Monday, 24 February 2014

Review - MURI (PC)


For PC gamers of a certain age, the command lines above will instantly bring back memories of a wonderful era of gaming - that of the PC's DOS operating system. Completely command line driven - there were no Windows style icons to click - DOS involved manually typing everything in order to setup or run the game. The DOS period evokes memories of CGA, EGA, and VGA graphics, of Adlib or SoundBlaster audio cards or, if you go back even further, of the hideous bleeps and bloops that would vomit forth from the PC's internal speaker. Some people look back on it as a huge chore, yet back in 1993, when I got my very first desktop system (a 486 DX2/66), it was like opening up a whole new world of possibilities, one that involved more than just inserting a cartridge and pressing the 'on' button.

While the consoles had mascots such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Mario, the PC never really had a personality to represent the games. The nearest it came to having a cartoon spokesman for the platforming genre was Commander Keen, id software's child-hero creation, who would go on to star in seven titles. Id's Keen games, like their FPS titles they became more commonly known for, would push the PC hardware, allowing smooth scrolling that could stand proudly alongside their Japanese console counterparts. This was the birth of PC sidescrolling platformers, a genre that would soon gain popularity thanks to fantastic titles such as Duke Nukem, Hocus Pocus, Halloween Harry, Monster Bash, Jazz Rabbit and many more. These games, though lacking the spit and polish of efforts by Sega and Nintendo, were hugely enjoyable and had a unique charm of their own.

MURI, a brand new indie game from Remar Games - responsible for brilliant indie offerings, Iji and Hero Core - aims to replicate these glory days of DOS platform gaming. MURI tells the story of a family of scientists working on a research station orbiting Mars, after the red planet has become colonised by humans. Whilst researching the very meaning of life and death, an armoured suit, codenamed MURI, is created and fitting onto the son, sending humanity into a panic. They fear the potentially destructive power of this robotic construction and so set about building a robot army to destroy both the suit, and the entire research station. Suddenly, Mars vanishes without a trace, and the family return to Earth, only to find it in ruin. 

With some gloriously low-res EGA visuals, MURI certainly looks the part, with options for either a nostalgic, jerk-o-vision 16fps framerate, or the smoother and more visually pleasing 32fps. Likewise, the bleeps, zaps, hisses and blips that make up the games sound effects are a perfect emulation of what DOS gamers without SoundBlasters had to put up with back in the day. MURI really does look and sound the part, and genuinely feels like a highly polished Apogee game from the early 1990s. It even features cutscenes that tell the rather sombre story of the heroine, Adwoa's sacrifices in her attempts to restore Earth and Mars. It's a shame there is no in-game music, but it doesn't detract from the atmosphere. As someone with extremely fond memories of the games that inspired MURI, the aesthetics are absolutely perfect, bringing an almost giddy level of nostalgic glee. Obviously, this ancient presentation may not appeal as much to gamers unfamiliar with the DOS era of gaming, but it still contains enough charm and retro appeal to stand out. The keyboard can be used to control the action - taking you back to those pre-joypad days, or sneaky gaming sessions in the school computer rooms - and the game has full joypad support too. 

Featuring an episodic structure that further apes the games of yesteryear, MURI features four episodes comprising four large stages and a boss encounter. The action largely consists of running through the multi-directional stages, blasting robotic adversaries and attempting to find the exit, though there are additional requirements such as locating and destroying power generators in order to deactivate laser barriers blocking your path. MURI also includes a plethora of collectible items that award points - with the aim to obtain 100% score by nabbing them all and defeating every enemy in the level. Many of the pickups, which include joysticks, floppy discs, and even a monitor displaying the DOS prompt, are often hidden in secret areas, sometimes behind walls or in hard to reach areas. Coupled with the engaging nature of the gameplay, it really inspires you to search every single nook and cranny on a level on the hunt for these elusive items. 

As well as being able to damage foes in the classic head-bounce way, the protagonist is armed with your standard retro blaster, but can locate weapon upgrades such as rapid and spread fire, powerful rocket-style plasma balls, and electric beams that ricochet off surfaces. These upgrades are littered fairly generously around the stages and really help in the battle against the ever-increasing numbers of mechanical monstrosities. Extra lives and energy top ups can also be located, though the frequency of these items can vary depending on the difficulty level selected - with the hardest, MURI, setting offering none at all. The first episode is fairly easy to breeze through, but it's a nice introduction and sets you up nicely for the more challenging later episodes, which include some reasonably intense boss battles. 

MURI is not only incredibly absorbing, well designed, rewarding and, most importantly, fun to play, but is also the best DOS tribute game I have ever seen. It really touched a nostalgic nerve with me, and inspired me to fire up DOSBox and play many of the titles that clearly inspired this fresh new adventure. For fans of Commander Keen, Dangerous Dave, Duke Nukem, Jill Of The Jungle and other sidescrollers, MURI is an absolute must-play. While for those of you who never experienced the joy / tedium (delete as appropriate) of typing in commands and setting up SoundBlaster IRQ settings, MURI still offers an enjoyable action romp that will keep you immersed in its well designed stages, ominous Sci-Fi setting and challenging gameplay.

Title : MURI
Developer : Remar Games
Year : 2013
System : PC
Price : £2.99
Genre : Action Platformer