As an English person - and particularly as a Yorkshireman - I find I'm unable to hear the word "bloody" as anything other than a mild swearword used mostly to express frustration or contempt. If someone directed me to the site of a bloody demonic massacre I would, if only for a moment, assume that they meant the demons had mildly inconvenienced them in some way. Alan Partridge's misinterpretation of the U2 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" hits me a little too close to home. With this in mind, it's a shame that today's game - a 1989 Amiga skull-snipe-em-up by Avesoft - is called Bloody Afternoon, because my mind wants it to be about someone who hates the part of the day after lunch and I know that's not what's going on.
Oh no, someone's grandma has been captured by a green dog-pig hybrid monster that was once in the Navy, if that anchor tattoo on its hand is anything to go by! The captive granny is trying to render the monster's gun inoperable by leaking blood all over the barrel in a noble but ultimately futile gesture of defiance. Dog-pig looks more like a pig on the left but more like a dog on the right, where it is being viewed through the scope of a wonky rifle. At first I thought it looked more like a dog on the right because of the colours - a brown dog is not something outside the realms of possibility - but then again pigs aren't generally green and the left-hand view definitely looks more piggish. Well, at least the mystery of where Dr. Seuss got that green ham from has been cleared up.
My old good friends have been kidnapped by Evil Rock Bird, and I must save them. My old bad friends can go screw themselves. The Evil Rock Bird is welcome to them, he can have the pleasure of dealing with them never chipping in money for the pizzas but always eating, like, three slices anyway. If I remember my biology lessons, and I'm fairly certain I do, Evil Rock Bird is part of the same evolutionary line that contains the Rock Lobster. The tip of this branch on the tree of life is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who funnily enough seems to be turning into an actual rock as the years go by.
If you like your computer games to be more simple than the plot of a Where's Wally book but with a damn sight more skeletons, then Bloody Afternoon is the title for you. It's a shooting gallery, and a very basic one at that: monsters pop up, hesitate for a few moments as though the enormity of taking a human life is suddenly weighing heavily upon them, and then try to shoot you. Your task is to shoot them first, by moving your mouse pointer over them and clicking the button. That's it. I managed to shoot that one on the left. You can tell, because his head has exploded like a bottle of ketchup being trampled by an invisible elephant. Hang on, his head was full of gore and such... these aren't real skeletons at all! They're flesh-and-blood creatures who have made the (admittedly excellent) decision to wear skull masks. I feel cheated.
Sometimes these non-skeletons pop up right in front of you. This accomplishes two things: it makes them a bigger target and therefore easier to shoot, and it makes you wonder how the hell a skull-faced monster wearing bright purple robes and carrying a machine gun managed to sneak up to within a couple of feet of the player before jumping up and shouting "surprise!" I assume he shouts "surprise!" anyway. I can't think of any reason why he wouldn't. They're a fun-loving bunch, the non-skeletons: why, just look at the one in the centre-right window. I shot him to death and he's just laughing it off!
Once the game decides you've shot / clicked on enough of Evil Rock Bird's troops, a small wooden board with a picture of a bomb on it pops up. Shoot that and the castle's door explodes, because this fortress is apparently based on the boardgame Crossbows and Catapults. It's not a good security system.
Blah blah very carefully shoot the prisoners blah blah. Look, I'm a busy man, I don't have time to read all that. I skimmed it, I got the gist, it'll be fine.
Here are the prisoners, then, resplendent in their purple jumpsuits. The similarity between the clothes of the prisoners and their ghoulish guards will form the main bulk of my defence during my upcoming court case. The charges against me? I shot a lot of prisoners. My very existence is a repudiation of the Geneva Convention. The problem was that saving the prisoners in Bloody Afternoon requires a certain amount of delicacy - aiming your weapon using the mouse cursor allows for a fairly high degree of accuracy, and so to compensate the developers made the targets you need to shoot really, really small. You can see that the prisoner on the right is holding the padlock to their chains directly over their centre mass instead of, I dunno, at least holding it off to one side or something. You can also detect the faint hint of a scowl on his pixellated features, as though he's almost challenging the player to miss by a margin of mere pixels and accidentally shoot him in the neck. Again, "he looked like he wanted me to shoot him" will be part of my legal defence, although obviously not a very good part.
The most challenging test of my precision shooting skills came from these instances, where a green ghost popped up holding a prisoner in a headlock. This is a manoeuvre that benefits no-one involved: either the monster gets shot and the prisoner goes free, or I accidentally shoot the prisoner and the Evil Rock Bird's forces have one less hostage. It should go without saying that taking advice from a Keanu Reeves film is always a bad idea, but shooting the hostage is definitely not a viable option here. My only explanation is that the villains are trying to demoralise our hero into giving up by making him shoot his friends. That plan would only work if he wasn't a callous merchant of death with no regard for human life, so for once a villain's plot is undone by overestimating the hero rather than underestimating him.
Hitting the monster without harming the hostage is a difficult task, made harder by the player's weapon being a machine gun that fires constantly as you hold down the mouse button. Spraying and praying is not the way to go here no matter how tempting it is to unleash a torrential downpour of hot lead death, but I'll give Bloody Afternoon credit for gradually introducing the the need for accurate shooting - the skeletons with the grey shirts are wearing body armour and can only be killed by shooting them in the skull, so even on the first stage you're taught that you can't just spray bullets around like water out of a poorly-maintained log flume.
"Keep the ghosts busy. Distract them with a song and dance routine, ghosts love Broadway numbers. You can also try the classic "what's that behind you?" routine: ghosts will often fall for it, as their recent death and transformation into an ectoplasmic state has left them understandably nervous. Failing that, just shoot them. That keeps most things busy."
More of the same for the next stage. The distinctly non-ghostly skull appear in the windows, and you have to keep them busy. The one on the top right is definitely going to be busy, picking up the shattered fragments of his head could take all afternoon. All Bloody Afternoon, even, and at a stroke the title of the game suddenly makes sense.
The main additions to this screen are the small semi-circular windows and the prisoners crawling to freedom below the castle. Don't worry, the prisoners are perfectly safe down there, although I think they might all be paralysed from the waist down because they drag themselves through the tunnel using only their arms. It's heartbreaking to watch, it really is, which is why once they're out of the castle I have to leave them to their own devices. I just couldn't bear to watch them hauling themselves to safety without the use of their legs. Don't worry, I'm sure they'll be fine. They can't be shot, at any rate. I know, I tried. Strictly in the interests of knowledge, of course. I wasn't trying to hurry them along or anything.
You can shoot the semi-circular windows, though, and you'd better be paying close attention to them because these sneaky monsters - represented only by a pair of glowing red eyes and the menacing barrel of their gun - will appear in them frequently. Their size makes them by far the most dangerous enemy in the game, because their hitbox is tiny and their lack of a body makes it very difficult to spot them before they start shooting you.
All the prisoners have now escaped, but our mission is not over. The headquarters of this vile legion must be destroyed, and as I'm the only man who still has the use of his lower extremities then I guess I'm the man for the job. Look out The Rock Bird, I'm coming for you.
The skull troops have been replaced by orcs for the moment. I guess they had the bloody afternoon off.
The orc hordes aren't really much different than the skeleton men, and the glowing-eyed monsters are out in force, so the gameplay is not much changed from what's gone before aside from not having to worry about shooting hostages. The thing that really stood out for me what that the orcs look vastly less intimidating when they're in the distance than they do up-close. The far-away orcs are the kind of almost-cuddly lunkheads you'd see as minions in a pre-teen kid's cartoon about a streetwise youth who is sucked into a magical fantasy world, but once they get right up in your face they become grotesque, their faces strangely featureless apart from their pin-prick eyes and disturbing smile. They're not nice to look at, but as the trade-off is that they're easier to kill when they get up close I suppose it all works out okay.
In a shocking twist, the Evil Rock Bird was here all along! Striking fear into the hearts of absolutely no-one, Evil Rock Bird comes to life once you've killed enough orcs and promptly does fuck all beyond opening his beak, allowing you to shoot him to death. Is there a word stronger than "anticlimactic"? Because I could do with one do describe this "fight." I haven't been this underwhelmed with a boss battle since... nope, sorry, this is the most underwhelming encounter with an evil mastermind I've ever experienced. Iggy Koopa put up more of a fight than this guy.
Bloody Afternoon is not quite over yet, however. Before you can escape, you have to shoot a gate, oh, two hundred or so times. Thank god I have a fully automatic weapon, I'm not sure my mouse could take that many clicks otherwise.
Yep, that's definitely a gate. Big ol' metal gate. Looks like it could take two hundred bullets to knock down, sure. I've got infinite ammo, this shouldn't be a problem... but it is, because this final stage is (not surprisingly) the hardest of the lot. Enemies appear more quickly and in greater numbers than ever before and then can wipe away your health extremely rapidly if you don't deal with them, which of course means you don't have much spare time to shoot the gate. Maybe if you'd tried this hard earlier in the game, lads, then Evil Rock Bird wouldn't now be Evil Rock Gravel and you'd still have all those prisoners
As I did have quite a lot of health going into this stage and because my gun fires quite quickly, I thought I'd try ignoring the enemies and focussing on knocking down the gate.
It did not go very well. Nice Game Over screen, though, and it was sweet of the bad guys to take the time to give me a proper burial.
Through a combination of perseverance, luck and holding down the fire button and dragging it across the gate as I switched my aim between targets, I just about managed to destroy the gate. I also did serious damage to my score in the process - every time you fire a bullet that doesn't kill something, your score goes down by a point. It's a nice little mechanic that further promotes the need for accuracy, and because shooting (ha ha) for the high-score table is all Bloody Afternoon has to offer on the replayability front it's nice to have that extra flourish to keep things semi-interesting.
Huh, it turns out I was Rambo all along. It makes about as much sense as anything else in this game, and as John Rambo gazes wistfully on the carnage he has wrought, I accept Bloody Afternoon's congratulations - sorry, Gongratulations - and reflect on what was a fairly enjoyable way to spend an hour or so. Sure, the game's about as deep as a pixie's bathwater, but is that such a bad thing? Not every game has to be an epic adventure, and while Bloody Afternoon never gets more complex than clicking on things really fast like a meth addict filling in an online survey it's enjoyable while it lasts and certainly doesn't overstay its welcome. I experienced a reasonable facsimile of fun while I was playing it, anyway, and as this Bloody Afternoon fades into a Take a Bath and Get Cleaned Up Evening I am left to reflect that with my shooting, it's a miracle any hostages were freed at all.