Friday, 17 January 2014

Silent Debuggers (TurboGrafx-16)

Silent Debuggers title screen
For whatever reason and despite my best intentions I didn't play nearly enough TurboGrafx or PC Engine games last year, so I figured that I'd make up for this disheartening insufficiency by playing one this year.

Silent Debuggers is... a game for that console. It was made by Data East, released in 1991, the theme tune could be described as 'funky' and it apparently has something to do with a space station. Other than that I don't know much about it, except that it might be a first person RPG type of thing.

I'm Leon, be my buddy.
Hi Leon!

It is the future... nations [Albion] and [Zabaris] have warred. Now 4 years have passed. Many have left the ruined planet Earth for outer space, like Leon here. He's a [Debugger], an expert in many ways especially battle, who will undertake any job for a reward. Or as he puts it "Debuggers do the dirty work and I love it."

I bet you do buddy.

I love that transition from the shuttle launch to the title screen. Plus when I hit the 'run' button, a tiny little shuttle appeared in the background and docked with the station. Well, after the game asked me to select my difficulty I mean.

It turns out that we've travelled to the cargo station [Ohme] to loot the place for treasure, as it was evacuated last year after an accident and no one's worked there since. We're reasonably sure the cargo is still there after all this time though, as everyone who sets foot on the station tends to die a gruesome and mysterious death.

My name is just okay? It's hilarious that a game called Silent Debuggers has the nerve to pass judgement on anyone else's name.

Oh shit, there are aliens infesting the station and they're nearly as horrifying as the way Leon continuously uses 'where' instead of 'were'.

Okay we've found the main computer room at the center of the station and now Leon's going to access the system while I kill all the monsters. Wait, why am I the one who has to kill the monsters? What happened to Leon's love for danger and doing the dirty work?

Also why is the game giving me a choice now? I've already been dragged over to the space station of certain death, it's not like there's any backing out now. Still, it's worth a try I guess...

I selected 'no' and Leon basically replied with 'but thou must', so now I have to pick a couple of weapons and go kill all monsters I guess.

Alright I'll have a mega beamer and... a grenade launcher thanks. It's not telling me the stats or even what type of gun they are, but it's called a mega beamer so I'm fully expecting its main function to be turning things caught in front of the barrel when I pull the trigger into non-things that no longer exist as an entity on this plane of reality.

Now I've been set free onto this floor of the space station to... kill all monsters or whatever; steering myself around the identical corridors with the d-pad. Leon keeps telling me to "head for the outer block", but he forgot to mention which of these blocks is the outer one, so I guess I'll have to go check all of them until a monster jumps out at me.

I should probably mention that I cheated with the crosshair a little. I think they used a flickering effect to make it appear transparent in game, but it flickers so fast that it was only showing up on half of my animation frames. So I just pasted it onto all of them.


LATER.


Oh... fuck you Leon. Next time you want me to go somewhere, how about you tell me where it is? The general direction would be a start! I don't know if they have a north and south on a space station, but I'm sure we could work something out!

The lights at the top start flashing occasionally, so I'm guessing they're supposed to be my proximity detector, but following them seems to be getting me nowhere.

Right, I'm going to stop for a moment and see what all these buttons on the controller do.

Pressing 'select' brought up this menu full of interesting looking options.

'Jump command' doesn't do anything yet, but I can check out the map and figure out where I'm actually supposed to be going.

Silent Debuggers level 1 map
I can't help but notice that not one of these labelled blocks is any more 'outer' than the others. They all seem pretty equidistant from the core computer control center that Leon's currently cowering in right now.

Alright, is there anything else in this menu that's any actual help to me?

Silent Debuggers inventory screenshot
Whoa, I'm playing as the Master Chief? No wait, hang on, I think that's actually dirt biking gear. Well my guns are all there, so that's good I guess. Well that's what the 'select' button does, so what does the 'run' button do?

Oh, it fires off one of my precious few grenades down the empty hallway.

Fuck it, I'm going back to Leon to tell him that I quit (and hopefully get an grenade refill seeing as I haven't seen any ammo boxes around).

Well I can change my weapon, choose from all the items I don't have, or investigate the mysterious 'monster' option. Well I gotta know what 'monster' brings up.

"Aren't they still around somewhere?"
Man, now he's deliberately taking the piss.


LATER.


Alright, here we go, I have finally found the place that Leon's been calling the outer block! It took me six minutes in the end and now that I finally know where it is I'm kicking myself for not finding it sooner.

You see the blue square surrounding the nine blocks (A-H plus the computer room in the center)? Well, the antenna-looking grid below it is actually the outer block I've been looking for all this time! It seems absolutely obvious now, but for whatever reason I immediately dismissed it as being outside of the level earlier and didn't give it a second thought.

I guess my mind refused to accept the possibility that someone thought that a featureless grid would be good level design.

Alright, so now I'm running around the grid shooting at monsters, relying on my proximity detector to lead me in the right direction. Sometimes they come out of the darkness, sometimes they pop out of an adjacent corridor, but they're all getting shot.


SOON.


And another one goes psychedelic. Man I'm good at pressing that kill button when enemies are in front of me! Though I'm running pretty low on battery 1 there, so I should probably sort that out somehow.

Ah, I thought I remembered seeing a battery option in the menu. I'll just flip that thing over to battery 2 and then I can get back to following my proximity beeps.

I guess Silent Debuggers must be an ironic title, seeing as I'm only getting louder the closer I get to these aliens. The title is exactly the same in the original Japanese version in case you were wondering, written out the exact same way. I guess the developers just thought the words sounded cool together.

And they were right, obviously.

Looks like this battery is getting drained as quickly as the last one did, though I don't know what I can do about that aside from kill the last few enemies before it runs out. In fact I don't even know what the battery does. Is it my health, is it my ammo, does it power my rubbish map-less minimap in the middle of the HUD?

Hmm, it seems to empty slightly whenever I fire my mega beamer, so I suppose it must be my ammo.


BUT THEN...


Oh. Well I guess the batteries must be my health AND my ammo. Leon should've given me some spares really, seeing as there's none around for me to pick up and I kinda need them to live.

Well I needed them anyway. R.I.P Ray the Debugger.

Hey, my dirt biking space hero wasn't eaten by the monsters! Leon just whines a bit and then I'm thrown back into the level with my batteries recharged. Sure I've wasted 5 minutes, but in a game with no time limit I'm really not that bothered.


EVENTUALLY.


Alright, I've killed all the monsters on this floor and Leon's finally managed to access the self explosion program.

Wait, WHAT?

Of course the station had to be wired to blow, how could I have possibly not seen this coming? Time after time video games like Alien Breed and Super Metroid have shown that if aliens take over a space station and you're unfortunate enough to be on it, you'd better figure out where that deck lift exit is, as you'll likely be facing a countdown timer to catastrophe just when it's least convenient.


LEVEL 2.


Well that's just great, now I've got just 100 minutes... just 98:54 minutes to clear out the remaining floors of the space station and stop the self-destruct sequence. Oh plus Leon managed to seal off the hangar so we can't even escape on our shuttle.

Should've just shot a few holes into the station hull with our starship from the outside then caught the crates as they drifted out of the cargo hold, but nope we had to go do it the hard way. 

C'mon stay put you little bastard. It seems that different coloured enemies have different behaviour, with the red ones coming right at me, and these green ones trying to make a run for it. Now I have to chase him around the grid, with a red arrow appearing to tell me which way he went at each junction.

Oh by the way, despite what the clock says I haven't been playing this stage for 7 minutes. Most of that was the time penalty for getting my ass knocked out again. It'd be really nice to see a health kit around right now. I'd settle for just a battery recharge station!

Here's the floor 2 map, just in case you were wondering if the level design had gotten any more interesting. Oh crap, block C is taking damage? That means that one of the monsters has escaped the outer block and is roaming around wrecking shit.

I've got to get back over there and sort that out before the area is destroyed entirely.

AHA! There you are you little bastard, now stand still a second and let me shoot your arms off.

Crap, where did he go now? I'm going to have spin around and see which direction makes the beeps go faster. I'm not even sure I can stop this countdown now, for all I know this might just be a 20 second warning telling me to get the fuck out of C block before it's flushed out into space, but I'm certainly going to give it a try.

Man I hope I'm not in C block right now.


TEN SECONDS LATER.


Oh shit, there's a battery recharge room in here! I've finally found a way to recover health and ammo without spending five minutes unconscious!

And it's inside C block, which is going to get sealed off permanently in about... 10 seconds now.

There's three other rooms on his floor which have an effect on gameplay: this ammo store in block G, the light control in block B, and the sensor control in block F. I'm not entirely sure what I'm meant to do with lights and sensors (other than not let them get shut down, obviously), but ammo... I get. I'm getting as much as I can carry in fact.

It's seems that if I go back to Leon and select the motor cannon or lipp shoot as my primary gun I likely won't be burning through my own health bar as ammo.

Here's another screen of me shooting a monster, as I feel like I haven't been showing enough gameplay so far. I walk through the grid of corridors listening to the beeps, every couple of junctions I turn around to see if the beeps get faster and then carry on with the hunt. Then suddenly a monster will appear and I either shoot him, or chase him and shoot him!

Then after four or five of them, Leon will send me a message telling me that a monster's gotten out and is wrecking blocks in the core, so I have to find my way back to the center area and go hunt him instead. Repeat.

Repeat forever.


LATER, AFTER FINALLY COMPLETING FLOOR 2.


Hi Ray! I'm Ray, space adventurer. Oh wait, this is just a recorded log message telling the story of how Ray saw [it] and then Steve shot them. But "then... ...killed Steve... he must've been...... from..... to..."

Yeah sorry Ray, but I'm going to have to turn off your log message now as it's obvious that you're drunk. Also I'm already up to speed on the fact that aliens have invaded the station. Even shot a few of 'em myself. Nice moustache though.

Alright there, here's floor 3 and... okay fuck that. That's too much grid for me. Well I could sit here for an hour to let the timer run out and see the game over screen, but I think I'll just turn it off now and pretend that during the year the station was abandoned, some bored service bot with a sense of humour rewired the self-destruct countdown to a vending machine instead of the bomb and so everyone actually lived happily ever after.


Silent Debuggers really doesn't seem like that great of a game to me. It's like a proto-FPS, without all those innovations like pick-ups, aiming and level design that we've come to take for granted from the genre. Sure you can hold down a button and slide the crosshairs across the screen with the d-pad if you really want to root yourself to the ground when the aliens are charging at you, but there doesn't seem to be much point to it. Generally if you press the fire button, anything in front of you is going to get hit, so the game is all about following the beeps to find the enemies and then keep them on screen until they're dead. To be fair though, that does generate a bit of Aliens-style tension. A very tiny tiny bit.

It shares a little in common with the classic style flick-screen first person dungeon crawler RPGs like Dungeon Master or Legend of Grimrock as well, but it's missing their depth (and their dungeons for that matter). It doesn't look like there's going to be any exploration or puzzle solving in this, and the only items and upgrades are awarded automatically for making progress.

There's no saves, there's no password, but that's fine as I was never going to load this up again anyway.


Well that's what I think about the game anyway, but you're welcome to disagree. You can do it right here, right now in fact, using the comment box below. Positive comments are also welcome, if you're into that kind of thing.

14 comments:

  1. Well, I had to look up the title theme, and I do have to say it's great stuff! The opening animation you posted is pretty cool looking as well.

    It's a shame the rest of the game looks so bland compared to the first few minutes of it. I really wonder if the next few floors will just be the same hallways with different colors.

    ReplyDelete
  2. you can get the music from joshw's site http://hes.joshw.info/s/ and play it using GEP in foobar2k

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  3. only 5 characters this time, your too-cool surname is foiled again, bwahaha

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    Replies
    1. It's a shame, because I would've gotten way better than 'O.K.' if they'd just let me put my surname in!

      Delete
  4. Who needs more than 3 letters anyway. It was good enough for the arcades :)

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  5. Hello! I just found this website of yours when googling "Xenophage: Alien BloodSport", and I must say I like what I've seen so far! So many retro reviews for me to enjoy!

    I'm bookmarking this to come back and read about some more retro games that I have or haven't played as a kid.

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  6. I'm sorry, but I can't unsee it...


    That spacestation has male genitals.

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    Replies
    1. There's nothing humorous about seeing a pair of huge spherical deuterium storage tanks dangling exposed from a spacestation's nether regions, so I suggest you take your mind from out of the gutter.

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  7. Thanks for another PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 game review! Here's to hoping that you'll be able to do more than only one thins year.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your thanks.

      I do always intend to have a good mix of different systems, but it never quite works out quite like I planned. I am definitely mindful that I should be playing more TurboGrafx games though.

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  8. If you're looking for PC Engine games, I'd recommend Neutopia, or Dungeon Explorer (you should even play the second iteration of each, Dungeon Explorer 2 being on CD).

    And just in general, I also heartily recommend the console's Bomberman games with a few friends, it's the best thing ever.

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    Replies
    1. A Bomberman article would be cool as I could get it written up with just three screenshots: title, level start, oops I trapped myself in the corner with my own bomb.

      I don't know much about Dungeon Explorer, though I've heard it mentioned enough to catch my interest, and I'm not sure I've even heard of Neutopia. Both good reasons to investigate further I reckon.

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    2. Neutopia is basically Zelda for the PC Engine, just so you know.

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  9. I liked that post, especially the nice Red Dwarf reference near the end ^^

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