Thursday, 16 October 2014

Drop Zone - C64

Title, enemies, points. Jut need the controls and we're done.

There's a lot of crap on the C64 if one were to take a look at the entire catalogue of games, place them all next to each other and try to find the decent stuff compared to the terrible stuff. For every Last Ninja, there's a Cisco Heat, for each Giana Sisters, there's a Dark Star. Drop Zone fits in the middle and more to the good stuff than the bad. Inspired by Defender, Drop Zone takes the idea behind the original Defender and forcibly slams home a healthy dose of originality, style, speed and intense gameplay mechanics.

Put these blue guys in the hole for more points.
Take a man, slap him in a space suit, then slap THAT into a jetpack chair and have him patrolling a perpetually loops landscape across an alien planet with infinite ammo and a few Smart Bombs (Screen killers) while guarding several 'men' from being attacked and killed while also getting bonus points for escorting them home and wiping out aliens (and not afraiding of anything). But even this description fails to do the game justice.

Later levels ramp up the difficulty quickly.
You fly by using the joystick and shoot using the trigger/button on the stick. Space bar will drop a Smart Bomb and any other button will activate your cloak (read: Makes you untouchable), while you're trying to pick up your men and deposit them in your base. Even though men aren't safe there, the aliens can drop red men down which will kill your men on contact or if they get into the base, kill another man in there. Dying while holding a man won't kill him thankfully, but he will need to be found and collected again. You don't have to save the men, but it's worth points which give lives. You can only win a round by killing all the enemies.

Lose all your men and it becomes a dangerous wasteland.
There's a whole host of enemies in the game, ranging from the generic green aliens that idly float around, faster ones that drop red men down that then go (for all intents and purposes) completely psycho with their rapid speed and fast firing. Later enemies split into seekers (a smaller and more annoying enemy), while clouds will dot the landscape raining death and lightning down upon you. IN SPACE!

Clouds... In SPACE!
The speed and fluidity of the game only help to accentuate how arcade focused the game is with its requirement for reflexes and incredible reactions times. It's not too fast thankfully as to be unplayable but you will need to keep your eyes open for errant projectiles that the aliens can unleash with uncanny accuracy. On top of that, take too long into the level and the "red pill" alien will turn up that actively hunts you down and rapidly bombards you with attacks, killing it will spawn another shortly after. The challenge ramps up steadily, getting harder and more numerous with enemies as the levels go on while the game is never strictly unfair, but it comes infuriatingly close at times.

Seekers tend to the most annoying, nimble and smallest enemy.
Simple, effective and gorgeous as far as graphics go for the game, be it the small volcanic eruptions or the large firework of death brought about by dying at any point where you simply detonate into a display-calibre pyrotechnic effect. Items and characters are almost colour coded with the careful design of each enemy/man, making it easy at a glance to pick out which enemy is which and where your men are.

Will be dying shortly.
The audio however is a short affair of beeps and boops that play rather well within the setting but there's no music to the game. At least it can't be annoying in this regard, though the explosions and shots are clear and distinct within the game and the alert sounds from the 'men' cut through all other noises to make it abundantly clear when one of them is under threat of being killed.

Whoo! Survived another level!
It's a good arcade thriller, showing that Defender could and was made better by those with the time and dedication (and advancement in tech) could surpass well-known benchmarks within the videogame industry. It's still a game I'll go back to every now and then for the nostalgia.