Kicking off Vulcan's Mega Series (Mini Series = floppies, Mega Series = CD) is this 2D beat-em-up that was originally developed in Eastern Europe.
The game's got three modes of play. Action is the main game where you, and a mate if you wish, can try to work your way through the game's eight levels in an attempt to reach the game's final boss. Deathmatch is when two to six players all enter the ring (joystick adapters are needed for the full complement of players and if you haven't got one, Vulcan just happen to be selling 'em) and bash each other about. The last one standing here is the winner.
Finally there's the Gang Wars scenario. Again, two to six players can take part in this. The gangs can be made up of two gangs of three, three gangs of two or all individuals and instead of getting hurt, they just keep fighting for the set amount of time (which can be altered by the player).
The gang that's managed to score the most points, by getting the most hits on rival gang members, is declared the winner. But let's get back to the main, Action game.
The gang that's managed to score the most points by getting the most hits on rival gang members is... the winner.
Everything's viewed in flat 2D and the first thing you'' notice about the game is how much it looks like the old beat-em-up, Renegade. (Renegade was never actually reviewed in AF because it was too old when we started back in '89. And actually the action's just about the same. Move left and right, punching and kicking (forwards and backwards) the half-dozen or so enemies that populate each level and trying to avoid any attacks yourself.
Just as in Renegade, after the first level there are weapons to pick up, ranging from hammers and axes to hockey sticks. There are also 'quick death' zones on several, but not all, of the levels where a well-placed kick or punch will send an opponent through a gap in the railings, or similar, and to their death.
Normally a couple of punches will put down an opponent who then gets back up and comes at you. The number of times they actually get up though, depends on the enemy. Some of the baddies on each level will only do it once or twice while some will do it half a dozen times before deciding to lie still.
The really hard ones are the gang bosses on each level. These chaps (and chapesses) tend to stay out of the way of the action until just a couple of their minions are left, then they come barreling in - in the hope of finishing you off before you manage to do them.
And as we've mentioned barrels, some of the levels also have barrels that can be picked up and chucked. When they land, they explode and cause lots of damage to anyone in the blast radius. Nice if you can get the placing right. For the most part though, it's left to your fists and feet to do the talking.
As soon as you've got one from each side coming at you then it's rare you're going to be the one left standing.
Vulcan haven't exactly chosen a killer app to kick off their Mega Series. The gameplay really is straight out of the eighties, with nothing added and nothing taken away. It's not completely appalling but it's pretty ropey. It's murderously tough when you're playing solo, and you're even going to struggle when you and a mate are working together - not least because it's so easy to get in each other's way and start smacking each other accidentally - especially if you're at opposite ends of the fighting area because the chances are you won't be able to see what each other is doing.
Oh yes, the action still continues, even if you can't actually see your character or who's attacking them. At least they've included a password system so you don't have to keep doing the same levels again, once you've managed to get past them once.
But the worst thing about The Strangers is that there's so little room for any actual skill. Most of the time the computer opponents get the first hits in and then you're left trying to get up and out of their way before they smack you again. It becomes a game of backing yourself into a corner so the baddies can only attack you from one direction, because as soon as you've got one from each side coming at you then it's rare you're going to be the one left standing. Games have moved on from this kind of gameplay.
The addition of the Deathmatch and Gang Wars modes help lift the game a little but not sufficiently to warrant you rushing out to buy this archaic and flat game.