Alien mythology and conspiracy theories reached mainstream popularity in the 90s thanks to a certain sci-fi TV show. One of the most obscure and overlooked games from this era is this PostLinear developed simulation from 1998 that sees you piloting a Flying Saucer. And it sure does owe a lot to the phenomenon that was The X-Files.
I won't blame you if you've not heard of this hidden gem. Even though PostLinear Entertainment is based in San Francisco, it was only ever officially released in Germany, Poland and Russia. There was a U.S. release planned but no publisher wanted to take the risk. While it's a shame it never got a chance back then, an English-language version was leaked online a decade later which brings it to a previously untapped audience.
Each level takes place in a different location with a number of objectives.
Initially, the game looks very promising. The opening cutscenes are dynamically directed with high-end animation and voice acting. Boon, a U.S. airforce pilot, lives with his girlfriend Emily in an apartment in Nevada which just happens to be where the fabled Area 51 is located. Their charmed life drastically goes south when Emily is abducted by aliens. To get her back, Boon breaks in the Area 51 facility and steals a U.F.O. - as you do - but this act isn't without its consequences. As Boon, your mission to save the love of your life quickly escalates to being the sole defender of an intergalactic war that could threaten life on Earth, and those of the gangly grey aliens you've befriended.
Then the game starts and you're presented with a desert level that's less than inviting. For 1998 release, the graphics are bland and dated even with the 3Dfx enhancements. Ground-based buildings, cars and even enemy ships appear unnaturally small on the horizon which makes aiming without targeting almost impossible (luckily, targeting is a major and necessary feature). They lack detail and are undefined unless they're on top of you. It essentially looks like a first generation PlayStation game. This was the same year as Star Trek: Starfleet Command and X-Com: Interceptor but I guess one can forgive the studio for their low budget independent roots.
The carnage in third person view looks like something form a 50s B-movie
If the graphics didn't put you off, the difficulty will. Right from the off, you're dumped straight in the deep end. Even if you attempt the training mission, there's one hell of a learning curve here and the culprit is the controls. Like most other action flight sims, the gameplay is mainly about dogfighting with the occasional destruction of random buildings. Whether they focus on realism or err on the arcadey side, most flight sims control in a similar way, with movement and momentum being key. Not so here. The high-tech frisbee doesn't act like an F-15 or X-Wing but plays more like a mech or tank. In fact, it's somewhere between the two, with movement being independent of where you're aiming. When you accelerate, you will continue in the same direction no matter where you turn your head. Only with a tap of the Ctrl key will the craft turn on a dime and correct course to the horizon ahead of you. You can stop immediately ('W'), or instantly accelerate to full speed ('Q'), much like how U.F.O. sightings are described as by abductees. This can be very disorienting for newcomers to the game, even if you're somewhat adept to other flight sims.
You can inspect almost any building (left), but if
something interesting is found inside, beam it up (right)
Once you spend the time get the hang of it though, it is remarkably satisfying. You won't be performing special maneuvres as if you were piloting the Millennium Falcon, but you will zip around the fairly large levels like an extraterrestrial pro. To add to the complexity, many levels need you to play with the various targeting systems and scanning ability. Pressing 'U' will target the nearest threat automatically while 'G' will target what you're directly looking. I mostly kept the 'U' on until all annoying enemies were dispatched before using 'G' to go after buildings. Most buildings can be scanned by holding 'I', though you'll need to target them first and be within 1000 metres. What's more entertaining is the fact that you can abduct whatever's inside them too (the 'O' key). You can beam up weapon items, a captive E.T. and even some trailer park yokels, though the latter has no real bearing on the actual game. It's incredibly difficult to do when you're swarmed with enemy jets but you will get a fair amount of downtime between waves to grab 'em.
There's also some thought put into the missions too. While you may want to destroy every breakable object in the entire playfield, you'll quickly learn in the very first level that doing so will cause a game over. One of the mandatory objectives is to find some data in one of the buildings, but if you destroy said structure before you're able, the game will abruptly end. Seemingly at random if you're not clued in. There are several levels containing such an objective, but most are simply about destroying things, sometimes with a specific weapon like a bomb.
View the inner-most thoughts of abducted major characters in the Abduction View Screen (left)
while info on various story elements can be unlocked in the Data Browser (right)
There are 16 levels in total spanning the globe as well as the solar system. A lot take on the iconography from the pages of Fortean Times whether it be stone henges in England, the frozen tundra of the Antarctic to Aztec pyramids in Guatemala. Just don't expect even a sliver of geographical accuracy though. Once you venture into space, you can travel to the dark side of the moon or battle among the rings of Saturn. The visual variety is nice enough, despite the lack of graphical fidelity, but for someone who grew up fascinated with the lore of little green men, it's these nods to the real world stories that truly draw you in.
If you can get past all that rides against it, what's left is a surprisingly entertaining and very unique space sim. Many games have cast you at the helm of an alien spacecraft - some even in the classic saucer shape - but few that I've played have taken this realistic if speculative approach. The complexity can alienate newcomers but can become almost second nature once you get the logic behind it. A hidden gem and well worth a playthrough.
To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses PCem running Windows '95. Press Ctrl-Alt-PgDown to toggle fullscreen. Press Ctrl-End or middle mouse button to release the mouse. Text manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting PCem. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Close the program only when it is safe to do so.
File Size: 621 Mb. Install Size: 963 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Flying Saucer is © Software 2000 / PostLinear Entertainment
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me