From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, get your factor-50,000 sunscreen ready, because the post apocalyptic world is back with a vengeance and only the toughest even stand a chance.
Wasteland was the predecessor to the much better known Fallout, but these aren't the only games that nuked the world to give themselves a sandpit to play in. In 1990, Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts unleashed the mutants in a very different kind of wasteland, but there was no Kickstarter project fighting to get a sequel to this one, was there?
That's probably for the best. It does after all star slimy mutant scum.
Bad Blood is an unusual game—a proto shooter/RPG hybrid of sorts, which wasn't actually released at a time when this kind of thing was an impossible dream, but would really like you to pretend it was. Take for example its graphics. By 1990 standards, they're honestly not bad. They're colourful, animated, and while primitive, have the kind of attention to detail that made Origin games so beautiful and worth slipping into.
Cast your eyes at the border. Instead of a health bar, you have a giant bottle that drains as you take hits. Your world is bordered by a detailed TV, with the background shifting as time passes to give you an idea of what time of day it is without turning the whole play field into atmospheric darkness.
Neat, huh? It's all very pleasant, with just one teeny-weeny, minor drawback.
In all fairness, this isn't as big a navigational problem as it might seem—or wasn't when the game came out. Like most games, Bad Blood came with supplementary information in the box, and one of those extras was a map showing all the settlements in the extremely small game world. Not being able to see properly is still massively frustrating when getting from A to B though, with little chance to dodge the enemies, no situational awareness, and constantly banging into the walls of its maze-like areas. You can find a satellite tracker on your travels that will give you your co-ordinates, along with binoculars to zoom out a bit, but only if you're lucky/know in advance where to look.
Who are you for this little jaunt? You're mutant scum. The slimy drippings of nuclear winter's anus. A festering pox upon the desert sands. A dribbling obscenity whose first words were, "Daddy, why?!"
Sorry, I just don't like post-apocalyptic monsters very much.
Specifically, you're one of three mutants from the small village of Mardok—a place where men are green, women are slimy, and apostrophes are tortured in ways that would make the Spanish Inquisition hang up their racks. It's a place of dialogue like, "Buzz is the humes're armin' up for a fight. Pretty soon, they'll be marchin' 'gainst all the mutes on the Plains," and for that, frankly, it should burn.
But letting it burn isn't an option. You're one of the few mutant "tuffs" with "smarts and muscles both", and it's your job to head out into the wasteland and find something that will persuade the human populations not to fulfil their manifest destiny and reclaim the gene pool for real people. The village leader isn't entirely sure what this magic solution to endless fighting and speciesism could be, but figures you'll probably work something out. This is what makes him a Leader.
You can choose between three poor, unfortunate bastards for the quest, despite not really being given any equipment or justification for just one of you heading out to die. Varigg is the toughest of the group, but as a full-bore mutant, can't pass himself off as a human. This is problematic when dealing with humans, getting into their towns, and not being shot on sight. Jakka, the girl of the group, can supposedly pass, "if no one pilfs her patch". I have no idea what that means. I choose to retain my ignorance. Finally, there's Dekker, who's actually human and can blend in, but isn't very strong and can't take his radiation.
Of the three, he's probably the easiest start, thanks to a powerful close-up weapon. Despite being the strongest, Varigg only has his fists. Jakka on the other hand starts out with an eye-laser and oh thank god, they were talking about an eye-patch. For a moment, this threatened to get very dodgy.
"This is a bigwig job," you're told, whichever you pick. "Every mute's countin' on you to stop the humes from slaggin' us. We can't fight the humes, so we'll have to stop 'em with smarts."
"Have we not considered maybe yielding to natural selection?" you don't get to ask, sighing.
Bad Blood isn't the easiest game to get started with, though it's dirt simple compared to something like Wasteland or Fallout. All combat is action-based, with characters able to move in four directions. The enemies have no real AI, but compensate by hitting incredibly hard and appearing out of nowhere on the microscopic playfield. Your primary weapon is always on hand, but there are limited-ammo alternatives lying all over the wasteland. At least, that's what you should say if any of the dead slavers' friends you run into ask why you're holding their buddy's 'sodoff' shotgun. Monsters you kill drop hearts that you can devour for health points like the slightly more civilised monster you are. You also have to keep as much food on you as possible, both to eat during the endless back and forth of the main quest and to trade for the bits and pieces you need to justify your presence in trouble spots around the wasteland.
Unfortunately, there are no pills to build tolerance to the endless lines of dialogue like "a bunch of 'em are too plokky to shiv it". I looked. Everywhere. And you have to wade through that crap, because talking to people is the only way you can find out where you need to go next. Bad Blood doesn't really offer RPG-style chat, just very short dialogue trees with witty exchanges like:
"How's the water in these parts?"
"No-one's died of it lately!"
As far as I can tell, this is the official wasteland joke. You can hear it hundreds of times.
Sigh. I know these peoples' world has been nuked to hell. I want to nuke it again.
The basic goal of the game turns out to be to forge peace between humans and mutants by rescuing a leader called, no kidding, "Equitus". This tells you everything you need to know about the quality of the plot. By far the best bit in the whole game is that when you die (and you'll die a lot!) your character looks up to the sky and screams a silent "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" before collapsing into skeletal dust.
I could watch this all day. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I didn't. And since the death of the hero means that the humans will have no trouble crushing the mutants beneath their feet, I judge that to be the Happy Ending. Huzzah! I am the best wasteland wanderer, and I'm glad the Earth got scorched.
Here's a video of someone a little more committed to hume/mutie relations at work.
If you're in the mood for a slightly more satisfying narrative though, Bad Blood isn't the ideal game. Not much of interest happens, and the basic mechanics haven't aged well. Wasteland and Fallout have more depth. Fallout: New Vegas brought things into the modern day, and did so with style.
But what if you've played those already and still crave a little post-apocalyptic diversion?
Try this: Tales From The Afternow. It's an improvised internet series about the adventures of a drifting librarian in a rather more active wasteland. The first couple of episodes are bad. There's no getting around this. The first is an endless screed about groups like the RIAA and how corporations will destroy the world. It's very political and very boring. When they start simply telling stories and building the future world though, they're captivating stuff—stories of Rachael's Mutt, of a travelling mechanical genius, of the monsters both human and other. Unfortunately it only lasted two seasons of note, and the second ended on a cliffhanger. There was a third, but it was set in the modern day, went back to the more political stuff, and when the plot finally kicked in, it was in the name of a very silly attempt to tie the far-future stuff into a horror novel about demons and cults and other nonsense. I remember listening to it with growing frustration, waiting for it to get to the point.
It never did. I don't recommend those episodes.
Give the main series a chance to get running though, and the wasteland episodes are gripping stuff. They're the perfect background for something like Fallout 3, and long enough to last you a good few walks or car trips. Just pretend the narrator got eaten by a radscorpion or something after recording the last one. There's been talk of more coming out, but I wouldn't hold your breath.
Unless you wake up to find the air full of radioactive dust. Then, might help. Can't hurt.