*Free* old games, of course.
Yes, yes, I know I said I was going to have things more or less back-to-normal this week, but it turns out moving was slightly more complex than I anticipated leaving me with less time than I’d really like to write about stuff. As a substitute offering, I’m whipping up this quick post about a few free remakes of old games that really do deserve your time and attention. If you’re into that kind of thing, of course.
Everyone’s heard of Panzer General, but I find that very few people have actually played it. You can change that! Panzer General is pretty easy to get running in Dosbox, but with the usual caveats involved in playing a twenty year-old game: the UI and movement controls are those of a twenty year-old game, making things unnecessarily fiddly. In the case of Panzer General this is a bit of a handicap since its major strength lies in its deceptively simple looks, but now – or at least for the last four years – there is Panzer General Forever, a one-man project which recoded the game from the ground up to work on modern systems while preserving as much of the old flavour as possible.
Panzer General itself is what would be regarded as a “light” wargame; there’s plenty of the more complex elements you’d expect from the genre like supply, experience, entrenchments and so on, but Panzer General chooses to automate nearly all of it, removing nearly all of the hassle from the experience. All that is left for you to do is move and attack with your units while trying to take all of those complex elements into consideration. It’s a winning formula that’s had a major impact in a certain subgenre of strategy games – the Advance Wars series is pretty much a direct rip of Panzer General’s combat system, for example – and the Forever update adds support for Windows 7 and modern display resolutions, a more intuitive movement system, and even throws in the Allied General sequel as a bonus. A word of warning, though; the missions have been tuned up for veterans of the game, so it’s probably going to be a good idea to put the AI on Basic your first time out.
I always thought it was a shame Battlezone didn’t make more of an impact than it actually did (which is to say, it didn’t). It was a ridiculous tale of Soviets and Americans battling it out on the Moon, Mars, and other far-flung bodies in the Solar System using a large variety of hovertanks, but the really interesting thing Battlezone did was to add in strategy elements to the game; using first-person controls you can order harvesters set up, turrets constructed and units built, and then order those units to follow you into battle. You can even eject from your own tank and run around with a rifle to take potshots at the pilots of other tanks to steal their rides. It’s a properly experimental game, this, and as with most properly experimental games is almost totally forgotten fifteen years later.
Except by the people who have coded the Battlezone 1.5 version, of course. Battlezone was an early Windows game, and anyone who has ever tried to get an early Windows game running on a modern system will know just how much of a crap shoot it is. Sometimes it’ll work with only minor issues, and sometimes it’ll demand some long-obsolete version of DirectX or an obscure .dll in order to function. It’s a good thing Battlezone 1.5 exists, then, since it makes the whole business comparatively easy: you just download, install, and play. And then marvel at how ridiculously hard the game is. (Seriously I only played the demo but I don’t remember it being this hard.) The Red Odyssey expansion is also available on the project’s website, which is immensely helpful because I imagine it’d be insanely hard to get hold of today.
This one has been around for a while so I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but if you’ve somehow never heard of it The Ur-Quan Masters is an open source remake of quirky (and excellent) space exploring/adventure/combat game Star Control II. You’re the captain of a purloined alien ship returning to Earth after a decades-long absence only to find it has been conquered and the population enslaved by a rather nasty race of overlords called the Ur-Quan, and naturally the first thing you do is start a rebellion against their rule. This game has a little bit of everything; exploration of the galaxy to try to find new weapons and allies, negotiation with alien species to try to bring them into the alliance against the Ur-Quan, and a rather fiddly combat section where you take your fleet into battle against enemy ships. What makes Star Control II is the animated conversations you have with the other races you meet; whenever you encounter another ship the captain is put up on the viewscreen in true Star Trek style and you proceed to have a fully voice-acted chat with them, which imbues the game with a ton of character. The alien races each have their own personalities and their own fighting styles, and convincing the Ur-Quan client races to overthrow their masters never comes easily; often you’ll have to fulfil some secret conditions in order to get them to turn, which means exploring the galaxy as thoroughly as possible. Star Control II is basically as close to Star Trek: The Game as we’re ever going to get, and it is genuinely fantastic.