Bio Menace: Episode 1  - Brian
aka. Dr. Mangle's Lab
I was once told that video games in the early 80's and 90's were much harder than games today. At the time of hearing this, I didn't really know if that was true. I had grown up most of my life only casually playing games. The number of games I owned was much higher than the number of games I had beaten. If a game was too hard, it found its way atop a bookcase where it was ignored for several years. It was only in 2000 that I became what could be considered a serious 'gamer' and by that point, I found games challenging but beatable. With my hindsight vision being 20/20, I can now safely deduce that games were much more challenging than they are today. Taking this into account, I've been playing a lot of older games in hopes of gaining a better a perspective and appreciation for what it was like to be a gamer back then.
Today's review is of Bio Menace: Episode 1, a fine product from the fine people of (at the time) Apogee Software. Now, until recently, I had never heard of this game. The only exposure I had to Apogee was a 3-and-a-half inch floppy of a demo (Halloween Harry) that my dad had gotten for me at CompUSA. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, Bio Menace can be played in its entirety as freeware. I highly recommend you stop reading this review, go here
, and download the freeware (but don't forget to come back).
Get it? Good. Welcome back.
For any younger people here, if this is your first time playing a game not-called 'HALO', you will notice that the game just starts with you in the first level. No lead-in, no cut scene, and no tutorial. What do I do? What are the controls? Unfortunately, Bio Menace doesn't employ any kind of 'hand-holding' tactics when bringing you into its world. Snake Logan, our platforming hero, is armed with nothing but a gun and the keen ability to jump. There are a number of secret moves at Snake's disposal but unless you have the manual, you're left trying to figure these out on your own. What about the story? Why are these mutants trying to kill me? Unless you read the back of the box or the manual, then you're only clue is the occasional dialogue box that pops up in conversation between Snake and civilians. Even then, all you can really glean is that some guy named Dr. Mangle has set mutants loose on the city and you've been sent to stop him. Pretty straightforward, really. Doesn't get too deep or too preachy and that's really where it excels. Rather than getting bogged down by some kind of overly complex narrative, riddled with twists and turns, the core focus of Bio Menace is the gameplay itself.
Back in the day, there was no real demand for a deep and intriguing narrative. The gameplay itself was usually enough and while full-motion video and cut scenes were the fevered pipedreams of a madman. Sometimes a single typed paragraph was provided, summing up the events of the game in one ludicrous passage. I remember John Carmack once made a statement about the industry today and how he resented the assumption that, as a developer, he was expected to produce some kind of B-Movie script in addition to a gaming experience. In a lot of ways, he's not being unreasonable. If you want a deep and enthralling story, there's something for that called a book. I personally believe you can have your literary cake and eat it too and have seen many occasions where both story and gameplay are shown in grand display; working with one another. However, the flipside is that a game can spend too much time on the story and not enough time on the game. What you then end up with is a chore of a game that you WANT to stop playing, but can't.
As mentioned before, games in the earlier days were much harder than they are today and Bio Menace is no exception. While the control scheme seems easy enough to understand, enemy behavior and how much damage they inflict is a lesson in repetition at times. Many times you will suffer the one-hit kill from walking into an enemy you've never seen before and other times, a shot will be fired from off-screen that just happens to find its mark. It's unfair, right? No, it's challenging. If this game were easy, there'd be no real reward in winning. You'd move from Point A to Point B with nothing of note or merit. No nail-biting crawl through a level, teeming with malevolent mutants waiting to strike from off-screen for that last point of health. No real pride or sense of accomplishment.
The difficulty in Bio Menace is well-paced, starting you off with enemies and environmental hazards you can easily interpret and then evolving them to become more challenging as the game progresses. In addition to various types of power-ups, guns, and grenades you can pick up, Snake comes equipped with a couple special moves, each with their own unique input. These moves simply add to the list of possible ways to dispatch your foes. You can snipe your enemy off-screen, lay down a trap with a proximity mine, or just plain spam the hell out of a special move and save ammo. With its variety in weaponry, pick-ups, and enemies, there is an unprecedented level of depth in the gameplay. The player can run-and-gun like the best of them, OR the player can take advantage of unique enemy movement patterns, different types of weaponry, and environmental factors to get to the finish. This proves an effective and addicting blend that will keep the player coming back for more, and I know exactly what I'll be playing after this is posted.