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State of the Art: Games That Pushed The Commodore Amiga

State of the Art: Games That Pushed The Commodore Amiga

When the Commodore Amiga debuted in the summer of 1985, it was often portrayed as a serious machine for serious users. However, as time passed, it became clear that this new 16-bit computer was a multi-media powerhouse and a perfect destination for game developers. A mass of fine videogames ensued – many of which feature in Bitmap Books’ Commodore Amiga: a visual compendium – but that wasn’t enough for some programmers. Buoyed by the superior technology that was far ahead of its time, some developers created games that didn’t just look and play great – they pushed the Amiga to its very limits to do so. To celebrate, we highlight our favourite eight games that stretched the beloved computer to breaking point – and sometimes beyond.

Shadow Of The Beast – Psygnosis/Reflections, 1989

“Beauty And The Beast”

It’s almost impossible to talk about impressive Amiga games without mentioning Psygnosis, Reflections Interactive and their Shadow Of The Beast games. The first of these graphical tour de forces was released in 1989 and swiftly became a showcase for what the Amiga was capable of. Specifically designed for the Commodore computer, the fantastical platformer astonished gamers with its multiple levels of parallax scrolling, sprite multiplexing and an amazing range of colours. While the gameplay of the Shadow Of The Beast games has often polarised Amiga fans, there’s no doubt that all three games showed what the computer could do when pushed to its limits.

Hunter – Activision, 1991

“A Whole New World”

Commodore 64 fans will recall Novagen’s Mercenary, the wireframe classic from Paul Woakes that paved the way for this incredibly prescient game from 1991. The player is a soldier exploring a series of 3D polygonal islands and completing various missions. The freedom of movement and ability to take your time and enjoy simple sightseeing was hugely revolutionary for the early Nineties. Being able to enter vehicles and traverse the randomly-generated map in them was also a novel experience, as was the existence of a real living and breathing solid 3D world within the Amiga. Ten years later, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto III, kick-starting one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time. It owes a considerable debt to Paul Holmes’ free-roaming Amiga game.

Turrican II: The Final Fight – Rainbow Arts/Factor 5, 1991

“Manfred’s The Man”

The Turrican sequel wowed fans and critics alike in 1991. Graphically, the game is merely above average; where it excels is its speed of movement, scrolling and the multi-directional landscape that the player explores. The vast open levels and outstanding musical score from Chris Huelsbeck help further bolster its reputation, but that remarkable pace, coupled with a large number of on-screen sprites, is what makes Turrican II such a technical marvel.

No Second Prize – Thalion, 1992

“Speed King”

There are plenty of good-looking racing games for the Commodore Amiga – there are none as strikingly smooth and fast as Thalion’s No Second Prize. Avoiding the hyper-complex granular depth of simulations such as F1 Grand Prix, this motorcycle racer pitches the player against six other bikes in a manic season of high-speed battling. Designed to appeal to arcade gamers as well as simulation fans, the innovative use of mouse control takes some getting used to – but it’s worth it in the end. A wonderful game that puts attractive yet sluggish efforts such as Hard Drivin’ to shame and proves that great sound and graphics, at speed, could be achieved on the Commodore Amiga.

Lionheart – Thalion, 1993

“Who Needs A SNES?”

Having pushed the limits of the arcade racer with No Second Prize, Thalion were at it again a year later with the scrolling platform hack ‘n’ slash genre. Plenty of games utilise the Amiga’s coprocessor –  known colloquially as the copper – yet few do it as beautifully and remarkably as Lionheart. Inspired by classic arcade games such as Rastan, Lionheart contains several layers of fluid parallax scrolling to go with its elegantly designed sprites, velvety animation and superb environmental detail. The game that proved even the modest Amiga 500 could compete with its 16-bit console peers.

Frontier: Elite II – Gametek/David Braben, 1993

“Pushed Over The Edge”

Almost ten years after it was first released, the space-trading epic Elite finally got a sequel in 1993. The scale and ambition in Frontier are astonishing; essentially, a whole, solid universe is available on one solitary floppy disk for the player to explore. Unfortunately, Frontier is an example of overshooting the stars – such is the game’s breadth of ambition that it pushes the poor creaking Amiga a little too far. Horrendously torpid frame rates (especially on the Amiga 500) render the game almost unplayable in sections, and while inferior enemy AI and countless bugs also plague the game, it’s nevertheless the brightest unpolished gem to grace the Commodore Amiga.

Universe – Core Design, 1994

“The Magic Of Colour”

The common assumption was that the Amiga could only display 32 colours on-screen at once. However, when Core Design began developing a sequel to its only adventure game, Curse Of Enchantia, it brought an incredible 256 colours to its screens. The trick was skilfully manipulating the Amiga’s extra halfbrite mode (or EHB), with the nature of the game mostly avoiding the resulting slowdown. A certain amount of colours are locked into the main characters and the game’s cursor; otherwise, Core Design was free to change multiple colours within each scanline on the game’s backdrops, a technique that helps form a uniquely vibrant series of locations.

Alien Breed 3D – Team 17/Ocean, 1995

“The DOOM Killer”

It wasn’t the Amiga’s fault – after all, it had been born in an era where 2D gaming ruled. Unfortunately, technology was moving at a ferocious pace, and when, in 1993, id Software released DOOM, developers rushed to create similar games across various platforms, even if the technology wasn’t quite up to the job. Having already enjoyed substantial success with its xenomorphic Alien Breed series, Team 17 took up the DOOM challenge for the fourth game in the franchise and created what many fans consider to be the greatest – and most accomplished – first-person shooter on the Amiga. While it may look creaky today, the texture mapping and incredible water effects, combined with its swift and compulsive alien blasting, make Alien Breed 3D a true feat that once more pushed the Amiga to its limits – and beyond.

These games and more feature in the Bitmap Books’ Commodore Amiga: a visual compendium and The Art Of Point-And-Click Adventure Games, both stuffed full of interviews, games and more.

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