Game Over Online ~ Recon

GameOver Game Reviews - Recon (c) New Age Games, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Recon (c) New Age Games
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 150, 32MB Ram, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 48%
Date Published Monday, October 30th, 2000 at 08:12 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

There's something about many games released in the fall that bespeaks of desperation. Like long-ago-completed films that have been hanging around on the back burners and in the out boxes of film execs sneaking into the theaters, games are often released in the fall because of their mediocrity. Afraid of being buried in the plethora of big-budget summer releases or overlooked in the flood of high-profile Christmas titles, these games are hoping to look like big fish in the smaller pond venue of the fall. You just play them a little while, though, and you know right away - you're schooling with the minnows. There are tons more fish metaphors I could run with. For example, I could say something about how you need to catch a lot of them to end up with any kind of meal, or no matter how many you eat, you're still left feeling empty, but I won't. Part of being a professional is knowing when to let a metaphor go. Besides, that one was really too small to be a keeper (yuk yuk). Sorry. Blame it on the cold medication. Anyway, the title under the looking glass today is Recon, and it claims to be a fast-paced action thrillride, or something to that effect. It currently holds the distinction of being the only game in the history of PC computing that I actually yawned while playing. That's so catchy, I think they ought to put that quote on the game box. On the face it looks like a lot of other fighter/bomber types of games, but there have been lots of bad design decisions made in this game that really reduce the fun factor. You start out the game with some cash, and use it to buy a ship and weapons. Then you're off on a mission - rescue some MIAs, blow up all enemy buildings, destroy all the enemy units, protect some structures, or some similar goal. Complete the mission and earn some cash, go back and upgrade your ship or buy a whole new one, and then back to another mission. There, that's the whole game. Where are all the bad design decisions? I think a description of the gameplay will make them evident:

When I get to the first mission I find that I have a number of extra lives to complete it - if a ship blows up, another one appears almost exactly where the last one was. I very quickly find out that I'm going to need those extra lives, as it seems that enemies don't actually have to hit me to do damage. I'm flying at a tower and it's hurling some kind of green energy bolts at me. The bolts are clearly passing below and to the left of my ship (the camera angle I'm using shows my whole ship), and yet I'm taking damage. This area damage effect seems to be a two-way street as shooting in the general direction of a squadron of enemy planes causes them to smoke as though I'm hitting them. Just as well, really, because frankly if shooting into their general vicinity didn't damage them, I don't think I could ever shoot them down because I sure as hell can't keep them in my crosshairs. Most enemy planes are much faster than you are. Much, much faster, and more maneuverable as well. Your craft, even on afterburners, isn't whipping along. You're not in some futuristic, high-performance jet; you're in something more like a Cessna loaded with guns or a blimp at full speed ahead, and you're not greatly maneuverable. Heck, I've had a greater feeling of speed in the Jaguar in Need for Speed 3. Since flying high keeps me above the range of the ground units and buildings, and I can't outrun the enemy planes, I'm clearly going to have to deal with the planes first.

They come up on my tail, and, because I'm not faster than they are, the best I can do is lock my air brakes, suck up the damage they do, and let them pass by. Locking up the airbrakes causes my fighter to haul its nose up and to the right, like a Bugs Bunny plane locking its airbrakes. Very cartoony. You almost expect to hear a screech of tires. They go zipping by, and I shoot in kind of in their general direction causing them to smoke a little, so maybe they're taking damage. Then I notice that my shots that miss the planes are hitting a clear wall on the horizon and causing ripples like a pond. Then the enemy ship bounces off this wall like a skipped stone. Finally I hit this wall and instantly find myself flying in a different direction, in like a single video frame. It takes a moment to figure out which way I am flying, and since I didn't skip the same way the enemy did, it takes another second to figure out which way it went. The whole battlefield is apparently enclosed in this dome, so what first seems like an entire planet is actually pretty limited. The effect turns out even stranger in the missions in space where this invisible sphere just surrounds the area. The enemy AI doesn't seem to account for these walls well, and the whole group of enemy planes bounces along the wall, reminding me of nothing more than a bunch of fleas hopping around. It looks kind of goofy.

My guns hold a pretty small ammunition loadout, so in like 30 seconds of shooting at these planes I'm on empty. The more advanced weapons hold even less ammunition. I leave the enemy planes to their bouncing and fly off in search of a supply crate. Supply crates drop from the sky periodically by parachute and come to rest on the ground. They contain different things like health, extra ships, ammo, or a temporary shield, and they are labeled as such. The enemy planes quickly leave the wall to pursue and shoot at me, but there's nothing I can do about it. I can't outmaneuver them, outrun them, or shoot them, so the best I can manage is when the pile up on my ass I lock the brakes and let them fly by, but they come around again in short order. When I find an ammo crate, I fly through it to pick it up, and I'm after the enemy planes again.

When they are all destroyed, I turn to deal with the ground units. I can save myself a lot of damage attacking tanks and such by strafing them from the rear where their guns don't point, but most gun towers can shoot in any direction, and I'm going to take damage, even from shots that miss, so there isn't any real point to dodging. I attack until I'm out of ammunition or my damage level is high, and then I fly off to somewhere on the map where there aren't any ground units and wait for the gods of supply crates to rain down their favors upon me. I spent a lot of time flying in circles waiting for a crate to come down sometimes, and it gets mighty dull - hence the earlier mentioned yawning. The game almost needs a circle autopilot so the fighter could wait for crate, and I could go off and do something else. Finally I'm done with the buildings and units, and it's time to rescue some MIAs. This involves lining up on the MIAs who are running around on the ground, and dropping a ladder for them to grab onto. The ladder doesn't stay down very long and it doesn't seem to deploy every time you hit the deploy control. It's a little fussy about your altitude, and the ladder has to get pretty close to the guys, and only one grabs the ladder per pass, so I end up making several runs to pick up a group of MIAs. The radar then indicates that there's another group elsewhere on the map, and I go and pick them up. It's not exactly exciting work - in fact, it's deathly dull. Perhaps if I had left some buildings and tanks around to dodge while I picked up the MIAs it would be more exciting, but that would be stupid as the MIAs aren't in any danger, so why not leave them until last?

Then I've completed my first mission. Hurray! And I get a few bucks to upgrade my ship. A very few bucks. The cash flow in this game is ridiculous. Each mission you can buy maybe one new gun at most, and sometimes you have to sell one of your existing guns to afford that much. Your ship can fire only two guns at once, but it can carry lots more, and each gun type has it's own ammo, so when one gun runs out you can switch to another. An ammo crates fills all the guns on your ship up to full. Clearly it pays to stack up on guns, but you don't really have enough money to do so. Also, in this economy new ships are really expensive.

The graphics look good in some places, poor in others. Enemy ground units are a creative collection of tanks, hovercraft, and mechs; though in action they all pretty much behave the same - they walk/crawl/hover/roll and shoot at you. Terrain is varied (hilly, mountainous, flat, volcanic, water, except for the space missions, obviously), and, while it doesn't look real, it does give a good feeling of height, range, and depth. As a whole, I felt that I was flying (albeit slowly) over a conflict in Battlezone 2, for those of you who played that game. By far the game's weakest graphics come in the weapon effects department, in that there really aren't any. Colored lighting is heavily used, and weapon beams or tracers look good, but on impact they cause just a small splash or a puff of smoke, and it can be difficult to tell if you are doing any damage. Furthermore, buildings and units only smoke a little before they are destroyed, so it's hard to guess how many more strafing runs you will need to make to finish off a target. Enemy shots hit you (or miss, as the case may be) with just a little colored spark on the tail of your ship. There might be a little loss of flight performance with increasing damage, but it's hard to tell - the ship had so little performance to begin with. Sounds are muted with dull explosions and gunfire, and the music is very dreary.

I think the greatest problem with this game (and it's kind of a chore picking just one problem to call its greatest problem) is that the balance is all messed up. You know how you hear that some multiplayer game is poorly balanced? This is the first single player game that I would say suffers from poor play balance as well. Your weapons are powerful, but have too limited ammo. Enemy planes are fast, but pretty stupid. There are lots of different guns and ships available, but you have to play 10 mission to afford any of them. The action is OK, but doesn't last very long, and I spent probably of the time picking up crates and MIAs. How much fun is that?

[ 18/50 ] Gameplay
[ 06/10 ] Graphics
[ 04/10 ] Sound
[ 08/10 ] Controls
[ 03/10 ] Plotline
[ 09/10 ] Bugs


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