Written by: Rik

Date posted: May 26, 2010

It doesn’t look too bad here, does it? It is though.

Zone Raiders. The name alone makes me twitch slightly, even after all these years. I certainly could have done without playing it again, and seeing as the memories from the first time around are still powerful enough to occasionally have nightmares about it, there was a temptation to rely on their accuracy and upload a review that consisted of entirely of the words “it’s rubbish” repeated over and over again until the top two screenshots seemed far enough away from the bottom two to add a full stop.

Back in 1996, I went to a shop and bought this game with money from my own pocket (£7.99 I think it was). If I were to make a list of all the bad decisions I’d made in my life – and there have been some stinkers, believe me – the decision to acquire and play Zone Raiders would be right up there with the very worst. And because I was so determined to learn from the experience, it’s unlikely to ever be repeated, which means that, when I die, this will still be the least-enjoyable game that I ever paid money for.

If you get tired of the empty levels, the external view gives you something to see.

As such, I guess it needs to be documented here. And if you’re going to exhume the corpse of a long-forgotten game, you may as well do it properly, especially with this site’s stellar reputation for integrity (stop laughing at the back there) at stake. Which is how I came to find myself downloading the game and once again spending several hours of my free time subjecting myself to its terrifying whims.

Zone Raiders is a futuristic action/racing game, and as such features the mandatory hovercars and dangerous post-nuclear setting. However, in terms of the experience it recreates it may as well be a game set in the present day in which you have to drive to a job interview in an unfamiliar small town with a confusing one-way system and plenty of roundabouts, aided only by the world’s vaguest GPS system voiced by a five-year old telling you only whether you’re getting “warmer” or “colder”. In fact, that’d be a whole lot more fun than playing this game, even if it was the first interview you’d had in months and you ended up abandoning your car on a petrol station forecourt, arriving an hour late, red-faced and covered in sweat, only to be told that you weren’t quite what they were looking for.

Essentially, it’s all about finding stuff on a level (or “raiding” a “zone”, as the game would have it) and then heading for the exit before you run out of time. You do get a map, but it’s the kind of map that can only show you where you’ve already been. And then there’s a bleeping gadget in your car, which bleeps more quickly when you’re near whatever it is you’re supposed to be finding next. Fast bleeping, though, isn’t always as exciting as you’d think, though because each “zone” isn’t a flat area that you’re free to explore, it’s a big, interconnected, twisting track thing that you sort of have to follow until you come to a junction. So sometimes although you might be really close to an item, in order to actually get to it you’ll need to find an alternative route. What larks!

Combat doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing.

As if all of this driving around being lost while being taunted by Mr Bleepy isn’t bad enough, you also have to fend off attacks from the occupants of the zone, who presumably don’t like being raided. What this means in practice is that generic polygon blobs occasionally appear and blast you with lasers. Fortunately, you have lasers too, and if you hit the fire key really quickly you’ll probably be able to kill one or two. But if there are lots of them, you’ll probably die. Unless, of course, you run away or put the cheat mode on. Or, you know, just turn the computer off. Because, ultimately, that’s what you’ll feel like doing.

It could be argued that picking holes in things that are bad can actually be more entertaining than praising those that are worthy and enjoyable. In most cases, I’d agree, but unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. In fact, I’m loath to describe Zone Raiders as the worst game I’ve ever played, because from a technical standpoint, it certainly isn’t – it looks pretty good for its time, everything whizzes along at a fair old lick, and there aren’t even any horrendous bugs to report or anything else that would somehow make it crap in an amusing way, thus depriving it even of the kind of novelty value that might tempt you into experiencing for yourself just how bad it is.

That could be what we’re after. Or it might not. I can’t remember.

As something supposedly developed for the purposes of entertainment, though, this game fails on almost every level. It’s a depressingly unengaging experience, whether you’re fending off repetitive waves of hovering enemies, or driving around largely featureless tracks trying to find that bit of something you need for some reason you can’t remember before the timer runs out. And as for that bleeping – that goadawful, incessant bleeping – well let’s just say that before long you’ll be suffering from the kind of theatrical headaches that you’d typically observe at the start of a television advert for a high-strength painkiller.

There is absolutely no reason for you to play this game. It has virtually no redeeming features and contains nothing that could pass for entertainment, especially in the modern era when we’re surrounded by all kinds of wonderful distractions with which to while away our all-too-rare free time. Don’t even play it to satisfy your curiosity – seriously, even if you only do so for five seconds, you’ll regret not taking my advice. And you’ll need to ask a priest to perform an exorcism on your computer afterwards.