from AEO Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1
||| Iron Soldier ||| By: Chuck Klimushyn / | \ GEnie: L.FULGENZI CIS: 74064,1466 ---------------------------------------------------------------- "...Cybermorph is one heck of an engrossing pack-in and a great preview of things to come for Atari's new gaming console. Looking at the game as it runs on my television I can't help but sense the ending of the 16-bit era for home video games is near. Let's wish Atari well in making the Next Level of gaming theirs." It was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this to close my strategy guide on Cybermorph for AEO. As we begin 1995, Atari's Jaguar has passed it's one year anniversary, the 16-bit era is still ending, and the Jag has entered into its second year of release. Traditionally, this has always been an important landmark with a video-game system. The programers are assumed to have gained enough familiarity with the new hardware to present competent titles that accurately represent what the system is capable of doing. Games that were a bit rough around the edges are forgivable with a console's first wave of titles. Similar efforts are judged harshly if they continue to appear in a unit's second year of release. In many ways Iron Soldier is the second wave successor to the Jaguar's first title, Cybermorph. (Perhaps even more than Cybermorph's scheduled sequel, Battlemorph.) Battlemorph is a CD based title and the increased storage capacity makes comparisons to the original cart game difficult. It's time to see if Iron Soldier stands up to the expectations required of a next wave Cybermorph successor. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Nuts and Bolts =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Iron Soldier takes place in the future, adopting a familiar Cyberpunk theme where Industry has conquered government in the form of the Iron Fist Corporation (IFC). IFC has turned into a typically oppressive totalitarian regime and has bred the usual rag-time resistance to challenge them. That's where you come in. The innovatively named Resistance has managed to steal the prototype of a new weapon, the Iron Soldier: a 42 foot robot that makes tanks of today look like soap-box derby race cars. You're elected to pilot the Iron Soldier (IS) through 16 varied and progressively difficult missions culminating in a strike at the very heart of IFC's territories. //// Missions and Game Play There are three difficulty settings: easy, medium, and hard. I didn't notice much difference between easy and medium, but hard was a definite step up in the frustration level. Enemies appear to do more damage and are tougher to kill. Choppers and light tanks I often ignored in the lower two settings. I was seeking these same units out and stomping with a vengeance at the highest level of difficulty. Pillboxes for which I previously wouldn't bother to switch from a medium range gatling gun were now treated to long ranged attacks from my rail cannon or rockets. This feature along with the varied mission should provide excellent replay value. The game presents the missions in 4 blocks of 4 missions each. You can save after completing a block in the first 3 groups and thankfully after every mission in the last block. Within the first 3 blocks you have the freedom to complete the missions in any order. This is noteworthy since some tasks are much easier to complete after gaining a new weapon available in the latter missions of the block. In the last set of missions you are fully armed and must complete the scenarios sequentially. The missions are extremely wide ranging. They vary from from simple search-and-destroy tasks, to hunting enemy IS's, attacking fortresses, escorting truck convoys, territory protection, and more. During these missions a wide assortment of IFC's armed forces will be thrown at you. You'll have to cope with attacks from the ground, air, and even from sea! To deal with these attacks you'll gain progressively stronger weapons obtained through the various scenarios. You'll demolish buildings to find extra ammo and packages to repair your war machine. You'll develop and try different strategies to meet a mission's objectives. I found several missions that were my favorites and I replayed them numerous times to find the most efficient ways to victory. My all-time favorite was "Best Defense." It takes place at night. You must guard a research building from attack by land and airborne forces while dodging units hell-bent on your destruction. The night time battle visuals and accompanying music were captivating! //// Armament One of Cybermorph's strength was the wide variety of weapons at your disposal. This allowed you to match your own talents and preferences with the weapons to meet the task at hand in many different ways. Iron Soldier expands in this worthy tradition with a much wider range of offensive and defensive capabilities. Your IS contains 2 shoulder mounts for weapons, 2 waist mounts, plus one hand held mount. Some weapons may only be mounted at a particular area, such as on the shoulders. Into these mounts you will eventually be able to choose from the following items: a. Standard Manipulator - essentially your fist that packs the punch of brass-knuckles of the first magnitude. b. Cassy Assault Rife - Your first projectile weapon. It's a 75 mm semiautomatic hand held rifle. Remember your pistol in DOOM? It's about as effective.... c. Parker Chain Cutter - Another hand held item. One big buzz-saw that's much better than your fist for demolishing buildings and indispensable for up-close-and-personal fighting with an enemy IS. d. Badger Hand Grenades - Short ranged, oil drum sized grenades that provide the game's biggest bang, but aiming them takes serious practice. Try shooting for the first click on your radar scope. They mount at the waist. e. Rachels Gatling Gun - A six-barrel 40mm gatling gun that will make short work of light tanks, helos, and pillboxes at up to medium range. Your standard "active" weapon. Can be mounted on hips or shoulders. f. Wolfpack Rocket Launcher - Less of a punch than grenades but much easier to aim and a far longer range. A must for taking out heavy tanks quickly. Shoulder or hip mounted. g. Charlotte Rail Cannon - Now we're talking... a 120 mm armor piercing shoulder mounted gun. Slow firing, but the quickest way to stop the A-10 clones and smashing things from a distance. Pretty good for wrecking an enemy IS too. h. Slate Heavy Shield - Shoulder mounted device that halves incoming damage when active. Not a bad choice in latter missions when the air attacks get really nasty, but taking it means one less weapon can be carried. i. Sable Cruise Missile - The best eye-candy in the game. You get to fly one of these shoulder mounted babies in a stunning chase-plane view around the battle field till you hit something or you run out of fuel. The problem is, they're only as strong as a grenade and reloads are scarce. Still, skillful use in the game's last scenario can take away some of that mission's pain. j. Radar Screen - More of a game feature than a weapons item, but still a very important part of your defense. Enemies are tracked 360 degrees around you. Air units are red, land based nasties are yellow, and enemy IS units are blue. Missiles, grenades, and bombs are white. The screen is extremely helpful with dodging bombing runs by the attack planes and missile salvos from an enemy IS. Picking the right weapons to complete each mission is one of the most appealing aspects of the game. Are you expecting to engage in long range or close-in fighting? Are you sharp enough with the gatling gun to skip taking along the heavy slate shielding for extra defense? Grenades or rockets, how's your aim? Heck, take both! Iron Soldier goes beyond Cybermorph in allowing flexibility in selection and deployment of your armament. Perfect, and in complete accord of what's expected of a second generation title! My only disappointment was the inability to mount weapons on both hands, which is standard with most other mech-type simulations. Instead, the handheld weapons requires the use of both mechanical arms to operate. //// Opposition All these wonderful toys that go boom would be for naught if there weren't interesting and challenging things to shoot at. Iron Soldier does not disappoint. It has a wide variety of enemies, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Each has its own pattern of attempting to make your life miserable. There are two forms of tanks, light and heavy. Light tanks are pesky little things that are tempting to ignore, but will inflict a surprisingly high amount of damage if they draw an extended bead on you. Luckily, you can stomp 'em like ants <g>. Heavy tanks are much nastier. They pack a strong punch, are fast in tracking you, and are too large to be stomped. Heavy tanks require a steady steam of rockets to dispatch. Air borne attacks come in three varieties of "G's". A "Glaive" helicopter that is as tempting to ignore as a light tank. The "Greave" V.T.O.L. is far more worthy of your attention. If these jump jets get close they'll circle around your head, just beyond your gun sight and quickly drop a large quantity of very damaging bombs. The "Gantlet" Attack Plane is an A-10 clone bent on your destruction with even more bombs than the V.T.O.L.s. It's very thick skinned and requires extended gatling gun bursts to take out. Luckily, a single well placed shot from a rail cannon will send it to earth in a spectacular shower of pieces. There are two pillboxes: one armed with two missiles - "Javelin" Rocket Launcher, and another with fixed heavy machine guns - "Heaume" Gun Turret. Each will do a steady stream of damage if not dealt with. They're best destroyed at long range with rockets or the rail cannon. "Behemoth" Frigates are one of the surprise bonuses in the game. They're actually large ships that you have to contend with on several missions. Armed with cannons and rockets, it's risky to get too close. To make matters worst, they can speedily put to sea, out of range of many of your weapons. Not a good thing when your mission objectives call for their destruction. Enemy Iron Soldiers complete the roster of opponents. They progress in toughness through the missions. They can target you at long range with unlimited cannons or rockets. At close range their fists can inflict heavy damage on you. Grenades, rockets, and cruise missiles help you for distance attacks. At close range, it becomes a riotous rock-'em- sock-'em-robots affair as you dodge in with your fist or chainsaw to inflict damage and dance out of range before the enemy IS can respond in kind! The AI of these enemies is one of Iron Soldier's real strengths. Target a light tank for stomping and it starts running for the hills. Draw a bead on a helo and it'll climb and bank trying to get above the range of your gunsight. The V.T.O.L.'s will cagily circle around your head, just temptingly away from your gunsight, while they pound your IS into spare parts. The enemy ISes are the only disappointing loafers in the bunch. At long range they have an inexplicable habit of walking away from you after drawing devastating aim on your IS. At close range they are thrown into confusion, walking in random directions trying to gain distance to use ranged weapons, and responding far too slowly with their punch against close range attacks of your fist or chainsaw. Iron Soldier easily surpasses Cybermorph in the quality of its opponents. They are far more complex in design and movement patterns than those in Cybermorph. The helos and attack planes give the appearance of startlingly realistic flight, all at a frame that is silky smooth. The quality screams of a true next generation title, and meets the expectations of the "64-bit" promise of the Jaguar. I would have liked to see more combat with enemy IS units, but I'm nit-picking. //// Control At first control and movement of your IS may seem lumbering. Pressing the joypad left or right results in painfully slow movement in the respective direction. Pressing the joypad up or down allows you to change the angle of your view to in a skyward direction. You can actually look down at your iron boots as you stomp luckless tanks and small houses <g>. Pressing A plus up/down on the joypad increases or decreases your speed. (It's possible to move in reverse at up to about a third of your best forward speed.) The B button fires your active weapon. This is selected through a sharp, full color number-pad overlay for the robot's waist and shoulder mounts, or the options button for handheld weapons. Thankfully using the C button in combination with the joypad will increase the speed of your IS's rotation. This is still barely enough to keep pace with fast circling air borne pests. An undocumented feature is to press the C and A button in combination with the joypad. This results in satisfyingly fast targeting. It takes some time to accurately use the C/A/joypad together, plus press the B button to fire, but it makes the progressively harder air attacks in the latter missions much more manageable! The game provides an advanced control option that allows you to set a course and then have your turret free to rotate approximately 180 degrees. An interesting option to use if you're sure of your path. I tended to avoid making much use of the feature and preferred to generally zig-zag to help avoid air attacks. There's a couple of undocumented control features included. Pressing "Pause", and then "1" or "3" will single-step through gameplay. Pressing "8" during a game appears to display the current mission stats. The increased complexity of Iron Soldier is more difficult than using the simple pin-point accurate controls of Cybermorph. Given the increased realism of a viewpoint that allows varying degrees of elevation or recession, however, I found it to be a more than even trade off. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Presentation and Impact =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= So, all the essentials for a good sim. are here: lots of toys to shoot, fun targets, and decent control. The basics are only a start, though, and it's up to the graphics and audio aspects of the game to present a virtual world that impacts the gamer to the point of suspending their disbelief enough to become lost in this alternate reality. Cybermorph provided enough in each category to have gamers jumping for joy with its virtual playground. Does Iron Soldier, a year later, improve on the illusion? //// Graphics The battle areas of Iron Soldier are comprised of different cities in the future. Buildings range from towering skyscrapers to squat fuel tanks, and small houses. Gone is the sparse, angular look of Cybermorph's universe. It's now replaced by rounded Power Plants, circular smoke stacks, curving exhaust vents, and sweeping bridges. Skyscrapers now have numerous windows and shapes. Texture mapping now accents several of the buildings and objects on the landscape. The environment still definitely has a shaded polygon look, but has been refined and is extremely eye-pleasing. The over-used triangular shaped enemies of Cybermorph have been replaced by realistically shaped helicopters, planes, and tanks. The helos have softly rounded underbellies that look great as they fly directly over your head. The graceful wings of the A-10 clone are both captivating and unnerving as the plane completes a gentle bank and begins to initiate an attack run towards you. Again, texture mapping is used to accent several of these opponents, most notably with the helos and tanks. Missions take place both during the day and night with appropriate lighting changes. Seeing missiles streak from partially illuminated helos at night is especially good looking. Explosions are varied. The best are the airborne enemies that disintegrate into dozens of different pieces that will rain about you if you're close enough. Buildings are a bit more tame as they blow up into perfectly square blocks. Light tanks explode humorously, with gears bouncing. The game has strong backgrounds of varying skyfalls, mountains, and city images. The storm clouds of the night missions are especially haunting. Gone are the bland colors from the backgrounds in Cybermorph. Finally, the visuals give a great sense of walking in a two-legged tank. The objects on screen rise and fall in proportion to your speed. Unfortunately this effect is lost when moving in a direction devoid of on screen items or moving away from a city toward the background mountains and skyfalls. An acceptable concession to ROM space for a cartridge game. In all respects, Iron Soldier clearly surpasses the first generation graphics of Cybermorph. //// Audio The music and sound effects are the most disappointing aspect of Iron Soldier. This is particularly troublesome because they're both pretty good. Ok, let me explain. The game allows you to select having music in the game, but at the cost of losing some important sound effects. Mostly these are the distance cued sounds of approaching helicopters and tanks. Unfortunately, these sounds effects don't appear directionally cued. If you wish to have these important audio hints in the game, you must sacrifice the music. This is too bad since the six in-game tunes are the best music I've heard for the Jag since Tempest 2000. Even though they're in mono, the music come across very well. The tracks range from strong driving numbers that would fit in a Miami Vice episode to a rather eerie treat that accompanies the night action missions. The other sounds such as the explosions, firing guns, and launching missiles are well done and present with or without music. It is troublesome to me that Jag games appear to have such difficulty integrating audio. I'm not a game developer so I can't accurately state where the problem lies. I'm a consumer. I know the competition can and does provide both quality music and sound effects in their games. At this point in the Jaguar's development it should, too. Apparently audio hasn't shown the growth that graphics have since Cybermorph was released. It does rate higher than Cybermorph though with the inclusion of in-game music and more sound effects. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Conclusion =-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Those of you who have followed my posts under the handle of [Chas] in the Video Games Roundtable on GEnie know that at best over the last year I've been ambivalent about the Jaguar. At times I've bordered on on bashing Atari. My unit generally sat in my closet except for a week or so of enjoyable use every quarter as the 1994 games trickled out. I have trouble liking systems that get new titles released once every three months, no matter how impressive the specs. Iron Soldier has renewed the initial excitement and promise I felt upon originally playing Cybermorph. It surpasses the game in every aspect to which I've made comparisons. If Atari can deliver more of these second generation titles at a healthy pace it truly can become a serious competitor. Happy New Year Atari! You're off to a fine start, keep 'em coming! =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= //// Final Ratings =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Title: Iron Soldier JagNet: No Design: Eclipse Players: 1 Published by: Atari Corp. Available: Now MSRP: $59.95 Age Rating: K-A (Kids to Adult, 6+) Here's the summary ratings: "*" is a whole "+" is a half 5 stars maximum Control: ***+ Lumbering, until you become accustomed to using the A, B, C buttons and joypad simultaneously. Satisfying afterward. Gameplay: ***** Absolutely the best mech-sim available on a console. (I've played them all.) You =will= feel like you're in a 42 foot bipedal tank!! Graphics: ****+ Improves upon Cybermorph with rounded and curved objects, accented with texture mapping. A fantastic frame rate. Only a fully-textured map game would have scored higher. Sound: **+ Good music or good sound effects, you can only pick one. Yeah, I'm being harsh, but amateur hour is over.... Overall: ***** Yep. Five Stars. Dedicated Mechheads will buy the Jaguar to play this game when the word gets out, it's that good! It's so fun it negates my audio concerns for now Pts Stars AEO Ratings """ """"" """"""""""" 10 ***** GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good. 9 ****+ Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent. 8 **** Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this. 7 ***+ Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers. 6 *** Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time. 5 **+ Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this. 4 ** Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic. 3 *+ Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun. 2 * Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this. 1 + Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you. 0 - Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.
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