Organism is one of the latest blockbuster Commodore 64 games, released by Psytronik Software, which sees you play the role of a crew member traveling through space on a military grade transport container on 6-month journey to a military station located on the Outer Rim.
Only a few weeks out from the mission’s destination, you are the first crew member to awake from hyper-sleep and report in to Mr. Black (your employer) back on Earth that all looks fine aboard. However, as the rest of the crew wake from their deep slumber and start going about their work, the ship’s artificial intelligence system reports an alien breach on board. You rush to your terminal to notify Mr. Black of the latest developments, and he orders you to abort the mission and destroy all evidence linking the container to his Company.
Wearing your UV suit and armed with a blaster, you set out to explore the ship’s decks, collecting all evidence left of the vanquished crew members and downloading critical mission data from all the computer terminals on board before you can set off a self-destruct sequence and use the escape pod to secure your safety.
The container ship is made up of 26 different decks (labelled A to Z) and moving from one deck to another is done so via the ships elevator system. Rooms and corridors within the ship are quite similar from one deck to another, with the colour scheme being the main point of differentiation. Some sections within the ship are locked down and will require pass keys to be collected in order to be able to proceed beyond them.
To help you locate the various items required for your mission, your suit contains a location scanner that guides you in the general direction of any collectible items on the current deck you are on.
As you commence your mission, you immediately realise that alien organisms have spread all throughout the ship. You initially come across crawling aliens that are quite easy to dispose, but as you make your way down to the mid-level decks, you encounter two legged aliens that have greater mobility, making them more difficult to pin down and eliminate.
The process of collecting crew members is done by finding either their ID tags on the floor or by going up to sleeping hubs on board to awaken the infected crew member so that you can eliminate them with your blaster before they infect you.
After playing Organism for about 10 minutes, you begin to sense that the game is going to struggle to keep the players attention as the initial three alien types you’ve come across are the only enemy types that you are going to have to deal with within throughout the game. Making your way down deep to the lower levels, the only variation you will find with alien organisms is their colour or that they move around quicker but very little else.
Shooting aliens loses its novelty very quickly when each alien requires multiple shots to kill. Upgrades to your blaster can be found in the mid to lower levels of the ship but these enhancements simply increase the rate of fire rather than increasing than having bullets do extra damage that might allow one shot kills.
Frustratingly, aliens found within the main corridors of each deck will re-spawn each time you have to revisit the area. I suspect that this is done to make Organism more challenging but for me, all it did was make me focus on dodging and out running the aliens rather than putting in the effort (and risk) to shoot them as there was no reward in doing so.
Collecting data disks left across the ship and using them on the terminals will invoke a puzzle game that requires you to connect the same colour points without any of the lines intersecting with one another. Solve the puzzle and you get to dump the sensitive data off the terminal and onto the data disks. These engaging mini-games do a good job in breaking up the monotony of having to deal with the same aliens repeatedly.
Organism features high resolution graphics with limited palette of colours on display on any one one screen, which is sure to draw comparisons with ZX Spectrum games, but I thought the graphical style, along with the semi-isometric viewpoint is effective in providing a C64 game that looks refreshingly different and distinct. The main character is large and very well defined, moving about the ship quite freely. The various rooms and corridors of the ship are drawn out with subtle nuances and detail. However, the two-legged alien organisms are only represented in solid colour silhouettes, which feels like a bit of a let-down for characters that are a significant element of the game.
The Alien inspired soundtrack that plays right across the game is the star of Organism. The backing tune is atmospheric, dramatic and very effective in conveying the dangers your crew member is faced with. Despite the main tune playing repeatedly, you never get tired of it and helps drive game play forward as you explore similar looking rooms and corridors. Unfortunately, the gun blaster sound effects are puny and sound ineffective.
Once you have collected all evidence of crew members and sensitive data your overall mission is almost complete. Before you can head off to the escape pod, you need to head off to a room on Deck X, that was previously inaccessible , and engage in a long drawn out shootout with the ‘boss’ alien organism. The boss alien is huge but it has a somewhat benign and predictable attack pattern that can be overcome without too much fuss.
Organism’s high production values go a long way to make it a stand out game. The introduction screen and heart thumping music draws you in and starts the game out on such a high but Organism is not able to sustain this level of engagement. The shooter element of the game is repetitive and unrewarding. Only those that love puzzle and exploration games (like me) will be able to see the game through to the end.
Despite the misgivings of the action elements of the game, Organism is a game that deserves your attention. It is a game that all C64 fans should experience at least once so that they can appreciate the atmospheric qualities it provides. Organism is not a Game of the Year contender but it is a game that you need to try out.