Okay, maybe ‘of yore’ is an exaggeration here. But I only started gaming in the late Nineties, and completely missed the golden Gold Box age, so sue me. The titles I’m going to cover in this new series are ‘of yore’ enough for me, being the only ones I knew in my gaming youth.
First up, Rage Software’s Incoming. Seems you can download it here – although getting it to run on Windows 7 and above may be a different story. For those reading this who weren’t fortunate enough to play it back in 1998, this video has enough for a pretty good idea.
Incoming came packaged with my very first proper rig, which, coincidentally, I got the year the game launched. As such, it was the very first PC game I played – not counting the obscure Eighties titles in the antique Datamini my father had bought off a friend earlier that year.
Looking at it now, it’s not difficult to see why Incoming‘s visuals were considered cutting-edge for its time; they really haven’t aged that badly. Gameplay-wise, it handles like a gloriously 3D, open-world version of the old arcade shooters – and the kid that I was appreciated its simple, no-frills premise, most of which I only learned when I checked out its manual.
Speaking of the manual, since my copy of the game was just a disc in a wimpy plastic sleeve, I don’t have the printed version. I had the helpfile version, which I liked enough to save separately – which is how I’m able to reread and showcase it 17 years on, with the help of a little poking around Microsoft’s website.
You never actually find out more about these aliens, or even see them beyond their tanks and aircraft. They’re your classic faceless, relentless foe – another endearingly simplistic thing about the world of Incoming. No deep thinking. No character development. Just rev up the engines and send the bogeys to hell.
The audacious counter-offensive spans four* battlefields: the first three in various countries on Earth, where your missions revolve around defending the NASA fleet’s preparations, and the last on the Moon, where you destroy the aliens’ base and their warp gate.
* In some versions I’ve read about, there are six stages: a fourth one on Earth and another after the Moon assault, set on the alien homeworld. There’s also talk of a ‘campaign mode’ where you control troop movements RTS-style in addition to the vehicle-sim missions. This isn’t the version I remember. A shame – it would have made Incoming the very first RTS I ever played as well.
My own fondest memory of these battles is playing them with my father at my side, me steering the vehicle and he the weapon systems operator (read: spacebar spammer). “You’re the navigator,” he would repeat over and over whenever I suggested we trade places. “You’re the navigator.” Always the driver. Never the guy who gets to blow stuff up. But then, I don’t blame him. Back in ’98, you’d want your finger on the trigger too, if you had an arsenal like this.
Color-coded lasers. Old-school or what? And if you’re wondering about that foam gun, it’s not an easter egg – there’s a mission where you fly around in a Harrier retrofitted with it, extinguishing fires to save NASA space shuttles. As for the Designator, don’t let the lame name fool you – it’s a missile that literally ‘designates’ a target for the game’s equivalent of a tactical nuke. In the form of a big-ass blue laser (hence the icon).
I remember these so well because the shooting was such a huge part of the Incoming experience. What I knew of twitch gameplay in those days was Wolfenstein 3D and… well, nothing else comes to mind, really. I can still recall how blown away I was the first time I saw the realism of Counter-Strike in action in a LAN shop. Incoming was one of the first games – probably the first – that hammered home the concept that winning or losing in a game could be about my skill instead of my avatar’s.
The devs, Rage Software, went under in 2003 (according to Wikipedia) after a failed venture into publishing. Just another victim of the times, I guess. Got to wonder if anyone remembers them the way Sierra and Westwood are remembered!