I can still remember when I was seven, and had just started primary school. Fascinated with history, I used to dig up the bottom of our garden with my big toy digger, one that you could ride. I still miss that tractor… From eight in the morning till teatime, I would be digging away with plastic tractor and metal spade, looking for lost treasures. I even had an old wooden box with relics and artefacts that were really pieces of old china plates. Holes four-foot deep would appear everywhere with hand-written DANGER signs scrawled in red and blue crayon. Without a latest console in my 2nd hand Atari, complete with fifteen versions of Tank (it would be two more years before I get my hands on a Megadrive) history was my hobby. I used to lie in bed at night dreaming of uncovering a giant dinosaur skeleton.
Furthermore, I used to spend all my pocket money on the weekly editions of Dinosaurs, a 40-page magazine packed with facts and figures and a free toy. I still have those you know…
So memories of my eventful youth came flooding back when I hear that Lionhead Studios are developing BC, an action adventure in which you must lead a tribe of ‘oomans against the elements (and hungry dinos) to spark of the evolution of a more intelligent race. Obviously this game is set in the present, where people actually run for 26 miles through London to get a tub of butter at the end of it…
Ahem. Race as in species. Despite what those bearded fools in California tell us, I really do think that ‘oomans and dinosaurs lived together. Forget the ten-hour speeches, confusing algebra and samples of DNA, I have proof. Fred Flintstone has a pet called Dino – he’s a dinosaur. The Volvic water advert is based on a caveman throwing rocks at a T-Rex and then running off. Ice Age had woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers helping humans. Oh and sloth’s. Don’t forget the sloth’s. Hell, the film Ten Thousand Years BC showed a foxy lady clad in patches of bearskin out-thinking raptors.
History is the name of the game here as BC takes a leaf out of many retro titles and films. It can be argued that emphasis on the core gameplay is lifted from Populous, where social and technical progression are key. To keep your tribe alive and well you need to use your noggin a lot.
Simply walking up to dinner and swinging your club at it won’t make it your Chinese take-away for the night. You need to use the environment to your advantage, placing hunters behind bushes or crouching in tall grass. Observations can be made from the branches of trees, as can new inventions. In that sense I mean various nut allergies and vertigo. Tactics are much more varied than just formations in grassy fields. You need to know which fruits and berries affect which animals, how to set traps (the classic hole covered by grass is here, as is the cartoon favourite of food in the loop of a loose) and to invent more efficient and powerful weapons from natural resources.
Just as you think the game couldn’t get more complex, landscapes change with time. Mountains become hills, rivers cut into fields and create ox-bow lakes. Not to mention the imminent ice age. With that you will need to discover fire, as well as means of gathering wood and keeping it dry.
What Lionhead won’t tell us is a mystery enemy that will hamper your efforts. It could well be aliens blown off course by the incoming comet…
With the squad based character system you can bet you’ll be doing much more than just wandering ahead, leaving the others like kids following mum around Tesco’s. Each member of your tribe will have different knowledge and skills, suiting personalities in various scenarios. You can give each person commands, like stay here, shoot at will and create kids (only joking!). The most attractive of these options is bait, where setting every hunter bar one to shoot on sight allows you do get down to dirty tactics with the ‘lucky’ tribe member. Simply walking him near and aggravating prey (or predators) will spark off a chase, in which leading lunch back to the village will most certainly mean instant death to the animal stalker.
Don’t expect a clean fight either. Developer Lionhead is keen to portray the brutalities of early life so expect blood and guts galore. Taking down bigger prey will involve age-long battles, in which hunters attempt to rip prey apart. Scenes here have been compared with experiences of elephant hunters. Of course, those with light stomachs can kill prey with traps, poison berries or scare them with fire. Just sit by a watering hole and wait for lunch to come to you.
A game as complex as this must have respectable graphics, and although in early stages it looks very nice indeed. Watch in delight (or horror) as a bloodthirsty T-Rex comes stomping through a forest, jaws wide open searching for food, or simply relax as the eco-system takes course. Animals run, graze sleep and migrate just as they might (or might not) have done many years ago. Minute details add to the fantastic atmosphere. Small mammals dart through the grass as it blows in the wind, trees sway, the sunsets over mountains and skies darken in storms.
Downsides? Well if you’re screamish or hate dinosaurs then this won’t be your cup of tea, and we’ll have to wait and see if the gameplay will complement or spoil the overall experience. The Xbox needs original and beefy titles such as this, and BC will be a hit regardless of the final outcome. Why? It will be bloody, feature scantly clad females and oodles of dinosaurs will roam supreme.
Keep an eye out for spring 2004…