Review by Christopher Joseph - Copyright ©1998
Light at the end of the tunnel
Most people have probably played one of the demo versions of Destiny, or read a review of the early release versions, and come to their own conclusions about the game. But Robert Templeman is still hard at work, gradually perfecting his 3D walkabout, and the latest test versions show a range of improvements over those that have been seen publicly so far. Even the most recent demo (on the Acorn User 200th edition CD) is far behind the current state of the development of the game. (Incidentally, all the screenshots used in this review have been JPEG'd and reduced in size.)
The game, for those who've managed to miss the discussions and preview demos, is a Doom/Quake-style 3D walkabout. The player, armed with a variety of vicious weaponry, wanders through landscapes inhabited by assorted equally vicious enemies, shooting everything in sight and trying to find the exit. The game falls somewhere between Id's two masterpieces - it has the sprite-based monsters of Doom, but allows proper multi-level landscapes, with intricate spiral staircases and criss-crossing walkways.
For those who have seen the early versions, I can assure you that the game is now vastly improved. There are still a few problems; notably, the learning curve is rather too steep - although it is possible to complete the first level in a very brief time, without any risk of danger to the novice player, the level itself is huge and sprawling, and finding the exit for the first time is no mean feat. The monster graphics are still something of a disappointment, too, although their behaviour has been tidied up noticeably.
The improved monster behaviour is only one of a number of major changes that Rob has made to the game, but all of them point ultimately in one direction. What was a flat-looking, difficult to play (somewhat jerky, on a pre-StrongARM machine) and rather over-complicated demo has now become a fairly well-polished and very playable game. Yes, the initial difficulty is too high - it took me several hours of playing to find the exit from level one. But the significant thing is that I didn't mind playing the game for several hours, even stuck on a single level. In fact, I didn't even realise how long I had spent solving the first level until I finished it, and looked up to a clock reading nearly 1am.
The enormous range of offensive weaponry is still there. Personally, I quite like it, although I can certainly understand that some people find it daunting - I would reduce the variety slightly, if I were in Rob's place, particularly the impressive selection of mines and missiles. Actually, the game largely forces you to choose a few favourite weapons in any case - unlike other games of this type, there is no strict limit to the amount of ammunition you can carry for each weapon. Rather, as the total weight of your equipment increases, so the speed at which you move decreases. And since the heavy items are generally the weapons, rather than their ammunition, you soon choose your favourites and abandon the others in favour of extra speed. But that means that you have chosen the weapons that suit you best; something that can hardly be said for (say) Quake.
The use of weight affects other areas of the game, too. As you carry more, you take more damage from falling long distances and, in accordance with Archimedes' famous principle, the more you carry, the lower you float in deep water. And some of the water is very deep - making it a good refuge from enemy snipers, not to mention a good place for Rob to hide some of the game's more ingenious secret areas (the first level contains a large underwater weapons cache, for those who can't wait to get their hands on huge amounts of fire-power).
Of course, there are underwater passages, too, leading from one above-ground section to another. But the water in Destiny has more tricks yet to play on the unwary - for me, at least, the currents in the streams and channels are one of the best features of the game. There will often (in deep water) be two different sets of currents to drag the player around - as happens in real life, the surface flow may be in a completely different direction to what's happening lower down.
Other secret areas are hidden beyond death-defying leaps, crawl spaces and the usual variety of disguised, pressure-pad activated, or time-locked doors. In one or two cases, the areas are not strictly secret - but these are usually very heavily guarded, so the game is essentially rewarding you for fighting your way through. Conversely, a few of the non-secret parts of the game can be very difficult to find, even when they are vital for completing the level.
Currently, the game lacks a map feature, although there is a choice of compasses to show which way you're looking, which compensates slightly. Of course, the compass only indicates horizontal direction, and one of the criticisms levelled at early versions of the game was that the view was fixed horizontally, like Doom. I'm pleased to say that this is no longer the case, and the player now has a Quake-style "Mouse-look" available. Alternatively (or additionally), there is an "auto-look" option, which changes the viewing angle up or down depending on the angle of the corridor, making it much easier to blast baddies at the bottom of a staircase whilst standing at the top, and ensuring that your guns are always pointing somewhere useful.
Another improvement over the demos is the long-promised introduction of multiple screenmodes. The current version includes data for both mode 13 (320x256) and 640x512, while the demos only work in mode 13. While this is really all that can sensibly be used on a pre-StrongARM Risc PC (my ARM710 manages a reasonably good frame-rate in this mode, but jerks quite noticeably in the larger one), but on a StrongARM machine the combination of large screen-mode, high-resolution textures and the ability to look up and down completely transforms the game.
Graphically, the game is an odd mixture, with well-designed, interesting wall textures, pleasing (if somewhat un-waterlike) water surfaces, and rather disappointing monster sprites. The use of the high-res screen-mode improves the monsters enormously, and their more convincing behaviour has also affected their appearance (they no longer appear to walk sideways, for example). Unfortunately, they are still definitely the weak point of the game, especially when dead, since there are only corpse sprites for a very few angles (but see afterword, below).
The scenery, however, is definitely pleasing - and not necessarily stationary. In addition to the water (and one or two other liquids), there are an assortment of moving panels, some transparent, some opaque. There are also a good variety of transparent windows - some colourless, but many of them containing coloured panels (there are some really nice stained-glass windows around, if you look for them). As well as coloured transparencies, the game has coloured lighting - the surreal strobe effect in the starting passage on level five has to be seen to be believed.
Overall, the game is graphically very good (with the unfortunate exception of the enemies) - I actually prefer its slightly brighter, cleaner look to the dinginess of Quake. Of course, it has plenty of dark passages, and the lighting effects are used to good effect - some sections can be quite scary. The enemies now behave intelligently, and the game runs nicely (at least as well as Doom, which is impressive, given the much greater complexity of Destiny) on any Risc PC with enough memory.
I'm not, I confess, terribly keen on the layout of the desktop front end, or the fact that the game can't return to the desktop when you've finished playing (this is a function of the copy protection system). Although the framerate and response of the game are generally pretty good, it can occasionally get a little slow on pre-StrongARM machines, even in the low-res mode - on the other hand, it doesn't suffer any worse from this than Doom does, and the rate only really drops significantly in really large open areas. Similarly, the game still suffers from minor problems with some actions and effects being tied to the framerate (notably, reloading weapons can take a long time on a pre-StrongARM machine in hi-res mode). However, to be fair, these only crop up if you're trying to use more processing power than your machine has - on a StrongARM, they're not a problem.
The game has a lot of well thought out details, too. For example, one of the function keys gives you control over the gamma correction setting, so that you don't have to change your monitor controls to be able to see perfectly. (This is a real problem for me - I normally keep the brightness turned right down, and unless a game allows gamma correction, it can end up completely black on screen!) Also, although the screen-mode is controlled from the desktop, the other graphics options - clear/solid explosions, texture resolutions, and so on - can all be changed within the game, so that if the framerate drops too much in a particularly large room, you can hit pause and decrease the detail level to speed things up a bit. Some of these affect the gameplay more directly - the serious missile launchers (with one exception) come equipped with working sights that give you a view of their current target....
To sum up, Eternal Destiny has been transformed (through no small amount of work on Rob's part) into a generally very playable game. With improved monsters and a few smaller, easier introductory levels, it would definitely stand out from the crowd as a RISC OS native game that you could be genuinely proud to own. Even as it stands at the moment, it has advantages over both Doom (coloured transparencies, look up/down, "proper" 3D level designs) and Quake (higher framerate, works on pre-StrongARM machines). The water simulation really helps it to stand out - I've never seen anything similar attempted in a game of this kind before. The sound effects are generally fairly good, and there's a large selection of in-game music available, although I admit that I turned it off and put a CD on the stereo instead - but I'm probably the only person on Earth who's ever played Doom with Mike Oldfield for background music....
Review by Christopher Joseph, Copyright ©1998
- As you read this, work still carries on; Rob has just announced that he's nearly ready to send out another, even more improved (CD-only) version of the game, complete with monsters that have more than twice as many frames of animation (including a greatly increased number of corpse frames) at four times the resolution and fixes for the few minor bugs I found with the game - I genuinely can't wait to get my hands on it...
Eternal Destiny is available from:
Robert Templeman, 1 Fairfax Avenue, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 6AJ
SPECIAL OFFER - Currently at £25 for a limited period only. Normally costs £35. Prices are fully inclusive.
A demo can be fetched from the author's web site. (At the time of writing there is no demo of the new version).
The game will run with an 8Mb machine but needs a 16Mb machine for all features. It doesn't
require any VRAM, but needs 70Mb free harddisc space to install (once installed it uses
...this page last updated: 9/11/98...
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