Airborne Rangers

Guest review by Crazy from the comic No Happy Endings. He actually made that blog just now so I could link to it but check it out as it’s good. Thanks for helping me out with the review while I’m preparing for a fluid dynamics exam I will never pass anyway! And this Amarth-person you might see referred in the text is just me. Pseudonyms, nicknames, confusion is lovely.

(To all those reading: Yes, i know i should be capitalizing my “i”-s but when i was first learning to write i was kind of unsure if i should be capitalizing it. Seemed like such an egotistical thing to do. Capitalize any moment you refer to yourself. And anyway, it’s stuck and it’s there and you can go suck on a caramel if you don’t like it. Seriously. It’ll mellow you out.)

2009-08-26 21:42:16  <Amarth> Don’t you want to play a fun DOS game instead and guest review it on LPO? 😛

Why, that’s a splendid idea! Of course, since i’m an irredeemably boring person, i decided to define “fun” as “the next one alphabetically”. And since i apparently don’t know the alphabet, I played “Airborne Ranger” instead.

Airborne Ranger is a shooter game by MicroProse, developed in 1987, now released as freeware by Atari. Based on the US Army Rangers and operations the force is designed to tackle, the game was generally well-received. Perhaps at first glance it could be similar to “Abrams Battle Tank” – somewhat of a patriotic wankfest/Cold War propaganda, but despite the position of wide-eyed admiration for the titular rangers, this is definitely a game first, second and third, designed to entertain and maybe push a few technical limits, not to further an agenda. It was also going to be the third game reviewed after “War of the Lance” (but as i mentioned the alphabet doesn’t like me).

Now. A review. How do i do this? Where do I start? I should probably launch the game first.

So. Let’s see… Dosbox… uh… mount… uh… no… that’s… ergh, where’s the “\” on an American keyboard… ah… okay, “AR.com”…

There we go!

Huzzah! A title screen!

Huzzah! A title screen!

The title screen features a paratrooper falling and the shape of the parachute morphing into the shield shape seen above, along with the text.

After that i am greeted by a screen of the developers and a graphic of their faces. But. Wait. Why–

Why do the two women on the right have their teeth knocked out?!

Why do the two women on the right have their teeth knocked out?!

I mean, really. It’s a dirty business, but are such measures really needed to keep employees in check? I can imagine the bearded guy watching with that eerie, pleased smile as the toothless pair are beaten within an inch of their life. Damn you, Lawrence Shick, damn you to hell.

But i digress. Beyond the disturbing images of the creative force i could choose whether i wanted to practice any set mission or create a character to play through them as a campaign (collecting points and possibly getting KIA). Choosing to practice, i was offered a number of different operations, all seemingly reasonable in a large-scale war that was on the minds tuned to the Cold War era. To us, in an era where the politics of war are immeasurably more important than it’s strategies, they may seem a bit odd at first, but i assure you, these are precisely the kind of operations the Rangers would face with an equal opponent during a prolonged war.

Though why kidnapping has a smaller challenge level than planespotting, we shall never know.

Though why kidnapping has a smaller challenge level than planespotting, we shall never know.

So, choosing a mission i meet the DRM. It’s one of those systems where the player is presented with a name and must choose the matching icon. In this case i need to–  pick the asiatic-pacific campaign ribbon? Really? When did this turn into an army medal quiz? Well, no matter, the game is cracked and doesn’t really care which ribbon i choose, i imagine the freeware version lacks this screen altogether.

Anywho, i am then prompted to choose my equipment. I think.

Do i have the carbine by default or do i have to throw the rounds?

Do i have the carbine by default or do i have to throw the rounds?

I can fill my, um, “Supply Pod” (a.k.a. “bag”) with various explosive goodies. It’s interesting to note that the carbine featured is the CAR-15, which (along with it’s twin brother, the M4) remains to this day a weapon featured in “modern combat” games such as Battlefield 2 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (it’s not released yet but i’m fairly certain it will feature at least one of the weapons mentioned). Curious to see how one technology – computing – has evolved by leaps and bounds while another stands still. Perhaps it doesn’t need improvement? Perhaps there’s a limit to where technology will advance? Maybe someday we will have a 30 000 year republic, from the end of which one could be transported to the beginning and never know the difference?

Uh. Game. Shoot people. Right. So. After choosing my equipment i discover myself in a plane, scrolling towards a marginally lighter area. I guess that’s the play area. As an -airborne- ranger, i imagine i should be paradropping myself on the battlefield right about now. So, i, uh, hit Enter like i was it’s pimp.

The refreshing arctic air. And ground. The ground isn't as refreshing.

The refreshing arctic air. And ground. The ground isn't as refreshing.

My plane begins rejecting small white objects the right to continue flying. I can but imagine that they’re airplane eggs or something. Do airplanes lay eggs? After a bit, the plane leaves a play area. I guess those little white things were parachutes and i parachuted a team? Well, once the plane scrolls offscreen i learn that i have failed the mission. After a bit of fiddling, a discovery was made – to paradrop, i need to press enter at the lower end of the play area. It seems that the little airplane eggs are actually my supply pods with my equipment. I do land with 4 magazines of ammo and a bomb, though, so i’m not completely naked. It can be theorized that i’m also carrying grenades, first aid kits and a LAW, but i never was able to figure out how to equip them. The manual tells me that i need to press the KNIFE key to equip the knife, the FIRST AID key to use a first aid kit and the GRENADE key to equip the grenades. But i only have a modest qwerty keyboard and lacking these essentials i can but figure out that the arrow keys move and enter shoots, Space crawls, 1 recalls the aircraft to get me, 5 selects the bomb. All other keys function as BECOME MODERATELY FRUSTRATED.

I have landed!

I have landed!

Now, i was given a mission briefing and apparently i’m supposed to blow up an airplane, most likely situated somewhere on the top of the play field. So… shoot those guys. Right. Now let’s make a beeline for the top!

Uh...

Uh...

It seems i have… tripped? Perhaps a strong statement from MicroProse – “Not even the mightiest amongst us can stand against gravity”. Well, not really. It seems that the little bumps on the ground are minefields, mines being the only thing the Soviet Union is liberally providing. Well, the enemy isn’t really stated as the USSR, it might as well be terrorists in wherever-the-hell-istan.

But once i got the hang of not running straight into mines (that took a bit more practice than i was comfortable with, i was probably a lemming in my previous life), it was actually a lot of fun. And. Get this. You can prone behind objects and the geography so that the enemy can’t see you. There is a variety of settings. You can wade in water. Many modern developers still haven’t gotten the hang of that last one. But wait. You can also duck underwater, rendering you unseen by the enemies! How awesome is that? It gets better – enemy pathfinding is proper, the enemy can hear your gunshots and move to the position where they heard them from, even if you were hiding. The knife makes silent kills. In the campaign mode, you can be captured and required to do an “escape from POW camp” mission! This would be a full-fledged commando game with a bit of level design. And a damn good one at that.

As it stands, however, it’s still a strong game. The levels are generated randomly and are never bugged (ie. impassable points), so though it loses the puzzle effect of a “proper” pre-designed level, the replay value skyrockets. You learn to memorize the map as you fly over it in the beginning, learn to better use object to you benefit, learn to take down enemies with efficiency. Putting these skills against a friend’s (by comparing the campaign points you’ve accumulated) can be a lot of fun.

Naturally, there is still the negative. Certainly my biggest gripe would be the keymapping, and not just because i couldn’t figure keys out – movement is definitely not intuitive or user-friendly (Enter to shoot? Really?) and the whole going commando bit seems to be less effective than just running around and shooting everything you see.

Ultimately, i have to set my experience to a numerical value. I’m mostly strongly opposed to this, preferring much more a clear closing statement rather than just numbers which are dreadfully over-simplistic. Amarth seems to be grading these rather arbitrarily as well. But still, let’s see… 10 would probably be a true gem, a classic to be remembered for decades to become, to symbolize what gaming is about. 9 would be a game that is fun, immersive and that really leaves you with a feeling of strong enjoyment after playing. I’d have to estimate a 7 or 8 for this game. 8, then: while it does have lasting appeal and it can certainly be fun, there is a bit of blandness inherent to randomly generated worlds. Overall, i imagine i would have enjoyed the occasional playthrough when this game was current, but i certainly wouldn’t have been completely hooked.

And seriously. When you’re prone in water, the enemy can’t see you. Why can’t modern game developers do that? Just add a little bit to the code – “if player is underwater, player is invisible to enemies”.

Coding works like that, right?

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