Review: Commander Keen Episode 3: Keen Must Die (6 hours)

In all Keen games thus far, iD Software begs for you to send $30 to their office in Texas to obtain the original Keen trilogy.  It really gives you an impression of how small iD Software was, before they came out with mega-hits like DOOM and Quake.  It’s a testament to the game’s success that they would release three more Keen games after this one, as well as a couple strange offshoots.  In Keen 3, most of all, we depart from the original formula to put Keen inside houses, in outdoor environments, and in underground caves and facilities.

Although there are still collectibles such as hamburgers, chocolate, cake and sodas, Keen 3 mostly makes it difficult to make it alive from the left side of a level to the right side.  The first level has you enter a house – the first of many – that contain the wolf-like Vorticon inside of them.  Some Vorticon must be blasted in close proximity, while others you can take out from a safe location.  But the houses are pretty confined, so it’s normally the former.  In the first level, you will likely die as the first Vorticon jumping around like a maniac in the first house makes contact with you in the close quarters. Because of this, as much as Keen 2 makes your pistol more significant than Keen 1, Keen 3 makes your pistol all the more significant still.

After a certain number of houses, Keen can go underground where there are purple platforms and gray walls.  Here, you face a ninja-like Vorticon for the first time, but it’s otherwise not especially remarkable. Also outside of houses, there are trees and clouds that can be jumped on.  Yes, you can jump on clouds, which sometimes result in finding items that add to your score.

Eventually, you find an underground facility with nuclear waste and a rocket.  I’m not sure if the Vorticons were pursuing nuclear weapons, but it is a bit suspect.  The last level you reach by riding a Loch Ness-looking monster to an island.  This game has a final boss, which I won’t ruin, but it is challenging.  It’d be a shame to lose all your lives here and have to start over.

You really get the impression that iD Sotware wanted to make a bigger game than the previous two, but the bottleneck was the game engine. The houses, the underground facilities, all look a bit drab. And Keen has the exact same jump, the exact same pogo stick jump, and the exact same blaster from the first two titles.  Something had to change.

Sure enough, they got the chance to make a bigger Keen game with Keen 4, which is on a brand new engine that hits a visual style that the previous games couldn’t achieve.  The new engine was so great, they made three new Keen games with it, Keen 4-6.  Keen 3 is certainly the strangest of the main trilogy, but to an extent, it’s still fun to collect food and take down the enemies.



1 Comment

  1. I’m starting to worry about having nightmares in which vorticon(s) jump around like maniacs. But this game sounds a bit lackluster.


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