Boiling Point: Road To Hell (PC) review
It's easy to forget, in these days of stunted bookkeepers, that once giants walked the Earth. While retroheads will normally describe the eighties so-called golden age as all about the accessible quick arcade thrills, that doesn't tell the whole story. While everyone gives a nod towards Elite as the massive freeform classic, they forget the other enormous, genre-blending games that often somehow managed to contort themselves into 48K memory packs. Think of games like Mercenary or Lords of Midnight. Later, consider the sprawling grandeur of Midwinter. Think of big things.
Boiling Point is very much in the same lineage, an action/adventure game with enormous scope. Its cleverness is that while the concept is small (an Ex-Mercenary father tries to find his missing daughter in a South American Valley), its execution is large. While a more traditional shooter would just throw together a series of levels of blasting until you catch up with your errant child, Deep Shadows has essentially just made a valley and then left you to it.
So what do you do to find your daughter? Well, logically enough, you can start asking people about the town and then go and ask her employee. This uncovers clues and leads, which you can then pursue. Someone needs a favour before they'll tell you what's going on? Well, get in a car and head off to see if you can fulfil the need. Short on cash? Try taking on jobs for one of the representatives of the game's many factions. Of course, these endeavours raise and lower your standing with all the groups, changing how they interact with you later. The simple experience of heading across the map can radically depending on your earlier decisions.
And what a map. The game sprawls across two-hundred-and-fifty kilometres of jungles, villages and hidden bases, and you travel the map freely. After the loading pauses every minute or so of Half-life 2 or Deus Ex: Invisible War, this freedom to roam is the greatest freedom of all, adding hugely to the atmosphere and the sense that this is a real place. It's a genuinely luscious one. While not as beautiful as the verdant flora of Far Cry, its sheer size and your ability to genuinely explore it makes for a very different and immersive thing.
In terms of the amount of things you can do, it stands with no obvious peers. While the actual model for both combat and stealth is relatively simple, they're functional enough. And it's not really about the combat anyway, with the majority of the game spent exploring, conversing and working out what to do next. The most satisfying missions are the ones where, by examining at the situation, you manage to work out a clever solution rather than simply doing the expected. Just because the files you have to steal are in the middle of a heavily guarded Mafia base doesn't mean you have to kill every guard there.
In a world where streamlining (i.e. cutting out all the controls that won't fit on a joypad) is the expected standard, this is so far from that it could be in orbit. There are role-playing game-style stats, which improve through experience. Weapons can be customised to improve range or damage if you have the right equipment. Get drunk too much, and you become an alcoholic. Similarly, you can become addicted to combat drugs or medical syringes. You even get tired, and find yourself catching forty winks in your car before heading off into the undergrowth to complete a mission. You're constantly surprised by what the game offers you, and the wealth of anecdotes you'll want to share with friends around the corner. If you like games that let you tell your own story, you won't get finer. Its more realistic tone (and simple plot) even helps convince you of the reality of your quest.
What holds it back from even higher accolades is that it's one of the buggier games of recent years. However it's important to understand that for this sort of game, that's no real change. Any game which has attempted to be this freeform, this large and merge this many genres has always been as buggy as Boiling Point. If you are genuinely interested in a South-American holiday, you'll forgive the regular nonsense and get stuck into charting one of the most sophisticated and ambitious games the PC has to offer.