HAZARD v1.11 (2014 FPS Freeware game) review…

Berzerk meets TRON inside of the Quake 1 engine… After the break…

HAZARD v1.11 (2014 FPS Freeware game) review…

What do you get when you combine the classic arcade game “Berzerk” with the visual aesthetics from the classic science-fiction movie “TRON” and then place the result inside the open-sourced game engine that powered the classic first-person shooter “Quake 1” (this particular one being called “DarkPlaces”)?

Aspiring game designer Adam Freeman wanted to find out… And now we can all play it. For free.

“Hazard” is a 2014 freeware first-person shooter by Adam Freeman (with the help and support of many other people but, primarily, it was made by him). There really isn’t any sort of plot to speak of: Enter level, kill enemies, find exit. Wash, rinse, repeat. The game, of course, is a bit more complicated than that sarcastic description… But not by much. There are, obviously, some other game play wrinkles to “Hazard”: You have to collect disks (literally, artistic representations of the old-fashioned 3.5″ hard plastic disks) that, when entered into a computer then grants you access (in the form of a bridge) to a new section. Shooting power generators causes gates to lower and, just like bridges, allows one to enter new areas. Finally, striking floor tiles that have a question mark on them causes you to teleport to a secret area that is laden with armor, weapons, ammo and health.

Length-wise, the game plays slightly longer then one of the 4 “episodes” in Quake 1… And that’s not the only similarity to Quake 1 that the game possesses besides being built upon the open-source version of that game’s engine. Upon closer inspection, a lot of the first-person shooter aspects are direct descendants of that game: A lot of the enemies and weapons are near cyber-equivalents of what one would find in Quake 1: The red enemy in “Hazard” shoots out a “You-seeking” projectile much like the “Vore” in Quake 1; The purple enemy in “Hazard” shoots out an arc of projectiles much like the “Death Knight” in Quake 1; Yellow enemies throw grenades just like the “Ogre” in Quake 1.

If the enemies are similar to their counterparts in Quake 1, so too are the weapons: The pulse pistol & overclocked pulse pistol for “Hazard” behave suspiciously like the shotgun and double shotgun of Quake 1; The lightsaber for “Hazard” and axe for “Quake 1” share the same properties; There are two “machine guns” in each game, a thrown grenade and launched rocket for each game and, finally of course, a lightning gun for each game as well.

Similar enemies, similar weapons, but not exactly identical gameplay because “Hazard” does contain a few wrinkles that Quake 1 doesn’t possess. “Hazard” is a bit more lenient with it’s players: Fall into the faded blue ‘grid’ and you are merely teleported back to the start of the level, no worse for wear.

Yet “Hazard” removes a lot of the gameplay elements that elevated Quake 1 rather then limiting it. For starters, Hazard plays remarkably flat and orthographical for most of the entire game: I felt as though I was in one of those ultra-advanced open-source Wolfenstein 3D engines where all of the levels are on a flat plane but the enemies and power-ups have all been promoted to polygons. The charm of Quake 1 was that it was the first true room-over-room first-person shooter and, in Hazard, you get so precious little of that effect that you wonder if you’re really playing in a DarkPlaces engine or not. “Hazard” also emulates the monotonous use of floor and wall tiles; Much like Quake 1 was criticized for it’s overuse of the color brown (a supposed technical limitation at the time due to space and memory for contemporary hardware), “Hazard” must be criticized for it’s overuse of the same types of walls and floors for much of it’s game. Some variety does finally leak in (especially in the final level where you must walk on top of hexagonal pillars) but, at least for me, it was far too little too late. “Quake 1” had a valid excuse for their color brown that “Hazard” has no reply for.

For a game that has some fairly simple tutorials early on, one aspect that isn’t taught are the secrets (here called “Data”) for which one should find in order to gain an advantage in firepower and health. I saw the floor tiles early on but, upon shooting them, they did nothing and so I thought that they were just a design quirk. When I realized that they probably held the “data,” I went back to earlier levels and hit those tiles with the lightsaber to see if hitting them with a lightsaber would activate the tile… Which it did. This doesn’t make a lot of sense considering that, in Quake 1, you can shoot walls and buttons with a projectile weapon or hit them and the result is the same in that the button or switch or whatever is activated.

The secrets, themselves, are not spectacular and become quite monotonous. Each secret area is, literally, the same room save for some pop culture pictures of various movies or anime or what have you. Which leads me to my final criticism of the game…

Some of the graphical assets are far better than others. Since “Hazard” isn’t a professional paid product, you can’t expect the absolute finest but, at the same time, one would expect something beyond the typical “programmer’s graphics.” For a game where solid geometry and TRON aesthetics are the norm, some of the graphical assets are absolute eyesores. The 3.5″ computer disk and matching computer icons are atrocious when compared to the weapons. They don’t even share the same design aesthetic; Are these left-over “programmer graphics”? The ammo boxes also don’t fare well – If you are in a cyber-world and your weapons are decently represented, why are the ammo boxes so different? And, as a bonus – I “got” the flying Pac-Man ghost monsters but, given that all of the other enemies are are armless variants of the “Maximillian” robot from the movie “The Black Hole,” it just looked out of place. Why not a green or a blue robot?

Criticisms aside, “Hazard” is better than it isn’t. It does take the time to introduce new gameplay elements slowly – The “death red fading grid” shows up on one level, and then the purple and red enemies show up on others. The “weighted floor plate” also makes a late introduction as well as the time-delayed protected power generator (essential in the final level). I’m not much of a “game music” player, especially during fast-paced games where all of your attention needs to be devoted towards whether death is around the corner or not. Perhaps isolated from the stress of ever-impending death, the music would probably play far better if it wasn’t repeated constantly during stressful situations. I made it about halfway through the game before I decided to drop the music.

I read that “Hazard” was made as a proof-of-concept for a future far-better version that will supposedly be made in Unity but, as of March 2015, there is no indication of this supposed far-better version in production.

The computer game “Tron 2.0”, from 2004, remains the high-water mark for a first-person shooter inside of a cyber-computer world. A one-person development team, with or without some incidental support from others, isn’t going to replace Tron 2.0 anytime soon. Yet, for the price (read: Free!), this isn’t a terrible effort by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps the largest obstacle towards enjoying this game is realizing that, while a lot of the gameplay is more Quake-centric than Berzerk-centric, the level design is exceedingly more Berzerk-centric than Quake-centric. Think of it as a 3D version of Berzerk and you’ll probably enjoy it a bit more. Think of it as Quake 1 inside of a TRON universe and you’ll probably be disappointed.


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