|This is the second game in a row to just dump me onto a screen like this at the end.|
Computer's Dream (Developer) / Ubi Soft (Publisher)
Olivier Cordoleani, Herve Lange
Released 1989 (Atari ST); DOS version from 1990
Date Started: 06 July 2012
Date Ended: 10 July 2012
Total Hours: 11
Difficulty: Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 29
Ranking at Time of Posting: 28/64 (44%)
B.A.T. ought to stand for "Bait and Tswitch." The game promises to be a CRPG/adventure hybrid and almost entirely fails to deliver on the CRPG part.
I spent a lot of time--too much time--winning the game yesterday. My winning character was probably my eighth; most of the first seven died of starvation rather than experiencing "walking dead" moments. There were only a few puzzles, and the game world is fairly small. The key to winning involved doing things in a particular sequence (as is often true in adventure games) and "searching" every area and after every combat to pick up the few vital inventory items.
|Failure to search after killing Merigo puts you in a "walking dead" situation.|
The basic winning sequence (obviously major spoilers for anyone playing the game) was to do the following:
1. Equipped myself with one good weapon, a couple of clips of ammunition, at least one force field, and a number of units of food. Medicine was sometimes useful but I learned to flee most combats, and in my final play-through, it wasn't necessary as I only fought Merigo and Vrangor.
2. Headed to the arcade and played the "Bizzy Game" until I had about 500 more credits than I started with. Changed those credits for local currency and that lasted for the rest of the game. This might have been cheating a bit, as I used Notepad to write down the sequence of shapes for each level and then just repeated them. I think you're supposed to memorize it.
3. Went into a bar and ask a woman about Merigo. She told me that some random alien or robot was talking about him.
4. Wandered around the city until I find the right alien or robot. He told me to meet him at the museum at a particular time. Met him there and got a clue that Merigo was in the Xifo club. Bought an access pass to the club from the same NPC or wandered around until I found another NPC that had one.
|Who goes to a nightclub at 6 o'clock in the morning?!|
5. Visited the Xifo club at the right time, encountered Merigo, and defeated him in combat. Searched his corpse for an electronic key that would get me into the underground area in #10.
|What happened to this guy? I just shot him! I didn't cut off his nose and burn him!|
6. Visited the nightclub at a particular time (around 03:00), danced with Lydia, and got her to join me.
7. Visited the arcade again at a particular time (around 13:00), used the "Bizzy" machine, and met Sloan. Agreed to his challenge about who could reach the highest level. Watched him play five or six levels (the game actually makes you watch the entire thing) and then beat his level. Asked him to join me as a reward.
|"Sloan" looks oddly Native American.|
8. Used Sloan to get through the airlock. Talked to a guy who would rent me a "drag" for $5,900. Lydia suggested that I contact Crisa Kortakis for financial help and gave me her number.
|I have no idea what he meant by "arrangements for personal cover."|
9. Used the payphone on the first screen to call Kortakis, got an appointment with her, and visited her--she turned out to be a morbidly obese, emotionally unstable, unclothed woman--in her apartment. Got her to give me a bunch of extra cash. I could have skipped this step with all the money I won at the "Bizzy game," but she also gave Lydia a gem needed for #11.
10. Went into the underground and navigated a very frustrating, complicated 3D maze. I found it impossible to map, because I didn't realize that the game randomly turns you every time you exit a door. I finally buckled and looked at an online map, which is why there's an asterisk after "Won!" in the title.
|This took bloody forever.|
11. In the underground city on the other side of the maze, used Lydia's gem to activate a control panel and get me an Epsilon Card that showed the way to Vrangor's hiding place at Epsilon Station (needed for #13). Returned to the city, which forced me to re-navigate the maze because some of the doors I used on the way there were now locked.
|I can't quite make a double entendre out of this.|
12. Checked into a hotel in the city and searched the room for an access card for the technician's panel at the airlock. Visited the airlock and got the access code for Epsilon Station.
13. Paid the guy in the airlock is $5,900 for the drag. Headed out into the desert and drove around randomly until I saw a blinking light indicating where Epsilon Station was.
|There wasn't much to this complicated-looking interface. Left-click to speed up, right-click to slow down, mouse to turn.|
14. Entered the station, input the code from #12, went through a door, and encountered Vrangor. Defeated him in combat (he was the easiest foe in the game) and immediately got tossed into the "The End" screen at the top of this posting.
|Vrangor went down so easily that I had time to take my hand off the mouse and take this screen shot.|
Figuring out this sequence involved a lot of trial-and-error, of course. The first time I bought the drag, I drove it around aimlessly and found nothing. The first time I entered the maze, it was before I had Lydia's gem, so I got all the way to the underground city and couldn't finish. As you heard last time, I didn't realize that some of the events (such as meeting Lydia and Sloan) were time-sensitive, so I spent a lot of time wondering what to do next. It took me forever to figure out that the technician access card was in the hotel room; I thought the hotel room was just a place to sleep.
It actually turns out you can sleep anywhere, which was good because I used the option to wait out the time before the time-sensitive events. Time passes very slowly in the game; so much so that I was only on day 3 of my 10-day limit when I won.
|I doze in a dark, dangerous alley.|
Just for fun, after I won, I had a character sleep solidly for 12 days, and the world didn't end, so the 10-day limit seems to be something of a red herring.
|All humans were supposed to be dead two days ago.|
The puzzles exemplified many of the things that I don't like about adventure games. Too many of them required me to pick up obscure cards in obscure places. If y'all hadn't clued me in to wait around the arcade until the right time, I probably never would have met Sloan (even meeting Lydia was a fluke; I just happened to enter the club at the right time the first time I played). And then we have the issue, discussed last time, of having to click in just the right place to find the arrow to a new area. It was very late in the game that I found the path to the underground city on a screen I'd visited 500 times without noticing an alternate exit.
But it bothers me more how the game works--or doesn't work--as a CRPG. Let's move on to the GIMLET and we'll talk about that.
1. Game world. This is the first cyberpunk-influenced game that I've played, and while I'll never love the genre, I am grateful for the chance to play something other than the typical sword-and-sorcery CRPG. The game manual offers a fairly good history of the setting and describes the different alien and robot races to an extent frankly not required by the actual gameplay. The player's role and quest are fairly clear, and the game world does a good job responding to your actions. Mercilessly blast NPCs and the entire world turns against you, offering combat on every corner. Steal from shopkeepers and get caught, and no one will do business with you. There are neat little touches as you explore, such as flyers that give phone numbers for the club and the police station; you can call them from the payphone for somewhat useless information. There are a cinema and a police station that seem to be there just for atmosphere. All in all, not a bad world. It's just not very big, and they didn't do much with it. Score: 6.
|Fiddling around with the phone allows you to call Ubi Soft, the game publisher.|
2. Character Creation and Development. This was very disappointing. The game is offered as a CRPG and adventure hybrid, and the opening screen seems specifically designed to appeal to CRPG players, with a standard set of attributes and various skills, and with the ability to select your name. But the joke's on the CRPG player because no one ever refers to you by name, and if the attributes and skills play any role, it's very subtle. I didn't see a single place in which "electronics," "climbing," "evaluate," "mechanics," "truck," "locate," "pick locks," or many of the other skills would be used. It's possible that some of the attributes had an effect on speed and effectiveness in combat, but combat wasn't hard enough to require such tweaking. The character does gain "levels" throughout the course of play, but again, the influence of this is essentially undetectable.
Just for fun, I tried different combinations. I created a character who had no intelligence, charisma, and perception and was all force, energy, and reflexes, and I created a second character who was the opposite. The only thing notably different was the speed at which combat began and the character's effectiveness in combat. NPC interaction, use of other computer consoles, even the price charged for goods by shopkeepers, all seemed exactly the same. It feels like the creators came up with an engine that supports a CRPG/adventure hybrid but didn't come up with a scenario that actually makes use of the engine. Score: 2.
|Stuff like this fools you into thinking that this is a real CRPG.|
3. NPC Interaction. Admittedly better than a lot of standard CRPGs. There are a wide variety of robots and aliens to talk with, get hints from, buy things from, steal from, and attack. They just don't have much to say. Like many things in the game, the interface is better than the substance; ultimately, it is only strictly necessary to talk to two or three of them. Nonetheless, the ability to steal from and attack them gives more role-playing options than many games. Having to pick up a couple of NPCs to follow you around was vaguely interesting. Score: 4.
4. Encounters. Although there are different types of aliens in the game, they are essentially indistinguishable from each other in attitude and helpfulness, and you don't really role-play your encounters with them. Neither are there any role-playing choices in the puzzles. Not a strong part of the gameplay. Score: 3.
5. Magic and Combat. No magic, of course, and combat is extremely basic. You click on your weapon and shield to activate them, and then click on your foe until he's dead (or you are). There are no tactics save the option to flee. Again the developers half-assed the RPG part of the game here. I can't complain that it's not an RPG, because combat effectiveness is clearly based on attributes (it's pretty much the only thing that is), but the overall combat system is still very weak.
Perhaps more egregiously, there's hardly any combat in the game. My final character had just two fights, with the two main villains. They were both considerably easier than the random encounters I occasionally had with robots before I started fleeing them. Score: 1.
6. Equipment. A non-puzzle-solving inventory is one of my criteria for a CRPG, and this game has it. You can carry around various types of weapons, shields, ammunition, medicine, food, and quest items. But while this seems to offer some kind of choice to the player, in reality every player will end up with the same one or two weapons, respective ammunition, a shield, and a couple of meals to prevent starvation. I do like that you can buy or loot some of these items from random NPCs. Score: 2.
|"Steak and chips" sounded so good I had it for dinner in real life.|
7. Economy. It's kind-of stupid. You start out with a moderate amount, and the only way to make more is to play the arcade game. Through the game, you end up with all the cash you'll ever need in about 30 minutes. (It would have been more along the lines of a CRPG if you got cash for killing foes.) The process of exchanging credits for local cash seemed tedious and purposeless, and aside from food and beverages, which are cheap, there's not much to buy. Score: 1.
|It's no wonder the world is so depressing and grimy if this is all people have to do for money.|
8. Quests. There is one clear main quest, of the simple "kill the bad guy" variety, with no side quests. There are no alternate endings or opportunities to role-play the main quest. Score: 2.
9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. As we've seen, the graphics are lovely--probably the best thing about the game, and perhaps the best graphics we've seen so far on this blog. There are no sound effects--just a series of repetitive, annoying techno tunes that I muted. The interface is all-mouse, and while I often don't like that (cf. Dungeon Master, Galdregon's Domain), it didn't work too badly here. The bigger problem is having to hover carefully over every pixel on the screen to make sure you aren't missing something vital to click on. I would have appreciated clearer highlighting of paths. Score: 4.
10. Gameplay. Like many adventure games of the era, B.A.T. is very linear and offers only one gameplay experience. Once you figure out its quirks and secrets, it's quite brief, and there would be no reason to replay it once you've won. It's level of challenge feels about right, even if I wish the nature of the challenges were a little more sophisticated. Score: 3.
I'm going to give the game a bonus point for the programmable computer, which I didn't really explore beyond a simple program (offered by the manual) to allow easy switching between alien and robot translation. Apparently, there was a lot more I could have done with it, including setting up automatic alerts for hunger, thirst, and alien pursuit. I've never seen anything like it in a game.
|There are a lot of games for which this kind of macro would be extremely helpful.|
The final rating of 29 puts the game slightly above some CRPGs that I didn't like and didn't finish. That feels right; I didn't hate the game, but I was a bit disappointed by it. Its score is notably below Beyond Zork's of 46; the latter game is really the first RPG/adventure hybrid, and even though it was non-graphical, it showed what a hybrid could really be, with statistics and equipment that mattered, complex (but logical) puzzles, and far more interesting encounters.
|An ad for B.A.T. from the November 1990 Computer Gaming World.|
I haven't been able to find a lot of contemporary reviews for B.A.T., but I am amused by the advertisement's promise that you can "pilot the DRAG, a genuine flight simulator shown in 3D." Some reviewers seem to have picked this up and offered it as a game "feature." The DRAG part of the game lasts about 30 seconds, and there is nothing about it that remotely approximates a flight simulator.
B.A.T.'s developer, Computer's Dream, made only one other game: a sequel called The Koshan Conspiracy (1992). It appears that they abandoned any pretense of making it a CRPG; MobyGames lists it as an adventure/strategy hybrid. The company was renamed Haiku Studios in 1993 and made one other game, an adventure game called Down in the Dumps, before it went out of business. Of the two developers, Herve Lange appears to still be active, but his credits have shifted to kids' games. Olivier Cordoleani seems to have gone into marketing and advertising. In any event, I am encountering all of them for my one and only time.
Bloodwych, of which I know absolutely nothing, is next.