Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday (Genesis/Mega Drive)

This one's another request, Buck Rogers on the Mega Drive/Genesis. Or maybe they asked me to play the DOS version, I forget... either way this version's what they're getting. In fact a few people have asked me to play this, which surprises me because I've barely even heard of the game..

All my knowledge of Buck Rogers comes from watching the intro to the 80s TV series on youtube, so I probably won't know anything about anything. The game's made by SSI though so I'm fairly sure it's going to be an RPG at least.

At first glance it might seem like this alien gentlemen is aiming a death ray right at planet Earth, but look at the other text on the right. That's a transparent HUD he's looking it, with the writing facing him, so he's actually about to annihilate planet Htra 3. Sucks to be those guys.

Also I'm guessing the artist's called Mark Johnson, as he's sneakily signed his work in backwards-text.

Yeah, pretty sure this is an RPG. I can choose from three races, none of them elves, though these desert runners do have pointed ears. There's the three standard 'healer', 'warrior' and 'rogue' classes, but there's also a 'rocket jock' class which I'm not sure about. Sounds like the sort of class for a dashing lead character like me though.

I feel bad when I criticise other people's art, because I do realise that pixelling walk animations for three or four directions per character can be a joyless pain in the ass, but they're not exactly pushing the system's limits here.

Plus they've given me the full range of races and genders to pick from despite asking me to choose between them on the last screen. So I can make my blonde rocket jock human look like a tiny bald mole-man.

Whatever, I'll go with the dude with the green helmet, he seems like an adventurous sort.

Finally, a game with walking on the ceiling as a skill. Also there's climbing, using wikipedia, talking, noticing things... shame I haven't got a clue which of them are going to be useful. I suppose if I can create more than one character I'll be able to spread the skills between them to have experts in everything though.

Oh if you're wondering why my hero's called 'Ruck Boger', it's because they wouldn't give me enough letters to put an 's' on the end. You'd think they'd at least give me enough letters to fit in 'Buck Rogers', seeing as his name's on the box.


Chicagorg is a terrible name for a spaceport in my opinion.

Okay, I apparently joined Neo to fight the Ram, got it. My characters have been assigned to Salvation Station for salvage duty, and they automatic walk out of the building to find a shuttle.

But then suddenly, shit happens! Explosions everywhere, people running around screaming, buildings collapsing! Absolute chaos!

Well actually it seems pretty quiet where I am, though I have found a wounded officer. The poor guy is too busy dying from shrapnel related injuries to turn on the base defences, so he says it's up to my team. Shame he couldn't hang on to life five seconds longer to tell me where the bloody switch is though.

This is what the original PC version of the game looks like in comparison, in case you were wondering. It seems to be more or less the same thing, except with more races, classes, skills, commands etc. Also it's got a ridiculously tiny first person flick screen window instead of a moderately tiny overhead view.

To be honest all this extra complexity makes me want to run screaming. I mean it has a 'move' command, instead of just letting me move with the keys. Suddenly I'm starting to appreciate the Sega version a bit more.

I went walking around the shed trying to find a way in so I could flip the switch, but all I found was a squad of aliens waving space pistols in my face.

Fortunately a helpful squad of NEO troops came to my team's aid, so now we're heavily outnumbering the alien menace.

I've got a pretty limited set of commands here. There's Target, Move, Quick Combat, Wait and End turn. So I can walk around, shoot things, or walk around then shoot things. But only in that order. Shooting things and then walking around IS FORBIDDEN. Also there's no command for healing, and no way to use skills. Makes me wonder why I put all those points into 'first aid'.

The PC version is very similar in battles, but again it has more of everything. More sprites and more commands. Less screen size though, so I can only see a fraction of the battlefield. I don't have the patience to figure out if 'sprint', 'dodge' and 'guard' etc. add any extra depth to the gameplay, so I'll just call it a draw and run back over to the Sega version. 

The characters take turns individually, rather than each side getting a go to move all their units at once, and right now I'm trying to move my guys around behind the enemy to shoot them in the back.

I'd been trying to move units closer to the enemies at first, but it didn't seem to make a great deal of difference to the 'to hit' percentage, so I'm not going to bother from now on.


Well that fight was relatively painless. Oh I see, I can't use my first aid skills to heal during a fight, but injuries are automatically treated by my medics after the battle. I'd prefer to be able to pull back and fix up my wounded mid-fight, but at least they're not going get worn down by attrition.

The soldiers cheer as I loot the bodies for equipment. More laser guns, spacesuits and uniforms. Though weren't the enemies wearing red body armour? I guess it doesn't matter, it's not like you see the little sprites wearing it (sadly).

I can't tell which outfit is better though. The spacesuit gives me the highest AC stat, but I don't know if that's a good thing or not. I'm going to guess higher is better, seeing as the spacesuit looks more armoured than the uniform. Also I re-rolled my stats a few times to get high AC at character creation, so it'd better be a good thing or else I'm fucked.

Also the game totally doesn't care what race or sprite I chose, there's exactly two pictures for the inventory screen: a blond human guy and a blond human woman. You might notice there's a slight discrepancy in skin tone and hair colour between my character's sprite (top left) and her close up.

Hey, they wear little scout badges on their uniform to show their skills. I tried using first aid to heal up one of my characters who wasn't fully recovered after a battle, but it didn't work. It really must be automatic use only.


The orderly shouts at me, pushes me out of the door... and then explodes? I don't deserve this shoddy treatment, I'm a hero of the... was it Ram or Neo? Whatever, I'm a hero of one of them I'm sure of it, and I'm going back to demand an apology.

Oh damn, that's dark. Lucky the orderly shoved me out at the exact right moment to save my team. Shockingly it turns out that the defence controls aren't in here either.

Okay then, time to start raiding bodies then I guess.


I found a guy in one of the rooms who told me that the defence controls were in a room to the east, so I wandered off in that direction, fighting a random battle every couple of steps. Fortunately it seems I can keep getting health back after battles indefinitely without ever having to buy potions/medkits.

Son of a bitch. All the other nearby doors are locked so it seem I've got to go all the way back west and look for another way inside.

Looking at the scene-setting picture on the hud, these buildings have ladders on the side, so why can't I find one of them and get in through the roof, huh? It'd be nice to finally make use of that climbing skill I wasted points on.


Well I'm in, but the enemy beat me to it, and they have me surrounded. I'm still a long way from mastering the combat in this game, but it's starting to seem like the team doing the surrounding usually ends up knocking the other team senseless.

That's a bit of an anti-climatic game over screen. I didn't even get a picture of a planet exploding or anything.

Fortunately the game lets me save whenever I want (out of battles) so I can race right back into the room and get my ass handed to me again. Or I could hang back and get some more experience first perhaps, earn some levels.


Not a single level up. Seems like I'm going to have to win this fight the hard way, by actually using my brain.

Fortunately a friend dropped by and pointed out that if I'd stand more of a chance if I wasn't standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by enemies. In fact I could use the wall to position characters out of the enemy's line of sight. So I was spared from having to do any of the heavy thinking myself.


Wait, what? The game wants me to sacrifice one of my dudes already?

But I need everyone!

I was half tempted to volunteer Bitmap Kid, and throw his unconscious body onto it, but I need every medic I've got, so I decided that Syd should dive onto the grenade. Nothing personal, I just need fighters more than rogues.


Turns out that I wasn't really sacrificing anyone, and everyone made it through to activate the base defences! Which is actually a huge shock to me, because I was absolutely certain I was going to screw that mission up.

Salvation Station has a shop so I finally get to sell some of the spare laser pistols I've been dragging around, and upgrade my weaponry. Though I'm not sure what weapons to buy because it doesn't actually bother tell me the damage.

Aw fuck it, I'm rich, I'll buy a few of them and go with what works best in combat. I'll leave the sword though as I haven't had much luck with them. Enemies tend to target the opponent closest to them, making my poor melee character their favourite victim.

Mission 2. My team have been given a level up (finally), then sent to investigate wreckage floating around in space.

There's no salvage duty minigame though, it just skips straight to the team finding a derelict to explore. Hopefully it was transporting a cargo of high quality pistols and armour, and not genetically engineered alien bio-weapons.

Nope, the derelict was carrying a cargo of screaming ghosts. Or holograms, whatever. Basically the same thing; an ominous echo of the dead, foreshadowing a horrific fate for my intrepid crew. The slime and bloody handprints are just the sinister icing on the metaphorical cake of certain doom.

YES, a ladder! Finally I can put my climbing skill to good use. I've trained hard for this day.

Of course the ship has been infested by nasty four-legged aliens with lots of teeth, what else could you expect to find on spaceship full of corpses? Well I suppose 'killer robots' would've been a good guess as well, but they've got you covered there too.

Fortunately we're apparently in zero gravity, and these aliens didn't bother putting any points in their zero-g skills, so I've got the advantage. Well, some of my team do anyway. The others are really good at climbing and using wikipedia though!


Well this can't be good. She was complaining of a headache a second ago, but it seems to have gotten worse fast, and now other characters are showing symptoms too. Poor Syd, she's always the first one to be fucked over by fate.

Oh crap, she woke up and started attacking the rest of the team. And I don't have any non-lethal weapons! I'm going to have to fight back or else she'll wipe me out.

She ended up critically wounded in the fight, and there's nothing I can do to cure her. Damn, I think we just lost one of the crew.


I've found a device that can apparently cure the sickness my crew's suffering from, so at least I can save the rest of them. First I need to get past the device's security though. I put a few points into programming so maybe I can hack it.

Nope, I failed my hack and the thing flipped from 'cure' to 'kill'. I ran out of the room straight into a pair of security bots. Though during the fight I noticed that a 'first-aid' button had replaced the 'wait' button in my list of commands, and my team have thoughtfully been dragging Syd's critically injured body around with them... so I still have a chance to save her!

I killed the bots, raced back to the surgeon machine... fucked it up again, ran away, killed more bots, ran back, and this time I managed to cure the crew and restore them to full health. All of them. I've got my team back!


And then I get them all massacred by a squad of robots, except for Syd who fails at first aid, then escapes alone.

Unfortunately she barely made it down the corridor before being ambushed by more aliens. Game over, again.

Okay first I have to admit that this isn't generally one of my favourite genres, so feel free to disregard all my opinions. The game was actually more accessible than I was expecting, but to be honest the only thing that kept me playing so long on the first level was curiosity about what the next area looked like. By the time I reached the derelict I was just looking for a sensible point to quit. Despite all the stats and skills I had to set up during character creation, the gameplay seems pretty basic compared to a modern tactical RPG, and there's no 'gotta get more loot/level up my team' hook to it.

Though now that I think about it, there was a noticeable improvement in the game about halfway through the first mission when I finally turned the bloody music off. Next game.


  1. This is actually a bit of an underrated gem. After the derelict mission you get freedom to fly around the solar system (as far as mars) visiting planets and space stations and even fighting RAM Ships.
    The music though, yeah turn that off.

    1. The way the player gets that freedom is my favorite thing in my entire game. Small spoiler: the party gets to keep the horrible deathship. Rest assured that you have not exhausted the number of death traps in the place, nor seen all the enemies. Also that sickness is caused by brain parasites.

      If my commander gave me the ship after all that, the only reason why I wouldn't laugh maniacally and hurl it into the sun would be fear for the safety of the sun.

    2. Oh, right: A lot of the original Buck Rogers comic is available online and looks hilarious. It's great for any fans of old futuristic designs. Armageddon 2419 A.D., the story the comic was based on, is free on Gutenberg.

      The story is one of those early 20th-century swashbuckling tales, with plenty of weird tech (like advanced rocketry but no spaceflight), racism, and casual violence. There's a sequel that's more so and rather awful on several levels despite having a very good depiction of online shopping for 1929. My thanks to James White for growing up on this stuff, saying "sod it," and writing a series about a space hospital.

      None of this has much bearing on the game. Buck Rogers has been rebooted like it was Prince of Persia.

    3. Hey I remember playing this! Well... almost.

      I think it's a shame that the game came out in 1991 instead of 1998, as I would've loved to play a Fallout/Infinity Engine era RPG with the freedom to fly around space in a horrible deathship, chatting up the sexy green aliens and blasting the evil ones with all the teeth. I'm all about space exploration adventure, and I've even been tricked into enjoying tactical combat on occasion, but this was a bit too basic to hook me in. I don't just mean visually, but those graphics aren't all that appealing either. Looking at it you'd never guess the game came out at the same time as Wing Commander and Sonic the Hedgehog.


Semi-Random Game Box