B.A.T. (computer game) (evaluation)
by Wayne Kawamoto
Gritty and dangerous, the world of B.A.T. (Bureau of Astral Trouble-shooters) offers intrigue on every street corner and peril on every block. The game's story line and stunning graphics evoke the feel of the movie Blade Runner, and like that film's Los Angeles of the year 2020, the cityscape of B.A.T. is dark, crimeridden, and replete with tarnished techno-glitz. As an urban waste dump of eternal night and a real silicon jungle, the city of Selenia will demand your full attention and offer little cooperation.
Making an already unsafe place even more menacing, Vrangor, a sophisticated criminal with a scientific bent, has just escaped from prison. Psychopathic and infamous for his expertise in explosives and his billiance, he plans to seize control of Selenia by using terrorist tactics.
As an agent of B.A.T., expect ten days of living dangerously, desperately seeiking Vrangor. If you fail to track and eliminate him, he will murder scores of innocent people and hold the entire city hostage.
On your own, as you roam the city's mean streets questioning informants, checking out leads, and looking for clues, you'll appreciate B.A.T.'s attention to detail. The city offers diversions, including a museum, a movie house, and a hospital--useful should you sustain injuries (and you probably will). Like most cities, Selenia bristles with places to eat and local watering holes filled with interesting characters.
Purchase a weapon for defense, and then proceed with caution as you converse with various aliens, humanoids, and androids. Many will not appreciate your probing questions. Speak softly, and carry a big gun.
The northeast section of town plays host to a series of exclusive nightclubs and bars where you may make important contacts. You may even find yourself dancing the night away at a local disco. B.A.T. features a gambling hall with a game that tests your memory. For a wager, you must correctly recall a series of geometric shapes flashed before your eyes. This segment is a mind-numbing challenge.
Part of the game takes you underground to an intricate labyrinth. Fantasy role-playing fans will feel right at home mapping out the vast maze. Last of all, you will pilot a vehicle across the city in a flight simulator sequence.
Equipped with a Biodirectional Organic Bioputer (B.O.B.), a computer implant in your forearm that is essentially one of your body's organs, you'll look and feel the part of a high-tech secret agent. Through B.O.B. you can monitor your health, check your personal status, and set a translator to let you instantly understand alien and robotic languages.
Interestingly, you can customize and write programs for B.O.B. using commands from the game. For example, you may write a short program to automatically ingest food when you're hungry, and that's important--B.A.T. considers your health. If you're not eating enough food, drinking enough fluids, or getting enough sleep, your character becomes sluggish and sometimes even starves to death.
B.A.T.'s mouse-based interface sets it apart from many other futuristic and fantasy role-playing games. The game's authoris call this ingenious interface the Dynorama. In B.A.T., each part of the city is re-created in a detailed graphic screen depicting paths, doors, objects, and characters. Move your mouse around, and the icon changes, indicating what you may do with an object or person. Touch a door, and an arrow appears. Click on that arrow, and you enter the next room or scene. Touch an alien creature, and a talking icon may appear. Click on that icon, and you can converse with the alien, asking for advice and clues.
For all practical purposes, B.A.T.'s interface is a graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced gooey), similar in some respects to the Microsoft Windows environment. Because everything is done with the mouse, the interface is very efficient and saves keystrokes. Since you have to talk with a lot of characters, as in any role-playing game, the mouse-assisted parser replacement makes conversation simpler and less tedious.
The details graphics recall the lavish illustrations in quality children's books, and each scene tells a story. Where other adventure games look more like cartoons, B.A.T.'s graphics create a mood and feeling on a par with the best games on the market.
Chronologically elastic rather than linear, B.A.T. encourages exploration. You needn't complete segments in a specific order to reach Vrangor. Yes, there are certain tasks to accomplish, but you set your own itinerary.
Throughout the game, battles inevitably occur. Sometimes you're attacked from out of nowhere by the local citizenry; at other times you may be the aggressor and provoke the altercation. When you're attacked, your opponent appears without warning, his weapons blazing, and an almost realtime battle ensues. Quickly retaliate by pulling out your weapon, lining up crosshairs on the enemy, and firing away.
In battle there's little animation, and the gunfight consists of you and your enemy standing toe to toe and firing away until one of you drops. Not elegant, but because of the speed with which the fights take place, the sequence works. You never know when someone will attack you, and combat often comes as an absolute surprise. At times, I stopped playing momentarily to check the documentation. I had barely enough time to get my hand back on the mouse before my character was obliterated. As in any role-playing game, save, save, save.
So what's so special about B.A.T.? The plot may sound typical of futuristic role-playing games (you are the world's only hope. . .). I admit that before I actually played B.A.T., I wasn't expecting the fine game that I discovered. With its name and the batlike creature featured on its cover, I thought B.A.T. might be an arcade game or a space simulation about nocturnal flying mammals with modified forelimbs. But after I started the game, I found stunning 256-color graphics, Ad Lib-supported sound, and an excellent user interface. No mistake, this is a first-rate role-playing game.
Unlike the game, however, the documentation is unexceptional. The history of the planet seems irrelevant and rambles. While I appreciate the creative effort required to put this together, I'm not sure that it enhances the overall play of the game. However, once you get to the technical section dealing with playing the game, you'll be quickly up and running with B.A.T.'s interface.
Hardware requirements run rather steep. You'll need VGA to run the program, and a mouse is recommended. I found using the keyboard clumsy in comparison to using the mouse. And, of course, those of you with sound boards should enjoy the catchy soundtrack.
Although the plot is commonplace, the game immerses the player in another world. And while the game may not have enough challenge for diehard role-playing fans, the program is definitely worth a look, particularly by those who want to try something new and different.
Don't judge software by its cover. Once you see B.A.T. in action, you'll be bitten. Ubi Soft is one of Europe's premier software companies, and if B.A.T. is representative of its work, we know why. Let's hope for more.