G.I.s and dolls (YouTube script)

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You’ve got to feel sorry for the genetically engineered super-soldier, Rogue Trooper. Amidst the existential angst roused by serving only as a warmonger’s lab-manufactured puppet, all his platoon pals have been snuffed out in a variety of grisly, harrowing ways.

To top it off, designed as an uncompromising killing machine, a pawn in an unstoppable army trained to fight eternally raging battles, Rogue has been imbued with all the personality of a slug. Suicide is barely an option given that our mohawk hairdo-ed chum is immune to almost everything; it’s really no wonder he’s so down in the dumps he’s literally turned into one of the Moody Blues.

It gets worse. Emerging in 1981 from the 2000 AD comic book inextricably aligned with renegade law enforcer, Judge Dredd, Rogue is largely sidelined, obliged to live in the shadows of the headlining superhero’s ego. Much like ‘Meltdown Man’ who preceded and was ousted by Rogue. That’s karma for you.

In the gaming stakes, Rogue’s luck has been equally lacking. Not so much neglected as ignored or unrecognised once pixelated. An isometric 8-bit shooter for the Speccy, C64 and Amstrad was published by Piranha in 1986 with little fanfare. It received above-average critical assessments in its day, though hardly draws the kind of attention enjoyed by Batman or RoboCop today.

This was followed in 1990 by a totally different puzzle-platformer-shooter for the Amiga and Atari ST courtesy of Krisalis. Monty Mole coder, Peter Harrap, Sleepwalker programmer, John Scott, and Arabian Nights/Soccer Kid/Shadow Warriors artists, Mark Potente, Neil Adamson and Dave Colledge, to be precise. A talented team no doubt, so we’d be right to expect something special to transpire from their fusion.

Unusual for the era, no 8-bit versions were developed despite the fairly conventional title being well within the scope of conversion. Doctor Who published in 1993 by Alternative Software represented the last licensed game for the 8-bit platforms, so there was time yet to capitalise on these veteran systems that had served us well for nearly a decade.

Nevertheless, according to the 1987 Crash Christmas special, previous 2000 AD licensed games hadn’t been a roaring success so perhaps steering clear was for the best.

“2000AD characters ought to be ideal for computer games, but they haven’t fared at all well (yet) Strontium Dog (42% issue 13) from Ouicksilva is a confusing and tedious example, and Nemesis The Warlock (61% issue 40), released by Martech, though blessed with suitable graphics, lacks excitement.

Piranha’s Rogue Trooper (79% issue 36), though programmed by Design Design, hardly helped. The game – his unit betrayed and systematically wiped out, Rogue Trooper embarks on a mission to recover the vital evidence needed to convict the traitor – is far too easy to get through.

But Piranha did much better than Melbourne House did with another 2000AD character. As the hero of Judge Dredd (42% issue 38), you go through the futuristic city capturing – or eliminating unfortunate perps. The graphics are well-drawn but spoiled by a host of attribute problems, and the game itself is extremely boring – a great licence opportunity ruined by poor implementation.

There’s another 2000AD licence reviewed this issue – Martech’s strange Slaine, on page 161 and there was a feature on the comic’s tie-ins last issue.”

Some FPS related stuff happened in 2006 that I don’t care about. Whatever that entailed, it was treated to a ‘redux’ several years after. I don’t care about that either (aside from the atmospheric music, convincing voice-over work, and beautifully polished visuals). They were good/bad (have a go yourself and delete as appropriate).

Meanwhile, back on the Amiga, we received a traditional 2D scrolling platformer cut with a blatant Space Harrier clone involving a spaceship rather than a jet-pack. It received mostly above average scores, as well as a very respectable 85% from Amiga Format. Nevertheless, it’s not a game too many people remember fondly, write or produce videos about.

There’s currently no longplay available for instance. Something I intend to redress soon… possibly-maybe. Obviously I’ll have to cheat since it’s a ridiculously tough game, limited to a single life, no continues or restart points. That and the MIA status of a scanned manual would explain a lot. Luckily longtime EAB member Belgareth has seen and typed it up for us, otherwise I’d be clueless.

In terms of premise, Krisalis’s game follows Rogue Trooper the comic to the letter. At least the parts relating to the first of the GIs and his four-year pilgrimage, terminating in 1985, literally. 2000 AD switched focus later when mk1’s story arc ran its course. ‘Friday’ became the star at that point, ‘The War Machine’ rebooting the series in 1989. Female GIs exist too, known as ‘Dolls’ or ‘General Issue Bed Warmers’. No, seriously. Stak!

All this is covered in Rebellion’s primer comic, the PDF of which is available free online from their web site. What it doesn’t explain is why a screenshot of the Bond-esque adventure game, Stealth Affair, was included in Amiga Action’s Rogue Trooper review. Some mysteries are too profound for mere mortals to ever comprehend it would seem.

For anyone who isn’t already familiar with Rogue Trooper’s plot, the game’s manual elucidates the key details too…

“The war on Nu-Earth continues, The Southers have created a genetically engineered fighting force, The Genetic Infantry.

On their first mission, all but one of the GIs are wiped out. The location of the drop zone was given to the Norts, they were betrayed by one of their own Souther Generals.

The surviving GI rescues three of his buddies’ bio-chips which are attached to and become part of his weaponry.

Our GI turns ROGUE and has to fight both Southers and Norts in his quest to find and kill the traitor general.”

This pivotal event is known as ‘The Quartz Zone Massacre’ in Nu-Earth lore. Something else the manual doesn’t highlight is the significance of the fallen comrades’ bio-chips, so allow me to fill in the blanks. These are programmed to store the entire consciousness of their owners in a self-contained, removable package so can easily be salvaged and transferred between soldiers. That or kept on the mantlepiece as a loving memorial I suppose.

Rogue plumps for the former, mounting ‘Gunnar’ on his rifle, ‘Helm’ on his helmet and ‘Bagman’ on his backpack. Do you get the impression the scriptwriters were short on time? Hmm, or maybe they were going for the predestiny angle and decided against subtlety.

Whatever the case, with the ever-living trio on his side, four minds are better than one. They’re now on standby to aid Rogue in solving whatever puzzles he encounters. And he will, this being a puzzle-platformer.

Don’t worry, they’re not exactly MENSA material. Mostly just the usual switch-flicking and key-card door-accessing malarkey. This will stand us in good stead for disabling electrified floors or force-fields, breaking into secured zones, or raiding weapon caches to replenish our limited arsenal.

On other occasions, we access a restricted area controlled via a retina scanner by holding aloft a Nort’s severed head, or kick in a cupboard to find ‘My First Weapon’; a knife.

Alternatively, whenever a puzzle involves bringing the corpse cavalry into play, the relevant icon in the HUD flashes to clue us in.

What you’re unlikely to know unless you’ve read the manual is how to call upon their services. You might have eventually guessed that the return key is used to investigate areas, or accidentally pulled diagonally down and pressed fire without touching the keyboard to achieve the same end, but probably wouldn’t have associated the function keys with doing anything useful. On the contrary, F6 asks Gunnar for help, while F7 and F8 does likewise for Helm and Bagman respectively.

Level 1 represents the first of the platforming stages where we’ll be able to put these techniques into practice. Having just escaped from a Nort jail we don’t yet have G, B or H in our possession. Ha, that spells GBH. I wonder if that was deliberate. You can be sure there’ll be plenty of this going on so it would be highly appropriate.

Mission 1 then is to navigate through four gory, blood-soaked sub-levels, dispatching sentry robots, Nazi-inspired Nort troops and sun legionnaires on the way to finding the disembodied gang. One of these takes place in complete darkness so we’ll need to employ Helm’s infrared vision to turn on the lights so to speak.

En route the plan is to gather intelligence regarding the identity of the Traitor General as a first step towards avenging the deaths of our slain allies. We achieve this by deploying Bagman to hack a prison computer terminal, swiping the confidential data stored within it.

Blowing the prison sky-high with carefully planted TNT, thereby breaking all the ‘chem-seals’ and poisoning the crew is our parting gift to the Norts. You’d hope this would minimise the number of surviving enemies in a position to track Rogue into the next leg of the journey. Don’t bank on it!

If we fail to lay four sets of explosives beneath the lookout windows at opposite ends of the screen, we’re stuffed. Up against the clock, these must be in place by the time we reach the docking bay exit. Otherwise, no amount of pushing against the totally open portal will allow us through.

Once the timer reaches zero we crumple into a bloody pulp, de-materialising as though ambushed by an invisible sniper. Because of the single-life policy, we have to start again from level one, sector one. I hope you have a spare joystick to replace the one you’re about to swing by the cord and slam into the wall.

Words fail me! Except all the ones that are about to follow.

Before we move on, Emmanuel (the talking manual) would like to convey a selection of helpful(?) hints and tips…

(i) If you see a switch – flick it, it probably does something.
(ii) Examine anything that looks different.
(iii) Avoid floor mines – they hurt.
(iv) Avoid electric floors – they are shocking.
(v) If it moves – kill it, if it doesn’t move – kill it before it kills you.
(vi) Use lifts to go up and down.
(vii) Generally kick butt, they deserve it.

There, now you’re an expert like me. One thing to note if you’re planning to cheat or trainer your way through this is that certain mortiferous obstacles will still kill you. Like the landmines and electrified force-field beam walls for instance. Shocking, I know! No-one expects a trainer to swindle them! Unfortunately, there are no built-in cheats so it’s the best we can do for those of us who are aren’t superhuman gamers.

Level 2 constitutes a flying, 3D, third-person shooter very similar to Space Harrier. Fleeing the demolished prison via the docking bay on whatever hopper craft we can lay our hands on we must head back to the Souther base to confront the double-crossing perpetrator of the allied army massacre.

Only, to do that we must first intercept the prison commander’s ship to nab his ‘IFF’ (Identification Friend-or-Foe) device. This will allow us to hijack a Nort spacecraft in order to complete the remainder of the journey back home.

Here we must destroy anything in our path as well as the commander’s ship, while dodging any projectiles likely to result in our obliteration. Points are earned for smashing enemies to smithereens and these can, in turn, be exchanged for various upgrades (such as shields or invisibility) in the shop, so it’s in our interests to slaughter everyone we encounter. No questions asked. Especially since the top prize is a snazzy new ship.

Rather inconveniently, the only weapons dealers in town are a couple of amoral ‘professional’ body-looting scavengers who aren’t big believers in customer satisfaction. They’ll switch allegiances in a heartbeat depending on who has the chunkiest wallet. It’s a bit like relying on Jabba the Hut for your survival.

Several new control mechanics, each operated with a less than obvious key, come into effect here that are worth mentioning. F3 alters our ship’s display panel, F5 swaps between normal and inverted flight (why you’d want to is another matter), while the space bar fires our rockets, assuming they have been installed.

Anything to add Emmanuel?

(i) Upgrade your ship as much as possible by buying spare parts from
Bland and Brass.
(ii) Do not trust Bland and Brass.
(iii) Avoid enemy fire.
(iv) Make certain all your equipment is compatible. Bland and Brass will
sell anything for a profit.

Now in Souther territory (the confederacy), we can expect more of the same from level 3. Closing in on the conspirator turncoat, the Norts deploy ‘Dreamweaver’ gas to hypnotise us into buying more Adobe web development software. I mean it causes us to hallucinate. I think it’s working on me too.

Emmanuel is as helpful as ever…

(i) Kill everything that gets in your way.
(ii) Don’t get killed yourself.

Cheers! I’ll remember that. Nain premature death for me then.

Back on terra firma for level 4, we approach the Souther base on foot, yet having ‘gone rogue’ are treated like any other invading hostile force. Speaking of which, the Norts have exploited the disorienting situation to mount their own simultaneous offensive. In the midst of the chaotic melee we must breech the allied defences to deliver evidence of our superior’s collusion to the Souther high command to ensure justice is served. It must be, we’re the good guys; a hodgepodge homage to the Southern Confederates from the American Civil War and allied forces of World War II. Naturally, we do battle with a Northern Unionist-Nazi melange enemy army.

Emmanuel tells us that our technology outflanks that of the fascist Norts so we have the upper hand. South Side, yeah! What? That’s what they say.

Anything else we should bear in mind oh wise one?

(i) Solve the puzzles
(ii) Expose the traitor general.
(iii) Be a hero.

Brilliant, the last quarter of the game practically beats itself with you in our corner! All we need to do now is track down the Traitor General and deposit some heavy-duty explosives where the sun won’t discolour them.

That’s apparently how it all goes down according to the manual at least. I wouldn’t know personally; I eventually mastered level 1d (or whatever you want to call it), only for the game to freeze irrecoverably before being whisked away to the ‘Fantasy Zone’. I was jolly annoyed as you can imagine.

Had I bought the retail package during its inaugural run I could have consoled myself with some very enticing bonus freebies; 13 issues of 2000 AD Rogue Trooper strips. Given the comic cost 40p per issue in 1990 that’s a massive saving of £5.20! What more could you want?

How about the chance to win some original Rogue Trooper artwork drawn by one of the comic’s co-creators? In conjunction with ACE magazine, Dave Gibbons went on the promo offensive offering one lucky reader the opportunity to take home a genuine collector’s item, plus 10 copies of the game for the runners up.

Despite their well-meaning endeavours, 2000 AD’s much-maligned blue warrior was a no-show in the sales charts, consequently only occasionally making a guest appearance on eBay today.

It’s not difficult to see why. Rogue Trooper’s platforming stages are hindered by the need to solve puzzles to make progress, and these are generally tackled by randomly poking scenery or calling upon the help of our compact confederates at every possible opportunity.

Little indication as to what’s required is offered so there are no a-ha/eureka moments to satisfy our sense of achievement. Without the puzzles to pad out the proceedings, the game would be over in ten minutes, while the physical aspects of these stages are anaemic without them so couldn’t hope to carry the game alone.

Wedged between the main events, the diluted, sparse Space Harrier sections are merely interludes used to explain how we’ve travelled between the two opposing bases. They’re no substitute for the game that inspired them.

As derivative as Rogue Trooper is, each gameplay style is executed competently and the artists made a decent stab at conveying the macho, intense vibe of the cult comic book. Although the music is nothing like that of the pulp fiction original (haha), any diehard fans of the character should appreciate the overall effort expended. It’s not as if we’ve been spoilt for choice over the years, making the infuriating design mechanic machinations marginally more bearable. Enough to keep you plugging away until the air – or your face – turns blue with rage.

With the comic strip’s regular run having apparently been cancelled in 2014 owing to similarly underwhelming sales, Rogue now only makes sporadic guest appearances in 2000 AD.

Let’s hope the silver screen movie adaptation announced in summer 2018 enjoys a more encouraging reception. Given that Source Code director Duncan Jones is at the helm (hoho, how appropriate etc.), the future’s looking decidedly more rosy than Rogue’s complexion.

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