Review: Exterminator (Atari ST)

My video of Exterminator in action – written review below

ST Format Review (Issue 19)

Equipment Used/Recommended

  • MiSTer box running the Atari ST core – a 1MB STE running TOS 1.62 – you can replicate this with the Steem emulator.
  • Any of Automation 500I, Fuzion 28, SuperGAU 487/541, Vectronix 525
  • Speedlink USB Joystick

My Review

So I was going to have a look at Robocop 2, and then I started playing it and got so bored I nearly fell off my chair, such was my comatose state. There was no hint of originality and dear god it was just so boring. I needed
something a bit different, something with a bit of life. So I had a look at ST Format Issue 19 to see what my options were and lo and behold, I found Exterminator. It’s definitely different.

So the scenario is fairly simple. A whole load of houses have been infested with bugs. Millions of the little blighters. Now in my house we just let the cats deal with anything that dares fly into their domain, but here you don’t have a cat, you are the exterminator and it’s your job to deal with those pesky pests. So far so simple. So from the sound of that you might expect a platform game where you have to shoot bugs, or maybe jump on their heads, or maybe you’re smart and you looked at the weird screenshots and saw just what a weird little game this actually is and you know it’s not.

So the game is played in a sort of first person perspective. You have control of a severed hand, which can grab insects in mid-air, pound your fist to the ground to squash them, or shoot bullets from your fingertips (the blue panel at the bottom of the ST Format review above does a pretty good job of explaining). That last one is peculiar, and this is quite a peculiar game.

Now the tricky bit is finding something to write about it, as while it’s undoubtedly an interesting game, it’s not the deepest, so really discussion is limited to the technicals and the mechanics. We’ll continue with the latter and circle back to the former. So you play in various rooms of a house, and as you kill things floor tiles change colour. You want to turn all the tiles your colour to move on. You can have a 2nd player helping out, and they have the same objective. You want to kill all the bugs but there is a hazard – wasps. A really annoying little buzzing bastard (and my hatred of wasps is such that I would happily see every last one of them wiped from the face of the Earth) will start buzzing around and try to sting you. You can only get rid of it by flapping around in a circle.

It’s actually a conversion of an arcade game and I’ll include a little slice of it below that someone kindly put on Youtube.

The original arcade conversion – thanks random internet stranger

As you can see it’s smooth, where the ST version is less so. That’s not to say it’s bad (indeed by ST standards it’s pretty good), just it isn’t running at that kind of frame rate, but I’m not convinced the impact is huge. Also, the more realistic graphical style of the arcade version in my opinion dates quite badly vs the more stylised ST version. For me then this is a case where the home port looks better than the arcade original.

I actually looked for the arcade version because I wanted to see what they controls were, and judging from the video I’d say they’re the same joystick controls of the ST version. Clearly then they’ve tried to do a fairly faithful port, but to me this is a game crying out for mouse control (even if that would leave player 2 at a disadvantage because the ST won’t take two mice as far as I recall). The reason is that the joystick on an ST (and on most arcade machines) is a thoroughly digital affair. It’s on-off in each of the 8 directions, and for many games that’s wonderful – I love the sound of those microswitches in my Speedlink joystick. However it makes it a bastard of a job to get where you want to be and to perform the gesture required to shake off wasps. Now it’s entirely possible that mouse control would have thrown the game’s balance out, and thus I might be wholly wrong, but my gut feeling is you could have mouse control and make the movement of the insects a little faster to compensate and it would have worked (albeit it would become a little more twitch and a little less planning and strategy).

Verdict

It’s tricky to give this one a proper verdict. On one hand it’s a lovely inventive idea, and the visuals are fantastic. I think that if it had the option of mouse control it would have been a better game and perhaps the timing required to grab bugs in mid-air could be more forgiving (the smash to the ground is much easier), but as it is it’s still a really interesting game which deserves your time. If I were to find fault it’s that the mechanic doesn’t really evolve through the game, it just throws more hurdles at you in terms of explosions in addition to the wasps, and they don’t really add anything to the experience, but that’s really quite common to arcade games as typically most players would only see a couple of levels and the goal was to get more coins out of the player which is best done by repetition of the first few levels rather than focusing at all on longer runs.

Resources

Manual: https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media/SYSTEM/Microsoft_DOS/manual/Formated/Exterminator.pdf

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