Tuesday, 16 May 2017

DAVID WOLF: SECRET AGENT


Ah, the 80s. Everything was bigger in the 80s. The hair. The fashion. The action movies. Developed by Dynamix and released in the last year of the decade, David Wolf: Secret Agent encapsulates all of those things and more besides.

The game describes itself as an Interactive Movie, which is a bit of a misnomer. There are no 'movie' sections in the game with cut-scenes represented by still photos and text commentary. Sure there's some glorious text dialogue, but not one of them are interactive. And they can go on for some time. The playable part of the game or four rather short 3D levels simulating different set-pieces: hang gliding, sky diving, a car chase and a stealth fighter dog fight. For 1989, each of these are technically impressive but with such little content, the game can easily be completed within half an hour.

Even so, the developers have made sure that you see the end. In a rather unique move, Dynamix chose to implement what they call a "VCR Interface". This is essentially an options menu where you can change the difficulty, sound and video settings, but there's one feature that stands out. You can fast forward or rewind levels, just like a video tape, and go directly to your favourite scene or level. While admirable, it does lessen the impact of the story, not least because you can't get the best ending if you use this. It also takes away any sense of danger or challenge, thus robbing you of any reward when you succeed.

The levels themselves control rather stiffly. The hang glider segment sees you flying over the ocean near a cliff. A number of enemies surround you which you'll need to shoot down to progress. You're plunged right in the middle of battle, with nary a hint of what to do, so naturally I ended up dead. The story continues for some time until you get the game over screen which sees the White House get destroyed. Who knew the fate of the free world relied so heavily on one man? Time to hit fast foward.

Next up is sky diving. The aim here is to safely land on the moving truck to continue the story, but good luck doing so. There's what seems like a minute or two's worth of free falling before this, giving you ample time to ponder the state of Agent Wolf's shoes. I was never quite able to figure out the key to getting it right and to be honest I stopped caring midway through my descent. Perhaps the 3D imagery was enough to hold a player's interest for such a long time back then, but not so much now. Skip!

The car chase segment is by far the most playable. You have three weapons at your disposal; an oil slick, a machine gun and a rocket launcher. Each will take out an enemy at a different position. The oil slick is perfect for cars on your tail. Slam the breaks just after deployment and whoever's chasing you will veer off and crash. Waiting until you reach a turn in the road will have the same effect. The machine gun is useful for enemies directly in front of you, while pesky helicopters can be taken out with a well-placed missile. Juggling the three weapons while trying to stay on the road can be quite fun, though for this level only I'd recommend the higher difficulty. The easiest will have your car steer for you, which removes a key part of the fun. This section kept me playing until I actually beat it.

Lastly there's the stealth fighter. Control-wise it's the most complex of the four simulations, having multiple viewpoints and keys dedicated to thrust. Once you're in the air, you're co-pilot Kelly O'Neal (aka Stereotypical Bond Girl) will often interrupt to give you advice. For example, after a homing missile locks on to you, she tasks you with flying through a hanger to get rid of it. After this, it's standard dogfighting fare. The cut-scenes interject the levels rather seemlessly and, along with the intense action music adds to the tension. Of course the spotty controls also do this, but then what do you expect.

David Wolf: Secret Agent could've been a fun and inventive action adventure. The cut-scenes are joyously cheesy with an attempt at a branching storyline that had potential. Unfortunately the lack of any player agency during these scenes makes them rather redundant. You could be passively watching the still panels scroll by for quite some time until you get to an action scene, only to die in the first few seconds as you scramble to get to the joystick.

Dynamix's first self-published game is ultimately a frustrating experience which ironically is something they were trying to avoid with their VCR concept. In the end, I'd recommend using this feature to just that - skip to the end.


To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual Reference Card and Developer's Note included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 10 Mb.  Install Size: 13 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


David Wolf: Secret Agent is © Dynamix
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

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RoboCop vs Terminator Collection  Heart of China  Lotus Esprit Turbo Trilogy

3 comments:

  1. Stone the craws, haha! In fact, when it comes to the history of video and computer games, there are hardly any product concoctions out there which I, although not neccessarily self played, haven't heard of at least; but oops, you've definitely got me there with your secret agent, Biffman 101!

    So, while hidden in the shadows for so many years, David Wolf is now going to relive his probably most dangerous mission from 1989 once more, throwing the player right into the charmingly cheesy action (along with a quite remarkable game supported Roland MT-32 composition) from a long bygone past.

    Hence, I really wonder what would have become of David Wolf, if his further agent career had been followed during the mid-nineties, at a time when interactive Full-Motion-Video glory still was the topic talk of the day! Back then, a likeable hotshot character based on Greg Scheid's handsome Hollywood looks could have been established with ease, I think.

    Bye for now,
    Thomas

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    Replies
    1. There's probably a reason why you've not hears of this game, Thomas. It was released only in the US and didn't really sell too well. They've also done the 3D action-sim game much better in other titles.

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  2. I agree (almost), Biffman 101. The fact that the (actually) exciting adventures of David Wolf weren't under my radar until your fine presentation finally saw the light of day, is possibly (not probably, I guess) due to the reason of your stated US release only, yes.

    By the way, David Wolf (ha, I like that name!) keeps a slim line in every aspect. For instance, the DOS game itself (after installation) only takes up 1.65 Megabyte of your hard drive space; a size that even back then in 1991 (when a 20 MB HDD was all I had) wouldn't have brought any sweat on my forehead, haha. Unfortunately, the secret agent's graphics fell victim to these drastic small size politics, with a 16 colour EGA mode as your very best option to choose from. But then again - and despite the tiny program code - you'll be able getting access to a cool ROLAND MT-32 sound nonetheless (with the respective drivers embedded into an enhanced Dosbox version), which for me is already worth the download.

    Bye for now,
    Thomas

    ReplyDelete