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Video Game / Critical Mass (1995)

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With the advent of the critical mass engine, mankind began its exploration of the stars, and wherever man went, war was sure to follow.

A top-down Turn-Based squad-based shooter IN SPACE. A Windows game by Sean O'Conner that allows a player to take control of the head pilot of a small-but-elite squad of fighters, and complete missions in order to get better ships, so you can complete harder missions, and repeat the process. Unique in that it allows the player to make their own ships and missions. If you can imagine the lovechild of Star Control II and a turn-based strategy game you might not be too far off.

Not to be confused with Critical Mass or Critical Mass 1985, totally unrelated video games of the same name.

A demo (and, if you like it, the whole game) can be found here.


Critical Mass provides examples of:

  • Air Jousting: Or rather, SPACE Jousting — a viable, but usually suicidal technique for hitting an enemy ship.
  • All There in the Manual: There's not much there, but what there is barely ever comes up in-game.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: A ship is always less shielded in the rear, as rear shielding costs several times more than front or side. Thus, even a couple of weak missiles fired into a ship's tailplate can cripple it.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking and Asskicking Equals Authority: As you kick more ass, you get promoted up the ranks, which lets you use stronger ships, which lets you kick more ass... it’s a chicken-and-egg deal.
  • Blood Knight: The best (though definitely not safest) way to climb the ranks, as the point gap between mission success and mission failure can be closed, and actually overcome, with only one or two kills. It's not impossible to get 5+ on some of the enemy-heavy missions.
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  • Bragging Rights Reward: What's the reward for going through 30+ missions perfectly, succeeding each one, and racking up more kills than God? When you die, that character's record goes up on the "Roll of Honour", the game's high score list (which only keeps track of the scores on your computer).
  • But Thou Must!: There is no option to refuse a mission. If you get a mission, it's going on your record, success or fail.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Zigzagged. As your ship's parts get damaged, they begin to lose abilities (turn radius, speed, missile launchers), but if all your cockpit parts are destroyed, your ship explodes violently, regardless of how much or little damage the ship otherwise has.
  • Critical Hit: Sort of. It's not unheard of for a ship to hit you at an odd angle, bypass most of your shields, and, by chance, destroy all of your Command Center parts, bringing you from 'full health' to 'spectacular explosion' in one turn.
  • Deletion as Punishment: If you don't eject before your ship is destroyed, or your escape pod is shot down, your save file is deleted.
  • Disk One Nuke: The most expensive ship you can use at the start of the game is 116 points. This has become the de facto standard point cost for ship design.
  • Endless Game: Only ends when your pilot is killed.
  • Enemy-Detecting Radar: A ship part that functions directionally on the side it's installed on. They're cheap, useful, and somewhat non-essential, making them good filler for construction slots, especially when paired with extra command centers to prevent Critical Existence Failure.
  • Escort Mission: Half the game's missions are these.
    • The other half are search-and-destroy missions, the exact opposite of said Escort Missions.
  • Excuse Plot: Here's your story: Ships over there. Kill they ass.
  • Fake Difficulty: The game isn't easy to begin with, and then you have to deal with your allies hitting you more often than the enemies.
  • Fantastic Racism: Apparently the only difference between you and your enemies is the color you paint your ships, and some unique, species-specific ships.
    • If the names are what they appear to be (Merikons = Americans, Zyans = Asians), then the Racism isn't even Fantastic.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Hyperspace, but it takes 8 turns to charge, and can only be used to leave the battle.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Your character gets a last name and a callsign. Your squadmates don't even get names.
  • Fragile Speedster: The "Fear" chain of ships, which have a 70-degree turn radius and dog-fighting-favoring missiles, but almost no shields.
  • Friendly Fireproof: Averted. Your allies are just as much of a hazard as your enemies.
  • Glass Cannon: The "Bug" chain of ships, all of which are essentially just a large number of missiles slapped to an engine.
    • The Hornet, the biggest "Bug", is an especially glaring case. It has decent front shields, and some side shielding, but has only a single engine in the rear, so any shot from behind is going to seriously ruin your day, if not outright kill you.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: How do you fight enemies who blow up your hospitals, shoot down your in-training pilots, and threaten to wipe you off the face of the galaxy? By doing the exact same thing to them.
  • Jack-of-All-Stats: The "Heathen," "Frigate" and "Whirlwind" chains are both relatively balanced, but with different emphases.
  • Kobayashi Mario: The missions never run out. You just keep flying them until you die.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The "Whirlwind" chain of ships.
  • Luck-Based Mission: All of them, to a certain extent. If you want to last long, you have to learn that sometimes it's OK to turn tail and run if the enemy got the jump on you.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Ships like the Raven, with four launchers and stacks of seeking missiles, are more than capable of it. Sometimes seems to be the only way to score a hit.
  • Made of Explodium: Ships explode violently when destroyed.
  • Midair Repair: Mid-SPACE repair, the closest thing the game has to a Game-Breaker.
  • Mission Briefing: Also where you pick out your ships for that mission.
  • More Dakka: The "Hawk" chain of ships, whose entire goal is to throw as many missiles out into the air as possible, and hope that a few of them hit something.
  • Nintendo Hard
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Escape pods can be destroyed by a single hit of the weakest missile.
    • Every part and shield is also a One-Hit-Point Wonder, with how many are destroyed per hit decided semi-randomly based on missile strength and hit location.
  • Rule of Cool: How come Space Is Noisy when the rest of the game averts most Space Is an Ocean tropes? This is why.
  • Space Friction: Averted. A ship without rear engines cannot speed up or slow down, until it hits something.
  • Space Is Noisy: Played straight. Handwave it with it being produced by the ships, or just Rule of Cool, and move on.
  • The Squad: Varying in size from three to seven.
    • Can be brought lower, but there's no benefit to it.
  • Stealth in Space: Of the 'disrupts radar' variety.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Allies kill you one too many times? Shoot them to your heart's content, they don't fire back.
  • We Have Reserves: The "Drone" chain of ships, which are like the Bugs, except without the "Cannon" part.