Holy Wars, Alien Invasions & Joyrides in a Maluch: Classic & Contemporary Action Games from Poland
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Deserted cities, alien planets, zombie-infested jungles and more are yours to explore in our run-down of some of the finest Polish action games.
Who doesn't like action? From dodging ghosts as Pac-Man through to running-and-gunning in the latest FPS, it has always been an integral part of video games. In this article we'll take a look at some of the more visceral games - games to challenge, entertain, and thrill. These games cover all grounds – an old-school beat 'em up, first and third person shooters, and a strategy game – all linked by two common threads – they're all action-packed, and they're made in Poland.
Developers such as 11-bit studios, Epic Games Poland, Techland, and many others continue to present innovative and exciting games which stand as some of the best worldwide."
Franko – The Crazy Revenge
Anomaly – Warzone Earth
Franko – The Crazy Revenge (1994)
Platforms – Amiga
Franko – the Crazy Revenge is a side-scrolling brawler in the vein of Streets of Rage and Final Fight, developed by World Software and published by Mirage Interactive. There are no usable weapons, but this does not stop the combat from being brutal and gory, if pixelated, with kicks, punches, holds and throws at your disposal.
The game does give some justification to this combat – a new gang is terrorising the town, and Franko and his friend Alex fell victim to a beating. This leads to the aforementioned Crazy Revenge – Franko and Alex take on the gang, as well as members of ZOMO (a communist paramilitary unit who gained infamy during martial law). The player even ends up behind the wheel of a Maluch (Polski Fiat 126p) in bonus stages.
Gorky 17 (1999)
Platforms – PC, Mac, Linux
This tactical, turn-based RPG puts the player in the boots of a NATO soldier sent with a squad to the village near the Polish town of Lubin. The area is under military quarantine – due to a smallpox epidemic, or so the media has been informed. The first squad disappeared, and it's up to you and your team, beset on all sides by monsters, to discover what has happened, and how it is connected to the Soviet occupation of the city and the secret military base Gorky 17.
The game has a strong horror element, reminiscent of classics such as Resident Evil, mixed with turn-based combat. You advance through the city, upgrading your troops and finding new weapons and armour as you fight a variety of mutated horrors. It was made by Polish developer Metropolis Software.
Platform – PC
Painkiller is a legendary first-person shooter, the Doom of its time. The player is cast in the role of Daniel Garner, trapped in purgatory after death and sent on a quest to prevent a war between heaven and hell by killing four of Lucifer's generals. But Painkiller's strength isn't its story, and when all hell literally breaks loose from the offset, it takes second stage to the action-packed gameplay.
The incredibly intense and frenetic action scenes take place in eerie landscapes – mist-shrouded graveyards, sprawling castles and crumbling dungeons. You wield, amongst others, the eponymous painkiller (not a medicine which kills pain, but a razor-bladed contraption which kills painfully), a grenade launcher which also shoot stakes, and a combination chain gun/rocket launcher (because why not?) As well-equipped as you are, once you start taking on seemingly endless hordes of demons, as well as some awe-inspiring bosses, you have to make every shot count.
Developed by People Can Fly, a Warsaw-based studio, the game was extremely well received by critics and established a large fanbase. It was chosen by the Cyberathlete Professional League for their 2005 world tour. Painkiller featured an appropriate speed metal soundtrack and was followed by 5 expansions and a partial re-make/sequel in 2012, Painkiller: Hell and Damnation.
Platform - PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Another highly rated first-person shooter from People Can Fly, this time developed in collaboration with Epic Games. Comparisons can't help but be made to their previous hit, Painkiller, in terms of dedication to fun, over-the-top combat wich nonetheless requires a certain degree of skill. This time, the signature attack is an “energy leash,” which the player can use to throw enemies or to bring them in close quarters to finish off. There is also an arsenal of extravagantly deadly firearms with which to dispatch your foes.
The action takes place in the 26th century, when two members of black-ops team leave their posts after being misled by their superiors and find themselves exiled on a planet teeming with hostile cannibals, mutants and flesh-eating plants. You have to shoot your way to safety, using the game's “skillshot” system to earn points, which makes for some creative kills.
Bulletstorm was released in 2011 to critical acclaim, but did not meet major commercial success. It has since garnered a cult following, in spite of, or perhaps even because of, its outrageous displays of violence, profanity, crude behaviour, and sexual innuendo.
Anomaly – Warzone Earth (2011)
Platform - PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Blackberry 10
This game from Warsaw developers 11 bit studios is a reversal of the tower defence genre. Where one would normally defend a certain base from successive waves of attacks by building structures, now the player is set against these fortified locations. Alien spacecraft have crashed into several major cities worldwide, including Baghdad and Tokyo, and it is your job to clear these places of alien towers.
Gameplay centres around constructing an armed and armoured convoy featuring vehicles such as tanks, APCs and even a flame-throwing armoured car called the Dragon. However, this convoy is not directly controlled by the player. The interface differs slightly between platforms - on PC, Mac, Linux, PSN and XBLA, the player controls “the Commander,” advancing with the convoy and placing power-ups such as shields and smokescreens. iOS, Blackberry and Android versions are designed with touch screens in mind, allowing direct placement of power-ups.
The iOS version in particular received was very highly regarded by critics, receiving a Design Award from Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in 2011. The game spawned two sequels – Anomaly Korea and Anomaly 2.
Dead Island (2011)
Platform – PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Zombies are an ubiquitous element on the gaming scene, and Techland's Dead Island is a Polish undead offering. A survival horror game combining action and role-playing elements, it casts the player as one of four characters - a has-been rapper, a Chinese spy, an American football star and a cocktail dress-wearing bodyguard, all trapped on a tropical resort when a virulent contagion turns the population into blood-thirsty monsters.
Whilst this may not be the most original concept for a game, it still gives the visceral, panic-stricken thrill of facing swarms of hungry undead. It gives you an excuse to explore the exotic open-world environments in a variety of vehicles. There are firearms in the game, but emphasis is placed on close-quarters combat. You wield both blunt and bladed weapons, which are randomly-generated with unique stats, and can even be modified with special features, such as poison or electrified blades. The zombies themselves come in Romero-style shambling and 28 Days Later running varieties, as well as ones with special abilities, a la Left For Dead.
The game used Techland's own Chrome engine 5, first used for their Call of Juarez: The Cartel. It was well received by critics and was followed by a sequel, Dead Island: Riptide.
Shadow Warrior (2013)
Platform - PC, PS4, Xbox One
The first Polish game for eighth generation consoles, Shadow Warrior is a remake of the 1997 first-person shooter of the same name. Players take the role of Lo Wang, a present-day ninja assassin sent on a quest for a mythical katana by a Japanese tycoon. The protagonist's opening line, answering his phone with the line “you've got Wang,” sets the humorous, irreverent tone of the game – tongue firmly in cheek as Wang stylishly shoots and slashes his way through demonic legions.
Whilst you do have access to various firearms, Wang's signature weapon is the katana. Care has been taken to make close combat more in-depth than just “press button to murder foe” - Wang has numerous special moves and combos, allowing the player to skilfully decapitate and dismember enemies. Players earn “money” and “karma” which upgrade weapons and skills, respectively, as well as looking for “ki crystals” which unlock new powers.
The game was developed by Flying Wild Hog. The combat in particular was critically acclaimed. A stand-alone mini-game based on cleaning up the aftermath of the fight scenes was released entitled Viscera Cleanup Detail: Shadow Warrior.
Author: Matt Davies, 19.03.2014