Thursday, 19 September 2013

C64 Desert Fox

While military simulations have not really been my interest, I thought it'd be prudent to dig up another "classic" from the C64 era. I don't tend to enjoy strategy games for the most part as I consider Chess to be one of the most perfect forms of the strategy system, one on one mental combat with specific rules and situations. Unlike more modern strategy games where it's a random number generator that determines how a single solitary individual can take on and defeat a whole army thanks to high rolls of the dice. Yep, your entire army can be Arnold Schwarzenegger’d out of existence thanks to several 6's rolling up.

Thankfully Desert Fox strictly speaking, isn't a strategy simulation. It has elements of it but most of the combat and victory is down to the player being able to play fairly well (and on Grandmaster, VERY well).

The game is a simulation of the World War 2 tank conflict in the African campaign between the Desert Rats and the Desert Fox. Or more basically, The Allies and the Axis led by Rommel. Interestingly enough, it doesn't involve Hitler in game about WW2 fighting and combat, which is certainly not the route Wolfenstein took.

Brief (and pointless) history lesson aside that could be easily disregarded thanks to any form of actual research, you're tasked with guiding the Allies into capturing key depots and either fighting or avoiding Rommel himself in his tank. Who basically serves as a boss fight and a fairly tough one, too.

The game itself is split into 2 modes, a practice and a campaign. The practice lets you run through short versions of the arcade section ranging from shooting down Stukka planes, combating Tiger tanks, traversing minefields, avoiding canyon ambushes and escorting a convoy against a series of bombers engaged in aerial combat. Most of the game is played through the eyes of the tank itself, giving it a generally first person view for such an old game and added a little extra "you're THERE" factor.

As you take on the events, you'll sustain damage from the Stukkas should you fail to shoot them down, take hits from Tiger tanks running back and forth on the horizon while they approach steadily, take mines to the treads and get hit by ambush attacks. The convoy interestingly is more about trying to get as many trucks through the bombardment by shooting down the red planes and not the green planes in a mode akin to Hyper Sports skeet shooting, two guns with left and right to fire either of them and the targets aim themselves, more a test of reflexes than anything else.

The campaign brings all this together. 5 steadily increasing challenges ranging from 3 locations to a whopping 6 locations that your tank will need to travel to in order to liberate the depots before their timers run out and the Axis win. Lose a single depot and it's game over. You can however send in one aerial support to boost that depot's timer. However... To get to the depot you'll have to travel towards it and once near enough, defeat specific events to progress. Your tank moves a set distance per "movement phase" and the radar can tell you the events leading up to the hopefully useful "Depot" in digitised speech no less. Liberating a depot quickly enough will boost your health and repair your tank while taking your sweet time will leave you with less health recovered. The other key issue in the game is Rommel who will steadily home in on you across the map symbolised by a red swastika sign. His advantage is that he'll keep moving while you're engaged in an event and come sometimes result in you winning an event to find he's there, ominous (and fucking hell it is ominous) music sounds and you're fighting the big man one on one.

He fights exactly like the Tiger tank scenario but takes 8 hits to down rather than 5, and moves like greased lightning with its arse on fire. Though you can still win the campaign without fighting him, but it's much more rewarding to take him on and go toe to toe with the toughest challenge in the game.

There's a lot of challenge within the game and even doing the shortest campaign can be either a breeze or a slaughter fest depending upon how fortunate you with Rommel. Avoiding is advised but who wants to do that when the big mean boss is there and you know you can defeat it? No wonder downfall happens a lot.

Most surprising, beyond the digitised speech, is just how nightmarish the game is when you either fight Rommel, lose the game or lose the convoy round, the music/ambience accompaniment is the virtual stuff of nightmare and the first few times you'll hear it, comes across as rather shocking to the ear. Later it just becomes sheer creepy or the stuff of nightmares.

Graphically the game is simple but effective, a lot of focus has gone into the first person tank moments and there's a lot of simplicity that allows for fairly smooth and fluid gameplay, though the Tiger Tanks switching so quickly back and forth is impossible but there's got to be some challenge in there somewhere, the particularly accurate will be shooting down the shells as they advance in a manner rather similar to Encounter's saucers shooting at the player.

The campaign mode and the game in general fall into the same situation as most arcade games, there's little random element in the game when it comes to the campaigns and the arcade sections. If you've found a way to beat the main game, you've likely found the same method will work every time unless you royally bollocks up some of the events leading to the depots. This is a shame because the game has a lot more potential if it could offer varying challenges (except in one game where Rommel turned up twice... oddly).

It's a recommended game however, though an instruction many for the campaign is SORELY needed as it's a very different set of functions to the events. Once you've gotten past this stumbling block, you've got yourself a very accessible and intriguing little entertainment for a while.