Still game? Raptor

The original Raptor CD and case

Or to give it its full name, 'Raptor - Call of the Shadows'. But we won't call it that, because even the cover illustration on the box didn't.

But anyway, Raptor! A vertical scrolling shmup from 1994. Let's see if it's still any good.

Then

I can't remember how or why I got hold of a copy of Raptor. I vaguely suspect I might have played a demo from a magazine coverdisc and decided I wanted it. Regardless, I still have the original CD from the mid-nineties, still in its tiny cardboard sleeve (did it even have a proper box? Were games just sold like this back then? I can't remember).

The game is fairly straightforward - you fly slowly upwards through a somewhat industrial landscape, shooting down hordes of enemies. Killed enemies give cash, which you can use to repair and upgrade your plane.

Screenshot of Raptor showing shooting and flying.
It's flippin' hard to take good screenshots of this game without getting completely annihilated. Fraps unfortunately has failed me. Anyway, here are some things doing shooting.

I remember playing it endlessly - the levels and enemies blurred together, nothing mattered except one simple goal; to earn enough credits to buy the best gun. I eventually achieved my aim, then discovered that actually the best gun in the game was the second most expensive, a self targeting minigun. If memory serves it was actually possible to buy two of them - at which point playing the game became simply a matter of dodging bullets while the guns did all the hard work. Simple joys.

Now

The first problem was installing and running the thing. Predictably Windows 10 made a short snort of derision when I clicked on install.bat, so off to DosBox we went. A bit of Googling and some quick learning and I had what seemed to be a perfect version of the game running in a tiny window on my desktop. Hooray!

My first round wasn't too shabby - I made it all the way to the first end of level guardian before dying. To be fair, I spent most of my first go basking in the joy of nostalgia - the graphics! Those angry sound effects! The probably quite good but completely inaudible tinkly background music! The big buildings that explode in sections accompanied by weirdly gloopy noises! It was all there.

Screenshot of Raptor showing shooting and flying.
I feel like I'm talking you through my holiday photos now. "And here's me, getting killed by an end-of-level boss. We all had a good laugh about that afterwards, I can tell you!" Etc.

After a few more attempts I started to get a little better, as the nuances of the game started to creep back. It's actually surprisingly layered. Most of the weapons fire slowly, meaning that you can lead targets across the screen while avoiding their fire. Some of the additional weapons you can buy or find are limited to either air or ground targets, and have to be switched between. Air to air missiles are collectable on the first level, where things are relatively straightforward.

By the third level you should be feeling fairly comfortable, so it drops in air to ground missiles and a new surge of ground based enemies. Suddenly you find yourself dodging enemy fire while frantically switching between air and ground weapons to counter your opponents. It's a small feature but it adds depth.

It was while I was juggling my weapon type, using the CTRL key to fire and the ALT key to switch, that I discovered Windows 10's monitor inverting feature. Wasn't that helpful.

The first couple of levels are fairly straightforward but then things start getting complicated. Enemies stop simply moving from top to bottom but linger or move rapidly in predictable but nonetheless dangerous patterns. Powerups are limited, and if your craft sustains enough damage you start losing your carefully curated weaponry. New enemy types are introduced - moving boats and vehicles, static gun emplacements, floating mines and minelayers. Pretty soon you find yourself trapped into increasingly small patches of empty sky, the rest of the screen filled with enemies and gunfire. It is not an easy game.

Screenshot of Raptor showing the level select screen.
Nice touches abound in Raptor. Like being able to choose which missions to fly. And this mission select screen, with little switches round the edges you can actually turn on and off. I don't know what they do. Maybe some combination yields a cheat mode? Who knows.

In many ways it's reminiscent of SWIV, the vertical shmup released three years before it; both feature swarms of varied enemies, the same military industrial graphical style and a mounting difficulty scale. Although Raptor lacks a two player option, it stands apart in other ways.

Outside of the missions you can purchase upgrades for your plane and save your progress in the game's hangar. It's not X-wing's beautiful interactive hangar, full of little characters and opening doors leading to further hand drawn delights, but it's a good effort.

There are other nice touches - the short animations when you return from a mission or lose the game, the descriptions of the weapons in the shop that hint at a wider universe, the destructable scenery throughout the game, the optional route through the game's levels. Other things like the upgradable shields, smartbombs, and powerful weapons that are limited to only air or ground targets. There's a lot of good stuff going on here.

Screenshot of Raptor showing the game's hangar.
The hangar, from where you can do a mission or buy weapons. Turns out my memory was skewed - the best gun in the game is not the 'Thor' self targeting minigun, but the 'Odin' self targeting laser. Except Odin's only air to air, so... it's a close call which is better.

In many ways this characterises Raptor; you get the feeling that you're playing a good game - not a great game, but one at least made with love and determination on a limited budget. It's not revolutionary but it definitely offers a little more over the standard vertical scroller, and does it all with a good degree of quality. More importantly, despite being more than twenty years old, it's still actually pretty good.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to try to earn enough for that minigun.

Raptor was re-released in 2015 and is available on Steam, where you can also get the original 1994 version (it's not clear what the difference is).

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