In the modern era, dedicated video game consoles are no longer a necessity for avid gamers. There's plenty of content that doesn't make its way to the PC and a lot of great console exclusives, but the biggest titles often hit as many platforms as possible, and the genres that have long flourished only on consoles now are easily found on the PC.
The nineties were a very different time. Console gaming and PC gaming had developed in parallel during the past decade; consoles were inheriting arcade-style games while both developed their own genres. Of course, it was the consoles that received mainstream popularity. Many PC developers attempted to make their own console-styled games, and though some succeeded, most felt like "me too" efforts that didn't really stand up to console games they were inspired by.
One Must Fall isn't much of a series. It consists of three games with vastly different gameplay. But One Must Fall is something that could really only have come from that era of gaming history. It is a fighting game series for the PC to call its own; a console-style game built with only the PC gamer in mind.
One Must Fall is not a full game, but a test. In the 1993, an amateur designer by the name of Rob Elam got the idea of making a Street Fighter-inspired game. This early version was released as freeware to gauge the interest in 2D fighting games on PC. While it might be thought of as a demo of 2097, it actually bears little resemblance beyond the genre and controls. The final product would be something vastly different and far superior.
While it's easy to dismiss many fighting games from the nineties as knockoffs of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, it's especially hard to call this demo anything more. The first player controls the red guy that isn't Ken Masters while the second player or computer controls the blue guy that isn't Ken Masters. There are no other characters, no plot, not even a character select screen: the game was not that far into development.
Despite their obvious visual influence, the characters do have a somewhat unique moveset. They are capable of throwing both high and low projectiles a la Sagat, teleporting toward the opponent, and doing a flying kick that crosses half the screen. Normal attacks include an uppercut, a slide kick, and an axe kick.
All special moves are activated with quarter-circle motions and are easy to perform with a keyboard. There are only two attack buttons, with quick attacks being executed by holding towards the opponent and strong attacks require holding back. While the game features dizzying, combos are not possible at all.
While the demo functions well enough, One Must Fall is ultimately not just an incomplete product. It is an uninteresting one. It does not look very good and it is not fun to play. The only redeeming value of this early version is that it serves as a comparison to the final product.
The year is 2097. World Aeronautics and Robotics, cutely referred to as "WAR", is the largest and most powerful corporation in the world; the de facto ruler of the planet. They specialize in the production of HARs; Human-Assisted Robots, gigantic space construction robots that are controlled by a brain-computer interface. The board of directors needs to select an executive to run the colonization of Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. In order to test their machines and earn further publicity, the board sets up a robot fighting tournament with the Ganymede operations as the prize.
The setting is obviously inspired by eighties dystopian sci-fi and cyberpunk such as Blade Runner or RoboCop. Japan has absorbed the United States, self-serving megacorporations rule the world, and mankind is forced to expand into space after depleting the Earth's natural resources. It mostly serves to justify giant robots pummeling each other, but it's still not a common setting in video games.
One Must Fall: 2097 is a fighting game; not a genre that commonly competes with heavy story. The lore is largely buried away in the manual. But the dark environments and electronic music do create a genuine atmosphere. All of the endings are wordy, introspective monologues written in second person, maintaining that somber feel.
There are ten playable pilots to use in one- and two-player modes. Angel aside, they're all executives at WAR, so the cast feels a little different than other fighting games. That said, they ultimately serve as little more than talking heads, so they're pretty forgettable. They also have slightly different behaviour patterns when computer controlled.
Works in genetic engineering. Crystal's farther was a head researcher at WAR whose life was claimed in a shuttle accident. Suspecting murder, Crystal seeks to gain access to WAR's database and find out the true. Her only clue: the word "Nova".
Works in sales and marketing. Steffan is the youngest and cockiest of the competitors, being only seventeen. He has no goal but to climb the corporate ladder. Seems to be canonical winner of the tournament according to a cameo in Tyrian, but it's not so clear in Battlegrounds.
Works in security. The son of one of WAR's founders; he was originally known as Milano Angston. He has joined the company in order to reclaim it and to transform it for the good of society.
Works in genetic engineering. Twin brother of Crystal. Christian is seeking revenge for his parents' assassination, similarly to his sister. He also intends to defeat her in order to keep her out of danger.
Works in public relations. The oldest participant in the tournament and, in fact, the one who proposed the whole thing. He's a happy-go-lucky guy who doesn't seem to care much about the problems surrounding the game's events.
Works in market analysis. The genius of the cast, and fully aware of it. Jean-Paul is apparently trying to lead competing companies to overthrow WAR, but this is completely forgotten in his ending.
Works in robotics engineering. Ibrahim simply loves HARs; he desires little more than to continue working with them. He is the designer of this game's Jaguar, as well as the Mantis and the Omega. The Mantis made its first appearance in Battlegrounds, though the Omega has yet to be seen.
Unknown. Angel has no known background. She does not appear in Interpol's databanks. She does not even work for WAR. One has to wonder why she's even allowed to compete. This being a sci-fi game, you can probably guess what her secret is in just a few tries.
Works in space station design. Prior to the use of HARs for sport fighting, robots with a pilot in physical cockpits were used instead. Cossette lost the use of her lower body in a such a competition. She operates a HAR in order to feel able-bodied. She's also the designer of the Electra. Cossette may be the first playable paraplegic in a fighting game, though it's only apparent through text.
Works as a bodyguard. Raven directly serves Major Hans Kreissack, the president of WAR. His primary function is to defend Kressack from the assassins that he is constantly targeted by. Despite this, Raven has no feelings of loyalty, instead seeking to overthrow his employer himself.
This time the gameplay draws inspiration not only from Street Fighter, but from Mortal Kombat. The fighting mechanics are more similar to the former. There is only one kick button and one punch button, but the player can hold forward or back to distinguish between weak and strong attacks. The weak attacks can be peppered in for an easy combo while the strong attacks can knock down opponents give you a breather.
The giant robot aspect is not used just for flavor. Both a pilot and a machine are selected at the character select. The pilot has three stats that contribute to their machine's damage, health, and speed. They also determine the pre-match banter, ending, and paint job, though the last one can be changed with the number keys. The robot, on the other hand, mainly determines moveset, along with more subtle base stats.
There are ten normally playable HARs; the final boss is also available through a code or in tournament mode. Some are clearly better than others, although most of them are still viable. They're all distinct and best suited for different pilots. Since the inputs for special moves are designed to be simple even with a keyboard, it's easy to try out different machines.
A security robot. The Jaguar is the easiest machine to use and is essentially the face of the franchise. It's agile and has varied attacks, including its Concussion Cannon projectile and its aerial Overhead Throw. Its strong, long-ranged kicks are very useful as well, even as an anti-air measure. Like with Ryu and Ken, players often use nothing else.
Shadow's definitely one of the coolest robots: it can project copies of itself to do different kinds of attacks and it looks like a Dragonball Z villain. However, it's very vulnerable at the start of its special moves, and it feels the effect of attacks that hit its clones. Still, it's a fun HAR to use even if it isn't all that good.
The Thorn is one of the game's power characters, though it isn't the better of them. Since command throws are blockable in 2097, its Spike-Charge is not safe to use from a distance. While it can effectively counter jump-ins with its Speed-Kick, there really isn't much else it has going for it.
A spaceship construction robot. Pyros doesn't seem to have any legs, so it attacks with flamethrowers instead of kicks. Oddly, it can use its midair flame attack as a sort of aerial backstep. The Pyros isn't particularly versatile: it can charge forward by using it flamethrowers as thrusters or it can do a spinning clothesline. Thankfully, they're useful attacks when playing defensively, so Pyros isn't bad.
An electricity generator robot. The Electra's pretty solid all around. It has a long-ranged projectile, a short-ranged one that pushes enemies away, and it can roll like Blanka. While its special attacks all keep opponents at bay, its normal attacks are also very solid and have nice reach themselves.
A military robot. It shouldn't be surprising that the Katana is geared towards a close-ranged rushdown. Its Rising Blade attack deals multiple heavy hits and comes out quick - not an easy move to counter. It can also stomp on opponent's heads or leap off the wall for a spinning attack.
A mining robot, also used for combat. The Shredder's namesake is its ability to shoot out its bladed hands as a medium-ranged multi-hit projectile. However, the hands themselves as vulnerable, so it's best used to prevent jump-ins and punish attacks. The Shredder's best asset is its ability to safely close the distance to its opponent with its Flip Kick.
A construction robot. Having wheels instead of legs and a mushroom-like shape, the Flail is pretty unusual. It attacks with the spikes on its wheels and chains instead of kicking and is hard to hit with some high attacks. The Flail feels like the better half of the Thorn. It has a powerful command throw and can keep opponents away with its Swinging Chains.
A reconnaissance robot. In case the wings weren't a giveaway, the Gargoyle is all about the air. It is the only HAR that maintains some horizontal control during its jumps. It can strike as it ascends, dart forward to punish openings, or dive on the opponent to slam them against the wall.
A space rescue robot. Like the Shadow, the Chronos has interesting abilities, but it isn't nearly as useless. It can freeze enemies with its projectiles, and can even use a variation that remains in place to trap the opponent. It can also teleport around for surprise attacks, but that can be dangerously slow.
The mechanics of the fighting itself are solid, but not very adventurous. There is not too much One Must Fall: 2097 does that other nineties fighting games did not. Players can perform a super jump that allows them to easily cross to the other side of the arena. The optional hyper mode powers up some special moves, often enabling their use in the air, and rehit mode enables juggle combos. Both are found in the found in the gameplay options menu, but the latter requires the advanced options code. These features help the game remain interesting even against Street Fighter Alpha and other fighting games of the late nineties.
The main distinguishing mechanic of the battles are stage hazards. They are all very predictable and can be used to the player's advantage. For example, in the desert stage, the player can use quick attacks to nudge their opponent into the line of fire of the swooping jets. This is particularly useful for causing the dizzy status, which is rather common in general due to the slow recovery of the stun gauge, and is especially dangerous as it increases vulnerability to juggles. Graciously, fighters cannot be dizzied repeatedly. The stage hazards can also be disabled.
The aspect that really makes the game stand out is the tournament mode, a single-player focused mode using a custom pilot. This actually follows the traditional single player mode chronologically. A few years after the Ganymede competition, HAR battles have become a popular sport, and your hero is just one of many competitors. In a way, this can actually be thought of as the game's sequel. It was originally intended to be included in an expansion, but it was ultimately included at the beta testers' behest.
Winning battles earns money, which the player can use to upgrade the pilot's stats, the HAR's stats, or to trade in their current HAR for another. The score count also translates to money at the end of a match. The player can thus increase their winnings by doing combos, delivering numerous hits without being hit in return, or performing finishing moves. They can also lose money by taking heavy damage or losing a match, both of which will have them chewed out by their chief engineer. If the player runs out of money completely, they may have their upgrades sold off in their repair or be booted from the tournament entirely.
The game's robot fighters were designed not only to to reduce the amount of work needed to create graphics, but also to allow for fatality-like finishing moves without fear of controversy. Each machine has at least one move that brutalizes the opponent ("scrap") and exactly one follow-up move that demolishes them ("total destruction"). These are rarely particularly impressive and they're finicky to pull off; it's often best if the player repeats the input until it works. There is no declaration of "finish him!" to mark when a fatality can be performed: they are simply done after the winner enters into their winning pose.
Tournament mode gives these moves a true purpose. Besides the score bonus providing additional earnings, finishing off opponents can sometimes trigger a bonus fight from an unranked challenger. They may be difficult opponents, but they can greatly add to your winnings and may upgrade one of your robot's special moves when defeated. Hyper mode turns a lot of these unlockable enhancements on by default.
Battles in tournament mode take place in a ladder format. Each rival has a numbered rank, and entering the tournament puts you at the highest. By challenging opponents one by one, the player has to make their way down to number one to face the champion and see the ending. While you have to go through the ranks in order and do not receive any ranked challenges yourself, opponents' placement may shuffle a bit. Tournaments may be completed in any order but have an entry fee increasing with difficulty.
Naturally, the player faces rivals with increasing parameters as they progress through the tournaments, but their stats also increase to match the player's growth. All of the enemies at the end are completely maxed out. As a result of these continually increasing stats, the endgame ends up being significantly faster than at the start. The more agile characters also greatly increase the potential for combos. In a way, it comes across as educating players of slower early fighting games on how to play more the more intense breed that followed.
Tournament mode features new characters as well as the old ones from one-player mode. New ones don't even have backstories, but some do reappear in the later tournaments as ranked or unranked opponents, and they all have their own colour schemes, attributes, and pre-match taunts.
The game is balanced for two-player, which becomes a slight issue in tournament mode; it's not the same as the balance concerns all fighting games must face. Part of the player's reward for progressing through the game is that they can trade in for other, cooler machines. Even ignoring the fact that these robots are already available in the one- and two-player modes, the allure tends to disappear when the player realizes that the familiar Jaguar they start off with is about as good as any other HAR. Though the player is compensated for their trade-in, a new robot is expensive and comes without upgrades, so the player inevitably ends up trading for a weaker machine. While it's not a huge problem, it does subtly discourage players from trying out other HARs.
Besides single player and local multiplayer, the game also features different kinds of network multiplayer, making it possibly the first fighting game ever to feature online play. Modem, null-modem cable, and IPX protocol are available network options. It should be noted that these outdated technologies can be emulated via DOSBox for Internet play. The game also has an option to connect with a modem to a bulletin board to participate in tournaments. For another possible first, matches can be recorded and played back by executing "OMF REC" or "OMF PLAY" on the command line.
The game is also full of cheat codes and other secrets, probably inspired by Mortal Kombat's. By executing another fatality-like command after performing a total destruction on an opponent on a certain stage, the player can bust through the floor to fight a secret opponent, Fire, who possesses a unique fireball attack. They can then do it a second time during that fight to face a second secret opponent, Ice, who has a freezing wave attack.
The game's graphics consist of sprites made from 3D models, a technique Donkey Kong Country would impress with later in the year. The actual models are far more primitive, however. The Jaguar and Chronos in particular seem to be made out of building blocks. Still, the game has a variety of nice little graphical details. There are some faux lighting effects on some stages: the robot's sprites will brighten as they approach the center of the Stadium, and will darken when night falls on the Desert. Chronos' and Electra's powers will go haywire when they are defeated, and the robots' palettes turn red when hit by fire. In tournament mode, you can see the damage on your HAR and your tiny crewmen repairing it. The androgynous newscaster that appears after matches is an oddity: they are drawn in an amateurish anime style that doesn't entirely match with the other characters.
The music deserves some note. Composed by Kenny Chou, the electronic dance music mostly serves to keep player's excitement up during the match. But it also helps to maintain the oppressive atmosphere that is characteristic of cyberpunk. It's as good as it gets for PC games in the early nineties. The menu theme in particular will definitely worm it way into your head. Kenny Chou later created a reconstruction of the theme; it has been uploaded to Soundcloud and YouTube.
The manual lists a fictional designer for all the HARs. While some of these are characters appearing in the game, others are mixtures of names of employees at Epic MegaGames. For example, the Thorn is designed by Cliff Brussee while the Chronos is designed by Arjan Schmalz, references to Jazz Jackrabbit's Cliff Bleszinski and Arjan Brussee. Arjan Schmalz also refers to Solar Winds' James Schmalz. The Pyros is designed by James Sweeney, a reference to the company's founder, Tim Sweeney. One Must Fall: 2097 cameos can be found in Tyrian, Jazz Jackrabbit, and Jazz Jackrabbit 2. Furthermore, Rob Elam and James Schmalz appear in tournament mode as Iceman and James.
One Must Fall: 2097 originally had a shareware demo advertising the full CD version, but that full version has now been made available as freeware. If you're interested, you can go ahead and play it with DOSBox. Additionally, a handful of fans are currently working on an open-source remake that runs on modern computers. As of this writing, it's still fairly early, with one-player mode only just implemented. However, it promises to keep the game alive in the future with modern online play, gamepad support, additional graphical options, and other new features.
Following on the heels of Super Street Fighter II, CD copies of One Must Fall: 2097 also included an advertisement for an "Enhanced CD-ROM Version". This version was quietly cancelled. No information is available about this expansion outside of this advertisement. No images have been released. The advertisement promised new pilots, HARs, arenas, and special moves. As is the convention for fighting game expansions, this was meant to be released as a stand-alone product, but owners of the original full version would be entitled to a discount.
One Must Fall: 2097 is not the most robust fighting game nor the most revolutionary. But it is a pretty unique, fun game that could hold its own against the greats of the time. It has a remarkable amount of depth, something that was often lacking in common Street Fighter II imitators.
In the nine years leading up to Battlegrounds' release, the fighting game landscape had changed immensely. 2D fighting games had become very complex and could feature more than forty playable characters. 3D fighting games made their appearance and had come into their own as a genre. A sequel to a fighting game from Street Fighter II days would have to have radical changes at minimum.
One Must Fall: Battlegrounds doesn't strongly resemble other 3D fighting games. It may best be compared to the likes of Gundam Extreme Vs. or Gotcha Force in that it has an over-the-shoulder camera, is focused on multiplayer brawls instead of one-on-one matches, and allows the player to freely roam the arena, but it has a much different approach to gameplay. Its focus is on melee combat and aerial movement is fairly limited. The best way to think of Battlegrounds is as a 2D fighting game placed into 3D space, with old school first person shooter mechanics used to fill in the gaps.
Almost all of the combat mechanics from 2097 have been translated faithfully. Attacking has become a little more complex, however. There are now separate attack buttons for each of the HARs' four limbs. Holding forward while pressing the attack button still produces a quick strike while some heavy hits now serve to launch opponents for juggle combos. There are no more medium or crouching attacks. It's possible to strike or throw enemies to the left or right, but HARs are at their best when the enemy is directly in front of them. The over-the-shoulder camera ensures that back attacks are a genuine risk.
Special attacks are still very easy to input. Double taps of up and down replace the traditional quarter- and half-circles. The right and left attack buttons produce slightly different versions of the attacks. For example, if the Jaguar's concussion cannon is performed with the left punch, it fires a quick shot. If it is performed with the right punch, it fires a slower shot with some homing capability.
The need to modernize has clearly been addressed in the combat. Battlegrounds has a ton of neat tools to use. Of course, every HAR can now deplete one stock of its shiny new super meter to perform a super attack. These can be mixed into combos to great effect. Combos are now juggle-focused and tend to be larger than they were in 2097, although any particular attack is restricted to one use per combo in order to prevent infinite loops. Finishing off an enemy with a super attack causes them to explode into small bits, an elegant replacement of the clumsy finishing moves of 2097.
That's not all, though. Pressing both of the left or right attack buttons lets your HAR counter an oncoming left or right attack respectively. It's very similar to Dead or Alive's counter mechanic. Players can also perform dodge moves on the ground or in the air at the cost of some stamina. Air dodges can sometimes be used to escape combos.
The player will please the crowd by quickly dealing damage, and so will temporarily receive a huge boost to their pilot's abilities as a reward. On the other hand, avoiding combat will lead to the player being blasted. These mechanics encourage a fast, aggressive game, but they do not discourage repetition of the same special moves moves or projectile spam. Players do not have a lot of health, so elimination matches tend to be quick. Crowd responsiveness can be modified before each match, as can game speed, chipping damage, and target points.
It's when the issue of movement comes up that things break apart. The game uses tank controls, with the movement keys only allowing slow turning and forward or backward movement. Strafing is only possible while crouching. Diagonal movement involves either turning while moving or circle-strafing while holding the evasion button. Quick turns can be done only during running jumps, making them difficult to pull off in a pinch. There's some kind of lock on as well, but it is also unintuitive.
Ultimately, movement is just way more convoluted than it needs to be; a kiss of death in any genre that values finesse. The move from small 2D arenas to large 3D ones also severely damages the viability of aerial attacks. It's no longer possible to jump across the full length of the stage and there is no guarantee that you will land in front of your opponent.
Since special attacks are often safer and easy to score hits with, the game's juggling and counter mechanics are often trivialized. The game's emphasis on multiplayer adds to this effect, as special attacks often tend to be better suited for striking multiple enemies than long combos.
While the plentiful arenas still include traps, they also now feature weapons that can be held in a HAR's hand. Most of these will be thrown with a basic punch. For some reason, each weapon can only be picked up with a particular hand. The Chronos, Force, and Mantis all have projectiles that work by creating a unique weapon. Throwing weapons can be stolen by holding the evade button, even those generated by special attacks. Power-ups that fill the player's super meter can also be found.
The implementation of projectiles is pretty unique in general. Some can be charged, during which time a reticle appears on screen and the attack can be aimed. Most projectiles cover a certain area, home in to targets, or else somehow make themselves more likely to hit despite being in finicky 3D space. A new stat, focus, governs projectile damage. It also increases the rate at which the special meter builds. Oddly, players aren't immune to their own projectiles: about half of the playable HARs are capable of hitting themselves.
The game's single player mode consists of a number of tournaments, each containing of a sequence of battles against a variety of opponents. Beating a tournament can unlock several more. Defeating an opponent allows you to play as them in later tournaments, while beating a tournament adds a useless trophy to your trophy room. This might sound a tiny bit like 2097's tournament mode. The resemblance is totally superficial.
Players can no longer create their own character. They also cannot increase their pilot or HAR's abilities. They cannot even choose their colours, though they have multiple skins to choose from. Many fights have some sort of additional conditions that may or may not be made clear. For example, in the championship match of North American Open, Raven can only be defeated with a super move. Opponents cheat in other battles, forcing the player to fight against super-powered opponents or with reduced health. It's strange that a more traditional single player mode was not provided.
Battlegrounds features over forty-five playable characters, though most aren't very interesting. Many were cooked up by fans and beta testers in order to fill out the cast as the game approached release. Ten pilots are available from the start.
The first of the returning characters. Though Christian is still sensitive about his parents' murder, he's now joined Iron Fist, the group directly responsible.
Similar to her brother, Crystal has moved on from finding out about her parents' death and is now an actress. She was sometimes vain in 2097, but seems ditzier this time around.
A suspicious elite soldier working for General Brander, one the the game's villains. There's a handful of Brander's soldiers in the cast. Dawn doesn't stand out among them.
A supermodel who became popular by defeating Crystal in a HAR match.
What's the deal with giant robots? Jerry is a musician trying to get more publicity. His bright idea is to join HAR tournaments to get it. That's gold, Jerry! Gold!
Kegan has joined the tournament just because he loves HARs.
Milano has returned to his true identity and somehow remains wealthy even after his company was shut down. He now seems to hold a grudge against Jean-Paul for his scheming.
Timor is a mysterious masked man with no attributes or allegiances. In the original release version, he gives the player illegal upgrades before a particular match.
Though he looks like a sumo wrestler, Walther is actually a genetically-enhanced bodybuilder.
Xante's goal is protecting the environment. She has spent several years living among jaguars and tigers, ultimately having herself surgically altered to resemble an animal.
While playable characters do not have their own stories, tournaments do. Several follow a particular opponent from a previously cleared tournament. There are also unlockable mastery tournaments, which are incredibly hard. The player is forced to use a particular HAR and pilot. For these tournaments, the game ignores the difficulty setting, enemies may gang up on the player, and the player's pilot is usually not suited to task at hand.
The tournaments vary between the game types. There is a survival mode where fighters need to be the last one standing for a certain number of rounds in order to win, and a mode where players have to earn a certain amount of points to win. There are also team variants of both. The team modes and points modes both suffer certain issues. Friendly fire applies to special moves, so players need to restrict themselves to regular attacks when ganging up in team matches. Points mode operates on timed rounds, though the players are only given rewards at the end of a round; the match doesn't end. Two of the rewards are based off damage, so pilots with high strength have an advantage on these matches.
Laserball is a stage rather than a proper game mode, but it operates a bit like one. It's a goofy approximation of American football. The football item is generated in the middle of the stage. A player's movement speed is halved when they carry it and they drop it if hit. If the player scores a touchdown, the football flies off and decimates the other team with lasers. The lasers aren't impossible to dodge, but they're likely to destroy any HAR they hit. Since it's not a true game mode, you can play a free-for-all version. AI opponents will just try to kill each other as usual instead of going for the football, which can still give you the win.
While 2097 was not heavier in the story department than other fighting games of its time, it provided a thick atmosphere. Aside from some unintended nineties cheesiness and a few cameo characters, the game took itself seriously. Rob Elam considered story to be a low priority for Battlegrounds, and as a direct result, that atmosphere is completely absent. In fact, it's a little hard to tell what it's trying to be.
The game is often silly, particularly in the original release. The first fight in the North American Open is against a pair of cheerleaders, while a dolphin and gorilla serve as pilots in another tournament. At other times it seems to be trying to be serious sci-fi, although not very hard. Some groups of opponents talk spitefully about the Alliance or terrorists. What is the Alliance? Who are these terrorists? The game doesn't really follow up on these things.
Battlegrounds is set somewhere around 2120, where WAR and its rival corporations no longer exist. While there is no single villain, the Iron Fist group most commonly plays that role. It was originally mentioned in 2097 as the mercenary band hired to kill members of the Nova Project. It now appears as a strict military organization led by General Brander, who is struggling for control with Steel Claw, an opponent from 2097's tournament mode. For some reason, this struggle involves cheating in the arena. The HAR Commission, the organization that moderates the sport, never seems to care about even the most blatant of cheating.
While it's pretty cool that Battlegrounds expands on existing lore, the returning characters are handled very poorly. Most of them have long forgotten their old jobs and motivations, becoming nondescript tournament fighters that do not feel connected to the original game. Raven and Angel are particularly bad. Raven just seems like a Native American stereotype now, constantly rattling on about spirits and animals. Angel teamed up with Ice to form a medical association despite having been interested only in protecting Ganymede previously.
To top it all off, the dialogue is plagued by spelling and punctuation mistakes. The brooding monologues underscored 2097's setting are nowhere to be found. This is slightly improved by patches which rewrite much of the game and modify the tournaments. They even remove the tacky bugle call that plays when the player receives an adrenaline rush, although the crowd still stomps to the rhythm of Queen's "We Will Rock You" when the player is dishing out the damage.
All of the returning HARs have been completely redesigned, though some look less distinctive as a result. Each HAR has multiple skins to pick between, which is a pretty neat feature, but the skins themselves aren't all that great. Some are just too garish, while others look more like stone or scale than metal. There are eight playable HARs in the game.
One Must Fall's poster bot doesn't just have a new look, it has a new attitude. The Jaguar now seems like an animal fused with a martial artist; even its Jaguar Leap is modified to make use of its new claws. The Jaguar also has another new toy in the form of the Particle Beam. It is weaker than the Concussion Cannon, but moves instantaneously. None of the Jaguar's attacks are well suited for hitting multiple enemies.
The wizard-like Force is the chief ranged fighter of the cast. It can suck opponents into a gravity well, fire homing explosives, and surround itself with crashing meteors. It can even throw airborne opponents to the ground via telekinesis; a real nightmare for the Gargoyle. The Force is the most versatile of the HARs, and it can be pretty intimidating just by throwing projectiles into a crowd.
Where did this apish robot come from? The Pyros may not look the same, but it's still best when on the defensive. While it no longer uses needs to use flames to replace its kicks and no longer has its Thrust Attack or Jet Swoop, it has its new Flamethrower and Fireball attacks. That said, these new attacks are often hard to hit with, so it still can't really function outside of close or medium range.
Out of all the returning HARs, none have changed as much as the Chronos. Its moves are similar in concept, but have changed in execution in order to work in 3D space. It can no longer set Stasis Crystals as traps, but instead throws them like grenades. Its Teleport Kick is now prefaced by a glowing charge-up effect, but comes out instantly after that charge-up uninterrupted. It also has Bomb Crystals and a Stasis Beam now.
Since jumping is generally less useful, the Gargoyle has become much harder to use. It no longer has a floaty jump to dance around the battlefield with. At the same time, it's not all that easy to deal with a flying opponent, and the Gargoyle has new projectiles to help it fight on the ground. Its homing Whirlwind throws enemies into the air, which is particularly useful for setting up its mid-air Leg Grabs.
It might be easy to think that the short-ranged Katana would fare poorly when enemies have more room to run around, but that's not entirely true. Its Rising Blade isn't quite as safe or wide-ranged as it used to be, but you can continue a juggle combo after it lifts enemies into the air. Its other special moves have become harder to hit with, but it has a new widening sword beam and strong supers to compensate.
Bugs and bombs are the Mantis' game. Its spider mines will chase after enemies who walk too close, while its mosquitoes seek out enemies and explode. Its Spider Ball super attack is a pretty creepy sight: It releases an entire cluster of mechanical spiders with red laser sights. The Mantis' heavy left kick causes it to face backwards, which can be incredibly annoying if you aren't used to it.
As it is noticeably larger and stronger than the other HARs, it might surprise you to learn that the Warlord cannot throw opponents normally. Warlord's hands can be switched between maces, mortars, missile launchers, and claws at any time. Sadly, this only affects its special and super attacks. In order to use its powerful super moves, the Warlord needs to have the same weapon on both hands.
The game simply does not look good, but the graphics are arguably excusable considering the time period and probably budget of the title. What really holds it back is the weak art design. There are no more dark environments; in general, the game looks rather bland.
Like the visuals, the music is generally weak. A remix of 2097's fantastic main theme plays in the game's menus. But it's Saul Bottcher composing the music instead of Kenny Chou, and there are no other remixes to look forward to. The new music is still electronic dance stuff, and it now dynamically changes to suit the action, but there just isn't much of a melody or mood to it. Two of the better songs composed for the soundtrack didn't end up making their way in.
There are all sorts of little details that don't feel right in Battlegrounds. In most games, pressing a button at a dialogue box moves on to the next one, and sometimes there's a button to skip dialogue completely. Neither is available here. Instead, holding a button causes the dialogue and animations to fast forward. The character and HAR selection screens are barebones, with scroll bars making it unclear as to whether additional content exists or not. Little things, but they add up to make the game feel underproduced. On top of that, compatibility issues with modern versions of Windows make it difficult to play.
When a game differs so much from its predecessor, it's easy to dismiss it simply for being different. The ultimate question is this: is One Must Fall: Battlegrounds a good game? Is it a hidden gem that you should rush out and buy? Well, no. But it certainly tries. It still manages provides a pretty fun, frantic experience. A game needs to get the basic things right before it can be a good game, and it needs to be a good game before it can become a great one. It's easy to imagine that with a bigger budget, with more time and polish, with better controls, the game could have been something respectable. Unfortunately, it will not have any of these things. While Battlegrounds is built to be easily moddable, the community simply did not surface for it, aside from a few attempts to bring back elements of 2097.
The franchise is owned by Diversions Entertainment; essentially, by Rob Elam himself. Having predicted the rise of indie games on smartphones, Rob Elam planned to release several future games, including some set in the One Must Fall universe. None of these plans have surfaced.
In the end, One Must Fall has come face-to-face with the fan's worst nightmare: the people who are able to create a sequel simply aren't interested.
The games are a product of the PC gaming situation of the time. The needs of the audience have since changed. In this platform-agnostic era, those looking for the fighting game experience on the PC can find it through Street Fighter IV, King of Fighters XIII, or Skullgirls. Those looking for a full single player experience can find it in Mortal Kombat or BlazBlue. A hypothetical new One Must Fall sequel would be entering into a much more competitive space than previous games.
Yet "old" is not synonymous with "bad" in the world of video games. One Must Fall is still a pretty interesting series, and even now, we can still appreciate it for what it is. One Must Fall: 2097 delivered that arcade style of gameplay that other PC games of its time could not, and it delivered it at a higher level than most arcade-based forays into the genre. One Must Fall: Battlegrounds is the much the opposite. It attempts to create a new style of gameplay, to be an innovator in the genre, but lacks the polish needed to realize its ambition.
Thanks to the One Must Fall fan community for their help.