RELENTLESS: TWINSEN'S ADVENTURE / EA / PC
France was responsible for some very odd PC games in the 80s and 90s. That's not meant to be a slur against the country, some of that oddball experimental output turned out to be great, like the better titles of Delphine, Infogrames and Coktel Vision. While American and Japanese developers were largely settling into genre convention patterns by the late 1980s, the French PC scene in particular was still kinda just doing whatever seemed like a good idea while they were high.
Relentless comes out of that scene, born as a result of an exodus of some of the talent responsible for the Alone in the Dark series from Infogrames to their own independent development studio Adeline. The Adeline crew took with them the filled vector characters moving about in pre-rendered backgrounds that was the base formula of the early AITD games, but put their own twists on the formula for this first release.
Relentless is the story of Twinsen, a humanoid alien who inhabits a planet that's home to four different races of aliens. The planet has been taken over by Dr. FunFrock, a mad scientist who has outlawed the native religion and uses an army of clones and a system of teleporters to enforce his odd cutesy dystopia, which is sorta like Orwell's 1984 reimagined in the world of Wallace and Grommit. Twinsen begins the game in jail for some reason, and has to escape and then link up with a resistance force trying to find a way to overthrow FunFrock.
Relentless actually plays quite a bit like the first two AITD games, employing the same basic tank controls, but with the view pulled out farther to an isometric perspective and with larger scrolling screens. Instead of holding down different buttons to do things like attack and run, however, Relentless has you choose between four pre-set postures at any time from a menu, each of which has a special action performed by pressing the space bar. "Normal" is used to walk around normally and talk to people / interact with stuff. "Athletic" sets you in permanent run mode, and you can jump with the space bar. "Aggressive" lets you throw punches, kicks and headbutts by pressing space. And "Discreet" is sneak mode, in which you'll move about at a slow tiptoe and can use space to crouch and take cover behind things. Aside from these postures, Twinsen also shortly gets a magic ball that can be thrown to attack enemies when selected on the inventory screen in "Normal" mode.
The tank controls already make things a bit unweildy, but there's serious problems with Twinsen taking damage and getting stun-locked whenever he makes any contact with anything while in "Athletic" mode, and also with the magic ball sometimes being ridiculously hard to aim and retrieve. The game's clumsiness could potentially be forgiven in light of its other good qualities, like the unique setting, cutting-edge-for-1994 graphics and nice Redbook Audio soundtrack. But what ultimately kills it is a checkpoint save system in which the checkpoints are just too few and far between. Between the kludgy controls and a bunch of unfair ambush deaths, the game just expects you to replay really long sequences too many times -- it'll likely take a few tries just to get through the lengthy opening sequence!