It's deep-breath time here, I'm afraid. (Ah-haaaah!) Right, that's better. You see, I've just realised what an awful lot of explaining I've got to do - Nightbreed being one of those 'multimedia experience' thingies, you see, with a film, a comic, a book and all sorts to get through before we can even mention Ocean's computer games effort. In fact, I think I'll have to take another deep breath. (Ah- haaaaah!) Right, here we go...
Okay, to start off with you may remember us going on about the Nightbreed computer game quite a few times now (going back as far as a year or so ago). The whole kit and caboodle was originally meant to come out shortly after last Christmas, but the film's been put back and put back so many times now (with all sorts of new bits being added to it, old bits taken away and so on) that we'd more or less given up hope of ever seeing it at all. (Programmers Painting By Numbers apparently more or less finished the Speccy version six months ago, and have been sitting on it ever since.)
And then - suddenly - the film was on for release again! It should be out in September sometime (ie in a couple of weeks from when you're probably reading this) and of course all the merchandising is geared up to follow suit. Let's just hope the delays haven't been because the movie is hopelessly crap, eh, Spec-chums (as has rather unkindly been suggested around this office), because Ocean have actually done a rather spiffing little job of the conversion.
SO WHO EXACTLY ARE THE NIGHTBREED THEN? Basically, the idea goes something like this. There's this big underground city (Midian) stuck out in the Canadian wilderness somewhere, which is kept totally secret from the outside world. And why? Well, because that's where all the monsters live, of course - the twist being that most monsters (who call themselves 'Nightbreed' - hence the name of the game etc etc) are actually quite shy and peace-loving and would like nothing better than to be left alone, unhounded by humans. Of course, as you probably guessed, that is not to be.
Nightbreed tells the story of what happens when a rather disturbed young man called Boone (the chap you play in the game) searches out Midian (for reasons I'll explain in a minute) and in doing so unwittingly leads a bunch of redneck neo-Nazi types to its door. Of course, at this point all hell breaks loose, with 'The Sons Of The Free' (the rednecks) breaking out a secret stock of military weaponry (flamethrowers, rocket launchers etc) and doing their best to destroy the Nightbreed, while Boone attempts to rescue them all. Yep, the whole thing's a big, giant fight in other words, with Boone rather awkwardly caught in the middle (throughout most of the game, both humans and Nightbreed are out to kill him).
This being the case, what sort of computer game do you think they came up with to best illustrate it all? That's right, it's a beat-'em-up, though it's not a straight beat-'em-up a la Shadow Warriors, but more of a slightly cerebral, walking-around-a-bit, mapping-the-mazes-of-rooms, picking-up-the-odd-weapon sort of thing. (In fact, the gameplay reminds me more of Last Ninja than anything else.) All in all, it makes a welcome change from those film conversions where you have to plough your way through loads of multiloading sub-games which have precious little to do with each other.
A few paragraphs ago I said i'd explain what Boone's doing in Midian in the first place. Well, he's a bit of a confused young chap, you see, who's got some sort of dodgy past and happens to suffer from a series of blackouts (or something) when he can't remember where he's been or what he's done. This being the case, his psychiatrist has been trying to convince him (and just about everyone else) that he is actually (without knowing it) The Mask, a mass-murderer who's been running around terrorising the neighbourhood - and Boone has fallen for it! That's why he's done a runner - a) to get away from his girlfriend (in case he chops her up in his sleep or something) and b) to find the mysterious Midian he keeps hearing about, because that's where monsters go, and being a human sort of a 'monster' that's where he belongs (or something). Of course, you and I know he's not the killer at all - it's really Doctor Decker, Boone's creepy psychiatrist, who's trying to set him up!
Phew. But enough of this plot stuff. Let's talk about the game itself, shall we?
You, as Boone, have a handful of tasks to complete. First, you've got to collect the three keys to Midian, one located on each level, which will involve defeating or avoiding lots of Sons Of The Free and an equal number of hostile Nightbreed. You've also got to free the Beserkers, a bunch of homicidal and totally uncontrollable breed normally kept locked up in the dungeons of Midian (since they're as likely to go for you as anyone else I'm not quite sure about the 'why's' of this one), then get baptised by Baphomet (the living god of the Nightbreed), free the 'breed from getting trapped underground and kill The Mask to rescue your girlfriend Lori. (Phew.) The game works by setting you a task (for instance, finding Baphomet and getting baptised), then when you achieve it giving you a dinky little animated reward sequence which tells you what you've got to do next. (Oh yes, I forgot to mention it before, but keeping yourself alive long enough to manage all this wouldn't be such a bad idea either.)
It's quite an uphill task trying to depict the rollercoaster, plot-twisting effect of a film like this in a computer game, but they've done pretty well actually. The play area - a fairly colourful flip-screen affair with big sprites and some nice touches (like lightning flashes Myth-style on the surface screens), initially takes place in the graveyard that lies above Midian. It's, say, five or six screens wide, but three or four deep as well-you move into the nearer or further row of screens by walking backwards or forwards through the various arches you find littered around the place.
Wander round these enough (fighting or avoiding men and Nightbreed as you go) and you'll eventually come across one of the ways down into Midian, which is laid out in the same sort of way. Drop further down again, and you'll come into lower levels of Midian yet.
I'm not going to describe any more of the plot (working out what you've got to achieve and how you're going to do it is part of the fun of the game) but I will tell you what it's like to play. Um, it's good. Once you've sussed out the controls, and worked out using the Passkeys (inscribed tokens which let you into various areas of the game), you'll find Boone has a goodly number of moves he can use (kicks, punches, jumps, use of a gun should he find one etc) and the baddies, especially the weirder breed, are of suitably bizarre design, if occasionally a bit big and static. Visuals are all nice and large, and there are some neat little touches to them too (I like the Boone heads at the top of the screen which slowly get more skull-like as you lose energy, and the way he can temporarily change into a sort of vampire-thingie later in the game). This is a game that looks like a lot of time and effort has gone into it.
Negative points? Well, it is fairly hard (but then many people would class that as a good point, I guess) and the multiload can be murder in cassette format, but that's about it really. Midian could perhaps have looked a bit spookier, and the weirdo monsters aren't shown off to full effect in semi-monochrome Speccyvision, but that's just carping really.
It's actually rather clever, and this slightly puzzley beat-'em-up-type format seems to me a far more satisfactory way to convert a suitable film than one of these grab-a-few-action-sequences-and-build-quick-sub-games-round-them efforts. Mr Barker's inventive (if rather icky) imagination comes through very well too. All in all, I'd say Nightbreed is a bit of a success really. Hurrah! (Wonder what the film will be like though?)
A rather large, rather clever and rather spooky film conversion. Bravo!