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Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed (PC) artwork

Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed (PC) review

""Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed" is the sequel to "Countdown to Doomsday", but it doesn't really feel that way: it feels a lot more like an expansion pack than as a new game. Admittedly, it's an expansion far bigger than the original game, but the point is simple: you pretty much need to have experienced the first game in order to savor all of the spicy old-school epicness oozing forth from this title. "

"Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed" is the sequel to "Countdown to Doomsday", but it doesn't really feel that way: it feels a lot more like an expansion pack than as a new game. Admittedly, it's an expansion far bigger than the original game, but the point is simple: you pretty much need to have experienced the first game in order to savor all of the spicy old-school epicness oozing forth from this title.

"Matrix Cubed" chronicles the continuing tale of the party that you led to victory on "Countdown to Doomsday": having disabled the giant laser that RAM (Russo-American Mercantile), the evil corporation that rules Mars, was going to use to sterilize Earth, your party of terrans, martians, venusians and mercurians has resumed their busywork at NEO, the New Earth Organization (and also the good guys). Your next assignment: bodyguarding a Mercurian "Sun King" who intends to use his big fortune to help people, and making sure he survives his coronation. It's supposed to be a rather boring assignment, but RAM probably doesn't like this guy very much. And you know what this means, right?

If storylines are the most important part of a RPG to you, then RAM is what made or broke the first game's tale, and again it's what is going to make or break this sequel for you. This corporation is pure evil in the most moustache-twirling of ways: they'll stop at nothing to gain profit, killing anyone who interferes. Thanks to them, Earth has become a big toxic waste dump. Most of the people there became mutants in some way, even if their only mutation is the ability to survive in such a hostile place (that's why terrans in this game get a +1 constitution bonus).

Whenever there is trouble in the solar system, you know that RAM has something to do with it. Their evil presence is felt at every time. And it is this sense of an eternal battle between you and this evil that you just know will show up eventually to try to stop you that creates a nice epic atmosphere to the game: you'll always be rubbing your hands awaiting for RAM to show up, only to then proceed to kick its butt with a rain of rocket launchers.

In the first game your task was to prevent RAM from destroying Earth, but this time you're on the offensive: on Mercury you'll learn about the plans for the "Matrix Device", a machine that transforms toxic waste into useful energy (without the need to trick people into thinking it's 1999). If NEO builds it, it may be able to clean earth and have a weapon that can defeat RAM once and for all. Unfortunately, another group of terrans is after it: PURGE, an acronym that basically alludes to the KKK of the 25th century. They want to build the device to clean Earth of all the mutants living in it, or 50% of the population. This means that whenever RAM is otherwise unavailable, PURGE will get to the task of trying to kill you whenever you go.

With this setup the race is on across the solar system: who will build the Matrix Device first? NEO or PURGE? And what ways will RAM find to meddle in this affair? It's up to you to find out in this RPG.

And by "finding out", I actually mean "discovering what sort of huge army you'll have to face in the next battle".

"Countdown to Doomsday" in the Genesis was the first RPG I ever was able to finish. There were two reasons for that. The first was that I had a hint book for it. The second was that it is, in general, somewhat easy. If you gave the right weapons and armor to your party, you could pretty much win any battle you fought, or at least win all those in the main quest (the Juno asteroid sidequest was really, really hard!).

I started playing "Matrix Cubed" right after I finished "Countdown to Doomsday" for the umpteenth time, this time on the PC version. I was fresh from the previous game, I had beaten the Juno asteroid sidequest, I knew how to make a good party, I even imported some of the best equipment I had left from the end of the first game.

And I died miserably on the very first battle.

This game is not so easy.

Every single goon from the first game got an upgrade here. RAM warriors trade their body armors for Martian body armors (which are better). PURGE troops may be dressed in the puny smartsuit, but each trooper gets a explosive grenade to throw at you. Those are deadly. And don't even let me start on the gang members you'll meet at the LA slums: I honestly think that they were better equipped than the interplanetary armies RAM and PURGE mustered.

There will be no better friends in the galaxy for your NEO agents than their trusty rocket launchers: keep at least one, preferably two, in the backpacks of your party members at all times. After every battle, reload your rockets so that you may start firing away right after the next encounter begins.

This is truly an old-school RPG: even though your characters have several skills to help navigate the perils of the solar system, all quests can be solved by winning some battles (some can be solved only this way). And there shall be no mercy for slackers: if you do not reload manually your rocket launchers after every battle, and I mean EVERY BATTLE, you'll surely be killed when armies of 20-30 enemy soldiers and their monstrous pets appear from nowhere to drink your blood.

Are you up to the challenge? Are you hardcore enough to sift through all the 3 page-long lists of crap your fallen opponents will drop in order to pick up the 2 chaff grenades you are sure to require to survive the next assault? Are you willing to travel through the maze of menus and keyboard keys you must press in order to manually ready once again the grenade launchers in your party so you don't have to waste a turn in battle doing this? Do you think you can protect your medic adequately enough when facing 12 amalthean warriors, 6 amalthean leaders and 3 jovian dragons all at the same time?

If you are willing and able to do all of this, or even get a kick from all this, then you're in for a treat. You'll get to visit pretty much every spot on the solar system that you did not get to know in the first game. You'll traipse through the toxic earth, by far the most emblematic and cyberpunk portion of this game. You'll aid crafty venusians in disguise keep their most important secrets to themselves. You will unveil a large plot of intrigue and corruption taking place on the rich investment banks located on the moon. You'll be trapped and have to form coalitions to escape from a Martian prison. You'll mediate the resolution of a conflict between space pirates and giant mutants inside the belly of a living space vessel. You'll help a rogue university of mutated slaves in Jupiter break free from the shackles of their masters, the Amaltheans.

All of this will take place amidst your race against the clock to assemble the pieces and manpower required for the construction of the Matrix Device. Eventually the time shall come to flick the switch and turn it on. Will this process go smoothly, or will some evil force that permeates all that is wrong in the solar system show up to try to stop you in a desperate last stand?!

If you are willing to mow down entire armies of tenacious foes and don't mind trudging through endless menus and lists of dropped equipment, you shall be rewarded with one of the most epic treks across the solar system that retro-gaming ever knew.

This assuming, of course, that you manage not to die on the first battle!

zanzard's avatar
Community review by zanzard (September 01, 2009)

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