Review: Simulcra (Craftgold)

ST Format Review

My Review

For this review I’m running a MiSTer FPGA box with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.62. I’ve chosen Automation 386, and I’ve been rewarded with this lovely frog.

There’s a nice loading screen with some reasonably decent chip music – the image chosen almost harks back to an earlier ST age as the games become more professional and genres more defined (though still some way off the modern homogenised state of things).

So it’s worth noting that this was made by Craftgold, a fairly legendary team of developers responsible for Paradroid and Uridium on the Commodore 64, with a games history stretching all the way back to the early 80s, making games for the Spectrum and Dragon 32 8-bit computers. Through the 80s they were incredibly prolific, in 1986 they released an astonishing 8 games targetting Spectrum, C64 and Amiga. Through the 8-bit era they would usually release 3 or 4 per year, but in the 16-bit era this began to slow down a little as games took longer to make with 1991 being an especially slow year. Their greatest work of the 16-bit era would probably be Fire & Ice and Rainbow Islands, the latter an incredible conversion and the former an impressive original work. However Simulcra harks back to their shooter roots even if it is unusually three-dimensional for their later work.

A brief but very cool animation lets you know that you’re heading in to do battle.

This is the map of the first level. Note the red walls, these need to be broken down to reach the end point, and this can only be done by destroying the generators. There are, as you’d expect, an assortment of nasties waiting to make that a little harder,

Simulcra is a hard game to get a great screenshot from, in that while it’s very pretty in motion and great to look at, its abstract nature means that it’s hard to construct much narrative around what I’m doing in the game. In this shot for instance I’m taking down a nasty. I can just hit the fire button (control is via joystick) to fire my standard bullets, or I can hold the fire button down to fire a missile. Controls are tank controls, and that’s fine for this game.

Your kill will leave behind an orb which is worth collecting as it will usually do something like topping up your energy or enabling you to fly (more on that later).

This is one of the generators. As it’s early it’s not got quite so many guards around it (and at this point I’ve dispatched a few) so all that remains is to blast it to smithereens. On a separate note, does anyone out there know what the buggery bollocks a smithereen is?

These little hangard contain…

.. little cars which represent an extra life.

There are nasties wandering around, the most common being a mouse-like creature, though there are also flying creatures and tanks. However here we see two stationary enemies, turrets firing at me. I can shoot them from a distance though so that’s fine.

So yeah you can take off. While on the ground you can’t fall off the track and as far as I can tell landing will always be safe too, this is not a flight sim. To take off, move forward and then quickly pull back on the joystick (a novel way of getting around only having one button on the ST joystick – it was often necessary to have such creative solutions). Controls on the ground are easy, tank controls, but in the air it’s a little trickier but sometimes it’s needed to get to some of the separated islands of territory.

Back on terra-firma and there’s another couple of enemies to contend with.

Level one is soon over and level two upon me. This despite the fact that I’m far from being the most skillful gamer out there. The game would benefit from a challenge.

So just to talk about the visuals for a moment – as static images they probably don’t do much to impress but in motion they’re fantastic. The game sensibly keeps draw distance short to keep the frame rate up, and it does this to no detriment to the game play, while the semi-abstract style is actually really pretty, to my eyes at least. It harks back to older abstract 3D games like Virus/Zarch and Archipelago, with a little hint of Starglider 2. These kind of games became less common in the quest for greater realism, but in this case I really like the style they’ve chosen.

Verdict

Clearly this is not a massively original game, and yet it is a game out of time. However, that does it a disservice. While its style may evoke memories of those abstract 3D classics from 88 and 89, the speed of the 3D graphics elevate it above those games, and this is probably one of the best early examples of the third person shooter. While not enormously challenging it is immensely fun to run around blasting the living shit out of your opponents. It isn’t going to change the world, it won’t make you think much, but you’ll have a bloody good time. Gold.

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