GRAEME MASON LOOKS BACK AT SSI’S RPG MASTERPIECE FOR THE SEGA MEGADRIVE
While RPGs were far from nonexistent on the Sega Mega Drive, there’s no doubt that fans of the genre would have often glanced enviously at some of the famous games that appeared on the its rival, the Super Nintendo. But for a short period in 1991, Mega Drive owners didn’t care. They had Buck Rogers Countdown To Doomsday, a space-tacular sci-fi RPG from the masters of the genre, SSI, and publisher Electronic Arts.
Countdown To Doomsday is a console version of a Commodore 64, Amiga and PC original. As such, the first-person view is jettisoned and the game's navigation is presented in the same isometric view as close combat. This necessary amendment — due to memory restrictions — actually helps the game become more playable and differentiates it from its forebears, the streamlined gameplay perfectly suited to the Mega Drive game pad.
The player's mission is stark: the evil Russo American Mercantile corporation, AKA RAM, is planning to devastate the Earth with a deadly weapon, the eponymous Doomsday laser. Taking control of up to six fresh New Earth Organisation recruits, the player assigns skills and names to the team before jetting off to NEO's secret base on the moon, Salvation. From here, the mission takes in mysterious spaceships, rocky asteroids, the red planet Mars, Venus and, finally, Mercury.
While lacking the in-depth content that modern RPG fans require, Countdown To Doomsday is an efficient game that only occasionally persuades the player to wander off in pursuit of an experience-boosting side quest. Combat is initially tough, but learning your way around the different weapons and skills is all part of the fun. Lovingly drawn pictures appear every now and then, portraying a dramatic scene, and the elegant pipe-heavy music, a Mega Drive exclusive, serves just as much to lend the whole experience a wonderfully baroque atmosphere.
Despite the tense space battles against retro-themed enemy spacecraft, Buck Rogers Countdown To Doomsday is never likely to win any awards for originality or depth. Yet it remains one of the best RPG experiences on the Mega Drive, and certainly the best sci-fi RPG.