Review: Commander Keen 5: The Armageddon Machine (~15 hours)

This is a great game, although it’s stylistically very different from its predecessor. While in Keen 4, you explore a planet. Here, you explore an alien spaceship. It’s still running on the new game engine, but the team at iD Software made it a harder game, perhaps the hardest in the series. All told, it’s still a satisfying Keen game, and comes right before my all time favorite, Keen 6.

This time, you are collecting gum, marshmallows, chocolate milk, and “tart stix”. The first level is a big collectathon, and prepares you for what the future levels will look like. Visuals had a lot of variety in Keen 4, but here there is only one level not on the spaceship, making every level look same-y, even with changes to things like background colors. The overworld is very reminiscent of Commander Keen 2, where you run to different points on the vorticon mothership. It’s still a white spaceship, but the vorticon are not mentioned.

Again, Keen 5 is on the new engine from Keen 4, and reading the opening credits gives you the idea that John Carmack had a lot to do with the engine’s overall quality. John Carmack, largely because of his work on games like DOOM, Quake, and Wolfenstein, would go on to win the Lifetime Achievement Award at Game Developers Conference. If I have a complaint about the game — I’m pretty sure this is an engine problem — every time you blow up a machine that controls the elevator shaft, it always says “You blew up one of four machines.”  If it’s the second machine, it still says “one of four”. It would be nice if it could say “Two of four machines,” “three of four machines,” etc.

Once again, extra lives are easy to come by, and later in the game, so is ammunition. Having said this, this is a much harder game than Keen 4. You battle machines most of the time that enjoy shooting lasers. A Robo Red is about the worst enemy you’ll find, and it spews gunfire in a wide radius. Like Keen 4, there are plenty of secrets, probably more in this one. Even up to the very last moment of the game, there is a secret room.

There is no final boss, but as a harder game, finishing feels more like an accomplishment. The first five Commander Keen games are available on Steam — a digital distribution channel for games — for $4.99 or about $1 per game. Why Keen 6 isn’t included came down to who owns the rights. Meanwhile, Commander Keen 6 is my favorite Keen game, as it is the first I ever owned. I think the disks are still upstairs in my room. Keen 5 may be the hardest Keen game in the series, but I still had fun with it.

4/5

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