Friday, 18 November 2016

Saboteur! remake

How it all began...
I've always been a bit of a fan of this atmospheric ninja/industrial espionage game released in the 1980s on ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and various other platforms. Now I'm looking at the recent (2015) version of Saboteur! at clivetownsend.com, from none other than... Clive Townsend, the original author.

Based on Unity/WebGL, it runs happily on a modern browser.  Before I say anything, I'd urge anyone who finds the game working on their computer to simply go and pay the small fee for the full game. Especially all those naughty people who played the original Saboteur games for free back in the day :)

With remakes of old games, I often feel that any changes to the original seem "wrong". Nothing like that here. The original central gameplay is intact. There are simply visual and especially aural improvements that make the experience of revisiting Saboteur more interesting. The game has also been expanded greatly, which I'll discuss below.

There are various options that need some attention before playing seriously. You'll have to sign in to get the full game, but as a bonus you get to save your highscores, achievements and other progress to your online account. As for the options, the game was initially set as "fast", but I found the "normal" speed most satisfying at least for now. The QAOP keyboard controls are satisfactory. The ninja moves with arrow keys too but the QAOP gives a crisper response at least on my computer.

As the game replicates the original, the controls have not been updated in any way. Especially the jumping sections may put off people who are used to a bit more fluid, console-type games.

The menu graphics are all new, high resolution, but the game graphics are Spectrum-like, and boldly so. You can also select C64 colours if they are more to your taste. I wouldn't have blamed the author for changing the graphical style altogether, but it's good to have the ZX Spectrum style pixeling here.

Guess which mode?
Well, there are in fact more graphics modes than the ZX/C64, but they have to be found in-game and they only work in the original warehouse area. Making them work was not 100% obvious, so here goes: After you've found the different "VR goggles" in the expanded game, start a new game from the beginning, then press ESC to get to the expanded graphic mode options.

However, even the ZX and C64 modes are not identical to the originals: there are tiny updates and added detail here and there. The new grenade explosion is pretty mighty.


The New Story

Like many players, I didn't know that blowing up the bomb was not enough to truly complete the mission. The disk has to be retrieved, too. Then it gets interesting. After you think you've completed the mission, there's more to do but I won't say anything about it here in case someone is a newcomer.

...Well, ok. I have to say something. What unfolds is a completely new Saboteur adventure, which is more modern, storyboarded kind of game. There's more to read, for instance, as the ninja communicates with the radio dispatcher, Metal Gear style. The style stays true to the 8-bit limitations, it's just as if the Speccy had a huge amount of memory. Even if I suspect some scenes would not run on a standard Spectrum the effects never go overboard.

We're not in Ninja Kansas anymore
The new area deviates a bit from the "one item held" logic of the original, as you can now possess keys and other quest items. Also, the map is no longer strictly two-dimensional as you can enter from front and back of the screen to different sections of the map. There are quest-oriented sections and then time-based map areas that are more reminiscent of the original Saboteur game. There are also jumping areas that make me pull my hair out in frustration, like I was ten years old playing Jet Set Willy. Maybe I can blame the keyboard here!

There's now more to do, new enemy types and behavior, more switches, keys and moving mechanisms to set and reset. There's also a lot of detail and humor, such as winks and nods to 1980s pop culture, ninja schlock and earlier computer culture. What I appreciate is that all the references are from the period, no internet memes in sight! No doubt we'll get to learn some more about the Saboteur world and how the first game ties to the sequel, the Avenging Angel.

Maybe, just maybe, I would have preferred a bit more compartmentalized play experience, such as new missions instead of this longer quest. Yet, altogether the new sections are well organized and as you get further you're bound to be obsessed with seeing it all through. Obviously the new material in no way detracts from the original game, which is intact. As with the original, the difficulty levels alter the game experience and the map a bit, and I'm looking forward trying to complete the harder modes. If a true Saboteur III appears, this all certainly seems very promising for it!

The game is quite a perfect treat to those who liked the original, and I think those who grew with 8-bit games should find it interesting. More changes might have been needed to win over more new fans, but then again too many changes might have lost that Saboteur charm.

Saboteur at Clivetownsend.com



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