One Must Fall: 2097 – PC
Platform: PC (DOS)
Developer: Diversions Entertainment
Publisher: Epic MegaGames
Release Date: 1994
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Steel gates open at either end of the arena, the massive crowd wild with anticipation as the competitors step out into the ring. Two fighters have been training all season for this landmark battle, the one that decides who gets the championship title. The combatants meet each other on the field of battle, and at the signal, a giant robotic fist jabs hard into the midsection of his opponent, only to be met by a sharp kick to the jaw of his cockpit! The fight is underway, and all bets are off! Everyone knows what happens in this arena: Two robots enter, and One Must Fall…specifically, One Must Fall: 2097. That’s right, it’s a fighting game where all of the fighters are giant robots controlled by strong and agile pilots, and this is from the mid-nineties too, so you know the action’s going to be big and intense, but is there more to this game than meets the eye! Follow me into the robot ready room and we’ll find out what it takes to make a tournament-winning champion scrapper!
One Must Fall: 2097 is an IBM-compatible fighting game designed by Rob Elam, developed by Diversions Entertainment, and published by Epic MegaGames, the same guys who made Epic Pinball. The premise is that these Human-Assisted Robots (HARs) are being used in gladiatorial sports, much in the same way that mixed martial arts fights are big today, and since the humans are remotely controlling them, the populace’s thirst for carnage and scrap metal can be sated in ways no other bloodsport can! The single-player mode has a varied assortment of employees from the robot company fighting to earn the right to run the newest production facility, and the only challenge is really finding what combination of pilot and robot works for you in the long run. The tournament mode, however, is the real deal rags-to-riches kind of event, where you take your relative unknown through four different title ladders, constantly building your pilot’s performance and his robot’s power until you’re strong enough to take on the world champion!
One Must Fall: 2097 is your standard fighting game at the core, so there isn’t much plot to this one aside from the ringside bluster and banter of the combatants before the battle. However, you do get a feeling of belonging in the world, though. In single-player, your selected character trades verbal blows with your opponent just before entering the ring, but in tournament mode, you get much more than just that. After each battle, a post-fight announcer examines the fight you had, praising the winner’s victory and humiliating the loser’s defeat, and I’ve noticed that he has a surprising amount of varying dialogue based on just how well you do in the fight. Not only that, your crew chief will compliment you on a job well done or grumble about how even though you won, the amount of damage you took knocked the profit right out from under you. Altogether, the experience is much more centered around you and how you play, making the climb to the top feel a lot more like a personal challenge than just a video game objective.
The fight mechanics of One Must Fall: 2097 can be complicated to get to grips with, since both the pilot’s skills and the robot’s components factor into your robot’s moveset, attack speed, power and defense. Pilots have three stats: Power, Speed, and Stamina, which control how hard they hit, how quickly they move and attack, and how much punishment they take before being dizzied, leaving them open for attack. The robots, especially in tournament mode, are even more complex, since you can upgrade everything from the overall armor rating and individual limb strength and speed to even what colors your robot is sporting out in that hazard-ridden arena. Each different type of robot has its own special moves along with the normal attacks, and if you get to the end of the match and use the right button combo, you can even execute Scrap and Destruction moves, which help your score rise sharply for extra money at the end of the fight, not to mention a chance to face unranked opponents for even more money and rare unlockable components!
Oh yes, the secrets in One Must Fall: 2097 have to be appreciated specially, because there’s a lot of them. Executing finishing moves on certain opponents, beating opponents without taking damage or within a certain time limit, anyone who knows fighting games in and out generally knows how to find hidden characters. All of them are very powerful, putting the odds against you every time you go up against them, such as hidden competitors like Fire and Ice. Some of them are naturally self-contained characters, but there are also some interesting unranked combatants hiding out from other Epic MegaGames titles as well! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that you could fight Jazz Jackrabbit in this game! Okay, well, maybe that’s not such a surprise, but if you beat and pull off finishing moves on these secret combatants, you could also unlock secret components for your robot that would give them new special moves and other cool abilities! It’s always lovely when a game rewards you for going the extra mile like that, it means that those people who are really good at the game and can memorize those complicated combo strings have something to look forward to. (Me, I just start leaning on the jump kick button when things go bad, but we all have our panic strategy, don’t we?)
As you’re dodging the arena hazards, weaving through your opponent’s swings and projectiles, waiting for your chance to pounce, One Must Fall: 2097 treats you to some magnificent music. Lots of the battle music is very house techno, such as the enduring fan favorite Power Plant, the start very similar in tone to a couple of tracks from my old classic Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side, but quickly spinning off into its own upbeat but intense combat mantra. However, the one track that everyone remembers from this game, everyone who’s EVER played it, has got to be the Main Theme, a masterpiece of tone-setting if ever there was one. Right from the beginning, this track builds the intensity, pumps you up for the fight ahead, makes you glow with glory in the wake of a victory, and helps you recover from the sting of defeat. Sure, you won this competition, that’s great, but don’t get cocky. There’s an even bigger title waiting for you to reach out and claim it. Yes, you lost and your robot was reduced to a pile of scrap, but so what? That just means you’ll fight even harder next time. This is one of those tracks that practically defines the game for me now, the memory association is so strong that hearing just a few notes from this one sends me back to the days when I’d play this game again and again, just to see if I could beat it this time. Yes, this song IS One Must Fall: 2097.
So we come back to this point where we have to decide if this game is worth playing. Short answer: Yes. I’d recommend this game to the old-timers and even to the newer generation, just because in its day, it did so much different, and even today, it still comes across as a one-of-a-kind title simply because nobody else has really done this much with a concept like this! In my mind, One Must Fall: 2097 is the definitive giant robot fighting game, and I’d very much love it if today’s Epic Games decided to dust off this old nugget of awesome and make a remastered version of it. I guarantee that even if they just cleaned up the graphics, tweaked the combos a bit, and fine-tuned the classic soundtrack, it would be just as good as it was in the days of the DOS prompt.
For fans of mine who want to go chasing this forgotten gem, you’ll find it on Abandonware, same as usual. It should be ready to play once you’ve got it hooked up to DOSBox, but my advice would be to go into the settings and slow down the game speed. As with many IBM games, the game was hardwired to use the speed of your processor to control how fast the action went. And given how fast our processors are today, unless you like fighting robots that are zipping around at light speed and throwing you into walls before you can press the block button, I think you’d much prefer slowing it down to a much more controllable level. Or you could just slap “Turbo” on the end of it and pretend you’re playing it on hard mode, if that’s your game.
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