Since the first days of Pong, video games have evolved from a simple bat and ball game housed in a cabinet, to fully interactive and realised recreations of sports, combat, driving, literally any concept you can imagine.
Many consider Atari, Nintendo, Clive Sinclair and even the BBC pioneers. Each produced hardware in the early 80's that all begat classic influential games. Most people know Super Mario Brothers, Pitfall, Donkey Kong and the like, fewer know about games like Elite on the BBC Micro, which created a whole new genre in the "space combat/trading" game. Even fewer know about the game I am going to talk about, which actually began life on the early PC's.
This particular game has influenced EVERY aspect of modern gaming, yet remains largely unknown.
This week sees the release of what many see as the most technically advanced game yet in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and is almost a direct descendant of this game.
Airborne Ranger was released by Microprose in 1988 on MS-Dos, Amiga, Atari ST and Commdore computers.
Microprose were a unique company in their day in that they had a military simulation focus and produced realistic and highly playable games, with cutting edge ideas and presentation. Each game came with a keyboard overlay for example, that you literally put over the keyboard to show you the keys and manuals that had as much technical/military information as gameplay help.
Airborne Ranger was a departure from Microprose's usual fare, which had focused mainly on flight (Gunship, F-15 Strike Eagle) and other warfare.
Airborne Ranger put you in the shoes of a lone soldier, dropped behind enemy lines with one of 12 missions to accomplish and allowed the player unprecedented freedom to complete the objective.
This was the first game to use stealth as a game component. Some missions required you to remain hidden in the main trenches, moving silently and only using a knife to kill any soldiers who came your way, until a pre-set time when you could let all hell break loose.
Other missions, like "Create A Diversion" involved creating as much noise, chaos and bloodshed as possible to distract the enemy.
With it's forced perspective view, this was the forerunner to the third person view so many games now employ, as well as every First Person Shooter you have EVER played. Some missions were in the desert, others in the Arctic. Minefields were difficult to spot, Bunkers could cut you down in seconds and a pretty realistic 3 hit rule was in effect. No health bar, just 3 wounds allowed.
Disagree? You can select your load out in Call Of Duty right? Select different weapons and even get weapons drops? Airborne Ranger was doing that in 1988, you even controlled the airdrops for your supplies yourselves, choosing the best place to put them before controlling your parachute and deciding where to land, trying to avoid bunkers, turrets or even minefields.
Once in the action you had unprecedented control, you could crawl, select weapons such as your trusty blade, M16, grenades and even a LAW rocket/bazooka. You had health/first aid packs you could use to heal one of your 3 slots and 3 drops, if you dropped one in the wrong place it could really make things hard... or you might drop all 3 near the end on a stealth mission. In an era where few games gave real choice, this had it in spades.
Leveling up your character? Airborne Ranger offered "Practice Missions" but also a Career Mode, where each successful mission could see Medals and Promotions awarded depending on how you did. If you met the criteria for the mission, you got more than if you made too much noise for example.
Watching your character go from Corporal to Colonel, getting a Purple Heart if you finished a mission with damage or even managing to get a Congressional Medal Of Honor was a major incentive to play. There were no saved games mid mission, it was do or die and when your guy died, you felt it because you were invested in the character.
Even the manual itself gave lessons in the Ranger's creedos, history and the mentality - fully immersing you in their 'never leave a man behind' world.
Airborne Ranger was a game ahead of its time by a good many years. It never got a truly great sequel but its DNA is seen on nearly every great open world, FPS or stealth game since. Without Airborne Ranger, there is no Call Of Duty, no Metal Gear Solid, no Farcry 4.
This is a game crying out for a remake ,as sadly, even with DosBox the game is too fast on modern PC's. It's EGA graphics could be beaten by even the cheapest smartphone today. Even ugly and old, Airborne Ranger was the greatest game of its era that no-one really remembers... except those who make those modern games.