Back in 1996, four people formed a little company called Mango Grits to create an arcade shooter that utilized the incredible capability of the best 3D graphics hardware available at that time: 3Dfx Voodoo. In 1997, Mango Grits won a Golden Anubis Award from 3Dfx for best Location Based Entertainment title. Soon after, Mango Grits began selling two levels of Barrage from their website as an independent game developer, waiting and searching for a publisher. In August of 1998, the wait came to an end. Mango Grits signed a publishing deal with Activision and the rest is history. Barrage is a heart-stopping, fast-paced arcade game containing some of the most incredible graphics yet seen on the PC platform to date. How can a game that was developed a couple of years ago still have cutting edge graphics today? The answer lies in the fact that Barrage was programmed from the get-go to be a 3Dfx-only product and pushed that technology to the limit. Activision required Mango Grits to create a Direct3D version to support a larger potential customer base, and today’s version of Barrage was born.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
We begin by watching a corny commercial for "Dealin’ Al’s Freelance Combat Sales and Service." Dealin’ Al will give you a "Freelancer 550" (your ship) with no down payment if you agree to complete all of the missions to compensate Dealin’ Al. There are three difficulty levels to choose. You can configure a keyboard, mouse, or joystick to move around and fire your weapons. Any of the control keys can be easily assigned to your liking. The Freelancer 550 can fly above ground or underwater. There is no way to point your ship straight up or down or become inverted. In fact, you can’t even bank a turn at 90 degrees. This means controlling your ship can be a difficult task in the heat of battle.
There are only five levels and they must be completed in order the first time through. Once you have completed one of the five levels, you can go back and play it as a single level. Level One is the Prairie Environment and is relatively easy. You have four minutes to fly through five floating power buoys, shooting at everything that moves to defend yourself. Level Two consists of flying through a Tunnel Environment so you can destroy that pesky anti-gravity bi-linear isotropic flux generator thing waiting at the end of the tunnel. Level Three is the Canyon Environment, where destroying various military targets above and below water is the main theme. In Level Four, the Chicago Environment, you must destroy all the rogue police units that have taken over the city. In the final level, Water Environment, you have 14 minutes to gather parts of a nuclear weapon, infiltrate the evil island, and destroy the super weapon. Each level allows you to add bonus time to your time remaining by destroying certain baddies, or finding bonus time capsules and flying through them.
My biggest gripe is the fact there are only five levels. My second biggest gripe is that the player has a time limit to complete each level. Your ship is indestructible and if your shields wear out, you will lose power for a few seconds while your shields automatically regenerate. It took me a few runs through each level before I knew the whereabouts of time bonus capsules and each enemy and how to destroy them. Five levels later, there wasn’t much incentive to go back to the game to play again. Therefore, I don’t think this game has very much staying power. Once the very quick timed levels are completed, there is nothing else to accomplish.
Up to eight players can play over a TCP/IP Internet or LAN connection. Also supported is IPX LAN, modem to modem, or a serial null modem cable. The manual suggests using an online service such as the Microsoft Gaming Zone; however, the Zone (as well as all the other online gaming sites that I checked) doesn’t list Barrage as a supported game.
The graphics are superb, some of the best that can be found in any game. Just about everything can be blown up, and your gun and missiles will never run out. The best strategy and graphic effect is to hold down your gun trigger and push the missile launch button as fast as you can. Not much strategy involved, but quite a nice fireworks display. Your ship can go just about anywhere in the environment, high above ground, through canyons, tunnels, and underwater. You are treated to a heads-up display that provides information such as your mission time remaining, shield strength, weapons selected, and a small radar screen of the surrounding threats. There are a few nice visual touches: in the futuristic Chicago Environment, it is pretty fun shooting at the innocent hover traffic flying through the streets. In the Canyon Environment, you can blow up a small town while a resident shakes his fist at you in anger!
Dealin’ Al will frequently give you tips as to what needs to be accomplished in your present mission. Other than the usual missile launch "Swoosh" and never-ending explosion sounds, there is nothing special or ear-popping about the sound effects or music.
Windows 95/98, 32 MB RAM, 98 MB hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, 3Dfx or Direct3D video card required. For 3Dfx/Glide supported video cards: Pentium 133 MHz (166 MHz or higher recommended.) 3Dfx Voodoo, Voodoo Rush, or Voodoo 2 supported. For Direct3D video cards: Pentium 166 MHz (200 MHz or higher recommended) Video card must be 100% Direct3D compatible supporting all features of Microsoft’s Direct3D. Barrage supports the following Direct3D chipsets: Riva TNT, Rendition V2200, Matrox G200, and Permedia 2.
Barrage is most easily compared to the likes of Rage Software’s Incoming; however, it doesn't come close to the number or variety of levels. Barrage has absolutely stunning graphics, but fails miserably with an inadequate storyline, small number of levels and awkward controls. This is a great game to show off the capability of your 3Dfx card, but once you’ve seen the eye candy, there is little reason to keep it on your hard drive.