Forgotten Military SF Video Games (Vol. 10)

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2. Varuna’s Forces (Accent Media 1995)

In another 1990’s cancelled game, we have Accent Media’s Varuna’s Force for the ATARI Jaguar CD add-on (that made it look like a toilet), the Dreamcast, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and the 3DO. The concept was of a military science fiction game that was a hybrid of both on-rails shooter, FOS, and limited strategy elements wrapped in mid-1990s FMV sequences that starred actor Michael Clarke Duncan. You played as the commander of an 8-member Marine Attack unit of the United Coalition of Planets and the team, “Varuna’s Force” was tasked with various missions for the UCP. After the mission briefing, you would take control of the weapons systems of the Marine tactical transport vehicle during orbital insertion phase to defend the craft from incoming missiles and intercepting attack craft. After safety getting down to the surface, the first-person shooter/strategy element would take over and from one of the articles I read, it would have played similar to the Space Hulk games that came out at around the same time. This game sounds very promising and I likely would have bought this from my original PS1 back in the day. However, the game was cancelled when several of the consoles slated to have the port of the game died or were dying, like the very expensive 3DO and the cursed ATARI Jaguar CD. Still, it should have come out for the other systems so that we could have enjoyed that special 90’s video game favor and vibe with solid military Sci-Fi elements that a cool mission types with some fleshed out world building elements. If I am being honest, the few surviving FMV sequences are a little over the top for current tastes.      

3. Inferno (Ocean Software 1994-1995)

For clarity, this is a sequel to a 1992 title called Epic, a space combat game for the PC market and this 1994 sequel is a continuation of the story. You are a Terran space fighter pilot character and at the beginning of the game, you are abdicated by the enemy alien race: the Raxxons. After escaping the Raxxons, you vow venagence upon the aliens and embark on a holy quest to regain your humanity that the aliens took from you via space dogfights. Released in 1994 for MS-DOS PC computer, this was time of good solid space combat simulation games, like X-Wing and the titanic Wing Commander. I’d never heard of either Epic or Inferno until this article, I wonder why? Both games in the franchise seem highly rated, but they are barely mentioned. I guess from the amount of solid space shooters on the market, these titles got pushed out. 

4. STARFIGHTER (AKA: Starfighter 3000 (Krisalis Software 1994 & 1996)

Originally, this slot would have been held by an entry on the PS1 Final DOOM title, however, when looking for images for the Varuna’s Forces entry, I saw this Saturn box-art, and I never heard of  Starfighter and so, here we are. This game resembles another space combat title from around the same time: Cybermorph. That title was also on another failed home console: the ATARI Jaguar. Developed by Krisalis Software for 3DO, PS1, Sega Saturn, and PC (later in 1996). Titled Starfighter 3000 in Japan, the game has you as a space fighter pilot working for FEDNET in the year of 3037 and the ship you are assigned to is on a mission to weed out colonial warlords that have taken the weakness of the previous administrations over the Federation to take power. Your mission is to break the warlords hold on these Federation worlds and bring them back into the fold. Now, the game has an interesting history. The original game, called Starfighter 3000 was released by a UK studio in 1994 for the Acorn Archimedes, a UK home computer that was up against the Amiga. In 1995, the game was upgraded for a port to the 3DO system, which some reviewers believe to be the best version of the game. It was again ported to the Saturn, DOS machines, Macs, and PS1 in 1996. Oddly, the originally British team that programmed the game, who took their name from FEDNET in the game, did not work on the home console ports of Starfighter. One of the elements that confuses the story of this game is the name change. On the Japanese Saturn game boxes, it is called Starfighter 3000 and on the American Saturn released, the game drops the “3000” part of the name. 

6. Total & Solar Eclipse (Crystal Dynamics 1994/1997)

Coming int the packed space flight/combat market in 1994 was this entry from Crystal Dynamics: Total Eclipse. This game was a launch title for the Sony PlayStation under the name Total Eclipse Turbo, but was just Solar Eclipse for the 3DO release. Unlike other similar titles of the time, Total Eclipse has your starfighter engage the alien enemy on the surface of worlds rather than in space. Your goal is to destory the alien superweapon that threats to push the Terran sun into a nova. Upon release, the critics were not kind to the game and even one reviewer called the game the worst of the launch titles for the PlayStation. Despite this, there was a sequel called Solar Eclipse released in 1997. Then there is the interesting element behind the story of these forgotten spacefighter games. The sequel to the 1994 game was not to be a sequel at all, but a different game that was to be titled “Titan”. However, it as believed by studio that Titan would be more successful as a sequel to Total Eclipse and thus, Titan was retitled and tied to the first game. However, in the Japanese and European markets, the 1997 game was called “Titan Wars” and not tied to Total Eclipse. Both of the Eclipse games disappeared from the common gamer consciousness due to their appearance on two dead consoles and not getting good reviews against similar and more well known titles.  

7. Fracture (LusasArts/Day1 Studios 2008)

This entry was suggested by a FWS reader! Thank you! This was not a title I was familiar with until I started the researching this article, which is odd, considering that Fracture was a LucasArts title released 4 years before the fall of LucasArts in 2008 to the mouse. Developed by Day 1 Studios for the PS3, Xbox 360 platforms, Facture is a future shooter game, the player can alter the terrain via cool sounding weapons like the “tectonic” and “subsonic”  grenades. While this sounds cool, it should be noted that as one reviewer pointed out when the game was released that the majority of the game does not take place on land that can be effected by the terrain altering weapon systems. Great. While having some inventive elements, Facture got average scores from reviewers and this new property that LucasArts was attempting to develop died due to poor sales just one game into this attempted franchise.   

8. Starflight (Binary Systems 1986)

In the records of video games that give us Mass Effect, we have this space exploration/RPG title for 1980’s home computers: Starflight by Binary Systems. In the year of 4620, you are at the helm of a starship on a mission to explore the galaxy with trading missions, mining, combat, and diplomacy all in cards for the player. Sounds like the template from the writers room for Star Trek. When researching this game, it is amazing how large and complex this title was for 1980’s computer hardware. It is claimed in the Wikipedia entry that there were 270 star systems, over 800 worlds, with trading possibilities to upgrade your ship along with crew for your explorer class vessel. One element of the gameplay that it not really seen in other space exploration titles is that gravity is a factor in the game and planet’s with gravity over 8g can crush your starship. This causes the player to task the science officer to scan the world for the gravity rating prior atmospheric entry. Released on various computer hardware at the time, including the Apple and ATARI ST computers, and there was a 1991 release for the Mega-Drive/Genesis Sega home consoles. While the game is highly praised to this day, especially by the folks at BioWare that developed Mass Effect, I didn’t know about this game’s existance until the gather of games for this article. This is likely due to the age of the title and the computers that Starflight was designed to run on. 

9. MechAssault II: Lone Wolf (DAY 1 Studios 2004)

Being a massive fan of the FASA Battletech games, I was excited when a console-based mecha-based combat game was released on the original Xbox. For the most part, the 2002 MechAssault by Day 1 Studios was a big success and a game that I still own for my beloved OG Xbox. Given the success of the first game, a sequel was in order and in 2004 Day 1 Studios would release MechaAssault II: Lone Wolf. Unlike the original title, here your mech pilot operates other vehicle on the 31st century battlefield along with the ability to hack into crewed mecha in order to pirate them and turn them against their former masters. Despite the good magazine coverage for the game by publications like Game Informer, the game was not as successful as the original title nor as well loved by the fandom. This could have been one of the reasons behind the lack of a 3rd game in the series. According to what little we know, the 3rd game would have centered around the invading clans that left the Inner Sphere hundreds of years ago. I personally think that the sequel title loomed in the shadow of the original 2002 game and given that own both titles, I never thought the sequel measured up, especially given the lack of focus on mech-based combat. 

10. Metroid II: The Return of Samus (Nintendo 1991)

Confession time: I did not chose a NES in 1987 for my big Christmas present…I picked the ATARI 7800. Oh dear god. I wished I had picked the NES now, but it allowed to see another side of gaming during the NES era. However, instead of picking the ATARI Lynx, I did chose wisely and asked for a Gameboy for Christmas of 1991. For my Gameboy, I got several games including this treasure: Metroid II: the Return of Samus. I had always wanted to play the original NES Metroid, but lacked the NES to do so. So, I was not going to miss out on the sequel title on the handheld and I was grateful I played it. Metroid II is a classic and a damn good game on the Gameboy. Metroid II was released in November of 1991, about two years after the original Gameboy hardware was released and 5 years after the original game came out on the NES. Some in the retro community have called this game superior to the original, but for some Metroid fans, this game would be lost fora time if they did not have access to the GameBoy hardware and the game. It was playable on the GameBoy color, 3DS, and now is accessible via the Switch Online database. To me, the box-art for the original GameBoy is one of the best in the Metroid series along with that era of gaming. I due feel like this game was forgotten by newer generations of gamers due to its release on the original GameBoy, however, Metroid sites and entry kept the game from totally forgotten until the later releases. 

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