If you are a big fan of RPG dungeon crawlers like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder
and The Black Crypt
, you should take a look at the forgotten and bizarrely under-appreciated gem Day of the Viper
Day of the Viper is sci-fi themed - not D&D fantasy - but the innovations and game mechanics make this game a total blast to play the moment you start clicking your mouse. Why this game didn’t become a house-hold name and a classic is curious, and we have some thoughts on why that might later on in this review.
The basic premise is that 300 years into the future humans created GAR (Genetic Android Race), which turns against living organisms much like Skynet from the Terminator movies. GAR has created a robotic army “whose sole purpose is to strip the biology from every biosphere from the galaxy.”
You are to infiltrate GAR’s military base complex in the outer rim and regain control. There are 5 base buildings, each consisting of 5 levels (or floors).
You are given a Viper unit, which is a powerful attack android. You’ll notice the box cover art shows what your Viper looks like and it is the unapologetic image of a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. There is an interesting obsession with the number five all throughout this game. There are five buildings, each with five floors, and in each building you must retrieve five floppy disks (for a total of 25). One disk is hidden on each floor of the game. Once you find one, you “install” it to your hard drive.
There are also five colors that have meaning across everything in the game, in this order: blue, green, yellow, red and white. Blue is the color of the walls in the first building. The first (weakest) gun and shields you find are blue. When you find energy refills, or repair pods, blue re-charges the least and white recharges the most. In the blue building, you find five blue disks, and so on. This pattern of colors and consistent numbering makes the game very easy to understand once you wrap your head around things. Lastly, on each floor there are rooms that can only be accessed if you have the correct - you guessed it - color coded access card. In the first building you fairly quickly find the access card for blue doors. Before finishing building two, we had found access cards for blue, green and yellow doors.
This game is a fascinating (and at times frustrating, like all RPGs) balance of energy usage, damage control and inventory management. Every time you fire your weapon, it uses energy. If you use up all of your energy, the Viper shuts down and the game is over. If you take on too much damage, you can also “die”. As you collect more access cards, you can hold less energy and repair pods. This is probably one of the most maddening parts of the game. As you go deeper into the lower floors, you need more and more energy and repair pods. But by the second building you have far less room to carry anything. The game forces you to stockpile items (we typically would put them near the turbo or storage lockers, which can hold up to 6 items). Having to run around to manage resources is one aspect of the game that would have been nice to “upgrade” with special items. This is done with energy packs eventually, which allow double the energy to be stored, but not with other items (at least, not that we’ve encountered yet).
The graphics on the Amiga are pretty good. Most of your experience is dominated by the Viper’s User Interface “chrome”. The action area is rather small, to be honest. But Day of the Viper innovated hugely in 1989 by introducing a permanent map area that, frankly, becomes your main focal point during the game over half of the time. The action area is reserved more for battles, picking up items and interfacing with various rooms (e.g. repair stations, security rooms, comms, etc.).
There is a repetitiveness to the experience that may have felt too basic for some hard-core dungeon crawler fans. Also, in the 3D viewer port, there are only "2 blocks" of real vision available, which honestly forces users to rely on the map feature more heavily than most RPGs, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The game also lacks any real character development or even story outside of the manual (which is pretty tongue in cheek and a bit thin). To that end, the game feels more like a very polished action shooter but filled with the puzzles and maps more commonly found in RPG dungeon crawlers. It is our belief that had Viper focused even slightly more on the story and character(s) - and introduced more NPCs than reading old “texts” left on the various comm station computers - Viper would have been a much bigger hit, and possibly huge. The game mechanics are simply outstanding.
Viper also innovated with features simply unheard of at the time, including a save anytime, anywhere feature. Good lord this feature should have been in Bard's Tale! It also has auto-mapping, as mentioned before, which makes the game simply thrilling to play and the action much thrilling. No need to focus on every little square of your map.
It turns out that the duo who created Viper - John Conley and James Oxley - had created a similarly styled game prior to Viper called Slaygon a year earlier. Slaygon sported almost the exact same premise and a very similar UI, although it was a bit garish to the excellent Viper graphics. It appears that the lessons learned from Slaygon were applied to Day of the Viper, which was released a year later. Why Viper didn't take off is a bit of a mystery, to be honest. The fact that this game is almost nowhere to be found online is baffling, to say the least.
In 1990 Dragon magazine rated Viper 5-stars, their highest rating.
Day of the Viper, for us, was and is a total blast to play. We’re currently on the 4th floor of the 2nd building and getting our butts kicked. But we just found the yellow gun so the tides may soon turn.
Review and Download Notes:
This game was reviewed off of an original disk, which forced users to copy the original disk and play off a duplicate. Not a bad idea, really. Although this may have left some ADF-pirates baffled back in the day and probably made them think the original ADF was faulty. The duplicate disk is then put in the floppy drive and played off a reboot into the game. The disk loads are minimal (although the intro is a bit long). The game also uses off-disk copy protection. Without the original manual and copy protection card (see the image below the box art to see what it looks like) this game would have been impossible to play without a cracked version. As a result, the ADFs offered here are cracks. However, we highly encourage interested gamers to hunt for an original copy, or use the WHDLoad option (see the External Links section on this page). The original boxed game often sells quite cheaply if you can find it, and if you still have classic hardware to play it.