ST Format Review
For this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. Automation didn’t have this, nor did D-Bug, so I went with the Medway Boys for this crack. Sadly there’s no intro, much to my disappointment. All you get is this lousy text after running the executable from the desktop.
Thankfully they were kind enough to crack the copy protection which seems to use images from the manual.
Before I get any further I just want to talk a little about Delphine Software. Some of you will already be familiar with them, but if not, I’ll give a bit of background – those who know it can skip ahead. Delphine Software mostly specialised in adventure games. They started with a couple of action games, Castle Warrior which I reviewed a while back and Bio Challenge. Both were shit. Visually they were cool but the gameplay just wasn’t there. Future Wars is where they found their feet. Future Wars set a template which they would follow in Operation Stealth (an unofficial James Bond adventure) before expanding on that system for Cruise For A Corpse. That was to be their last proper adventure, but the vector animation tech used there would be found in Another World before they went on to make Flashback which is more of a platformer. Their career after Flashback is undistinguished, but in the 16-bit era they were magnificent, for me never better than when making adventure games. They were presented in a wonderfully cinematic style with gorgeous pixel art, and at that time they were making prettier adventures (that ran a lot more smoothly) than either Sierra or Lucasarts. Operation Stealth was one of my favourites as a kid and a couple of years ago I completed Cruise For A Corpse. Both games were wonderfully polished and full of atmosphere though the plot unravelled somewhat later in the games (spoiler alert).
The Cinematique system was Delphine’s SCUMM. You had objects in the room you could click on, or you could right-click to bring up an action menu (the verbs being in that action menu instead of permanently on-screen allowed more screen to be used for the environment). You could Examine an object, view your inventory, Use an object (which usually meant using it with something), Operate something (ie use it on its own) and Speak. In some cases in Operation Stealth, Examine would open up a close-up shot for more detailed interactions.
An intro sees some futuristic chaps shot by a mysterious flying saucer, while some reasonably solid chip music plays. Time to click on things and make some magic happen. I’ve knocked my bucket over and I’m on the side of a building, presumably I want to get off the lift somehow. My first mission is to grab anything I can. Only the bucket can be picked up – fine, maybe I’ll use it as a crash helmet or something. Examinng the scaffolding I find buttons, and move up a floor. As there’s a hotspot for the window the chap was yelling at me from, I assume I am expected to operate it and enter.
The game begins. I am apparently a window cleaner. My boss yells through the window so I guess I better do something. Examining everything I find a button. Taking everything I find that I now have a bucket. Finally I operate the button to take the lift up to the window and climb in.
In this shot we can see a shortcoming of the animation – our hero stops at whatever walk frame he’s on, rather than resetting to stand. However, in walking around he’s revealed that he can feel something under his feet. Operating the carpet reveals a key. Scanning the room for things to steal I find a bag in a bin. The bathroom looks interesting so let’s investigate. There’s a cupboard which means I must open it. I’ll have that insecticide thank you. No clue what I’ll do with it, but rule #1 of adventure games, steal anything that isn’t nailed down. My other rule is if I see an opportunity to take a shit I’ll take it. Disappointingly, I can open the WC door, but not take a shit. I’ll take that red pixel on the ground though, which turns out to be a flag.
One definite irritant, which I have a feeling was resolved in Operation Stealth, is that you can click to operate something and it’ll moan that you’re not near enough. I vaguely recall that in Operation Stealth John Glames would walk to the object and do your bidding.
Back to the game for a moment, I had to read a walkthrough to figure out that I had to fill the bucket with water and place it above the boss’s door to soak him so I could escape. Not really signposted unless I missed something really obvious. Anyway, with that done I head to the next room. There’s cupboards so I’m going to try to open them. They’re locked so I whip out a key, which miraculously works. Not sure why it was under the carpet, but I now have a typewriter to play with. Not quite sure what to do with it. May as well rifle through the drawers while I’m there, and I’ll take this bit of paper.
Stuck once more I discover in a walkthrough that I must use a little flag on a map, which opens a secret passage. Overall, I’m not sure the puzzles are the most logical in the world. Nor, so far, has it presented the quality of atmosphere and world building present in Operation Stealth. In further annoyance, I got crushed because I was too slow entering a sodding code on a key input. To add insult to injury it just hangs there, no game over screen.
Loading another save, back I go. Entering the code I found in the typewriter I make it through the door and find myself in some kind of lab. Attempting to press a single-pixel red button on a machine, it keeps telling me to come closer, even when my character is literally the adjacent fucking pixel. Noting that examine machine tells me it looks a bit like a photocopier, and lacking an option to sit on the machine, I insert some paper instead.
So, eventually I get zapped by some light and I’m in a swamp. Random death from walking on the wrong bit of swamp.
So I think I’m done here. Clearly Future Wars is an important part of the journey for Delphine, but I can’t help but feel that it’s not quite there yet, mainly because quite a lot of it is absolute shit. Visually it’s lovely, though the pixel art isn’t as lush as that of Operation Stealth. The close-ups especially aren’t as exciting. There’s little in the way of world-building, it’s really not very clear who I am or what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it, though perhaps that becomes clearer later on. The sudden deaths seem cheap for the most part, and a pain in the arse if you haven’t saved recently.
I wonder if this was them building the engine that would eventually run their games and the fact that a game came with it was incidental. It feels like a practice run for Operation Stealth but maybe that’s just 20/20 hindsight talking. We can see themes that run through their other work, from the Cinematique system that drives OpStealth, the close-ups starting to form, the cinematic visuals, and the sci-fi story of what I think is experiments going wrong has some parallels with Another World and Flashback. For me though, this game is a stepping stone to greater things rather than being great in itself.