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Metal Marines (PC) – An IkiFoo Review

August 10, 2019


Hello world! There’s some games where the
biggest discussion they inspire is which version was best. A lot rarer with games coming out
today, they’re far more similar across platforms, but it used to vary quite widely – you could
end up with fundamentally different experiences under the same name and you have to pick a
favourite for yourself. Sometimes there isn’t consensus, like when people claim the best
version of Aladdin is anything other than the Mega Drive/Genesis version. Sometimes
one version of the game is an obvious dumpster fire, like the first version of Resident Evil
4 on PC. That would be the one that shipped without lighting. And then sometimes, just
sometimes, there’s a version of a game which gets buried. Not entirely buried, I can find
playthroughs for it on YouTube, but if you’re looking for information on Metal Marines,
chances are high you’ll see the SNES version first. Which is… fine. The fact that this
video is explicitly about the PC version might give away which one I prefer, but I’m not
surprised by this. Console games were always a bit more mainstream, even strategy titles
and on top of that, the PC version was made for Windows 3.1 which is rarely remembered
with fondness, if it’s remembered at all. If you made a game for that OS it was almost
destined to be forgotten. Mind you, the game also ran on Windows 95 and I’ve had it working
as late as Windows XP. Has to be 32-bit Windows though – the game uses a 16-bit executable,
64-bit Windows wants nothing to do with that. And in case that’s not enough version talk
for you, there was actually two PC releases – Regular and Master Edition. I’ll be showing
the Master Edition for two reasons – the voice acting and the fact you can resize the battle
windows horizontally instead of just vertically. I’m jumping ahead a bit here, but this is
what the battle screen looks like. There’s two big windows that you can move and resize,
I’ll explain what they do later, and the Regular Edition only let you make them taller or shorter
for some reason. You can tell this was made for Windows 3.1 because it actually tries
to utilize the Windows graphics interface. Perhaps it seemed like a good idea because
this was all so new at the time. I’m not familiar with software development under Windows 2,
but considering that Windows 2 looked like this. I can see why folk would be like “oh
wait, this is usable! Let’s try that!”. Surprisingly common for Windows 3.1 games,
actually – Castle of the Winds and Dare to Dream in particular spring to mind with their
multiple windows. Anyway, history lesson over – why don’t I cover the story, that sounds
sensible. In the year 2127, the world lives in the shadow
of the Antimatter War which was… bad, probably, I dunno. The United Earth Empire is at war
with Zorgueuf the Great, who has set his sights on Earth after conquering all of the space
colonies. As a commander, if your default on the name entry screen is anything to go
by, you do your part in repelling the space bastards and saving the planet… at least,
I think that’s the story. When I first looked this up again, I was wondering where all this
story came from because the PC version started like this. [1ST MISSION INTRO] That was it,
tutorial talk and nothing else. The help file didn’t give anything away, I never had a paper
manual, so this was all unknown to me. Most of that initial story burst I actually got
from the SNES intro. It’s not a complex or nuanced story, in any case – war happen, evil
empire attack, defenders of the Earth a bit miffed, bunch of enemy commanders varying
in stereotypicalness, that’s all you need to know. Not that I found it incredibly necessary,
because something about the gameplay grabbed me. I don’t know if I can actually explain
why, because the more you explain the weirder it sounds. Remember those two battle screens?
One is a view of your island base, the other is of your opponent’s. You’ll start a mission
by placing your battlesh-your bases; destroy all of your enemy’s bases to win, simple
enough. Once the bases are down you can start building
up your island with this fine list of buildings. You’ve got the missile, which puts the hurt
on anything in a 3×3 grid and reveals whatever your enemy built near the explosion… if
it’s not shot down by an Interceptor Missile, which will try and destroy any not-Interceptor
missiles that fly near it. They’ll also fire at any Metal Marines you send over, damaging
and potentially destroying all 50ft of the bastards what named this game. If the Marines
land, however, the Interceptors and anything else in the vicinity are gonna get it… unless
that anything else is an Armoured Gun Pod, because… well, you can guess what their
purpose is. Any Metal Marines near to where an enemy Metal Marine lands will also join
the fight. So you can see there’s this rock-paper-scissors-esque circle of death thing going on… except for
the Antimatter Missile. It’s not easy to build but once you manage it, this happens…
yup. Those buildings didn’t even blow up, that shit was vaporised. Those are your key
tools for beating the missions, but that’s only 6 out of the 13. You’ve also got the
Radar dish to make Interceptor Missiles shoot better, the Camouflage Structure to disguise
your bases as houses, even if they’re in the middle of nowhere or interrupt a road
for some reason, and acts as a bit of armour, the Decoy Base which is just like a real base
apart from the everything, there’s the Active Mine Field thing I never use – it probably
hurts Metal Marines a bit, the War Administration Headquarters which increases your monies per
second, the Factory lets you build stuff in a less slow way, and the Energy Plant increases
your energy per second – energy is the stuff you spend to launch regular Missiles, Marines
and Antimatters, by the way. So now we know what we can build, how can
we actually use it? You’re gonna love this one, it’s the Windows 3.1-iest thing I can
think of asides from having to set your colour depth to 256 colours to run certain games
even if it was higher beforehand seriously that happened why you do dis. To fire a missile
into enemy territory, you click and drag it over to the other window. Same with the Metal
Marines, click and drag them to where you want shit wrecked. I once had to spend 5 full
minutes convincing my friend that you right-clicked and dragged the mouse to attack in Daggerfall,
so fuck knows how folk are going to react to this. In fact, you can even drag files
and folders onto the battlefield to spawn a folder… which explodes. Okay, programmer
hat on for a second; I’m assuming that, since they had to detect dragging rockets
from one window to another, they had to account for the fact that people might drag something
else, it’ll be using the same API calls that folder dragging would use. If they tried to
use the data of a folder as if it were game tile data, it’s like ramming a square peg
in a round hole basically, the game would probably crash. Hell, might have taken the
whole OS with it. Crashes were not uncommon for Windows 3.1, is what I’m saying. This brings me to one of the major drawbacks
of the game – not the click-dragging itself, I’m clearly old and beaten-down enough to
accept that. Not only can you only perform one attack at a time (and with the Metal Mofos
that means waiting until they die or run out of targets) but your window won’t even update
until the missile lands. And you have to wait longer than you’d think to make another attack.
Journey, missile explosion, target explosions, then you can attack again. Every single time.
Granted you can reduce the amount of animation shown, but you’re still waiting for quite
a lot of play time. That’s one advantage the SNES version does have, actually; you
can set off multiple attacks at once. What would’ve been good is if you could pause
the game, plan out these attacks, unpause and just have it all play out. And yet I prefer
the PC version over the SNES. Those missile attacks are practically their own little cutscenes
on the SNES too, but the fact that it doesn’t hard cut away to them pushes the PC interpretation
to the top for me. That and not only can I see more of my island (depending on what resolution
you have set) but I don’t have to play a strategy game with a controller, it’s like
using stone tools by comparison. There’s another drawback to the click-and-drag nature
of the combat; if you want to pan your view, you need to click and drag either water or
a hill – otherwise the game thinks you’re making an attack… I mean, really? If you
drag on a missile or Metal Marine, sure – you don’t want your view scrolling just because
you want to make a boom, but you couldn’t figure out that I don’t want to attack the
enemy island with a Headquarters? I’m trying to defend you, game! And don’t tell me to
use scrollbars, this isn’t 1994! …actually from your perspective it probably is, never
mind. It only occurred to me once I sat down to
write this review what the combat reminded me of – Battleships. You’re faced with a
blank island, you need to both find and destroy the bases without getting blown up yourself.
Difference being you only have three lives and can lose your ability to shoot if you
either run out of energy or your missiles go splat. Half the time you’re launching
missiles not to attack, but for reconnaissance. You can do the same with the Marines, but
you’ll probably just launch them into a group of Gun Pods and not get their comparatively-expensive
asses back. Actually, if you launch Marines directly onto a building, they’ll nope straight
back. Fair enough if you didn’t know anything was there, fog of war and all that, but I
don’t know why they wouldn’t just say ‘we saw a building there earlier – this is a pointless
move you tit!’. We’re not talking Command & Conquer fog either – you could fire two
missiles a minute apart and see something new being built when you weren’t looking.
And by looking i mean bombing their tits aff. If you want them Metally Marinees to be useful,
you pretty much need to build them up so they can survive more than one Gun Pod. Yeah, that’s
another thing you can do – build certain units up. Building up Marines raises their attack
and defense with the added benefit of making them not useless. Building up Missiles fires
two at once instead of one. At worst, it doubles your chances of hitting the target. At best,
it hits twice and some buildings need to be hit twice before they’ll boom so that’s
only one launch for your boom. And building up Interceptor Missiles still only seems to
fire once, but… better? I think they hit the Metal Marines harder so there’s a better
chance they’ll be destroyed. I usually take a glass cannon approach in
games, so in Metal Marines I get bombed a lot. You don’t have many defences, you get
bombed, not a surprise. At least until I’ve found and wrecked all their offence, anyway.
And whilst it’s not a perfect tactic, it did me alright until the final mission where either
you basically have to use Marines or fire ze missiles constantly and pray to RNGesus
that enough of them land. Unless the first Antimatter Missile does this, in which case
you basically have to restart. By the way, the first shot occurs within 30 seconds. Safe
to say your opponent followed the Boy Scout motto. But when I finally beat that last mission,
oh boy. That’s a sense of closure I rarely get and also should probably be getting from
something that actually matters. On the other hand, it means you can go back and use all
the new tactics you learned, all those missions where all my shit got blown up and I had to
win with single missiles dotted around my island. Or nuke the ever loving fuck out of
the island in the second mission, to the point where every part was blackened apart from
his one base. Even this tiny, useless island off to the side and even the edges. Then I
waited to let him build up a little bit before nuking him every n seconds until I got bored
and sent the Marines… I am not a good person sometimes. Asides from blatant squash matches like that
one, there’s a delicate balance you have to maintain with this game. You need to find
the enemy bases and destroy them, but you need to scout out the island to see what’s
there first. If there’s too many Interceptors, you’ll need to send in a Metal Marine. If
there’s Armoured Gun Pods you’ll need to weaken those first. If there’s both,
you might need to pare it down with built-up missiles or Marines. And you need to balance
your defenses while you’re at it. A wall of Gun Pods does nothing against a barrage of
missiles and Interceptors are helpless against a Marine. All of this with limited resources,
which aren’t too easy to increase. I don’t know if it matters which enemy commander you’re
facing. Whether you’re up against almost-cockney-almost-Australian Bill Garland, screen-kicking fanatic Joan
Rile, Camp German Liften Schwaltz or Nikolai I. Zorguef the Great himself who… loves
to count, apparently, the difficulty appears to entirely be based on the mission number.
You can tell the AI is mostly used to operating with an established base, because watching
it trying to build itself back up is an exercise in nonsense, at least in early missions. Building
Gun Pods and Interceptors in random locations, saving up 75mil for a Factory before anything
else, they’re a bit daft. Something I forgot to mention is that if a Marine gets destroyed,
you can build a new one at the empty hangar; cheaper than a new hangar and saves you some
space. The AI does not seem to know this. Also daft. The difficulty seems to come entirely
from how the enemy island is set up at the start of the mission. And yet it does get
bloody hard; trying to penetrate their defenses before they send over gold Marines and stomp
everything, forcing me into guerilla tactics to finish the mission… actually that’s a
pretty regular tactic. I should just build Gun Pods. It’s another one of those games that’s hard
to recommend, yet I love it enough to set up a Windows 3.1 install under DOSBox to play
it. Mostly because I couldn’t be arsed setting up a Windows XP virtual machine again and
I had DOSBox installed already.. There’s a big barrier to entry before you even start
playing Metal Marines, and then you have to deal with how clunky the game is. And it is,
it undeniably is; that ‘one attack at a time’ rule is tied with ‘your window doesn’t
update until the animation is done’ for the Biggest Fuckness award. It’s a unique
gameplay experience that I can’t promise is worth the effort to run, but I love it and
I think it’s full of enough weird, unique and interesting stuff to warrant talking about
it for as long as I have. Which is quite a while now, come to think of it. Should I end
it here? Yeah, probably. By the way, there’s a Pig Latin mode.

5 Comments

  • Reply SomeGuy March 29, 2017 at 12:14 am

    I liked windows 3.1 quite a bit. I think it's just an aesthetics thing. You know I think this game would work nicely on iso and the like with a little tweaking.

  • Reply Amayirot Akago March 29, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Always like seeing you cover these old, obscure, non-adventure-y type games ๐Ÿ™‚ Wasn't even aware there was a SNES version of this, I read a review of the Windows version way back (and like most games I read about back then never actually played it ever ๐Ÿ™ ). Man, now I wanna play some Windows 3.1 stuff again. And maybe even some strategy games like the ones that I have collecting dust in my GOG account.

  • Reply saulzmon March 30, 2017 at 3:15 am

    Loved this game. massing turrets and anti air rockets. Then propelling your marines into enemy territory. Good good fun.

  • Reply 420 KingBong January 26, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Nice i subbed and liked
    I used to love this game
    Its the first like RTS style game i ever played and still one of my favorites till today
    I do gaming streams also hit me up

  • Reply BigEpinstriping March 9, 2019 at 4:19 am

    Loved this game, the fact that it played in multiple windows blew me away at the time.

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