Into The Eagles Nest
Fifteen years later, I happened upon Eagle's Nest and pounced upon it in order to complete my XEGS collection. Was it worth the wait? And, more importantly, was it worth the money?
The answers to both questions is very much like the game itself: a very mixed and equivocal "maybe." Eagle's Nest sure looks like a lot of games, and plays like some others, but it somehow feels like a lot less than the sum of all these great parts. Eagle's Nest isn't a truly terrible game in itself, but it is inferior to Atari's other XEGS releases, and will only likely whet your appetite for Gauntlet. Fans of the genre may well be pleased by this late-era 8-bit blaster, but casual gamers may well want to pass up this one for one of Eagle's more popular predecessors.
Wolfenstein was essentially Berzerk with a Nazi theme, and Eagle's Nest, in turn, adds little new to a genre that was already well-represented in the mid-'80s. Eagle's Nest does vary generic gameplay -- slightly -- by presenting mission "goals" that must be completed before the next level can be reached. The various mission goals to add a level of interest and variety to the game, and elevate it slightly above similar efforts where the only stated goal was survival to the next level, but they're actually less interesting than the challenges that Wolfenstein presented to players in 1982. Still, players can choose from four missions from which to begin, and this variety is a nice touch in the game. Sadly, all mazes are static, and Eagle's Nest has little replay value once you've completed all given missions.
Eagle's Nest is also -- and unaccountably -- almost impossible to play because of the game's high level of difficulty. It's impossible to wipe out enemy soldiers on any given level, as they constantly regenerate and will return to all cleared areas. Weapons and food caches are, however, finite resources, and they aren't nearly numerous enough to be really helpful on the various missions. Enemy soldiers are also unaccountably "dumb", and their only attack method seems to be "smother and shoot". You'd think that this would ease gaming difficulty, but it instead induces player exhaustion. There's little point in playing a shooter when you're just faced with endless hordes of grey, faceless drones without any funky digitized voices (or bouncing smiley faces) to spice up the action.
Gaming controls are generally stiff and unresponsive, and it's just too damn hard to hit the enemy soldiers as they move in for the kill. "Endless hordes of monsters"-type games aren't impossible to play, but they only work (as in Gauntlet) when players can move quickly enough to shoot and / or avoid all incoming targets.
Eagle's Nest was patterned both in theme and in visual effects on the groundbreaking
Castle Wolfenstein game series, and each of the game's scrolling mazes clearly evokes the feel of those earlier games, albeit with mid-'80s arcade-style graphics. Enemy soldiers are rendered well, bonuses and prizes are clear and distinct, and the game's font, which displays such important facts as health and game score, is appropriate for the game's theme.
It was also, perhaps, a no-brainer for Pandora to replicate the direct-overhead perspective of the Gauntlet games, but the results here are decidedly mixed. With its endless hordes of Nazi soldiers and food powerups, it's impossible not to think of Eagle's Nest just as Gauntlet -- the Nazi Adventure!, but coloured in drab tones and missing any sense of the delight derived from the many interesting graphic details of the Gauntlet game series. Eagle's endless stream of Nazi soldiers ultimately seems both silly (do they really replicate, gather, and attack like the ghosts in Gauntlet?) and exhausting.
In-game music is non-existent and sound effects are typically workmanlike, but they are used fairly effectively throughout the game. Wolfenstein's digitized voice samples are, however, sorely missed and I'm not sure why similar ones could not have been included here.
Eagle's Nest is perched rather awkwardly in Atari's XE gaming catalogue: a hybrid of Gauntlet, Dark Chambers, and Wolfenstein, it incorporates none of them successfully and only underlines the originality of these source games. It's puzzling to thing that Atari sat on the much-superior Commando while releasing this quasi-turkey to much fanfare. Clearly, someone goofed.
Eagle's Nest marked one of the last popular appearances of the overhead-type maze blaster before the first-person shooter took over, and it is therefore more of interest to gaming historians than the gaming fan looking for a bit of quick-and-dirty arcade action. For 8-bit collectors and completists only.