French game creators Infogrames, titans of entertainment software on the Continent, have had some difficulty finding success in the U.S. market. Their European blockbuster, Captain Blood (Mindscape), fizzled here in the colonies, despite its eye-popping visuals. The rap came to be that Infogrames produced gorgeous but essentially shallow games.
That criticism has been given the quietus by the publication of Infogrames' latest, Hostage (Mindscape), an astonishing simulation of a S.W.A.T. team seige against a terrorist-held embassy. Users manipulate members of the team one-by-one, through several stages of action. Each one of the six-person strike force is maneuvered around the front of a nearby building, from which they gain access to strategic positions on the embassy roof. The player then guides the team members as they rappel down the face of the embassy and crash through a window to confront the terrorists. Once inside, the hostages must be located and three floors of terrorists neutralized before the player can lead the prisoners safely out.
The Infogrames trademark, superior graphics, are in abundance on Hostage. It boasts cinematic camera angles and multiple viewpoints. The surprise is that this time there is a solid, extremely playable game at the core. In action reminiscent of the very best work from Cinemaware, players control a crouching, diving and tumbling commando during the initial game sequence, as team members scurry for a designated access point. Meanwhile, a searching spotlight attempts to pin down the player-character so the terrorist snipers can open fire on them. The second action sequence offers similar thrills, as team members descend from the roof to the appropriate floor, then swing back in order to build sufficient momentum to crash through a window. This is an extremely satisfying bit of game play.
The third stage, a room-by-room, search-and-destroy jaunt through the embassy, hunting for hostages and destroying terrorists, offers a different kind of action. The player-character finally goes on the offensive, then reverts to a defensive mode as the hostages are hustled to safety while a grateful nation watches.
Hostage's viewpoint changes, as necessary, with each new game sequence. Whereas the first game effectively makes use of a side perspective, the second and third sport a viewpoint from directly behind the player-character, with a schematic overview of each floor added to the third stage. The graphics are uniformly superb on all versions; even the IBM CGA rollover is impressive and the Amiga and ST versions are flat-out amazing.
Some players have criticized Hostage for being too easy, and it's true that top-notch gamers may well play through the entire program first time out--but only on the simplest of three difficulty levels. In any case, it's the experience that counts, and Hostage offers a unique and compelling scenario that even less-skillful gamers will be able to enjoy. This is highly recommended.
Here's a scenario right out of today's headlines: Terrorists have attacked an embassy and taken hostage an unknown number of high-ranking diplomats. In this action-packed simulation, you must take command of an elite six-man squad, break into the embassy, rescue all the hostages, kill the terrorists, and beat the game's time limit. It's not easy, for each successive mission is tougher than the last and must be performed in a shorter period of time.
You'll have to position snipers at vantage points around the embassy, while machine-gun fire from the terrorists kicks up concrete around the feet of anyone who moves. After getting into position, your men must rappel from the roof and crash into the embassy through an unguarded window. Once inside, the action really gets tense. You stalk the enemy from room to room, trying not to harm the innocent victims as you gun down their captors.
Hostage demands some practice, which is why a nonlethal training mission is included in the program. For your men to survive, they must learn to sprint, fall, and roll while dodging enemy spotlights and bullets. You must also master the joystick or keyboard techniques for rappelling your men down the side of a building — and just like the real thing, it's a lot trickier than it looks. Inside the building, you need split-second reflexes. You have to take out the right targets without butchering the people you're trying to save.
Hostage would seem a bit more realistic if the assault team had stun grenades or other diversionary weapons — basically all you can do is find the terrorists and shoot them — but on the whole, it does a good job of recreating a familiar contemporary nightmare. The on-screen figures move with admirable realism, and although the possible variations are quite limited, the game's difficulty level should keep it challenging for many hours of play.