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The future's worst hacker battles security cameras for three hours

  • Silviera
  • 02/03/2010 03:36 AM
Storyline- 1/5
So I'm a virus, a god, and/or a computer program and I need to escape a falling space station. At least I'm dressed like a 60s mafioso.

The game begins with a short 10 second clip of what I assume to be a shuttle docking in a space station. It's extremely blurry CGI that looks like it was ripped out of an early 90s computer game (and probably was), and the game cuts away to another scene without ever explaining what it is you just saw. After that you're shown some doctors in space arguing for a bit before one of them opens fire on the rest as he declares he's taking over the space station. After that brief foray into needless violence the game jumps ahead several years where you finally take control of your character, a trench coat and fedora sporting man who apparently finds himself on a space station about to crash in 3 hours.

3D Magic

I'll admit I haven't played the first Iron Gaia (I attempted to play it, but couldn't tolerate the intro), so there's a decent chance all of that randomness I just saw actually did make some kind of sense. The game doesn't go out of its way to explain anything from the first game, including who you're playing as. You can piece together bits and pieces of what lead up to the station's destruction, but from just playing this game alone you'll never have a full idea of what happened.

Moving on, you appear to be some kind of superhuman who other superhumans refer to as the virus. The only thing you've got on your mind is escaping impending doom, and a friend of yours in the other part of the station is already working on an escape shuttle. The bulk of the game is spent trying to reach your friend and escape the station, which is unfortunately locked down tight. The majority of the game is spent trying to hunt down a single keycard, and you'll go through nearly a dozen fetch quests before you finally crack that lock. You'll eventually run into the violent doctor from the intro who serves as the game's main antagonist. You never really actively attempt to fight against him but you'll be running into him a lot as you explore the station. The game occasionally cuts away to things going on elsewhere in the station, but for the most part they have no real impact on what you're doing. Overall I found myself completely uninterested in what was going on, and was ultimately rewarded with an extremely unsatisfying conclusion at the game's climax.

I'd again like to say that I did not complete the first Iron Gaia game, so it is possible the story is more interesting if you know what happened during the previous game. But considering the bulk of this game is one giant fetch quest I'm somewhat hesitant to believe that.

Battle System- 2/5
RM2k3 poison...we meet again.

Standard rm2k3 battles here. The main thing that drags this category down is you'll be spending almost the entire game with just a single party member. You'll often be thrown against large groups of enemies, who at times are even faster than your main character. Your attack selection is extremely limited and rarely consists of anything more than "shoot" or "shoot harder", and since you'll be up against more enemies than you can kill in a single turn you'll be taking a significant amount of damage in many battles. For the most part the only important thing during combat is managing your supply of healing items.

You never gain experience for winning battles, and instead power up your character with currency dropped by enemies. The amount of money enemies drop seems extremely arbitrary. Sometimes you'll go through an extremely difficult battle and be paid next to nothing, and the next fight you'll kill everything in one hit and walk away with a pile of cash. Since you're not gaining any experience any battle without a decent payout seems like a complete waste of time and resources. Once you've collected a bit of money there are three ways you can upgrade your character. The first is increasing your base attributes. Your level 1 attributes are very high (all in the 200-300 range), and the upgrades are quite small in comparison. As a result it's hard to notice an effect from raising anything except Agility, which of course has a huge effect with the default rm2k3 battle system. Attributes upgrades max extremely early, so you're unable to just pump agility and make the game laughably easy.

The second possible upgrade is the ability to buy new battle abilities for your character to use. Unfortunately when buying abilities the descriptions are extremely brief and never give you an idea of how powerful the ability actually is. Personally I found nearly all of them worthless compared to your starting skills, except for the summon ability which grants you a second party member with their own complete skill set, including healing abilities. Buying this extremely useful skill doesn't really cost any more than the rest of the abilities so there's no reason to get anything else. Your third option for spending cash is buying out of battle skills that aid in exploration. I'll go into more detail on this subject in the level design section.

For the most part the game is extremely easy. All enemies die in a few shots, and as long as you manage your healing items carefully you won't be at much risk except in the odd boss fight or two. The game uses touch encounters and enemies don't respawn, so once you've killed everything in an area you won't have to face any more battles until the next story segment which may arbitrarily decided to repopulate enemies in certain areas. Around halfway through the game however, things start to become annoying. A lot of enemies start using poison which can completely shred your health before you're given a chance to act more than once or twice. One murderous hallway contains nothing but creatures who use an ability that both paralyzes and poisons your character. Since paralysis seems to last 10 turns or so, if you happen to get hit with this skill you'll be dead long before you can even move and there's not a thing you can do about it. A very specific passive skill sold at a very specific shop grants immunity to this effect, but if you fail to buy it or buy it too early (there's a point in the game where they actually take this passive away from you, and do not give it back afterwards), you'll probably die 15 times before you finally pass the hellish hallway.

The game basically throws the combat system out the window when you reach the final area of the game. An extra ability goes up for sale, which will transform your character into a vessel of destruction who regenerates health at a rapid pace and is immune to all status effects. Once you gain this ability you won't be doing anything but pressing the attack button, even against the final boss.

Characters- 1/5
I may have four PHDs but that doesn't mean I can't drop F-bombs every 30 seconds!

The game has a pretty small cast. Most of the dialogue is traded between the main character and the violent doctor. Other than that you'll occasionally get orders from your friend through a radio, and converse with other superhumans who apparently want you dead. It's difficult to place the main character's personality at all. He has no standard way of speaking or mannerisms, and frequently undergoes sudden changes that make him seem like a different person altogether. The doctor is your basic evil genius villain, though it's a bit hard to muster any hatred for him since most of his misdeeds are shown in flashbacks and rarely directly effect what your character is doing in any way. The supporting characters don't have much personality, but they also don't appear on screen much so that's not a big problem.

Underutilizing the message window leads to some extremely awkward dialogue.

The thing that I found extremely offputting in this category is that every single character in the game swears like a sailor. F-bombs every other sentence during any kind of conflict. It's fine when a random soldier is talking that way but it feels extremely odd when a normally calm and composed character suddenly starts spouting off profanity every other word, even if they happen to be a doctor or a supposed higher being. As a result I found it impossible to take any of the characters seriously.

Level Design- 0/5
What do you mean I have a 40% chance to disable a security camera? I maxed that skill!

And now we come to the worst part of the game. The entire game takes place on the space station known as Iron Gaia, which as a result of some events that I assume are part of the first game, is going to crash and burn in a mere 3 hours. The station itself consists of a maze of corridors filled with various enemies along with various research and medical rooms. You'll spend most of the game wandering back and forth between areas, looking for a keycard and not finding it. Instead you'll find a gas mask or a key to another area, which will invariably lead to new obstacles that will require you to walk back through places you've been seeing entirely too many times. Since you're rarely sure what it is you're actually looking for you'll likely spend most of the game confused. To make matters worse it's not always clear where you can walk within the station. Doors are rarely clearly defined so you may even be missing several rooms without ever realizing it.

I wandered around for 15 minutes before I figured out those little dips in the hallway lead to other rooms.

However, your worst enemies are not the army of soldiers trying to kill you. They're not the horde of mutants running around, or the squad of superhumans obsessed with your death. No...what is going to make your life a living hell are security cameras. Nearly every single room in the game contains them, and often up to two or three of them as well. They stay pointed in a fixed direction, and it is impossible to avoid their field of vision. Anytime you are detected you will be thrown into a battle against several security robots who give next to no money. Worse yet, winning the battle does not disable the camera, and if you continue to walk forward you'll be picked up by the camera again once you move to the other side of it. Thankfully the game contains a chaff grenade item that will temporarily let you walk past security cameras, though since they are contained in nearly every single room and you'll be walking past the same areas over and over and over again you'll run out of grenades extremely fast. The only way you'll be able to save your sanity is to disable the cameras.

This is done with a hacking skill, which basically rolls a die and decides whether you successfully disabled the camera or not. Your base success rate is around 50%, and rapidly degenerates the further you go from the starting point. Anytime you fail a hack check you'll be swarmed by security robots as though you had triggered the camera. If you're not using chaff grenades and you're as unlucky as me that generally means you'll be fighting 3-4 battles every single time you see a camera up ahead. You can expend money to upgrade your hacking skill, but this is more of a requirement than actually making your life any easier. The skill maxes after a mere 5 upgrades which is only high enough to guarantee success on the security cameras of the very first screen of the game.

The game also includes a Repair skill which works exactly the same way and is used to obtain extra items or occasionally make an area easier to pass through. It has the same abysmal success rate as hacking even when maxed, and as an added bonus if you fail whatever you were trying to repair is broken permanently.

I should also mention the game does enforce the 3 hour time limit. It never ran out for me, but considering it is the time limit for the space station's destruction I imagine it leads to a game over. Having the timer around doesn't really add any kind of tension because the timer is never displayed on screen, you have to go into your inventory and use an item to check it. Additionally, the game has no extra areas, no optional bosses or sidequests. There's no strategic element involved. You can't complete the game any faster than just wandering around trying to figure out what you're doing next. At best the player never thinks about the timer and manages to finish the game, at worst the player took a bit too long to finish a puzzle and finds that their save file is now ruined because they don't have enough time to complete the game.

On top of that the game contains a few truly awful sequences where you'll have no idea what you're doing. As far as I could find the game gives you no hints as to what to do in any of these situations, you just have to run around experimenting with every interactive object until your character suddenly decides he knows what to do. At one point of the game I had completed a particularly annoying puzzle for the soldier friend who is helping you escape. After doing so I walked back to where he was (just a few screens over) and talked to him. He told me to go back to where I just was to do the task I had just completed. I wandered around for a while trying to figure out just what the heck I had been missing to no avail. Eventually I discovered that the only way to progress was to call my soldier friend up on the radio and tell him that I had completed the puzzle. Apparently these kinds of things can't be discussed in person.

Graphics- 2/5
Lots of familiar faces that probably don't belong together.

When it comes to maps the game uses various commonly used futuristic tilesets for rm2k3. For the most part they're put together decently enough, and create a believable environment. When it comes to sprites however, things begin to break down. Various styles are all thrown together, resulting in a few hilariously tall characters or some that look they like they belong in a completely different game. Monster battlers are in the same boat and basically use rips from various commercial games. Occasionally these graphics are skewed or stretched in a way that makes them extremely blurry. It's especially noticeable in battles that may have 3 or 4 completely different art styles all crammed together for the same monster group.

The game contains a bit of over the top violence at points, where you'll see ridiculous things such as an assault rifle causing complete dismemberment. Killing certain enemies in battle will also cause their map sprite to randomly explode into a pool of blood. Much like the profanity issue mentioned earlier, it's extremely hard to take things seriously when these things happen on a regular basis.

Here we have Magic Emperor Ghaleon teaming up with a few RTP heroes to take on a heartless and his mafia pal.

Music/Sound- 3/5
I hope you like Coheed and Cambria.

The music for the station itself often fits very well. Ranging between quiet tunes and upbeat action, and most of it fairly unrecognizable. One nice thing about this category is that you can choose various battle themes, which is nice after you've fought your 500th security camera robot. Unfortunately, the somber music of the quiet space station is occasionally shattered by random Coheed and Cambria songs complete with lyrics. They are always played in terribly inappropriate moments and will instantly break any kind of immersion the game may have had before that point. Thankfully this is a rare enough occurrence that it doesn't drag the score down too far.

Random stuff I liked-
Nothing in particular I haven't mentioned earlier.

Random stuff I hated-
Near the very end of the game you're unable to progress to the next area until you've disabled various virtual reality stations. One of these involves playing a mini-RPG where you take control of a hero attempting to vanquish a dark lord. This consists of an extremely boring segment where you start as a level 1 hero and have to grind your way up a tower. The main character is visibly annoyed by how stupid everything in this game is, and it makes me wonder why the player has to be subjected to any of it. You'll be stuck here for at least 20 minutes before you can finally move on with the game.

Final Thoughts-
There are probably a few good ideas hidden within this game, but when it comes down to it nearly every design decision has caused immense frustration rather than making the game fun to play in any way. The disjointed story isn't any more entertaining, so I'd have to recommend passing this one up.


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Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
This is a fantastic review.
I'm sorry. This isn't meant to be funny, but I couldn't help but laugh at key points. 8D
I try to be somewhat entertaining, so works for me :P
I agree with pretty much every point of this review. I never understood why some people thought this was the greatest game ever. Anyway, great work!
It's funny because it's true.

It's even funnier in contrast to the ridiculous review previously posted.
I played this game a few weeks ago and I think this review summed my thoughts (and hate for the repair and hack skill) well.

One thing I remember most is that there is a quest where you need to turn off some explosives and one of them can only be deactivated if you have A CHAFF GRENADE ON. Took me a lot of tries and reading the event coding to finally figured that out.
Hahahaha. I agree with Skie. =[
thank god for this review
What ever happened to Max McGee anyway? And Fallen-Griever for that matter?
I take great offense to this.

System Shock 2 was made in the late 90s! 1999 to be exact!
that's pretty much what i would of said.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Wow this was tremendously hurtful and unfair. At least I presume so...honestly I can't even bring myself to really look directly at it, let alone read it. I don't know what that says for my future as a creator (of anything) if I can't even bring myself to be aware of such bracingly negative criticism. It just seems really horrible that you can pour hours and days and weeks and months and ultimately years of your life into something, giving it your all, just to have someone completely eviscerate it for fun. I am not saying (and have never said) "lol bad reviews should be against the law" but whenever I reviewed anything I always at least took the fact that effort had been put into it and that the author had feelings into account. No such consideration here.

Oh well, reason #5,000,006 why I don't post here anymore.

I also can't help but feel double teamed. Who the fuck are Silviera and Solitayre again? The names seem vaguely familiar... All I know is that they are working on some project together and they hit me from both sides with outrageously biased and cruel reviews of my two most popular games.

Not so much "edit" (I posted all of this in one go) as...rethinking this? Anyway:

The above does seem to be a well-thought-out and informed review...written by someone whose mother I killed. Or maybe Iron Gaia: Virus killed their mother. Doesn't really matter. Either way that seems like the best way to describe. Not so much vicious slander by someone who didn't play the game as...a review by someone who played the entire game after I murdered their family or something.

Again edit would be the wrong word but...modification...the second:

"I have extremely high standards, so please don't be offended if you believe that I have reviewed your game unfairly. My focus is on improving the body of a work primarily by pointing out what I think are its flaws, but feel free to ignore me if I am wrong (and I will be)."

Reading this from Silviera's profile, I amend my post to include the possibility that their may NOT be a bias at work here. Rather, I think I will just comfort myself with that last parenthetical clause.

Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Afterthought the last:

I expect most people's experience with Iron Gaia will fall somewhere in between this really horrible diatribe and Griever's praise. In any sane universe, I would imagine reviews like either of the ones that IGV currently has are the outliers.
Solitayre and Silviera submitted a ton of reviews, got noticed for this effort, and were promoted to Staff and encouraged to review more. Kind of like yourself when you were doing a lot of writing for RMN back in the day.

As to the reviews and the game itself, just be proud that your game can be so evocative, negative or positive.

Nice to see you still visit from time to time.
So because the review was negative it must be because the person has an agenda, or is completely wrong?

why would i heal when i could equip a morningstar
tbh the three times I tried this I died almost instantly and didn't attempt it again for a year.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence

"So because the review was negative it must be because the person has an agenda, or is completely wrong?"

False. There's negative and then there's this, though.
I don't see how the game is "tremendously hurtful and unfair" I thought it showed keypoints very well and how he was so frustrated/annoyed over the gameplay design flaws.
When reviewing a game it can be easy to forget that the creator made this on their own time and probably worked hard on it. I did not think this review has especially cruel, but it certainly wasn't polite either. On a site like this, the game's creator will almost certainly read every review. Therefore I believe that every review should be written directed primarily at them. It should be polite, constructive criticism and not a rant that picks apart every flaw for the entertainment of the readers. I can truly imagine how this review must make Max feel. Its like a dagger to the heart and the comments about how funny it was just twist the knife further. The least a reviewer can do is try to soften the blow.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Thank you, Physhal.

I withdraw any comments I made about the review's motivation being personal. That doesn't mean that it was not very painful for me to read as I think Physhal captured pretty well. In fact I think if it had been designed solely to hurt my feelings I can't imagine it would have read any differently.

It is at the very least, an enormously incommensurate response...in exchange for me (presumably) wasting three hours of the reviewer's life he decided to completely invalidate and shit on three years of mine.
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