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PC Game Review: Messiah

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Source: https://alyxxgameroom.blogspot.com/2018/07/pc-game-review-messiah.html




GAME: Messiah

DEVELOPER: Shiny Entertainment

PUBLISHER: Interplay




Warning: There will be SPOILERS in this review.


As far as game developers go, I am kind of sad Shiny Entertainment aren't around anymore. Back when I was young, they made some of the most interesting, impressive and awe-inspiring PC games of all time. After getting their start with Earthworm Jim, the team developed the enormous cult classic MDK which released in 1997 to glowing reviews (and low sales figures). Their games always had a very quirky feel to them and often a dark sense of humor. Today I'm going to take a look at a game that to me embodies everything Shiny Entertainment represented back in those days, before they fell down into the black hole of developing nothing but movie tie-ins. Ladies, gentlemen and everything in between, I present to you: Messiah.


Bob is a working class angel, a cherub, who is given a pretty huge task by his father, the creator. Earth has become a bit of a cesspool as of late and is in need of some cleaning, so he sends Bob down to deal with it. Of course, once you're there, a few issues present.

1. You're a tiny cherub with no means of defending himself.

2. Society seems to be at war with a race of cannibalistic mutants.

3. A dark figure named Father Prime is trying to open a portal to hell.

So things seem to be a bit more challenging than anticipated. But Bob is given a very useful ability. He can possess any living being and use them as a second skin. And that's where Messiah begins and its main gameplay element is introduced.



Messiah is an absolutely gorgeous game and soaked in a late 90's cyberpunk aesthetic. Some of the levels use very nice dynamic lighting.


Messiah is a game that can be rather deceiving. On the surface it might look like a third person shooter, much akin to Shiny's previous game MDK, but the reality is that Messiah is really a puzzle game at heart and approaching it in any other way will make it insanely hard to progress in the game. So the open nature of the game is in of itself deceiving as the puzzles really only have one solution most of the time and it is more than possible to absolutely ruin any progression if you do something wrong, so saving often and having multiple saves is a must in this game. The game will often put you in a hub of rooms where you will need to possess various types of humans to progress, and may have to kill some people or use stealth to achieve your goal. The game never holds your hand, never tells you the solution, it will drop hints in the environment but other than that, this game is truly more a test of your brain than your reflexes and I hesitate to call it an action game because while it has the elements of one, I spent most of my time in this game just trying to figure out how to proceed. In that sense I would more call it an adventure game in the guise of an action game. The game also rather insidiously messes with your expectations of what it might be. It puts you in control of an angel, a baby even who looks rather innocent but requires you to do a lot of horrible things during the game, creating a very strong contrast with its diaper-clad hero and its themes. During the latter part of the game you're even required to infiltrate a night club in a red light district, filled with drug addicts and prostitutes and strippers. The game is definitely not what I would call child friendly, but it does have a lot of things I think more mature gamers would enjoy.



Dance contest time!


Messiah is a game that surprisingly doesn't take itself too seriously. Sure, it creates a gritty dystopian future where people no longer have a sense of selves, but are just workers and cops, but at least it has fun with its setting, puts humor where it is needed and gives the different human types enough personality to stand out. My favourite moment is when Satan is revealed to be the main villain but his broadcast is broken when his imps, who are quite hard to control, start messing with his stuff. Moments like these feel very typical of Shiny's style and the mix of humor and a very dark and bleak setting feels like a continued exploration of similar themes from MDK (which I will get more into whenever I review it).


The gameplay mostly revolves around the main possession mechanic that is pretty much introduced the moment the game begins. You will need to possess various humans with different jobs/roles to access new places, for instance only workers can operate machinery or only commanders can access high security areas. Different human types will also react differently to seeing you depossessed. Cops will shoot at Bob if he's not in disguise and will continue to do so if they see him possessing someone. Scientists, workers and other non-aggressive human types will leave him alone though and mostly just act with curiousity. The game puts a lot of attention to details like these which helps a lot in just making the world feel like it's real and developed. It's not exactly Deus Ex levels which I find a bit disappointing, I would certainly have loved if Messiah had some RPG elements where you could talk to people while possessing certain humans. I feel there's a lot of unexplored potential here, so this game could really benefit from a modern remake in my opinion.



News are boring as usual. Dat ass tho.


Despite the somewhat unexplored potential in the game, the game does feel pretty deep for a game of its time. Like I said it's not exactly Deus Ex levels but compared to Shiny's previous game MDK it's a huge step up and a rather different game in tone from that game. But what it does have in common with MDK is probably the enormous variety in gameplay elements. There are moments where you need to shoot everything in sight, moments where you need to be stealthy, and levels that are so straight forward you're pretty much just looking for the way forward. The game's early levels surprisingly proved the most difficult for me. The latter part of the game is actually fairly easy and straight forward and by then you will be fairly attuned to Bob's abilities and the various human types of the game and their roles in society. Story and hints are usually relayed to you through regular messages given to you when your head is ringing, first presumably from God and then later from Satan.


The game's environments consist almost entirely of urban landscapes, exploring various complexes and buildings set to the backdrop of a dystopian city, with some architecture (possibly intentionally) reminiscent of the buildings we saw in their earlier game MDK. The first part of the game largely explores a major human city where there's a bit of a war going on between the upper class of people and a race of mutated cannibalistic humanoids called Chots. This conflict dominates large parts of the early game but is never revisited once you've beaten Father Prime (which only happens in a cutscene, kinda sad they never developed a full boss fight there...) which leaves it feeling somewhat unresolved.



You haven't played a good game until you've possessed a rat to crawl over a sewage duct filled with human bones and intestines.


It quickly becomes obvious though that a lot of the mutants you meet in the game, ranging from Chots to Behemoths are really just results of Father Prime's experiments, so it makes sense that once you've beaten him, they become less of an issue. Later on it becomes a bit unclear whether Behemoths are considered enemies or allies of the cops in the game, given that you'd usually find them in highly secured areas, typically locked up and if you possess them and walk around, cops will usually just ignore you but they will still fire at you. I guess it could imply that they know something is wrong when a Behemoth is loose but still... it was a bit confusing.


The latter part of the game sends you into a place called Sex City where your goal is to infiltrate a night club called Club Kyd (very likely named after Jesper Kyd who made parts of the game's soundtrack). Somehow from there you make your way into a millitary installation and to the Earth's moon where Satan is waiting for you. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, probably cause it shouldn't, but the absurdity of this happening just kinda feels right in this future dystopian city you're in.



The final boss fight against Satan can be tricky until you figure out the correct strategy. But it's one of the best boss fights I've had in any game given it's, like most things in the game, really just one big puzzle.


Combat in Messiah is actually pretty straight forward, and at times required to progress in the game. The game will use an auto-targeting system where you aim in someone's general direction and a reticle will appear on them to signify you are locked in on them. The targeting also works likewise for enemies and if an enemy is locked in on you, you will see a similar reticle appear on your body to signify where you are being shot from. I noticed some issues getting a lock on enemies that were too far away in some parts, though this is rarely an issue due to the scarcity of the battles. The main challenge comes from how you manage your resources in a level and which of the humans you should get rid of and which you should keep and use given how the different groups will interact and how people will react to seeing you outside a body.



Guess I'm wanted.


The weapons in the game are pretty varied. You'll mostly see the shotgun which seems to be standard issue for most cops, but there's also machine pistols (typically carried by Commanders but also some heavy cops). There's also a flamethrower in there because... why not. One of the more notable weapons later in the game is the Maser, a plasma weapon distinctly designed to combat Behemoths who carry pretty bulky armor, but is practically useless against humans (though it does a good job knocking them down for a few secs). Just like people, the weapons are treated more like tools in this game and the Maser comes into play during a section where you're tasked with getting through a bunch of Behemoths. Using the Maser makes this a very easy task but attempting it without it, even by possessing one of the Behemoths, makes it a suicide mission.


The controls can take a bit of getting used to. I would recommend mapping the game to use a more appropriate WASD setup, just keep in mind that the game might feel a bit weird at first since moving the mouse also moves your character's direction. There is a freelook button but it's not possible to move while holding it, and it's not possible to move around in first person either (unless you're possessing a rat or crawling through a duct) which would've been neat. During platforming sections I noticed that Bob's flying mechanic takes some getting used to as I died a lot not being able to reach other platforms. Keep in mind that in order to fly you have to rapidly tap the jump button, not holding it down or tapping it slowly like I assumed.



Whatcha lookin' at?


Graphically the game looks absolutely amazing for its time. On modern system the legacy support is kind of terrible though and sometimes models will glitch out and warp a bit at certain angles, but the environments are absolutely gorgeous, and the game has a very distinct dystopian cyberpunk atmosphere that is so thick you can slice it. The costumes for the various models also makes it very clear what type of human they are. Cops are dressed in protective gear, radiation workers wear radiation suits, scientists have... scientist apparel, Chots are dressed in body suits with gas masks, workers wear overalls and wield welders and welding goggles and strippers, prostitutes and such are very obviously of that profession. The amount of variety in the game is surprising at times, especially in sex city where there are at least 2-3 unique prostitutes/dancers and you'll sometimes come across female cops and cops with riot shields. I can't really find much to complain about with the graphics, for the time this game was state of the art and as a I recall even shipped with some graphics card at the time.



In some areas, cleaner bots (the clawy thing in front) will swoop around and clean up dead bodies which seems like a great in-universe explanation for freeing up game memory.


The game also has amazing sound. The soundtrack, which was made by Tommy Tallarico Studios, Jesper Kyd and others, is mostly ambience and while in most games I am not a huge fan of this style, here it makes total sense as it builds up the atmosphere in the world you're in and since most of the game is spend just exploring, using your brain and figuring out how to work the world around you, a less intrusive soundtrack is actually welcome. There's also a lot of great voice acting, with Bob seemingly voiced by a toddler (who does a pretty good job) and all of the humans will say little things now and then, often somewhat humorously. During combat there's some heavy industrial metal playing, by the band Fear Factory, which fits those situations as it really gets your adrenaline going. There is an option for disabling Fear Factory's music during combat but I highly suggest leaving it on as it adds a lot of welcome diversity to the game's soundtrack. As a note, it seems the GOG version of the game has some Spanish speech on the included soundtrack which is at times really distracting and pops up seemingly at random. I tried googling this but found no other mention of it so either there is no fix for it or people just don't care. It's not a major issue, and I haven't tested the Steam release for it, but something to be aware of.



I feel... big.


All in all Messiah is a really quirky, really fun, and really REALLY challenging game due to how it constantly catches you off guard. But you'll not likely ever play anything like it again and despite its flaws, I highly recommend playing it at least once. Getting it running on modern systems can be a bit of a hassle but I think it's worth it. It offers a massive world to explore, absolutely unique gameplay both for its time and even today, and if you love other Shiny games like MDK, Sacrifice and Giants: Citizen Kabuto, then you owe it to yourself to play it.



STORY: 8/10



SOUND: 10/10



Game developments at http://nukedprotons.blogspot.com

Check out my music at http://technomancer.bandcamp.com

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