"Classics" Digital Part 5: Endless Oceans

In today's blog we will be examining the second half of Ocean Software Ltd.'s Classics Digital library. The first title we will be looking at came out in 1993, making it one of the newest games we've looked at so far. Not that you could tell based on the visuals or gameplay. Sleepwalker is a puzzle/platformer that was made to support a British charity event from the time. As such it is wildly unpolished even for an Ocean Software joint. The concept is fairly simple. You play as a dog who has to protect your master as he sleepwalks through a city at night. Think of it sort of like Lemmings but without any prep time and a terribly controlling Dog to work with instead of a curser. Now it is possible that with enough fiddling with DOSBox settings I could get this game to control well enough to at least play. But, again, the whole point of this series is to not spend hours prepping for these games. I am getting sold a product. In this case the original product was a not for profit project, making the fact that Classics Digital has done nothing to make this game work on modern systems and is still charging $5 for it all the more deplorable.

I wish I could tell you more about how the game works, but I simply could not manage to get past the first couple of screens due to the just flat out broken controls. The main issue is that your character continues to accelerate as long as he doesn't hit into something. And he accelerates like a Ferrari on steroids. It's just impossible to move him accurately. Now this could very well be an emulation issue and not a problem with the original game. I don't know. But, for yet another time, I should not have to manually go in and fix DOSBox settings to play a game I payed $5 to play. If it doesn't work on modern systems then don't release it. Plain and simple. Now it is also possible that the controls in this game were always broken. I couldn't tell you one way or the other. I'm sure this was originally released on some British microcomputer and then ported to DOS after the fact, so the issue could be with that original port not with the emulation of it. Regardless, I simply could not control this game well enough to play it in any meaningful way and therefore cannot tell you if the actual mechanics are solid or not. 5 games into Ocean's library and my recommendation remains that you should not purchase any of these games for their current asking price.

Next up we arrive at Central Intelligence. This is a tough one. First off there is no Wikipedia entry for this game. Giantbomb's wiki page is blank except for listing Ocean Software as the publisher. I can find no mention of an official American release. Over on Mobygames you'll find a bunch of German language reviews from the era as well as a lone English review by PC gamer dated to 1995. I can't tell you if this was an import review, or if this game merely had a super limited release, but I can tell you that it is just inscrutable. And I know the same could be said for a lot of these games, but there is a sense here that the developers knew how impossible the game was and made an attempt to fix the problems. There is an actual tutorial mode, a first for this series, but it simply shows you how to perform two opening moves in this strategy game. I know I haven't described either the goal of the game or the nature of play, and that is because I don't know either of those things. Menus are all icon based, and this being a DOS game, those icons are basically pixelated smears on the screen that give you no indication as to what they represent. Again, the developers seemed to realize this and included tooltips that tell you what each icon on the main game screen do. But hitting any one of these icons opens up another menu filled with more meaningless icons and this one has no tooltips. While I would normally blame the lack of a manual for my lack of understanding, in this case it seems that critics of the day also had no idea what they were doing. With a Metacritic average of 50/100 and that PC Gamer review basically saying that the premise is good but it takes weeks to learn how to play much less learn how to win, it seems this game was just a confusing mess. One of the German magazines seems to have given it the worst game of the year award for 1994. So in this case I will accept that there is likely nothing Classics Digital could have done to make this game make sense. But they could have chosen not to release an awful game that even 1995 era DOS players couldn't manage to figure out.

With our next title we enter into the era of 3D games. Previously I have said that I was not going to do any DOSBox settings tweaks to make these games work, but early 3D games were notoriously hard to get running even at the time, so I'm going to cut Classics Digital a little slack here and actually spend a couple minutes trying to get the settings right for Tunnel B1. *Ten minutes later* Failure is mine. Despite my best efforts I was unable to get Tunnel B1 working well. But I was able to play it on low settings at 20 fps. The game is an early 3D tank shooter. You travel through a series of tunnels shooting enemies and collecting new weapons with which to shoot more powerful enemies. There is some sort of story but I wasn't really paying much attention to be honest. I can say that the game seems to be set in the future and that it looks awful by today's standards. Not that much can be done to help it considering I'm blowing up a VHS level of resolution to a 1080p screen. Anyways, this game is simple and works well enough. Not really very fun nor very appealing but I bet it had its fans back in 1995. Due to being a newer title this game is running for $7 on Steam, which I again would not at all recommend unless you happen to be one of those fans from back in the day who want to look at an even uglier version of the game you played 25 years ago.

And lastly, fittingly, we have Last Rites, a game from the comparatively recent 1997. This game is a Doom clone that is perfectly serviceable. The one major differentiator was that you had AI squadmates that fought alongside you. If Looking Glass hadn't released Terra Nova a year earlier that might have been a major innovation but due to Terra Nova it wasn't. The two levels I played also featured fairly boring environments, the first taking place in a ruined city and the second in a shopping mall. Combined with the limited enemy variety (different types of zombies) and that fact that this game came out after the fully polygonal Quake and not long before Half Life, and you can see why a game with so little unique to offer would have gone entirely forgotten by most gamers. That said, if you are looking for an old school shooter and have played all of ID, 3D Realms, Raven, and Monolith's efforts you could do worse than Last Rites. Of course the kicker here is the $7 price tag. While I did enjoy my time here I still don't think the value works out in Classics Digital's favor with these Ocean Software titles. They just aren't good enough for the price, and while the $20 bundle might seem enticing, so many of the games are unplayable that you really aren't getting too much bang for your buck.

And so we come to the end of Ocean Software's lineup on Steam. Overall I would rate it much higher than Imagitec and Wisdom Tree's efforts if only due to Pushover and Last Rites. Our final couple entries will deal with the games developed and/or published by Infogrames themselves. We'll see how their efforts compare to their purchased catalogue.