Operation Blockade is a simple game trying to recapture the innocence
and fun of classic turret shooters like Beachhead. As Incoming and its
critically acclaimed sequel have shown, something with as basic a
premise as manning a turret can actually turn into a challenging game if
done right. The backdrop behind Blockade takes advantage of the recent
nostalgia with the WWII era but curiously, the developers have put the
entire game in a fictitious setting, pitting an imperialist empire
against a conglomerate of united (presumably democratic) states.
Apparently, the empire, which comes off as the Nazi antagonist in WWII,
is fueling its war only through shipping vital supplies from its
homeland. The protagonists, who suffer innumerable setbacks, come up
with an ingenious plan to harass the supply lanes of their enemy. Your
mission is top secret, like the ones conducted in the movie Pearl
Harbor: missions where you get medals only they send them to your
Basically, you're parachuted on to an island that constitutes nothing
more than a speck on the map. With three weapons available to you, you
must defeat all forms of enemy. You have the slow but powerful
artillery gun that can double as a slow flak gun. You also have a
nimble but significantly weaker machine gun and for ground troops,
you'll have to duke it out with them with an automatic rifle. The
developers throw quite a bit at you in the later levels. One of the key
things to these types of games is the design. Does the design force you
to prioritize enemies, manage ammunition supply (as they almost are
always limited) and adequately challenge your expertise with all
weapons? Blockade doesn't exactly do that for the first half dozen
missions. In fact, it can be quite boring because the entire enemy you
will face comprises of an airplane or two which makes it feel like as if
the enemy is merely using you as a training target. The fireworks start
flowing after the first dozen missions.
Blockade uses a 3D engine of sorts. Soldiers, for example, appear to be
sprites but the there's a good variety in types of enemy due to the
developers' pillaging of canonical WWII icons. There are games that
benefit from 3D engines and there are others that do not do so well.
For years, with the exception of Myth, 3D RTS titles have been received
in a lukewarm manner. Likewise, we have to question with the limited
scope of Blockade whether the game warrants a 3D engine at all. It
works, for air units and ships but the terrain is vastly empty. The
Stuka dive-bomber, on the other hand, is clearly visible and named. Why
the developers don't just simply label the enemy as Nazis is beyond me,
considering the time period you participate in is between 1939 and 1945.
Aside from that, things are spiced up by the fact that you'll fight
under starry nights, as well at dusk or dawn in addition to sunny days.
But gameplay is, like many games of this genre, fairly simplistic.
While the briefings suggest you'll get friendly reinforcements, barges,
or what not, none of it ever appears and the one person versus the world
motif gets monotonous after awhile. It would have been nice to be
assisted by other aircraft, towed on a ship to down subs or at least do
something other than be stuck on that island for the entire duration of
the game. That's something Incoming was able to do and variety is the
key factor in separating the classics and the forgettable titles.
Unfortunately, Blockade stumbles into the latter category. It manages
to salvage itself with a proficient multiplayer outing. You're able to
play on the net and on a LAN. The latter, for some strange reason, is
IPX only, although you can make do with using the 'internet' (TCP/IP)
option for your LAN computers. You're able to choose from co-operative
and competitive play. The former is more fun but Blockade features no
matching services. You have to know the exact IP address of the host
server you want to join. Coupled with the fact that the game is not
wildly popular and does not really have a dedicated server option,
you'll have to hook up with some people you know really well.
The inability to emancipate the player and place them into vehicles,
different scenery or at least let them switch between different turret
positions is rather beyond me. Surely, if your lone player was
threatening the enemy, they would change tactics or move their base of
operations or shipping lanes elsewhere. Perhaps I'm looking for too
much from a game like this. The frenetic pace of prioritizing and using
scarce resources, so critical to the success of games like Beachhead and
Incoming, comes off as a painful exercise in the more difficult levels.
You don't know what you're doing it for. In the absence of any
variations or glamorous special effects, it's lacking any compelling
reason for the player to trudge forward. Incoming's successor, Incoming
Forces, did a great spin. In the original, you were the humans or good
guys defending against alien attack in a variety of vehicles and fixed
emplacements. The successor put you in the shoes of the alien turning
the game around completely. Sadly, such sparks of creativity and
innovation cannot be found in Blockade.