Desert Law: School Bus Mounted Howitzer

desert-law_w1010.pngMy Steam library is filled with post-apocalyptic games. Generally, I’ll pick up (or at least wishlist) any apocalyptic game I come across. Desert Law has been in my library for about two years. I picked it up on sale, played it for 10 minutes, and then uninstalled it. However, enough time has passed that I thought the game deserved another chance. Unfortunately, the game aged about as well as a bloated corpse in the wasteland sun.

Desert Law’s narrative makes Wasteland Angel look complex by comparison. After the apocalypse, tribes of road warriors kill each other over booze and car parts. What kind of apocalypse is this? We don’t really know. The entire world is a desert and some places are populated by angry sentient zombies napping beneath the sand.
Here’s the story: Generic wastelander Brad wants to woo a girl for mating season, but rival tribes of gangsters and pre-apocalypse military keep mucking up his plans. Brad convinces his tribe to kill everyone in their way until Jane (the love interest) notices him.

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The Postal Dude shoots Gengis Khan

The story is told in comic-book format. Make of the art style what you will. Speech bubbles appear and pages turn automatically. I personally found the speed of these sections to be a little too fast. I wasn’t able to read all the text before the page change. However, considering the prevalence of misused and misspelled words, it’s clear the game doesn’t care about the story and the player shouldn’t either.

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Gameplay revolves around commanding a handful of buggies and armored hotrods with swivel turrets. In an interesting twist, drivers can exit vehicles and continue on foot. Hero units drive standard cars, but grant slight bonuses to different vehicles. Like Starcraft, there are a few infiltrator style missions where you abandon your convoy and explore ruined settlements on foot.

Unfortunately, Desert Law is difficult for all the wrong reasons. A great source of difficulty comes from bugged pathfinding. Without micro-management, units will drive directly into scenery. Exciting chases are impossible because cars regularly bump into each other. Destroyed units act as physical barriers. Although the monster-truck unit can smash through concrete walls and small buildings, it cannot drive over destroyed cars. This makes defense missions incredibly difficult as your army is quickly boxed in.

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See the one car facing the opposite direction? The pathfinding made it crash into friendly units.

Units disobey orders and tend to chase enemies, making command options (stand ground, ambush, etc) completely useless. There’s no UI feedback to indicate you’ve given a unit orders. On multiple occasions, I’ve set up a defense line around a stationary turret. Despite being set to “stand ground” my weakest unit rushed into the fray before enemies entered the turret’s range. Even worse, this was a hero unit.

The game enters a fail state whenever a hero is killed. This wouldn’t be a problem in most RTS games, but in Desert Law hero units make up the majority of your army. Take, for example, the first real mission of the game. You start the quest with five units, three of them are heroes. As you progress through the quest, you’ll pick up another three heroes. You have a total army size of eight, but only two of your units are permitted to die during the quest. In most RTS games, hero units are exceptionally powerful, giving them enhanced survivability. In Desert Law heroes grant slight bonuses to standard vehicles. All these problems are only exacerbated by generally squishy units.

Enemies are comparable to player units, but are far more numerous. Units can be repaired by the mechanic hero, but there’s a catch. First, the mechanic doesn’t appear in every mission. Second, reflecting the post-apocalyptic setting, every unit has a set amount of ammo per level. The mechanic has no guns, but uses ammo by repairing vehicles.

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See the tiny health bar under the monster truck? That’s a foot soldier.

Just to recap, Desert Law is a strategy game where you instantly fail if any hero unit dies. The majority of your army is comprised of heroes who are only slightly better than standard units. You’re outnumbered 5:1 by enemies who are just as powerful as you. You can repair your vehicles, but can only make 3-4 repairs per mission. The game has no base building, but reinforcements occasionally appear after completing objectives.

There’s not a lot to say about Desert Law. It’s a single player blitzkrieg-style strategy game with an irrelevant story, no voice acting, and poor optimization.  Fortunately, the game is only $2.99, frequently goes on sale, and includes 29 missions. If you’re looking for a cheap distraction or compulsively buy post-apocalyptic games, give it a look.

If you’re interested in Desert Law, you can get it here

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Cult Classics: Warriors of the Wasteland

Following the success of Mad Max 2 was a handful of post-apocalyptic B-movies. Among those was The New Barbarians (aka Warriors of the Wasteland), a dirt-cheap Italian knock off. Despite a slow start, this movie actually isn’t terrible, it just has low production values. However, I noticed a lot of similarities between this film and She Wolves of the Wasteland. Both have alternate titles. Both have promising, but underdeveloped plots and concepts. Both suffer from poor editing and a lack of closure. For that reason, let’s use a similar four points system as She Wolves, with one exception.

  1. The Plot
  2. Interesting concepts
  3. Editing
  4. Characters

The Plot: The year is 2019. It has been 9 years since the nuclear holocaust of 2010 (Thanks, Obama). The film begins by focusing on a small caravan who has just discovered “The Signal” a mythological radio frequency which supposedly leads to the last civilization on Earth. Unfortunately, before the tribe can decipher the coordinates, they’re attacked by a rival tribe of motorized marauders called “The Templars” whose only goal is to destroy all human life because reasons.

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The Templars crush their enemies with a mixture of explosives and laser guns. That night, timid humans wrapped up in white cloth (with a strong resemblance to Mad Max buzzards) loot the destroyed caravan. They run for cover when a muscle car (with a glowing green roof) appears form the darkness. Now we meet our hero, Scorpion.

Buzzards

After looting the scene and killing the buzzards, Scorpion meets with his friendly wasteland mechanic, a 10-year-old boy. With his car repaired, Scorpion drives off to save a van under attack by the Templars. The only survivor of the attack is a woman who Scorpion saves in the nick of time. Scorpion confronts Templar lieutenants, revealing he is an ex-Templar and wants to send a message to the Templar leader, One.

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Scorpion’s car has a neat chrome skull hood ornament, but that bubble dome is way too much.

Scorpion drives off with the woman, attempts to bandage her wound, and then immediately has sex with her. Meanwhile the Templar lieutenants plan to ambush Scorpion against One’s wishes. The ambush turns into a counter attack when Scorpion’s best frenemy Nadir fires on the Templars with exploding arrows.

End

 

Scorpion, the woman, and Nadir then travel to a caravan of peaceful religious people who have also found “The Signal.” The woman decides to stay with the caravan, while Scorpion drives off only to be immediately captured and anally raped by One. The Templars attack the caravan as well, killing the entire tribe almost immediately. Meanwhile, Nadir rescues Scorpion and trains him alongside the child mechanic. Finally, the three return to the religious caravan, rescue the survivors just before their executions, and defeat the Templars.

Interesting Concepts: Although Warriors of the Wasteland uses more sci-fi elements than Mad Max, there are only two truly interesting concepts in this film.

Radio

The Signal is a great idea. A legendary radio signal that will lead those who find it to the last civilization on Earth. To complete the motif, the leader of tribe looking for the promised land is named Moses. The true nature of The Signal is left ambiguous. Both tribes who discover The Signal are immediately attacked by the Templars. However, even the Templar lieutenants believe The Signal to be real.
Apparently, the source of The Signal is only 10 miles from Moses’ camp, but we never learn what happens to it. At the end of the movie, Moses’ tribe is wiped down to three people. The movie ends with the mechanic child grabbing Scorpion’s hand. The audience never learns if The Signal actually led to the promised land or if there is a last civilization at all.

Warriors of the Wasteland is clearly a Road Warrior knockoff, but it builds on car combat. Cars are armed with drills, flamethrowers, laser cannons, missiles, spinning blades to decapitate pedestrians, and laser cannons. Perhaps one of the best examples of car combat in this movie is when a Templar drills through an armored fan, then uses his flamethrower to burn the target from the inside out. Warrior’s car combat relies more on mechanical weapons while Mad Max (especially Fury Road) relies on projectile (thundersticks) and passive (kneecappers) weapons.

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The fanblade of death!

Editing: Each action scene in Warriors was filmed at three different speeds. Whereas Mad Max has fast paced action scenes where you can feel the wind, the danger, and the tension, Warriors of the Wasteland suffers from slower action. Many of the action scenes are purposely slowed down which destroys any sense of tension. This is especially true in the first battle, just five minutes into the movie, where it feels like the Templars are driving at 15 MPH. Additionally, many of the battle scenes have choppy editing which breaks the narrative flow.

Characters: The characters here are totally hit or miss.  For every interesting person in this movie, there are three with no characterization.

Not-Mad-Max

Scorpion can best be described as Not-Mad-Max. He’s a scavenger who shows up to loot a burning caravan. Other than that, he really has no character, he’s just a nice guy who knows how to fight. The woman sleeps with him because he’s nice to her. The child mechanic helps him because he’s nice. Scorpion even refuses to attack Templars because his real qualm is with One. The result is a boring lead.

Woman

I honestly could not tell you the woman’s name in this movie. Scorpion saves her, sleeps with her, and for the next 45 minutes she patiently waits in his car (even during action scenes) until finally deciding she should follow Moses’ tribe so she can be captured for the finale. Where was she going before Scorpion saved her? Who was she traveling with before they were attacked by Templars? We never find out.

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One is a weird guy. He’s the leader of the Templars, but he only ever fights Scorpion. In the beginning of the movie he rips a bible in half and says “books started this whole apocalypse.”  Maybe Warriors is a sequel to the Fahrenheit 451 movie?
One is a standard bad guy. He kills his own men when they disobey and he whispers to himself before getting into a shouting fit. Whenever a Templar asks him a question, the answer is always some variation of “kill them.” However, there is just a glimmer of extra characterization. During the previously mentioned rape scene, it’s established that all Templars are sodomized by One as an initiation ritual.

Nadir

Nadir should have been the star of this movie. There’s two posters for this movie, one portraying Scorpion, Nadir, the child mechanic, and the woman and another portraying Nadir as white accompanied by the woman. Fred Williamson plays Nadir and uses his natural charisma to create a character who is funny, stern, and perfectly hammy. Williamson’s performance makes the character far more interesting than he actually is. Without the performance, Nadir’s character is a barebones warrior who always appears just in time to save Scorpion from certain doom, which causes Scorpion to resent him.

Although it suffers from slow pacing, Warriors of the Wasteland has some neat ideas. The film takes a few tentative steps toward expanding car combat and it features an interesting religious concept. Unfortunately, the film ends without any real resolution. Once the bad guys are dead, everyone gathers around Scorpion and the movie just ends.

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Cult Classics: She Wolves of the Wasteland

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Following the success of Mad Max 2 was a handful of post-apocalyptic B-movies. Among those was She Wolves of the Wasteland (aka Phoenix the Warrior), a movie that killed the careers of nearly everyone in it. From its horrific editing and pacing to the terrible acting, She Wolves maintains an unsteady balance between boring and hilarious. For this discussion, we’re going to break the movie down into 4 parts.

  1. The Plot
  2. Interesting concepts
  3. The Editing
  4. Closure

 The Plot: She Wolves has a great premise, but suffers from an awful script, hilarious acting, and poor execution. The opening narration describes “bacteriological wars” (though there’s a big Geiger counter scene, so maybe a nuclear war too) that killed all the men on Earth and left only a handful of women. Of the original survivors, one called Reverend Mother uses “dark powers” to breed a new race of super women. When I heard this, I immediately thought of a cross between The Master from Fallout and Immortan Joe from Fury Road. Unfortunately, though there are some similarities throughout, the plot goes off in an entirely different direction.

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The Road Warrior, without the flair

The story arc itself is pretty poor. The movie begins with a buggy chase through the desert, where a lone woman is being pursued by bounty hunters. After being captured, it is revealed that the woman is a breeder who escaped from captivity (another similarity to Fury Road) and stole Reverend Mother’s genetic seed. The seed was destroyed during the car chase. As punishment, Reverend Mother uses her psychic powers to drain the breeder’s life force, then explains that she’s dying and must to consume a man to survive.

The focus switches to the bounty hunters looking for a woman (Keela) in a village. Just as they find their target, a woman in a bikini (Phoenix) appears and murders a handful of the bounty hunters. Keela reveals that she is a breeder and is pregnant with a male child, prompting Phoenix to lead her to a safe place. The two women wander through the wasteland until they arrive at an oasis full of naked Amazonians dancing under waterfalls.

Cut 9 months ahead and Keela is giving birth to a male child. At the same time, the bounty hunters have finally found the oasis and launch an attack, killing all the naked women and forcing Keela and Phoenix to escape into the wasteland.

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Despite being the main mcguffin, the kid is just there.

Cut 5 years ahead and Keela’s child has grown into a ninja star throwing toddler. However, Phoenix is worried that the Reverend Mother will eventually find them and briefly explains that she wants to escape out into the ocean and find an island. With bounty hunters still on their trail, the two set off and stumble upon the last man on earth, a guy named Guy.

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A great way to introduce the character

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But an underwhelming reveal

Unfortunately, the bounty hunters catch up with our heroes again. Phoenix is captured and placed in a gladiatorial arena. After killing all the other slaves, Phoenix is freed by Guy and Keela. The three steal a car and drive out into a legendary area known as “the badlands.” The badlands is actually a graveyard full of broken TVs, mummified bodies, and La-Z-Boys. The mummified bodies are revealed to be mutants who were waiting to trap our heroes and turn them over to the bounty hunters. Guy and the child are captured and sent to Reverend Mother. Looking to save their friends, Keela and Phoenix escape and travel all the way back to the village for a final showdown, where possibly the last human village on the planet is reduced to rubble.

Interesting Concepts: One of the reasons I think She Wolves is worth talking about is that although they are poorly executed, the film does have some interesting concepts. The movie takes a lot of inspiration from other post-apocalyptic movies, but it gives them a twist to make them feel fresh. The clearest source of inspiration comes from A Boy and His Dog, though the roles have been reversed. Instead of men looking for women, She Wolves has women who have learned to survive and even thrive without men.

Reverend Mother’s plan would have been interesting if the movie had put some more emphasis on what exactly it was. The movie focuses on the bounty hunters tracking down Keela and her son, but there was potential there for something more interesting. If the bounty hunters had been mutant super-women with incredible strength or hideous deformed monsters, the audience would have a feeling for the stakes of the situation and understand why Keela’s child cannot become another breeder. Instead, the movie (like Fury Road) is one long chase scene to capture the breeder and her child.

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The Reverend Mother herself is also a pretty interesting idea and has some great makeup (for the budget). She’s a hideous deformed psychic in a wheelchair fitted out with life supporting cybernetics.She lives in a bomb shelter underneath the only town in the wasteland. It is later revealed that after the war, she was the last person on the planet and that everyone in the movie is actually one of her children or grandchildren. Although improbable, this was a great line to throw in and is somewhat foreshadowed by the Reverend Mother’s name; though it does mean that the movie technically contains incest.

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The sound effects and tone of this scene were excellent!

My favorite part of the movie was the TV cult. One of the hallmarks of post-apocalyptic fiction today is social commentary, usually in the form of a tribe immortalizing some trivial aspect of modern society. Fallout has been doing this for years. She Wolves’ TV cult was just plain fun. A graveyard full of corpses forever staring at broken TVs, cathode tubes used as jewelry, trespassers made into TV antennae’s, and best of all using an old decaying TV Guide as a holy book. I honestly wish this had been a bigger part of the story.

Editing: The acting in She Wolves ensured that this movie would be a disaster, but the editing made a few scenes downright confusing. Characters are frequently cut off before they finish speaking, a few lines are done in ADR, and the same grunt and gun fire sound effects are reused to no end. Worst of all though is the time lapses. She Wolves takes place over nearly six years, but there’s no transition between Keela revealing she’s pregnant and actually giving birth. There’s no transition between escaping the Amazonian camp and a toddler throwing a ninja star. Admittedly, there are a few nice pieces of cinematography in this movie, but they ultimately fall short because of the horrific editing.

Closure: The ending of this movie deserves its own section. The movie builds up to the big confrontation between Phoenix and Reverend Mother, then nothing happens. The movie ends without explanation. Guy, the last man on earth, is captured and sent back to the breeding tanks, never to be heard from again. The only town in the wasteland was blown apart. The Reverend Mother had the child that would give her unlimited power, but she put him in a cage and laughed at him, rather than consumed him. Keela defeats Reverend Mother by disabling her life support system and the movie just ends. There’s no closure. The movie cuts from Reverend Mother’s corpse to Phoenix riding a horse. There isn’t even a closing narration.

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            She Wolves of the Wasteland is a bad movie, but it’s the kind of bad that makes you want to keep watching. The concepts are fun, the action is OK, and the acting is hilariously bad. The movie feels unfinished though. Given a bigger budget, some good actors, a better script, and a decent editor, I believe this movie could have been on par with A Boy and His Dog. As it stands, She Wolves is a complete disaster that should only be watched if you’re a fan of bad movies.