Nostalgia corner: Urban Assault

Showing the floating Resistance Host Station, inhabited by SDU 7
Showing the floating Resistance Host Station, inhabited by SDU 7

Many games have come and gone, and I haven’t actually played anything for about five years now (!), and looking back, I can barely recall most of what I played.

Some names that do stand out though (I’m sure I’m missing atleast one or two big personal time-sinks here), are:

  • Wolfenstein
  • Quake
  • Urban Assault
  • Age of Empires (2)
  • Drake: Uncharted

I was surprised (or perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to find that I wasn’t alone in the specific nostalgia for this game.

Here is a bit of gameplay as an example, though as I looked at it, I found it a bit boring now.

I don’t think it was the mechanics of the game (unique though they felt at the time) that was attractive anyway, but rather (at the risk of being too autobiographically revealing here) the backstory to it.

Update 1: I was able to track down the “Intro movie“, which is … yes, quite un-watchable today — but for some context, this came out in 1999, one year after Dark City, and the year of The Matrix.

It isn’t just the usual post-apocalyptic landscape, with warring “factions” (which feels like elements of Starcraft-like Zerg/Protoss, Star Trek TNG Borg) — the player too is post-human, transformed into a “Synaptic Donor Unit” in order to “play”, giving up their humanity forever.

In return, they get cybernetic command over every deployed piece of military hardware, able to both direct them in the “usual RTS style”, but also enter a given vehicle for a “direct FPS style”.

(Obligatory Wikipedia link for more details on the plot and characters etc)

This isn’t very novel as a general metaphor for gaming — after all, every time you “direct units” in a strategy game, who are you, if not some abstract spirit that controls these people or animals or vehicles or whatever — but it was novel in being so explicit about it.

Within the story of the game, then, you as the player are already “physically dead”, and your outcomes are bleak too: either annihilation at the hands of the enemy, or a victory that preserves the human race (but … leads to you being decommissioned?)

Of course, this backstory is over in a few minutes and the rest of the game can be played and enjoyed in complete ignorance of it too.

Update 2: I found at least one example of fan fiction for it.

Update 3: I also found the text strings used in the game

One gem from it:

“Jan says some hackers are putting together a big war machine. It’s called Synaptic Donor Unit – SDU. Jan says I better lay low at the Arcades, or else Resistance is going to come looking for me.
Weird cookbook they’ve got going: Wire together the computers of the free world, add connectivity to all automated armament plants, then upload one human. Sounds like a dream I’ve been having.”

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