Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands

Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands is a pretty good example of what was wrong with Atari's whole strategy when it came to marketing the Jaguar CD as a piece of hardware that every Jag owner shouldn't be without. That statement shouldn't be used as a reflection of the quality of the title itself though, as it's quite an enjoyable vehicular shooter. No, what I mean is that Unconquered Lands is essentially the exact same game as the cartridge version, albeit with a handful of extra missions and graphical upgrades. So, imagine that it's 1995 and you've just bought a Jag CD unit and you're after a few new games. You've already played Hover Strike and thought it was fairly decent, so you unwittingly purchase Unconquered Lands expecting more of the same with a few upgrades...and end up playing the exact same missions, with the exact same story screens, objectives, pick-ups and environments.

To be fair, you'd probably only have yourself to blame if you'd taken the time to read the blurb on the back of the box and noticed some similarities to the description on the back of the cart version's box (hint: it's exactly the same paragraph), but that's besides the point. Unconquered Lands is, in a nutshell, pretty much the exact same game as the cartridge game. And what I'm trying to say here (and I know I'm failing miserably), is that if you'd bought it thinking you were buying a sequel - which for all intents and purposes is what it is purporting to be - you'd be cheesed off to say the least. But let's pretend you hadn't played the cart-based Hover Strike.

What can you expect from Unconquered Lands? Well, it's a first person shooter which lets the player pilot a heavily armed hovercraft across all manner of alien worlds, blowing shit up. To be fair, you could just click this link and read my previous comments on the cart game. How does this CD incarnation measure up to the previous/other game? Quite well actually. The frame rate issues have all but been eliminated and the pixelation that covered the environments has been replaced with a pseudo anti-aliased texture set. The dynamic lighting is much more noticeable; indeed one of the new levels is virtually pitch black and you must use your weapons' muzzle flash to light up your surroundings...but that just leads me to ask why the developers didn't just add in real-time headlights for your craft. Strange. Further improvements include animated environments (pulsating floors and lava pits) and slightly improved enemy models. A welcome non-aesthetic addition is the inclusion of a new difficulty menu which radically alters the behaviour of the hovercraft, and playing in easy mode virtually eradicates the highly annoying inertia effects that the medium and hard modes pile on in heaps. This is significant because the controls were one of the worst parts of the cart version, as your hovercraft would careen all over the shop bouncing off walls in the worst way imaginable. There are the usual upgrades you'd expect when moving from the cartridge format to a CD - FMV clips and CD-quality sound...but the cutscenes are minimal and the music and effects were pretty decent the first time round anyway.

Unconquered Lands then. It's more of an upgrade than a sequel to Hover Strike and does offer a better experience all round...but there aren't really enough changes to fully warrant it's existence on a system that had so few officially released titles. Quite why Atari didn't put the development team to work on a more worthwhile project is a bit of a mystery to me...but it's a decent shooter in its own right, and one of the cheaper titles available for the peripheral so worth picking up if you see it going for a reasonable price. Don't buy it expecting a massively different game from the original cart version, instead buy it expecting more of the same with a better frame rate. Video comparing the two versions coming soon...

In the meantime, here's a fairly reasonable comment on my views on Unconquered Lands from The Laird of Retro Video Gamer:

"I think you were a bit harsh. Back in the day this was marketed as an upgraded version of the game, not a sequel, so Atari didn't mislead anyone. Remember that this is something that had worked really well for the Mega CD, upgraded versions of cart games. Atari had a load more planned including a CD version of Defender 2000. The most important thing about Hover Strike CD is that is uses the second version of Atari's texture mapping engine that proved it could more than hold it's own against the Saturn and PlayStation, compare this game to Krazy Ivan for example. Such a crying shame that they were never able to exploit it more, Space War 2000 (using the same engine) shows amazing promise."

Cart box guff

CD box guff

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