Monday, 7 May 2012

Z (MS-DOS) - Guest Post

It's a Bank Holiday! That means I don't have to play a Bitmap Brothers game today! Ha ha!

What? Damn it all. Here's Z.

"Now listen up, you lard asses. Where's my damn delivery? It was due here an hour ago! If I find out you've been lazy-assing around space again, then I'll kick your red butts, you dumb f..."

"Oh shit."

Only one thing for it. FULL SPEED AHEAD.


And miraculously, they land it!

That's all the plot you get. Two robot dudes get yelled at and then fly down to a planet. Fun while it lasted.

Alright, here's my robo-castle. The enemy has one too and I've got to blow it up. Here we go!

Hmm, the robots are grouped into squads. I can't control them individually, even though there are things like cars and grenades lying around that only individual robots can use. Selecting and deselecting units is really difficult. LMB selects, and then another LMB gives a context sensitive order. After giving a single order, the units are automatically deselected. To deselect a unit without giving an order, you need to press space. RMB doesn't seem to do anything.

All the units are unbearably slow. Seems to take a couple of minutes to walk from one screen to another.

The battlefield is split into different territories. To claim a territory, you need to get any unit to touch the flag.

You can't build buildings. All the buildings are in predetermined destinations and continually spew out units. Whoever owns the territory when the clock on the building runs out get the unit. The more territories you have, the faster your units are made.

You can choose what kind of units the buildings make, but you can't see the choices unless you click on the building and stop the current production. The vehicle and robot buildings look slightly different. Very, very slightly.

This music isn't very exciting. Music changes depending on what's happening, but it's still not very interesting.

Somehow I managed to complete the first level without it turning into a protracted nightmare! Awesome!

The robot pals are chuffed too, offering congratulations and general whooping and hollering over the intercom.

Gotta love these animated robot portraits...

They must've spent ages on these!

The robots have a phrase for everything, and they're all animated and synced up to match with the voices. I can recognise all the different phrases just from this animation.

Does anybody else find them a little creepy though? I suppose a death robot with a bright red talking skull for a head'll do that.

It doesn't look like I can make numbered groups of units. To make what the game calls a Group, you just select multiple robots at once. From that point onwards, when you select one of them, you select all the units in the group. To disband a group, you have to select it and then press the Delete key.

On this level, I can make Psychos. They're like Grunts except... um... no idea. Same number of them. Same amount of armour. Seem to shoot the same. Can control vehicles like Grunts. They even have exactly the same voice as the Grunts. They take longer to build though.

The game is really stingy with the units. You really have to know what all your factories are doing are at all times. If there's a single factory producing something useless (and most of them can only produce useless Grunts), then you're in the poop.

I wish there was a Total War like system where you could see what types of troops you had and what they were doing and instantly select them. I could really do with this game having a resolution better than 640 by 400. If you tell a robot to destroy an enemy unit but it gets destroyed, your unit will stop where they are.

Here's what the game looks like in 320 by 200. Absolutely unplayable and useless.

It'd really help if I got a grace period to look around the level before it starts. You don't even get to see a preview of the level on the loading screen. All you get is BIG RENDERED ROBOT.

Instead of claiming the territory and constantly moving units up to it to try and defend it, I've decided this vehicle factory has to go.

At this point, there's no way to repair destroyed buildings. No tanks for you, blue guys!

You get cutscenes with the slacker surfer robot DUUUDES at the end of every level, but they reuse the same videos repeatedly which sucks.

At the end of another hard-won battle, the dudes prepare a little backing music for General Zod.

In moderation.

General Zod seems to be enjoying himself. I guess it's reassuring that he's down here shooting things and being helpful rather that sitting in the ship yelling at us.

If you've got a mixture of vehicles and robots selected, the order you give depends on what you selected last. My favourite part of this battle was when I had a mixture selected, I clicked on a box of grenades thinking that the Grunts were going to pick it up. Instead, the Grunts, the ones that pick up grenades when you click on grenades, shot the box instead and everybody died.

Oh, we do have our fun. When we're not playing Z.

At least when you win, it feels like a real victory. Sometimes. Most of my victories seem to come from sheer luck and randomly capturing enemy vehicles rather than destroying them.

Even with a nine territory, ten unit advantage and three Light Tanks parked right outside the enemy fort and several minutes to go until reinforcements can be built, but I'm sure the game can find some way to mess it up.

My robots are sure eager to take on the fort. "Let's go for it!" "Let's end it now!" "What are you waiting for?" "Let's take the fort!" "They're on the run!" Patience, robot army, patience!

With the desert world conquered, the dudes are ready to break open the Bitmap Bros' brand Rocket Fuel...

"EH HEM. Now boys, this is no time to celebrate! We kicked ass here today, but there's still other planets to capture! Nah ooooooonly when our victory is complete will the party begin."

Party pooper.

I think the dudes would be less inclined to party all the time if ROAAACK MUSIC didn't pour of Zod's face whenever he speaks.

I had a look at the files and you get exactly the same cutscene at the end of every world... except rendered with different sky and ground texture.

I've turned the map on to 'useful'. Without the terrain view on the map, there's no way of knowing what kind of routes your tanks will take. Typically, when you select a tank, it tries to drive only on roads. Given that the vehicle factory where the tank is made sometimes isn't on a road and the enemy you're fighting is a moving target that might not be on a road, the poor tank seems to get confused, especially if it has to move between territories.

On this level, no unit can enter the lava zones. The tanks can still fire over it. When they feel like it. Without my intervention, this tank-on-tank battle is purely luck. It doesn't even seem to matter who shoots first. If you can get your tank to keep moving out of the way of enemy shots, you stand a chance.

You think everything's going well; you only just blow up an enemy Light Tank... only for the turret to fly through the air and collide with your own tank, blowing it to pieces together with the several bots beside it.

By this point I've started saving and loading when a mini-battle doesn't go my way.

I think it was more fun to play against the stupid computer players of Command and Conquer and Red Alert. They can be fooled. The game doesn't feel like Command and Conquer at all. The Z AI has complete awareness of the battlefield. Every unit, every building. There's absolutely no room for error. It's like playing multiplayer. I hate playing RTS multiplayer.

This level lets you build Snipers. Couldn't tell the difference between these and the Psychos and Grunts. Same voice as the other robots again. Presumably, the Snipers have the longer range, but I didn't notice it. They fire their super weak shots at a super slow speed and then get creamed by whatever they're against. I can't even seem to use them against stationary emplacements right.

Surprisingly, I found that last level pretty straightforward. I took the vehicles that were next to my base, managed to blast the drivers out of the enemy counterpart vehicles. With a two Tank advantage and with at least eight minutes before either side could generate another unit, I took the entire map in one go and drove straight into the enemy fort.

That was... lucky.

I'm not learning anything useful from these battles. It's no fun at all.

Toughs. These guys have rocket launchers! But you only two of them so they're killed easily. They also take ages to build so you never get to use 'em. Same voice AGAIN!

You can tell what units are good against what by ordering the attack anyway. If your robots don't like it, they'll yell "No way!" "You've gotta be joking!" and then do it anyway.

A robot that's under attack from off-screen will yell stuff like "JESUS CHRIST HELP." "THEY'RE ALL OVER US" even if it's a tank being attacked by a single robot. All the robot types use the same voice, which is a great help in identifying who's under attack. To go directly to an off-screen attack, you can either click the animated robot portrait while they're talking (hoping that some other robot won't interrupt) or click the A button.

You can cycle between robots, vehicles, buildings and gun emplacements by clicking the R, V, B and G buttons. No, you can't press the R, V, B, G, A, T, D or Z keys on the keyboard to do the things that the on-screen buttons say. That would be too easy.

You see this? This is a very rare and special occasion. It's one of my tanks doing what it's told!

It took some coaxing, but I managed to turn my order of 'attack that Jeep' from 'follow the road leading North, laterally across three cells of enemy territory, and then shoot the Jeep' into 'just blow up the damn wall and drive towards the Jeep, it'll be okay, trust me'.

Still lost the resulting Light Tank vs. Jeep battle. And while I was babysitting my tank, the rest of the battle went to crap around me.

"It's over. We hate you."

Yeah, I hate you too.

Thanks to their expertise and attention to detail, Z is exactly what the Brothers intended it to be. It's clear they don't ever make mistakes or leave things half finished. If one of their games is rubbish, it's because their idea was bad. Well, okay, The Chaos Engine 2 was both half-finished and a bad idea, but Z isn't half-finished, it's just lacking in the niceties that would allow a human player to compete on the same level as the computer.

If you happen to be a robot and you don't find the idea of blowing up fellow robots offensive, you might enjoy Z!

Bitmap Brothers games:
Part 1: Xenon (Atari ST)
Part 2: Speedball (Atari ST)
Part 3: Xenon 2 - Megablast (Amiga)
Part 4: Cadaver (Amiga)
Part 5: Speedball 2 - Brutal Deluxe (Amiga)
Part 6: Gods (Amiga)
Part 7: Magic Pockets (Amiga)
Part 8: The Chaos Engine (Amiga)
Part 9: The Chaos Engine 2 (Amiga)
Part 10: Z (MS-DOS)


  1. I remember having played the psx, too cool! XD

  2. I hope you got further than I did... do you use the mouse on the PSX or do you use the joypad?

  3. Photos don't work :(

    1. Blast. Thanks for the heads up.

      We'll work on it.

  4. Always wondered why General Zod is marked as an Air Force SSgt....

    1. Maybe he's covering all his bases: General in the US Space Army, Staff Sergeant in the US Space Air Force and Commander in the US Space Navy? But then in the next game he's demoted all the way down to Captain just to make it even more confusing.


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