It Came From The Desert
for Amiga (OCS/ECS)

Mr Creosote:Popular Vote:
Alternate Titles: Antheads
Company: Cinemaware
Year: 1990
Genre: Strategy, Adventure
Theme: Fighting / Horror
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 37318
Review by Mr Creosote (2021-02-06)

Cinemaware's twilight years… this famous and infamous company's penultimate game in their trademarked classic genre-bending style. The Master Designers (as their original name claimed) at their peak. Shame that market failure prevented them from going further. Though is it? Oh, yes, as their last games showed a clear upwards trend – and It Came From the Desert should be considered in their top two, if not their finest hour bar none.

Inspired by 1950s creature features, most specifically the charming Them! (and maybe to a lesser degree the awfully entertaining Empire of the Ants), a radioactive meteor crash causes regular ants to grow to giant size and invade the nearby village. The player has to collect evidence of their existence, marshal the defense and finally destroy the threat to humanity.


What distinguishes this game from Cinemaware's earlier ones, though? It is two main aspects which come to mind.

First, the storytelling is simply spot-on. The cliché genre characters and themes represented are simply delightful. The backwoods desert village hoping for a brighter future as post-war economy starts booming. The outsider protagonist, seen with suspicion by many locals, fascinating the eligible women. The wholesome love interests and the sexpot. The scientist nobody wants to believe. The buffoon mayor who simply refuses to believe until it's almost (or actually, depending on player performance) too late. The young, eager sidekick. The greasers out for dangerous fun even in the face of extinction. The business interest of the construction and the mining companies being held above certain doom by some. To name just some.

Second, and even more importantly, this is the one time they got gameplay close to flawless. Once again, it is a mixture of many mini games, though this time around, there is the distinct impression that theme and plot came first and the gameplay elements originate organically from the storytelling needs. Never does it feel tacked on just to have another action sequence. And then, the game even almost fully transforms from one main genre to another as it goes on. Again, in a fully valid manner, because gameplay follows the a major plot point.


It starts as an adventure game of sorts, with the player moving around a city map in real time, having encounters leading to conversations or other interactions. Again, the initial objective is investigating the ants and convincing key people of their existence. The game allows for some non-linearity there – concerning time, place and nature of evidence – so that different routes are possible and optimization isn't so obvious. Also worth noting, it leaves ample time to explore side plots, such as the conflict with the greasers or the pursuit of a love interest.

Later on, the main activity shifts towards a simple strategy game where different kind of forces can be deployed on the map to defend the city against ant attacks. Which makes a lot of sense in the gradual progress of the plot.

All throughout, little action sequences keep up the challenge and make for quite varied entertainment. Players get to drive a car, fly a plane, have various types of shoot-outs with giant ants, escape from hospital treatment in a hilarious slapstick scene, have knife fights and so on. Again, it all makes sense. You need to get to the ants' nest? The game will allow you to walk, though good luck getting through the ant hordes. You could hop into a tank to drive or take a biplane to fly there. If you have kept the airfield intact. Yup, and the biplane can also be used for other purposes, such as scouting, of course.


Meaning: the design is mostly exhaustive in two dimensions. First, instead of simply saying “we need an action sequence of fighting through the ants to get to their nest” and then designing this standalone mini-game, the designers apparently considered what is already in the game, which of these means could be used to accomplish said task and then allowed for all of those. Second, this leads to many of the in-game resources having more than one use.

Coming from a smash hit like Defender of the Crown and if they improved so much in subsequent years, how could Cinemaware fail? Apart from the fact that they weren't very good at timely porting and therefore constricted themselves to technically powerful, but commercially slowly failing platforms like the Amiga, one factor may have been that the market clearly moved towards more clearly cut gameplay concepts. The genre definitions became much better defined, target audiences of one often rejected aspects of the other. Cinemaware's much more theme or plot driven approach finally satisfied nobody at the time.

As one of their final attempts to stay afloat, they produced a data disk called Antheads (even marketed as It Came From the Desert II, although it required the original game to play) which offered a second, slightly adapted variant of the original set in the same locations where now humans are turning into ants themselves. Nice for fans, but for sure, this did not engage new players.

Nowadays, in an age where narrative driven games have carved out their own niche and found a strong audience, a past gem like It Came From the Desert may be ripe for re-discovery. Even if only to really see how far Cinemaware came from their not-so-humble and broadly successful, but actually fairly poor beginnings to well-rounded productions like this in just few years. Pity that everyone remembers them for the former instead.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2000-12-08)

Lizard Breath, a small desert town in 1951. A meteor has just crashed down here. This is your chance to do some research! So you head over there and start working.

Suddenly, unusual things happen in and around the village. Animals are behaving strangely. On a nearby farm, a cow's head is bitten off and all the guts have disappeared. You examine some rock samples found near the crash site and discover one glowing piece of rock you've never seen before! Are there any links?

Of course there are! Would be a pretty boring game if there was nothing to discover, eh? The strange meteor has caused a tribe of ants to mutate! They're now as huge as whole buildings! And they begin to attack everything they can reach.

But because only very few people have actually seen them and survived it, nobody really wants to believe it. Your job is now to stop the ant invasion. You have to collect samples of their corpses to analyse them. Later you may be able to find out about their weaknesses then. And it's also your job to convince the army that they have to do something. But without much evidence the local commander doesn't even want to talk to you!

It Came From The Desert is constructed like a horror movie from the 50s. The plot, the characters and the setting seem to be taken from the script of such a film! This game proves that Cinemaware deserves its name!

The gameplay cannot possibly be described accurately. A bit of everything is in it: adventure (talking to people), action (shooting ants, flying), strategy (dividing your time) and even more! Basically, you decide where to go on a map and there you have some choices what to do. And all this takes place in real time. Each movement makes the clock move on a bit further and if you're too slow, the ants will simply eat you up before you've had the chance to stop them!
Completing the game successfully requires a lot of patience, some trial-and-error and much notetaking. But it's worth it!

This game could have been the birth of a whole genre! But unfortunately, Cinemaware disappeared a bit later (but it's back now!) and other companies didn't adopt this concept. Maybe they were too afraid of failure...

Deciding what to do with “Antheads - It Came from the Desert 2” was a tough decision. In spite of its name, it is not a standalone game, it even says “Data Disk” on the box. The game is in fact almost the same: Five years after the incidents of the first game, the inhabitants of Lizard Breath are suddenly mutating into giant ants themselves! It's up to you to save them - in exactly the same gameplay style. That is why I counted it as a data disk.

To play Antheads, you first have to 'install' it (can be done onto floppy disks or disk images respectively). The provided download contains images of the original disks which aren't in a playable state. You need additional data from disk 2 and 3 of the original game. Boot from the first disk of Antheads to start the installation.

Comments (3) [Post comment]

yeah, i expected a better ending to the game though. Either way though, it's a great game, even by today's standards.

This game is great! I remember when it was released, I was stuck playing this game for Months! It has such a great story and style that I still play it for days...

This game is on my list of greatest games ever!

They should remake the game for newer computers so that everyone could enjoy this classic...



Yehhh i loved to play this on....
Never ended it though. I just couldn't survive in the antnest.
Wasn't there also a part to of this game?