Review - Fortress of Dr. Radiaki, The (DOS, 1994)

Ever since Doom was released a year ago its detractors have been saying that it's nothing more than a simple, uninvolving shooter. As the rest of us know, anyone who preaches this rap has never stared a Cyberdemon in the face; nor an imp, for that matter. If you've played Doom, you know it's not exactly light entertainment. It makes you yell. It makes you panic. It gives you The Fear. A quiet Friday night playing mahjong it ain't.

I frequently get home late at night and want something fairly mindless but fun to do with my computer. If I'm in my right mind screen savers don't exactly do the trick, so something a little more interactive is required. Due to its amazingly high adrenaline factor, Doom doesn't quite fit the bill. Sure, I could put it on god mode, but even then it's pretty fraggin' creepy. What I need is something fun, mindless, and nonthreatening. Where can I go? What can I turn to?

The answer, recently provided by FutureVision and Maelstrom, is The Fortress of Dr. Radiaki. Dr. Radiaki is a Doom clone with a difference – it doesn't try to re-invent the wheel. It doesn't try to astound you with a baker's dozen of features that id didn't cram into Doom; instead it comes up to you and says, "Hi. I'm silly. I'm goofy. Take me home. We'll have fun." It doesn't pretend to be Quake. It doesn't even pretend to be serious, which I think is its greatest asset.

The plot/premise/setting for The Fortress of Dr. Radiaki is fairly absurd, in a ridiculous sort of way. You are Special Agent Banner, a man currently in possession of approximately 72% of the world's supply of testosterone. You probably have a really impressive chin as well. However, I digress. You are napping in the belfry of a church one afternoon (presumably a hobby of yours) when an Important Phone Call hastens you to a street corner pay phone. The caller is the United Nations Secretary General. Naturally, he needs your help. It seems an anonymous wacko (two words that go great together) has sent the entire world a ransom note, threatening to "unreash nucrear destluction" if he is not presented with one billion dollars. (I'm wondering what the mailing address on the letter was, but never mind.) The UN has run an investigation on the 100 people capable of creating nuclear warheads, and the only one without an alibi is the Japanese household appliance king Dr. Niko Radiaki. Radiaki owns an island in the Pacific, and high levels of radioactive waste have been detected in its surrounding waters. "Radiaki" and "radiation" start with the same letters. Even the government has made the connection.

Your job, of course, is to kill everything in Radiaki's island complex, destroy his doomsday device, and make the world a safe place for politicians, lawyers, Catholic priests, and go-go dancers. The Secretary General offered to drop you safely on the island from a confiscated alien ship, but being the manly man that you are you've insisted on being shot out of a torpedo tube, naked, armed with nothing but a baseball bat and your series of "I'm Handsome, I'm Special, I'm Somebody" books on tape. Well, nobody ever said you'd pioneer cold fusion.

The Fortress of Dr. Radiaki was originally going to employ Merit's new 3D SVGA engine, offering monsters that don't pixelate at all when you get near them. Since our preview of the game that has changed, but even in plain old VGA the graphics look very nice. The creatures are skillfully rendered, and look very good even in extreme close-up. Some of the animated wall textures are especially striking as well, especially in the upper levels of the game. The sound effects are also of very high quality, with each monster having a couple phrases of digitized (and often, horribly mutilated) speech.

The monsters you'll face are hardly the standard shoot-em-up fare. The most mundane of Radiaki's forces are cigar-puffing Cuban guards (Fidel, is that you?) and shuriken-throwing ninjas. From there you get mutated alligator men, mutated rat men, Russian tank-like robots that cry out "Papa? Papa? Lenin?" when they die, sentry droids which have obviously graduated from the Ahnuld Schvohtzuhneggah School of Impressive Enunciation, a grenade-shooting robot made out of household appliances (yes, the one with a toaster for a head), and a ten foot tall German infant who wants to play with you. Perhaps the funniest thing you'll (almost) slay is the samurai warrior. When on the verge of death they scream out "My shame!" and run themselves through with their swords. I almost fell out of my chair when a boss samurai told me, "My bowels are yours!"

What I like best about Dr. Radiaki is that it absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. It's not meant to be the next word in gaming technology. It was designed to be light entertainment, and on that level it succeeds admirably. Does it measure up to Doom's standards. No, but what does? If you don't treat it as the latest hot poop 3D game on the market you'll probably have a pretty good time. It won't replace Doom on anybody's system, but when you're in the mood for a mindless shooter with more than a moderate dose of goofball humor, Radiaki fits the bill.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser