Before Activision took them over and relegated the talented development house to their yearly Call of Duty cash cow, Raven Software were quite the name in first person shooters. Hexen and Heretic were second only to Doom at the time, but their first title to clone id's game-changing FPS came in 1994. Rather aptly, it was called CyClones...
If you're only familiar with the still popular Hexen franchise, you wouldn't think Raven Software were ones to innovate. While still being a quality title, few could argue that franchise's existence was anything other than Doom with demons and dark mages. It innovated little and instead imitated the similar level structure and control mechanics almost verbatim. You can't say this about CyClones, their first stab at pseudo-3D gunplay.
In an earlier review, I stated that The Terminator: Future Shock was the first to use a mouse and keyboard combo to control your over-powered killing machine. While it was the first to program it as we know it now, CyClones was actually the first albeit in a very different way. Movement is controlled entirely with the number pad which includes the welcome addition of strafing - one of the earliest such games to include it. You can look up or down but unlike later entries into the genre, it's mapped to the keyboard controls (* and - by default). The mouse is entirely used to aim. The cursor becomes a crosshair during gameplay which demands precision shooting to down your enemies. Selecting a different weapon is also be done with the mouse by moving your crosshair over the weapon icon on the Heads Up Display. It's a slow and cumbersome method to do this, but thankfully each weapon is also assigned to the F keys.
There are 9 different weapons in total and all but your mits have a limited supply of ammo. They drain pretty quickly as enemies do take a couple of hits to go down, and the required precision aiming will no doubt cause a few bullets missing its target. Ammo along with weapons, keys and other power-ups are not obtained in the tradition way by walking over them. Instead they're collected with a simple right mouse click. As a result, most items are found at eye level on shelves or tables. This method is also used to open doors but locked ones will not automatically recognise if you've collected the right key. Instead, you have to got into a menu located to the left of the weapon icon and select that key first. There appears to be no keyboard shortcut for this but it doesn't detract from the gameplay as much as changing a weapon in this way.
As a result of all this mouse gymnastics, the gameplay is a little slower than its contemporaries by necessity. Some missions even require stealth and task you with not killing anything. Quite something for the time. Unfortunately, the relatively green experience of Raven's development team is apparent here. These levels are some of the worst designed in the entire game, along with a annoying penchant for large maze-like environments. The more bombastic levels by contrast try to capture the visceral adrenaline of Doom but the control scheme doesn't really suit the twitch gameplay that modern setups do. While there's no doubt I had some fun playing the game, I can't say that I ever got used to the controls. You can re-map the keyboard, but I don't think I ever managed to find a setup I could truly get to grips with.
The graphics look great for time, with a lot of colour and a presentation that makes full use of the burgeoning CD format. The earlier levels don't look as good as the later ones as someone made the bad decision to set it at night. Why is it bad? Well, to simulate the twilight hours, the developers decided to drastically reduce the draw distance making most of the screen black until you stumble into a wall a few feet in front of you. Later levels, especially those focussed on interiors, will fix this issue but it doesn't make for a very good first impression.
There's a pretty awesome intro movie that would've blown my 10-year-old mind had I played it back then. It's a pity that the story surrounding it is a little thin to put it mildly. Aliens have taken over the planet and have turned men into a Cybernetic Clone army or CyClones (get it?). While one man was being turned, he escapes and decides to overthrow those evil invaders. Replace men with woodland creatures and aliens with Dr. Robotnik and it's basically the same story as Sonic. Only a little more cyberpunk.
The reviews were pretty negative at the time of its release, but I found it to be unwarranted for the most part. Sure, the controls are a little iffy and goddamn those mazes, but CyClones at least tried to innovate in the genre and be something different. Had the developers decided to change tactics and created a slower paced game to suit the control scheme instead of aiming for a piece of the Doom pie, it might have fared better at retail. Instead we have a hidden gem that is not perfect, but still a lot of fun.
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 and Quick Reference Card included. Tested on Windows 10.
CyClones is © Raven Software
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me