Life can be hard. One minute you're whizzing through space, immersed in a good book, doing your washing or darning your space socks, when suddenly everything goes black. The next thing you know, you're waking up and someone who looks like the Gestapo officer from The Secret Army is standing over you in a blood-spattered, futuristic doctor's outfit. These space parties can get pretty wild. And it's not even Christmas. The hunky Gestapo officer reaches lingeringly towards you... and plunges a large circular saw into your abdomen. You try to remember how long you've been into this sort of thing, or failing that, the secret word to get him to leave your abdomen alone. Your mind seems strangely blank, and you decide that it's probably best to lose consciousness again.
You come round in a cell, under the watchful gaze of a Watchful Gaze Robot. It has a huge hypodermic syringe attached to its protruding arm, but you decide that you've had enough of that sort of thing for the moment. Then you notice your body - you have large pieces of metal where bone used to be. You have more electrical components than Dixons. You only have two fingers on each hand.
(What arc the rest of the boys in the band going to say?) And you still can't remember a thing. Who are you? What are you doing here? More to the point, what did they do with your Thingy? How are you going to go to the toilet?
Being naturally rather miffed at being tinkered with without your permission, you decide that "escape from the cell" is number one on your list of today's "For Action" tasks. Beating the crap out of the Watchful Gaze Robot is a start, if only because it has an annoying voice. Then it's out of the cell and... what?
Why, you're... beautiful
As you can see from the screenshots. Bioforge is a bit of a stunner in the visuals department. And. unlike many games that look this good, all that excellent scenery can be fully explored. You won't find, to huge disappointment, that there's only a couple of predetermined paths to walk down and a choice to make at the end. You can walk about in the rooms, passageways and tunnels to your heart's content. If you see a computer console or a set of buttons, you can interact with them. Everything is there for a purpose. (You can even use remote-controlled robots with some of them). And for once, it's not just the backgrounds that look so good: all of the characters are bitmapped to high heaven, as well, so instead of having those weird plastic faces and plastic lycra clothes, so popular in many games nowadays, everyone's clomping about in bloody great heavy-duty spacesuits.
Rage against the machinery
Let's quickly allay your remaining suspicions and say that, again unlike every other game that looks this good, Bioforge also equally well endowed in the gameplay department. You don't find yourself sitting back watching things happen for minutes at a time, wondering why it's called a game at all. There are puzzley bits, a lot of combat bits (both armed and unarmed), tense bits, race-against-time bits, unfolding plot bits and even tragically moving bits. (Sort of. You probably won't cry, though.) In fact, if you had to quickly sum up the gameplay you'd say it had elements in common with such landmark games as Alone in the Dark, Ecstatica. System Shock and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Which is pretty classy company. So what's it all about?
To start with, you don't really know. All you do know is that you have been transformed into this powerful half-metal and half-flesh monster, and that you've had your brain wiped. Naturally, you're pretty peeved, and set about finding out what's happened to you and getting hold of whoever did it. You quickly discover, through reading various logs that you find in other cells, that the person responsible for your current condition is a Mondite called Dr Mastaba (the bloke with the circular saw), and that you're not the only person who's been experimented on in this way. but that you may be the only one who's still alive. (Later you find another, but let's just say you won't have a friend to play with for long.)
Health and efficiency
To help you on your way, apart from your impressive physical strength, you have an electronically-controlled health and energy system. The energy from your powered suit can be used to restore the health of your remaining biological parts after a scrap, and any batteries you find around the base can be used to power up the suit. Like all adventure/puzzle/arcade/combat (well, you describe it then) games, you also have an inventory to pack to the brim with stuff you find on the floor, like some kind of cyber bag-lady. These range from the obviously useful, like laser blasters and medical devices that seem to work on similar lines to a Dustbuster. to the more tangential, like a flute. (The fact that you manage to play it with only two fingers on each hand is a testament to the human spirit.) You're never in any doubt as to what you've picked up because you always tell yourself what it is.
Sidetrack 1: Your voice
While we're on the subject, let's talk about your voice, your dialogue and your general behaviour. Frankly, the dialogue's a little weird. While kicking the shite out of someone, is it really normal to come out with stuff along the lines of, "We're on the same side here. I don't want to hurt you - (CRUNCH) - I just want to hold hands and relate - (SMACK)". Now this is peculiar enough, but sometimes it stretches the grounds of pomposity, verging on "Let that - (BOSH) - be a lesson to you. for getting involved in a far-right organisation with a dubious approach to human rights and a poor taste in company logos, that isn't afraid to use violence to get what it wants - (KABLOOEY)."
Sidetrack 2: Nobbv oestures
Then there's the behaviour. After blowing the hell out of a huge security robot with your blaster, it's just ever so slightly nobbish to way (to yourself). "Eat light, you stupid machine." It doesn't help hat your voice is a teeny bit uncool. And punching the air after a iiccessful bit of gunnery hardly smacks of strong, silent avenger type behaviour, to me. I mean, surely if you had just had your brain viped, crap American gestures would be among the first to go? But nyway, back to the plot.
## Full circle
So, as I was saying earlier, the graphics are superb - and not just the static stuff; even the explosions are impressive (but then, they seem to be getting better in most games.) Camera angles change to frame the action, but never just for the sake of it, and unlike in Ecstatica. it isn't so intrusive that it hampers your chance of success. The sound effects are also done well, especially when you're blowing up robots - the sound of metals parts raining down on walkways is very gratifying. The whole thing's very atmospheric - your thudding footsteps doppler past the various cameras, becoming more muffled as you move further away, then louder as the next camera takes over. The attention to detail is excellent - everywhere you look there are machines to play with; maps of the base; or a maintenance data log containing reports of a digging machine being destroyed by a large creature and a request for a replacement; and power failures from where you short-circuited the doors to escape from the cell-block. It all helps to add to the atmosphere. The ambient lighting effects are also pretty impressive - the light from big windows casts shadows across the floor and machinery; rock slides by between the wall panels in the elevator; and faulty lights flicker and crackle.
Everybody was kung fu fighting
And don't forget the hand-to-hand fighting: it has one of the most comprehensive ranges of moves seen outside a dedicated beat 'em up. with characters that are huge and highly detailed, and all as smooth as a shoe-salesman's knees (well, it was on a Pentium p60).
Be warned - it's not easy. Even at the easiest of the three set tings, which makes beating people up a little easier and some of the puzzles simpler, you'll still need to make good use of the nine saved-game spaces. There's a degree of trial and error about some sections; there are tasks that must be completed before others (with no real clue as to the order until you get it wrong and meet a horrible death); and there are sections - like switching off the reactor before it blows up while being attacked by the rock-head alien - that need to be completed within a tight timescale.
For people who've been used to the likes of Cyberia, however, this is all wonderful news. Finally, a game that combines outstanding atmospherics with decent gameplay. Just one thing - you'll need a ninja-scopic machine to play it.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP