RISE OF THE DRAGON / Dynamix-Sierra / PC
Cyberpunk games, for whatever reason, are kinda rare. You'd think it would be the ideal setting for all sorts of games, but very few developers try to take on the genre, and when they do they often focus so much on the atmosphere and ambience that they lose sight of the game design.
Such is the case with Rise of the Dragon. The game is a great re-envisioning of the Gibson-Stephenson-Blade Runner archetypical cyberpunk world, and has tremendous art, but is filled with so many little niggling points of shortsighted design and needless frustration that even those who are totally absorbed in the atmosphere may find themselves giving up on it midway through.
The game takes place about 100 years into the future, in a version of Los Angeles that looks like Blade Runner meets The Fifth Element and Big Trouble In Little China, with a few extra heaps of dirt and grime tossed in for good measure. Instead of the specter of Japanese corporate rule, however, we have here a powerful Chinese gang who intends to revive some horrible evil god, and to do so by injecting horribly toxic drugs into the water supply, and this is all going to happen in three days from the start of the game unless our main character "Blade" Hunter (former cop turned hard-bitten private dick) does something about it.
This is all news to Blade at the outset, however. Our hero begins the story by waking at noon in his dingy little SRO room, getting a call from the Mayor imploring him to investigate the mysterious drug-related death of his daughter, and then having to hot-foot it over to City Hall to make nice with his angry girlfriend. From here, some random Inscrutable Wise Man who lives in the alley informs Blade that he is a hero to fulfill some ancient prophecy, and you'll have 72 hours of game time in which to figure out who's responsible and how to shut them down.
Los Angeles is split up into different locations, and you travel via subway between them. Time passes in real-time as you explore these locations, but you lose chunks of time automatically for subway rides, and certain actions also cost you time. Aesthetically, the game is between Dynamix's two other major adventure games of the period - the perspective is entirely first-person, as in Heart of China, but it uses photo-realistic graphics and video capture sparingly, with most of the art being a comic book style somewhat similar to that of Willy Beamish (though the art in this game is much better and definitely much darker). The gameplay is similar to both; an ultra-simplified point-and-click system where the mouse cursor changes over objects that can be manipulated, and a small button in the lower-right representing the player's inventory.
Puzzles are fairly obvious in Rise of the Dragon; the challenge lies in the arbitrariness of the game, and the ease by which you can make one wrong decision that screws you for the rest of the game, yet not be given any feedback by the game that further action is now pointless. An example of this comes at the very beginning, when you go to investigate a bar called the Pleasure Dome. If you bring Blade's gun, you are forced to check it at the door to gain access; however, unless you bribe a guard afterwards, you don't get a claim ticket, and can never get the gun back, effectively ending the game. The guards never give any indication what the appropriate bribe is, however, or even that you really need to bribe them (they ask if "you have anything else for them", but that could easily also mean any other weapons to check). Inside the bar, the conversations with the patrons are also laced with "one screw up and it's over" scenarios where you can make a key character refuse to talk to you, with no way of ever rectifying the situation.
The other major problem with the game is that the final quarter of it is basically a non-stop action game. While you might be prepared for this if you read the manual ahead of time, which would have been common at release, 15 years later it's very unlikely you're getting a copy of this with all the original packaging. So you probably aren't even aware that the game HAS arcade sequences until they are suddenly dropped on you as the wholesale conclusion to the game. And, as with most adventure games of the period, they are clunky and don't quite fit right.
Cyberpunk fans will still get a kick out of the music, art and bleak vision of the future. Adventure gamers should prepare for disappointment and frustration, however.
* Gameplay Video