Wednesday, 31 July 2013

C64: Encounter

I look at Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Serious Sam BFE and I think back. I look at Doom 3, Half Life 2 (and its MANY incarnations) and I think back. I look at Quake 3, Unreal Tournament and I think back. I look at Quake 1 and 2, Unreal, Chasm, Half Life, Sin, Outcast and I think back. I look at Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior, Blood, Tekwar, Exhumed and I think back. I look at Doom 1 and 2, Heretic, Strife, Hexen and I think back. I look at Rise Of The Triad, Wolfenstein 3D, Blake Stone and I think back to earlier days.

Encounter is another game from my youth, it is without a doubt the first ever FPS I have ever played and when I was at my youngest, a simple affair of a joystick controlling a rudimentary craft in an eternally looping plane of existence. Just myself, a selection of enemy space ships/saucers and infinite ammo that could bounce against the pillars dotting the landscape. It was simple, like a lot of the C64 arcade themed games, but it was quick and it was in first person.

This in itself was not unique in my library of games, there was after all driving games like Pole Position but then were where you had control of a car and observed from behind it, this had you in the seat of the vehicle and looking out into the world where it’s just you and your opponent. In essence a clone of BattleZone which pre-dates Encounter by 4 years or so.

It has your vehicle moving like a tank with a fixed forward-facing turret so there’s no side-stepping or strafing here. Forwards, backwards and turning are all you have while the saucers you’re up against seem to have mastered the ability to go anywhere they want in any direction and always seem to be aiming right at you. But with the large obelisks around the landscape, you can hide from the large gunfire aimed your way.

Each level has you pitted against a random number of opponents with various saucers having different behaviours and more “encountered” in later levels with further abilities, such as 3way fire, self-destruction waves, rapid-fire, constant moving and shooting or the rather ominous homing missile. Much like the original BattleZone game, your opponent could be a large cyan missile that homes in towards you while a noise in the background gets steadily louder and higher in pitch as it approaches. To stand a chance you’ll have to run backwards while shooting at it and hope not to slam to a stop at an obelisk and then get blasted by the missile before you can shoot it. These can lead to some rather intense moments if the missile is skipping back and forth while steadily getting closer all while you’re back-footing it and hoping to not hit an obstructions.

While the landscape does loop forever your HUD shows a radar and the enemies location relative to you, kill enough for the enemies in the area and the fun really begins when a portal opens up acting as a gateway chance (not guaranteed) to get to the next level. Once inside you warp forwards, steering around various orbs to hopefully make it to the end where you can exit into the new level, a different colour scheme of the last one but with different saucer types. This warp zone is as intense, if not more, than the missiles.

The pace and action of the game is fluid, having changed wireframe graphics of BattleZone for sprites/flatcolours but the game performs well and only really slows down when one of the saucers self-destructs and floods the arena with shots in every direction and even then, it’s very minor. Given the scope and ambitions of the game, it’s clear this was coded with speed in mind and it retains just how fast the game can be (with a hidden method for finding a REALLY fast warp zone that I’ve yet to beat) and then play it on expert mode where it’s really quick.

But as with all games based around the arcade ethos, it gets repetitive. However it does have enough variety in the chase and hunt for the saucers and mix this up with the occasional missile attack, you’ll find yourself making quicker progress through the levels. Oh and as with a lot of C64 arcade style games, it repeats the cycles of colour schemes after 9 levels or so.

My few gripes with this game are that if you fail to make a warp journey, you repeat the WHOLE last level, including a new wave of enemies. So killing 14 or so saucers and missiles, only to slam into a deadly entity while in the warp, will have you killing another 14 or so saucers AGAIN. While being killed by a saucer shooting you or hit by a missile, will only have you lose a life and fight that enemy round again. Early levels are fairly dull with simple move then shoot saucers and it’s not until level 3 that the more interesting saucers appear with triple shot and self-destruction.

It’s quick, simple, and given the age could surprise you as to what you can get out of something that old if made well enough. Not unlike your mother at the weekend which I won’t defend at all, however I will defend Encounter to say that it’s a fast ride that given a good day, can be more exciting than a lot of the bullshit games out today. No plot, no cut scenes, no loss of control while something is shown. Just you, your enemy and a joystick.

Now I’m off to try and double warp again, I’ll likely fail but wow that’s fast.