In this time of indecision, this period of inactivity in the house of Commodore, let ups be positive. We have Amigas. We like our Amigas, and we want to use our Amigas. And in the context of games, it's vitally important that software support is forthcoming.
Recent reports indicate that the Amiga share of the computer games market over the Christmas period was an impressive 56 per cent. Yes, 56 per cent, leaving the PC and Mac trailing. People are still buying Amiga games in droves. Predictably, many have suggested that last Christmas was indeed the last Christmas for the Amiga, but if programmers can write some decent, original games (and Commodore can get some boxes on the shelves) then there is no reason why next Christmas should not be white.
Look, this game is Death Mask, and it really is a step in the right direction. It's available on CD32, there's also a 1Mb version (fewer levels and slightly inferior control when using CD32 pad) and not, as you might expect, an AGA-only version. Goodo.
A first-person perspective shoot-em-up, you wander along corridors, search rooms, collect power-ups, annihilate the baddies, destroy the nuclear reactors and head for the exit to the next level. And by God, it's fun. Bloody good fun.
Yet mongers of doom abound. "This isn't Doom," they cry. "Nor is it Wolfenstein," others quip with glee. And they're right. It isn't. Graphically, it falls short of the mark, though it doesn't look bad - sacrificing looks for speed is often, and in this case, a worthy move.
The enemy move in blocks rather than gradually advancing, which reminded one commentator of Terry Gillian's Monty Python animations. And whenever you're involved in bloody combat, it's always at 180 degrees, so you can't conceal yourself and get in sneaky shots, and if you haven't picked up some decent weapons you can get shot to pieces early doors.
More gripes. In two-player games, both protagonists are identical - both wear red tops and both look like they're sporting brown paper bags over their heads as if preparing for a Post Office raid. And some have found it far too easy to complete. Make no mistake, this game could be better, but at least programmers Apache have shown a way forward. Team 17 have Alien Breed 3D on board, Grandslam a Wolfenstein clone in the pipeline and there are others ready to hop on a similar bus.
Once you've got the big gun, your aim is to hunt down your opponent like a small animal.
To Death Mask. There are three ways to play: one-player against the fiends, two-players against the fiends, (that's friendly toward each other, although you can shot each other by 'mistake') and a magnificent, two-player head-to-head were you aim to do it to them before they... you get the idea.
The head-to-head option has 10 different maps of varying complexity and it's in this mode that Death Mask excels. These battles can turn into a race to collect power-ups around a maze of corridors before inevitable carnage, or a one-on-one, out-and-out blast to the death and in some circumstances, a pedestrian game of cat and mouse - the most tremendously tense of affairs.
A map facility kindly offers advice as to your position (though you can't look at the map and move simultaneously), which is much needed when you have considerably superior firepower to your opponent, your sole aim, to hunt him down like a small animal.
Trouble is, every time you access the map, they can spot where both of you are and react accordingly. All part of the fun.
Rattle and hum
But what you really need to play Death Mask is VOLUME. The sound is amazing, from the clunking footsteps, to the rattle of gunfire, to the atmospheric background hum broken by the occasional drum thump. Linked to speakers or a decent TV, lights dimmed, it's compulsive fare.
Death Mask is somewhat linear when battling the computer baddies. Wander and fire is the order, which doesn't afford the game a deal of longevity - often you have the choice to whack the firebutton, blasting one after another repeatedly, or retreat to a quiet corner. And in the two-player game, one can open the map and do nowt, while the other can shoot around, using the map and do the job, preparing a safe route to the exit.
Alternative are the first commercial softie to release this type of game (Psygnosis' Hired Guns took a slightly different form) and no doubt many more will follow suit over the coming months.
Death Mask, despite its various shortcomings is enormous fun, head-to-head mode in particular. Despite reservations, a hit.