Short Attention Span Review™
After I first played BioForge someone asked me what it was like. I remember telling him it was like playing an interactive movie. As far as the actual plot goes, I would compare Bioforge to Frankenstein meets The Island of Dr. Moreau meets Cyborg meets The Forbidden Planet. BioForge received great reviews and scores, but sadly, seems to have been overlooked by a lot of players at what was the beginning of the end of the adventure game genre.
The text below the break is part of a column originally written sometime in 2000*. It has been slightly revised following a recent replay of BioForge after nearly 20 years.
Here are some updated thoughts: Even after 20 years BioForge is still one of my favorite and fondly remember adventure games, and I played a lot of adventure games in the 90s. It has just the right mix of scifi story, atmosphere, soundtrack, and visuals to make it an immersive experience. Some would say that it’s just my sense of nostalgia speaking, but I replayed it in the spring of 2014 . . . then proceeded to play through it again right after I’d finished. So in my case the fondness I feel for this game has nothing to do with nostalgia. As of this update, BioForge is available at gog.com for $6.
Something dawned on me the other day. It crept up on me from out of the blue: I was becoming bored with today’s games. After finishing Half-Life I was exhausted, spent, and downright confused. I’d reached a pinnacle of sorts . . . where to go from here? I searched the shelves to no avail. Nothing jumped out at me and screamed “Buy me!” or “Play me, you won’t regret it!” This is not to say there aren’t any good games populating the shelves right now, but nothing really grabbed me by the sack. What to do, what to do. I’m a sucker for a good adventure game, always have been and always will be. Even from childhood the process of storytelling has fascinated me, and visual storytelling is even more fascinating.
So I searched through my literal pile of old games and happened upon one of my favorites from the past. Anyone remember BioForge (1995)? Anyone ever heard of it? It wasn’t exactly a blockbuster due to its difficulty and subject matter (M rating), but to this day it still has a dedicated following. BioForge was Origin’s foray into a new genre they were attempting to spearhead called “interactive movies.” BioForge was even marketed as such with the “Origin Interactive Movie” logo proudly displayed on the retail box. Would this new genre be a success? History has spoken and the answer is: No. The adventure genre is nearly dead, let alone the interactive movie genre. But there still exists a die hard contingent of gamers who absolutely adore these classics from the golden age of interactive adventure gaming . . . 1985-1995. BioForge falls right at the end of this era, along with two more of my favorites Full Throttle and The Dig. The genre began to decline shortly after 1995.
Who can forget the graphics from the cover of the box that graced store shelves back in the spring of 1995? That subtle yet intriguing green cyborg hand and the descriptive one word title, BioForge, just begged you to pick up the box and check it out the back of the box to see what it was all about. In those days I was always on the lookout for good adventure games, so after getting one recommendation from a friend, I was in.
Even though BioForge is one of the first adventure games to utilize 3D technology, isn’t it curious how a technology can destroy a genre? Years ago most companies put out great adventure games because that genre was in line with 2D sprite based technology. We now have about one company (LucasArts, Update: LucasArts was recently shuttered by Disney) that still puts out good adventure games. Let’s face it, computer technology and 3D acceleration has nearly destroyed a genre that has been near and dear to me for years, despite the fact that BioForge attempted to blaze new ground in more ways than one.
This is who you play, a character with no name. . . and you’re not a pretty sight. You start the gaming knowing nothing. You don’t know who you are, what you are, where you came from, or where you are. You wake up in a detention cell in the above state of modification, with a security robot as nursemaid and lots of questions to be answered. A very intriguing start, to a very good adventure game. And what better start to a game than to beat someone to death with their own severed arm!! Surely the first step to receiving a Mature rating. By today’s standards this game is still pretty tame as the blood and gore isn’t displayed on 1080p monitors using near photo realistic textures and effects.
Your task is simple: get out and find out what the hell is going on. As you make your way through your own hellish adventure you slowly piece together the nightmare which has unfolded on this base situated on a moon honeycombed by an ancient, hibernating, alien civilization. The base is in a state of chaos, clearly things have gone sideways during your unconscious state. Quakes rock the base, alien creatures dug up by archaeologists wander about, the reactor is overheating, and robot sentries guard the way to the surface. The work of research archaeologists has been interrupted by the machinations of the scheming scientist (Mastaba) who plans to use the advanced alien technology for his own ends. He plans on building the perfect assassin for the Mondite movement which believes that technological evolution and the superiority of science is more important than the progression of nature itself. After a while, you figure out you are one of his first successful iterations.
BioForge combines many different gaming styles into one tight package. The typical adventure game style is prevalent throughout, with interesting camera angles similar to Alone in the Dark or the more recent Resident Evil. The puzzles are interesting, and are usually based on alien technology which make them bizarre in their own right. When push comes to shove though, it’s time to enter combat mode. Just press the “c” button and you’re ready to rumble. Punches, headbutts, and roundhouse kicks are your typical attacks. If you’ve found the gun, just let go with some high powered plasma. The environment is 3D, and the design of the entire game is pretty damn impressive for the 1994-95 time frame, using a skeletal system and motion capture technology for one of the first times in gaming.
BioForge is also one of the those experiences that creates a great atmosphere, which is a prerequisite for any good adventure game. The music and sound effects create just the right mood that places you square in the center of an alien moon under more than confusing circumstances. I will never be able to get the echoing, heartbeat based music out of my head.
Once you get out of the base, the really interesting events begin to unfold. You find out that the moon is home to a hibernating race of aliens. You begin delving into their civilization in your quest to find out exactly what’s going on. In the end you end up confronting Mastaba and awakening the alien hive which spews forth many, many alien spaceships from the center of the moon. If you’re a completionist you can also find out who you were from a large database of experimental patients. Depending on how you play the game, your previous identity will vary.
Now here’s the bummer. There is no ending to the game. Well, there is, but it should have ended with the infamous “To be continued . . .” because BioForge was clearly set up as Part 1 of a series or trilogy. Just as you are about to put your cyborg claws on Mastaba, he escapes, you wake up an entire civilization, and you activate a spaceship to give chase. Then . . . THE END!? What a massive cliffhanger! The game was so good, and I wanted more. So I just got to sit around and play “what if” games in my head when all was said an done. Origin was planning on continuing the story in a follow on installment, but it never surfaced. They did put 10 weeks of work into BioForge Plus which was to continue the story, but it was eventually shelved. Below is the opening cinematic from BioForge Plus which takes place immediately after the end of BioForge.
After I first played BioForge someone asked me what it was like. I remember telling him it was like playing an interactive movie, so in that respect it’s clear (at least for me) that they were successful with their goal. As far as the actual plot goes, I would compare this game to Frankenstein meets The Island of Dr. Moreau meets Cyborg (a.k.a. The Six Million Dollar Man, just the cyborg part of it) meets The Forbidden Planet. It makes for a great combination, and the developers should pat themselves on the back. BioForge received great reviews and scores, but sadly, seemed to have been overlooked by a lot of players at what was the beginning of the end of the adventure game genre.
People continue to hype and push new, cutting edge games. I’m beginning to take a look back, instead of ahead. I’ve started doing this with many of the SF books I’ve read recently (from the 50s), and find them to be more creative than some of the books that come out today. There are some great games out there that many of you have probably never played or heard of that came out in the early to mid 90s. Games that rely on storytelling more so than graphics. Do yourself a favor: do a little research, find a good one, pick it up for $5 on Steam or G.O.G., and play it! It’s not all about flashy graphics and cutting edge processing power! To this day I have a copy of X-COM UFO Defense on my machine, and the obligatory DOSBox. Hmmm . . . could this be Part II?
Excuse me, I have some reminiscing to do.
Remember, the game’s the thing . . .
Below you can watch the intro to BioForge, and if you’re so inclined view the videos that follow for a complete play through.
*Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.