The Killing Cloud

Title           The Killing Cloud
Game Type       3D Combat Sim
Company		Vektor Grafix/Image Works 1991
Players         1
Compatibility   All (With Patch)
HD installable  Yes (With Patch)
Submission      Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

The Killing Cloud can be described, for the most part, as a highly
accessible 3D flight simulation, and partly (but only partly) an adventure
game. You play the part of a futuristic rookie cop in a chilling and
lawless San Francisco of 1997; the game was released in 1991, you see.
Somebody or something has created a huge and deadly cloud of poison gas
(the Killing Cloud) which drifts over the entire bay area, leaving only
the upper levels of skyscrapers safe for human occupation. In addition, a
mysterious gang known as the Black Angels, led by the even more mysterious
Trinity, are attempting to wipe out what's left of the city's law
enforcement, and they are making a pretty good job of it too. Your task is
to patrol the city in your flying XB500 hover bike, completing your
assigned missions and attempting to discover more about the Angels and
their fiendish intentions.

"Ambitious" is the first adjective that comes to mind as far as The
Killing Cloud is concerned. The Vektor Grafix team who also brought us
highly competent conversions of the two original wire frame Star Wars
arcade games, the slightly dodgy Fighter Bomber and the impressive but
scarily detailed Shuttle, have created an entire city and more, in the
Killing Cloud. The terrain is truly three dimensional with elevated areas
rising above the lowlands and the surrounding bay. The buildings are
highly varied, there are tree lined roads, bridges, separate areas of the
city that are all accessible without any of that reloading nonsense. If
you fly around long enough you'll find, amongst other things, churches,
hotels, harbours with boats, monuments, traffic lights, traffic cones, and
the different districts have different flavours; there are a lot of
pagodas in China Town for example. Even the island of Alcatraz is out
there if you can find it. In several ways the game is strangely similar to
the Sony Playstation game, G-Police. Flying a small but heavily armed
vehicle through a veiled cityscape, trying to get to the bottom of a
mysterious conspiracy and pursuing a sinister group of law breakers.
Coincidence? Perhaps not.

The game starts, as does each of the 10 missions, with a briefing screen
that allows access to the city maps, the files on various hardware you will
encounter, dossiers about the various individuals you must pursue, and
finally the Armoury, where you tool up your hover bike. The maps bring me
to an important element of the game and one which was rather controversial
at the time of the game's release. Your missions will often require you to
capture an individual and bring him back for questioning. This is done in
an unusual way. You capture people buy firing a Net missile at their
vehicle, which traps it by deploying a large net, and then waiting for the
PUP (a sort of coffin-shaped human delivery system) to collect your
prisoner. What some reviewers complained about was the need to deploy your
Net Missiles and PUPs before leaving the station, and then collecting the
missiles en route to your objective, and hoping that the limited range of
your deployed PUP would be sufficient to guide it to the appropriate
location. You can deploy multiple PUPs but as most of your equipment is in
extremely limited supply throughout the game, and the PUPs and Net
missiles are never replenished, this would be unwise. Personally I had no
problem with the system, and all it really means is that some care and
experience is needed to deploy equipment effectively.

Once you leave the briefing screens you are (optionally) treated to a
short animation which shows you stride purposefully to you hover bike, and
hop in. When this ends you enter the 3D environment, sitting in your hover
bike, out on the roof of the Precinct Tower that you are based at. From
here you'll use your radar to get a fix on your ordnance and your
objective. As you throttle away from the Precinct, you'll see the upper
structures of many other buildings standing above the sickly yellow cloud
that obscures the city itself. Probing cautiously into the fog you'll
initially see nothing at all, but after a moment the streets and buildings
of the city will emerge from the reddish haze.

Originally the game would not readily work with modern Amigas and would
not install to hard drives. Thanks to the efforts of the talented patcher
Ralf Huvendiek, however, a JST patch was produced, remedying this problem.
More recently, John Girvin has produced a WHDLoad patch for the game, and
John has concentrated on persuading an uncooperative game to run at as
high a frame rate as possible. He has been successful, and the game runs
a lot faster now, not only feeling better but making control of your
headstrong XB500 significantly easier. Its well worth forgetting about
your missions at some point, and having a good old explore around the
landscape. If you stick religously to the missions, there is a lot here
you will not see.

I completed the game in a fairly short time which indicates that it is not
particuarly difficult; I have lots of unfinished games. The mission based
structure of the game works fairly well, but I would personally like to
have a less linear arrangement. The tasks you must perform are generally
straightforward, and it would have been nice to have muddied the waters a
bit by creating some more depth in the game, like the possibility of
trading or enhancing your ship for example. In a way, the game's
impressive urban backdrop is under utilized, and I feel more could and
perhaps should have been done with it. Originally the game was to include
a rather unpleasant interrogation sequence where you could torture your
captives to make them disclose their grubby secrets. Apparently Amnesty
International got wind of this and understandably insisted the sequence be
removed. Not to be beaten, Vektor Grafix replaced the 'stick' with the
'carrot' principle, and now you must offer your captives a reduced
sentence in order to get them to spill the beans. I wasn't too keen on
this initially, but after completing the game, I grudgingly admit that it
works quite well. After several missions though, I was beginning to find
things a little repetitive, but fortunately the game design anticipated
this and interest was quickly restored with some more varied missions.

The game does include some 'up close and personal' dogfighting, and this
is good fun, and a little reminiscent of Star Crusader, also patched by
John Girvin. The Vektor Grafix team certainly take the prize for more
complex 3D shapes however, and when you consider the game was released in
1991, I think its fair to say that their 3D engine was cutting edge
technology in the 16-bit entertainment market. If you look at screenshots
of the PC version of the game, you'll notice that some of the cockpit
monitors have been removed from the Amiga version which makes navigation
that much more difficult. This is odd though, because the monitors in the
PC version obscure the 3D terrain, which I would have thought (in my
ignorance) would have worked to the Amiga's advantage. Its not uncommon to
find yourself in a scrap with several opponents, and while they are not
exactly in the Luke Skywalker class, the AI is fairly good. Some chases
can be very spectacular, with your adversary seemingly trying to catch you
out by diving down through narrow streets and frantically banking round
skyscrapers in the, all too realistic, hope that you will make a mistake.

Finally the game presents you with a couple of enjoyable and satisfying
completion screens that compensate your efforts and help you to discount
the minor frustrations experienced in the completion of your missions. A
worthy and rather impressive game then, and aside from some niggles
regarding depth and utilization of the 3D world is still highly enjoyable,
thanks in no small part to our friends the Patchers.

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