Sunday, 29 June 2014

Game Review Of the Week: Hired Guns

Hired Guns
Release: 1993
Publisher: Psygnosis
Developer: DMA Design
Designer: Scott Johnston and Steve Hammond
Type: Action RPG
Platform: Amiga, DOS

(insert deep movie trailer voice HERE) 

In a world where internet connections are almost non-existent, First Person shooters are in their infancy and the phrase "Ever-Crack" is still six years away, the guys who brought you Lemmings decide to make a real time multiplayer action RPG game for four players huddled around one small RGB monitor!  

(ok... enough with the voice)
Hired Guns is a four way split screen real time action rpg set in a cyberpunk world.  The gameplay is a combination of the rpg gameplay of games such as Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, melded with the squad based tactical decision making of X-Com.  While the game is theoretically (and we'll get to this in more depth in a moment) playable as a one player experience, it is also possible to have each character be controlled simultaneously by a seperate player.  And the four player variant is where the real fun of the game comes from!

So what's the plot of this unique gameplay experience?  Well your squad of mercenaries in the year 2707 has been hired to go to the planet Graveyard (great name, right?) to rescue some hostages only to be deceived and discover that you are in fact guinea pigs.  Graveyard is a hot bed for genetic engineering experiments and your band of specialized and heavily armed thugs are to test the strength of these new critters. 

So basically the movie Predators but without Danny Trejo (for SHAME!)

There are twelve characters to choose from when making up your four man squad, each with their own specialties, something that will influence strategic decision making.  It is also possible to set up some basic AI for squad mates that are not being independently controlled, so that they follow the lead character (think a 3D version of Cannon Fodder soldiers) but it's  a less than optimal solution.

While the game could be played as a single player experience, it quickly becomes aparent that this option is simply impossible to control once serious action begins.  The limited perspective (no peripheral vision), need to switch weapons and multiple characters makes the game a nightmare experience for a single player.   BUT the game has some pretty well thought out controls that allow four players (two with joysticks and two on the keyboard) to huddle around a single monitor and try to coordinate an assault on Graveyard and make it out alive.  The control sadly isn't always ideal with a one button stick and the creators recognized this even going so far as including instructions on how to rewire a MegaDrive/Genesis controller in the manual so it would function as a two button joypad on the Amiga. 

Once you get four people around a single screen though, all yelling and screaming at one another in a desperate attempt to fullfill the task at hand, it will become an unforgettable gaming experience.

Now sadly the game is not all wonderfullness.  The game world is HUGE (two million square meters) but the memory limitations of the Amiga mean that most areas are just the same handful of textures repeated over and over again, NPCs are limited exclusively to monsters to be killed with almost no animation and the small windows mean that the graphics do suffer a bit.  These design decisions while necessary on the old A500 made the 1-to-1 port to the PC seem like a very old and stilted experience (garnishing some pretty harsh reviews, especially since two joysticks would be all but impossible on pre-USB DOS machines).

Hired Guns is a fast, frantic and unique experience both then and now.  Cooperative strategic play for multiple players is a tough nut to crack that most designers shy away from in favor of the more mindless "kill the other players" options so dominant in FPS gaming today.  A failed attempt to remake Hired Guns in the late 90s using the Unreal engine is sadly testimony to that. 

If you have three friends and you want to see how much fun multiplayer co-op can be, boot up Hired Guns and get ready to yell at the moron that is shooting his own mates in a panic.  


  1. Great Review Karl! Only ever played Hire Guns a few times, but I am definitely going to check it out again.



  2. Excellent post Karl. I've never played this game but now I want to try it out. I wish it would be possible to play it four player over the Internet with an emulator. That would be so cool :-)

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