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Friday, 14 April 2017

Into The Eagle's Nest (Pandora, 1987)

Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and Sinclair ZX Spectrum versions written by Kevin Parker, with graphics by Robin Chapman. Additional programming for the Commodore Amiga version by Nigel Edwards. Music for the Amstrad CPC version by Andy Severn and A. Brown.

Commodore 64 version written by Andrew Challis. Graphics by Robin Chapman. Music by Keith "Howlin' Mad" Harvey.

Apple ][ version written by Andrew Pines, based on the Commodore 64 version.

IBM-PC version developed by Visionware, Inc: Programming by S. Chan and Robin Kar. Graphics by Robin Chapman and Matthew Crysdale.

All of the above versions originally written in 1986, but published for the European market by Pandora, and for the North American market by Mindscape in 1987.

Atari 8-bit version written by Kees Beekhuis, with graphics by Robin Chapman. Published by Atari Corporation in 1988.

Unofficial conversion for the Commodore Plus/4 written by Mucsi, with additional graphics by Jeva. Released by Muffbusters in 1990.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


Previously on FRGCB: Sega tried to push themselves on the simultaneous four-player gaming market with something perhaps a bit too different from Atari's smash hit, Gauntlet. Today's entry takes the other path, and in a way, does Gauntlet in a single-player mode, and takes the action to World War II. Allegedly, Into the Eagle's Nest was heavily inspired by the movie "Where Eagles Dare", so naturally, I had to watch the movie for the first time in perhaps over 20, maybe even closer to 30 years. It's a great movie for its time, I have to admit, but I could only see some very basic resemblance in the game. The movie's screenplay was written by Alistair MacLean, while doing a novel of it simultaneously, so perhaps there are some differences worth examining, but I have no time for it right now, nor do I believe the comparison between the book and the movie to be fruitful in connection to the game. And in any case, the game is the more important subject here, so let's get on with it.

Into The Eagle's Nest was one of my favourite games I had for the 48k Spectrum, when I had one as a kid, and for the longest time, I didn't know, nor did I really care, which machine it was originally written for. It seems like not too many sources on the internet are really that sure about the game's origins either - the Wikipedia page claims it was originally made for the Apple ][, possibly due to the year of copyright, although the said version's title screen clearly indicated, that it was programmed by Andrew Pines, based on the C64 version by Andrew Challis. Half of the official versions were written by Kevin Parker, so that would be the obvious choice, but I haven't found any conclusive evidence to either Andrew Challis or Kevin Parker being the original developer. An Amstrad-based website called CPC Rulez mentions the developer as "The Pandora Team", so it could well be, that both Andrew and Kevin developed the game and wrote it for their chosen machines as they wished during the same time period, seeing as both worked as some of the main in-house programmers for Interceptor Micros, who launched their new premium label Pandora with the release of Into The Eagle's Nest.

Whatever its origins, Into The Eagle's Nest still enjoys a fairly good reputation. At Lemon64, the current score is a very respectable 7.8 from 94 votes, while its most immediate competitor, the Spectrum version has an even higher score of 8.27 from 114 votes at the World of Spectrum website. For the Amstrad version, the review at CPC Game Reviews has a score of 8 out of 10, and at CPC-Power, the game has a rating of 15 out of 20. The 8-bit Atari version has a score of 7.5 from 13 votes at Atarimania, but the ST version didn't have any scores on any Atari-themed website or elsewhere. However, if the LemonAmiga score of 6.11 from 35 votes can be used as a reliable estimation of the Atari ST version, it's not going to be very impressive - but let's see. From the official versions, the last one to have ratings on the internet, the IBM-PC version has been voted by 2137 Abandonia visitors for a total score of 3.0 out of 5.0, and the site's editor has given it a 4.0, if you want to give those scores any credence. Finally, the unofficial Commodore Plus/4 version has a surprisingly good score of 8.1 from 11 votes at Plus/4 World. This should be interesting.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Despite the often seen generalization of calling Into The Eagle's Nest a Gauntlet clone, you will find it's something a bit different, too. What we have here, certainly is a top-down arcade maze-shooter, in which you need to collect items and gain passage to further levels. Ultimately, however, your mission is to rescue three imprisoned fellow saboteurs and demolish the titular building, Eagle's Nest, and that can be arranged by collecting, setting up and detonating explosives at certain spots on each floor. Eagle's Nest's major differences to Gauntlet are basically the way you control your soldier, the rather exacting way you shoot your weapon, and the limited amount of ammunition, all of which contribute to Eagle's Nest being a bit more strategic than Gauntlet. Also, having only one life, and no friend to continue the game while you're adding credits to continue, certainly takes out some of the arcadeness, which in its own way sets Eagle's Nest apart from its assumed role model.

I cannot deny, that Eagle's Nest feels very clunky at first, because of the restricting way of movement and shooting, but once you get used to it, you will find it's an integral part of the game. You could think of it as a preliminary stage of games like The Chaos Engine, Alien Breed, Cyberdogs and Tapan Kaikki, if you feel the need to justify the lack of refinement in controls, but the fact is, Gauntlet was released in October 1985, and it already had more comfortable and less restricting controls. I'm guessing, that the culprit here could be, that the game needed to be as similar as possible on all the originally intended platforms, but since I haven't seen any other than the C64 and Spectrum versions in action so far, I cannot but get on with the comparison and see what's what.

But the question is, does Eagle's Nest have anything to offer for today's gamers? Apart from another take on the subject matter, I'm sorry to say that it doesn't. While it can be considered a classic, or more precisely a cult classic, it's not a game to revisit with any regularity for any other reason than nostalgia, but for any modern young gamer with thirst for knowledge on gaming history, Eagle's Nest should be at least touched upon, when examining Gauntlet clones and any games evolved from it.

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LOADING


Because Into The Eagle's Nest was essentially a game designed for 8-bit computers that used a cassette as the primary form of distribution media, I thought we might as well take a look at the tape loading times for the versions that actually had a cassette release. As a point of some extra interest, Interceptor Micros, who were Pandora's parent company, sometimes included loader games. Seeing as this particular game was re-released on the Players budget label, and re-titled as simply "Eagle's Nest", there's a good possibility that at least some tape loaders feature a loader game.

C64, original: 3 minutes 55 seconds
C64, Players re-release: 4 minutes 4 seconds
C64, Beau-Jolly compilation re-release: 2 minutes 30 seconds
CPC, original: 5 minutes 42 seconds (the same version used for 6-Pak vol.2)
CPC, Computer Classics compilation: 5 minutes 34 seconds
SPE, Pandora original: 3 minutes, sharp
SPE, Players re-release: 4 minutes 1 second

Alas, no loader games this time. However, you get a surprising amount of different sorts of loading screens to witness already in the three most obvious versions. Usually, there would be a main loading screen, which would presumably feature our hero heading towards Eagle's Nest in the night, holding a rifle in his hand, and an airplane would fly over the scenery. The screen also shows the game title, curiously with three dots after the title, as if it was more of a thought in the protagonist's head, than a mere title. Any other bits in the main loading screen would vary: sometimes you would get a loading counter, sometimes the Pandora logo, sometimes more detailed copyrights, and so on. A budget re-release on the Players label for the SPECTRUM even features an animated fire effect from the rifle barrel that is shown, and I'm only guessing here, whenever another loading block comes along.

Loading screens. Top row: Commodore 64 tape and disk versions (Pandora, Mindscape and Beau-Jolly).
2nd row, left to right: ZX Spectrum (from left to middle), Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit.
3rd row, left: Apple ][. 3rd row, middle and right: DOS CGA and EGA.
Bottom row: Atari ST (left) and Commodore Amiga (right).



Some versions also feature other graphics or information before the actual loading screen. The original SPECTRUM release has a simple text screen that says the game title, accompanied with "by the Pandora Team" at the bottom. The AMIGA, ST, IBM-PC, APPLE ][ and the North American C64 disk versions feature Mindscape's own full screen logo before the proper loading screen. Most of the C64 tape versions feature a brief reminder made with PETSCII-graphics, which says "Now Loading Eagle's Nest, Please Wait", before the actual loading screen is shown, but Beau-Jolly also released the game on one of their cheap compilations, which doesn't feature a loading screen at all, only some rainbow rasterbars. The 8-bit Atari version was officially released only on a cartridge, with the XEGS console in mind, so it features the loading screen as a boot-up title screen of sorts.

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PLAYABILITY


The movie, Where Eagles Dare, is a movie about a group of infiltrators, whose mission is to sneak into the Schloss Adler (the Castle of Eagles), rescue a captive American from within a largely impenetrable castle set on a mountain top during the winter of 1943-44. At least, that's the basic plot, and the only information what you are given within the first 15 minutes, and what you are meant to believe at the beginning of the film. As the movie progresses, there are so many plot twists that it's difficult to keep up with what's true and what isn't. Rescuing the prisoner is only an ignitive plan to get everything else done, of which I will not reveal too much, if you haven't seen the movie yourself yet. I will say this, though: towards the end of the movie, there are plenty of explosions and kills inside the castle walls, which is really the main thing Into The Eagle's Nest has in common with the movie.

First things first: Into the Eagle's Nest is a fairly restrictive top-down maze shooter in a second World War setting. The restrictive bit is, that you can only move our hero in the four main directions, and as a rule, you can only shoot forwards with your rifle, the hit range of which is set directly in front of the rifle, and not anywhere near it, unless you're playing the unofficial PLUS/4 version, in which the hit detection has been set slightly looser. Whether or not this has been achieved by design or by accident, the result still remains, and we can only speculate. The other restrictive bit about Eagle's Nest is the way everything moves in the game, which is probably based on the SPECTRUM version's necessitated scrolling method of one character block at a time, at least for every soldier within it. There are two methods of the screen's scrolling: either in chunks - about one third of the action screen's size at a time, which it does for most versions (the APPLE ][ version goes about two thirds at a time), or constantly at a single character block's size in your walking direction, which is only used for the DOS version. So, while the game is clunky, it is practically equally so on every platform, except where already indicated.

Before you start the game, you might be given a set of options. This could mean a number of different control options and a difficulty level setting. The SPECTRUM version also gives you the options to "load data", which requires a password, and to either view or not view messages for every picked up object or other important thing you might achieve. The AMIGA and ST versions only show the options screen by pressing the CTRL key in the title sequence, but once you get there, you will find something only available on the 16-bit versions: you can choose to play in one of two possible castle layouts. None of the other versions feature anything more than the necessary mission selection screen (the APPLE version doesn't even have that), in which you can choose one of four missions - either blow up the castle or rescue one of three possible hostages, each located in a different place within the castle, and guide them to escape. Each of the four missions can be played separately, but you do need to play them all in order to complete the game. Blowing up the castle will eventually take the longest time to complete, since you need to set detonators on all four floors of the castle, before you run for the exit.

Since the playability is more or less the same in all nine versions, the aforementioned different castle layouts is really where the biggest differences can be found. First of all, you get a different map of the Eagle's Nest for C64, SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions. The SPECTRUM version also differs from the other two by having no central lift, that would connect all four floors of the castle, but instead you are forced to find your way to a set of stairs on each floor. This difference in design would suggest, that the SPECTRUM version was made on the original design, but there is no way to be sure about it. However, none of the other versions have the castle map based on the SPECTRUM version, but instead, most of the versions have the maps based on the C64 version. The AMIGA and ST versions have the AMSTRAD map included as the default one, but they also have new, larger maps, specifically made for the 16-bits. The AMSTRAD-based map is the more challenging one, giving you less obvious choices for using the limited amount of available keys in a useful way, and throwing more enemies at you in certain rooms, making it more difficult to get around without wasting all your bullets in one go, so picking up ammo packs needs to be done more sparingly than in any other map. Happily, part of the game's basic mechanics is, that the enemies will always come at you from the straightest possible angle, and if they come across anything even remotely solid, such as shootable doors or pickable items, they cannot walk through them, so you can often shoot at the enemies stuck just behind a corner by getting similarly behind another aligned corner, without being in too much of danger.

Speaking of bullets, the ammo packs in different versions contain different amounts of bullets. The APPLE and DOS versions gives you the least bullets per pack: only 7 bullets each. The C64 and PLUS/4 versions have 9 bullets in a pack, the 8-bit ATARI version uniquely gives you 10 bullets a pack, and the remaining four versions all give you a whopping 15 bullets per pack. Then again, the amount of bullets the AMSTRAD, SPECTRUM, AMIGA and ST versions give you is certainly required, so I'd say the differences in the ammo packs are justified. In any case, you should pick up the ammo packs sparingly, since you can only carry 99 bullets at a time. Too bad programmers didn't think of leaving the ammo packs be ungathered when you had the maximum amount of bullets for your weapon until much later on in the history of developing shooter games.

There are also openable containers in the game. Since there is no separate command for opening containers, shooting at closed containers serves the purpose, which at the time was a new idea in the genre of Gauntlet-clones, if you still want to call this game as such. These small, rectangular containers can either be empty, or contain jewels or explosives - another new idea at the time. Of course, in the heat of the action, you might accidentally shoot the trapped containers, and cause the whole building to blow up in a million pieces (figuratively speaking, of course), and everyone in it while at it, yourself included. This element of trapped containers was taken from games like Rogue and Hack, which would only become a regular occurrence in more modern roguelikes, although the trapped containers nowadays might give you some time to get away from the blast radius, and the explosion doesn't cause an instant Game Over anymore.

Into the Eagle's Nest also happens to be one of those games, in which you only have a single life: a death is an end of a game. At least you are given 50 hit points (30 on SPECTRUM), so it's not completely impossible to get around. Only close encounters with enemies will gather hit points, since they seem to be unable to shoot for some reason. Perhaps it's a bit unrealistic, but at least that way, you are given a fair chance at completing a mission, considering the way everything moves around. In any case, getting hit cannot really be avoided, so you still do need to be careful. You will come across first aid kits and portions of cold food, which will lower the amount of hit points, but if you compare their appearances to games like Wolfenstein 3D or Doom, you don't get them nearly as often in this game.

There are some other notable smaller details in gameplay that require a mention. For example, while the unofficial PLUS/4 version is otherwise rather faithful to its source material, I couldn't find any jewels within the containers, only explosives where appropriate, so the PLUS/4 version's scoring is not compatible with the other versions. The DOS version suffers from an all too familiar DOS game problem with controls, in which you give a command from your keyboard to walk in a certain direction, and the movement stops only when you press the same key again. At least the joystick controls work properly, provided you have a proper PC joystick that doesn't require calibration. To make it up for this inconvenience, the DOS version has no respawning enemies like all the other versions do. The versions that feature difficulty settings have different ways of exhibiting the variables: the AMIGA and ST versions give less enemies to deal with on the easy level, and the SPECTRUM version's easy level makes enemy soldiers die from one shot, when they usually die from two. At least when using an emulator, the ATARI ST version felt a bit sluggish and cumbersome to control, while the AMIGA version was decidedly less so, but I cannot say with any certainty, whether or not this is the case on real Atari hardware, so I'm going to have to make them share the spot until further notice. The APPLE ][ version is overall the most uncomfortable version to play, almost solely due to the bad scrolling and slow action, but it also suffers from a similar control problem as the DOS version without a joystick.

So, reaching a conclusion is rather easy this time. The SPECTRUM version gives you plenty of options, which only the 16-bit versions rival, and their gameplay is similar enough, as far as I can tell. The C64, AMSTRAD, ATARI 8-BIT and PLUS/4 versions offer no options, and the gameplay is similar enough to the previous three, although the PLUS/4 version has all the jewels gone awol. The DOS version is unfairly particular about its controls, so it's not very recommendable, and the APPLE version adds an all-around slowness to that.

1. ZX SPECTRUM / COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. COMMODORE 64 / AMSTRAD CPC / ATARI 8-BIT
3. COMMODORE PLUS/4
4. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
5. APPLE ][

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GRAPHICS


If you have followed this article diligently so far, you might have gathered that the game might not be graphically anything too fancy. In certain ways, this is true: the animations are minimal, and the WW2 themed setting is unlikely to give much of colour to the graphics. But keeping all that in mind, you might be surprised.

Title sequences. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga/ST, Commodore 64, Commodore Plus/4, DOS.
Bottom left: Atari 8-bit. Bottom right: Apple ][.


Two types of title sequences were made for Eagle's Nest, which can identify their original writer, if you happen to have a version without a loading screen. The SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD, AMIGA and ATARI ST versions were all written by Kevin Parker (with some help from Nigel Edwards in the AMIGA version), and you can tell this from the starting screen, in which two guards are walking back and forth inside a box under the text "Welcome to the Eagles Nest" (sic). The C64 version by Andrew Challis and the conversions based on it feature a credits screen instead, but they all start the sequence with the high scores table. There are two exceptions to the rule: the ATARI version is the only one not to feature the lists of valuables and supplies, and instead it's the only one to feature a demo mode, which starts playing after the high scores table; and the APPLE version is the only one not to feature an actual title screen, not counting the loading screen.

The SPECTRUM version is the only one to feature the full game title in the information panel on the right side of the screen, and it is shown throughout the game from the title sequence on. Also, the SPECTRUM version is the only one of the lot, in which a Stencil-like font isn't used anywhere but in the information panel's indicators for Ammo, Keys and Hits, but even there the font is clearly different from the one used in all the other versions. At least the default message font isn't the basic Spectrum system font. I'm not saying it's worse for that, only clearly different. And I guess I don't even need to mention the uniquely blue background for the title sequence. The AMIGA and ST versions are the only conversions, in which the information panel is similarly locked to the right side of the screen from the start.

Options screens for ZX Spectrum (left) and Commodore Amiga/Atari ST (right).


On the rare occasion of an options menu, you don't really get much of new graphics, but the little you get is still notable. The SPECTRUM version gives you a cyan highlight, within which the text is red instead of yellow. In the AMIGA and ST versions' options screen, the highlight is a pistol on the right side of the menu, and the chosen option from the menu item is underlined. The font of the options list itself is unique for the 16-bits, and is used nowhere else than in the options menu.

Starting a mission. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Commodore Plus/4.
Middle row: Amstrad CPC, DOS CGA, DOS EGA. Bottom row: Amiga/ST, Apple ][, Atari 8-bit.


Once you decide to start the game, you are first required to select a mission, which I have foregone here, because it offers nothing new in terms of graphics. In fact, it's all just text on an otherwise black screen.  It might, however, offer information on what kind of a mission you are about to embark on, unless you're playing the SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD, AMIGA or ATARI ST version, in which that information is only told once the mission has been selected and the game starts.

The first screen in the game finds you within an entrance room of sorts, safely behind a locked door, behind which some enemy soldiers are lining up instantly as you start the game. Also, as the game starts, a message is displayed, either as a pop-up window in the middle of the action screen, which halts the action for a moment, or as a scroller at the bottom of the screen (although the APPLE version only shows full messages, no scrollers), which lets the game run with no pauses whenever a message needs to be displayed. The SPECTRUM version along with the 16-bits at least offer an option to turn the messages off, in case you prefer to play with no interruptions.

Shooting at enemies and enemies dying. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga/ST, DOS CGA.
Bottom row: Apple ][, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, DOS EGA.


Things start to get more interesting as you get into the action. Of all the versions, it seems the SPECTRUM version was given the most attention when making the visual effects. At least, relatively speaking. Not only do you get a clear flash of a firing graphic from your weapon, but when an enemy soldier dies, a short animation of a few differently coloured stars appear and vanish in the place of where the soldier was. The AMIGA/ST and AMSTRAD versions are the only ones to feature the same animations, but they all use less colour and less animation frames for the enemy's death animation. None of the other versions give you any animation for the enemies dying, but at least you get some sort of visual indicator for shooting - that is, unless you're playing the PLUS/4 version. Also, the APPLE version is the only one of the official releases, in which you get no fire effect coming out of your gun.

Lifts/elevators and stairs. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Apple ][, Amstrad CPC.
Middle row: Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, Commodore Plus/4. Bottom row: Amiga/ST, DOS CGA, DOS EGA.


Adding a lift, or an elevator for the American English-speaking portion of the world, to a game that takes place during the second World War inside a castle that is not necessarily a very modern one even for that time, is dubious, but still plausible. The SPECTRUM version is the only one to use stairs, which is a bit inconvenient on the long run, but if you insist on taking the movie (or novel) Where Eagles Dare as the point of comparison, I cannot recall ever seeing a lift/an elevator inside the castle, but I do remember there being a ski cabin lift of sorts. In a purely decorative sense, the stairs do look better, and offer a possibility of variety in map design, but then, you lose the possibility of using a floor selector.

Lift/elevator selections. Leftmost: Amstrad CPC. Rightmost: Commodore Amiga/Atari ST.
Middle top left: Commodore 64. Middle top right: DOS (EGA). Middle lower left: Atari 8-bit. Middle lower right: Apple ][.


Strangely, the floor selector is made to look like a button panel on a lift, which is much more modern in design than how it should be, but then again, that way it's easier to display on an 8-bit computer screen. The 8-BIT ATARI version meets the two worlds half-way, and only gives you an arrow-pointer for choosing the floor, so you wouldn't think that's the way the floor choosing mechanism or whatever it's supposed to be, is supposed to look like.

Then again, you could think of the arrow pointer as a hasty redesign decision, if you look at other missing elements on the 8-BIT ATARI version, such as the enemy officers sitting at a table, as you see below. I like how the original graphic design in Eagle's Nest made the higher ranking officers merely sitting at tables, most probably eating soup or something, giving you easy access to put a bullet in their heads, while the lower ranking soldiers have to walk around and drain your energy if possible. Really, considering everything, you are your own worst enemy, since you actually have to be careful where you point your gun.

Officers at a table, where available. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Apple ][, Commodore 64.
Bottom row: Amiga/ST, Atari 8-bit, DOS (EGA), Commodore Plus/4.


Now is as good a time as any to talk about the colours and details, since I've forgotten to do so thus far. First, I'd like to go back to the information panel to mention a few things: the AMSTRAD version doesn't actually have one, but instead it has a very basic text-only panel just below the action screen; the only two versions not to feature a picture of a castle in the panel are the 8-BIT ATARI and COMMODORE PLUS/4 versions; and the 16-bit versions have the score display under the action screen instead of in the info panel.

The castle's colouring is surprisingly varied, starting with an unpatterned black flooring with yellow brick walls in the SPECTRUM version. All the other versions have floor patterns, most of them being bearable and unintrusive, but in the APPLE and DOS versions, the pattern looks to be keeping still due to the way the game scrolls and how the patterns are constructed. It's hard to say, which colour scheme and texture style comes the closest to real castle colours and textures from that time period, but it's functionality that you need to worry about in this case. While the DOS version's higher-resolutioned graphics are nice to look at, the floor textures are irritating. Although I have to admit, the 16-bit version of the game is hardly impressive, the AMIGA and ST versions still do look pretty damn good in all their shadings and hi-res textures. The AMSTRAD version has a brilliant use of colour, and the game runs surprisingly quick - in fact, I think it runs quicker than any other version, so it feels like everything is smoother, too. In the midst of all that action, you hardly get a chance to miss the big yellow side panel. The C64 version doesn't look bad - at least the machine is clearly more suited for the game than the 8-BIT ATARI, and the unofficial PLUS/4 version looks like it was converted for a lower budget graphics card. The APPLE version wouldn't be too bad, but it scrolls horribly slowly, the colour choices are sometimes awkward (due to necessity) and the details are lacking.

Shooting explos(t)ives. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Apple ][, Atari 8-bit, Commodore Plus/4.
Bottom row: Amstrad CPC, DOS (EGA), Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga/Atari ST.


There are still a few things I haven't shown you, but since the game doesn't really evolve much in its essential graphics as you progress, I decided to end the in-game portion of the comparison of the visual effects for when you accidentally shoot explosives and thus end the game. As you see, if you're playing the SPECTRUM version, you're actually shooting "explostives", and the AMSTRAD and AMIGA/ST versions refer to it as dynamite. In most cases, the visual effect for the explosion is flashing colours, either on borders (SPE/CPC) or anything coloured black by default (C64/AMIGA/ST/A8B/DOS), borders and anything within them included. The APPLE version messes up the action screen instead, which is rather impressive in its own way, and the PLUS/4 conversion only gives you a sound effect and the often used text scroller, which calls you a fool.

Enter your name on the high scores list. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit, DOS CGA.
Middle row: Commodore 64, Commodore Plus/4, DOS EGA. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC, Amiga/ST, Apple ][.


Instead of the traditional "Game Over" text, Into The Eagle's Nest throws a more brutal "You Are Dead" at you instead. But since it's never anything more than text on an otherwise black screen, I decided to skip that and go for what comes next instead, provided you get enough score to enter your name on the table of the highest scores.

Basically, the screen for entering your name on the high score table gets you back to the same sort of thing as you see in the title sequences: just some text in hopefully different colours. Perhaps the most important difference is not particularly graphical, but rather the way you type in your name. Only in the SPECTRUM version are you allowed to actually type in your name, while in the other versions, you need to scroll through all the alphabet and numerics with your chosen controller to get your preferred pseudonym punched in. The only notable graphical difference in the alphabet scrollers is, that in the DOS version, the highlighted letter is shown in a different colour, while in the other similar versions, you see a small arrow under the chosen letter. If it makes any difference to anyone, the SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD, AMIGA, ATARI ST and APPLE versions give you space for eight characters, while the C64, PLUS/4, DOS and ATARI 8-BIT versions give you room for ten.

One thing sets the SPECTRUM version clearly apart from the others, and that is the action screen's size, which this time means, how far you're able to see, and the SPECTRUM version lets you see further than any other version. The monochrome graphics of this age have rarely looked as good as they do in this game, just because they went with a fool-proof way of getting around the attribute clash problem - never let two different graphical object collide with each other. Considering everything, it certainly sits comfortably high on the list. But not quite as high as the 16-bits, which offer more colour, better animations and even an options screen with unique graphics. The AMSTRAD version has rarely been this strong, either, and were it not for the lack of the stylistically pivotal missing side panel, I would have definitely ruled this above the SPECTRUM version. As it is, though, I think the two are equally good. Then we come to the difficult part - the middle ground. The DOS version suffers from irritating backgrounds and some bad colouring choices, but it does have a good portion of detailed and well-drawn graphics. Strangely, the CGA version is almost easier on the eyes. However, the C64 version has better use of shading, and all the soldiers look bulky and well off from the floor, unlike in the DOS version. The ATARI 8-BIT version is missing some elements, and is rather boring in its choice of colours, and has no hi-res textures at all, unlike the C64 version. Finally, the APPLE ][ version has potential, but requires more power from the machine than it should have to give, and apart from the explosion effect, the graphics are passable at best - colourful but ugly and badly animated, yet it still wins over the PLUS/4 version, which lacks all the visual effects, has sloppy colouring, and while it scrolls well enough, it also lacks inspiration.

1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC
3. COMMODORE 64
4. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
5. ATARI 8-BIT
6. APPLE ][
7. COMMODORE PLUS/4

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SOUNDS


Another possible clue pointing towards the 48k SPECTRUM version having been the first one in development is the lack of music. As the game finishes loading, the menu screen only features a harrowing alarm noise played by the chirpy Speccy beeper, which only stops playing when you start the game. The sound effects are very basic, slightly differing splurting and farting noises as you would expect - only your walking has a nicely muffled tapping noise, which adds at least a small dose of variety, if not exactly realism to the mix. The 128k sound effects are even less pronounced: you only get a few very staccato sound effects that admittedly repeat themselves often enough - a subtle tapping for your walking, a less subtle spitting noise for shooting your gun, and a high-pitched "ding" sound for picking up valuables and opening doors. I'll get to the 128k music a bit further down.

Compared to the SPECTRUM versions, the APPLE version's soundscape is surprisingly varied, even though it's all similarly beeper-driven. There's a theme tune, which is played during the loading screen, which doesn't quite sound like anything I've ever heard before, but there's a very upbeat military feel to it. Perhaps there's a resemblance to some of the music in the movie Where Eagles Dare, but only a vague one. Of course, the horrible multi-frequency method for getting multiple noises to be played at once breaks your eardrums first and then your skull, before you even get to the game, so mute your speakers before the loading screen, if possible. Happily, there is no music after the loading screen, so you will only be hearing nice and regular bips and bleeps for walking and picking up objects, as well as fairly well executed shooting and explosion noises where appropriate.

Of the three strictly beeper-sounded versions, the DOS version settles between the above two. It also features music, which is the same tune used in the APPLE version, but this time the tune is played on single beeps only, so you get no mixed instruments nor extremely high-pitched frequencies to go with them. The sound effects are less varied in waveforms than in the APPLE version, but are similarly varied in quantity.

Strangely enough, and I do mean "strangely": for C64 and SPECTRUM, Into The Eagle's Nest was released as at least two, if not three, different versions, all of which contain different title music. The regular 128k SPECTRUM and C64 versions feature a rendition of the theme from 633rd Squadron, originally written by Ron Goodwin. I'm only speculating here, but there's a good chance, that because the same tune was used for at least the C64 version of Capcom's 1942, but it was perhaps found out too late, it was decided that later re-releases should have a different theme tune. So, the SPECTRUM +3 version features a completely new theme tune, as does the C64 Mindscape release and most subsequent C64 tape versions. Peculiarly, a version of the game on one of Beau-Jolly's compilations has some unfathomable noise playing in the title screen - perhaps a re-mastering bug or something?

As for the rest of the versions, the PLUS/4 is the only one to only feature the 633 Squadron tune, while the AMSTRAD and 8-BIT ATARI versions have their own specific title tunes. The AMIGA and ATARI ST versions have another new theme tune, specifically made for the 16-bits. Even more curiously, most of these exclusive theme tunes sound alike enough, that I'm willing to believe that whoever was behind writing the original music for all the different versions of Eagle's Nest, must have thought them all being "close enough" to each other and not bothering to check whether it's the same tune or not. One might have hoped for a rendition of any of the more prominent tunes from the soundtrack for Where Eagles Dare, but since there isn't any such thing, the theme from the 633 Squadron is the one tune that is most easily identified with Into The Eagle's Nest.

It will come as no surprise, that the AMIGA version uses samples just as much for sound effects as it does for the music. What might be more surprising, is that the ATARI ST version uses the same samples, only they have a lower sample rate, so it's all a bit laden with a hint of white noise. This was apparently achieved with something called "ST Replay", which is mentioned in the loading screen, so I guess it's technically more impressive than the AMIGA version, but it does still have a lower quality to all the sounds, so I'll just settle this matter by placing them on the same spot.

The C64 and ATARI 8-BIT versions share a similar set of sounds, at least in amount. You get the basic walking, shooting and opening doors and picking up items sounds, like you do on every other version, but the latter two mentioned sounds are distinctly different from each other in both cases. Additionally, you get a sound acknowledgment of a killed enemy, which adds a lot to how the game sounds for 90% of the time, and a couple of other rarely utilised sounds. However, both versions have very different kinds of sounds. For example, in the ATARI version, your man's walking is made to sound like he's stomping at double-time, while the C64 version has a softer and subtler tone, as well as a more relaxed tempo. Although no version of the game takes the concept of discreet infiltration too seriously, I do feel the ATARI 8-BIT version goes a bit over the top in being noisy. But it's still more interesting to listen to than, say, the 128k SPECTRUM version. Or the AMSTRAD version, the sounds of which have been modeled straight after the 128k SPECTRUM version.

Finally, there's the unofficial COMMODORE PLUS/4 version, in which the sole sound effect is a really messy shooting noise, which has a strange beep mixed with the actual shooting effect. I'm not sure if the emulation is very accurate here, so I can't say whether the beep exists on real PLUS/4 hardware or not, but the beep I hear on YAPE is of a random length, but lasts for about half a second at the longest. Since this is the only sound you hear in the PLUS/4 version, in addition to the mostly off-key 633 Squadron theme tune, it can easily be considered the worst of the lot.

1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. COMMODORE 64
3. ATARI 8-BIT
4. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / AMSTRAD CPC
5. APPLE ][
6. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
7. ZX SPECTRUM 48k
8. COMMODORE PLUS/4

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OVERALL


With the gameplay being so restricted that it was basically carved in stone from the start, only bad optimization and/or lack of memory could affect the end result, so it is no wonder that the graphics and sounds take on a much bigger role in the comparison. My personal favourite is still the 128k SPECTRUM version, mostly due to a combination of the familiar theme tune and the nostalgia from first playing the 48k version back in the day, but you can't escape the fact that the 16-bit machines' architecture made it ridiculously simple to make this particular game so much better than the 8-bit originals, just by giving it better graphics and sounds.

1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST: Playability 5, Graphics 7, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 20
2. COMMODORE 64: Playability 4, Graphics 5, Sounds 8 = TOTAL 17
3. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 5, Graphics 6, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 16
4. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 4, Graphics 6, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
5. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 5, Graphics 6, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 13
5. ATARI 8-BIT: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 13
6. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 2, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
7. APPLE ][: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 7
8. COMMODORE PLUS/4: Playability 3, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5

Once again, calculating the overall results gives some versions unfair advantages over others, and vice versa, so the best way to deal with this game is simply to try them all out for yourselves. But I can give you my sincerest recommendations for not only the above list's top 3, which basically incorporates the 48k and 128k SPECTRUM versions simultaneously, but also the AMSTRAD version was surprisingly good - in fact, I prefer it over the C64 version simply due to the better scrolling and nicer colouring, but the C64 version does have a better set of sound effects than any other 8-bit.

While Into The Eagle's Nest cannot perhaps claim to having had influence over all that many games developed since then, it did keep up the idea of making games about the second World War as fresh as it could. Until Wolfenstein 3D came along, the majority of high-profile games based on WW2 were strategy or simulation games, which I have never been a fan of. Unfortunately, after Wolfenstein 3D, it would only take a few years until we would be assaulted with an overabundance of WW2 based first-person shooters, which would gradually feature increasing amounts of strategic and simulative elements. Just to remind us of our good luck of having only some rare examples of WW2 shooters back in the day, Trevor "Smila" Storey remade Into The Eagle's Nest for the Windows PC in 2003.


Screenshots from the 2003 remake of Into The Eagle's Nest by Trevor Storey.

The 2003 Eagle's Nest is not a straight port of any particular version of the original game, but rather a tribute of sorts to both the game and the movie. There are more weapons for you to shoot with, you can actually drop and blow dynamites without getting a straight Game Over, the enemies can shoot back at you (albeit at a rather slow rate) and you can even walk in eight directions. Unfortunately, the game doesn't work properly on any Windows above XP, so if you're keen on trying this version properly, you might want to try the game online at Internet Archive, or better yet, on a virtual machine. Smila's current work on new C64 games is probably better known for most retrogamers, with his amazing graphical input for games like Darkness, Barnsley Badger, Soulless and the upcoming Hyperion and Argus, to mention but a few, but his earlier work includes artwork for such titles as Charlotte's Web, Stealth Force: War on Terror, Batman Forever, Shadow Man and Miami Vice, as well as a number of other high quality retro remakes.

Alternative cover artwork from the Mindscape release.
As for the legacy of the main developing team, it seems like Eagle's Nest remains Andrew Challis' final, and perhaps to most of us, the only masterpiece, while the only other really remarkable things Kevin Parker was involved with was the Joe Blade trilogy and the PC version of Incentive's criminally under utilized 3D Construction Kit, also released with the title "Virtual Reality Studio". At least the game's graphician, Robin Chapman, went to do some graphics for not only the aforementioned Joe Blade, but also such classics as Driller (a.k.a. Space Station Oblivion), Cadaver and the Adventures of Robin Hood.

That's it for today, hope that was worth the wait! Next time, I've got something drastically lighter lined up for you, so you won't have to wait too long for the next one. Thanks for reading, leave a message if you feel like there's something important that I missed or whatever. Until the next time, let's hope we won't be having the third World War on our hands just yet...

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