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Classics: Hardline An out of ordinary rail shooter

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DEVELOPER: Cryo Interactive Entertainment
PUBLISHER: Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Europe) Ltd.
PLATFORM: PC/DOS (Europe), PC/Windows '95 (USA); 3 CD
MINIMAL HARDWARE REQUIREMENTS: IBM PC or 100% compatible, 486 66Mhz CPU, DOS 5.0 or Windows '95, 8MB RAM, 14MB hard-drive space free, x2 speed CD-ROM drive, VGA compatible video card, soundcard, 100% Microsoft-compatible mouse, keyboard
RECOMMENDED HARDWARE REQUIREMENTS: Intel Pentium class CPU, x4 speed CD-ROM drive, SVGA video card compatible with VESA 2.0 or UNIVBE for 640x400 resolution


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It is year 1998. For the last months a previously unknown sect whose members are nicknamed 'Sectoids' has been ravaging the country. Every day becoming more and more powerful the sect has already crushed any police or army forces it encountered. Nobody knows how did it all began and where their incredible strength comes from. Like a disease they grow in numbers incredibly fast and with extreme violence they spread to major clusters of population. Chicago, Washington, New York - flooded with chaos nobody is able to stop. Death tolls are catastrophic. These days only two things are certain: that the sect worships a strange kind of technological god - 'Deck' - whom no one has seen and lived long enough to tell about it; the other being that when Sectoids come - nothing remains.

You are Ted Irving. Helicopters are your hobby... At least were - before the Sectoids came. In the chaos that have arisen, you managed to get yourself one of those machines you always dreamed of. You were lucky - it brought you closer to what is less available with every new day - food. You've became a mercenary pilot - every time someone needs a safe transport not bothered by the Sectoids' patrols - you are the man, in exchange for those little supplies you need. However you have a very bad habit. You tend to help people. You have responded to emergency calls from lost Rebel patrols before. Rebels... Poorly organized, outnumbered and outgunned. It is kind of funny that only such a group is rumored to be the only one who can help defending humanity against the Sectoids... But for now - it is they who need your help. You have just received another distress call from a stranded rebel. Of course you are going to respond to that call. What is not so obvious is what will happen when you get there. All your beliefs are going to be tested hard...

What we have here is a nice backstory to another entry in the rail-shooters genre - players spend most of the game shooting, through a first person perspective, to moving targets, while their characters remain still or move beyond player's control. However this time that well known genre made another step forward. Until now we have been witnessing only pure shoot-out action accompanied by semi-realistic graphics, average plot and total lack of any interactivity. It was not a surprise to find another game that focuses on action, but a completely different approach to delivering those tons of virtual action-extravaganza was a nice and unusual treat.

The first thing you will see in this Full Motion Video action game shall be poor acting and painfully simple dialogs. Yet it seems that Virgin/Cryo duo, being the big names in the gaming industry at the time, had done their homework well and where they had saved on the scriptwriters, they spent a lot on the technology and the design team. For the first time in a title that is basically a rail-shooter we can see some large chunks of adventure-gaming elements. First of all, the gameplay is not made up of only pure action sequences separated by a bunch of short movies. Although both elements are present here and are a strong part of the gameplay, there are a great many situations where player has direct control over Ted's actions and it is him who has to lead Ted to fighting. And that "control" reaches much farther than usual action-choice as in the other well known genre of interactive movies. During such adventure sequences we can explore the places (interiors and exteriors) Ted will visit. Of course, all Ted actions during such time are pictured with FMV sequences however we can still gather equipment or search for secret passages that will lead us to more powerful weapons, or let us avoid some of the shootout altogether. Of course this is not an adventure title so the whole space Ted can move in is just a set of rooms that will eventually lead to a major action sequence this way or another. However the ability of the player to actually choose the way that has an impact on later gameplay makes that game far more entertaining.

We can use our inventory at any time. By implementing a variety-of-weapons-but-little-ammunition scheme designers put player's braincells into work, as he needs to actively choose the best weapon to the situation at hand. And there are many weapons to choose from. From semi-automatic powerful pistols, less noisy fully-automatic sidearms, through shotguns and automatic mid-range rifles, to such miracles of technology as laser powered handguns or automatic multi-barreled miniguns. There are also "heavy artillery" modules that can be attached to any weapon adding the ability to launch grenades or spread napalm across the place. Most of the equipment may be found on the cold bodies of your ex-enemies. That includes med-kits as your health is limited as well.

Fun never ends as there are hundreds of various enemies to kill. As the game makes heavy use of blue screen techniques (prefilmed actors shown against prerendered or photographed static backgrounds) - most of the enemies seem different every time you see them. However eyecandies like the number of weapons or above average number of destructible environment elements are only part of the graphical engine itself, which is one of the best in this type of games. The graphics are always clear and sharp (thanks to support for 640x480 resolution in 16bit color!), while all of the little details like explosions and other lighting effects suit the rest of the scene incredibly well. All moving scene elements are well cut from their blue background and fit perfectly into their surroundings, a sign of developers mastering the crafts of lighting and perspective, which was always the hardest part of the blue-screen technique. The backgrounds are mostly real locations with only little digital additions - additions seamless and pleasant for the eye. On rare occasions player can witness a longer computer-generated animation, mostly as a part of a longer movie between the action sequences.

Now, the strengths of this game do not lie in the range of new solutions it incorporates - it is the great design that makes all the separate details a fun and enjoyable whole. Perfect interface that let's you pause and save the game any time you wish, skip or replay the movie you have already seen in only a few clicks, or an addition of sub-titles is only adding to the general fun factor. Although the developers didn't leave the player with a choice of game difficulty, the varied gameplay and sceneries will keep the pros interested, while slowly but steadily evolving S-F plot will keep all other "slower-handed" gamers in front of their monitors. Especially if they are shown quite a lengthy set of movies, hence the 3 CD worth of weight. Still, experienced player may finish the game in one evening.

Now don't get me wrong, the story is not a top-notch science-fiction saga (and did I mentioned that acting is awfully bad...?) but when combined with all those other elements it is definitely more than enough to warrant a play-through for not only the action-oriented crowd.

Save often and play to the end.

The good:

  • Interesting plot.
  • Freedom of movement between the action sceneries.
  • Unusually interactive world (for this type of game).
The bad:

  • No skill level choice.
  • Poor acting (cut-scenes).
Definitely worth a shot!
Edited by xerxes (see edit history)

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