Friday, 29 March 2013

BRAHMA Force: The Assault on Beltlogger 9 (PSX) - Guest Post

What a title! It's got a bit of everything!

What could it possibly be about?

Um, if you say so. I guess I can't say I wasn't warned.

In the final minutes before a mission begins, heroic space captain Seth "Wrangler" Beckford is deep in thought.

He's thinking back to the last video message sent by his girl. Ah, that's nice. The poor guy won't be seeing her for some time as she was assigned to a far away resource excavation colony as their resident nurse.

And while she was there she came down with some super-obscure space schizophrenia and tried to claw her own face off and died.

But there's nothing like a good old space adventure to chase away the dead girlfriend blues, so let's get back to the ship!

The U.S.S. Religious Symbolism is responding to a distress call from the mining colony Beltlogger 9. The Consolidated Marine Corps units BRAHMA Force and Taurus Force have been ordered to investigate the colony and provide assistance if required.

HARRY C. SPENCER. FORMER FIREFIGHTER.
Suddenly, a mysterious device inside Beckford's cockpit injects him in the arm with some unknown solution. He seems rather calm about it. There's not much he can do about it right now short of sucking it all back out with a straw so maybe he's figured he'll deal with it later.

He's not even slightly concerned about the ghostly, glowing faces that have started to appear on his computer screen. He just calmly radios back to base that he's received an 'unauthorised command' and continues his mission.

And why not, when your mission is as awesome as flying through space in a giant mech attached to an even giant-er booster rocket! BRAHMA: Bipedal Robot Assault Heavy Mechanized Armor! Add some cheesy Babylon 5-y, Japanese sci-fi combat music and we're ready for anything!

BRAHMA Force make their approach into the side of the Beltlogger station and are attacked by some really weedy looking enemy security drones. It doesn't go well. One BRAHMA is destroyed before the squad gets authorisation to turn its weapons on, while another gets its arm shot clean off and decides to simply give up half-way and magnificently self-destruct in a column of fire.

The only survivor is BRAHMA Leader Beckford, who engages his hull-breaching device at the last moment and burrows his mech straight through the wall of the station before the entire docking bay is annihilated in the explosion.

Not even the massacre of his entire unit is enough to shake the Captain and he decides to continue with his mission. It is time for even more stompin' robot action!

Level 1 begins with my mech's computer showing my current location and giving me step by step instructions to my objective. It's almost like some kind of useful briefing, prepared by professional soldiers who've taken a couple of minutes to figure out what they'll be doing during their mission when they get there.

It can't possibly last.

Holy moly. Get a load of that interface!

Map, compass, durability gauge, weapons, options, booster... what does all this stuff even do?

I've got slots for five different types of weapons... is that a Gradius like power-up system down there?

Nope, just a menu. My mech is fully equipped: all five weapon types are present, fully-loaded and ready to kick robot butt!

I opened the first door, and... gah. I don't even know what I'm looking at here.

It's grey. There's boxes. I thought we'd be in corridors (it's a PlayStation game, it's always corridors), but we're on some kind of suspended platform inside a giant metal hollow with forcefields to stop me from falling off. That's pretty original!

Incoming enemies!

There's nicely rendered squid enemies lurch through the air and try to peck at my mech's cockpit. They're dangerous buggers too: one hit takes off around 200 hit points. I'm beginning to see how the rest of my squad were so easily wiped out in the intro.

Jumping!

There's a lot of secret power-ups on top of the buildings in this little open area. Repair modules, expansion cells, armour plate modules... the computer kindly reads out their names as I pick them up but I should go into the menu and see what they all do.

And what a menu it is! There's collectable single-use items, weapon upgrades, optional mech attachments, voice logs: all the vitamins and minerals a growing game needs to turn itself from a linear blastathon into one of those Metroidvanias the kids love so much.

These controls get my Seal of 'Eeeh, Good Enough.'. When want to move forward, I move forward. When want to move to the side, I move to the side. When I want to spin around 180 degrees and shoot something behind me, I grip the controller firmly with both hands, press everything at once, and scream at the top of my lungs. It's a robot.

The game has an odd tendency to align the robot along the diagonals when I leave it alone. If I'm running around in circles, I don't notice it, but I wouldn't be able to hit a small enemy at a distance with this effect on. Not that there is any sort of distance in this game, just black.

No analogue stick support, but this doesn't look like the kind of game that has many sloping surfaces in it, so that's fine.

This ominous looking device is not some kind of uncomfortable looking future toilet. No! It's a save point! Less than twenty metres from the starting point is an odd place to find such a thing, but okay.

The game treats the player to ten seconds of dramatic (and skippable!) pre-rendered video whenever you activate a lift or use a computer. It looks kind of cool in practice, and if you've got the disc space to spare, let's go with it. 3D moving lifts were new and special in 1996!

Hey! You were not in there before! I cleared that place out!

This first level seems ridiculously small. The forcefield surrounding the level can't be more than fifty feet square. Every time I enter a room, I get hijacked by a fully-voiced radio cutscene. The surviving marines are just loving the whole situation, of course. They're full of "I WILL COMPLETE THIS MISSION, SIR", and the heartless commanding officer is full of "YOUR SQUAD WAS EXPENDABLE" and so on.

Or not.

It seems that everybody in the Consolidated Marine Corps has decided to take their Reasonable Pills today. The first thing Beckford does when he establishes contact with the base is to report in and request further orders. Then, when the other surviving mech pilots report in, they collectively assess the situation and request an evacuation, which is immediately granted. The map comes up showing the route to the evacuation point, and the mission is cancelled. All I need to do is follow the route and make it out alive.

So begins BRAHMA Force (Decides to Give) The Assault on Beltlogger 9 (a Bit of a Miss And Go Home Instead).

Each level begins with a bit of pre-rendered, re-used mech footage.

If I'm not mistaken, Beckford's named his mech "Lovely Linda".

I love these map sequences. I love that I'm out in the open where I can leap about and run from side-to-side without scraping along the walls. I love that the briefings are read out rather than yelled out so I can actually focus on what's being said.

It's like they took Codename: Tenka and turned it inside-out.

I've turned off most of the interface items in the menu, ("OPTIONS!" yells the cat as he grabs you by your shoulders and shakes you back and forth, "MORE OPTIONS, I SAY!"), so now we can see what we're doing.

And what we're doing is missing these ruddy little scooty blue fellows. They run in diagonal lines across my field of view, which completely bamboozles my auto-aim. They're easy to track, but my laser refuses to fire directly forwards so I'm stuck. When they reach me, they inevitably cling to my legs which cripples my armour in seconds.

I eventually get sick of this foolishness and decide to up the ante by blindly switching to one of my more powerful weapons, but whatever I picked definitely isn't meant to be used at short range. The whole screen flashed white and red, and when it recovered, I found I'd blown up my legs and I had to restart the level.

Leave the weapon interface on, kids.

Just how many enemy types does this game have?

They're all robots, but they're all unique. And 3D! With shadows! They're all really well animated as well. Some of them walk, some of them roll around, some of them fly around in the air randomly. Shame I can't let any of them get close enough to show you, and there's no zoom either.

There's a lot of platforming in this game. Inexplicable hovering platforms, lifts and electromagnetic trampolines all over the place, but no falling damage or instant-death pits. I don't really mind it at all.

Nooo! Not these damn things again!

You don't notice it when you're running around the outside edge of the level looking for hidden robot upgrades, but the enemies continually reappear just outside your range of vision. That means that if you ever stand still, (say, if you're waiting for a moving lift to return after you fell off it like a dork) you're constantly attacked from all sides. On top of that, physical attacks are nearly unavoidable and disproportionately damaging. If an enemy touches you and you can't see it, you might as well just turn the console off.

The computer terminal beside the door contains a vain warning from some guy that we are 'entering his domain'. The moment I walk into the room, the pressure increases to dangerous levels. Beckford exclaims "A trap." as if he's reading items from a shopping list and the computer calmly recommends I shoot at the only visible object in the room in order to open the door. I shoot the thing, the door opens, and we walk out again.

Sorry, would-be villain. Your plan probably sounded scarier on paper.

The worst thing about this game so far is the sound design.

The sonar ping is ridiculously loud and you can't turn it off. The only time when it would be useful would be to tell you about enemies you can't see, but the only time the enemies sneak up on you is when there's an enemy in front of you that's preventing you from moving forwards, which means the sonar is already firing.

There's a hideous 'BZING' when a bullet misses an enemy and hits a wall, the blue scooty enemies have a repeating squeak which sounds like a bunch of angry monkeys and the mech itself sounds like a rusty shopping trolley rolling down a hill. It's a bloody racket.

I've turned the sound effects to minimum and the music way up. It sounds like the tense sneaking themes that play at the start of Metal Gear Solid.

The small levels aren't a problem at all, it just means there's frequent save points. The save points within the levels don't make any sense, though. The levels aren't that big, and the enemies reappear anyway.

There was even a super-secret Laser category weapon to be found on this level. It was worse than my all my starting weapons in every respect, but it's the thought that counts.

I don't seem to be able to return to previous levels but that seems like something I might do after the evacuation Goes Wrong. (How likely is THAT?)

We're inside! Gosh, this is spooky, isn't it? Am I to be avoiding searchlights or security cameras so that Nefarious Ghost-Face doesn't spot me and send robogoons?

No. I started next to the power switch that turns on the lights and it's just like every other level.

This isn't really one for folks who like to see plants or trees or animals or any kind of nature in their games.

Blerk. This robot is tough. Everything up to this point has died within a dozen hits from my Rifle or Laser weapons. This guy doesn't even seem to be affected by weapons! Have I reached The First Boss?

I've got a 'shield', which I think makes me invulnerable temporarily, but I've not used it up to this point. Apart from being in a hard-to-reach place on the controller, it consumes Laser Energy at a ridiculous rate. I've saved over a dozen small Energy capsules, so let's do it. I'll alternate between filling him full of rifle rounds and deflecting his missiles with the shield.

Huh? With my shield active, the tough guy's missiles aren't doing any damage to me directly, but my Durability gauge is still somehow taking a hammering regardless!

And I'm dead. Let's try again. And again. And again. I get it, I'm doing something wrong. 'Guerilla warfare mode' does not mean 'stand in the corridor and get toasted from the incendiary after-effects of enemy missiles'. It means I need more smart.

I'm going to try and lure him out of his little room. The Missile can only just lock on if I go half way down the corridor, but my Trench Mortar doesn't want to lock on or fire at all. I slide to and fro across the entrance... he's not coming out.

YOU! Where did you come from? There's absolutely nowhere where you could have possibly come from! This room has no doors!

There's taking advantage of the darkness and there's spontaneously appearing behind the player when they're trying to do stuff! If the enemies can appear behind the player at any time, the player has to constantly be turning around, which absolutely prevents the player from doing any fancy defensive stuff with the shield!

That's just cheating!

This guy has his own little picture on Mobygames. The caption simply describes him as 'tough robot enemy' and that's a very polite way of putting it. This one git has single-handedly ruined the entire game for me.

There's no way to avoid him and there's no way to kill him. I tried everything. I found a way to get into the room so that the blue enemy couldn't sneak up behind me, I used all my most powerful weapons and I used all my rare recovery items.

I keep telling myself that I shouldn't play Japanese games because of these ridiculous difficulty spikes but I assumed that they'd keep the absurd enemies until much later. I don't even think he's supposed to be a boss; he's just Some Guy that happens to be ridiculously tough!

There's a knack, but I don't know it. The game isn't good enough to warrant wasting enough time on it to figure it out. It takes just too long to go from the game over screen to the title screen to the load screen and back into the game. There'll just be another ridiculous enemy later. A more difficult one. Maybe, if I was trapped in an Antarctic weather station with nothing else to play, I could stand the monkeys and the BZINGs and the squeaky, rattling mech, but until then BRAHMA Force is low down on a long list.

All a game has to do in order to get a passing grade on mecha-neko's FPS Friday is hold my attention for over an hour without seriously screwing up the basics of being a game. The developers managed to score fifty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds and then put this damn thing in the way.

2 comments:

  1. "Dead girlfriend blues" sounds like a brilliant song.
    Very nice post by the way.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is a diamond in the rough. That tough robot however is definitely beatable.

    ReplyDelete

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