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Z Review (Mac)

It can be hard to filter out nostalgia when you encounter remakes of great games you played first time round. Worse, when you play those games at a formative age they get under your skin; they become part of your gaming DNA. Seeing one of those games that you first experienced with the innocence of youth – or hearing their wonderful retro chip tunes – can transport you back to a time when you looked at games with more naive, less jaded eyes. As a result critical faculties go out the window, and before you know it you are struggling to avoid calling NBA Jam the finest sports game of all time and Goldeneye the absolute pinnacle of FPS perfection. If I were reviewing one of the Bitmap Brothers other titles like Speedball 2 or The Chaos Engine I would be fighting against this nostalgia. Amazingly enough though, I never played Z in its original incarnation. If I had, I think it would have been one of my favourite games of all time.

One of the first things that will strike you if you play this remake is the visuals. If you are familiar with the very unique graphical style of Bitmap Brothers games it will be immediately familiar. If not you will probably either be wrinkling your nose in mild disgust at the chunky pixels, or nodding approving at its retro charm. If you haven’t played any of the Bitmaps games, the closest point of comparison would be the original Command and Conquer.

The gameplay isn’t a million miles away from Command And Conquer either, but it’s perhaps a little simpler. Initially, you command little robot troops in a fairly traditional RTS style, although back then the term RTS probably hadn’t even been coined yet. You click on individuals troops or groups of them and order them to capture flags and attack enemies. Even from early on in the game they can capture vehicles and turrets to make them more dangerous combatants.

Each map see’s you face off against an opponent who is desperately trying to advance and capture tactical point on the map before you do. In this way, it’s got a lot in common with the Dawn of War series too, with early ambition often leading to an advantageous control of key strategic points on the map. Each of these strategic points can spawn more troops or more powerful units, and as such the brave player is often the one who builds an unassailable lead early on. This makes the early moments of each game key to success and somewhat frantic.

It’s amazing how much Z got right in an RTS style game so early in the genres history. The control points eliminate turtling and force players to be aggressive. Some of the scenery is destructive allowing a devious player to attack his enemy from unexpected directions. Even the subject matter of the game seems to anticipate later games. For example, the two warring sides are “Red” and “Blue” and they fight each other in an unending conflict in a futuristic setting.

This is a very basic port of the Bitmap Brothers game. Very little has been done to the original game, and that’s probably for the best. All the little details, from the birds flying around to the fish flopping in the water were in the original too. There’s no major graphical overhaul and no re-recorded audio. While this means the esoteric story of drunk robots with British accents remains, it also means the low levels of audio quality and low resolution cut scenes are present too. I often encountered glitches with selecting units from time to time, and often they wouldn’t respond when I clicked on them, albeit this was a problem that popped up infrequently, and hopefully future updates will fix it.

Despite these issues, Z remains an engaging game. If you have the associated nostalgia, I’m sure it will be a delight to revisit. If you didn’t catch it first time around, it’s still worth playing. There’s much more ambitious and impressive RTS’s out there, but at this price point (£4.99) it’s still worth checking out to get a taste of RTS history.

6 drunken robots, capturing flags of 10

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