Time for some current generation, retro-themed shooting action; I’ve mentioned it in passing previously, but Hyper Sentinel is a bi-directional scrolling shoot ’em up for the current generation of consoles and Windows boxes – the latter being my platform of choice via Steam – where the player’s craft must destroy all of the ground installations on a space-faring Dreadnought before defeating its guardian and finally getting to watch the huge craft boil away into space. And if that sounds more than a little familiar, publishers Huey Games are basically a reincarnation of Hewson Consultants who, amongst many decent games and a couple of rather iffy conversions back in the day, published Uridium.
But when I sat down with Hyper Sentinel after buying it on launch day something felt… well, off. Most of the reviews I’ve read had described it as a “spiritual sequel” to Graftgold’s classic but it only took a few swings at the thing to realise that wasn’t really the case; Uridium‘s Manta has a huge amount of flexibility to the controls so players can constantly tweak their speed with touches of the joystick, but the Hyper Sentinel lacks that level of finesse and moving the controls horizontally just causes the craft to put its foot down in that direction if it wasn’t already doing so. The only option to tweak the speed is holding down the boost button to go faster for those times when the enemies or power-ups would be too quick to keep up with otherwise, but that faster speed also disables the main gun so must be used sparingly.
For the first week of on/off playing I really wasn’t enjoying it at all but, whilst writing that last paragraph earlier this week, something clicked; I stopped trying to play it like I would Uridium, properly got my head around how to use the boost and Hyper Sentinel suddenly felt more fun to play. Leaving a wake of destruction was enjoyable – even more so with the beefier power-ups – and some of the bosses became easier since I could chase them down. There aren’t background collisions to worry about unless players stray out of default difficulty territory and, rather than dying immediately, the ship gets ten shields which act as lives and can either be recharged with one of the items or just by hiding to avoid collisions for a while until they regenerate.
Personally, I can take or leave the neo-retro visuals these days in part because there are so many games going for a similar look that it’s hard to get excited any more; the pounding but not particularly memorable soundtracks are similarly reasonable and I think my less than sensitive ear is picking up some early Rob Hubbard drums in there too. But the gameplay is the most important part and that feels pretty solid and I’ve gone back to it a quite a bit over the last week. Granted, if I felt the need for a full fat Uridium-style experience with beefed up graphics and power-ups then the excellent Uridium 2 on the Amiga is the option I’d go for, but I do feel that Hyper Sentinel on its own terms is still a solid, playable blaster and I’ll no doubt return to it, either for the main game or to play the survival mode some more.
I haven’t done a “playing” post for quite a while, partly because I just haven’t been getting into games lately. But that changed when I bumped into a re-release of Carmageddon over on Good Old Games (there’s been a Steam release since this post was originally written). For those who haven’t played it, Carmageddon is a post-apocalyptic racer that was released in 1997 and is pretty much the closest a game has ever got to reproducing the feel of 1970s classic Death Race 2000 because at one point in development it was destined to be an official license.
In other words, although racing a set number of laps around each course will complete a stage as you’d expect, so will smacking seven shades out of the opponents to the point where they’re disabled or running over every pedestrian on the map, with the game actively rewarding the player for these actions with extra time and cash! There are also canisters dotted around the map which give a selection of power-ups; the more mundane ones provide extra time or credits but there are more powerful temporary bolt-on toys such as turbo chargers, free recovery vouchers for when the car ends up parked on its roof, tweaks to the in-game gravity or the mental Electro Bastard Ray which fires lightning bolts at pedestrians as the car passes.
Just about anything ramp-shaped can be used to send the car skywards and, although I’ve never been sure if it was by design or sheer luck, most of the time it’ll land on its wheels afterwards. The car sustains damage from impacts and these can make it difficult to control, but repairs can literally be done on the move so even the most ridiculous nose-first dive from the top of a building which smashes all the controls and decimates the bodywork can be driven away from given a few seconds and a wodge of in-game cash – truly hysterical amounts of fun can be had by doing something like collecting a hotrod power-up, aiming for a chevron-covered barrier and simply going for it, sending the car tumbling through the skies of the play area whilst the driver’s avatar is buffeted about on the Pratcam.
There was some fuss about Carmageddon on release due to the amount of violence and an unnecessary attempt to get it BBFC certification backfired so the UK release had to be tweaked with zombies and green blood, but whilst it uses what were at the time pretty realistic graphics, the violence is more like a cartoon than anything else. And although the 3D graphics have obviously dated like all 3D tends to over time, the gameplay still holds up today so I’ve already had my money’s worth from the GOG purchase with a couple of marathon sessions.
All of the screenshots have the female avatar Die Anna on the Pratcam because I’ve always selected her when playing; I have no idea why, but she does have a wonderfully sadistic laugh and says things like “I’m coming to get you” when certain power-ups are activated which I can’t help but find… erm, interesting? Yes, lets call it “interesting”.
Okay, so nothing really is happening to warrant a blog post but I’m going to write one anyway because the poor thing is feeling neglected! I’ve been doing a spot of programming in BlitzMax but haven’t blogged about it because the Bullet Mechanics site is going to be rebooted soon and there’s no point until that’s sorted (and programming posts here are just mirrored from there) and I’ve been giving some serious consideration to going Linux for my servers as long as I can find alternatives for a couple of odds and ends the current configuration uses a lot.
In “other news”, I’ve been following the latest Alternate Reality Game that Valve are running (the fans trying to crack it are using this wiki to pool their resources and there’s a timeline here that’s a good starting point) during the build up for Portal 2; these things are absolutely fascinating to me ever since I accidentally found the now defunct Jamie Kane game the BBC ran a few years back and I lost four or five hours reading through the forum posts just after the last Valve ARG which featured clues buried in a Steam update to Portal.
Valve and indeed the indies involved have really gone to town over the current game with clues arriving from emails, tweets and buried within the Potato Sack indie games bundle on Steam as glyphs, Braille, password protected archives containing pictures which in turn contain other data… my favourite to date (since the ARG is still ongoing at the time of writing) are the images dumped in the alpha channel of other images, that’s just genius! This thing must’ve taken bloody ages to come up with…