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Review - Missile Command

Posted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:15 pm
by 3DOKid
Atari Jaguar Missile Command 3D.


I've been planning for quite a while to do a comparison between the post 1981 Missile Command versions. Namely, The Atari Jaguars Missile Command 3D, released by Atari proper back in 1995 and Missile Command on the Playstation released by Atari/Hasbro in 1999. All was going swimmingly until I started actually exploring the three versions found on the Jaguars cartridge -- and then I gave up.

Before I start, let me make this clear, the Playstation version is the better version in a traditional sense, it's FMV'd up, dumbed down, re-textured, huge improvements in speed, better controls, it's a lot prettier and it's more playable than the Jag version, that said, it is in my honest opinion, that the Jaguar version is by far the most impressive. Technically.

There are three versions of Missile Command on the Jaguar cartridge. There is original, which is ballsed up version of the arcade classic. Minor enhancements like music and graphics have been tweaked, purely so it seems to aggravate the purists. There is a 3D version, which is somewhere between the original version and the Playstation version. And this is the version I was going to do a comparison with. To call these versions3 D is a stretch mind you. It's a 2D game with 3D graphics. This version is pretty tough going on the Jag, the Jags 3D game engine chuggs along, and the controls seem painfully slow, a bit dingy if I'm honest, and at the end-of-the-day it's just 2D Missile Command, with 3D dressing -- and that's all it is.


However, I'm not done yet. There is a Virtual Reality version on the Jaguar cart, designed to go with the Jags VR helmet, which never saw the light of day, but luckily you don't need a VR Helmet play it. This VR version doesn’t appear on the PS1 disc, although there is a borrowed element of it in the PS1 versions boss levels. It's not the same though and the impact of the VR Jag version is lost totally in the PS1 version. The Jag version is, honestly, a retro-technology-ho's pin-up game, and perhaps makes Missile Command on the Atari Jaguar one of the all time under-estimated games in the world - ever.

So, what's so amazing? It's proper 3D? 3D being one of those terms that I'll never fully understand in terms of gaming, as TV's are 2D and when I think about it, I get myself in knots. The games is, in my opinion however, a proper 3D version of traditional 2D Missile Command. You have five cities in the centre of the game area, which in the first level is under the sea, complete with bubbles, and the cities are surrounded by three missile silos or bases. The idea is, like vanilla Missile Command, to protect the cities from Missiles -- by Commanding them.

The VR bit is the good bit. It's difficult to explain, but in the 3D versions the missiles are simply higher up the screen, in the VR version, they are above your head. Albeit on the TV screen too. It's much better effect. It's like virtually tilting your neck up to the sky, as opposed to scrolling the screen up. It's a much more immersive technique.

While playing, in traditional Missile Command and 3D Missile Command on the SP1 and Jag, a different button on the Dpad represents a shot from a different base. In VR Missile command you need to switch between the bases while playing - essentially relocating yourself wholesale into another missile tower. To do so, you use the numbers 1 to 3 on the Jags number pad. Why do that? Well, okay, unlike the 3D Jag version and the PS1 version, the VR versions missiles are not glued to a single 2D axis, they come at you from all angles, above your virtual-head, and you need to switch between missile towers to get a better view of what is coming at you. And this is all done in a proper 3D really-real environment, with a proper use of Z-Axis and everything. It's pretty cool. In fact it's amazing. Admittedly the same effect was repeated in later games, Incoming springs to mind, and the tower Sections from Defcon 5 and a Star Wars game but nothing has quite the same effect.

Playing it, the game starts pretty much like vanilla Missile Command. A few missiles rain from the sky and you shoot them down, switching occasionally to blast at an interloping alien spaceship. You have lasers as well as Missiles, aside from that; it's just Proper 3D Missile Command. What's amazing is that it is all in 3D. As you switch between bases, the screen swoops around in an arc to the next base and until you're in position to keep blasting. It is nicely done. The mountains in the background are 3D models, the cities are 3D models and the bases/silos are 3D models; and the first time you see it, and the first time you witness this swooping, re-basing motion, it's pretty impressive. If I stopped there, and was impressed with humble Jaguars 3D capabilities, that would be enough for me say to Jag owners, go on then, have a go at that.

There was a WOW factor however. At some point during play, a quite large black and yellow 3D Moray Eel started swooping over my cities, screeching and looping round the back of the 3D mountains. As it sort of glided around , I was impressed. All the while obviously I was trying to kill it by pounding it with Missiles and Lasers and stuff as you do in video games. Up until that point all I had seen was 3D representations of traditional Missile Command spaceships, as game-play had become more frantic, there had been more and more missiles and more spaceships, and it was impressive in itself but the Moray Eel was something else. It was definitely an "Ooh-look-at-that moment".


However, there was a good-lord-that's-astounding-call-the-wife-over-to-have-a-look-but-she-really-didn't-care-but-someone-on-the-RG-Forum-might moment. At the end of level 1-3 a fully 3D beamship, i.e., a traditionally shaped UFO, as seen in Close Encounter, that any later video game SHUMPS would have been proud of, swooped in, and started beam lasering my cities. It was f**king-impressive, and for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the sense of 3D depth the game had achieved thus far was amazing. It's like being in a snow scene ornament - the type you pick up and shake and the snow swirls around for a minute. Except, it's not snow, it's missiles, and it's not Santa, it's a ruddy great big spaceship. The game had so engrossed me, that when the spaceship swooped in over my head, my brain started to get the urge to duck. I'm not kidding. Secondly, considering everything, the era, the machine, the silicon, it was mega-damned impressive. It's on the Atari Jaguar FFS, it's on 1992/1993 technology, the machine had no dedicated 3D processing capabilities, but this beam ship, that plonked itself firmly over my cities, and had started kicking seven-shades out of them, was nothing short of spectacular.



Needless to say, the first time I saw it, I lost the game.

None of which holds a candle to watching your sky cities plunge into the clouds after they have been attacked by flapping fire-breathing 3D Dragon which appears on the next level.

I feel I'm on (another) one man crusade here :)

You can play this on the Jaguar Emulator but it crashes after level 1, and needless to say the emulated screenshots here don't do the game justice. :)

Posted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 4:02 pm
by 3DO Experience
WOW, I think I'll have to buy this one!

Great pics BTW.

Posted: Sun Sep 06, 2009 10:06 pm
by Trev
Very nice review JagKid :wink: (the pics really do add to it)

I've never played the PS1 version, but I agree that the Jag version is great ... probably in my top 5 for Jag games. Everyone who owns a Jag should pick up a copy of this game. :)

Btw, are you planning on posting more Jag reviews?

Posted: Mon Sep 07, 2009 6:44 am
by 3DOKid
oh yes :)

Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2009 2:45 am
by mattyg
..........this is where the prophecy becomes vague - .......does the kid turn to the dark side or does he create an unholy alliance as to which we may destroy the evil undermining Emporer Sony?

Posted: Tue Sep 08, 2009 7:46 am
by 3DOKid
mattyg wrote:..........this is where the prophecy becomes vague - .......does the kid turn to the dark side or does he create an unholy alliance as to which we may destroy the evil undermining Emporer Sony?
I only play on 3 consoles. 3DO, Jag and PS1 (a bit of PS2 and a bit of PS3 but...)

Posted: Fri Nov 18, 2011 1:18 am
by Austin
I finally got my hands on this game last week and got to play it for my very first time, 16 years after it came out. I have to agree with you, 'kid, I am rightfully impressed. And it's genuinely fun, too, particularly in the Virtual mode.