There's a lot of story in the techno-futurist world of Angel Devoid, most of which is detailed in the game's manual. The entire booklet is written as a narrative piece that briefly sneaks in important game mechanics within its 40-plus pages of text (clue: choice details are at the end of each chapter). It may be impractical as a reference for how to play the game, but the descriptive detail on display is commendably immersive if a little cheesy. It contains some choice dialogue like "My name's Hard. Jake Hard." and "I went into his office for something. A donut, a girlie magazine, a couple of spare clips. You know... cop stuff." How can you not love it?
The year is 3032 and the polar ice caps have completely melted causing the reduced landmass to come at a premium. The population of Earth, now called Terra, has reached critical mass and work is underway to terraform Mars for colonisation. Despite all of this, billions are dying from disease, poverty and violent crime. One of these criminals is Angel Devoid, an unpredictable ex-military terrorist who not only killed the chief of police live of TV a few years ago but also blew up the mayor during the game's intro sequence.
Choose your mood before you speak to some people (left)
Taking an ominous key card from a bounty hunter's van (right)
As Jake Hard, a decorated cop on the hunt for Mr Devoid, you were there at the time of this last incident and got badly hurt in the explosion. You awake in a hospital bed where a nurse who's dressed for a less altruistic profession takes off your bandages and recoils in horror. "You're Angel Devoid!" she exclaims. As you glance in the mirror, you're shocked to find that you do indeed share his face thanks to some corrupt facial surgeons working for your arch enemy. Now you have to hunt the bad guy while being hunted as him. Life sucks sometimes.
Gameplay-wise, it alternates between a choice-based interactive movie like Johnny Mneumonic or Dragon's Lair and a more traditional first-person adventure. You won't know where each begins and ends meaning that there are a lot of unforeseen deaths around every corner. For example, after the opening movie, you stand alone in the hospital ward. Do nothing, and a guard will come in and shoot you. Turn right, and a guard will come in and shoot you. Turn left and you'll get dressed and jump out the window that must've been made of sugar glass to make your escape.
The result of such trial-and-error gameplay is that you'll be required to break the flow of the game and save every time you come to a standstill. When simply turning right can end your game, you're gonna want to pay attention to it. The rest of the game is a little more straightforward; pick up items (mostly cards and data chips), use them, talk to people without pissing them off...
The 'Menu' icons, save, load and quit (left)
Highlight an item, then click on something/someone to use it (right)
That last trick takes a specific mindset. One of three in fact. A number of the characters can be approached as either angry, neutral or pleasant. Either the conversation will pause for a brief moment for you to choose the icon at the bottom of the screen or you'll need to select it as the walking animation plays as you approach them. You yourself are silent, but the response will differ whether you act the devil, play the angel or just be human. Take the surly barmaid you'll meet early on in the game. She has an obvious history with Angel and will shoot you dead if you talk to her in the wrong way. Hell, she'll even try to poison you with a comically bubbling cocktail, that's how much she hates you. Dealing with her is a trial-and-error puzzle in itself.
Beyond these occasional personality traits that appear automatically, the bar at the bottom hides other actions in a rather convoluted way. 'Menu' reveals the Save, Load and Quit icons into the black space in the middle. 'Option' adds icons for your Inventory (other than the various types of cards, your gun will be most needed) and the character profiles found on the I-Net. To the right of the centre is the 'Mode' button. Press the up and down button to toggle between movement and investigation, though you'll rarely need the latter. It's mostly used to get info for some of your collected items and barely required in the game world.
The I-Net encyclopedia page on Angel Devoid (left)
Looking at your stolen Neo City subway card (right)
Lastly, there's your PDA on the right-hand side, just above the red bar that displays your health (though I don't know why they include it considering the abundance of instadeaths). Your Personal Digital Assistance is programmed into your brain and acts as the narrator and info-giver. The icon will sometimes flash if she has something to say, but most of the time it's unimportant sarcasm. Her goody-goody comments when acting inappropriately in the seedy Casino are somewhat humorous, with a slight hint jealously that's never fully explored.
Arriving on 4 CDs, Angel Devoid is crammed full of video. Taking place in a Blade-Runner style dystopian future, the cinematics and art design are wonderfully conceived too, making for an attractive package at first glance. Digitised actors look like they are part of the computer-generated world in which they inhabit, at least most of the time, which adds to the deep world-building of the story. One ally waits for you under a neon light, its flashing pink glow illuminating the character in the ally. Half-naked strippers are absolved of their lack of modesty with a strategically placed ring of glowing light floating around their chest area. For 1996, there wasn't much else that looks like it from an artistic standpoint. Even other FMV games with big-name actors like Ripper didn't feel as tangible as the urban cyberpunk streets of Paradise City and the down-market slums of Neo City. It also helps that the entire game plays out through the eyes of Jake Hard in real-time, with flashbacks being the only break in the otherwise seamless single cut.
Someone's seen Home Alone! (left)
Does that CGI gun show really distract you from the glowing strippers? (right)
There is one major flaw outside of the game itself that should be mentioned. There is a bug in the game towards the beginning of CD 2 where the game will hang forcing you to close DOSBox. From my research, this was an issue in the original release of the patch which included a workaround save from the developers themselves (a duplicate is found in HDD/workaround.zip in case you accidentally overwrite it)! I guess they couldn't fix the issue or didn't have the money/resources to work on it. Angel Devoid was Electric Dreams second and final game, with only a pervy adult title called NeuroDancer prior to this (I guess that nurses uniform and strip-joint make sense now). I guess neither was much of a success for the company to continue.
Despite their obviously cinematic aspirations, like many developers before and after them, Electric Dreams couldn't quite marry the rigid storytelling techniques of filmmaking with the multi-branching mechanics of a videogame. Angel Devoid gives it a bloody good try, though. It has a decent story with stunning visuals marred by less than impressive gameplay. Design tends to be moulded and compromised to accommodate the allure of FMV technology when the reverse should be true if you want to make a good game. If you enter the cyberpunk world of Angel Devoid, go into it with foils of FMV in mind, and you'll likely find a lot to like in a cultish sort of way - cheesy acting and all. Just don't expect a game on par with the lofty likes of Gabriel Knight 2.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses the DOSBox Daum build of DOSBox 0.74 to bring the game to modern systems. Press Ctrl-F4 to cycle through CDs when prompted. Load the workaround save when the Death 7 Bar bug causes the game to hang. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 1.36 Gb. Install Size: 2.07 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Angel Devoid: Face of the Enemy is © Mindscape, Inc
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me