RAPTOR: Call of the Shadows (shareware version) from Cygnus/Apogee

Reviewed by Greg Cymbalist
                   Computer      Graphics        Memory        Disk Space
Minimum               386           VGA          2 meg           5 meg
Max/Rec.                                         4 meg

Control:  Keyboard, joystick, Thrustmaster, Gravis Gamepad, mouse.

Sound:  Sound Blaster, Gravis Ultrasound, Pro Audio Spectrum, WaveBlaster,
        Adlib, General Midi.

Notes:  Almost 10 megs HD space needed during install, performs better
        with no disk cache and no EMS manager.

Reviewed version 1.0 on: 386-33, 4 megs ram, CH Flightstick, Sound Blaster

Reviewer recommends: 4 MB RAM, some sort of joystick.

Joystick-destroying, white-knuckled, sweat-pouring intensity was my first impression of what RAPTOR: CALL OF THE SHADOWS would be like.

After all, shoot-em-up games have been around about as long as there have been...well...games of any type. One would think that the genre would be pretty much perfected by now. So, despite the relative scarcity of this type of game on IBM PCs, I had high expectations for Raptor. I would say that Raptor delivers the goods in some ways, but not quite all.

Raptor's story line seems a bit sketchy, which doesn't surprise me. The player is a mercenary pilot who flies a state-of-the art killing machine known as the Raptor. The main concept is that the more destruction the player causes, the more he/she gets paid. Money can then be used to buy more weapons/shields and other goodies, necessary for surviving the later, more difficult waves. The action is played out in a familiar, vertically scrolling format, as the Raptor flies over a variety of backgrounds resembling enemy territory. There are three available missions (one as shareware), each consisting of 9 waves. The waves are fairly long - to play all nine waves through, without repeating any, took about one hour.

The first impression I got of Raptor was positive. The game installs quickly and painlessly. Setup is straightforward, allowing the player to pick controller types and custom configure them (the whole installation/setup routines are the same as in Id's DOOM, so they should be familiar). There's a very nice animated introduction with digitized sound and nicely atmospheric music. The player types in a name and callsign and chooses the pilot's picture, then moves on to an option screen for saving games, starting the mission, or moving to the equipment room (I should point out that these screens are very similar to a couple of Origin's recent titles which were also centered around making money).

Keyboard or mouse control works well, though a joystick seemed ideal. I used a CH Flightstick, the only controller available to me, and I was very happy with the responsiveness. However, the joystick routine is very sensitive, which made it hard getting used to maneuvering the ship through tight spots. It seems as though Raptor was designed for digital controllers (such as the Gravis Gamepad) and such a controller probably would not have this problem. Even with the Flightstick (which is really not designed for this type of game) the control was very good.

Graphics are the strongest point of Raptor. The background graphics scroll very smoothly, despite a large amount of detail. The explosions, enemy ships, weapons and the Raptor itself are beautifully animated, with a high number of frames to the animations. Never did the game pause or slow down, even with several large enemies covering the screen. Both the player's ship and the enemy ships seem to be dominated by shades of grey and brown. I suppose this looks more realistic, but some other colors would have been nice. With only two megs of ram, the game will pause occasionally, but with the recommended four, it moves flawlessly. I didn't see any difference in performance between my 386 and a 486; apparently Raptor also runs well on slower 386s. There is a "low detail" setting available for slower machines. Because of a DOS-extender, Raptor will not run at all on 286 machines.

Audio is a mixed bag. The music at the title and options screens is very nice - catchy and atmospheric. However, once the shooting begins, the music quickly fades into the background where it remains very tinny and repetitive. Although it is possible to change the volume of both the sound effects and the music, the music is drowned out by the effects unless the latter are turned almost completely off. Also, it isn't possible to adjust the volume during the game, only at the opening menu screen. I didn't see the logic behind this. Raptor boasts the ability to play 8 digitized sounds simultaneously. On my Sound Blaster, the default setting was 4 (setting it higher made no difference). Unfortunately, the sound effects all seem rather similar, and tend to blur together, into a constant sort of noise. I would have appreciated if each weapon featured a more distinctive sound. A sound-related bug appeared on a couple of occasions: the sound effects would start to skip and repeat endlessly. This would continue until the game was reloaded, but it was a rare occurrence and only a slight annoyance. I was disappointed that Raptor didn't feature digital music, as in Epic Megagames ZONE 66 or Apogee's HALLOWEEN HARRY. More bass in the music would have made a big difference.

The biggest problem with Raptor is the unimaginative gameplay, as in hundreds of other, similar games. The enemies scroll on from the top of the screen in slow moving, repetitive formations. Each enemy has a shadow which is visible before it even appears on the screen, giving the player extra time to line up a shot. There are no obstacles to avoid, (other than the ships themselves) and never does a ship enter from the sides or bottom of the screen. Although there is a number of different enemies, they tend to share the same behaviour. The weapons fall into two categories: those which are active constantly and those which must be selected. Of the latter, only one can be made active at a time and the player cycles through them by pressing joystick button #2 or the CNTRL key.

As a special weapon, there are megabombs (used with SPACEBAR or button #3) which will damage everything on the screen. Unfortunately, the megabombs take a long time to detonate, making them useful only when it's obvious something big is approaching (i.e. end boss). Each level ends with the obligatory "end boss", another weak point. Despite different appearances, all of the bosses behave more or less the same - after one or two, you'll be able to finish off the other seven or eight with the same technique, without even thinking about it. Actually, this formula applies to the whole game - after the first few levels, there isn't much to keep players interested, just more of the same. It is somewhat addictive, and, for the most part, good mindless fun. But Raptor suffers from a formulaic, repetitive design, despite very polished graphics, sound and control.

For challenge, Raptor works out fairly well. There are 3 setting to choose from, plus a "training" environment. I completed the easiest setting ("rookie") on my first try. My first attempt at "veteran" lasted up to level 6. It didn't take too much playing to finish this setting, as well as the hardest ("elite"). The "elite" setting was not terribly difficult, once the basic techniques are mastered. Anyone familiar with super-tough shooters like RAI DEN will probably have no trouble at all with Raptor.

Part of the reason I was slightly disappointed with Raptor may be because of the huge numbers of similar titles I've played on game systems or in arcades. When compared with the best shooters available on all platforms, Raptor seems mediocre. However, Raptor was made for the PC, where there exists only a handful of similar titles. So is Raptor the best shooter for PCs because it's practically the _only_ shooter for PCs? Well, I'm afraid not - at least not for me. In fact, I would tend to choose Epic's Zone 66 or the Sierra/GameArts classic, SILPHEED, over Raptor for their more inventive gameplay (despite the primitive audiovisuals in the latter). With Raptor: Call of the Shadows, Cygnus Studios have proven that they can make an excellent engine for shoot 'em up games. However, they still have to discover what makes such games exciting and compelling to play. I look forward to their future efforts.

This review is Copyright(C) 1994 by Greg Cymbalist for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.