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Review by
Philippa Irving

 

 
Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
Operation Iceberg
The Battle for Okinawa
1986 Personal Software Services (PSS)
Programmed by John Bethell
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the thirty fifth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: February 11th, 1988).
 


YANKEE-PANKY

Christmas is over, and I wonder how many new computer owners there are in the country. Significantly fewer than there were this time three years ago, I imagine -- the Commodore has virtually disappeared from Britain's shops, and everyone I know who has recently bought a new computer has gone for a 16-Bit machine, despite the prohibitive software prices.

The Commodore industry is floating magically in mid-air, supported entirely by its commercial success three years ago. But the buoyant American market guarantees the Commodore's immediate future -- if not the quality of its software.

The American influence is good for those who prefer strategy games and adventures; American houses produce fine games in those genres. But American arcade games at their worst degenerate into horrible and vacuous film tie-ins with no artistic merit and little entertainment value, and at their best, substitute 'special effects' for playability and content.

Look at it this way. The Spectrum can be compared to a low-budget British TV series; poverty (of technical capability, in the Spectrum's case, not of money) forces the producers to concentrate on the aspects of a drama which really make it worth watching and remembering, rather than rely on visual effects. But the Commodore's sprite facilities and sound often encourage game writers to act like Hollywood directors with multi-million dollar expense accounts.

That's not true of all Commodore arcade games, of course. Hewson's Uridium has good graphics and excellent playability. But does anyone remember those 'fractal graphic' games, with layers and layers of astonishingly clever landscapes? They looked wonderful, but were dull to play -- Activision's The Eidolon particularly so.

Software producers can get away with these faults -- all computer games are deceptively interesting at first sight, because they move. I remember being enthralled by those very first dedicated 'pong' machines, on which you played an extremely primitive kind of table tennis with two crude bats and a square ball. I was fascinated by moving something on a TV screen -- that was the most powerful attraction of the 'pong' games. They were never very playable, lacking the desperate tacky addictiveness of other early games like the Breakout clone group; one soon realised there was no real way of making the ball spin, and that the strategic possibilities were therefore limited.

The movement was the fascination, and though we're all very blase now, that's still part of our reaction to arcade games. If a board game has cheap and shoddy physical components, badly written and scanty rules and nothing of interest for the players to do, it's not likely to impress anyone -- even at first encounter. Even if it's glossily packaged, it will disappoint players who have to do something active to enjoy a non-computer game.

But computer games move and take quite a lot of the onus of creating interest from the player. They stand in a grey area between active and passive enjoyment: between sports and involving games on the one hand, and TV, cinema and theatre on the other. So computer software can sometimes get away with being bad in the same way that films and TV shows can.

This film isn't very well-written, the plot is highly implausible and I could pick any number of holes in it, the acting is pretty awful . . . but all the same there are some entertaining moments in it, and I only went to see it to sit back for a couple of hours and relax, and it's worth 2.50.

This game is really very simple and silly, but for a while there's some interest in trying to make the little man jump over the pool and reach the Crystal Of Eternal Life hanging from that tree . . . and the moving snakes are very well-animated.

This passive attitude to TV, films and computer games is understandable, and it's all very well if there are also good films being made and good games being produced. And, after all, finding something good in most films and games is the sign of a receptive -- rather than overbearing and all-excluding -- critical facility. So don't despair of Commodore software's increasingly American tone.

Next month I'll discuss the difference between strategy and simulation games and games in general -- and in the meantime, don't keep your views to yourself!
.

 

OKINAWA
PSS, 4.99 cass, 9.99 disk


Another Second World War game; this time it's one of the Classic Conflicts series of old PSS titles at reduced prices.

By March 1945, the advancing Allies had reached the island of Okinawa in southwest Japan. They wanted to capture it to use as an airbase and harbour for their invasion of Japan -- and the Allies considered then assault on Okinawa a dress rehearsal for that invasion.

As so often in the Pacific conflict, the Japanese resistance and Allied losses were massive. Kamikaze pilots sank 36 Allied ships, 50,000 US troops were injured or killed, 108,000 Japanese died. In the face of these figures, American commander Douglas MacArthur had to revise the estimates for the capture of Japan itself -- after Okinawa he expected to need five million men and suffer a million casualties. So the Okinawa experience helped persuade the Allies to use nuclear weapons and end the war without another great battle.

But in PSS's reconstruction this historical background is merely an excuse for yet another game in precisely the same mould as Falklands 82 and Iwo Jima. If you've seen either of these, you've seen Okinawa.

Units start at sea and are landed on the island. Then they crunch around the landscape discovering enemy units, supplementing their own fire power with offshore assistance. There are minefields, long range sharpshooters and rules that limit action in a turn to either moving or firing. Everything that can possibly be the same as in Iwo Jima and Falklands 82 is the same, nothing is added or taken away. If you like Iwo Jima you'll like Okinawa. End of review?

Well, not everyone has played those other two island-bashing games, so I'll proceed . . .

After choosing from a generous eight difficulty levels, the player (who leads the Allied forces) is presented with an unexciting two-tone map of Okinawa. The scenery is varied by mountains, minefields, villages (which are not named, and are represented only by dots) and numbered beach-heads (seven, dotted around the coastline). All these features impose the usual kind of movement penalties on units crossing them.

The game proceeds in straightforward two-phase turns, with the Allied forces getting their move first, after the computer has invisibly positioned the Japanese defences. The player has ten units on the first turn. Ten more arrive on turn three if weather conditions are favourable for landing, and on turn 16 -- by which time they are very welcome -- another five arrive. All player units start offshore and are positioned at one of the seven beachheads which are arranged around three main points, thus making a three-pronged attack possible.

The computer automatically deals with each of the player's units in turn during the action phase. On a unit's first turn, it can both land and then move or attack; on subsequent turns it can move or attack. Characteristic of the Okinawa-style games is the way the player selects which enemy unit to attack: the computer highlights the nearest possibility and asks whether it is the target. On a negative response, it goes to the next nearest. It will happily go through all enemy units visible on the screen, paying no attention at all to the range of the attacker.

This is frustrating, because if you attempt to attack a unit out of firing range the unit loses its turn and it's easy to hit the joystick button and attack by mistake.

An information panel at the top of the screen describes the unit currently in use, giving its name, its firing range, its movement range, its defence factor and its aggression factor.

Sitting on top of a minefield or being up a mountain increases the defence factor, making it more difficult for enemies to harm the unit. The aggression factor is an indication of how effectively the unit can fight, and it's reduced in combat -- when it reaches zero, the unit is eliminated.

You can't examine enemy units at all, but when you decide to attack one, all its values appear in a similar panel at the bottom of the screen. During combat -- which, like movement, occurs instantaneously -- you can watch the aggression factor of both units go down.

The Allied forces are divided into infantry, armoured and artillery divisions. The infantry divisions have a range of only one square, the armoured divisions have a range of two, and the artillery can fire from a great distance.

The Japanese are equipped only with infantry and artillery, so if you range tanks against their men and pillboxes they can't shoot back.

But the Allies' major weapon is the gunship line, which hovers offshore and rains naval gunfire on any part of the island. After making an ordinary attack with a land unit, the player can -- in the early turns of the game, at least -- have a go with the big guns. And in the early turns naval fire effectively provides two attacks per turn on every enemy unit.

It seems wise not to bother restraining your naval fire, as it's quickly eroded by enemy action anyway -- at the end of each turn the player has to watch, powerless, as submarines stalk the gunships and planes attack them.

It's difficult to plan a strategy in Okinawa simply because the Japanese forces remain so well-hidden in what's presumably the island's thick jungle, and since the victory conditions declare that the Allies must eliminate all Japanese forces on the island it's necessary to search every corner of the map. All you can do is send units off hopefully in random directions and keep them moving until they fall over a Japanese division. It then makes sense to stop and shoot, and, if your unit survives, to carry on blindly in search of the next victim.

And the obvious broad approach -- a three-pronged assault -- is suggested by the fixed beachheads. Little scope remains for the strategic imagination of the player.

The units appear as tiny and indistinct counters on a background visually identical to Iwo Jima and the Falklands in PSS's other similar games. And on a less-than-perfect colour TV it's difficult to make out which side each unit belongs to -- only colour distinguishes them.

 

The straightforward, unadorned nature of Okinawa may appeal to some players, and the eight difficulty levels provide a progressive long-term challenge. But anyone who has Falklands 82 or Iwo Jima will find nothing new in Okinawa.

It's not unplayable, you can spend a happily diverted afternoon rooting out the Japanese and watching your gunships being bombed. And the 4.99 cassette version is reasonably good value for someone who particularly likes the previous games from the same mould, or hasn't got either of them.

Okinawa is also on PSS's compilation Conflicts 2, where it can be had with Battle for Midway and Iwo Jima for 12.99 on cassette or 17.99 on disk.

   


Presentation 59%

Dull and occasionally awkward.

Graphics 51%
A drab, featureless landscape, tiny indistinguishable units -- hardly state-of-the-art Commodore graphics.

Authenticity 70%
Launching surprise attacks on enemy units in the undergrowth is atmospherically convincing, though I'm beginning to think every island campaign was conducted along identical lines!

Playability 64%
A clumsy orders system of roll-along menus doesn't seriously impair playability.

Overall 64%
Reasonably priced -- but limited, derivative and visually difficult to follow.
.

 
 

 

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (6 Mar 2006)
Only the first of the above screenshots existed in the original review.

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