BioForge Review

They don’t make games like this anymore.

Brief History

When I first saw this box with its weird sort of radioactive robot hand on the cover, I instantly fell in love with the game and I haven’t even played it yet. The cover in its simplicity is bloody brilliant. BioForge was developed by Origin Systems for DOS in 1995. Origin’s slogan was “we create worlds” and boy, this is some world they’ve created.

 The most important bloke in the development team was Ken Demarest who joined Origin some time around 1990 or so. His very first thing he had done for Origin was a water dripping from the ceiling in Wing Commander. Then it was a heartbeat monitor in the same scene and by the end almost everything. After he worked on other games such as Ultima VII and Wing Commander II, he got his hands on BioForge. Ken was the game’s director, programmer and some sort of technical freak thanks to whom the game looks as it looks. It was a technical marvel at the time, for one BioForge was the first game ever that used fully texture-mapped 3D characters which influenced many future games. Not only the game team was composed of brilliant programmers and artists but Ken himself built a rig for motion capture based on Flock of Birds that worked in real time. And by ‘real time’ I mean it could display captured motion with fully rendered and texture-mapped models created in 3D Studio and all that in real time. That may not sound like much today, but it was in 90’. Ken himself said, he was too focused on technical side of the game and because of that the gameplay wasn’t good, and he was sort of right, the gameplay isn’t just good, it’s glorious. Sadly, Ken left Origin shortly after BioForge was released, he didn’t like where Origin was heading after it was acquired by Electronic Arts.

The working title for BioForge was Interactive movie 1 and as such, it of course, needs an excellent soundtrack and sound effects which were both created by John Tipton who was also used as a voice actor for one of the in-game characters and one of the computers.

The Game

The game kicks off as many games did back in 90’ with a pre-rendered intro. Somebody (apparently the main protagonist) is being transported to some facility on some distant planet in a distant future, after he’s carried in, it goes pear-shaped quite quickly, he gets cut to pieces (apparently by main antagonist), while still awake, and that’s where the intro ends. It is pretty vague but for a good reason. The BioForge story was written by Jack Herman who created an amazing cyber-punk sci-fi horror that makes lots of films or books or games run for their money. It toys with your emotions through entire game, it shows you blood, it shows you horror, it shows you despair and madness, but the horror doesn’t strike you when you fight an enemy or watch their mutilated bodies and body parts lying around, it strikes you most, when you read journals that you’ve found along the way, which slowly unravel back stories of other game characters as well as yours and when you realise, that you will never be a normal human being again. Even though being a cyborg is sort of cracking. The game attacks your innermost emotions and feelings, it can get you goose bumps just by running about and listening to ambient music and screams of desperate prisoners.

After the creepy butcher job, you wake up as a newly created cyborg called Lex in a locked cell guarded by some sort of medical robot with homicidal intentions. After you simultaneously get rid of the robot and break the cell force field, you find yourself in a prison of sorts. You don’t remember anything, you don’t know who you are and you don’t know where you are. Step by step you’ll uncover what actually happened to you, why there is a facility on this planet or moon called Daedalus and how to get the hell out of there. But will you? To find all the answers and possibly escape, you’ll need to solve some puzzles, read journals and logs, repair some stuff, destroy other stuff and fight lots of enemies. BioForge is part adventure game, and part fighting game, this combination makes it quite unique even by today’s standards, a similar concept is used in Yakuza series for instance. After you get out of your cell, you need to find a way through a malfunctioning door. It won’t open, so you need to figure out a way to bypass the door and the best way is to search around these cells for something you can use. Maybe a fork a bloke in a neighbouring cell so vehemently guarding can be useful somehow, let’s beat it out of him then.


Fighting is a big part of the game and you’ll be doing that a lot. Controls are a bit dodgy or clunky during fights. But let’s have a look at other controls first. You move about using arrow keys, space is used for using items, enter for picking up and dropping items and to run you need to hold down shift. There are also some shortcut keys that you can find useful during playing the game, ‘L’ opens load menu, ‘S’ opens save menu, inventory opens with ‘I’, options with ‘O’, and your cyborg body diagnostics with ‘D’. If you want to fight in hand to hand combat, take a guess what key you’d use to enter the combat mode. You can use kicks, punches, head, blocks and you can even do somersault. As I said before, fight controls are a bit clunky, you have to use certain combinations of keys. To use kicks, you have to hold down control key plus any key on the numpad, lower numbers are for lower kicks and higher numbers for higher kicks. Pretty much the same thing goes for punches, but you need to hold down alt key instead. It takes some time to get used to the controls, but once you do, you’ll be cracking every skull in the game without problems. When you’re starting the game, you get to choose combat difficulty, easy, medium or hard. Choosing hard is not just about harder enemies and weaker you, to make hard even harder, you can’t use the same move in a row. Well, you can physically use it, but if you do, the next move is a lot slower. I really enjoyed the fighting bit, even though some enemies were so bloody hard and it took some number of deaths before I defeated some of them. Unlike games for pussies nowadays, you can’t change the difficulty throughout the game. If you’ve chosen hard, you’re stuck with it until the end.

During the fights, you can get, of course, injured, when you take some light damage you get a tad bloody, more damage makes you bleed more and you start limping and when you get injured a lot you get open wounds and start dragging your leg behind, even fall down when you attempt to run, it’s a nice touch I fancy that a lot. When you get tired of fighting hand to hand, you can use some weapons, a gun or some bloke’s arm. Unlike the arm, the gun can be also used as a gun. There are two guns in the game. The basic one is not very effective against people with armour but it can take down some machinery. Reflecting a shot of some surfaces is a good way to get rid of someone or something around the corner. If you don’t get rid of yourself first by reflecting a shot into yourself. There’s also another more powerful gun that Lex calls conveniently “a big gun”. It needs a special battery you’ll find later in the game.


The adventure bit consists of picking up some stuff, using it on other stuff and getting some stuff in return to use it on another stuff, your typical adventure video game. You’ll be solving some puzzles, some harder than others but the most important bit is of course the brilliant story, which is perfectly integrated into this amazingly detailed world, well detailed for 90’. Reading through computers, journals and terminals along the way not only adds some meaning to the story and a creepiness of the place, but you’ll get viable information such as passwords and codes. You’ll slowly uncover who’s running this installation and why, what’s happened to all the prisoners including yourself and while you’re slowly getting close to some resolution, you’ll find out it’s not as straightforward as it seems to be.


Even though the game is almost 30 years old, it still looks amazing. Sure, they could’ve used higher resolution than 320×240 but still, the graphics are unmatched for the year. As I said before, BioForge was the first game ever that used fully texture-mapped 3D characters, moreover Ken Demarest used state of the art motion capture for the time called Flock of Birds. At first, the main character was supposed to be a human, but state of the art or not, it wasn’t perfect and couldn’t capture smooth human movements, so they had decided to make the main character a cyborg to sort of compensate for the lack of better technology. BioForge uses fixed camera angles on pre-rendered backgrounds, like Alone in The Dark or Resident Evil. This system is prone to some small errors and may behave a bit unpredictably at times, but practice makes perfect and once you get used to it, you won’t hit walls and fall from cliffs anymore. What may bother you though, is when you’re playing the game on a slower computer. Playing it on anything slower than 486 100Mhz is, let’s say, not exactly playable. According to the box, the minimum system 486 50MHz, but it’s really the minimum you can run it on, not play it on.

Music and sound

John Tipton used MIDI as a music format which was pretty much standard at the time. If you decide to play the game, don’t even bother using FM synthesis. Just use some sort of wavetable card if you’re playing on a DOS rig or a software wavetable synthesis if you’re playing in DOSBox, otherwise you’re missing a lot. The music fits perfectly in the game’s setting of some hidden lab place on a hostile planet and pretty much hostile environment altogether. Almost every scene has its own tune and all of them are amazing, John Tipton had done a cracking job on these tracks. For those of you who are wondering, John told me, he used Kurzweil K2000 to compose the music and that he was influenced by couple of factors. According to John, the most important influence was Blade Runner. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t hear it there.

Sound effects and voice acting are generally excellent and support the game’s atmosphere perfectly. Distant screams of tortured prisoners, eerie environment sounds, heavy metal-ish footsteps of the main character that change with the material he’s walking on or Dr. Mastaba’s commands over coms. What’s not so excellent, however, are the sounds of actual hits. It sort of sounds like a cheap Chinese film from 80s or any Chinese film for that matter. There’s not too much of vocal interaction with anybody, the story is not told through dialogues. But when there is a dialogue the voice acting is excellent, albeit the dialogues with your enemies can be a bit cheesy at times but fit rather good.


There was supposed to be a sequel called BioForge plus, but the project was cancelled and there are just couple of production videos circling the web.


I know the graphics and controls have evolved quite a lot over the years but the games themselves devolved in terms of gameplay, story and music and that’s why I usually play older games such as this one. BioForge is one of those games that were forgotten in time and to be honest, it wasn’t that famous when it was released either, for some reason. And that’s why I’m here today, to dig it up from the chasms of time and show you how good that really was or still is. For me, personally, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played and I reckon you’d find it brilliant as well. So, stop doing whatever you’re doing and give BioForge a try, I can assure you, you won’t regret it. Or you if you’re not going to try it for whatever reason, you can still watch my playthrough video on my channel.

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