TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT 2129 / Epic MegaGames / PC

TD:2192 has been released as freeware at this point, but I didn't think it merited inclusion as Awesome Freeware. It's really more like Mediocre Freeware tbh, though there are some things to like here.

The game seems to really want to be Wing Commander, but with a healthy dollop of Dune and even a little Star Wars mixed in for the luls. The writing is also more amateurish than any of the above, but not entirely horrid. The game is set on some far-flung desert planet, in a future where some huge organization called the Vultures has conquered most of the galaxy. In spite of their seeming omnipresence, the local Traffic Departments defend an autonomous government on the planet and enforce the laws and etc. The Vultures main activity here seems to be mining Spice, which is made into an addictive drug that they then deal for profits. To add to the Dune rip-offage, the Vultures look an awful lot like the Harkonnens, including a commander clearly inspired by the fat Baron himself.

Anyway, you play as this sewer-mouth chick named Lt. Velasquez. Velasquez watched her dad die at the hands of Vultures when she was a little girl, which had the effect of turning her into a one-dimensional character that answers everything with either an insult or a threat. She's also a LOOSE CANNON who won't TURN IN HER BADGE!!!!, but she gets away with raising hell and blowing away the occasional wingman because DAMMIT SHE'S THE BEST WE'VE GOT!!!!11!1

The game was originally distributed as three separate episodes of twenty missions each - I think the first full set was shareware and then you could mail-order the remaining two. Whole thing is Le Freeware now, tho, as of 2007. Link is down below.

In each mission, you pilot a "skid" around the desert city of Vulthaven, performing various tasks very similar to Wing Commander missions - patrol and kill baddies, blow up a convoy, defend a convoy as it escapes, etc. Instead of outer space quasi-3D, however, you get a top-down view kind of reminiscent of driving around in the original Grand Theft Auto.

The game was made by a small company called Safari Software, who published it through Epic MegaGames. I think it was only their second or third commercial game, and nothing they made was ever really a mainstream commercial hit. I don't mean to suggest they did a bad job, but the inexperience reflects in the overall level of polish. They clearly had some talent and good ideas, but it seems like nearly every element of the game could have used some more work and leaves you wishing they had just done a little more with it.

I mentioned before the writing was kind of amateurish. This is actually really important, because this game is almost as cut-scene heavy as a Kojima game. You're actually spending more time reading than playing, since the actual missions tend to be very short (more on this later.) The conversations are sometimes witty and amusing, but the plot on the whole has a lot of "lol wut" moments, especially in the repeated bumbling schemes of the Vultures, who seem to have all this massive power and resources at their disposal and yet can't handle one chick in a landspeeder.

The art is only adequate at its best moments, and the portraits and cut-scenes are downright butt-ugly at times. Apparently no one at Safari had much experience with animation as all the cut-scenes are completely static, and the in-game action is only animated very sparsely. Kudos to them for still managing to make it all work pretty well, however - they've arranged it so your imagination can fill in most of the missing details.

Then you come to the gameplay, which is where the game really comes up the most short. It's basically solid, and not a bad concept really, but there's a lot of little niggles that add up to make it sub-par and rather boring. The first problem is the enemy AI - it's ludicrously bad. The only tactic enemies seem to be programmed with is to try to get behind you, which isn't a bad one, but it's ALL they'll ever do, making a lot of fights into like an even sillier version of the Revolver Ocelot battle from Metal Gear Solid, where you just constantly chase them around a city block as they reverse direction over and over. With most of the escort missions, you can actually just kill whoever you're escorting and you usually end up passing the mission anyway ... or just stay far away from them, as all the enemies seem to gravitate to your position instead.

The view is zoomed in a little too much, making encounters with the enemy rather sudden and letting them disappear off your screen just as suddenly. If they're a mission objective, you can track them with a directional indicator, and there's a tiny radar that isn't really very useful as it barely shows more than what you can already see on-screen anyway, plus it shows gunfire so if you and another ship are firing that basically drowns it out.

Occasionally you face an enemy "ace", but they usually suck just as badly as any of the other generic ships - they don't seem to be better equipped and seem to be using the same dumb algorithms everyone else does. 95% of the game's missions are a complete cakewalk thanks to the computer putting up little meaningful fight. You can also usually kill your wingmen or civilians with complete impunity, and if you somehow do manage to die or fail, there's endless re-tries. Don't expect branching paths a la Wing Commander - even if you abort a mission early by returning to base without completing all objectives, the plot usually just steamrolls on merrily anyway!

I really don't mean to be too negative about this one - there's things to like about it, and most aspects of it actually work ... you just wish they would work better. Well, except for the MIDI soundtrack, which is actually pretty awesome, I dunno if that could have been improved much more.

Links :

* Freeware download
* LEGO models from the game
* Cheats + Moar Screenshots
* Let's Play of all 3 episodes

Videos :

Gameplay Video
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