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Some computer gaming styles are timeless, and highly destructive finger pumping shoot-em-ups are no exception. Having proved supremely popular in arcades around the world, this particular genre of games have subsequently dazzled audiences on all the major game formats. Starved of real arcade action in the past, PC gamers now have the opportunity to experience the type of game their system has been crying out for. Advanced development technology has allowed this shoot-em-up to move ever closer to the perfect adrenalin rush gaming experience. Welcome to a new breathtaking white- knuckle-ride of a game.

Welcome to THE REAP - adrenalin in its purest form.
  • Unique to shoot-em-ups. An Artificial Intelligence that reads your progression through the game, modifying possible outcomes to scenarios along the way.
  • Strategy options. Use certain weapons to achieve certain goals. The more you play, the more subtle strategic options become clearer to you.
  • Stunning visual effects. Play in a variety of different themed worlds. These consist of massive 3D modelled levels beautifully crafted with 16 bit rendered graphics. Dynamic features include real time glow, particle smoke effects and real time lens flare. The backgrounds are also modified as you go along. For example, smouldering craters appear in the landscape as a result of explosions.
  • Truly artistic game composition. Unique light sourcing creates a wonderfully ambient background atmosphere highlighted by a phenomenal attention to detail.
  • A choice of up to 8 weapons, numerous add-ons, bonus pick-ups, and a 'body count credit system'.
  • Wave upon wave of weird and wonderful enemy attack patterns coming at you from the ground and air. The huge variety includes Harriers, Helicopters, Futuristic Creations, Motherships, Tanks, Cars, Mobile Enemy Bases and hoards of running foot soldiers, all hell bent on stopping you... dead.
~ from the back of the box

Even though the only other game of theirs I've featured on this site is a classic point-and-click adventure (Alien Incident is a must-play), Finnish studio Housemarque Games are best known for their shoot-em-ups. Thier most recent was the critically acclaimed Returnal which got its PC port earlier this year and there is a number of you out there still singing the praises of the many iterations of Super Stardust. Back in 1997, their hype was focussed on their third ever game; The Reap.

Shoot-em-ups aren't particularly well regarded on home computers. If you wanted your fix, you'd have to head out to the arcade or plug in R-Type into your home console of choice. The PC did have a couple of arcade ports, but they generally played far worse than on any other system. After the success of Super Stardust continued to grow, the company took out all the stops for their third game.

Coming out in the middle of the 90's club culture, the techno stylings of The Reap could easily stand up alongside the uber-cool likes of WipEout or Tempest 2000. The soundtrack is a thumping rave of electronic music by Nicklas Renqvist and Paavo Siljamäki that's well worth a listen. From what I can tell, they each have a storied list of production credits and pop-song remixes for a number of Finnish musical artists creating ditties that wouldn't be out of place in a Ministry of Sound compilation album. In all honesty, the music for The Reap fits right in too.

Choose your mission in the Bounty Hunter Mode (left).
Destroy the target to succeed the mission and unlock more (right).

The graphics also shine. In each of the 10 stages that take place in 4 chapters, the background scrolls in a computer generated FMV. While the resolution is locked at 640x400, it still allows for a level of detail and invention not seen in other shoot-em-ups at the time. Pre-rendered sprites scroll seamlessly on top with some impressive lighting and glare techniques enlivening the screen. It's a testament to the developer's skill that there's little slow down no matter how much chaos flies past. In screenshots, the pixelation is more pronounced making it seemed confused and blurry, but I assure you, in motion it is nothing of the sort.

In a design choice not often taken, The Reap is not a vertical scroller like Capcom's 1943 or Treasure's Ikaruga nor is it a horizontal one like Irem's R-Type or Konami's Gradius. Housemarque employed the little-used isometric viewpoint found in SEGA's Zaxxon or Sammy's Viewpoint. For a game attempting a frantic pace, this is a double edged sword. For one, it can allow the background art to shine making them appear more realistic and tangible with its added illusionary perspective. It also shrinks the play area quite considerably, and when the sprites are as large as they are here it can become almost impossible to dodge everything let alone shoot them. In a word, it's bloody hard.

A destroyed enemy may leave behind a Special Item (left).
You might randomly get 20 seconds of Rapid Fire (right).

When you start a new game, you are at your weakest. You will want to shoot down the first enemies you come across, but don't bother. They take more hits than you have time to shoot them, even with the fastest button mashing you could possibly muster. You will need to slowly build up your attack damage by collecting power-ups which come in four varieties. Some increase your speed, helping you zip across the screen when dodging. Others replenish health, but the ones to look out for are the weapon upgrades.

There are five weapon types available, though the better ones can only be accessed when collecting them in later levels. Each can be upgraded two or three times and when you pick up the upgrade, it will attach itself to the one you're currently in your "loading" space. Icons representing your current weapon and the one in loading are found in the top of the screen, and to save confusion both can be the same. To swap between them, hold Shift or Button 2 on a joypad and tap up or down for the one to shoot or left and right for the one to upgrade. You cannot move your ship in this state, so do it quickly or else you're a sitting duck. Out of all of them, I found the Electric Spline to be the most effective. The fourth power-up you'll come across is a special that randomly gives you a shield or rapid fire for a short time or if you're luck a screen-clearing mega blast. Unlike the others, these are exclusively found by destroying a run of enemies which is no mean feat.

Three of the chapters end in a boss fight. Find specific targets to fell them.
All other stages just end abruptly, including - rather anticlimactically - the final stage.

One of the game's better features is the Bounty Hunter Mode. Unlike Arcade Mode where you play each stage in order, this option tasks you with a number of objectives to choose from. This is mostly destroying targets such as ships or freighter trains within a condensed snippet of the stage, but it provides a focussed objective not usually found in such games. In fact, I prefer this treasure-hunt gameplay over the gruelling survivalism of the Arcade Mode.

While The Reap is a handsome production, it is also a very difficult one. Without cheats, I couldn't get past the first boss and unlike the bigger names in the genre, I cannot see more adept players making it to the end unscathed. Surely, it's close to impossible given the amount they throw at you in the later levels even if a fully upgraded weapon makes things way easier. This lack of a decent difficulty curve is the only stain of an otherwise great offering. It's a title that should be remembered and replayed far more often than it is, at the very least as a historic stepping stone to Housemarque's current legendary status. Highly recommended.

To download the PC game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo and IMG Drive Portable to run on modern systems. A real or virtual CD drive may be required to play. Manual included. Read the ChamberNotes.txt for more detailed information. Tested on Windows 10.
  15.07.2023 - Ver.2 - Fixed speed issue by limiting framerate to 60 FPS.

File Size: 615 Mb.  Install Size: 680 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ


The Reap is © Housemarque Games
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

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  1. I think the PC shooters I remember most fondly are Tyrian and Raptor: Call of the Shadows. I get the impression that they aren't well-regarded by purists of the genre, though, so maybe you're on the money about the platform.

    The choice to go for the Zaxxon-style perspective is a bold one; it makes the game stand out but as you say, aiming and manouvering on an extra axis is an additional complication, and perhaps one too many in a genre that's so typically frantic.

    Thanks for helping to preserve the history of a storied developer!

    1. Two classic games. On the Atari ST, my go to was the Xenon series. Back then I enjoyed the second over the first but as it hasn't aged particularly well I feel the reverse is true now.

    2. I never cared for Raptor to the point that I kind of hate it because its pacing is abysmal, but Tyrian and Tubular Worlds are fantastic games, among my favourites of the genre. Some of the Amiga ports like Project X were also good (Team17 did wonders with weird resolutions) but then you have things like Xenon 2 where they did not put the effort on using any sound card. Things got better with Windows95, mostly because at the time many true arcade ports were starting to appear (like the Raiden games).

      The Reap: always underrated. Makes me remember Fire Fight, that Epic Games feast of mayhem I expect to see here one day :)

  2. I think there might be a problem with the speed, like it's moving faster than it should. I had played the original demo back in the day and everything (enemies, bullets etc) were much slower.

    As a test, I changed the FPSlimit in dgVoodoo.conf from 0 to 60 and the speed felt just right.

    1. That explains the difficulty :P
      Thanks for letting me know. I didn't have this game back in the day so I had little to compare it to. Until I can create an updated Version 2, I've added dgvoodoo.conf with the FPS changes in the download folder.