Iron Soldier

Atari Jaguar

from AEO Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 1

 |||   Iron Soldier
 |||   By: Chuck Klimushyn
/ | \  GEnie: L.FULGENZI    CIS: 74064,1466

      "...Cybermorph is one heck of an engrossing pack-in
       and a great preview of things to come for Atari's
       new gaming console. Looking at the game as it runs
       on my television I can't help but sense the ending
       of the 16-bit era for home video games is near.
       Let's wish Atari well in making the Next Level of
       gaming theirs."

It was almost exactly a year ago that I wrote this to close my
strategy guide on Cybermorph for AEO. As we begin 1995, Atari's Jaguar
has passed it's one year anniversary, the 16-bit era is still ending,
and the Jag has entered into its second year of release.
Traditionally, this has always been an important landmark with a
video-game system.  The programers are assumed to have gained enough
familiarity with the new hardware to present competent titles that
accurately represent what the system is capable of doing. Games that
were a bit rough around the edges are forgivable with a console's
first wave of titles.  Similar efforts are judged harshly if they
continue to appear in a unit's second year of release.

In many ways Iron Soldier is the second wave successor to the Jaguar's
first title, Cybermorph. (Perhaps even more than Cybermorph's
scheduled sequel, Battlemorph.) Battlemorph is a CD based title and
the increased storage capacity makes comparisons to the original cart
game difficult. It's time to see if Iron Soldier stands up to the
expectations required of a next wave Cybermorph successor.

//// Nuts and Bolts

Iron Soldier takes place in the future, adopting a familiar Cyberpunk
theme where Industry has conquered government in the form of the Iron
Fist Corporation (IFC). IFC has turned into a typically oppressive
totalitarian regime and has bred the usual rag-time resistance to
challenge them. That's where you come in. The innovatively named
Resistance has managed to steal the prototype of a new weapon, the
Iron Soldier: a 42 foot robot that makes tanks of today look like
soap-box derby race cars. You're elected to pilot the Iron Soldier
(IS) through 16 varied and progressively difficult missions
culminating in a strike at the very heart of IFC's territories.

//// Missions and Game Play

There are three difficulty settings: easy, medium, and hard. I didn't
notice much difference between easy and medium, but hard was a
definite step up in the frustration level. Enemies appear to do more
damage and are tougher to kill. Choppers and light tanks I often
ignored in the lower two settings. I was seeking these same units out
and stomping with a vengeance at the highest level of difficulty.
Pillboxes for which I previously wouldn't bother to switch from a
medium range gatling gun were now treated to long ranged attacks from
my rail cannon or rockets. This feature along with the varied mission
should provide excellent replay value.

The game presents the missions in 4 blocks of 4 missions each. You can
save after completing a block in the first 3 groups and thankfully
after every mission in the last block. Within the first 3 blocks you
have the freedom to complete the missions in any order. This is
noteworthy since some tasks are much easier to complete after gaining
a new weapon available in the latter missions of the block. In the
last set of missions you are fully armed and must complete the
scenarios sequentially.

The missions are extremely wide ranging. They vary from from simple
search-and-destroy tasks, to hunting enemy IS's, attacking fortresses,
escorting truck convoys, territory protection, and more. During these
missions a wide assortment of IFC's armed forces will be thrown at
you. You'll have to cope with attacks from the ground, air, and even
from sea! To deal with these attacks you'll gain progressively
stronger weapons obtained through the various scenarios. You'll
demolish buildings to find extra ammo and packages to repair your war
machine. You'll develop and try different strategies to meet a
mission's objectives. I found several missions that were my favorites
and I replayed them numerous times to find the most efficient ways to

My all-time favorite was "Best Defense." It takes place at night. You
must guard a research building from attack by land and airborne forces
while dodging units hell-bent on your destruction. The night time
battle visuals and accompanying music were captivating!

//// Armament

One of Cybermorph's strength was the wide variety of weapons at your
disposal. This allowed you to match your own talents and preferences
with the weapons to meet the task at hand in many different ways.
Iron Soldier expands in this worthy tradition with a much wider range
of offensive and defensive capabilities. Your IS contains 2 shoulder
mounts for weapons, 2 waist mounts, plus one hand held mount. Some
weapons may only be mounted at a particular area, such as on the

Into these mounts you will eventually be able to choose from the
following items:

a.  Standard Manipulator - essentially your fist that packs the punch
    of brass-knuckles of the first magnitude.

b.  Cassy Assault Rife - Your first projectile weapon. It's a 75 mm
    semiautomatic hand held rifle. Remember your pistol in DOOM? It's
    about as effective....

c.  Parker Chain Cutter - Another hand held item. One big buzz-saw
    that's much better than your fist for demolishing buildings and
    indispensable for up-close-and-personal fighting with an enemy IS.

d.  Badger Hand Grenades - Short ranged, oil drum sized grenades that
    provide the game's biggest bang, but aiming them takes serious
    practice. Try shooting for the first click on your radar scope.
    They mount at the waist.

e.  Rachels Gatling Gun - A six-barrel 40mm gatling gun that will make
    short work of light tanks, helos, and pillboxes at up to medium
    range. Your standard "active" weapon. Can be mounted on hips or

f.  Wolfpack Rocket Launcher - Less of a punch than grenades but much
    easier to aim and a far longer range. A must for taking out heavy
    tanks quickly. Shoulder or hip mounted.

g.  Charlotte Rail Cannon - Now we're talking... a 120 mm armor
    piercing shoulder mounted gun. Slow firing, but the quickest way
    to stop the A-10 clones and smashing things from a distance.
    Pretty good for wrecking an enemy IS too.

h.  Slate Heavy Shield - Shoulder mounted device that halves incoming
    damage when active. Not a bad choice in latter missions when the
    air attacks get really nasty, but taking it means one less weapon
    can be carried.

i.  Sable Cruise Missile - The best eye-candy in the game. You get to
    fly one of these shoulder mounted babies in a stunning chase-plane
    view around the battle field till you hit something or you run out
    of fuel. The problem is, they're only as strong as a grenade and
    reloads are scarce. Still, skillful use in the game's last
    scenario can take away some of that mission's pain.

j.  Radar Screen - More of a game feature than a weapons item, but
    still a very important part of your defense. Enemies are tracked
    360 degrees around you. Air units are red, land based nasties are
    yellow, and enemy IS units are blue. Missiles, grenades, and bombs
    are white. The screen is extremely helpful with dodging bombing
    runs by the attack planes and missile salvos from an enemy IS.

Picking the right weapons to complete each mission is one of the most
appealing aspects of the game. Are you expecting to engage in long
range or close-in fighting? Are you sharp enough with the gatling gun
to skip taking along the heavy slate shielding for extra defense?
Grenades or rockets, how's your aim? Heck, take both!

Iron Soldier goes beyond Cybermorph in allowing flexibility in
selection and deployment of your armament. Perfect, and in complete
accord of what's expected of a second generation title! My only
disappointment was the inability to mount weapons on both hands, which
is standard with most other mech-type simulations. Instead, the
handheld weapons requires the use of both mechanical arms to operate.

//// Opposition

All these wonderful toys that go boom would be for naught if there
weren't interesting and challenging things to shoot at. Iron Soldier
does not disappoint. It has a wide variety of enemies, each with
different strengths and weaknesses. Each has its own pattern of
attempting to make your life miserable.

There are two forms of tanks, light and heavy. Light tanks are pesky
little things that are tempting to ignore, but will inflict a
surprisingly high amount of damage if they draw an extended bead on
you. Luckily, you can stomp 'em like ants <g>. Heavy tanks are much
nastier. They pack a strong punch, are fast in tracking you, and are
too large to be stomped. Heavy tanks require a steady steam of rockets
to dispatch.

Air borne attacks come in three varieties of "G's". A "Glaive"
helicopter that is as tempting to ignore as a light tank. The "Greave"
V.T.O.L. is far more worthy of your attention. If these jump jets get
close they'll circle around your head, just beyond your gun sight and
quickly drop a large quantity of very damaging bombs. The "Gantlet"
Attack Plane is an A-10 clone bent on your destruction with even more
bombs than the V.T.O.L.s. It's very thick skinned and requires
extended gatling gun bursts to take out. Luckily, a single well placed
shot from a rail cannon will send it to earth in a spectacular shower
of pieces.

There are two pillboxes: one armed with two missiles - "Javelin"
Rocket Launcher, and another with fixed heavy machine guns - "Heaume"
Gun Turret. Each will do a steady stream of damage if not dealt with.
They're best destroyed at long range with rockets or the rail cannon.

"Behemoth" Frigates are one of the surprise bonuses in the game.
They're actually large ships that you have to contend with on several
missions. Armed with cannons and rockets, it's risky to get too close.
To make matters worst, they can speedily put to sea, out of range of
many of your weapons. Not a good thing when your mission objectives
call for their destruction.

Enemy Iron Soldiers complete the roster of opponents. They progress in
toughness through the missions. They can target you at long range with
unlimited cannons or rockets. At close range their fists can inflict
heavy damage on you. Grenades, rockets, and cruise missiles help you
for distance attacks. At close range, it becomes a riotous rock-'em-
sock-'em-robots affair as you dodge in with your fist or chainsaw to
inflict damage and dance out of range before the enemy IS can respond
in kind!

The AI of these enemies is one of Iron Soldier's real strengths.
Target a light tank for stomping and it starts running for the hills.
Draw a bead on a helo and it'll climb and bank trying to get above the
range of your gunsight. The V.T.O.L.'s will cagily circle around your
head, just temptingly away from your gunsight, while they pound your
IS into spare parts.

The enemy ISes are the only disappointing loafers in the bunch. At
long range they have an inexplicable habit of walking away from you
after drawing devastating aim on your IS. At close range they are
thrown into confusion, walking in random directions trying to gain
distance to use ranged weapons, and responding far too slowly with
their punch against close range attacks of your fist or chainsaw.

Iron Soldier easily surpasses Cybermorph in the quality of its
opponents. They are far more complex in design and movement patterns
than those in Cybermorph. The helos and attack planes give the
appearance of startlingly realistic flight, all at a frame that is
silky smooth. The quality screams of a true next generation title, and
meets the expectations of the "64-bit" promise of the Jaguar. I would
have liked to see more combat with enemy IS units, but I'm

//// Control

At first control and movement of your IS may seem lumbering. Pressing
the joypad left or right results in painfully slow movement in the
respective direction. Pressing the joypad up or down allows you to
change the angle of your view to in a skyward direction. You can
actually look down at your iron boots as you stomp luckless tanks and
small houses <g>. Pressing A plus up/down on the joypad increases or
decreases your speed. (It's possible to move in reverse at up to about
a third of your best forward speed.) The B button fires your active
weapon. This is selected through a sharp, full color number-pad
overlay for the robot's waist and shoulder mounts, or the options
button for handheld weapons.

Thankfully using the C button in combination with the joypad will
increase the speed of your IS's rotation. This is still barely enough
to keep pace with fast circling air borne pests. An undocumented
feature is to press the C and A button in combination with the joypad.
This results in satisfyingly fast targeting. It takes some time to
accurately use the C/A/joypad together, plus press the B button to
fire, but it makes the progressively harder air attacks in the latter
missions much more manageable!

The game provides an advanced control option that allows you to set a
course and then have your turret free to rotate approximately 180
degrees. An interesting option to use if you're sure of your path. I
tended to avoid making much use of the feature and preferred to
generally zig-zag to help avoid air attacks.

There's a couple of undocumented control features included. Pressing
"Pause", and then "1" or "3" will single-step through gameplay.
Pressing "8" during a game appears to display the current mission

The increased complexity of Iron Soldier is more difficult than using
the simple pin-point accurate controls of Cybermorph. Given the
increased realism of a viewpoint that allows varying degrees of
elevation or recession, however, I found it to be a more than even
trade off.

//// Presentation and Impact

So, all the essentials for a good sim. are here: lots of toys to
shoot, fun targets, and decent control. The basics are only a start,
though, and it's up to the graphics and audio aspects of the game to
present a virtual world that impacts the gamer to the point of
suspending their disbelief enough to become lost in this alternate
reality. Cybermorph provided enough in each category to have gamers
jumping for joy with its virtual playground. Does Iron Soldier, a year
later, improve on the illusion?

//// Graphics

The battle areas of Iron Soldier are comprised of different cities in
the future. Buildings range from towering skyscrapers to squat fuel
tanks, and small houses. Gone is the sparse, angular look of
Cybermorph's universe. It's now replaced by rounded Power Plants,
circular smoke stacks, curving exhaust vents, and sweeping bridges.
Skyscrapers now have numerous windows and shapes. Texture mapping now
accents several of the buildings and objects on the landscape. The
environment still definitely has a shaded polygon look, but has been
refined and is extremely eye-pleasing.

The over-used triangular shaped enemies of Cybermorph have been
replaced by realistically shaped helicopters, planes, and tanks. The
helos have softly rounded underbellies that look great as they fly
directly over your head. The graceful wings of the A-10 clone are both
captivating and unnerving as the plane completes a gentle bank and
begins to initiate an attack run towards you. Again, texture mapping
is used to accent several of these opponents, most notably with the
helos and tanks.

Missions take place both during the day and night with appropriate
lighting changes. Seeing missiles streak from partially illuminated
helos at night is especially good looking.

Explosions are varied. The best are the airborne enemies that
disintegrate into dozens of different pieces that will rain about you
if you're close enough. Buildings are a bit more tame as they blow up
into perfectly square blocks. Light tanks explode humorously, with
gears bouncing.

The game has strong backgrounds of varying skyfalls, mountains, and
city images. The storm clouds of the night missions are especially
haunting. Gone are the bland colors from the backgrounds in

Finally, the visuals give a great sense of walking in a two-legged
tank. The objects on screen rise and fall in proportion to your speed.
Unfortunately this effect is lost when moving in a direction devoid of
on screen items or moving away from a city toward the background
mountains and skyfalls. An acceptable concession to ROM space for a
cartridge game. In all respects, Iron Soldier clearly surpasses the
first generation graphics of Cybermorph.

//// Audio

The music and sound effects are the most disappointing aspect of Iron
Soldier. This is particularly troublesome because they're both pretty
good. Ok, let me explain. The game allows you to select having music
in the game, but at the cost of losing some important sound effects.
Mostly these are the distance cued sounds of approaching helicopters
and tanks. Unfortunately, these sounds effects don't appear
directionally cued. If you wish to have these important audio hints
in the game, you must sacrifice the music.

This is too bad since the six in-game tunes are the best music I've
heard for the Jag since Tempest 2000. Even though they're in mono,
the music come across very well. The tracks range from strong driving
numbers that would fit in a Miami Vice episode to a rather eerie treat
that accompanies the night action missions.

The other sounds such as the explosions, firing guns, and launching
missiles are well done and present with or without music. It is
troublesome to me that Jag games appear to have such difficulty
integrating audio. I'm not a game developer so I can't accurately
state where the problem lies. I'm a consumer. I know the competition
can and does provide both quality music and sound effects in their
games. At this point in the Jaguar's development it should, too.
Apparently audio hasn't shown the growth that graphics have since
Cybermorph was released. It does rate higher than Cybermorph though
with the inclusion of in-game music and more sound effects.

//// Conclusion

Those of you who have followed my posts under the handle of [Chas] in
the Video Games Roundtable on GEnie know that at best over the last
year I've been ambivalent about the Jaguar. At times I've bordered on
on bashing Atari. My unit generally sat in my closet except for a week
or so of enjoyable use every quarter as the 1994 games trickled out. I
have trouble liking systems that get new titles released once every
three months, no matter how impressive the specs.

Iron Soldier has renewed the initial excitement and promise I felt
upon originally playing Cybermorph. It surpasses the game in every
aspect to which I've made comparisons. If Atari can deliver more of
these second generation titles at a healthy pace it truly can become a
serious competitor. Happy New Year Atari! You're off to a fine start,
keep 'em coming!

//// Final Ratings

Title: Iron Soldier                   JagNet: No
Design: Eclipse                      Players: 1
Published by: Atari Corp.          Available: Now
MSRP: $59.95                      Age Rating: K-A (Kids to Adult, 6+)

Here's the summary ratings:
                "*" is a whole
                 "+" is a half
               5 stars maximum

 Control: ***+   Lumbering, until you become accustomed to using the A,
                 B, C buttons and joypad simultaneously. Satisfying
Gameplay: *****  Absolutely the best mech-sim available on a console.
                 (I've played them all.) You =will= feel like you're
                 in a 42 foot bipedal tank!!
Graphics: ****+  Improves upon Cybermorph with rounded and curved
                 objects, accented with texture mapping. A fantastic
                 frame rate. Only a fully-textured map game would have
                 scored higher.
   Sound: **+    Good music or good sound effects, you can only pick
                 one. Yeah, I'm being harsh, but amateur hour is
 Overall: *****  Yep. Five Stars. Dedicated Mechheads will buy the
                 Jaguar to play this game when the word gets out, it's
                 that good! It's so fun it negates my audio concerns
                 for now

Pts Stars  AEO Ratings
""" """""  """""""""""
 10 *****  GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good.
  9 ****+  Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent.
  8 ****   Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this.
  7 ***+   Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers.
  6 ***    Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time.
  5 **+    Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this.
  4 **     Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic.
  3 *+     Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun.
  2 *      Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this.
  1 +      Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you.
  0 -      Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.

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