Blog 514: Ablogalyptica

This was actually one of the first “modern” games I ever bought. Purchased for thirty pieces of silver in advance of my last computer (I referred to it as Behemoth at the time, but Daedalus is much bigger), this bizarre and unholy union of Christian mythology and a mental sci-fi arcadey slash ’em-up has been long forgotten, mercilessly washed aside by the flood of heavyweight RPGs, FPS/RPG hybrids and, holy of holies, Unreal Tournament.

There could be other reasons why it was inevitable forgotten, and they are no doubt elaborated below. But sometimes you just want to play something a bit different, and why buy new stuff when you’ve got old stuff you haven’t played for years?

Lore

The game comes on two CDs, and has a manual bursting with lore (it’s even got one of those registration postcards (postcards) in with it). The gameplay takes five minutes to explain, and the rest of the reasonably-sized volume is perhaps one of the best backstories ever constructed, second only to the heavenly glory of Starcraft clone Atrox (and maybe there’s another Revisited blog right there).

Basically, humanity was nasty a long time ago and Satan and all his infernal legions conquered Earth. But luckily a few goody-goody faithful types built spaceships and flew away to various promised lands, then El Diablo got killed by angels and something something. Fast forward some number of years and he’s back as… NEO-SATAN (why is he Neo-Satan but Earth is now Nu-Hades?). And he’s got his sights set on corrupting all the nice god-fearing types that have repopulated the universe. Because he’s a giant dick like that. (Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven?)

Before time began, there were… pre-rendered cinematics.

So far, so cheese. Neo-Satan/Mecha-Godzilla/Strogg — same shit, you could go anywhere from here (theological plotholes aside). In order to fight this hellish invasion, the future’s equivalent of Battle Pope has bred genetically modified (doesn’t that count as “playing God”?) super-faithful super-soldiers (built from the recovered DNA of the bestest saints) to strike into the heart of Asmodeus’ (ooh ooh rock me Asmodeus) nefarious schemes. Because they’re clones, though, they ain’t got no souls (natch), so only one body can be populated at a time — hear that kids? It’s infinite respawn justified by the narrative! Yaaay!

The weapons get really fun, at least in their descriptions if not their actualities. There is a weapon called the Martyr Gun, for example, which shoots grenades full of vengeful/righteous souls depending on which side is holding it (just emits a green toxic gas cloud in the game regardless). Further along is the — entirely straight faced? — Bible Basher, that shoots un/holy energy harvested from bibles/profane texts.

Brother Devastus never closes his helmet. Why does he even bother putting it on in the morning?

Character classes are little better. Nuns are no longer devout priestesses with bad habits, they’re agile attackers in tight but flexible armour. Robots are also excellent; they’re operated by copied souls. There’s a sentence saying “people are a bit miffed by this but we’re going to lose the war so fuck it”. Because these post-humans can travel across the infinite void of space, teleport, clone and harness God-given magic, but not quite manage a workable level of AI, they need to do something that seems just a teensy bit heretical to plug the gap. Isn’t manufacturing God’s likeness a sin in the first place anyway? (Bishop says so in UT3!) The road to Hell is paved with good intentions…

Even the demon designs aren’t particularly inspired.

Gameplay

As a game, it’s fairly shallow but not all that bad. You’ve got four character archetypes to choose from — Templars, Nuns, Seraphs and Robots. I picked a Templar because he’s got a sword in one hand and a gun in the other. Templars get the best swords but rubbish guns, Nuns get middling swords and middling guns, Seraphs get magic, and Robots get the best guns.

Missions are timed or based around objectives, so at least that offsets your infinite respawn (enemies respawn to a degree as well, so it’s not a completely meaningless re-tread every time you drop: often you are facing a team of hellish doppelganger palette-swaps as well as hordes of disposable minions). Its missions are actually very varied, pitting you against a mixture of timed dungeon crawls, Capture-the-Flag-esques, defences, escorts…

Looks like he’s committing the sin of Pride, posing like that.

Of course we have to draw the inevitable Unreal Tournament comparison, because it’s a lot like UT2003/4 in its graphical style, mixed with a little bit of Warhammer 40k in the sense that most things are churches (though there’s not exactly a shortage of gothic levels in UT2k4). The music also reinforces the arcadey atmosphere, with its combination of pumping beats, grungy guitar and choral backing (that makes it religious rather than just dramatic). Funny how we used to be able to do games about demonic invasion without everything being totally grim and dark — there is an even mix of sunny and dank levels.

Look, a ruined city with zombies in it BEFORE it was cool!

Unfortunately the AI puts a damper on pretty much everything. The enemies have a habit of standing around waiting to die, while your companions either do the same or get themselves wedged into the scenery. The mission variety sometimes eats itself when it puts some emphasis on your team mates being able to function competently — there’s a particularly nasty quintuple-domination (as if UT2k4‘s double-domination wasn’t bad enough) mission where five control points must be held simultaneously before you can run to the exit. Level flow also leaves you wondering where to go most of the time — which is fine in something a bit slower and more contemplative, but under a time-limit with insistent beats pushing you on, anything that breaks the flow breaks the game.

Combat is also a bit sluggish, with the cursor wobbling around instead of sticking to the centre of the screen and sword-swinging alternating between having no visible effect and not even needing to be swung to explode a villain (and sometimes he just doesn’t seem to swing at all). There’s apparently some basic combo stuff with the sword, but it’s clunky and doesn’t seem particularly exciting.

You’d never have guessed from the talking portrait that he was wearing a giant centaur suit.

Eternal Damnation

And then you get to the final boss, which is totally broken for the Templar!

Again, because of the AI — who steadfastly refuse to shoot at the giant floating demonic targets. The boss area is a massive, empty, open area that has a number of hazards: the enemy team, who vastly outnumber you, have pinpoint accuracy and hitscan weapons (and so can whittle you down as soon as you turn the corner from the spawn point); Neo-Satan himself, who is invulnerable throughout and whose giant goat-legs stop you from having line-of-sight to shoot the objectives; and constant falling brimstone. So I can’t shoot at the objectives (even if I can, my popgun does too little damage to the timer) and I can’t get to the objectives to hit them with my sword (I’m already swamped and dead with nary a foot set in the coverless arena). Way to go!

Not that the ending is exactly worth it. Neo-Satan is imprisoned, along with your hapless heroes, and some terribly animated angels fly off into space. Success?

You can just about make out Neo-Satan’s giant fist-nipples.

Overall

Disposable fun, right up until that broken final boss. It’s a solid concept let down by dreadful implementation — unpredictable sword mechanics, bad shooting, abysmal AI.

Some of the landscapes in the Hell levels are quite nice, I guess.

It’s all whooshy and red and gyroscopy.

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