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Hostages (Amiga) artwork

Hostages (Amiga) review

"In this game, the terrorists drive Volvo."

Let's travel back in time a little bit.

After a series of relatively successful para-military attacks against civilian targets around the world in the early 70's (Munich Olympics, Lockerbie, Japan Airline Flight 351, Yugoslavian Airlines Flight 364, for example. Along with the rise of certain home-made para-miliaries), several European governments at the time reasoned that neither their police-forces or their military was equipped properly to deal with this specific type of threat. In response, various counter-terrorism operation teams neither exclusively civilian nor military were proposed, amidst political controversy having to do with the authority and situations these forces would be employed. And eventually these organisations became semi-independent tactical insertion forces such as the German GSG-9 and the French GIGN.

The blue-clad riot-gear wearing force in Hostages is obviously the GIGN. And feature alongside a group of Volvo-driving terrorists sporting ski-masks, AKS-74s and Nato-sweaters. The terrorists arrive first, recklessly park their car, and scramble to set up position inside The Embassy. The GIGN arrives soon after in an armored truck, and must systematically force their way inside the building in an attempt to save the hostages. (Since this game is from the olden days, the mission objectives obviously tick in on the top of the screen by Telex).

The mission has three parts. First, you will need to place up to three snipers in strategic locations surrounding the building. At this point, you will be presented with the overview map for the first time. On the map, you see your current position, and you can switch between either of the three snipers by hitting the f-keys. Then hit space to control them with the arrow-keys as they run down the street from cover to cover, trying to avoid the gunfire from the embassy building.

This part of the game is essentially a 2d side-scroller where the screen scrolls smoothly ahead in steps as you approach the edge of the screen. Apart from the smooth graphics, this is the first clue that tells us the game has been designed with some serious aforethought - the strobe-lights that you need to dodge tend to be visible ahead of you, and you cannot escape the strobe-light cycle by “going back a screen”, etc. It's all seamless from one end of the map to the other, if you can make it that far. The segment also has a surprisingly high number of character-animations, all geared towards running in small bursts of speed and escape dramatically to the next hallway, window, or low fence. The music in this segment is intended to follow that same pattern: as the soundtrack plays back, it increases dynamically in intensity while out in the open. And then subtly fade and change to softer notes while hiding in cover (a unique way of designing soundtracks with dynamic sampling tied more consciously to game-world events that unfortunately is not used very often nowadays).

If you are good enough, you will reach the designated sniping points, and the second phase of the mission can begin. It's time to go on the offense now, and the GIGN rappel down to the roof by helicopter. The sniper teams stand by for support. At this point you choose an entry-point on the roof on the overhead map, and then it's time to rappel to the first window. But what's this? A (very flatly animated) shade is patrolling the room below, as we can see in the low-light vision scope that follows the rappelling GIGN. Let's switch to the sniper now, while the rappelling guy waits. A press on one of the f-keys, or a quick visit to the map, and we're there. Now looking at the wall through a sniper-scope, we find the right window, and the target.

One shot, a scream and a broken window later, we switch back to the previous GIGN, who now rappel the last bit down to the window, zoom past it, and fall screeching to certain death. Darn. Let's try that again after reading the manual a bit.

The GIGN troop now rappels down the side of the building, down to the window, and crash through the glass into the building. The music ramps up again: we're in.

At this point the third segment begins, and we move around the rooms in a 3d environment. Since rotating sprites or perspective-corrected 2d wasn't invented yet in 1988, we are moving from segment to segment, scrolling 90 degrees at a time when turning. And we warp sections ahead when moving back and forth. The sub-machine gun you carry can be aimed by firing, and then adjusting back and forth. Just as well, probably, that the gun has endless ammunition. The objective now is to free the hostages or eliminate all the terrorists.

We move slowly down to the lower floors now, and see that the hostages are held in two separate rooms. Multiple enemies are scurrying back and forth between them. But maybe our sniper teams can even the odds a little? Switching between the view-points now, still using the same f-key designations, allow us to find the lower floors and take out three more badly animated shades in the rooms we are certain no hostages are held in. A quick switch back to the troop in the building rescues them from being ambushed as well. And we move in to take care of the last target. The terrorist is standing over the kneeling hostage, thankfully, so it's at least possible to shoot him with the smg and avoid the hostage.

As he goes down, the screen fades to black. Then the newspaper photo flash ends the game to more nifty 80's music samples and congratulatory screens with broken english sentences (that are set in a way that vaguely remind us of a split newspaper column). It is, as the game says, a Total Victory.

Hostages has enough small flaws and execution misses to warrant a small tale. And yet - the individual and distinct segments, and then the multiple viewpoint perspectives that tie these together, is a priceless work of art: You may not like it, it may not be aesthetically perfect. You might look at it and scoff, but it is impossible to not take in at least an impression of the unique vision behind it even at a short glance. And real connoisseurs will know genius when they see it, and recognise it in this game.


fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (May 12, 2011)

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