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by Kurt Kalata - August 12, 2012

Last Survivor (ラストサバイバー) - Arcade, FM Towns (1989)

FM Towns Cover


Most gamers know id Software's Doom, released in 1993, as the game that popularized the multiplayer first person shooter, but the lineage reaches back far further than that. The first entry is widely believed to be MIDI Maze, released in 1987 for the Atari ST, and better known under the name Faceball 2000, for its Game Boy and SNES ports. Yet not long after that, on the other side of the globe, Sega released Last Survivor in the arcades. It's unlikely that it took any direct inspiration from MIDI Maze, having been published so shortly after, for a different platform, in a completely different ecosystem, yet it should be better recognized as one of the pioneers of the genre.

Last Survivor

For the sake of being pedantic, Last Survivor isn't technically a first person shooter. Although the action is rendered in a three dimensional space, your character, rendered as a black wireframe, is viewed from behind, and remains constantly centered on the screen. The joystick allows you to move forwards and backwards, and to strafe left and right. One button fires your weapon, while the other will allow you to turn at a 90 degree when used with the joystick. But otherwise, the basic concept and conventions are mostly the same. The perspective and split screen seem to have been inspired, or is at least very similar to, Midway's Xybots, which came out the previous year. However, the controls and gameplay are completely different.


Last Survivor is broken up into twenty levels, each being a fairly small maze. There are eight "human" characters all running around, in addition to various other non-human enemies. The goal is to collect three keys and then make your way towards the exit. The best way to collect these keys is to steal them from other players by killing them. Non-human enemies cannot carry keys, but they do drop gold, which can be used to purchase weapons, armor and other supplementary items.

The screen is divided into halves, with two players beind able to play on the same screen. Last Survivor was also designed so up to four cabinets could be linked up, allowing eight players altogether. If less than eight players are available, the remaining characters are controlled by the computer. Though each of the eight characters have unique (and frankly bizarre) designs, there's not really any differences between them. Whenever you kill one of them, their decapitated head is left on playing field until they rejoin the action, which is frankly disturbing, despite how cartoonish everything looks.

Developed for the Sega System X (the same hardware that ran After Burner and Thunder Blade), the graphics are rendered using the same 3D programming as the other Sega Super Scaler games. Rather than using polygons or texture mapping, like other, later first person shooters, this means that everything in the game is displayed as a single flat bitmap. When looking straight on to the flat side of a wall, this looks fine, but when gazing down a corridor looking at the edges, the effect is rather bizarre, because there are several forward-facing tiles spaced out to look like a wall.

So obviously Last Survivor looks and plays somewhat awkwardly, but considering it was an eight multiplayer deathmatch game designed for networking released in 1989, makes it a remarkable achievement from a technological standpoint. Unfortunately, it is not yet emulated in MAME, though it is being implemented for a future release. It was, however, ported to the FM Towns in 1991, with the conversion handled by CRI. The MAME version has not yet been released to the public, but based on videos, the FM Towns version isn't as smooth, but it runs at about the same speed, which is rather on the slow side. This port also includes an arranged CD audio soundtrack in lieu of the original music, but it's hardly memorable in the same way as other Sega arcade classics.

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Last Survivor (FM Towns)

Last Survivor (FM Towns)

Last Survivor (FM Towns)

Last Survivor (FM Towns)

Last Survivor (FM Towns)

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