Those of us of a certain vintage will remember the “interactive movie” concept in videogames. The most famous titles in that genre were Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, combining the technology of LaserDisc with cartoon animation and quick time events. Although these had limited success in contemporary home conversions, they gained a second life once CD-ROM equipped machines hit the market. This prompted a renaissance in the genre, which had kind of died out in the latter half of the 1980’s. As it was, the rise of machines like the Philips CDi, Sega CD and the 3DO saw new entrants in the interactive movie genre and this brings us neatly on to Brain Dead 13.
Originally released for MS-DOS PC’s, it very quickly spread like herpes to other systems, including the version reviewed here for the 3DO. You can tell it’s video heavy, coming on 2 CD’s. When later ported to the Sega Saturn, the decision to use only one disc meant that video quality suffered. Still, we’re going to be talking about the 3DO port so let’s have a look at what kind of story they’ve come up with.
You play Lance, a young computer technician who has ended up at the castle of Dr Nero Neurosis (poor Nero had no chance with a name like that. I blame the parents). Lance finds out that Nero wants to take over the world so has to stop him, all the while being chased by Nero’s slightly dim-witted assistant, Fritz. As videogames stories go, that’s quite slim but to be fair to the title, you’re here for the visuals and the excitement.
Brain Dead 13’s presentation is good, the animation has a nice style and whilst it screams 1990’s, the character design works really well. The animation is smooth and the game has a unique look and feel to it. The death scenes are particularly inventive but there is a reason for that, which I’ll get to below. Music is pitch perfect for the tone the designers are aiming for, playful and dramatic when it needs to be, and it also hits the comedy notes every time that is required. The voice acting is also more than passable which, considering the dire performances some contemporary titles had, is not something that should be taken for granted. Taken as a whole, it really does feel like you are playing a Saturday morning cartoon sometimes, especially as the humour in the game tips a nod and a wink to the player to let them know that everyone is in on the joke.
Controls are also pretty simple, four directions and an action button will see you through the game, and this is where your first concerns should be raised. Your total interactivity with the game can be boiled down the the inputs on an Atari VCS joystick. Interactive, I hear you say…
The issue with Brain Dead 13 is that it is an “interactive movie” with all of the benefits and pitfalls of the genre. It looks great, it sounds good, but it plays horribly. I mentioned inventive death scenes. They’re needed because you’ll see a lot of them. Even with only five input options, there will be times that you’ll need to go through all five to get the right result. Handily, every time you chose an option, you either get a dull beep to tell you it’s not the right time for that or a more shrill beep when you’ve made the right choice. Make the wrong choice or mis-time your selection then it’s a death scene again. Fortunately, you have infinite lives and the loading times are short, so you will be quickly back into the video game equivalent of five shot Russian Roulette. This can get more than a little frustrating when the same scene plays over and over again before you make the right choices/guesses to get to the next screen.
Another thing to be aware off is the game’s non-linear approach. Oh, yes, they were clever here. If, like me, you resort to a walkthrough, the quickest path through the game completely ignores several locations. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it provides some re-playability if you want to go exploring. However, to do that, you’ll need to pause after every screen to note which decisions to take so you can navigate through the game more smoothly if you decide to play the game again. Otherwise, you can end up going in circles without progressing any further towards the so-so finale. That brings me to my last point about Brain Dead 13. Once I had completed it, there was little to bring me back. I didn’t want the frustration of replaying parts I’d already seen to see the bits I had missed and, frankly, I’d had enough of Lance and his 90’s “cool” persona.
Brain Dead 13 is a technically accomplished title and one that would have passed away several hours if you didn’t get the urge to throw the controller through the TV. I cannot fault the presentation nor the humour of the game, but it’s a frustrating title to play and I resorted to a walkthrough after an hour or so of trial and error. After the initial thrill had worn off, Brain Dead 13 became yet another example of why this particular gaming genre has mostly faded into the mists of time.
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Quiet guy enjoying videogames (both retro and modern), military history, historical wargaming, sci-fi and fantasy. Run my own blog at tantobieinternettattler.blogspot.com which covers most of my hobbies and interests.