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Raptor: Call of the Shadows – PC

Raptor: Call of the Shadows – PC

The Apogee Shareware Series, Part VIII

Raptor_Call_of_the_Shadows_coverPlatform: PC (DOS)

Developer: Cygnus Studios (now known as Mountain King Studios)

Publisher: Apogee Software

Release Date: April 1, 1994 (I swear this is a real game)

Genre: Shooter

Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

I know it’s Mario’s 30th Birthday and all, but I was never a Nintendo kid growing up, so I’ll let everyone else play plumber while I get back to a small tradition of my own: the Apogee Shareware Games! I bet you were wondering when these would come back, but wonder no longer. Today, I’m dusting off Raptor: Call of the Shadows, a scrolling shooter where you take an experimental fighter craft and go all air-superiority on hordes of enemy ships. Made by Cygnus Studios back in 1994, this game actually has a more modern update by the same developer, now called Mountain King Studios. Some of the pictures used in this review will be from the updated version, but as always, I’m reviewing it based on classical merits. As far as shooters go, it’s quite good, but it’s not groundbreaking, so let’s arm our missiles and see just what potential this game had probably…missiled out on. (Sorry, that pun was actually bad.)

If you're not leaning on the fire button constantly in games like this, I feel like you need to go back to flight school.

If you’re not leaning on the fire button constantly in games like this, I feel like you need to go back to flight school.

Raptor: Call of the Shadows has you playing as a mercenary working for the highest bidder, flying through missions to take out the rivals of resident mega-corporations. In a real case of mercantilism in action, every ship you destroy earns you money that you can use to further upgrade your own craft, which is ultimately necessary to survive later skirmishes. Your missions are set in three areas of nine waves (levels) each: Bravo Sector, Tango Sector, and the Outer Regions. You can start on one and continue on the later ones without finishing the first, but this isn’t recommended as the later areas expect you to be carrying the most expensive weapons simply to survive. Raptor: Call of the Shadows gets somewhat easier later on since you’ll have money to burn, but at the start, good instincts and long-term planning will carry you farther than anything. But it’s definitely no Ikaruga, so the difficulty is such that you can still win this game if you were born outside of Japan.

Phase Shields are extra health bars. They cost a pretty penny at the onset, but in the later game, they're downright essential.

Phase Shields are extra health bars. They cost a pretty penny at the onset, but in the later game, they’re downright essential.

The gameplay is simple in Raptor: Call of the Shadows — shoot anything that moves while avoiding being shot down yourself. This can be easier said than done, however. Most of your guns fire straight ahead, as do most of the enemy ships, and that means you’ll likely be eating some punishment just to deliver some pain if you don’t do some fancy maneuvering to get your shots in their way while keeping theirs out of your flight path. Early on, you can pick up some missiles to make things easier, but these carry their own difficulties, since you can only fire one type of heavy ordinance at any one time. Air-to-air missiles leave you exposed to ground fire, while air-to-ground means you’re trusting your bullets to take on the real threats. If you have both, you can switch between them, but know what main weapon to use where is one of the difficult elements of Raptor: Call of the Shadows, and figuring out how to juggle your mains can help you survive the earlier levels.

Your bullets will damage whatever's in front of you, regardless of whether they're aerial or ground targets. Upgrading them is a very good investment.

Your bullets will damage whatever’s in front of you, regardless of whether they’re aerial or ground targets. Upgrading them is a very good investment.

Another vital thing to master is the supply shop and how it works. In Raptor: Call of the Shadows, the shop will only give you half your money back for items you’ve purchased, meaning that a choice that looks good in the moment may end up kicking you in the teeth later when you don’t have enough money to buy that sweet pulse cannon and can’t make enough back from selling your existing mains. Many experienced players prefer to hold out on weapon upgrades instead of purchasing stopgap weapons, simply because enough fancy maneuvering can make up for the lack of firepower early on, giving them an edge when it comes to the later game. I know it’s the strategy I used when I played this the whole way through for the review, and it paid off when I was finally able to afford weapons that had some real damage output. On the bright side, Raptor: Call of the Shadows does include money pickups and weapons you can sell at the shop if you already have better main armaments at your disposal.

And then there’s the enemies in Raptor: Call of the Shadows, both the standard screen-filling fare of air and ground forces and the level bosses. The former will come in many shapes and sizes, enter the screen at the top, fly down in whatever path they’re made to follow, shooting at you along the way, and head out the other side if you haven’t killed them before then. Some enemy pathing makes it attempt to collide with you, meaning you’ll have to do more than just sit at the bottom of the screen and wait for them to pass. Ground turrets and tanks can be problematic too, mostly due to chip damage that can be hard to prioritize when there’s so much hostile aircraft flying around your nose. Of course, then there’s the end-of-wave (and sometimes middle-of-wave) boss ships that you can’t simply dodge around, possessing a lot of firepower and forcing you to confront them head-on in order to beat the wave proper. Since many of these end up getting equipped with missiles or just really strong pellets, a hit-and-run strategy is far more preferable for Raptor: Call of the Shadows, rather than standing in front of it and hoping your hitbox is in the blind spot.

Bosses wait a couple of seconds between firing cycles, for the most part. Take advantage of the openings and get out quick. Megabombs are also great to save for these guys.

Bosses wait a couple of seconds between firing cycles, for the most part. Take advantage of the openings and get out quick. Megabombs are also great to save for these guys.

An interesting thing about Raptor: Call of the Shadows is that it comes with a robust save feature. Before and after every wave, you can save your pilot, and this is a crucial thing to do if you want to hit the higher waves with any hope of victory, as you don’t have lives. If the Raptor takes one too many and goes down in a ball of flame, that’s it, you’re done. And if it’s horrendously crippled on the battlefield, you can probably kiss your chances goodbye that way too, since most if not all of your main weapons will be destroyed once you hit the danger zone, leaving you high and dry nine times out of ten. Loading your save lets you get around that pain of going down Kenny Loggins’ highway, as well as avoid the shame of having to buy the weapons you lost all over again. Raptor: Call of the Shadows also allows for more than one save, always great if you have any other family members who want to play and you don’t want to lose your progress.

Collateral damage to ground targets is fun, but the real money is in shooting down enemy ships.

Collateral damage to ground targets is fun, but the real money is in shooting down enemy ships.

Moving on past the gameplay, we should address the music of Raptor: Call of the Shadows. The MIDI soundtrack is pretty nice, and in many elements is what sets it apart from the other comparable titles, much like most other Apogee-sponsored games. My personal favorite is the Hangar theme (1:41 in the hyperlink), as it’s the music you’ll be hearing between every mission, and gives good background to the difficult choice of “should I buy the phase shield now or risk going without so I have enough for that minigun afterward,” and similar mental quandaries. I also like the Wave 1 theme (2:49), since it drops you right into the action and makes you feel awesome for taking on all of these heavy odds by yourself, and reflects the newbie’s sense of “WOO, this is fun!” You know, the sensation that will be gone by the final waves and replaced with the veteran’s mounting sense of “Oh, I hope I don’t die this time…”

Now, Raptor: Call of the Shadows looks like fun, and it is, but to be honest, I feel like this game could have done more. However, this may be because of another shooter I played by one of the other gaming giants of the time, Epic Megagames’s Tyrian 2000, which not only had a long and branching story mode, but also a more fun combat system built around the player’s ship and the upgrades that ultimately led to the player being able to shoot walls of screaming laser death by the end. When you died, you didn’t have to reload your save, it just pulled you back to before the level so you could refit your ship to try and get it again this time. By comparison, Raptor: Call of the Shadows punishes your mistakes and inexperience by taking away your weapons if you’re about to die and if you’re gone, you have to load or start over, and even the most powerful weapons feel limited and weak when you still have to fly in the face of danger to really use them.

A screenshot from the graphically-updated version. Note the smoother pixels and the greater detail.

A screenshot from the graphically-updated version. Note the smoother pixels and the greater detail.

So in summary, if you’re looking for a fun scrolling shooter with good replay value, Raptor: Call of the Shadows could be a good choice, but as much as I hate to say this, there are better ones out there. Maybe at some point, I’ll give the aforementioned Tyrian 2000 a review so that you guys can see why I prefer that to this one. But I still have to give the tip of my hat to Raptor, as it was one of my first forays into the arcade shooter genre, and it was a fairly nice introduction to the whole concept, even if these days, it feels a little more forgettable than it used to be. Maybe if I play the modern remake, I might change my tune? It’s worth a thought. If you’re interested in giving Raptor: Call of the Shadows a try yourself, you can either download it from Abandonware as usual, purchase a digital copy direct from Apogee (DOS only) or Mountain King Studios (Windows only), or acquire it through Steam!

(My personal recommendation aside from Abandonware would have to be Steam’s 2015 DotEmu version, since it’s free of the strange control problems of Mountain King’s Windows version.)

Check out these other Apogee Software titles reviewed by Action Zero.

Written by Action Zero

Action Zero spends his time relaxing in his Stratocaster-pink Starjammer, listening to New Retro Wave tracks and planning to get back in touch with the Hell Riders of the Milky Way for some beers and an intergalactic drag race or two. Played by Reb Brown in the historical documentary “Space Mutiny”.

 
 

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