Ah, hello readers. (You'll have to imagine I've turned from my study desk here; Stuart bagsied writing his review as a script, which is irritating, but there you go.) I've been awaiting AB3D2 with excitement, not only as the sequel to the comprehensively great AB3D (AP56, 91%) but also as an opportunity to mention the internet.
You see, I've recently inherited an e-mail account (address@address if you're at all interested: do pop in for a bit of a chat) and was directed to investigate April's comp.sys.amiga newsgroup discussion of the wheezing decline of AP. Mirthlessly ill-informed, of course - one participant perceptively noted, "I think they're just style- incompatible with your typical Net-Amigan," but entirely failed to stop typical Net-Amigans complaining about a mag which cares for nothing but the quality of games and Andres Escobar jokes.
Slap in the middle was Marcus Dyson of Team 17, giving his individual, unendorsed, independent opinion of the mag (though - oh no! - at one critical point using "we") and fomenting astonishing nonsense about relying on AP to "get our opinion across, and very often they distort it for their own ends."
All thrilling stuff, and my cache of satsumas dwindled as I read the seemingly inexhaustible supply of whining, childish hatemongering. It was at the point an endearingly scattered defence of AMIGA POWER mentioned the phrase. "Jonathan Nash (writer on AP) called Team 17 whining childish hatemongers," that events took a nasty turn. (You'll recall this was after their ridiculous lawsuit claiming malicious falsehood over the reviews of the terrible ATR (AP48, 38%) and the 9%-less- terrible Kingpin (AP48, 47%), and the campaign of requiring sister mag Amiga Format to sign documents pledging they'd withhold any review copies from us before being permitted to review Team 17 games.)
In a reply of - oh no! - whining childish hatemongery. Marcus Dyson battered me with amazingly poisonous personal abuse (incidentally, all this can be found at http://www.deja.com. Bring your own satsumas), entirely forgetting we know each other no more than to have exchanged a civil hello during his days at AF. Could the poor fellow really hate me for reviewing some games, or was he playing up the anti- AP stance to please his public, or was he just a bit mad in the head? We'll probably never know. And if you couldn't care in the slightest. Remember I'm contractually obliged to be dead by the end of the review, so indulge me.
But anyway, Alien Breed 3D 2 is dizzyingly slight, discounting the excellent fun-to-play qualities of the original for an unfathomable retread of the faults that sank Fears and Breathless.
Just a bit mad in the head
Monsters behind doors, for example. After the first scrap in AB3D2, where you are pleased by the reappearance of the bleating hounds, slightly baffled by the big stupid unfrightening robots which turn out to be the staple villain of the game and infuriated by the fireballs they spew out which you can't possibly dodge with any degree of success due equally to their randomness, their deceptive, jerky speed and the fact that at a distance they are indistinguishable from the effect of your shots hitting their target, you come to a door. From the other side you can hear suspicious footfalls.
Clearly a robot is waiting. You poise by the side of the door for him to emerge. He doesn't. You fire a shot to inform him of your arrival, much play being made of the intelligence of the monsters and how they can hear you and track you down in teams. Nothing. The footfalls have died away. Quickly you spring in to open the door and catch him unawares on the other side of the room. Except he's standing in the doorway like a big metal buffoon and blasts you immediately.
This happens all the time. Like in Breathless and Fears, which we said were awful. The monster intelligence is crap. Seemingly randomly your foes will either rush in and overwhelm you or get you in their sights, lose interest and wander away. Mostly, of course, everything in the game walks towards you firing all the while until someone's dead or you're pushed into a corner, whereupon they're so close that your bullets explode behind them. The only solution is to run through the monsters and flee, because they aren't treated as solid objects. Lummocks.
Perhaps these faults were present in AB3D. I was too busy having fun to notice. But the sequel's limp design and palpable sense of going through the motions amplify even the most piffling errors to gruesome levels. It's hard drive-installable, for instance, but you have to reset to leave the game. The copy protection uses an ambiguous futuristic typeface. The passwords have been dropped for saved game slots which only save between levels and so act exactly like passwords, except you just have five of them for the sixteen levels and so can't jump between favourite screens later on unless you happen to like less than six of them.
The 2Mb version of the game lets you use the brilliantly implemented CD32 joypad in the menus, but the 4Mb version doesn't. When dead, you have to press the escape key to restart, rather than, say, the fire button. Exits aren't marked, presumably to give the impression of a continuously unfolding story but in fact making you kick things, as you run pell-mell up some stairs chased by a squad of monsters, your marine starts to think in a slowly-printed message, "Perhaps I should check I haven't missed anything," and suddenly you've finished the level. Things that you'd expect to be picked up in playtesting. You know.
That limp design then. As in AB3D you run around buildings and tunnels, then outside for a bit. You also run around a spaceship, which is like a building with tunnels in it. You can jump. You can fly with a short-hop jetpack. You can look up and down, which is so thoughtlessly underused I'd been playing for days, all of a sudden remembered there should be such an option, found it, smoothly looked up and down for a bit, went "Pffff" with my lips and carried on as usual. Ingredients, then, for some clever excitement.
But as going "Pfff" with my lips and another f has tipped the wink, no. There's a lack of care that's hurtful. The situations are familiar, the surprises non-existent. The pacing of the levels, spot- on in the original, is miserable. It's that type of game where, if you don't make it through a fight with a certain percentage of energy, you must quit and try again, because regardless of skill you simply will not survive to the next medikit.
And any game that makes you consciously give up before you're dead has something seriously wrong. If only you could save at any point, or at terminals or something, or Team 17 stopped thinking that Tower Assault was a good idea and put in more medikits.
Remember, kids, a balanced game is a fun game. I didn't think it much fun to fight like a demon to complete a level with a tiny amount of energy left, then start the next facing a locked door and four giant lava pools to cross to reach the key. In AB3D you zinged around, wading in and scrapping with enjoyment. In the sequel you nurse your marine from one farcically unconsidered encounter to the next.
Why, then, you may muse, have I awarded it 98%? I haven't, obviously. I'm lying. I've always wanted to do a false The Bottom Line. In fact I've given the 2Mb version of AB3D2 59% and the slothful 4Mb version 54%, speculatively edging up into the mid-60s if you have a fast enough Amiga run it properly, which we don't.
I strongly dislike the idea of neat little summaries absolving people of reading the review and await someone rushing in to say, "AB3D2 has scored 98%!" at which I'll raise my head from the crumpled heap in which I'm contractually obliged to lie, ha ha at them and then fall lifeless.
Strike home the appalling graphic
Mechanically, AB3D2 is a mess. (Except for the transparent automap, which moves and everything, and is completely great.) (And the still lovely health and ammo reservoir, which pleasingly mean you can carry more than the screen can show.) Commendably there's an enhanced version bundled for faster Amigas with at least 4Mb of memory, but playing on both a 68030 A1200 and a 68040 A4000 gave nothing beyond unacceptable sluggishness in full-screen high- res mode, those eight or so of you who own such machines will be slightly miffed to know. (But phew, a sheet in the box offers £40 off accelerator boards costing £200 and £600.)
The 2Mb version, for unexpanded A1200s, is pitifully cut-down, with a small screen, chunky graphics and (a fact Team 17 naughtily fail to mention on the box) uniformly-shaded blankness for floors and ceilings. This means you can't discern floor depths and will frequently blunder off ledges which look like level paving. This version does, however, maintain an extremely acceptable running speed right up to about halfway through the game, when the architecture becomes too complicated and everything starts moving with hyphens in between.
AB3D2 isn't meant for standard A1200s, which the staggering majority of A1200 owners have. Your fault for not investing in the future of the Amiga, you pigs.
It isn't really meant for unaccelerated A1200s, either: AP's less common but nevertheless well-known 4Mb machine. upon which I largely tested the game. went a bit cranky until I fiddled with the controls to make the screen the lowest possible resolution. The result - an acceptable speed until fights happened, at which point it went a bit cranky once more.
Again, the slipshod design of the game amplifies the problem (AB3D escaped penalty for its fits of temper by virtue of being fun to play, you'll recall) but settling for the game lagging behind so you overcompensate your movements, ending up pointing in the wrong direction over and over again is unforgivably slack. Jetpack and jump aside (the latter being horribly disorientating, ridiculously variable in height and absolutely not worth the bother) AB3D2 does nothing clever that AB3D hadn't, so what on earth is going on? Team 17 can't be intending for you to buy a £1,000 Amiga to play their game.
More easily pinned down are the howling errors in non- projectile weapons - when attacked by monsters with machine-guns or mind blasts (or whatever those frocked stickmen are supposed to be doing) you haven't a clue where they are as their invisible shots strike home; the appalling graphic glitches which occasionally leave you fatally stuck in a wall; the sound bugs so monsters only erratically announce their presence; the monsters' shots knocking you backwards, but yours not debilitating them; and the heading- for-a-deading doorknob idiocy of having a button to open doors, but then having some doors open automatically if you touch them, so when you're circling and sidestepping an attacker and naturally brush against a wall, if it's an automatic door, it opens to release more monsters. If only they'd used 4Mb accelerated playtesters.
Splendidly, Team 17 have included the editors used to write AB3D2, which are always fun to play around with and make new levels for the game if it's good, which as all readers know, ha ha, it isn't. Still. Perhaps you could convert some levels of Quake. The two-player mode, so poor in the original AB3D, is back, you still wander around the normal levels with no monsters and all the doors open, and it's still a waste of time.
There you are, then. Enough of the original remains to float AB3D2 the right side of 50% - the strength of the idea's to thank for that, and it's certainly better than Breathless - and the 4Mb version has a marvellously atmospheric grinding sub- noise soundtrack that impressively succeeds in making unexpected appearances of the rubbish monsters scary.
But the game is a comprehensive disappointment, especially as all the original people were involved, requires an absurdly expensive machine to run properly, and is unfit to box in the ring with Gloom. (You'll naturally have AB3D already.) If only they'd paid more attention to balancing out the levels. It only they'd tweaked the monsters so they didn't activate until you'd walked somewhere near them and so had an idea of where they were on the map. If only - but hist.
At this point you'd likely expect a description of doors bursting open and an entertainingly slow- motion gun battle with pistols ejecting from sleeves and opponents aimed with Thompsons, possibly spilling over into a visually arresting climax aboard a hijacked off-service double-decker as 412,618 rounds are fired within the confines of the lower deck, but Stuart has bagsied the permitted script review so you'll have to use your imaginations.
Now cut mentally to a shot of my victorious assailants crowding round in such a manner as to conceal me from camera, observing, "Why, it's just a cork pop-gun," then in a surprise twist shock reversal bluff ending saying, "Wait a minute - this is just some kind of highly advanced automaton big doll thing." and the sound of me chuckling a-ha ha ha, correctly punctuated, as you see a complicated shiny control panel that is shut into a roll- desk by my figure which passes from shot, a final pull-out showing the desk in the study from the first scene, a quite beautiful view of Canada framed in the window. Good heavens: I've escaped.