Review by ClessAlvein05

"It's freeware now! Download it and get a DOS shell!"

In 1991, Apogee borrowed the Commander Keen 4-6 engine from id, and spent 2 years getting a very strong game out of it, just before the graphics and sounds became completely obsolete. But instead of it starring a kid who never sees any blood when he shoots or squishes enemies and simply falls off the screen when he takes a hit, you've now got CIA op Snake Logan searching for Master Cain and blowing lots of already-gross aliens to smithereens with lasers, grenades and machine guns. It's pretty amazing that this is the first review or message board post for a game this good, and this rare game is perhaps only particularly known for "borrowing the Keen engine"--a game which, as just contrasted, it otherwise holds little in common with--and being renamed from Bio Hazard.

Gameplay--It's fun to save hostages and talk with them about the mission--you even get to save Commander Keen himself. You have red crystals to get extra lives from the same way Mario always got coins or Keen got droplets. You have medkits, lots of rapid-fire and explosive weaponry, and have to find keys, hit switches, and deactivate forcefields. In terms of difficulty, the gradations are reasonable: Easy really is pretty straightforward, medium is average, and hard, where you only get two hits and the enemies swarm a lot, can be pretty brutal to last long in! There are a good deal of reasonably-sized levels with many rooms through doorways to keep you interested, and some secrets--jumping through walls, activating sequences of switches--for the sake of replay value. You can even practice levels for 15 seconds. Snake Logan walks a little slow and doesn't have smoothness in jumping, climbing and pogoing that Keen did, but the controls are good. Only real complains are that some of it isn't too original (get a key...go in the door of that color...get another key of a different color...shoot some enemies) and it is boring to stand around and wait for an elevator to come within jumping distance.

Graphics--Of course they look a little like Commander Keen 4-6, in structure and colors. You even have a computer menu selection screen just like Keen's watch. The similarities don't go that far, though. First of all, while Keen almost always was appropriate for kids, Bio Menace is really pretty gory! You see small spatterings of blood and guts whenever you shoot most enemies, particularly with higher-level weapons. And when you die your skeleton collapses into a heap! You frequently see charred and mutilated corpses. It's all part of the atmosphere they needed. There isn't the tilted 3d effect like in Keen, but not having it doesn't detract much from the game. The 16 EGA colors are used as resourcefully as possible, so it looks better than the majority of NES games and holds its own against some SNES and Genesis games. There are a good variety of environments, from inside labs to forests to demolished city streets.

Sound--For all the praise Bobby Prince gets for Wolfenstein and Doom, he deserves just as much credit for this. He knows how to write slow-paced and fast-paced AdLib songs to fit the mood of the moment, and here he picks just the right instruments to fit biological or robotic environments. The sound effects are also AdLib, which was pretty normal at the time, although some games were starting to use low-quality SoundBlaster more and the SNES and Genesis used a lot of digitized sounds, but they did what they had to. You got plenty of item collection noises, splatters, enemy growls, weapon sounds that fit just right...and when you die, you even hear your bones clatter.

The best thing is that in 2005, Apogee re-released the game as freeware, so now you can legally download the game from their website, at the cost of nothing more than a couple megabytes--really small in today's gaming world. I'd strongly recommend doing so if you like old-school platformers! Just make sure you install the latest DosBox, too.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/23/07

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