Imagine pitching this idea for a game: you play as a baby called Bob, who is actually a cherub sent down from heaven to sort humanity out, and who has turned the Earth into a bleak futuristic hellhole with a little help from Satan himself.
If it had been anyone other than Shiny’s Dave Perry pitching that idea, and if you listened carefully enough, you would have probably heard the sound of a thousand game publishing executives choking on their coffee.
Dave Perry pitched that game. It became known as Messiah.
A true example of an original game in terms of both story and game mechanics, Messiah was and still is a hugely fulfilling videogame experience. Set in a dark, futuristic metropolis reminiscent of Mega-City One (in fact, the game feels very much like something from the comic 2000AD, in both style and humour), you must guide Bob through the world completing objectives and missions. Which sounds standard enough, but the trick here is that Bob is pretty much as weak as a baby. He has two rudimentary cherub wings, which you can use to fly Bob around for a short time and which can gain you access to areas out of reach by foot, but in combat it’s game over for Bob.
And that’s where his main skill comes in very useful: possession. As Bob, you can jump into and control almost every life form in the game – and sometimes even non-life forms, such as cyborgs and the like. This is essentially the crux of the game, as every person you possess has a different ability. Need to use that computer over there? Go and possess a scientist. Need to open that valve? Go and possess an engineer. Need to get through all these riot police? Go and possess a cop.
Possession becomes a skill that you can improve as you progress further into the game. As Bob, you can only jump into someone from behind and without anyone seeing you do it, so there’s also a massive element of stealth at play. Sometimes you may need to jump from one body to another quickly, which is hard at first, but as you improve almost becomes second nature. And it all just works beautifully together.
GET YOUR GROOVE ON
It’s a game with so many entertaining scenes, such as one where you find yourself trying to gain access to the owner of a nightclub. You possess any one of a number of loitering clubbers outside and get in the queue. Once you’re in, you’ve to find a way up to the manager’s office… which means winning a dance-off competition in the style of the Dance Dance Revolution series. It’s a hilarious interlude in all the ultra-violence. This kind of humour runs throughout the core the entire game – and perhaps if it had been absent, Messiah would have been a little bit too dark to have taken playing as a cherub seriously enough.
These days, I often look at Messiah as an example of a certain creativity we seem to have lost in gaming, a creativity started in the early ’90s and diminishing somewhat around the turn of the millennium, as high-powered graphics engines became quite as important as they did. Messiah is a prime example of a willingness to do something different, to rock the boat a bit. Having you control a main character who is essentially a baby in a nappy was a brave move, and probably put a lot of people off playing it when it was released back in 2000. But more fool them. They missed out.
I wish Shiny were still around making games like this and their other crazy, wonderful games, such as madcap strategy title Sacrifice, and the brilliantly irreverant MDK. I don’t know. Maybe I’m looking through those good old rose-tinted spectacles at what seemed like a more exciting time for gaming. But regardless of that, Messiah still remains one of the most original and downright entertaining games I’ve ever played.