Saturday Spotlight: Uprising

Uprising 2

Er, so I guess we’re affiliated with MobyGames now. Er.

Remember Battlezone? No, not the vector graphics game from the 80s. I mean the FPS/RTS hybrid from 1998 – the one that had game journos of the time deeply excited over the way it managed to combine fast-paced first-person combat with staples of the real-time strategy genre as they were then understood: constructing bases, harvesting resources and training new units.

Battlezone was by no means a bad game – it deserved the praise it received – but I was always more fond of Cyclone Studios’ Uprising, which preceded it by about four months. It was not as well-received but it similarly drew together first-person combat with base construction and troop management. It did well enough to produce a sequel which, although I only ever played the demo, felt in many ways more of the same. Cyclone Studios closed its doors not long after, and publisher the 3DO Company followed about four years later.

I have absolutely no idea who the rights to the series rest with now and I don’t hold out much hope that the game will be appearing on GOG.com any time soon. Although I still have my original disc copy of the game I don’t currently have an OS it will run on, so you’ll have to excuse the fact that this retrospective spotlight is being shone on foggy memories of a game I last played ten years ago.

Uprising’s campaign saw you taking command of the forces of the rebellion and warring against the empire that dominates known space. There wasn’t much more to the plot than this reliance on the science fantasy clich├ęs popularised by Star Wars, and in truth there didn’t need to be. The campaign had a very small amount of branching, which mostly boiled down to choosing which planet to attack first in order to win credits for upgrading your troops in the metagame. Once the battle for a planet was underway play focused around a node-based map, with each node representing an area where a base could be built.

Step one in constructing your base was to call in a citadel – well-armoured buildings with heavy cannon mounted on top that were essential to controlling a node and claiming its resources. They were also integral in defending your base, proving highly effective against most enemy troops. Conversely the same was true of your own assaults, which were generally best approached with carefully-managed mass assaults. Call in your infantry and tanks to occupy the citadel’s attention, then fighters to vie for air control, and finally bombers under your fighter cover to try and knock out the enemy citadel. That left you to rove around and take out enemy turrets and troops, hopefully turning the battle in your favour.

The player’s biggest advantage was the tank they drove. I forget the no doubt fanciful name Cyclone Studios gave it. Like your troops it was upgradeable between missions, adding special weapons or upgrading your basic abilities. By the end of the game it was possible to have a tank with so much energy and firepower that you could take down citadels single-handedly – although diverting energy away from your shields to your weapons was always a risky gambit.

Oh yes, energy diversion! In the grand tradition of PC games from the 1990s Uprising was laden with features of debatable necessity. A well-balanced energy allocation was suitable for most purposes, but the ability to max your firepower to take out stray enemy buildings or heavy units, max your shields to draw enemy fire in a major assault, or max your speed to zoom across the map to join in a crucial defensive battle proved essential in later missions.

Uprising 3

You have no idea how nostalgic I felt when I found this screenshot of the map screen. Damn, I want to play this game again.

Going back to that Battlezone comparison, where Uprising probably suffered was the fatigue it suffered as the difficulty increased. Uprising executed its ideas consistently and well, but the node-based map design was never going to prove enormously varied, and the difficulty of later missions tended to amount to the player needing to be everywhere at once and fight a slow war of attrition against entrenched enemy positions – with a failed assault meaning a setback of twenty or thirty minutes while forces and resources were rebuilt. In contrast Battlezone used an evolving story and varied level design to keep things fresh, and its open, non nodal base design gave at the very least the illusion of a broader range of tactical approaches.

Moment to moment, however, I’d say Uprising was the more exciting game, and certainly nothing at the time compared to the experience hurtling your tank into range of an enemy base, calling an orbital strike on an enemy citadel, teleporting in scores of infantry, a dozen tanks, a dozen gunships and a fleet of bombers before getting stuck into the fight yourself.

If you want to give Uprising a try, then it’s available on Abandonware sites like this one, or you could join me in voting for it on GOG.com. You never know.

As a final treat, here’s a song that appeared on Uprising’s soundtrack. Most of the soundtrack was epic, bombastic martial stuff, but for whatever reason this track also crept in. It’s a pretty fair approximation of how gameplay sounded.