Wednesday 5 August 2009

Independence Day

Remember that film starring Will Smith where aliens invade America and then America somehow defeats all the aliens? Well Radical Entertainment (now part of Activision) made a game about it and released it for the Sega Saturn, Playstation and PC in 1997 (and later mobile phones). Every now and then it pops up as one of the worst games ever made, but once more it seems to be a case where not many people have actually played it before passing judgement. So lets do this game some justice.

Of course, one of those reasons might be because the game, unlike the film, lacks Will Smith. Remember those "all range mode" segments in Star Fox 64 where you and your animal buddies go around blasting things? Independence Day is like that. All the time.

I have the Sega Saturn port and have had it for a number of years, but it's taken me until now to really give this game a good playthrough. One thing that's interesting is that despite Star Fox 64's big promotion that "no games before had ever done what Star Fox 64 does", Independence Day was actually released before the N64 classic. Nintendo had a team of very skilled programmers working on better hardware headed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Radical Entertainment were probably rushed to make a game for several platforms based on a movie (that didn't have the most interesting settings) to generate quick income (and Radical Entertainment were responsible for those edutainment NES classics that are Mario is Missing and Mario's Time Machine). Not to mention they didn't have the selling point, Will Smith, to help them out, so is it any wonder Independence Day looks bad in comparison?

There are some flaws that could have been addressed though. The draw distance is poor. So poor that you're never entirely sure where you're going, and often there's no fogging to compensate. The controls aren't as bad as people say but unlike Star Fox avoiding things is tricky. Yes you can barrel roll, but rotating in an F-18 fighter jet takes a lot longer than those of a fictional futuristic starship. And you have to remember, this game was made with D-pads in mind, not fancy analogue sticks. By the third level you almost permanently have a bogey on your tail, and because humans suck, the only way you can really do any damage is via missiles, of which there are few. And did I mention that in some cases enemies spawn from behind your starting position, meaning you're shot at before you've even had a chance to press a button?

And then there's also your comrades. They don't purposely fly into your bullets like in Star Fox, but they're there, repeatedly telling you the instructions of the mission and pointing out whenever anyone on the map has a lock on someone. There's a few sub-missions which I thought was quite cool, but then they just echo phrases like "you better get back to the main mission soon as time is running out!", repatedly. Oh and time isn't on your side. They're generous to give you plenty to actually tackle the main mission, but then they'll reduce it to one minute in order to destroy the core of the current spaceship floating above you. It seems to me that these aliens could destroy the city at any time they wanted, so why bother with the counter in the first place? And where the hell are your allies and why can't they do this?

It's also worth noting how insanely difficult this game gets. There are apparently 13 levels, but even completing level 3 is tricky (and this is on easy mode). This really is a challenging title though luckily there's a save system to help out (and for some reason you can only load your game via the options screen... which is an odd choice).

But even though Independence Day (the game) isn't due to win any awards, it's not bad. Not worth the £40 it would have originally sold for, but worth the couple you can find it on the market for today. Many of the problems I've encountered were simply down to the limitations of the Saturn, and the fact this was a very new concept at the time. Like how most of the 3D platformers before Mario 64 sucked, Independence Day simply drew a short straw here. Give it a year or two and this could have been great, but it's certainly not a game that deserves to be butchered as much as it is.

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