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Or Die Trying

It’s been about half an hour now and I still don’t know how to climb down a ladder.

You’d think it’d be the easiest thing in the world. I can figure out how to climb up a ladder, it’s going down that’s proving tricky.

Eventually I hop into a chasm. I didn’t mean to hop into a chasm; I meant to leap over it.

My girlfriend takes over. She figures out how to climb down a ladder. It involves pressing every button on the controller and walking backwards for years, while simultaneously praying that you’re properly lined up with the world and the game won’t glitch you into oblivion.

We are playing O.D.T., an old PlayStation game released by the now-defunct Psygnosis and developed by a company whose previous titles included Adidas Power Soccer. The perfect candidates to make an action-adventure, then.

O.D.T. was released in 1998, a time when Tomb Raider was one of the biggest games on the planet. Psygnosis saw the popularity Lara Croft had achieved and set out to make their own clone. But they had bigger ambitions. Running and jumping and solving puzzles is all well and good, but why not develop the combat system and add spells and stuff?

It was a noble goal. It’s such a shame that the result was a horrendous mess.

Oh, that’s what it means!

The PlayStation had some questionable titles, let’s be honest, and O.D.T. (it stands for Or Die Trying, apparently) is a shining example of how ridiculous it could get. My girlfriend and I recently played this, simply because she has it in her collection, and by her own admission she doesn’t know why she owns it. And now I’m going to share our pain with all of you.

The game is set in a strange steampunk/medieval/space setting (I have no idea), and you’re a crew member on an airship called the Nautiflyus (I…have no idea), which is carrying a green orb thing that explodes and causes the ship to crash. And that’s it. That’s the explanation you get. There is a man in the opening level who sometimes bumps into you and says you need to find fuel, but that’s about it. He gets eaten once you start making progress, by the way.

OK SURE WHATEVER YOU SAY

I took to the controls reasonably quickly, largely because they’re swiped straight from Tomb Raider on a basic level, but I failed to master them because they’re all over the place. Like Tomb Raider, there are tank controls and there’s an action button and a jump button. In Tomb Raider these were different buttons. In O.D.T. they are the same button, which is a baffling design choice that can result in simple tasks like pulling levers devolving into your character leaping about, often into a bottomless pit.

But while combat in Tomb Raider was a simple affair where Lara would point her guns at anything vaguely menacing and you simply pushed a button, O.D.T. has a combat system that involves an auto-aim system that likes to shoot into space frequently, a spell system that constantly requires you to re-equip every spell after each use (in a menu that doesn’t pause the game) and a combat roll move that likes to complicate silly tasks such as aiming.

You get a taste for the awful combat mechanics pretty quickly. Your first enemy is a bat. Traditionally, bats in video games are an easy nuisance enemy that act as an introduction to the basics of how to hit things. Not in O.D.T., where they are basically mini-bosses. Bats in O.D.T. have a strong attraction to the back of your character’s head, and your character’s turning circle is so slow that by the time you’ve turned around to face the winged beast, it’s circled around you twelve times and is easily chewing on the back of your neck again.

They’re in my hair! D:

Meatier enemies are, of course, huge alien mutant beasts because it’s a nineties game and that’s what nineties games did because Independence Day was popular and no one knew any better.

These mutant beasts have big guns and even bigger dentures. To defeat them, you roll around clumsily on the ground firing your gun when you’re right in front of their faces. After you roll to the side, however, you instantly lose your aim because the auto-aim feature is more a suggestion than an actual help, and your character doesn’t so much strafe as simply roll away.

Thrill as our hero cowers behind boxes!

Level design isn’t much better. After a locked door proudly announced that “You Need The Blue Key”, an endless search revealed a White Key. Rubbing on a variety of surfaces eventually revealed a gate that opened with the White Key, but that gate never proudly announced that it required the White Key prior to finding it. Which was helpful, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Another section revealed a secret area that proudly announced that we’d need to crawl in, but there didn’t seem to be a crawl ability. There was a “roll around like a circus clown” ability, but not a simple crawl. Guess that secret area will remain unexplored forever. Poor secret area.

I’d like to mention that the soundtrack was a much better prospect. I’d like to mention that, but sadly it isn’t particularly great either. In fact, it’s laughably bad. The first level featured vague “creepy” ambience. After a while, this ambience cuts off abruptly then proceeds to start playing all over again. It sounds almost like the game forgot what it was doing for a moment before scrambling to correct itself.

The second level had actual music, only it was less music and more the sound of a guy messing around with pads on his new electric organ while making kissy noises with his mouth. I’m not quite sure what they were trying to go for, but whatever it was, it didn’t work.

O.D.T. is a bad game, and that’s pretty much why it faded into obscurity and has never received much nostalgic attention. The age of the game is no excuse either, since three Tomb Raider titles already existed by this game’s release. Based on the fact that its publisher ended up absorbed into Sony soon afterwards, O.D.T. really did die trying.

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