MAGIC CARPET 2 REVIEW - August 1996
|Oh no. I hate it when this happens.
"To date, no publication anywhere in the world has given Magic Carpet a rating of less than 90%", trumpets the press release. I've never played the original, but always thought it looked smart, so when Jonathan gave me the new, improved sequel to review, I was a happy boy. Just the thing to give my new all-singing, all-dancing multimedia Pentium 100 a good workout, I thought, as I popped the CD into the drive and waited with a quiet air of excited anticipation. Round about then was when it all started to go wrong.
I don't really know where to start. As a game, Magic Carpet 2 is a complete mess, and I just haven't got the foggiest idea what everyone else has been seeing in it, so calmly refuting any of the claims you may have heard about it is going to be tricky. Perhaps it might be helpful to say that this is a game for computer buffs rather than for game players - people who haven't the first idea of the mechanics of game structure, but know a good 3D routine when they see one. And certainly, Magic Carpet 2's 3D routine is pretty nifty (although not as good as the ones in 3D Lemmings or Terminal Velocity). But surely that can't be it? Help. Maybe if I just tell you about the game, eh?
The first and most crippling flaw of MC2 is the control. You bank and pitch your carpet with the mouse, using the cursor keys to actually move forwards, backwards, left and right. It's an uncomfortable arrangement from the start (if you're right-handed, like most people, it means you're going to have both hands over on one side of your keyboard, which is unbalancing and unnatural), and not helped by the fact that the game uses so many other keys (and needs many of them to be hit in the heat of play, meaning that you have to take your eyes off the screen all the time). And yet, for all the multitude of controls, Bullfrog have somehow managed to omit the most needed one of all - a stop. You see, the controls are very sensitive, and since crashing into ground obstacles, walls or enemy shots can send you skittering about all over the place, it's vital to be able to stop dead and get your bearings. Except you can't. The only way to come to a halt is with maddeningly precise tiny little taps at the keys, and you'll often spend as much time trying to stand still and work out what the hell's going on as you do battling enemies.
Even after two days of practice (and getting more than a third of the way through the game), I still didn't feel in anything like control of my player, and that's a ridiculous state of affairs for a self-proclaimed arcade game. By a third of the way through any kind of game, you really ought to be getting more trouble from your enemies than from controlling your own vehicle, and I wasn't. The enemies, in fact, seem like largely an afterthought in MC2 - you can fly around for days without meeting any, and when they do appear it's often in huge clumps that either wipe you out in a matter of seconds without giving you a chance, or simply wander around firing half-heartedly while you slaughter them at will.
The main thrust of the gameplay, in fact, seems to be found in navigating your way through the unfriendly landscapes. And that being the case, it's a shame that that navigation is a gigantic pain in the arse as well. For a start, one of the features of this sequel is that many of the missions take place at night or underground. This, combined with the mist that shrouds every level (as a device for speeding up the graphics by foreshortening the horizon), means that scenery lurches at you out of nowhere, and you can often only see a very short distance in front of you. (The same is true for the daytime levels, only slightly less so).
The underground levels in particular, though, actually emphasise and take advantage of this hardware-forced fault, dropping you in impenetrable, confusing caverns bereft of useful landmarks or any other distinctive features, and forcing you to pick your way agonisingly slowly through them, looking for tiny openings slightly darker than everything else which actually lead to more passageways. The first couple of such levels feature practically no enemies to distract you while this maze negotiation is going on, and are hence more boring than you could ever possibly imagine. They're the equivalent of those terrible point-and-click adventures where you have to find objects by trawling the entire screen with your cursor until it discovers tiny pixel-sized things for you to pick up, and whoever designed them should be shot dead with a gun.
And still on those landscapes, the non-underground levels have an invisible barrier in the sky which stops you flying more than a set height above the ground. While this inexplicable restriction is annoying in itself, it's - unbelievably - also actively used as a game device, stopping you from flying over the walls of castles when you're supposed to go in another way, although there's no earthly logical reason why, were you really in a magic carpet, you couldn't just zip straight over the top.
So what does all this leave us with in the game? Well, to tell you the truth, I don't know. After two days of play, intensive study of the manual, and completion of almost half the levels, I still have no real idea what's going on. I turn up in a level, fly around shooting everything I can find, fly to the exit when it tells me to and then try the next stage where, surprisingly enough, the same thing happens. The only progression is seeing new scenery and meeting new bad guys, but before you meet the new bad guys you've always collected some new weapon spells, so they're actually easier to kill than the old bad guys.
And that, I'm very much afraid, is pretty much all there is to it. There's no real structure, no cohesive plot to hold it all together, no depth, no difficulty curve, no learning curve, no sense of control, no atmosphere, no thrills, no point and no fun. (And, in my case, no sound). It's pretty (but not as pretty as Terminal Velocity), it's adequately fast (but not as fast as Terminal Velocity), it'll make people who don't know anything about computer games go "Ooh!" when they look at your screen, and if that's what you want from a game then go right ahead and buy it. It's only a shame that there isn't a demo mode, so you could be spared the tedious business of having to actually play it at all, but then you can't have everything.
An arcade game made by, and for, people who've never played an arcade game. More of the same for fans of the original, but if you haven't played Magic Carpet before, don't start now.
>>>>>>SOME RANDOM CAPTIONS TO GO ANYWHERE
To cut a long story short, Magic Carpet 2 is Terminal Velocity, only made complicated. And foggy. And slower. Why not, for example, just buy Terminal Velocity instead?
After a while, the permanent fog/darkness really starts to give you crushing weather-induced claustrophobia, which isn't my idea of gameplaying fun at all. By level 10, I'd have given anything (like, perhaps, another 20%) for a level set in bright, clear sunshine where you could see for miles and miles.
Did I mention how tediously horrible the underground sections were? I did? Good. Just checking.
Unlike Terminal Velocity, if you're not directly looking at a building or similar, you've got no real idea of how high up you are, what way you're facing, or indeed if you're moving or not, thanks to the fog. Normally I'd dislike this intensely and rail vocally against it, but I cared so little for the game by this point that I just couldn't work up the enthusiasm.
That name again, folks - Terminal Velocity. T-E-R-M-I-N-A-L V-E-L-O-C-I-T-Y. It's great. Buy it.
NEW THINGS IN CARTONS
But hey, maybe you think I'm a moron. Maybe you've already played the first game and thought it was great. Who am I to spoil your fun? Here's the differences between the two, as outlined by Bullfrog.
- faster, improved 3D flight
- night-time and underground levels
- 13 new kinds of bad guy, and enhanced graphics on 10 old ones
- 8 new spells, plus new varying strength levels on old spells
- creature commands, where you can tell other living things in the game world to do stuff, such as guard territory or kill things. I haven't come across any of this yet, but I'm sure it'll be great.
- mission objectives; instead of just killing things to reach the new level as in MC1, sometimes you have to find and collect objects or kill specific characters. Still, everything is picked out for you on the map with big red arrows, so it's not too mind-stretching a task.
Okay? So now, if you like the first game, you know everything there is to know about the sequel. Buy it if you want. Throw your money away. See if I care.
TIE ME KANGAROO DOWN, SPORT
Magic Carpet 2 gets off to a nightmare start, with a catalogue of some of the most stupidly, pointlessly irritating and WRONG flaws of video games in general, before the game itself even begins. These are the kinds of things I mean, and the PUNISHMENTS I HAVE INFLICTED for them:
First of all, it somehow completely fails to notice the presence of my perfectly ordinary Soundblaster clone, which EVERY SINGLE OTHER GAME I OWN has so far managed to detect and utilise with NO DIFFICULTY WHATSOEVER, dooming me to play the game in complete silence. (There aren't even any last-resort PC speaker effects). 10% off.
Next (well, after the compulsory rendered intro), comes the main front end screen. Nice, straightforward 'Play Game', 'Load Saved Game', and so on? Oh no. A meaningless 'stone tablet' which you have to click randomly on bits of to select your options. ("Ah, of course, the double-sided gorgon's head is the 'Enter your name' option. Stupid of me not to realise"). Argh. 5% off.
"Ah", say Bullfrog, "But we make it print up what each bit means on the screen, so you DO know what each bit does." Mm. Yes. So why not just, for example, print the stuff up in the first place? This way just looks totally ridiculous, and ruins any effect you might have been trying to get by pretending to use an ancient stone tablet to do things instead of a computer game options screen. And anyway, what's an ancient stone tablet doing with a joystick embossed on it? 3% off.
"It does not look ridiculous", say Bullfrog.
"Yes it does", say I, pointing to the icons-obscuring-the-instructions map screen for emphasis, and deducting a further 1%.
"But we've thought of that", they say. "You can press F1 to switch the little help boxes off, thereby maintaining the illusion of inhabiting a strange alternative world, rather than playing a computer game"
"Yeah?", I retort. "Then explain this 'Hello, I am a computer game and I am now accessing your CD-ROM' screen."
5% off. Idiots.