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Continued from Part 30: Imperial Purple
I was trawling through the old web one evening, looking for additional resources on early Linux gaming, when I came across a freeware game I had never heard of before. Entitled Phobia III - Edge Of Humanity, it was mentioned on a short lived website called PCBurn online between 2003 and 2007, which described Phobia III as a "commercial quality game" that they "deemed worthy of spending a goodly amount of time on" back in 2003. High praise indeed.
It turns out the game has something of a pedigree, with the previous Alien Phobia for MS-DOS as well as Phobia II for Windows coming out in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Phobia III seems to draw from the same well that Frozenbyte would later drink from for Shadowgrounds, being a top down shooter which tasks you with clearing the screen of an encroaching horde of alien bugs. Developer RedLynx also happens to be based in Finland, as is 10tons who made the similar Crimsonlands.
As with PCBurn, the website for Phobia III also seems to have been ephemeral, but the original website can still be accessed through the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive. The Linux version of the game found in the phobia3-linux.tar.bz2 archive was not saved, although this is hardly surprising as RedLynx was relying on the file being hosted by external mirrors. Little did I know that this was going to be the start of a long and daunting quest.
All searching for phobia3-linux.tar.bz2 online did was bring up some old forum posts that linked back to the same mirrors that RedLynx were relying on; it seemed no one else had ever bothered rehosting the game. I did discover that Phobia III was later packaged as part of the Russian made LinuxCenter Games Collection Vol.2 compilation, a selection of Linux gaming files that was sold on either four CD-ROMs or a single DVD, but this too appeared to have been scrubbed from the internet.
My hopes were raised somewhat when I found that the game had been uploaded to Tucows, meaning the Internet Archive should have a copy as part of their Tucows Software Library. This proved to be another dead end, as the Phobia III - Edge Of Humanity entry merely contained a torrent that downloaded the same phobiass.gif file featured on the entry itself. It was really starting to look like phobia3-linux.tar.bz2 had become Linux gaming lost media.
After over an hour of searching I stumbled onto the Gratisgames24.ch website, a Swiss free gaming outfit that does host the Linux versions of games alongside their Windows and Mac counterparts. This is by no means the norm, and I only loaded the page as I was just scrolling through Google for anything I could find at this point. The download failed to initiate at first as I was using Google Translate, but sure enough the phobia3-linux.tar.bz2 archive was available as promised.
So after all that trouble, is the game even worth it? As a demo for showing off the abilities of both the SMPEG and SDL libraries then Phobia III certainly had merit, as the pre-rendered cut-scenes are of a level you would expect from a retail CD-ROM game, apart from the opening narration being hard to make out. This same quality extends to rest of the game's art assets. Phobia III also features an original metal soundtrack in Ogg Vorbis format, which is again about what you would expect from Finns.
As for the gameplay, I am not a fan of how the trooper slithers along, with the fact you can not really shoot in the same direction as you are walking making dodging and firing at the same time near impossible. You are left at best being a mobile turret, even when not taking advantage of the many mounted gun placements found across the six levels. The stages are designed in such a way that there really is only one correct order to do things in, as otherwise you are guaranteed to just get swarmed.
The one concession Phobia III makes is that you do not need to clear a stage in order to advance; you simply need to earn enough "honor points", which means even your deaths amount to something. Which is good, as many of them were due to my getting caught on level geometry. The game also crawls when a sufficient number of bugs make their way on the screen, and there is a fair amount of, if not outright broken, then at the very least strained English.
And you know what the worst part is? My search was unnecessary. RedLynx moved the Phobia III website to a different URL a few years later, and this one was fully captured by the Wayback Machine, including all of the now locally hosted download links. Since I do have it I might as well give Phobia III more of a chance, and since it has a two player cooperative mode, I might just rope my brother into giving me another hand. For a game of last stands, at least this did not prove to be its last.
Carrying on in Part 32: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving