There's has been a lot written about Gods. A lot of very complimentary stuff. As complimentary in fact as the reviews of Speedball 2 and Cadaver, and, indeed, just about everything the Bitmaps have ever done. It's easy to see why everyone goes such a bundle on them too - exceptionally slick presentation, some neat ideas, the strongest image of any team, and a knack of updating old ideas in the cleverest ways. They're the nearest thing to a sure thing this industry's got - always producing games that're good to look at, interesting to play, but never too unusual, and never taking too much of a commercial risk.
There's a downside to this as well though - for a team that spends so much time taking about the importance of the creative process, the evils of licensing and so on, they're conspicuous in that they've never actually produced anything all that, well, original. Where's their Populous? Where's their Dungeon Master? Where's their Lemmings? It's not here, that's for sure. Maybe it'll come with time.
So, then. Gods. And yes, there's no denying it - it's a very good game indeed. Well up to the standards we've come to expect in fact, and I'm sure improving on their old stuff in a lot of tiny but significant ways. It certainly looks gorgeous - packed with incredibly detailed backdrops and lots of (usually) well animated little sprites. It's perhaps a little too detailed at times (your character often gets a bit camouflaged against the wealth of background detail) and it would be nice to see a move away from this trademarked metallic look, but visually it is a bit of a stunner. It would be carping outrageously to try and claim anything different.
It sounds nice too - the soundtrack this time is by Nation 12, a more obscure Rhythm King act perhaps, but they do the job very nicely indeed. John Foxx (ex-Ultravox) is one of the names behind them, and since they did the Speedball 2 music you'll known more or less what to expect.
Richard Joseph, who does much of the Bitmaps sound, contributed the in-game noises, and very clattery and realistic they are too.
And then there's the game style. Visually it's an arcade-style platform hack-'em-up, sort of like Black Tiger (which it's been compared to a number of times) but like plenty of other games too. That's not the full story though - there's enough puzzle solving, door opening, switch throwing and object collecting here to push it firmly into arcade adventure territory.
It's an intelligent sort of an action game, then - particularly when you realise that the whole thing revolves around some very clever artificial intelligence routines that make the baddies act in some decidedly peculiar ways. Interesting stuff, but we'll get onto all that in a minute. There are a few other things to discuss first, like, for instance...
A TRULY ANCIENT PLOT
The plot. Ah, yes. This seems to be based on ancient Greek myth (hardly an untapped area in computer games, it's true) though the specifics seem to have been played rather fast and loose with. Our hero may or may not be Hercules - at one point it was suggested that the game was built around his famous series of labours, though this isn't particularly clear from playing it. He may or may not be Hercules for another reason too - he permanently wears a helmet that obscures his face. A bit of a mistake this, I feel - creating a totally characterless central sprite is surely not a Good Thing.
But anyway. The game progresses through four levels, all with different background graphics, and each one divided into three sub-worlds. There are a series of tasks you have to achieve on each one (on the first, for instance, you merely have to collect a green pot and restore it to a room in the second sub-world) before it lets you go on, though you aren't left totally on your own trying to work out what to do - a window at the bottom of the screen opens and closes throughout, suggesting ways you can earn more points, giving clues on how to get past certain traps and so on.
A GAME OF NICE TOUCHES
Having taken on board the ho-hum plot and unremarkable structure, it's quite hard to define (graphics aside) just what it is that makes the game so nice. Mostly it's things that fall into the 'neat touch' category, and since we're rapidly running out of space here, it might be time to detail some of what I mean.
Neat touch No1 - The end of level baddies are all particularly impressive, even if they don't always seem to do very much. The first one you come across is a sort of giant Centurion type - impressively large (as they all are), though all he really seems to do is walk back and forth a bit. My favourite has to be the massive Minotaur that crops up later on though. Nicely animated, he leaps about the screen and actually makes the entire image shake each time he crashes to earth!
Neat touch No2 -What is apparently background detail - gargoyles and suchlike - actually comes to life and attack you as you walk past!
Neat touch No3 - The shop sequences (quite how these became obligatory in action games is beyond me) which work not unlike the ones in Xenon 2. Shields, lives, energy and an abundance of weapons - they're all here.
Neat touch No4 - The thieves who run about the place, totally oblivious to your good self, collecting treasure and such. Being rather smaller than you are (not to mention invulnerable to the traps) they can often collect keys and so on that you couldn't otherwise reach. If you see one keep an eye on him, wait 'til he collects whatever he's after, then shoot him and pick up what he drops - it's a lot easier than getting it yourself.
Neat touch No5 - Your bird familiar - one of the best add one weapons - who flies around your head and usefully helps out with extra firepower.
Neat touch No5 - The artificial intelligence-cum-player monitoring system - check out the box details.
So there we have it. Once again, a very professional and well thought out product from the Bitmap Brothers and destined to become a minor (but only minor, I think) classic. I'd recommend anyone to buy it.
So what's the problem? Well, there is a slight one. It's simply that The Bitmaps have upped the ante with their games enough that 'a very professional looking product' is really the very least we've come to expect.
It's a clever game, and one of the very best of its type, but it makes you wish for the day they come up with one that'll make everybody step back three paces and say "Bloody hell! I wish I'd thought of that!" Eric Bitmap argues that Speedball was pretty original, and perhaps he's right, though you could equally argue that it's just American football with metallic graphics. Then again you certainly can't deny they've changed genres with startling regularity - they may have broken little new ground, but equally they haven't been standing still. No, they've proved themselves great at the small innovations, and re-jigging old concepts - what they haven't had is the earth-shattering Original Idea. I wish the Bitmaps and Renegade great success with their first release, but I await the day when they do something a little more unusual.