Since my last post, I have completed the rest of Base 2, Base 3, and maybe half of Base 4. I've gotten to the point where I guess I "get" the game. I still don't like it much, though I recognize that it's a decent representative of its particular genre. If Dungeon Master is your kind of game, I can't see why you wouldn't enjoy Captive.
The bases have progressively increased both navigation difficulty and combat difficulty. Base 2 introduced me to my first ladder, which I didn't recognize as such, leading me to plea for help last time. Once I had that straightened out, the rest of the base wasn't terribly difficult to navigate.
Base 3 introduced a lot more levels, with parts of each level not necessarily connected to each other, but accessible by a maze of ladders and an elevator. There were also several computer-controlled laser-beam barriers for which I needed to find the passwords elsewhere in the base. As with doors, it turned out that you can turn these on (by re-entering the password) when an enemy is standing in them to cause significant damage.
|Slicing difficult "tornado-demons" with the laser.|
Also starting on Base 3, I encountered floor pressure plates that automatically close the walls behind you. For each one, there's a switch that re-opens the wall. Sometimes the switch is near the pressure plate, but in many cases, it's levels away. It's always slightly unnerving when you don't know how to find the exit, the closest shop, a power outlet, or other places of relative safety.
|These plates (or whatever they are) close the wall behind you. It might take a while to find your way back.|
Base 4 introduced me to water areas that I need to cross with the anti-gravity device, flipping around and walking across the ceiling. This is also necessary to fight some enemies who float off the ground--although I was able to fire electricity at them from a normal position. Using the anti-gravity device consumes a lot of power, so it's important to tag the locations of power sockets so you can re-charge afterwards.
Base 4 also has some areas blocked off by fire. I'm not sure how to cross it; the game won't even let me step into it and suck up the damage. The anti-gravity device doesn't work for crossing fire, and the "fire shield" only seems to minimize damage caused by trying to walk into it.
|Fire blocks a shop.|
Monsters also became a lot more difficult in Bases 3 and 4. The game follows Dungeon Master's convention of not telling you their names, so you have to mentally make some up. Some examples:
|"Slurpees." (These guys suck.) I think I'm smashing them in this door.|
|"Langoliers." I hate these guys, too.|
A lot of them were resistant to my thrown electricity (and there were fewer sockets in later bases anyway). My party died a lot, and I had to resort to tactics like ladder-scumming, trapping them in doors, trapping them in laser-beams, and the old "DM two-step." Such tricks seem more "mandatory" in this game than in Dungeon Master (and unlike Dungeon Master, killing enemies with doors does give you the associated experience). Even with these tactics, visits to shops for repairs were frequent.
|Smashing "tornado demons" in an elevator door.|
The enemies provided a decent dollop of experience. Skills require wildly different values to increase to the next level; moving from Level 4 to 5 in "robotics" might take 500 points, while Level 4 to 5 in "brawling" might only be 50. When every skill hits Level 9, a new skill becomes available; in order, these have been "swords," "handguns," "rifles," and finally "automatics"--and there's space for up to three more.
|Zeam's skills about halfway through this session.|
I've been continuing to invest in "brawling" and "swords" because my found equipment has lagged behind the acquisition of the skills. I found a bunch of brass knuckles and gauntlets on the early levels. Later, I started to encounter little things that look like daggers; I assume they use the "sword" skill. I've kept my lead characters equipped with these items. They frequently break, but I've found enough that I almost always have a backup.
Only in the fourth base did I finally found a shop selling handguns; I've yet to find any rifles or automatic weapons. I bought two magnums for my rear characters, but the game tells me their skill with handguns (currently 21) still isn't high enough to use them yet. I guess I shouldn't have wasted so many points on "brawling" and "swords" for the two rear guys.
|I bought the best pistol and found that no one was skilled enough to use it. I guess I should have bought the Colt. Nice to know the manufacturer is still around in the 26th century. Also, "Colt" and "magnum" aren't mutually exclusive.|
A commenter helped me understand the uses of "super balls" for my rear characters--thrown missile weapons that do a reasonable amount of damage, but if you accidentally miss the enemy, they'll likely come back and hit the party. Picking them up post-combat is about as annoying as picking up thrown missile weapons in Dungeon Master, but I guess they're worth it. Only late in the session did I discover that if a character has multiple superballs in his inventory, the game automatically re-equips them after you throw one. Handy.
The droids can purchase and outfit themselves with a variety of "optics" and "dev-scapes." Both types of devices are mounted on the droid's "computer," and each droid can only have one active at a time. Each device consumes power while on, so it's best to leave them off unless you need them at the time.
|I turned on all four droids' devices for this shot. From left to right, we have the shield, the anti-gravity device, the auto map, and the "visor."|
They're sold by number (e.g., dev-scape I, dev-scape II), and for a while I thought the higher-numbered ones were just better versions of the lower-numbered ones. Now I realize they do entirely different things. By the end of this session, I'd bought several of them. Some of them, I can't quite figure out.
- The shield seems to help reduce damage in combat.
- The root finder provides some sort of compass. It's not very consistent in its directionality, though, so I think I'm missing something.
- The anti-grav turns you upside down and has the droids walk on the ceiling. This is important for several reasons, and I doubt you can win the game without this device. The way it works is a bit weird, because it doesn't really invert the world. While you see everything upside down, the position of corridors and objects relative to your right and left remain the same as when you were right-side up. It's quite confusing.
- The radar is another one I can't quite understand. It seems to always show me the same image.
- The mapper provides a little automap of the current level. Thanks to an anonymous commenter, I know how to use it (I'm not sure I would have figured on my own that right-clicking centers on your position). It doesn't really show enough squares at a time to be a truly good auto-map; it doesn't move with you--you have to keep re-centering--and it constantly re-orients itself to show your facing direction on top. But does help you figure out where there are major unexplored areas.
- The fire shield presumably minimizes fire damage, something I haven't really encountered much. It doesn't allow you to walk through fire, which is one problem I had towards the end of this session.
- The visor turns everything reddish and gives me a bunch of scanlines. I'm not sure what it's for.
|What is this showing me?|
I should probably buy more stuff. I have about 25,000 gold pieces, but I'm paranoid about needing it for repairs, so I've been reluctant to spend it--especially since the amount of gold available in the game seems mostly fixed.
The basic mission seems to be the same from base to base: find the combination to enter, buy some explosives, kill the scientist with the password to the computer containing the probe, get the probe from the computer, find the generator, plant the explosives, make your getaway. Base 3 varied a little by having two probes, which in turn found two new bases. I'm not sure how that is going to work if it keeps happening, since supposedly there's only 10 bases to explore before the end of the first mission. Are the other ones extras? Or do they eventually duplicate each other?
|Getting a probe from Base 3. Where does the probe actually come from? It just appears next to the computer.|
I've learned that it make sense to get fully repaired and powered as the last act before leaving the base, so you start the next one in top form. While getting repaired, it also makes sense to sell any maps, passwords, and other messages since they disappear anyway and (for whatever reason) the shopkeepers pay a lot for them.
|Yes, pay me lots of money for a worthless piece of paper. You can't take it with you.|
A lot of miscellaneous notes:
- Even when my droids are fully healed, they're down 2 hit points.
- Most levels have maps that you can view to get a sense of the entire level. I haven't had to create my own maps--yet.
|The current level, with the local automap turned on above it.|
- When enemies die, they explode into a red mist--even the robots. If you step forward quickly after they die, you see the mist around you, which is kind of disgusting. The interesting thing is that a couple times, I've come up a ladder into red mist. I suspect this game is like Chaos Strikes Back in that two entities can't occupy the same space, and if any enemy happens to be in the square above when you ascend a ladder, he automatically dies.
- The outdoor areas on the planets are getting larger, making it harder to find the base entrance after landing--and harder to find the landing craft when running out of the exploding base at the end. There isn't much else to do in the outdoor areas except fight occasional dinosaurs and lizards.
|Local denizens block my flight back to my lander.|
- What I took for "fire" in the outdoor areas turns out to be harmless grass that you can walk through just fine.
|My color-blindness hurts me again.|
- The combination doors are just stupid. Yes, I found some dice that help me with the internal ones. The external ones are just trial and error. What's the point?
- The sound in the game is pretty good. Combat sound effects vary depending on the type of weapon used and damage inflicted. There are decent environmental sounds for things like doors and elevators. I don't turn it off.
- What good is the "sleep" button? I haven't run into any time-sensitive events yet, and sleeping doesn't cause the droids to heal.
I keep making three annoying mistakes:
- Walking into walls. Sometimes it's because I'm panicking while fleeing enemies, but a lot of the time I just--I don't know--hit the "forward" key one time too many when strolling down a corridor. Running into the wall does a couple points of damage.
- Buying or repairing stuff in shops means putting your stack of gold in the shopkeeper's hand so he can deduct the costs from it. I keep accidentally leaving it there. Fortunately, he still has it when you return later.
|Fixing a droid. There's a better-than-average chance I'll forget to take that pile of gold before I leave.|
- Many of the walls have little cubicles that, when opened, reveal gold or other goodies. But many of them also open nearby walls and release enemies to attack. I keep opening the panels and getting into fights with the released enemies, then forgetting to take the goodies after the enemies are dead.
One thing that I particularly don't like about Captive is that it seems to be determinate--a closed system--when it comes to both the economy and experience. None of the bases, unlike Dungeon Master, seem to have areas where creatures respawn, meaning that both the amount of experience and gold are fixed. I guess technically you could land on random planets and fight outdoor enemies for both experience and gold, but you don't get very much for this. I rather prefer games where I can grind if it turns out I made a mistake with my finances or my allocation of skill points.
In determinate games, it's hard to feel like leveling and character development aren't something of an illusion. In reality, you get just enough skill and equipment in each base to have a modest chance of successfully completing the next one. You're not growing in any real sense.
Anyway, I'm about one-third done, so I guess I'll try to see it to the end. ROT-13'd hints on anything I have wrong, or anything I haven't been doing, are welcome.