The relationship between man vs. machine has always been an ever-increasing source of contention. Our ability to create devastating technological weapons has been explored many times within sci-fi literature, films and games. And in 1993, DMA Design and Psygnosis unleashed their vision on Amiga owners.
Stomping our way into the first level, the first thing that strikes you is the Walker model itself. Its grey and blue hulking frame is meticulously detailed and animated as its metallic chicken legs pound the ground. The oversized head swings around in psuedo 3D as it tracks your aiming reticule and looks very impressive in doing so.
As you march onwards, destroyed buildings are conveyed in a two-tone colour scheme, with their hues changing as you progress to each of the four stages. As an artistic choice it works well in conveying the tone of a bleak post-apocalyptic future, or past dependent on what level you’re playing.
Something that Walker definitely gets right, and revels in, is the viciousness of its action. Only when you come across your first enemy regiment does the realisation of this imposing killing machine hit home as you tear through the cannon fodder with your twin machine guns.
The Lemmings style troops are reduced to a bloody mess either by weaponry or a quick step onto their frail human bodies. These grunts are backed up an assortment of armoured vehicles dependent on which time period you’re in. Ranging from the horse drawn artillery cannons of 1940’s Berlin to the Terminator inspired Hunter-Killer air force of the future, there’s plenty of variation, aesthetically anyway, to keep things interesting.
Walker is compelling in its visual chaos. Shrapnel flies, blood spurts and planes explode while only dropping the occasional frame, leaving you breathless as you try to keep track of the masses of adversaries attacking you.
As development on Walker started straight after Blood Money, before being postponed, it seems like Raymond Usher’s title theme is almost a continuation of the formers heavily sampled tunes. The ominous drones give way to digitised speech, wandering keyboard melodies and air raid sirens. It’s a typical mash up of styles and one that seems at odds with the rest of the game soundtrack.
With the graphical style intentionally bleak, the in-game audio work is sparse and reinforces the despondent tone. With no music to kill to, the dying screams of your foes take on more prominence. Choppers thunder in, planes swoop and explosions ring out in a suite of very impressive sampled effects.
The Walker’s mechanised movements and ringing machine gun bursts are rousing as bullets ricochet off fortified personnel carriers, harbouring would-be assailants. But if you were lucky enough to have 2MB of RAM back in 1993, or upgraded to an A1200, you were treated to a quality but limited range of conversations between the Walker pilot and headquarters. There’s nothing really insightful but they certainly contribute to the atmosphere as you’re warned of incoming ground troops, asked to check in or shout out a well-timed ‘Hoorah’ as you decimate the populous.
For the time, Walker had quite a unique control scheme whereby the reticule would be mapped to the mouse while Walker movement was initiated by the arrow keys or joystick. This means the game technically has two-player co-op, although the person tasked to control the mech might feel shafted. It works well and feels intuitive. The Left mouse button will unleash the guns while the right mouse button activates a lock-on, which will be very much needed for faster and airborne enemies
While enemy attack patterns are relatively predictable, it’s dealing with the sheer number of them that proves troublesome, making Walker some self-flagellating exercise in crowd control.
With only four levels, each segmented into halves, the game could be completed in around an hour. However, the difficulty in Walker is punishing. I mean really punishing. It’s so punishing in fact that completing it without trainers would be a greater feat than trying to stick toothpaste back in the tube. You will make progress with every attempt as you strategise which enemies to pick off first but will most likely hit a wall around level three.
Each of the four levels has differing enemies and weapons for the era as well as its own boss battle. These are formulaic in nature as it’s a case of taking them apart bit by bit. The exception is the missile silos that have to be dealt with before they launch the payload, meaning juggling between enemy factions requires extra efficiency and ruthlessness.
For the full review, including trivia about the game, check out the video below.
Walker might be a curious experiment for DMA Design but one that feels perfectly at home on the Psygnosis label. It doesn’t try to pretend to say anything meaningful about utilising weaponised technology against ourselves and that’s fine with me. It’s simplistic yet extremely satisfying mechanics encourage you to come back despite the vicious difficulty. The high standard of the audio and graphical package is to be expected considering the talent behind it, but the game never becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Repetitive and short it might be, but war has never been so much fun.