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Alive 3
P A I N I U M   D I S A S T E R

by Anvil Soft 1996-2001

GAME DESIGN  Ralf Zenker, Roland Wendt
RAYTRACING  Lucas Wendler
GRAPHICS   Ronald Wendt
MUSIC  Martin Kleinhenz

Now, this is a game we all considered lost in the depth of the odd and twisted
history of the Falcon, now  all of a  sudden, it is  being released, for free.
So grab your modem, pray  for a reliable connection and  download roughly 6 MB
of vertical-scrolling  shoot'em  up game, that has  been wandering so  many PD
libraries as a preview and so many mailboxes and FTP-sites as a rumour.

What was Painium Disaster about ?

Oddly enough, the  README-File that comes with it doesn't tell. I vagualy
remember it was about a  new microprocessor  named "PAINIUM" that went all 
mad and threatened the whole universe.

But it doesn't say anywhere in the game or the files  that come with it so I
guess it doesn't matter really. How often did Der Komtur and I blast all the
levels of Lethal Xcess without knowing what the game is about either.

You need a Falcon030 for this game, RGB or VGA and at least 3.8 MB of free
memory. According  to ST Survivor you  also need a Jaguar Pad. There is an
option named "Joystick", but  according to STS, this  doesn't really work.
You of  course also  need some  space  on your  harddisk, Painium Disaster
occupies roughly 11 MB on it.

What i soon found out is that you also need to start the game in a Falcon-
resolution and not an ST-compatible one.

Around the game

The game starts with  something game programmers today call "FMV" - full
motion video. Yes, the  first  thing  you see, besides a  funky rendered
Anvil Soft logo is a nicely  rendered animation  that displays  a space-
craft running through a technical environment, finally planting a little
rocket on a very critical target.

Right after that, you get the main-menu, accompanied by some music. The
menu lists the options:

Overscan  - Turns Overscan mode on TV/RGB off or on
Joystick  - This toggles Joystick/Joypad control
Highscore - Displays the highscore screen
Credits   - A little screen featuring the credits
Quit      - Leaves the game
Start     - Starts the game

The menu behaves rather slowish so don't  get confused if it doesn't seem to
react, just  be patient for a while. If  you finally decided to select Start
you are now presented a character-selection screen. Yes, indeed, there are 4
characters to chose from  and all of  them  feature their  special abilities
besides a funky Manga-like - and  very colourful - snapshot  of the person's
face. If you read through  the special  abilities and  decided for a certain
character, you  are  once again  presented a  nice "FMV", this  time of your
spacecract taking off, leaving the space-station and a picture of the planet
you are now heading for.

The game

Like said  in  the  introduction, this  game is  a classical vertical scrolling
shoot'em up  game, meaning : You see  your ship, the  enemies and the landscape
from above while the landscape moves from the  upper part of  the screen slowly
downwards. The  little  game panel, the  number of remaining ships, smart-bombs
and the energy bar of  your ship are not  enclosed in a certain  window but are
directly displayed on the screen, giving you basically a full screen of action.

Pressing the direction-pad  on your  joypad makes your  ship move, pressing the
B-Button makes it fire standard armament. The C-Button fires a missile, if your
ship is equipped with one, the A-Button  launches a smart-bomb, if you own one.
And that's  basically  all  there is  to know. Move, ditch, shoot  and survive.
There are both airborne targets - the majority - that can be hit and eliminated
with the  standard  weapon (Button B), there  are also  ground targets that can
only be eliminated with missiles.

From time to time you encounter a very big sprite - a boss. There are, like in
Xenon 2, in-between bosses that might as well  wander off screen if you do not
take them out, then there are the  level-end bosses that means business : It's
either you or him.

You start with 3 ships  in reserve  and the  minimum armament  displayed on the
character selection screen. You can however expand your weaponary by collection
coloured bonus-objects that change or advance your main armament. The system is
the same  as  in  Lethal  Xcess or Wings  of  Death, meaning : If  you  want to
expand your weapon, you have to collect bonus- objects of the same colour/type.
If you do, you  reach  several  stages  of  this  armament. If  you  collect  a
different colour, you are automatically back to level  1 of this type of weapon.

The colour codes for the bonus-objects are:

Red             = FIRE
Green           = LASER
BLUE            = PROTON
Purple          = MISSILE
Light blue      = SMARTBOMB
Yellow          = ENERGY (increases your energy)
Grey            = OHNO (This symbolizes the man himself, yes death is around.
                  Try to avoid this one, decreases your speed, firepower or
Turquoise       = LIFE (you get a extra life, for free)
Pink            = SPEED (increases the speed of your ship)

If you wasted all 3 of your reserve ships, the game-screen is being removed to
display a game-over logo  which then again vanishes for the high-score screen.
Oh yes, and pausing the game  enables you to alter sound-settings like seen in
many Jaguar-games : You can toggle  music and  sound EFX volume. Funny enough,
the music volume is turned to 0 so the first impression you have is that there
is no music - There is, you can turn it on this way.

The other screens

The high score screen is a table of  high-scores  accompanied by  a very fluent
moving star-field known  from the  Lethal Xcess -high  score table. The Credits
screen is a colourful horizontal scrolline that swings up and down, featuring a
mirrored copy right beneath it, a vertically stretched copy  of it above it and
a little Anvil-Soft logo  hovering under it, swinging  just in the same pattern
as the scroller does. Quit does as promised, no big  surprises here.

Overscan however stays untested from my side since I cannot access a TV set
Note of STS : I could only test the game and no play it but I tried this option 
which allows TV users to extent the game window to its fullest size. Nice !


Painium  Disaster has, according  to the readme-file, been finished in 1997 and
just resided on someone's  desks until  now before  it finally  got released as
freeware. It is  known to still have a _few_  _slight_  bugs, none  of  which I
encountered. I did see a slight bug in the left  screen management, but this is
anything but serious.

So let's have a closer look at all the details. First of course it is very nice
that the demo runs on a 4 MB Falcon and does not  require any additions, on the
contrary - using a speeder might mean trouble when running the game. It is also
very nice that  the game  can  live  with  both  RGB  and VGA monitors, running
basically "full screen" on both of them. This enables all  Falcon-users to play
this game without a minority being locked out again.

Then again, if ST  Survivor's problems with  the joystick persist, you do need
a Jaguar PowerPad to play the game, which again makes it  impossible for a few
people to play the game.

Technically, there  is  hardly  anything  to  criticize  about the  game. The
video-sequences play  nicely, there is a massive amount of sprites on screen,
the scrolling is fluent and  quite slick, so do the controls react. There are
neither long loading-times nor large breakes. The  surrounding code, like the
main menu or the credits, is nothing to get wild about, but they are nice and
do their job well - except for maybe the slowness of the menu.

The graphics  are  good  and colourful - and  this where we run into the first
problem. On the one hand, the rendered animations look terribly good, but they
hardly match the colourful Manga-style of  the other graphics - which are good
in their own, but different way. Then again, the relatively bright background-
and landscape graphics through the  game often  enough mask the enemy bullets,
which are  usually  plain  white, making it  hard sometimes to ditch them. The
sprites are looking nice and fit the  colourful landscape  graphics very well,
but they are not very variable and not very innovative either.

Don't get me wrong, they do  their job well, but they are nothing to get really
wild about either. The music is - first  of  all - hidden. The menus, the first
FMV and the high score screen always have music, but to have music in the game,
you need to pause first. The  music is of good replay quality and features some
kind of a techno-rave beat (like of the early to mid-90s) and it underlines the
gameplay well, not  distractingly well, but well. Don't get me wrong, the music
is not bad at all, i like it, but it  is nothing to  get wild about either. The
sound effects are of lower quality and they are very low in volume. If you turn
on the music and set the volume to  100%, you will  hardly notice sound effects
anymore. If you  want the sound  effects to overlay the music, you have to turn
the music-volume to roughly 20%, otherwise the music will dominate. Most of the
sound-effects are simple BOOM- and BANG! noises with  just a few spoken samples
- like the announcement of the bonus-object you just collected.

So don't get me wrong, the sound effects suit the game well, but they are
nothing to get wild about either.

Obviously, the designers  of the  game did a  lot of research  on success- full
vertical  scrolling  shoot'em  ups. The  character selection  screen reminds of
Zalor  Mercenary on  the Atari  Lynx, the  extra-weapon  system matches the one
from    Wings  of   Death  or  Lethal  Xcess, however   without   matching  the
innovative  weapons  themselves : You  always have a primary weapon that shoots
bullets, missiles and if you're lucky a  smart-bomb. Extraordinary weapons like
the static  ray in Lethal Xcess or  one very weak bullet  that has to travel to
the middle of the screen to explode into 3, 4 or 5 large bullets are missing in
Painium Desaster.

The high score table is a direct import from Lethal Xcess and so is the
system of having more than 1 ship PLUS an energy bar for all of them.

Unfortunately, the  genius  of   Wings  of  Death   or  Lethal   Xcess   stays
unmatched. The  enemy  formations are  rather simple and  remind rather of the
classic  Jupiter  Probe  than of the ingenious  and devilish enemy movement of
Wings of Death  or  Lethal  Xcess  - The  patterns of the enemy sprites are a
bit simple and even the bosses tend to  move a  bit uninspired. Besides  that,
there seem  to be  no "critical  spots" in any  of the enemies, neither in the
simple ones nor in the bosses - Just  hitting them  seems to  be sufficient to
kill them. And just by the way, no enemy that requires to be hit several times
signals a hit by flashing white as it is done in many shoot'em up games

Then  again, you  have  also  ground  targets, like  you have  in  Xevious . In
Xevious  however you did not need to "collect" a missile power-up to eliminate
the ground-based targets which you have to do (if playing with one of the first
two characters)  in  Painium  Disaster . However, there  are  areas  where  you
desparately need the missiles  to survive and yet  the missile moves relatively
slow, you are only granted one or two per screen and if you miss a ground-based
target, you usually  have to wait quite a  while to  fire again - which usually
implies massive  loss of  energy or a life. Even worse that most of the bullets
fired by ground-based targets move  quite quickly  all over the  screen and not
just vertically  downwards like  the bullets of the airborne enemies do, making
it even more difficult  to ditch them in  front of bright  background patterns.
And if you do not have a missile out of various reasons, you are then really in
trouble because you cannot stop the cannons from firing either.

Mentioning the firing of the enemies, it is also kind of unusual that you are -
from the beginning on - confronted  with more  enemies than the relatively weak
equipment you start with can  handle. Of course there is no need to shoot every
enemy since you only need to stay alive  until you reach the final  boss of the
level, but having trouble right from the start in getting rid of the enemies on
screen is  unusual - basically  every  shoot'em up  game  I know  reserves such
situations  for  later  levels. "Painium  Disaster" has you  resign  relatively
quickly in your  attempt to  battle  all  enemies  on  screen  to  collect  the
precious power-ups, making you rather ditch than fight the enemies.

So, putting all the pieces  together of  this  review,  Painium  Disaster  is
without a doubt a good  game - but  unfortunately  also  a  game in which the
details a  game  consists  of do  not  match  perfectly. That begins with the
graphics that stand in contrast to the style the video-sequences are kept in.
That continues with the  too bright background  patterns that  camouflage the
bullets a little and thus interfere with the game a little.

It also holds for the music which goes nicely with the game but cannot push the
player in a way  that for example the  soundtrack of  Wings of  Death  does. It
is also true for  the game  itself, in which all  basics for a good shoot'em up
game, fluent scrolling, many  sprites, slick controls, large amount of enemies,
intelligent  power-up  system, variance of  weapons  and  ground- and air-borne
targets, are easily met while the  details are not, enemies too stabile, moving
patterns and  formations  too  simple, armament  to battle ground-based targets
weak and not automatically supplied etc.

Now for a freeware game,  Painium Disaster  stays a cracker for sure. It is fun
to play, it bears 4 levels for you to get into, different weapons, music, sound
effects,  speech,  excellent  rendered  intro  sequences, overscan  full-screen
scrolling, slick controls and  all that for  just 11 MB on  your harddisk and a
6 MB download.

But then again, it is nowhere near  Wings of Death  or  Lethal Xcess  which can
be considered  the masterpieces  of vertical  scrolling mayhem on the Atari ST.
Painium Disaster  easily resides among  games like  Jupiter Patrol  or  Zarlor 
Mercenary, it clearly beats games like  Slap Fight  or  Crescent Galaxy  (even
though this is a horizontal scroller) or the Falcon version of Raiden.

So get it, as long as you can, you will  not regret  it, even though  you will
surely not play it with the same fascination or dedication like you would play
Wings of Death . I am quite  sure, if  Painium Disaster  had  made it in time
and had been  released  around  1995, it  would have  been a very nice "first"
vertical  scrolling  shoot'em  up game  like  Goldrunner   or  Jupiter  Probe 
had been when the  Atari ST was  young, with others  following that would have
then been compared with Painium Disaster.

This way, Painium Disaster today still is a good game, but it does not hold
up to what many people have expected.

Well, off to play another round ...

The Paranoid
    Paranoia                       of the Lunatic Asylum
Think you can handle it ?!

Alive 3