“WHAT ARE YOU DOING, SOLDIER?! SOUND OFF! GET BACK TO RECON!”
Do you like army games? How about the classic ‘Cannon Fodder’ and ‘Chaos Engine’ titles? Well you Atari Lynx fans are gonna love this adventure-packed journey to a top-down, military-based action/blaster, ‘On Duty’! Okay, more specifically, I would remark that we could refer to this game as an action-oriented game with some puzzling/RPG elements. It is certainly true that ‘On Duty’ attempts to marry several concepts into one attractive package. So, let’s take a look at the lowdown of this title, considering questions of “how it came to be”, as well as a detailed review. We might even look at the... SERGEANT! PAY ATTENTION!
Sorry about that... I wasn’t talking to YOU, soldier! It was that other guy, who is putting his hand up for guard duty! Now…
The new Atari Lynx title ‘On Duty’ was created as part of the “30th Anniversary of the Atari Lynx” competition, where many programmers entered brand new, free and downloadable Atari Lynx roms into the stratosphere. This is one such title from that bank of quality releases, and the game got a lot of love on its release. Why? Well, probably because it’s the kind of game that really hasn’t been seen before on the Lynx, and one which seems to draw from a lot of great top-down gaming classics.
Your objective: as a soldier, you must complete a series of army missions. You don’t do this unequipped. You have your handy carry weapon, plus occasionally, access to other resources like explosives. And incredibly, you can blow a hole in scenery with those items. But unlike ‘Zarlor Mercenary’ where destructible scenery is purely aesthetic and financially rewarding, the purpose of blowing up walls in ‘On Duty’ just may be the key to accessing the next section or level. And get ready, because there are a ton of missions here, and they are all very different to each other! Your goal? Make your way to the final boss… and pronto, soldier!
Graphically it’s a “helmets-off” to the visual artistry on display in 'On Duty’. In more ways than one, actually. How often have we seen the visual brilliance of buildings that become "see through" upon your character entering them? Not often! Pausing the game also does something that few Lynx games do: convert the screen into grayscale! These nice little touches, accompanied by clean and vibrant in-game sprites and backgrounds, make the experience of 'On Duty' a charm. Oh, and that 'parachuting soldier' introduction title screen? Awesome.
As stated earlier, everything is seen from a top-down viewpoint. The main character, opposing soldiers, ground and cliff walls are all nicely rendered. The scenery reminds me quite a bit of 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' or 'Gauntlet' on the Lynx, though the graphics here are arguably stronger than both of those titles. Certainly the visual trickery of the inside of buildings put the graphics a cut above. It's hard not to love the gravel footpaths, pits of spikes, buildings full of barrels and grassy knolls. The animation is does not seem quite as smooth as 'Gauntlet', but the character moves at a much speedier pace, so this makes any difference in motion less noticeable.
Musicality and nice sound effects also feature in the title 'On Duty'. There is a funky little in-game tune that suits the game perfectly, and the sound effects of rattling machine guns and bombs exploding are just right. When I delivered some donuts to one of the army leaders, I even heard the voice sample "thank you"; and getting a first aid kit results in a nice "aaaah…" If you prefer a more quiet gaming experience, then you can play with the music off. 'On Duty' is the kind of game where either of these options seem a good idea; loud and raucous when you want to storm a compound, and quiet when you sneak around the enemy base!
Controls take a few seconds to get used to, because your guy runs pretty fast. Though a tad unsettling at first, it becomes an absolute gift later when you realise how useful it is. Having some speed is MUCH preferable than having a slow character. Whilst you do need to be sneaky-beaky at times, other situations dictate a faster approach. Plus… if you get hit, you move slower! That is why it is important to be strategic. There is an almost FPS (first-person shooter) feel to the game when you carefully hide behind a corner, waiting for some opposing soldiers to march away from the goal. If you get too close to one of them, a whistle sounds, and your cover is blown, boy!
The controls are fascinating in 'On Duty', because you are required to do quite a lot... but the tasks are never onerous. The main thing to remember is that you will have certain items to find on your mission. Each distinct mission may have you find items like a key, bullets, bombs, or even some kind of device. Usually you will need these items to progress, so it is worth familiarising yourself with them. Thankfully, the game allows quick scrolling of what item you are using with the 'B' button. Make sure you are in a safe place when sorting your items though, or prepare to be attacked by guards when you least expect it! Once you have selected an item, it is easy to use it with the other main Lynx button. The challenge is to consider where to use it!
So… after covering the graphics, sound and controls… what of the all important gameplay factor? Let's look at the strengths first. The best thing is that 'On Duty' is a blast to play, and that is partly due to the mission variety. You will be rescuing soldiers who were left behind, detonating ammo depots, and finding your way around the terrain with (at times) limited ammunition. Helicopters hover you down to scenery, cars await you… it's all really nicely done. The game also sometimes rewards you for thinking outside the square (no spoilers!); and if you look carefully enough, you just might find some well-hidden items. Even more impressively, 'On Duty' records your best time for each mission, so you can always race yourself (or others) to see who is most efficient!
Are there any areas for improvement that could be made to 'On Duty'? Not many at all. I felt the soldier did move pretty fast, and you more-or-less have to get in opposing soldiers faces if you want to attack. However, there is the argument that these qualities enhance the action arcade feel of the game, so it is pretty easy to overlook this when you consider the game quality overall. You can only imagine what new and exciting ideas may come up if a sequel is made for this game. I would love to see a hidden item to find in each level next time round, just to add to the mix!
I do have to say one last thing… pressing 'Option 1' on the title screen brings up a really nice little "credits roll" of all the people involved in the game, on some sweet sepia graphics. And amazingly, as someone with a passion for reviewing Lynx games… I'M ON IT! Which is a HUGE HONOUR! I practically ran to tell my wife that I somehow made it onto a video game! Ahem… I will now compose myself and continue drinking my hot chocolate as I write this. But thank you guys, it is an honour to see what amazing work you have done here. It's a brilliant little game to bring to the Lynx community and the wider gaming world.
In conclusion - and to cut a long story short - ‘On Duty’ is a fantastic little game that really showcases impressive variety and fun dynamics. There are few Lynx titles with levels that will have you both on the attack as well as carefully planning your next move, all within a few seconds of each other. 'On Duty' is one of the most suitable Lynx titles for a couch-based, rainy day long-play; you just want to see how far you can get, and what might be facing you next! SOLDIER! Get hold of this A-grade game as soon as you can, and that's an order!
Brilliant stuff.Score Card
This review was submitted by Jon Mc from JMac Productions