canoe. And suddenly his decision makes perfect sense. Goddamn, that mini-game.

Not that there's any shortage of ways to die elsewhere. SHOCK WARNING!

But if you'd rather see the actual story, here you go. Just be grateful that just a few years later, Access finally managed to twist its desire to create movie games into a genuinely great one - The Pandora Directive - and carve out a cult following that would ultimately allow for a new Tex Murphy. Excuse me. I'm off to anticipate that, and pick up some tissues to weep into if it doesn't live up to it. Amazon was a dreadful dreadful game, but as a series-killing Australian once said, things could get worser.

(But goodness, I hope they don't.)


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