Playing Warhawk (C64)

I’ve been playing Warhawk quite a bit recently whilst testing various recording settings for YouTube, so it’d be churlish of me to not actually talk about the game itself! And it’s another budget shooter that I’ve got some nostalgia for, including a few shockingly vague memories of being at what I believe was a PCW show in London and seeing it running for the first time on Firebird’s stand; trying to play a fast-paced game in the middle of a raucous exhibition hall was never going to work and my arse was duly handed to me, but I was sold and picked up a copy as soon as my local software emporium had it in stock.

The obvious influence is Tehkan’s 1984 classic coin-op Star Force to the point where a couple of escaped preview versions exist (included in the Gamebase 64 archive, one under the development title of Proteus) which have similar end of level guardians; these disappeared for the actual release to be replaced by a final screen on each stage where the player is pelted with enemies which home in on them. Actually, here’s a handy hint for that part of the game whilst I’m here; park the ship over the second digit of the score from the left, hold completely still and just hammer the fire button – you’ll take a few hits doing this depending on how fast the enemies are moving, but it’s safer than trying to dodge, weave and blast.

The pace increases with each stage of the ten included and some of the enemies get more vicious in the process, but there are gaps in the madness since a new wave can’t start until the bullets for the previous one have left the playfield and players can “herd” enemy bullets to maximise that quiet time with a little practice. Because it gets so manic this isn’t a “one hit kills” kind of shooter and there is what at least initially appears to be a generous energy gauge which decreases a little with each hit. There’s also a power-up that starts appearing at level 4 which speeds the ship up a bit, gives it a faster firing rate and removes the need to constantly stab at the fire button, but this enhancement is only temporary and care must be taken to avoid shooting the items.

Warhawk‘s sprites are very nice – the titular craft in particular really looks the part – but, whilst the background graphics are reasonable, they did look somewhat dated even when the game was released in 1986. The Rob Hubbard soundtrack, on the other hand, still holds it’s own well is is certainly worth several listens; that’s best done on the titles page, it gets “remixed” during play since the lead channel constantly drops out to make room for firing and explosion sound effects. It might be an unintentional effect but having just the bassline driving away behind the frantic action works well especially when things really heat up.

Firebird published some very solid budget shooters for the C64 – and a few howlers like Force One, more on that another time perhaps – and this is a great example that starts off sedately but builts to a crescendo by the time the tenth level is conquered to the point where going back to start a new game almost feels like you’re playing in slow motion. And for those players who manage to loop Warhawk there’s always the challenge of playing for score to keep them going, the remaining shield is translated into points at the end of eac h stage and destroying all of the bases will earn an extra bonus.

11 thoughts on “Playing Warhawk (C64)

  1. A really solid game that I remember back in the day; my original tape is probably under a bed somewhere at my parents house.

    I appreciate your blog entry here focuses on the game itself, but I can’t believe you didn’t mention the ‘iconic’ loading screen! And by iconic I don’t mean it’s the best piece of pixel art ever made on the C64, but the fact that it (or parts of it) seemed to be used on just about every other demo release on Compunet at the time.

    OK, maybe only a handful of releases (maybe only even 1 or 2 😉 ), but it seemed to be everywhere in my old, slowly fading mind…

  2. Michael Ware, the author of Warhawk, commented on the video over at Facebook, saying “You are far better at it than I”… not that I’m feeling almost insufferably smug right now or anything! =-)

    And yeah, there’s probably a dozen demos using the Warhawk graphics in some form; It’s Movin’ by Super Swap Sweden is the first which springs to mind.

  3. Well, I admit, instead of doing other things I should have been doing, been playing this for a few hours today.

    Does look kind of basic now, but it plays really well. Which makes me think. Surely this deserves some kind of sequel Mr Kelk, hint, hint???

  4. Glad you liked my sprites. The backgrounds were pretty good for their day despite having aged since. Remember we were trying to recreate Starforce so we had to make do with the 64’s graphics and do the best job we could. There was very little about to compare to the bas relief style on the c64 at the time. Uridium and Paradroid being the only ones I can remember off the top of my head.

    We did kind of make a commotion at the PCW show when we loaded the game at the ZZap 64 stand didn’t we. The thing that struck me the most was being asked to sign my autograph lol. I was just a lad with a couple of mates and a game to sell.

    Check out Nest Lander at the Scirra arcade to see what I’m working on now. No download necessary 🙂

  5. Blimey, thanks for dropping by! =-)

    There were a few other games doing bias relief back then but Uridium was the one which rocked up and really set the bar pretty high for that look; Warhawk’s backgrounds were reasonable but always going to suffer from the comparisons which were made to Andrew Braybrook’s work.

  6. Braybrook is a legend. I’m just a bloke, lol. I watched your video. You are good, it was nice to watch someone that knows the game well. I play tested the game non stop back in the day but didn’t get sick of it. I could loop it through easily then… Last time I played it a couple of years ago it took me a few attempts to beat the game, so you’re better than me now too :p lol.

    BTW Warhawk was remade for the Nintendo DS as a homebrew freebie for anyone with an R4 cart or similar in 2009. It came 3rd in the DS homebrew awards that year and was the highest placed game. I only designed the main sprite and few of the smaller ships as I was super busy at work at the time but Lobo, the guy that did the rest of the DS graphics did an amazing job and Flash (MW) and Headkaze did great work on the coding. The sound and music are great too. The first 10 levels are re works of the original levels and there are 10 more levels too. Check it out. Same goes for you aNdy. This could be the sequel you are looking for. Enjoy!

    Right enough of history. I must get back to work on level designing for Nest Lander. If you like Lunar Lander check it out. I’m on a mission to bring back the old school arcade challenge to gaming. Nest Lander is the first in a hopefully long line of arcade classic mechanic based games.

  7. [Blushes] My ego says hello and thanks you for the compliment!

    I’ve played the DS remake quite a bit whilst reviewing it for Retro Gamer issue 68, had a lot of fun with it as well – I remember getting my behind handed to me a little more often than with the C64 version – and am looking forward to the Spectrum Next version that’s on the way too.

    The next RG deadline is looming somewhat, but I’ll have to give Nest Lander a go once that’s out of the way – thanks for the heads up.

  8. Sorry I hadn’t realised it was you that reviewed the DS version for RG. What a plonker! I pick up RG in the local newsagents once in a while and I have that one stored away somewhere. Yeah it is harder than the c64 version… or maybe it’s just different. I know I found it hard even though I did some play testing on the DS version too.

    The Spectrum Next version looks great. I’ll have to contact Flash (MW) for a cup of coffee and a catch up. We tend to get together every few years.

    Nest Lander should be right up your street. Most modern gamers find it too hard hehe. Here’s the link to the latest 8 level demo to save you googling it. https://www.scirra.com/arcade/action-games/nest-lander-27270

  9. Cool thanks for the link – I’ve just had a quick go on the easy levels and enjoyed it. =-)

  10. Thanks for trying it Jason 🙂 Glad you liked it. You may have wondered why there are stats for times left etc on the demo completed screen, if you got that far. I’m making the game speed runner friendly. It’s a totally different animal on skills 4 and 5. 5 is too quick for me but on 4 my record for completing the 8 level demo is 4 minutes 22 seconds. The bird whips around the screen on these difficulties. The closest anyone in my dev community has managed was 10 minutes 13 seconds. Anyway I’ll shut up now and let you get back to your RG deadline 🙂

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