BFtP – Blake Stone and Planet Strike

I have a bit of a soft spot for Blake Stone, and JAM Productions in general. I’m not really sure why. I remember the day I got Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold though. My dad is solely responsible for introducing me to computers, and to PC gaming. As much as I’ve used a computer for work, I’ve used it for gaming too, and part of that is his fault (and mine for continuing it, but even Nurse Law needs a break every so often). He brought home a game from the shops after work one day, I think this was back in 1996 or something, I can’t recall. On the yellow CD was Blake Stone… and one of my favourite games of all time.

Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold is a first person shooter based on a modified Wolfenstein 3D engine. Unlike Wolf3D this one supported textured floors and ceilings, so the game looked a fair bit better overall. For the most part, it’s probably best described as Wolfenstein 3D in space. You play Blake Stone, a secret agent sent to stop Dr Goldfire from taking over Earth. Goldfire is a nutcase biochemist or something, making all sorts of mutants and crazy shit in his labs. Your goal is to take down 6 STAR installations (read: episodes) consisting of 9 floors each (plus a secret level). It’s really not an amazing storyline, but none of them were back then.

 

The gameplay is fairly standard Wolf3D stuff. Run around, kill enemies, collect keys to open doors, leave the level. But BSTONE has a few tricks of its down. For starters, the goal for each map is to find the red keycard and then return to the elevator where you start. The red key will allow you to go one floor higher (also known as “the next map”). Blake’s weapons are more or less direct rips from Wolf3D except for the starting pistol, which is actually a silenced pistol that uses no ammo. Killing a guard with a silenced pistol doesn’t alert the others. Blake can also talk to Informants, who spit out a single line of usually useless information. When an enemy attacks you, the game identifies the name of the enemy. Blake can buy food from Food Dispensers, using tokens dropped by guards or found in the world. Also it has a minimap. IT HAS A MINIMAP. Wolf3D could have used a goddamn minimap, especially given the limited texture variety.

The monsters and art are what really made the game for me though. Enemies range from standard humans to biomechanical horrors. You’ll be attacked by robotic monsters with gattling guns, pod monsters, acid dragons, basically a whole bunch of weird shit. This weird shit also happens to do quite a fair bit of damage, so Blake Stone is a pretty hard game, especially for those days. It did offer quite a good challenge which was augmented by the environments. Unlike Wolf3D, Blake Stone used a fair bit of clutter objects and some nice wall textures to make the place look like a facility. Guards patrol around, biotechs walk around or stand at computer consoles, and level designs aren’t all variations of bricks in a wall. I’m not saying this was the precursor to Half Life’s introductory sequence, but it was a step up from what we’d seen previously.

Unfortunately, Blake stone: Aliens of Gold was released in December 1993… in fact, it was released only a few days before Doom. Doom, a sector-based engine. Doom sunk Blake Stone and Rise of the Triad, which is a shame because on its own merits Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold was a fun game with some nice art direction. Sure, it wasn’t particularly original (except for that silenced pistol!) but it was still a very good game and a lot of fun to play. It was the art that made the game so amusing. The manual also came with a comic detailing Blake Stone’s backstory and how the first level kicks off. It’s a shame it wasn’t released earlier, because if it was it would have been a lot more popular. Although it’s clearly a Wolf3D “clone”, it’s an outstanding one, mostly because of the art direction. It’s just a nice game to play, although obviously it’s fairly dated today.

JAM Productions had only one other release, which was a sequel called Planet Strike. For quite a while I wondered what Planet Strike was like. It was a bit of a mystery for me, sort of like Spear of Destiny was. Really, they probably shouldn’t have bothered. Planet Strike is sort of like an expansion pack in a way, though it’s a stand alone product. It does feature quite a few new enemies and textures, but a lot of the sounds are existing sounds played backwards. It also added better HUD graphics, a better minimap (displayed at the bottom bar, which could also highlight secrets and enemies if it had enough battery power), and a new weapon. The mission objective had changed too; your goal was to find a fusion bomb and blow up a security core on each map. The principal enemy is still Dr Goldfire, who somehow managed to survive your last encounter. Planet Strike isn’t necessarily a bad game, but it doesn’t have the same magic as the first one, probably because it’s a bit too close to it for comfort. Also it was released in October 1994, when Doom was well and truly entrenched, making it quite dated even for that period.

Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold is worth picking up. You can find it at GoG.com.

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