"Meet Leon. Heís your buddy, your leader, your home base. Heís also dead cool - he wears dark glasses indoors and rolls up his sleeves like a middle finger extended to the chilly corridors where he must do his tireless, one-handed work (no, typing on the computer!). Be just half the man Leon is, and play Silent Debuggers. Better still, be a smarter man, and donít. "
Meet Leon. Heís your buddy, your leader, your home base. Heís also dead cool - he wears dark glasses indoors and rolls up his sleeves like a middle finger extended to the chilly corridors where he must do his tireless, one-handed work (no, typing on the computer!). Be just half the man Leon is, and play Silent Debuggers. Better still, be a smarter man, and donít.
Tfft! Tfft! Tfft! [Get used to this sound, it is the sound of your character walking, or more accurately, of the screen-scrolling, in a broken down imitation of 3D movement.]
A ''Debugger'' is a bounty hunter. The cool name, the cool introductory music accompanying the nice green mecha that appears on the screen - donít let any of this fool you into believing Silent Debuggers is a good game. What it is, is a compelling tangle of ideas wasted by half-baked execution. Itís an amazing concept that traps you and a partner in a space cargo station named ''Ohme'' that is filled with riches, as well as monsters. The clichťd 'some have gone seeking the riches, none have returned' bit is still in effect, but the plot gets better. Basically, there are five levels. In the core area of the ship are core blocks. The enemies are in the outer area. The core blocks are really rooms, eight in number, and some of them contain nothing of use to you. However, block C allows you to recharge your vitality and energy weapons, (they use the same bar) block G allows you to replenish your ammunition for your bullet weapons, and there is a block for sound, and one for light.
To the point: in the first stage, enemies keep to the outer blocks. But from the second stage forward, green monsters make it into the core blocks! This means if youíre on the 'outside' mashing monsters, an alarm may go off from Leon, telling you to hightail it back to the 'inside'. Your map will tell you where the enemy is, from the damage he is doing to whatever core block, or room, that he happens to be occupying. Each room starts off with a count of 100, and should it take enough damage (read: should an enemy remain resident for too long) the number will fall until finally that block will shut down. Needless to say, if that happens to any of the important rooms - like C block especially, no recharging, no chance - and youíre finished.
Still there is more juice in the jug; youíre equipped by Leon with a sound sensor. When enemies approach, it alerts you to their presence, and which direction theyíre attacking from. Later in the game, certain enemies will manifest themselves without triggering the scanner (though they do make a sort of whooshing sound when you pass them). To heighten the mystery; thereís some form of intelligent beast taunting you from the shadows, beckoning you to meet him on the last level, challenging you to live long enough. To heighten the intensity; from level two onward, there is a time limit in effect of 100 minutes, in which you must complete the game, or the whole cargo station blows. Sounds exciting, doesnít it? I know it did to me. But then I played the game.
Tfft! Tfft! Tfft! [As annoying as these breaks in the review are, the actual sound is still more annoying.]
You will almost assuredly find Debuggers to be tedious and annoying work, despite the gameís best intentions. It wants to be System Shock - all brainy and atmospheric, but it is far inferior to that PC classic corridor shooter. Hell, it hasnít the variety, the looks, or the intensity of even the archaic Wolfenstein 3D.
As impressive as Leon looked in the intro while taking out an attacking monster, heís really white bread, a nothing, a charlatan commando, who quickly degrades from 'quick-draw' to a second-rate desk job jockey. Second-rate, because every time youíre off knee-deep in eggshells, that helpless, hapless fool will summon you back crying and whining and imploring that you help him. Worse yet, he has the nerve to mock your efforts even while you succeed at exterminating one of the ever-so-quick green guys wreaking the havoc in the core area.
And speaking of speed, itís bad enough that the sound of your movement is irritating, but the rate of movement is just as crappy. You can only really run when you have a few rooms of space ahead of you to build up some momentum. Which is useless, because the times you will need to call upon some amount of velocity are when you're attacking foes in the maze-like outer blocks, or when you're killing the green guys in the close quarters of the core blocks. You wonít have room for the take off that you so desperately need to attain speed - except when in the general perimeter of the core area, a place where you won't need the legs at all.
The imposed time limit should inject the game with some real, exhilarating moments, but it isnít allowed to. Your enemies have a habit of coming to you. In fact, due of the layout of most of the outer blocks (perhaps the last level is an exception) you will be better served in terms of time expenditure to stay still and await all comers. Because of the fool Leonís constant crying, it makes even more sense to make that stand in front of a door that leads back to the core area. Now weíve got some really base gameplay on our hands: compelling plotting has been undermined completely by programming ineptitude, so that an engaging, timed beast hunt is reduced to a stand and fire contest, with occasion side missions to clean core blocks and recharge your ammo and health.
Variety is the devastating final nail here. Itís hard to become rattled when the very same enemy design keeps popping up (literally) occasionally chancing to move a bit faster, or wear different colours. The design they chose to run with isnít even particularly scary or inspired; picture an egg, vibrantly coloured, bearing odd appendages, and youíve got it. I donít know about you, but an army of angry Humpty Dumpty types doesnít quite put the fear of God in me - especially when their attack is limited to simply bashing into you continuously until you spin, die, and lose a costly five minutes off your already limited time allotment. There are no Silent Hill scares to be had from an angry Humpty, aside from the horrid sound of your scanner when one of them is close.
Leon's Little Armoury doesn't offer much variety either. Some weapons are completely useless, and others empty their clips much too fast. There are six weapons, including three guns and three launchers. You'll need a combination of both - my personal recommendation is that no matter what gun you get, make sure you select the Sleep Launcher. Hitting an enemy with a projectile fired from this weapon will hold even the strongest enemy in place for long enough for you to dispose of it at your leisure with your gun of choice. Of course, a better recommendation would be not to bother with Silent Debuggers at all.
Instead of grim, frightful corridor negotiations, there are a lot of bland same-looking hallways to rattle around in, and bland same-looking doors with letters on them to open, until you locate the enemy contingent for any given floor. Even this should have been made much easier. A map on-the-go would have been ideal, but NEC and Data East force us to enter the options screen to bring up the map every time you need to reference it to determine your position. It sounds like something minor, but believe me, in a game already seriously lacking, itís helps to further wound an experience that is already bleeding to death.
I could end off with the horrible pun, sharing with you that this game 'bugs me', and it does, but only because I forced myself to play long enough to feel that way. But alas, for most, Silent Debuggers - though bubbling over with potential greatness - eventually lacks even the conviction and character to elicit more than a weary yawn and languid blink of indifference.
Tfft! Tfft! Tfft!
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 17, 2003)
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