Videogame (1990). Computer's Dream (CD). Designed by Hervé Lange, Olivier Cordoléani. Platforms: Amiga, AtariST, DOS (1990); Amstrad, C64 (1991).
B.A.T. is a Computer Role Playing Game with a strongly multilinear plot (see Interactive Narrative). The player adopts the role of an agent of the eponymous Bureau – a secret organization which enforces interstellar law by any means necessary – who has been ordered to prevent a terrorist atrocity on the colony world of Selenia. The game is set in the decadent metropolis that is Selenia's only city, a cosmopolitan Interzone populated by a wide variety of exotic Aliens and human drifters. As is common in CRPGs, many different actions are available in B.A.T., including conversation, combat, exploration and the use of objects purchased or discovered in the world. Additional options are provided courtesy of a Computer implanted in the player character's arm, which allows B.A.T. agents to temporarily boost their abilities to superhuman levels, and special systems such as the "love meter", a gadget which monitors a character's romantic performance. The visuals are primarily static images which the player can interact with through menus, seen from the character's point of view, as if the fantasy Adventure game Myst (see Obsidian) had been created using prerendered artwork rather than Full Motion Video. Some situations trigger the use of real-time displays, as in the rudimentary flight simulator which allows the player to travel across the surface of Selenia. Nevertheless, as with Myst, playing B.A.T. can evoke a sense of confinement, as the limited degree of interactivity becomes apparent.
Developed in France, B.A.T. is artistically striking, with a lush visual style reminiscent of the bandes dessinées ["drawn strips"] created by such artists as Enki Bilal (see Comics). The game also benefits from a lovingly detailed fictional universe. Not only does B.A.T. include a wide variety of bizarre nonhumans, curious weapons and peculiar locations, but its manual contains a surprisingly long discussion of the Physics of Einstein-Rosen bridges as a means of creating Wormholes to the stars. As in Charles Stross' later novel Singularity Sky (2003), Faster Than Light travel using this method means going back in time, presumably in order to avoid any possible problems with causality (see Relativity). Unfortunately, a lack of guidance for the player means that it is easy to get lost in the game's open world and fail to make progress in the plot. B.A.T. also suffers from a less than ideal English translation, exemplified by the rendering of "Bureau des Affaires Temporelles" ["Office of Temporal Affairs"] – the original acronym for the titular organization – as "Bureau of Astral Troubleshooters". Nevertheless, the rather obscure B.A.T. is an impressive piece of future noir, set in a stylish, violent underworld with a distinctly anti-capitalist tone. It deserves to be better known.
Related works: The sequel is The Koshan Conspiracy (1992 CD, Amiga, DOS; 1993 AtariST) designed by Hervé Lange, Olivier Cordoléani. This game has a similar design to the first, but offers more animated visuals and a greater number of options for interaction. The narrative is also more structured; the player is initially given a series of missions to complete. Here, the threat faced by the Bureau is a plot by the eponymous corporation to gain complete control of supplies of an economically vital mineral. As with its predecessor, most of the events of The Koshan Conspiracy take place in a single large city. One sequence is set in space, however, with real-time gameplay resembling that of Wing Commander (1990). [NT]
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