Review: Leathernecks And Zarch/Virus

Both of these reviews are from ST/Amiga Format Issue 1 from July 1988 – as such this is a very early set of reviews and I hadn’t yet sorted the format out for all this stuff so the quality is perhaps a little below the rest of the site. However, the videos are new (May 2021).

Leathernecks

Well, it started badly with the disk complaining about an in-memory virus, which obviously I don’t have on my emulator. So, I had to hunt down a non-broken version.

So, having got a working copy.. ooooh boy. So first up it seems the game is expecting 4 players, there’s only 1 of me, so my chap on the left moves while the other 4 don’t, and so the screen scrolls and they die. Good start. Sampled screams but the bitrate is so low as to be horrendous (considering what the likes of Gauntlet in the early days and Mega Lo Mania later on were able to achieve). The music is the usual plinky plonky rubbish, uninspired and likely to be forgotten in about 3 seconds. Animation and movement in general is jerky, with no visibility of where your bullets are going and often no idea what just killed you, and with the player only able to shoot upwards no way to shoot enemies who produce bullets that jerk along the screen in 16-pixel intervals (and thus can’t be avoided).

Gameplay is sufficiently un-fun as to leave me throwing this one in the bin after about 10 minutes. And that was me doing my absolute best. Old games were sometimes shit, and this is a perfect example of that.

Note that the above review was written in March 2020 – I went back to the game in May 2021 to create a video and here it is.

Virus

Off to a bad start with another virus message – I suddenly realised I had TOS 2.06 on an STE on instead of an older one like 1.02 on an STFM. Let’s see if that helps. Problem solved, and that’s probably what caused my Leathernecks woes.

A couple of false starts as I crashed into the ground, I eventually got the controls reasonably under control. Left mouse button give me lift, right button fires a bullet and the mouse tilts my spaceship with thrust coming from the underside. It’s a tricky beast to control.

Graphics aren’t as smooth as the more powerful (and vastly more expensive) RISC 32-bit Acorn machines from which it was ported, but that’s not the game’s biggest problem. The controls are awful but beyond that there’s not much to do. It feels like a tech demo. It looks pretty, no doubt, with the lovely 3d landscape with palm trees and houses on a little archipelago, the particle effects from your thrusters, but it feels like there’s nothing to do and shooting anything when it’s so hard to damn well control the god damn thing is just an impossibility. Thankfully, I never actually managed to find anything to shoot. Instead I just found myself hurtling around an empty wasteland, awaiting my inevitable crash.

So what next?
Issue 1 is a bust, but that’s because it represents the early days when games developers were either lazily porting 8-bit games to the new 16-bit devices or just not understanding the new hardware. It’s an awkward phase where the games just aren’t that good. There were some classics, like Dungeon Master, Sentinel, Captain Blood, Bubble Bobble among others, but they were too early to feature. I’ll come back for them later though.

Onward to issue 2!

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