COMMODORE 64 REVIEW – B.A.T. (Bureau of Astral Troubleshooters)

5_25 floppyIf you haven’t heard about this Ubisoft adventure/rpg from 1990, then you aren’t alone.  I came across a boxed copy of this 5 1/4 floppy game last year, and it looks like an enticing Blade Runner-esque rpg on its face.  If nothing else,

This mainly point-and-click adventure starts you out with an optional character creation opportunity.  Don't ask me if it really changes anything ...
This mainly point-and-click adventure game starts you out with an optional character creation screen. Don’t ask me if it really affects anything …

the box is great and way ahead of its time (it looks solidly like a 1995 game, so it had to sell a bit on that, alone.)  The game of B.A.T. itself, though, which is actually a port from the Atari ST home computer version, is a mixed bag of awesome and awful.

I’ll start with the awesome: the setting is just darn cool.  It embraces rather than shy’s away from its Blade Runner roots, casting the player as an interplanetary detective searching for an escaped criminal scientist who’s suspected of siding with a known human-hating terrorist.  There are lots of aliens and bizarre landscapes to view, though I’d say that none are so outlandish as to be utterly unique.

Also good is the amount of open-ended action.  You can find a phone, and dial the number off of a pamphlet or ad, and speak to different individuals that you may or may not ever encounter.

Locations branch into comic-like panels when you delve deeper into them ...
Locations branch into comic-like panels when you delve deeper into them …

There are limits, though, and you’ll hit them after about half-an-hour.  Still, given the size of the game (one double-sided disk,) the achievement is commendable, and you’ll find plenty of places to wander around and aliens to chat with.

The speech system is okay, giving you random conversation encounters with recurring characters and the occasional on-screen static illustrated character, but having long ago mastered interactive fiction/text adventures, the “Discuss/Attack/Steal” type options of interaction seemed overly limiting.

Personally, the graphics did it for me.  They aren’t fantastic when compared to the Atari ST version, which, coincidentally, is what they decided to stick on the box.  However, they did a lot with the limited graphical capacity of the C64 hardware, and it definitely succeeded in keeping the gritty urban/sci-fi atmosphere they were shooting for.  The fight scenes in particular look great, which sometimes occur randomly, and sometimes occur at your prodding (there’s a great ATTACK option for every random person who talks to you, and I urge you to hit it often if you want to lose all your ammo and die over and over again.)

Battles look pretty good, but don't forget to buy ammunition ...
Battles look pretty good, but don’t forget to buy ammunition …

Now, for the awful bits about B.A.T. for the 64. LOADING, LOADING, LOADING.  Every C64 enthusiast knows the lengthy wait times associated with booting up the real deal software, but this game takes the “read a book and play at the same time” idea to the next level.  I’m not sure what the developers were struggling with, but having to switch from side 1 of the disk, then side 2, and back again is truly maddening. Even emulating this title can feel like a chore, though it makes the task a bit easier.

The gameplay of B.A.T. consists mainly of you clicking on static images, either to go to new locations, talk to characters, interact with technology, or search an area for items.  Like other games of the point-and-click adventure genre, your cursor will change depending on what it is you’re dragging your joystick cursor over.  This brings up the second biggest problem with B.A.T.: there is no indication on which way you came from, and your new location screen never keeps a consistent perspective.  This means that you will click an arrow to go to the next place, yet you have a 33%-50% chance of going back to the previous screen by mistake–keeping in mind that you had to wait half a minute or more for the new location to load, switching disks like a fleshy-jukebox all the while.  This makes that easily attainable online walkthrough all the more tempting, which isn’t what I look for in a great game.

I had nightmares about this guy ...
I had nightmares about this guy …

When the cursor driven interface succeeds, though, it’s adequate.  The learning curve requires you to realize that, when you click and search on that little item in the picture, you are actually searching the whole screen.  It’s confusing at first, especially when you click on the picture of a gun in a case, search it, and the dialogue box pops up to say “Sushi. Will you take it?”

I’ve said already that the fight screens look good (though don’t expect them to change,) and consist of you looking at your target from a first-person view.  You have a limited amount of time before they start shooting, which they will, without fail or variation, and in that time, you need to click on what weapon and shield (if available) that you want to use in the fight.  This is where you learn that, while you may have a gun, you probably haven’t bought any ammo.

Yes, this is a point-and-click adventure mixed with an rpg of the old-school–you’ll get hungry, thirsty, and tired, and occasionally you’ll have too much stuff and be forced to leave stuff in random locations like a slug leaving a slime trail.  This isn’t a bad thing, though, and adds something a bit deeper to the talk-to-him and find-this gameplay that makes up the majority of the game.  Did I mention that there’s also a time limit to your overall mission?  Don’t fret, though,

This game features a computer implanted into your arm that allows you to check your stats, and even to program in a little BASIC-style setup.  Although a strong foreshadowing of Fallout's Pip-Boy, Brian Fargo had nothing to do with this game ...
This game features a computer on your arm that you can program. Yes, like Fallout‘s Pip-Boy, but Brian Fargo had nothing to do with this game …

because you’re not likely to reach it before you either complete the game (I commend you) or decide to quit while wondering if the game is loading or just plain crashed.

This may sound to you as though I didn’t enjoy my time with B.A.T., and I hope to correct that misconception.  There’s a lack of cyberpunk adventure in the world of games, despite some well-known favorites like Beneath a Steel Sky (which you can get free with a free account at gog.com) and Neuromancer (also on the C64 and other platforms, and much easier to play,) and I think that any addition to the fold is a welcome one.  If cyberpunk is your cup of tea, and reading Philip K. Dick while your 1541 disk drive clicks and whirs away sounds heavenly, than I suggest you give B.A.T. a try. Also, check out the sequel, The Koshan Conspiracy for DOS, the Amiga, and the Atari ST systems.5_25 floppy

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