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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Smegma Crazies, Gayboys, and The Golden Youth

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On the surface, The Road Warrior is a fine action movie that defined the post-apocalyptic genre and put everyone involved on the map. If we put aside the action and go a little deeper, we start to see some interesting clues about the Humungus tribe. As we already saw with Lord Humungus and especially Fury Road, George Miller loves adding cryptic details into his films. Perhaps the most discussed and yet mysterious of these details revolves around the Humungus tribe’s not-so-subtle homoeroticism.

At the beginning of the film, we see Wez, his companion, and a few mooks engaged in a fast-paced pursuit. When the scene slows down to give Wez his fist close up, the audience immediately notices Wez’s companion, a young man credited as The Golden Youth, wears a black leather bondage harness. What I’ve always found more interesting is the chain and padlock dangling from his neck.

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While Wez is removing the crossbow bolt from his arm, the camera is positioned such that both The Golden Youth and Wez share the frame. In fact, The Golden Youth remains shares the frame throughout the shot, even as the camera pans up to focus on Wez’s twisted expression. George Miller could have done a simple close up of Vernon Wells followed by a reverse reaction shot of Max, but it seems he wanted the viewer to take notice of The Golden Youth, especially since this is the opening scene and the audience’s first encounter with the Humungus tribe.

Early drafts of The Road Warrior suggest The Golden Boy was originally meant to be female, but the writers (Miller, Hayes, and Hannat) wanted to demonstrate that gender roles were meaningless in the post-societal world. This motif comes through with another character who is practically The Golden Youth’s opposite and was originally supposed to be male. The Warrior Woman has agency and character, while The Golden Youth remains silent and submissive until his sudden death.

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Would Wez arm a slave?

Some have suggested The Golden Youth was a sex slave, but I think there’s more to it than that, especially since he can be seen wielding a baseball bat. The Golden Youth’s death adds another layer to Wez’s character, who would otherwise be a mass murderer without motivation. Alarmed at his partner’s death, Wez erupts into a violent rage. The focus of the scene switches from Humungus’ speech to Wez’s outburst. Humungus knows something about the relationship between Wez and The Golden Youth as the bandit king calls Wez’ name while he kneels next the corpse.

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When Wez screams for the murder of Papagallo’s entire tribe, Humungus tries to sooth him, saying “We all lost someone we love.” I believe Lord Humungus’ immediate concern for Wez combined with that additional line provides a little extra insight into the relationship between these characters, particularly since The Golden Youth’s death serves as the motivation for Wez’s unrestrained (and later physically restrained) hatred of Papagallo’s tribe.

The Golden Youth isn’t the only homoerotic aspect of Humungus’ tribe, but it is the most obvious. While Max is eating dog food and watching the warring tribes from the ridge, Humungus can be heard commanding “Smegma Crazies to the left. The gate! Gayboy Berserkers to the gate.”

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Gayboy Berserker

These two lines, barely audible in the movie, provide a little extra context when set against costume design. The Road Warrior’s costume department divided Smegma Crazies and Gayboy Berserkers into two distinct styles. Smegma Crazies wear tan jumpsuits, hides, and masks. Gayboy Berserkers wear police outfits, like Max’s uniform. Other members of the Humungus tribe wear black leather bondage gear.  Additionally, while the main Humungus force drives muscle cars, Smegma Crazies drive carts and Gayboy Berserkers drive looted police cars.

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What does this little detail add to the story? That depends on how you look at it. Some have theorized Smegma Crazies and Gayboy Berserkers are two separate tribes dominated by Lord Humungus. Others say they’re just ranks within the tribe. George Miller is a stickler for little details. The script could have had these characters listed as anything (Wallabeaters, Madboys, etc), but ultimately, we got Gayboys and Smegma Crazies. This tiny detail, combined with Wez’s relationship to The Golden Youth, raises the question as to whether the entire Humungus tribe is homosexual.

I tend to think that, following the post-societal deterioration of gender roles, the Humungus tribe will probably act on any sexual gratification they can get. For example, when Papagallo sends scouts into the wasteland, the couple are immediately captured and raped by the marauders. Similarly, although it may seem that Humungus’ tribe is made entirely of men there’s a handful of female marauders in the background of Humungus’ introduction.

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If there was any doubt, there’s also the infamous “tent scene” where the presence of women in the Humungus Tribe is undeniable. These details might lend some credibility to the theory claiming Gayboys and Smegma Crazies were added to Humungus’ fold after the initial founding. Since gender roles only fell apart after the fall of society and since Gayboys and Smegma Crazies are based on military and police, it stands to reason those tribes would be exclusively male and (as their name implies) homosexual.

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Standard Humungus Marauders

So what about the bondage gear? While it might serve to subtly separate Humungus’ main force from the sub-tribes, it seems to be a product of the costume designer, rather than the writers. As the story goes, costume designer Norma Moriceau got her inspiration for the Humungus Tribe’s costumes by living next to an S&M shop. Because of that anecdote, whether these outfits say anything about the tribe or if they’re just an odd piece of inspiration seems a little ambiguous, especially since Papagallo’s mechanic also wears studded leather. However, because The Road Warrior defined a genre, it led to the rise of fetish clothing and homosexual marauders in the post-apocalyptic setting.

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As I’ve often said, The Road Warrior spawned a slew of b-movies trying a cash in on its success. We recently looked at Warriors of the Wasteland, where the antagonists were an explicitly homosexual tribe of nihilist men bent on ending all human life. This twist on Humungus’ tribe adds an abstract element of decay to idea of post-apocalyptic raiders.

By their nature, raiders only destroy. They are vultures, feeding off the old world without putting anything into it. Once the last can of dog food is gone, once the last settlers are tortured and killed, once the last can of guzzolene used up, they will have nothing left. This specific type of raider, first popularized by The Road Warrior, actively seeks to eliminate any chance of human reconstruction. If, as in the case of Warriors of the Wasteland, these raiders are also incapable of reproduction, they become symbolic of horsemen (or motorcyclists) of the apocalypse, looting and murdering until the entire planet is dead.

Do the Smegma Crazies and Gayboy Berserkers matter? Why include such a small detail? Tell us in the comments!

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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Wasteland Angel: The Mad Max Arcade

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Wasteland Angel is a post-nuclear themed vehicular arcade shooter from indie developers Octane Games. I like to pick up any post-apocalyptic games I can find, especially indie games, just to see how they use the setting. With that in mind, Wasteland Angel is a serviceable top-down arcade shooter, though not an especially great post-apocalyptic arcade shooter.

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Although an arcade shooter, Wasteland Angel boasts a story, told in comic book form, about the titular Angel (essentially a female Mad Max) driving across post-nuclear America to find an old acquaintance. In her quest, she will pass through a number of villages, each of which is being attacked by slavers with either a generic raider, Russian militant, or super mutant theme.

There are six chapters in Wasteland Angel, each of which is split into four levels. The first two levels always consist of slaughtering wave after wave of enemies as they try to abduct settlers from the local village. The third level is a boss battle in which you must “trick” a super vehicle into running over a napalm trail or land mines. The fourth level is a bonus round in first person, either a rampage mission or a race (against time, not AI cars).

Unfortunately, this formula gets old very quickly. There’s just not enough variety, either in enemies or gameplay. Once you’ve played the first two chapters, there’s really no reason to continue unless you want to finish the story.
The first two missions of every chapter are incredibly tedious as you must fight off hundreds of vehicles across 20+ waves. Worse is that there’s little variety in enemies. Even the boss battles are recycled.

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Same boss fight. New coat of paint.

There are three enemies in Wasteland Angel with a different coat of paint for each faction:

  1. Vehicle that only attacks you
  2. Vehicle that either attacks you or collects slaves
  3. Vehicle that only collects slaves

Occasionally, enemies will use your own items against you (some will leave a trail of napalm behind them), but between monotonous waves and little enemy variation, there’s not a lot to see here.

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It’s fun to make enemies SPLAT!

All this isn’t to say that Wasteland Angel isn’t fun. Although fleeting, there is some fun to be had with the vehicular aspect as well as the wasteland motif. Being that you’re in a car, your car makes wide, realistic turns. Guns only point toward the front of the car, meaning that players who adopt naval strategy will find themselves with more health and more time. Interestingly, cars react somewhat realistically to bullets. If bullets only graze your target, no damage is done and the player is treated to a metallic ping.  When a car is satisfyingly destroyed, it will often leave a driver in its place who will either shoot at the player or run away. Bonus points are granted for splattering raiders with your car. There’s great combat feedback and the car controls feel like Mad Max, albeit with more bullets, rockets, and mini-nukes.

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Challenge me! Show me your high score!

                Wasteland Angel’s tone and art style lies somewhere between Mad Max and Fallout. Small details, such as kneecappers, were added to enemy cars to make them look more wastelandish. The bandit character models are surprisingly detailed in a classic Road Warrior style. However, the Fallout art style shines through in the titular Angel, who wears a pink skirt and a pink bow-tie in her hair.  The opening menu and the post-mission score card both take on a 1960s pinup motif, adding to that Fallout feel. Additionally, Wasteland Angel includes super mutant rip-offs for its final act. Unfortunately, because the game chose a middle of the road approach to its art style, it inevitably comes off as generic. There are hundreds of pictures of post-apocalyptic cars on Deviantart, but many of them are drawn in the same style, a style which Wasteland Angel followed as well.

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You only see enemies up close in bonus missions, but they’re surprisingly detailed!

Finally, I’m not sure that the post-nuclear atmosphere was the best choice for this game.
I enjoyed it, but there’s a dissonance between the setting and the action. The post-apocalyptic genre is always about scarcity in one form or another, but Wasteland Angel has the player firing hundreds of bullets per second while facing off against hundreds of enemies in a single battle. Infinite ammo and near infinite enemies don’t really reflect the setting Octane Games has chosen.
This game would have worked better as the story of a sci-fi bounty hunter saving planetary settlers from space pirates. Such a narrative would have better connected with the gameplay and could have improved review scores.

As it stands, Wasteland Angel is fun for maybe an hour. There are some fun aspects with the car controls, bonus missions, and weapons, but they don’t make up for the long and tedious missions or the copy/pasted boss battles. Although I always try to recommend a piece of media to some specific person, I can only recommend Wasteland Angel for 30-45 minutes. It’s forgettable

If you’re interested in Wasteland Angel you can get it here.

 

Through the Fire and the Flames

I’m hurt.

We were on the third day of our journey across the desert valley when suddenly three guys in Halloween costumes burst out of the brush. Two of them were dressed up like devils with cheesy masks and red pajamas. The third guy was huge and wore a chef’s apron that said “kiss the cook”. Normally, I’m not afraid of Halloween costumes, but the devils had pitchforks that were covered in burning tar and the chef had a freaking flamethrower!

Saul Fore and his men opened fire on our attackers, but those devils were fast. They took out one of our guys before I could pull the trigger. The cook unleashed a blast from his flamer. Our little wagon was burned to a crisp. Problem is we were carrying a ton of gunpowder and fresh bullets. The cart exploded, throwing me and Saul Fore off of the road. I thought I was dead. I hurt all over. I couldn’t hear anything. I think I passed out.

When I came to, the first thing I was Saul Fore’s face. The man’s skin looked like charcoal. I couldn’t tell if he was still breathing. Shakily standing up, I found myself face to face with that safari man from the casino, James Gray. At first, he didn’t seem very interested with me; he was too busy removing a flamethrower’s fuel tank. Although I was a little taller than him, the bushman was still pretty intimidating.

Gray pocketed the fuel canister and starting yelling at me with his crazy Australian accent. He told me to grab Saul’s legs and that together we’d carry him up to Abundance. I tried to argue that the old man was dead, but Gray said something about Saul Fore being too valuable to lose. I didn’t have a choice, so I grabbed Saul’s legs and together we set out in the wasteland.

I hope I don’t have to spend too much time with this guy.

-Joe Junkman