Death Mask

Title		Death Mask
Company		Alternative Games / Apache ID
Game Type	3D Action
Players		1 or 2
Compatibility	All (1 meg required)
HD Installable  No
Submission	Joachim FroholtProfiled Reviewer

Remember when Doom was released on the PC, and we didn't have anything
like it on the Amiga? And the experts kept saying that something like Doom
wasn't possible on the Amiga at all, because of the Amiga's way of
handling graphics, and the simple fact that 3D stuff needed more processor
power than the typical Amiga had (remember, most games back then would run
on any Amiga with 1 Mb ram, and software companies weren't really eager to
exploit the possibillities of better Amigas - too much of their revenues
came from sales to A500/600 owners). So, what were we to do? Many of us
decided to wait. Games got better and better, technically at least, and
the A1200 became more and more popular, so we hoped that our patience
would eventually be rewarded. Others decided to get themselves a PC,
selling their Amiga in the process. In fact, the release of Doom might be
one of the most devastating events ever for the Amiga market. Anyway, I
was one of those who elected to wait. For a long time, nothing much
happened, at least not on the surface. But talented coders worked hard to
prove that Doom was possible on the Amiga, and 3d engines began popping up
everywhere. Unfortunately, few of these made it into games. Most of them
were simple experiments by demo coders, and featured little more than a
camera moving through a 3d labyrinth. But one day in the autumn of 1994, a
company called Apache announced their attempt to produce a real Doom clone
for the Amiga: DeathMasque. Apache kept their promises, and the first
Amiga Doom clone, now called Death Mask, was on the market early in 1995.

To make a long story short, Death Mask disappointed. I'll give you the
gory details later.

Fortunately, other coders perserved, and about half a year later, two Doom
clones appeared at once: Gloom, from Black Magic, and Alien Breed 3D, from
Team 17. Both were instant classics (AB3D even had a 3D engine which, in
many ways, was more advanced than the Doom engine!), and you'll find
reviews of them here on the AGDB. More games followed: Fears, The Citadel,
and some others, although none of these could beat Gloom or AB3D, atleast
not in terms of popularity. About half a year after the launch of Gloom &
AB3D, another game came to claim the throne of Amiga Doom clones,
Breathless, from Power Computing & Field of Vision. This game was playable
on standard A1200's, but really impressive with some extra horsepower. In
my opinion, Breathless was the first (Amiga) Doom clone which actually
looked more polished than Doom itself, at least when there were no enemies
around. After a while, Gloom and AB3D were upgraded for more powerful
Amigas, and things just got better from there. Nemac IV, Genetic Species,
Quake, and even Doom itself. As I write this, Shogo and Soldier of Fortune
are just two of the many 3D shooters on their way to the Amiga.

But, anyway, things sort of started with Death Mask, and as I said.. it's
not particularily good. The game comes on two disks, and it will run on
just about any Amiga (although if you only have 512 kb chip ram, you're
not getting the full package). The game starts with a reasonably good
logo, and an atmospheric tune (which starts off as promising, but soon
becomes boring and dull). You're then greeted with an in-game screenshot
and a message telling you to press the fire button. If you decide not to
press the fire button at this time, you'll see some more screenshots, some
weapon statistics and a decent image of an alien. But let's assume you do
press fire, okay? Because doing this will send you to the main menu. If
you haven't already been scared off by the low quality of the
aforementioned screenshots, you might get excited about the options on
offer: Speed (Low, Medium and Fast, although there's no point in having it
on low unless you've got the reactions of a threehundred year old
tortoise), 1 Player Game, 2 Player Game and 2 Player Battle. Having
already seen the screenshots, you will know that the game employs
split-screen mode to get two warriors in at once.. wow! Not even Doom does
that! In fact, almost no PC games does it - shame on PC game producers!

Selecting a one player game, you'll be asked to either type in a level
code or play the game from the beginning. The level code thing is the
first flaw of this game, although most other early Amiga Doom clones used
level codes as well. What they should have used, of course, is the
save/load technique used by Doom and most other games like it on the PC.
Well, you can't save games in Death Mask, but you do get three lives to
waste before it's game over (although you'll still have to start the
current level all over again if you lose one of the lives, d'uh!).

Then it's on to the actual game. The first thing you'll notice is the
horribly poor choice of in-game colours. Most of the graphics seem to be
in brown, grey or a yucky green! Granted, Doom didn't look particularily
colourful either, but this is plain ugly. The next thing you'll notice is
the split screen, even in one player mode. Then there's the lack of
texturemapped ceilings & floors - these consist of ugly colour gradients
and nothing else (well, the ceilings seem to have some lights, but they
just look like strange, white blobs).

So far, not so good. When you actually start playing, it gets worse!
Unlike Doom (and pretty much every clone), you can only move in four
directions! When you point the joystick left, the player turns 45 degrees.
This is supposed to be a first person shooter, not Eye of the Beholder!
(suitably enough, there's an option to turn off the animation as the
character turns around, making the game engine seem very like that of the
good old flick screen rpgs). When the player moves forward, he will 'jump'
ahead one square, although the 'jump' is animated to make it seem like the
player's got more control.

But let's forget about all this and stop comparing Death Mask to other
games. The real question is: If we ignore the flaws of the game engine, is
the game fun? There are several factors which come into play here. One is
the level design. Inventive level design would surely save the game, but
unfortunately, the levels are just old fashioned mazes. There also seems
to be only one wall texture per level, which makes the mazes even more
boring. Luckily, though, the creators have included an in-game map which
can be called up by a keypress, so the problem of actually finding your
way through the mazes is made a bit less painful. Unfortunately, the map
covers the playing area, even when there's nothing happening on the other
half of the screen (everything is split screen, remember?). Couple this
with the fact that the walls of the labyrinths look the same all over the
level, and the fact that the map doesn't show the direction you're facing,
then needless to say that you'll have to reach for the map often, if only
to see whether you read the map right the last time you had it displayed.

By now, you'll probably think that I don't like Death Mask at all.
Strangely enough, this is not the case. The game is, against all odds, a
bit playable. Once you actually get used to only being able to move in
four directions, and once you learn how to cope with the other flaws of
the game, there's actually some fun to be had here. The two player
cooperative mode is especially fun, although it often consists of the
player who's taken the least damage going forward, while the other player
stays put, displaying the map on his half of the screen. Speaking of the
map, there is one way to make the game a lot more enjoyable to play, and
that's simply to start a two player game even when you're only one player.
Then you can use the second player's map to constantly keep an eye on
where you and your enemies are. Once I thought of this, I raced through
levels which had previously stopped me dead, and the game became a lot
more enjoyable due to the fact that shooting monsters became first
priority, not navigating through mazes.

The aforementioned poor graphics will eventually stop being a problem as
you begin to enjoy the actual game. Also, later levels have a nicer
selection of colours and graphics, and some are actually quite
atmospheric. There's not many sound effects, but some levels have
background sounds which help create tension. One thing which I found to be
a bit lame is that most (all?) monsters create the same noise when hit by
a bullet - a rather humanlike "argh!" - not at all suitable for some of
the nasty looking aliens. The selection of monsters isn't too bad, though,
and different monster types behave in a different way, which is good.
Unfortunately, the outcome of each encounter is really determined by the
weapon you're carrying, and the game engine doesn't allow for the use of
cunning tactics to outsmart the stronger foes.

There are 35 levels in the game. When you have your trusty ally, the map
carrying second player, you'll race through the first ten or so before
things get a bit hairy. It might be worth mentioning that only one player
need to reach the exit for the level to end - it's nice not having to drag
the mapper along. Each level has a set objective, though they are usually
very simple: Destroy that and that and reach the exit, or kill all
enemies. But eventually, you will tire of moving through labyrinth after
labyrinth, trying to find the best weapons possible so that you can defend
yourself against the ever growing hordes of evil. And when the mapper dies
early because of nasties in the starting area, you'll probably find
yourself less and less inclined to go on playing, as the default mode of
play is just too painful to be any fun.

It strikes me when reading previews of Death Mask, that a lot of planned
features didn't make it into the final game. This indicates that it was
rushed out, in order to satisfy Amigans keen on spending money on a first
person shooter. I don't know if these features would have saved the game,
but I do know that the game does feel more than a little untested. The
fiddly map system, for instance, would probably have been vastly improved
if the testing department had done their job (or been given the time to do
their job).

To conclude, then, Death Mask is a slightly below average game. It
certainly has it's merits, and if you manage to stop comparing it to the
games it.. er.. tries to clone, you'll find that it can be a lot of fun.
But it won't last very long. I played this game a lot after having just
completed Soldier of Fortune on the PC, but I guess that says more about
me than it says about Death Mask. Anyway, I got tired of the game halfway
through, and I doubt I'll bother much with it again. There are far too
many good first person shooters around for me to justify wading through
endless labyrinths.

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