Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold – PC
The Apogee Shareware Series, Part II
Platform: PC (DOS)
Publisher: Apogee Software
Release Date: December 3, 1993
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Continuing my latest attempt at an installment series, the Apogee Shareware Series, I move down to the second game on the list, Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold. As far as summer memories go, this one holds an honored place right along side the rare times when I’d actually have the money to pay for something from the ice cream man. Those were pretty special moments, since I lived in a cul-de-sac back in Tennessee when I was a boy and most of the summer days didn’t see him come by, so for a game to be on par with scoring a cold, refreshing strawberry shortcake bar, it must have been pretty special to me back then. At this age, I’m smart enough to notice that it does have flaws that keep it from being as good as it could have been, but it’s still a personal favorite and I think you should try it before you deny it. After all, that’s what shareware is all about!
Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold is a first-person shooter built by JAM Productions from a modified version of id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D engine. Again, we see Apogee’s relationship between its developers resulting in some shared technology and software between these partners, just as with Bio Menace using the Commander Keen engine in its game. In this game’s story, you are the titular Blake Stone, a British Intelligence agent sent to stop Dr. Goldfire in his nefarious scheme to custom-build evil aliens with which to take over the world, and presumably melt it down for gold to store in a thousand hidden treasure rooms. Your six missions take you from your first foray into the STAR Institute, all the way to the center of his satellite defense grid (though in the shareware version, you can only play in the STAR Institute, of course). And along the way, you have to defend yourself from the evil mastermind’s creations and his hired henchmen, all the while trying to keep the agency’s informants alive and seeking out the hidden treasure rooms where Goldfire stores all of the cash he’s embezzled and looted from innocent space merchant ships and such. Corporate CEOs, they’ll never change, am I right?
For a first-person shooter built on the Wolfenstein 3D engine, it plays exactly like you would think a game built to that style would: going on a floor-by-floor key hunt through rooms with squared-off right-angle walls, opening locked and unlocked doors, encountering sprited enemies that can wander about or run after you, and running into hidden rooms that you can find simply by leaning really hard against the walls. If you’ve ever played a game like this, there’s really not too much to add, except for what Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold adds to the equation. On a technical standpoint, this means floor and ceiling textures, walls that can be turned on and off (and can sometimes damage you), one-way doors, and teleporters that can take you either to different parts of the same level or to completely different levels. It also includes vending machines that you can spend tokens at for healing and informants who are disguised as Goldfire’s bio-techs and will give you advice and free stuff. Also, killing them reduces your overall score, which means that if you want to get a good review, you shouldn’t kill everything that moves. Just the ones that shoot at you.
Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold is pretty fun in a simple, classic way, with each floor luring you into more close-calls with Goldfire’s troopers and forgetting to save your game. The weapon variety deserves a mention, since any first-person shooter is weighed on its arsenal. Just like Wolfenstein 3D, you have a choice of five weapons, but your basic one isn’t a knife, instead it’s a silenced pistol that auto-recharges. It’s the weakest weapon in the game, naturally, but not waking enemies when you shoot it is very helpful when you don’t like crowds. The more powerful pistol is the first weapon you pick up that requires ammunition and has better stopping power. From there, you get the light and heavy assault rifles, which deal progressively more damage at a higher rate of speed. And it ends with the plasma cannon, which may make modern gamers tense up with the idea of killing oneself like they would with a rocket launcher fired into a nearby enemy. But surprisingly, the most powerful weapon, and the one that actually does splash damage, doesn’t hurt you at all! And there are a few rooms that will necessitate you running through with this thing on full blast to survive and get what you need before getting out.
The main goal of every floor is to get the key to unlock the next floor and return to the elevator, meaning that if you know what you’re doing, moving through the levels is pretty easy. But there are also three progress bars that fill (or in one case, potentially unfill) as you move through the rooms of that floor, giving you extra objectives. Collecting all of the treasure in a level and killing all of the monsters (that includes the hired help loyal to Goldfire) nets you sweet point bonuses when you fulfill them, resulting in a very satisfying bwoooooop from the game as it announces that you’ve achieved it. The other optional objective is to get through the level without shooting any of the friendly informants, and that bar starts off at full and lowers whenever you cut down one of the agents that are trying to help you. You get extra points for satisfying this once the last monster is dead, as you have no more need for your gun on this level of the complex. All of these points add up to give you a chance at a high score and, more practically, an extra life whenever you pass a preset point benchmark. Some floors in each mission of Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold can be more hostile than others, so the extra lives do help, but if you’re really hesitant about losing your score (or your lives), you can always save your game at any time.
While Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold is really fun, there are some definite elements that hinder me giving it a better opinion. The map layouts use a strict square, possibly due to a limitation of the hardware, but it definitely means that secret rooms aren’t quite as “secret” as they otherwise might be. If you’re missing 100% of points on a floor you’ve checked over, you can guarantee that there’s some secrets hiding inside of that square area that you just haven’t opened up yet. This would be okay, were it not for the trick walls sometimes having finicky responsiveness, meaning you could hold space bar down walking past it a few times before you find it, if you’re unlucky. And while most other enemies of the game are understandable in the way they work, plasma creatures are just the most frustratingly pointless things to fight. They die quickly but often throw out a stream of painful plasma orbs when they attack, and they’re the only enemy that has a generator…that you can’t destroy or turn off! If you see a room with any of the plasma creature generators lying around, you’ll want to either avoid them or let the plasma cannon go nuts as you run through and pick up whatever you need. I get that the point is to make certain rooms where you can’t just meander about and pick up everything after the enemies are dead, but enemy spawners without an off-switch that also can’t be destroyed seem like a mean-spirited move to me.
The soundtrack of Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold uses a more cool, ambient beat to it than the high-action MIDI assemblages used by other comparable games of the time. I like this more than I probably should, since even though it isn’t a bunch of awesome rock tracks translated into computer-friendly sound by Bobby Prince, it gives this high-risk espionage mission into heavily-guarded corporate intrigue with experimental alien conspiracies a feel that belongs with this game. The first level has a constant steady beat that keeps you on your toes, the second level‘s track has a sound that would be at home in any spy flick, the third level keeps it cool with a nice bass groove, and so on and so forth. The soundtrack isn’t too big, you’ll hear this music repeat enough times through plenty of levels, but the tracks aren’t overused as they would be in shorter games, with repeats having enough time to air out before being used again so that you don’t suffer much monotony. Like an instrumental house band that will perform for certain classy bars, it makes for nice atmosphere and will let you shoot aliens to a pretty snazzy beat. Are “aliens” a cocktail yet? If not, they should be.
Overall, while it’s not exactly a standout game, Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold is one of the better Wolfenstein 3D clones out there, with fun and uncomplicated gameplay while still having a few unique elements to call its own, but ultimately it was JAM Productions’ attempt to cash in on the popularity of the original. And it succeeded for about a week…after which came the monumental release of the original Doom, at which point this game, along with many other copycat shooters, fell right off the radar as id Software made its permanent impact on the video game industry. It’s a classic example of a game that was cursed to obscurity by the changing attitudes of the gaming populace, plain and simple.
That said, it’s by no means at all a bad game, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy a Wolfenstein 3D-esque shooter without necessarily wanting to shoot at Nazis all day. I know that sounds ludicrous to some of you, but people out there with that mentality exist and they would have more fun playing Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold. It’s available on Abandonware for free (as usual), though that version tends to be buggy, mostly when you try to get past the first level. My personal suggestion is to pick up the Apogee Throwback Pack on Steam for $9.99 (cheaper if on sale), which includes the sequel, Blake Stone: Planet Strike!, as well as Rise of the Triad and Extreme Rise of the Triad, the latter two of which deserve a review all their own…eventually. For now, I’ve still got plenty of other Apogee titles to look at, but don’t worry, I’ll get to them! After all…
Check out these other Apogee Software titles reviewed by Action Zero.
- Bio Menace
- Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
- Duke Nukem II
- Halloween Harry, aka Alien Carnage
- Hocus Pocus
- Math Rescue
- Mystic Towers
- Raptor: Call of the Shadows
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Word Rescue
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