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The Slacker's Guide - The Arcade Sit-Down Shooter Lives Again: BZFlag

by Chris Barylick
May 19th, 2006

Somewhere in the tangle of the 80s, we fell in love with them. And, almost overnight, they were gone. Sit-down shooter games, generally found only in arcades or among a really cool collection at a roadside stand, ruled the day and provided for some of the very best gaming experiences of the era.

Spy Hunter. The official Return of the Jedi game. And even, to an extent, Afterburner. These were the titles that put you in the middle of the game at a time when a three dimensional graphic was only distant dreams. Combine this with simple game play that anyone could pick up on and you had a set of terrific, casual yet still immersive games.

Sometimes a retro effort can bring it all back. BZFlag, an open source game centered around bringing a premiere multiplayer tank shooter to as many platforms as possible (including Mac OS X, Windows and the Linux distributions), is a free video game that brings back everything but the roar of the rest of the arcade around you.

Covering a teammate in BZFlag.

Free to download and play, the game mixes simplicity with the customizable game play styles of yesteryear. Where classic multiplayer tank shooters had players log on and then use line of sight/cover techniques to win, BZFlag adds several other dimensions by factoring in jumping abilities as well as random power-ups that can be driven over and equipped. Better terrain can be gained by jumping onto floating platforms or driving through a teleport gate to be repositioned to ledges overlooking the map.

While the standard cannon can kill an opponent with one shot, upgrades can be found at random. A quick-fire cannon reloads instantly, but has an extremely restricted range to contend with. A guided missile can lock onto a target, but reloads slowly. A laser provides both infinite speed and firing range, but will need to cool down between shots.

It's the limitations that help make a game fun and BZFlag offers a terrific balance between what can and can't be done at the player's whim. For starters, the tank's cannon, which can traditionally be moved independently, stays static. The player will have to move the body of the tank to dodge, weave and line up the perfect shot. And despite video game tradition, there is no ultimate weapon to be had. Some weapons will be better in given situations, but each has its drawbacks to be considered.

Randomization also helps add an element of fun to the game and the power-ups are excellent examples of this. A given power-up may allow a player to increase their tank's speed or enable him to drive through solid objects while others may make you color-blind (and thus unable to differentiate an ally from an opponent) or slower. Supposed aids become a grab bag and it's luck of the draw at this point. In the end, it boils down to which player can use the available tank, power-ups they've gathered and information provided by the radar to survive and help their team as well as themselves.

Sometimes things can go better in multiplayer combat....

For everyone who wanted the tank classic Spectre back in a cooler, more variable form, their wishes have been answered. BZFlag demonstrates how cool a freeware game can be. Quick, responsive, stable and ready to go right after installation, the development team has done an amazing job to provide a fun game on as many platforms as possible. Perfect for either a quick five minutes of game play or an entire evening, this has become a welcome addition to the icons on my Dock and one of the best titles I've found this year.

BZFlag is a 36.4 megabyte download and requires 104.8 megabytes of hard drive space once decompressed. The game requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later to run.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,


Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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