Missionforce: Cyberstorm (PC) Review

The Short


Pros

– Hexagonal, turn-based HERC/Mech combat game

– Heavy emphasis on power usage, weapons loadouts, and team balancing

– Incredible amount of depth, features, and abilities

– Tons of HERCs provide a solid balance

– Creating “Bioderm” pilots that you can alter, edit, and jack up is exciting

– Wide variety of mission structures

– Fantastic 256 color, Windows 95 graphics

– Bioderm death scenes are delightfully creepy

Cons

– Can be punishingly difficult, especially the first “boss mission”

– Death is permanent, so tread with caution

– Ore harvesting missions can be tedious

– Enemies get priority hits if you enter their LOS, but this ability was given to your team via patch

– As of writing this review, I have no way of getting this game to play on a modern machine. You’ll have to pick up Windows 95 computer just to run it.

I might get a little rambley here.

The Long

I. Love. Missionforce: Cyberstorm. No, seriously, this is one of those childhood-defining games of my youth, right up there with games like Lords of the Realm 2 and The Incredible Machine 2. My brother and I originally watched a trailer of this game (back when they put demos/trailers for games on other PC game discs) and knew we had to have it after burning through the extremely short demo. It was a fateful day when he found a copy of it, Rise and Rule of Ancient Empires, and Caesar II in a triple pack on super-clearance at CompUSA (totally dating this review since CompUSA still existed). I have fond memories of having to copy the whole game disc to our 486-66, Windows 3.1 computer (since it would only run on Windows 95 and thus not work on our outdated operating system unless tricked) and burning through the game for hours and hours. Not only that, we would recreate the HERCs from Cyberstorm out of Legos (our other childhood love) until we essentially recreated every HERC in the game. 

Yeah, we were a bit obsessive.

Anyway, self storytelling time is over, let’s get on with the review. For many of you, you probably have no idea what Missionforce: Cyberstorm even is. Well, luckily for you, I’m here to tell ya. If you’re a fan of old-school strategy games that ran in glorious 256 colors and had more depth than originally met the eye, I have a game for you!

Just looking at these shots is a nostalgia overload.

Missionforce: Cyberstorm is set in Sierra’s Earthsiege universe, which consisted of two Earthsiege games and a final installment: Starsiege. Essentially, those games were massive MechWarrior knockoffs only not quite as good, though they were graphically a bit better. Cyberstorm was a spinoff of sorts, where you took the classic HERCS (which are nothing like MECHS, or so says Sierra’s copyright lawyers) and, instead of driving ’em, you commanded ’em. Simple enough, right?

Well…not really. Because buried under this game’s “cheap spin-off” exterior is an insanely deep turn-based strategy experience, and one that I’d love to see somebody revisit to this day. So what exactly makes Cyberstorm tick?

The ground texture is hideous, but man…256 color glory.

Cyberstorm pits you against the robot enemies known as the Cybrids, which want nothing more than to blow up humanity. Your task is twofold: assemble a HERC army (which includes outfitting them with weapon types, pilots, and power options) and then send them off to war. Let’s run down both of these really fast.

Specing out your HERCs is awesome, mostly because of the variety of HERCs available and the number of weapon upgrades. There are three weapon types: energy, cannon, and missiles. While not a set rule, generally how they work is that energy weapons are great against shields but not armor, canons suck against shields but punch through armor, and missiles are a bit of both (but with crazy range). Each HERC has its own loadout that can’t be changed (such as the all-cannon Giant or jack-of-all-trades Remora) in terms of weapon types, but you can upgrade and alter the specific weapons. For example, there are some energy weapons that are only good against shields (EMP weapons), while others that will ignore shields entirely but have awful accuracy. As your team grows and your options increase, you’ll have to assemble a team that can work well together as well as fight solo if needs be.

Remember when games had flavor text and specs for everything? Good ol’ days, man.

In addition to maxing out your HERCs, you also have to train clone pilots called Bioderms to drive ’em around. Bioderms can be bought and trained, and each has an “age” (meaning a number of missions they can go on before they die or have to be recycled). Playing more unlocks special, one-only Bioderms as well as more cloning options, which adds a whole different layer to the game. Gotta make sure your dudes in the energy weapon HERCs are actually trained in energy weapons!

The specing is an absolute blast, and it’s all based on a “credits” system. My only real irk is that the game just doesn’t give you enough money to feel empowered. Often you are barely making enough back to pay for repairs, Bioderm detoxes, and small weapon upgrades. While there are tedious ore-mining missions that can net a lot of credits, it’s a very slow progression. This is exacerbated by the sheer number of options: weapons, generators, shields, legs (for jumping/speed), arms, etc. There’s just an absurd amount of upgrades here, and no set “best” one (which helps you develop your own style. Hit n’ run, or heavy, slow tanks?). It’s a slow burn.

 However, once you do assemble an awesome army of HERCs, it’s an absolute joy to send them on the warpath, which I’ll discuss next.

Poundin’ through a turret’s shields.

Missionforce: Cyberstorm is played on a hexagonal grid based battlefield. There are terrain heights and depths (and types), all of which effect weapon accuracy, distance available to travel, and more. Another important factor is energy, essentially your power. You have two bars: an always-replenishing “active” energy bar (the only bar available for walking), and a “reserve” bar, which only refills if you have extra energy in the “active” bar (you can see it in the screenshot above in the bottom left: two red/green bars). Usually the reserve bar is used to fire energy weapons after a long walk, though if you run completely out of power you’ll be in trouble. Energy management is important!

Once you find the enemy, wartime begins. Here’s where another layer of strategy develops: shield placement, weapon use, and distance/accuracy. Shields (which are also hexagonal) can be adjusted to be moved forward or backwards, depending on the direction of the enemy. However, your enemies can do the same, and putting all your shields in front can make you a sitting duck if you are flanked. Once you (or the enemy) punches through shields you cause actual damage, which in your case can result in weapon damage, leg damage, or more. Getting your legs blown off while in the middle of a hot zone can have bad outcomes, especially since death/destruction is permanent.

Things can get pretty crazy.

There’s more. You have to pick the order which your weapons fire (energy, missile, etc.) and accuracy based off your pilot, the distance, and the terrain. Again, I’m sort of just spouting off gameplay mechanics here which is probably stupid boring, but I just want to convey the level of depth Cyberstorm has. Seriously, it’s absurd.

Anyway, it’s turn based, where you go and then the Cybrids, which means you have to prepare for the worst in every situation. Some missions are defend-the-base variety, others destroy-the-base. Others task you to mine ore (which takes tons of power to do) while a few are just seek-and-destroy. There’s a good mix and all are quite challenging, especially considering how difficult this game can get.

Adjusting shields.

Missionforce: Cyberstorm is pretty hardcore. As stated, if your HERC goes down, you lose both the machine and the pilot: neither are salvageable. Luckily you can save any time, but one bad save can ruin you. Because the enemies have sight-initiative (meaning they get to take pot-shots when you enter their line of vision), it’s pretty essential to install the patch that gives your units that as well (the original version doesn’t. Talk about unfair!). Having your most expensive unit get flanked and rocked because his back wasn’t shielded can hurt, and even if a HERC survives you still have to pay for repairs (or don’t, and sent them to the next mission damaged). It’s punishing, but luckily the game starts off easy enough that you get into the swing of things.

The exception being the first “boss” mission (of three) in the game. As the game locks you out of certain upgrades until after promotions, you can only have a set team for the first “assault the stronghold” mission of the game. I must have died dozens of times against this first boss because the game just doesn’t allow you to equip with powerful enough gear. I had a full squad of the best HERCs at the time (Demons), fully upgraded, awesome Bioderms, and still got slaughtered. It’s hard!

Regardless, combat is an intense, tactical blast. It’s hard, punishing, and requires a lot of thought. Meaning it fits in well with other tactical style games of the era, such as Fallout and the old Civ games.

Train ‘dem Bioderms

Graphically, this looks like a Windows 95 game, and I mean that in a good way. It’s got the 256 color thing going on full force, but it also employs a little bit of early-age 3D for the ship models when upgrading and the Bioderm chambers. Because it was more stylized than polygon pushing, I still think this game looks quite fantastic. The textures of terrain on the battle maps do look pretty awful, but the HERCs themselves are decent and the enemies look imposing. Plus, wireframe models of stuff for damage reports is always cool. Yes. Always. Don’t argue.

Music and sounds are fantastic. There honestly isn’t too much music, but what there is is creepy and atmospheric. The laser fire and explosions are great, but the absolutely most horrific is the bioderm screams when they die. This is accompanied by a terrifying animation of their faces melting off into skulls, and since one of the bioderms is a baby, that means this is one of the few games where you can kill a baby by overdosing it on stimpaks. Kids to Adults, everybody!

Freaked me out as a kid, freaks me out now.

My biggest “issue” with this game is that it’s impossible to run on modern machines. Unless you can get a virtual machine up with Windows 95, 98, or (shudder) ME, there is no way to play this game. It won’t install or run on a 64 bit architecture, and even then it conflicts with modern versions of Windows and often just straight up won’t install. Hey, Good Ol Games? I have a job for you…

That and the rather intense difficulty curve aside, Missionforce: Cyberstorm is an excellent tactical strategy game with incredible depth and tons of awesome, MECH…er…HERC blasting content. If you can find a way to get this game running, do it. It’ll suck up hours of your life and is absolutely worth every second.

They don’t make ’em like this anymore. Except I guess the new XCom. Now remake Cyberstorm, Fireaxis! Four out of five stars. 

And I thought car repairs were expensive…

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice review.

    Cyberstorm is the fourth game I’ve played the most. Number one would be Dune: The Battle for Arrakis, followed by Tetris and StarCraft. Actually, if we consider Warcraft (Orcs & Humans plus versions II & III) and StarCraft II as variations of the same game, StarCraft would be the first and Doom would similarly raise above Missionforce: Cyberstorm. But you get the drill, it was a great game, and unlike all the others, it has no continuation/derivate/copycat. That’s a damn shame.

    BTW, I seem to remember you can play it under WinXP (Win95 compatibility mode).

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