In ‘No Pay 2 Play’, we review free video games (whether they’re riddled with microtransactions and season passes or not) and then answer the golden question: is it worth adding to your game library?
Developed and published by Apogee Software (otherwise known as 3D Realms). Released in August 1994. Available on Steam and GOG. Achievements and trading cards not included
Is it really free?
Yes. It was released as freeware in late-2005
What’s it all about?
One man, a thousand monsters, and a million points to earn. Sounds like… well, pretty much any nineties side-scroller. While big-name PC games include Commander Keen and Duke Nukem dominated the market at the time, the 1993-title Bio Menace never did become as successful or memorable in comparison. Make no mistake, though – Bio Menace is still jolly good fun when it isn’t shoving you into the deep end, which it’s particularly fond of.
A crazed stereotypical scientist called Dr. Mangle has unleashed a mutant army upon Metro City. Super-CIA agent and totally-original character Snake Logan (wonder if he escaped from New York or L.A.) must clear out the streets of scum, save the civilians, and take down the evil doc. However, there’s another villain pulling the strings in the background. Even if the story is about as inspiring as frosted corn flakes, Bio Menace still looks great to this day. Visually, it’s a strange mix of bright colours and goofy-looking baddies, which thematically clash with some of the grim decorations in each stage – destroyed vehicles, butchered civilians, etc. Taking down these freaks is very satisfying; they spray chunks of gibs and bone on death.
It controls pretty well, too. Moving around feels nice and responsive with no input delays. Heck, Logan seems to pogo 10-feet in the air with each jump, which is more impressive than anything. There’s the added bonus of being able to play on both keyboard or controller, too. You can even input specific button combinations to perform special moves, which are, admittedly, not always that useful, yet it’s a nice addition anyway.
Bio Menace is divided between three chapters, with just over 10 levels a piece. What you need to do is to find any necessary keycards or crystal shards to progress. You’ll need to save the civilians before exiting the area, though. Starting off with a single-shot rifle, you’ll eventually swipe an assault rifle, plasma gun, grenades, cluster bombs, mines, and more. A lovely selection of weapons are nothing without some good levels to play them in, and Bio Menace has plenty of maze-like missions. They’re decent, not to mention pretty detailed, but they will annoy you with things like insta-kill spikes, having to redo some platforming after falling off a thin platform, and not being able to leap over certain foes, to name a few nitpicks.
Unless you’re accustomed to the challenging games of yesteryear, you’d best start on easy mode. Normal mode will only fill up half of your health bar. Feels like a cheap way to make it tougher, as if the life system (you’ll need to collect 50 red gems for a 1-up) and foes aren’t enough. Blobs will pounce-attack, devils will summon fire, fireworks on legs will divebomb you, snakes spit acid from afar… and these all appear in the first episode. Even worse, robots will either soak up lots of damage or kill you instantly. The bosses are an even bigger pain. Your best bet is to find a spot in the map to spam them from afar, in order to protect yourself from most of their attacks. You’ll come across a few per episode, just what you didn’t need. At least their designs are freakish and creative.
Bobby Prince, famous for his work on games like Wolfenstein and Commander Keen (oh, and a small-name shooter that goes by the motherflippin’ name of DOOM), did a good job on the music for Bio Menace, even if it’s not quite as memorable as the aforementioned works. There’s a handful of fittingly upbeat or moody songs to behold here. The man loves his chord structures, so there’s plenty to behold, The sound effects sound nice, and have that distinctive nineties-feel.
Bio Menace is a menacing one, f’sure. Thing is, when the game’s being fair, there’s fun to be had. When it’s not, it’ll make you want to rip out your hair. Despite their blatantly obvious flaws, the levels are usually good stuff, and while the weapons and combat are satisfying, some baddies can be a real pain in the booty. The bosses are of no exception. It’s far from impossible, though it’s recommended that you first play the game on the easy difficulty. This is the nineties. Bio Menace is by no means as polished or refined as the Duke Nukem or Commander Keen series – and there’s plenty of awesome entries – though there’s some joy to be had here.