Sunday, 14 January 2018

Game Review: Gods (Commodore Amiga)

Developed by The Bitmap Brothers and published by Renegade in 1991

"Into the Wonderful": those are the immortal words that can be heard during the introduction to one the best-known, not to mention fondly remembered Commodore Amiga games of all time. Developed by The Bitmap Brothers, this game is considered something of a classic amongst fans of the Amiga, but is this reputation deserved, or is it merely the folly of a deep-rooted nostalgia for one's own childhood?

The game follows the adventures of an unnamed protagonist as seeks the ultimate prize of immortality from the very gods themselves. His task is to venture to the Ancient City, where he must slay the guardians that reside there; only by accomplishing this task will he be granted eternal life.




On the surface, the game might appear to be a standard platform game - it definitely has plenty of them - with enemies to shoot and power-ups to collect. Below the surface, however, lurks an intricate system of puzzles, triggers and secrets, all waiting to be discovered by the player (or not, as the case may be, for this is an extremely tough game).

The game consists of four individual worlds contained within the city's walls, each of which is sub-divided into three levels. The objective of each level is simply to reach the exit and progress to the next level, but the way is blocked by the denizens of the city, not to mention a host of infernal contraptions and diabolical traps designed to slow your progress.

Early levels focus on simply having the player shooting enemies to make progress, but things become more complicated as the hero penetrates deeper into the city, encountering levels that require items to be collected and used in the correct location to unlock the way forward. The game features a basic inventory system that enables the player to carry a small number of items around with them. These typically involve keys to open locked doors or activate switches, although they may include chests and other objects required to solve a specific puzzle within the level. Something I could never understand, however, is why the inventory has five slots, but only allows you to carry four at any given time since the selector will always drop the contents of an occupied slot on ground when cycling through the inventory - answers on a postcard?

So many colours!

The final level in each world concludes with a showdown against a formidable Guardian. These require no special tactics or items to defeat, simply good reactions, timing and persistence. Between each level, the player is given the chance to purchase supplies from a wandering shopkeeper that include food (extras health), weapons, shields and other equipment. Of course, nothing the shopkeeper has to offer is free and you'll be needing a significant amount of coin if you're planning to purchase the supplies needed to face the perils ahead. To this end, players looking to succeed should always keep a keen eye out for concealed switches that might lead to hidden treasure rooms, as well as collecting loot from slain enemies.

Gods is not a game that can be fully appreciated in a single sitting. It's quite clear that it would take months to see a fraction of the game, let alone coming anywhere near close to actually beating the damned thing. For the completionists of those amongst you, you can wave goodbye to your social life if you want to try and discover all of the bonuses and secret areas, with may involving strict requirements to discover - this would have been an achievement hunter's dream had it been released today (something to consider for a future HD remix on Steam).

Treasure!

Whilst the game does not include the ability to save your game, it mercifully includes a password system that will generate a code based on the player's score and statistics that can be entered on subsequent game sessions to skip ahead. The player earns one password per world, allowing the player to resume play from the first level in each world. The one (slightly ridiculous) problem with this system is that passwords are issued after completing the first level in each world - the player must complete the whole of the first world, including defeating the guardian, then complete the first level of the next world before being given their first password - can you say hardcore?

Gods is not without it's problems, then. Chief amongst these is the way enemies have an aggravating habit of teleporting into existence right next to the player, necessitating lightning-quick reactions and ability to turn on dime if there's a hope to dispatch said horrors before they can sap a big chunk from the hero's negligible health pool. The controls also suffer from being ever-so-slightly fiddly and it's all too easy to end up jumping when all you really wanted to do was to face a wall in order to activate a switch (or vice versa); getting on and off ladders proved particularly irksome, not to mention potentially fatal thanks to fall damage incurred if falling from too great a height!

Fighting the first Guardian - he's a big chap!

If you're read this far, you might be wondering quite what all the fuss is about - is this a game whose memories have been distorted by rose tinted spectacles? The actual answer is more complicated than a binary yes/no response - it's not the greatest, nor most fun example of an actual platform game, but I think the context of what Gods represents, not to mention the time of it's release, are factors that influence why the game continues to be remembered so fondly.

Firstly, it remains a visually stunning game. This is partly due to the graphical capabilities that the Amiga brought to the table, allowing artists like Mark Coleman (Gods) and Dan Malone (The Chaos Engine) to bring these games to life. For gamers raise of a diet of 8-bit microcomputers, the colours and fidelity of the images of Amiga titles such as Gods was like a renaissance - game artwork and graphics had become more than a functional, often abstract (case in point: Horace Goes Skiing)  collection of pixels where the gamer's imagination filled in the blanks, these creations had become an art form in their own right! Gods was probably one of the first examples of a game where you sat back, looked at the graphics and realised this was the future.

The above is true of game's audio, although this always play's second fiddle (see what I did there?) to the visuals - humans primary sense is sight after all - but the significance of the Amiga's audio capabilities should not be underestimated. Creatives, such as the late Richard Joseph, understood the importance of audio and sound design and the potential impact it could have on the quality of the overall product, but it was the Amiga (and accompanying software) that allowed these individuals to realise their potential.

The shopkeeper has all the supplies you'll need

Aside from the aforementioned issues with difficulty and controls, the game is actually much more ambitious than similar games that preceded it. You have multiple weapons, power-ups, currency, not to mention the scripts and triggers involved in creating the various secrets areas and hidden locations. All of this takes time and effort to create, refine and transform into a workable structure, much less make it a fun and engaging experience.

I think what I'm trying to say is that Gods is remembered so fondly because of what it represented - the eventual transition from amateur, homemade games made by a single bedroom coder, to titles that were no longer merely games, but an actual experience. In essence, it helped define a period in time when the gaming industry grew up.

It's on this basis that I believe that Gods deserves it's status as a classic, as do other games from the same period. A generation of gamers would load up titles such as these and would be left spellbound by what they would see and hear, and this was just the beginning - we'd had a glimpse of gaming's future, and it would be glorious.

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