Genre: FPS Developer: Core Design Publisher: Core Design Players: 1 Released: 1994
Have you ever wanted to control a huge battle-mech armed to the teeth with the sort of weaponry Tony Stark would be proud of? You have? Well then, let me introduce you to Battlecorps.
It’s the year 2085 and all is not well on the mining planet Mandelbrot’s World. The artificial intelligence controlling operations on the planet, MOSES, has been infected with a virus causing machines to turn against humans and making the entire planet a veritable fortress in the process. It’s your job, as a veteran of the Battlecorps, to go planet-side and do a spot of IT support. Fortunately for us, the Corps has equipped us with something a little more “proactive” than a copy of Norton Anti-Virus and a screwdriver set. You’ll get to pilot one of the Corps state-of-the-art Armadillo-class Bipedal Attack Machines (BAM), a huge battle-mech armed to the teeth with all sorts of weaponry.
Battlecorps is a 3D first-person shooter played over 13 relatively short levels. The aim of the game is to navigate each of the levels, completing objectives along the way, until you reach the final encounter with MOSES. But don’t expect this to be a walk in the park as Battlecorps packs quite a challenge.
Your BAM is equipped with a shield, which can be recharged at specific recharging points dotted around the levels, and several different weapons: twin cannons, upgraded twin cannons, mortars, missiles and – my favourite – a flamethrower. With the exception of the twin cannons, which overheat with continued use and must cool-down before reuse, the weapons come in limited supply and are only replenished at the start of the next level.
You also get three lives in which to complete the game. These lives are embodied by the three different pilots you can pick: Dika ‘A’ Jang, Jack Cutter and Becky Ojo. Although each character has a different backstory and statistics, I’ve never noticed any perceivable difference between the three during play; regardless of that, if a character’s BAM is destroyed during a level that character is removed from the game and you’ll have to restart that level with one of the remaining characters. Once all three characters have died, it’s game over – which you can expect to happen fairly often until you’ve mastered a strategy for each and every level, as the sheer amount of enemy mechs, mines, defensive structures and other things out to do you ill soon take their toll.
Level design is fairly typical of the era, being somewhat linear in nature. A notable exception to this is level 12 where you are required to navigate a maze of teleports to reach the end. There isn’t much originality in each level’s theme either; there’s a lava level, an ice level, a water level, a sewer level – all of the video game stalwarts appear, sometimes twice.
Controlling the BAM is a fairly intuitive affair, handled admirably by a standard three-button pad. The D-pad controls your forwards, backwards and left and right movement, the B button fires and the C button cycles through your available weapons. The A button is where things become interesting. Holding the A button, in conjunction with the D-pad, controls the head of the BAM independently from its legs. You can look up, look down and look left or right; more importantly – and a skill crucial to master – you can travel in one direction and shoot in another. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a second control option available where the d-pad defaults to controlling the head and holding the A button, in conjunction with the D-pad, controls the legs. Battlecorps also supports the six-button pad. The extra buttons are used to quick-select from your available weapons rather than cycle through them using the C button.
I think it’s fair to say that, graphically, Battlecorps is a showcase for the S/Mega-CD’s capabilities. The (pseudo) three-dimensional world created is immersive and compelling, making great use of the platform’s sprite-scaling capabilities. Still, there are niggles, to be sure. For instance, the draw-distance is quite short, and often enemies or other objects will pop-up in the middle distance just when you thought it was safe. Similarly, the limited palette can lead to confusion, especially when up close to an enemy and letting rip with everything you have at your disposal. That said, I still think there’s a certain charm to the chunky visuals in Battlecorps that endures to this day.
As far as audio is concerned, I have only one complaint: the voice overs by Lieutenant Calgary. I don’t know what technology was used to provide these voice overs, and I’m sure the developers intended for him to be a gritty, boots-on-the-ground type commander, but the net result is that I found it difficult to understand what he’s saying. This is a shame because, once you finally decipher the gravelly voice, his commentary is actually quite sardonic and humorous. Otherwise, the audio in Battlecorps is fantastic; the soundtrack is immense, with some rocking guitar work and electronica that would put Vangelis to shame. The sound effects are similarly great: the sound of the BAM as it pounds the ground, the satisfying thud as a missile launches and streaks across the screen, all add to the immersion.
Battlecorps plays as you think it should. You’re in control of a giant, ponderous, mech out to deal death and destruction to all and sundry. You’ll need to employ some strategy to master the environments you’re thrown into, but once you have discovered the BAM’s mechanics, such as being able to move in one direction and shoot in another and that the BAM has width and can get stuck, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. The lack of a save-game facility – or even a password facility – I feel was a mistake, but that doesn’t detract from the game overall.
Ultimately, Battlecorps is a polished and nuanced game. It has all the hallmarks of a game that should have spawned many sequels, but for whatever reason that never occurred. I have played a number of mech-based games since Battlecorps and none of them have so convincingly made me believe I was in control of a giant mech as Battlecorps did. It’s also fun; how couldn’t it be? A giant robot with flamethrowers – what’s not to like? Whether you want to see the game though, or just blow up some stuff, Battlecorps caters for all.
SCORE: 8 out of 10