Saturday Crapshoot: Mortal Coil
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. Today, a clever, innovative, ahead-of-its-time shooter that had everything it needed to be a classic FPS... except for being any good.
There's no getting round it, that's a teeny-tiny bit of a problem for any game. If ambitions were percentage points, Mortal Coil would be up there with the likes of Half-Life. It was a tactical FPS in the Doom age, long before Rainbow Six showed it could take two to Tango, but sadly not before the world learned what a good shooter was. Still, it deserves a little respect for trying, if only a little. And possibly a Guinness World Record for the most unnecessarily long intro ever. And I do mean ever.
"A long intro?" you say, thinking to yourself "How long can it be, anyway?"
Fourteen minutes. The intro to this game is fourteen minutes long. That's not an interactive prologue, that's not a cute little walk-around-a-base segment. We are talking fourteen minutes of badly rendered cut-scene that still manages to convey just a tiny fraction less of absolute bugger all. It is a masterpiece of time-wasting excess that doesn't even actually set up the story very well, and here it is in its entirety... not because you should watch it, but to prove that it actually exists and is real...
How much of it did you manage? If you even clicked, the answer is "Too damn much."
In shortened form, the story starts in 2269, when an army of alien ant monsters destroys the world for reasons that really don't matter. Only one woman has a chance to fix things, and her name... is Candy. Yes. Yes, really. She's voiced by TV presenter Dani Behr, so you know she had to be a total badass. It's her bare ass that takes the stage though, as the timeline skips back to the space-age 2005 while she just happens to be taking a shower in her future-apartment of the future. Her videophone rings... taking up a whole wall, and of course she goes to answer it without giving any thought to her towel.
Some awful, awful banter, including lines like "Get your cute beaver down to Mortal Coil" follows, before Candy scoops up her carkeys - on a gigantic Venus-symbol shaped key-ring of course - and heads to work. This is only three minutes into this endless intro, which also feels the need to have her choose her radio station in the car, and go through a whole conversation at the... pizza restaurant... whose bathroom... has the secret entrance to Mortal Coil HQ. What is Mortal Coil, incidentally? Not been mentioned so far, but it's a kind of covert commando organisation. Under a pizza restaurant.
"I guess that the new Director of Mortal Coil thinks he's so important that he wants us to line up in front of him and bow. Men!" grumbles Candy, only to be proved wrong when Jessica Rabbit music starts to play and the new boss is treated to one of those whole-body pan-ups that actually reveals... a woman who seems to have done far, far too many drugs in her time. Like everyone else here.
You might think this would please Candy, what with her entire character apparently based on 90s grrl power as written by someone who's never met a girl, never mind a grrl, but no. It turns out that she doesn't actually like women any more than she likes men. It takes about two seconds for the two to be needlessly slashing at each other's throats with aggressive dialogue like "Pressure too much, sweetheart?" "I dealt with it. And by the way, I'm not your... sweetheart."
Ugh. And again: Ugh.
Later, it gets worse. "We're not here to save lives of... men," scoffs the boss. "Civilian casualties are an unfortunate consequence of our work." Later, she adds the rather baffling "It's not like you can ever leave this agency. So, if you want to see old age and enjoy a pension, do what you're told," while another character refers to her as - and I quote - "bugger lugs" and a general casually lets everyone know that essentially the New World Order is currently taking over the planet because why not?
Finally... and by god, do I mean finally, it ends when Candy is sent on her actual mission - to go kill some stuff. She works out that another team has actually been sent in first and been wiped out, and responds with true professionalism... grabbing the nearest guy, laying him down on the table, and kicking upwards at his balls so hard that it's a wonder the liquified remains don't spray out of his flies.
Everyone in this game is just... awful. I am so rooting for the ant aliens.
The intro actually continues after this, with a briefing and a flight to the island where the mission takes place, but in the words of Darth Vader - "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
(Incidentally, if anyone ever pays me to write an action movie and I put in what is generally referred to as a Big "NO!", I want it to be followed by the villain saying "Alright, jeez, if you're that upset...")
The interesting bits of the game are in how it handles Candy's crusade. The actual shooting is a pretty dumb FPS with a few minor adventure elements. Instead of just controlling Little Miss Sunshine though, you get a team of up to four people working together on the missions - and not just dumb NPCs. For starters, you can skip between them at will, and see what they're all up to simultaneously.
More than that though, you can leap into each of them in turn by assigning a squad leader, and issue quick orders like exploring the map independently and dealing with enemies as they run into them. Most impressively though, and something no other FPS games were doing at the time, was the waypoint system. At any point, you can jump into a screen and give complicated mission plans to go forth and clean out various bits of the levels rather than just tagging along or getting in the way.
The concept of this remains cool, even now. Instead of pre-planning the attack, it could be done on the fly, and the calvary simply called in as demanded. That cavalry consists of a Jamaican guy called Dred, an American called Dan, and a German woman called... Peech? Technically, Nena Pietreich, who is not in fact the singer of 99 Luftbaloons, or remotely German. Unless "Ugly buggers, aren't you?" is a bit of shared slang, and I'm pretty sure it isn't. The rest of her dialogue isn't any better, with her actress sounding like a language student tricked into reading the script while the rest of her English class was asking each other how to order a hamburger and fries and a Coca-Cola thank you please.
None of the characters are remotely memorable, though here's an odd thing - the Readme file openly suggests replacing voice samples with your own by swapping out WAV files. So, if you'd rather hear yourself say "Kiss your alien ass goodbye", you just have to record that and save it as Peech8m.wav. Conversely, to savour the joy of a lady friend saying "I could use a hot shower right now" in Candy's place... well, a good first step is to tattoo the word "Creep" on your forehead, backwards.
(Even so though, you wouldn't be as weird as the writer of something called Susan: A Lustful Game, who decided to produce a text adventure about trying to sleep with a girl he had a crush on. But I digress.)
It's probably appropriate though. This is the game where characters who die turn into a penis.
Should you choose to do this silly project, here are some actual lines that you and your friends would have needed to record. All characters have over a hundred. This would not be a fast process.
"Oh, I can't get my hair wet!"
"If they're terrorists, they sure dress funny."
"Looks like the Beatles reformed. I guess you're a DUNG beatle!"
"So, do we get a SMILE and some MILK AND COOKIES now?"
"It's kick-buttski time again!"
And so on and so on. Also, one of the characters is a floating camera that's the size of a tank, and appears to be there purely to send Mortal Coil a live feed of Candy's arse. It might be defensible in some games, but... well... that intro... this game... not really in a mood to cut it favours.
You can at least play from a first-person instead, and thus actually see the aliens you're shooting.
As great as the ideas were though... well, look at it. This is not a good game you see before you. The AI repeatedly goes crazy, the game is a buggy mess, the voice actors are half-asleep, it's astoundingly ugly, and the core shooting is as much fun as being forced to drink a random person's sick through a straw. And then scoop out and finish the lumpy bits too. Still, it has to get some points for effort, and a genuinely nifty concept. If only anything, never mind everything, could have lived up to it.