Back in the day there were few game companies that matched the genius that was Cinemaware. As the graphic and sound capabilities of home computers tended to be wildly diverse most companies tended to go the safe route and stick with point & click adventure or simple arcade games. Cinemaware was one of the few companies that ventured outside of this safe zone and gave us a truly unique experience.
Here we have a homage to the serial adventures of the 1930s and 40s ala' Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. Rocket Ranger is the story of an unnamed hero (who would later be named Tom Cory in a short lived Comic book series) who receives a special package containing a rocket pack and ray gun which was teleported from an alternate future where the Nazi's have won WWII. In the present day the Nazis are slowly taking over the world via bombs dropped from high flying Zeppelins called "Lunarium bombs," which lower the IQ of human males in the afflicted countries and thus allow for easy conquest. Your job then becomes to infiltrate the Nazi regime, assemble a rocket ship from stolen Nazi parts, steal fuel for the rocket, destroy a hidden Nazi moon base, and single handedly win WWII. Not asking for much, are they?
The game is played through various missions which are chosen at a map screen, which acts as a "hub" of sorts. You have a number of agents which you can send to various countries. After a certain period of time the agent then tells you if there's anything in that particular country worth investigating. You can set the "cover level" of the agent to high, medium, or low, whereupon they will uncover information more quickly yet run the risk of being caught and killed.
Once an agent successfully infiltrates a country several different types of action scenes may occur. Depending on what's happening you may find yourself facing a squad of German attack fighters, rescuing a scientist and his well endowed daughter, raiding and destroying a Lunarium fuel depot, or fighting a Nazi guard for a stolen rocket ship piece. These action sequences are generally well done, simple to play, and easy to control, if not a bit short.
The hardest part of the game is actually finding out which countries exactly to infiltrate and where to go. Since you can't actually "die" in the game the only way to lose is to dilly-dally around too long and allow the Nazis to win the war. Problem is the odds seem to be heavily stacked against you from the get-go. In the beginning you have five agents to choose from, yet whole continents to search without many clues to go on. It also seems as if the locations of the various bases and such tend to change each game, so memorization won't help you here. Agents may need to take a few "weeks" to uncover anything, however the longer they stay in a certain country the greater their chances of being caught become. Once an agent is caught, he's gone, the end, and you don't get any more. Lose all your agents and it's game over, the Nazi's win. Thus it becomes a balancing act of how long a particular agent has been in a country and has he found anything yet verses how much ground that remains to be covered in the limited time you have left. This does a good job of building tension, as the Nazi Zeppelin fleet gets ever closer and closer you end up scrambling trying to find these stupid hidden bases as your agents get picked off one by one. It is however extremely difficult to actually find all these bases in the time given. Be prepared to fail, a lot.
To actually fly anywhere you need to input the correct amount of fuel to do so. Put in the wrong amount and you'll overshoot the country, crash land in the ocean, and bite it. This was provided from an old decoder wheel (which is pretty hard to find intact nowadays.) The whole process amounted to a pretty creative anti-piracy measure, although nowadays its easy to find FAQs and tables that lay it all out for you.
Once you actually find a base the process of flying out there, blowing up the planes, and beating up the Nazi is cake. The difficulty of these action scenes do increase but even the hardest ones aren't really that hard. If you actually do manage to get to the moon (which a feat which I've accomplished only once) you find out about an alien intergalactic fascist order that is supplying the Nazis with technology. That's right folks, Nazis from outer space. You knew it had to happen one day.
An excellent game, with highly advanced graphics for it's day. The various action scenes are well done (if a bit easy) however the agent infiltration portion of the game is confusing and somewhat hard to accomplish.
Graphics: Highly detailed for it's day, good use of color & advanced dithering, comparable to what was on the 16 bit systems of the time.
Sound: Midi sound card music doesn't come off too terrible. There is a lot of digitized sound effects for the various airplane engines, cannon blasts, and lazer guns shots all throughout. The action sequences have a disturbing lack of music that makes them seem to move slower than they actually do.
Gameplay: The highly detailed, easy to play action portions to the game are unfortunately broken up between long stints of agent infiltrations on the main world map, which never really seem to go right for you. Who said the good guys always win anyway.
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