Producer: Argus Press
Retail Price: £9.95
Earth has been captured by an evil race, The Insignians. Patrolling the planet in robotic war machines, they keep the population in slavery.
As with all dictatorships a seed of resistance grows. For the first time since the Insignian domination, an enemy base. Kerberus has been captured by the forces of Captain Fergus McCaffery. Human hope is rekindled, the invaders can be defeated, but only if their three remaining bases can be destroyed.
Six enemy war factories are scattered around the playing area. None are currently in production, but they are activated by the arrival of first enemy robot. Putting these plants out of commission prevents the Insignians from rebuilding their stocks of weaponry. Time is limited, and the longer McCaffery takes to assemble and deploy his forces, the stronger the enemy becomes.
An anti-grav machine is used for reconnaisance flights, above enemy territory and across formidable landscape. A radar at the base of the screen shows the position of the robot under control, in relation to other robots and the terrain.
This same machine is used in the production and control of Resistance robot forces. Landing on the anti-gray pad at the home warbase gives access to the robot production schedule.
The home forces start with 20 resource units, (labour, parts, materials and forces) to their credit, to which units are added each day from their factories and warbases. War machines are built from these for combat, defence or factory capture.
Different robots possess different capabilities and functions - a tracked chassis gives good manoeuvrability, but is costly, whilst an anti-gray chassis can fly over any ground type, but is more expensive still. Weapons such as phaser, missile and nuclear modules all have different ranges and lethal forces. Enemy bases and factories can only be destroyed using the nuclear capability, but this takes out anything, including the carrying robot, within an eight mile radius.
Valuable resources are used as robots are assembled, with remaining units shown on the right hand side of the screen. A maximum of 24 war machines can be constructed by either side.
Robots are controllable by landing the anti-gray machine on top of them, they can then move to the left or right, up or down, between buildings, through rough terrain and around ravines. However only one can be controlled at a time.
Each of these war machines can be fed with instructions and allowed to act independently, searching for and destroying enemy targets that come within their range.
Control keys: definable; up, down, left, right and fire needed
Joystick: Kempston, Interface 2, Cursor
Use of colour: monochromatic playing area
Graphics: simple perspective, but effective
Sound: good tune and above average spot FX
Skill levels: one
Nether Earth is great fun, especially when it comes to building your own robot - the inlay card is well worth a read before designing commences. The graphics are reasonably good and the characters are well defined. The layout and shadowing effects are reminiscent of Zaxxon, and make the position of your anti-grav vehicle very easy to distinguish. The best feature is that there is no annoying sound to put you off. except when you attack the enemy which is a great help. The game is a bit expensive but well worth it.
I didn't really like Nether Earth the first time I played it - it wasn't too long before the game really began to unfold, and when it did, I found it much more playable. I especially enjoyed the robot building sequence, but the rest is equally worth looking at. It's not a fast aggressive shoot 'em up as the inlay might lead you to believe, but it is fun and quite reasonable at the price.
ARGUS PRESS seem to be good at releasing original games that lack severely in gameplay and content. Nether Earth does a lot to change this though, being a strange mix of strategy and action that works surprisingly well. This appeal may be short lived though as it becomes a little monotonous when you start to lose (and you lose a lot in your first couple of goes). The sound is above average, there are some effects during the game and the music on the title screen is very good considering the limitations of the 48K machine. Well worth a look and a great improvement from ARGUS.
Mighty battle machines roll out of high production factories, across a barren strip of land against a ruthless, alien enemy. Could this be the face of wars of the future? More importantly, could this be the face of wargames of the future?
Nether Earth is something new in the field of strategy. It combines a sophisticated test of resources and supply management with the challenge of battle tactics - then crowns it all with a simple menu system and impressive 3D graphics. Those maps of Waterloo will never seem the same again.
There's enough here to satisfy the hard core thinker, though it may never replace the historically accurate simulation in the traditionalist's heart. But there's also enough fast moving fun to tempt anybody who's previously been put off by the apparently arcane complexities of doing battle on a Spectrum.
The plot is simple. Our enemy is the Insignian invasion force, which is marching in from the East. Meanwhile, at the Western end of the battlezone lies our Warbase, where the battle robots are assembled.
But a Warbase is of little use unless it's supplied with the raw components, so the first thing you have to do is send your initial batch of robots out to secure neutral factories. These'll be fairly slow and basic droids, but as the supply points roll in you'll be able to assemble more complex models, replacing the clumsy bi-pod movement with anti-gray manoeuvrability and short range cannons with devastating missiles. Fluffy dice and go faster stripes are not available though.
Giving commands is simple. You skim around the area in a small craft that can also be used for reconnaissance, landing on either the Warbase heli-pad or a robot's head. This opens up a menu, which in turn may lead to a sub-menu, and you can either issue orders or take direct command of an android, while it wears you like a toupee.
The eventual aim is to thin down the enemy's defences, while containing its advance, then nuke the Insignian Warbases. For this you'll need twenty supply points for the warhead alone. These things don't come cheap, you know!
Nether Earth blends the relentless drive of American Football with a management game, great graphics and some useful sound effects to warn you of battles. There's literally nothing quite like it.
At first I thought Nether Earth was a Knightlore clone but once you move around though, you can see the difference. It's all a rougher environment, not as symmetrical as Knightlore, with faster, flashier action.
So, what's the scam? Well it's not very original. Five eons ao Earth was invaded by the Insignians, bug-eyed aliens who you never see during the game. They've established three war bases on the planet and a chain of factories which produce killer robots. Since then humans, and that includes you have been thoroughly downtrodden. Except, that is, for you with your robot making factories...
It's your robots that are going to do the combat for you so you'd better start making some. Flip to the cursor-controlled menu from which you choose drive units for your robot and weapons such as cannon, phaser and missile. The motivation units are: a bi-ped which is a cheap and cheerful pair of legs, a tractor unit specially built for movement over rugged terrain, and an anti-gravitational unit which keeps your robot hovering over hilly landscape.
Once you've created your death machine skip out of the menu by selecting the Start Robot option. You can then drop down on top of it to give orders or put it in search or combat modes.
Gameplay is broken into different 'days'. After about three or four minutes night falls. And day dawns again after roughly the same time.
You can choose to search and destroy enemy robots, factories or warbases. The complete destruction of the latter is the final aim or the game. Alternatively you can take personal control of the robot, guide it around with a joystick or put it into combat mode when the enemy attacks.
At first it seems much like any of the edge-on 3D games - from Greyfell to Batman and back - but it ain't. No sir.
Sure, it's got all of that, but also more. For one thing there's a whole chunk of strategy required. You have to work out how many of your robots to deploy and where they will be of most use to you.
The Insignian robots they're up against are ruthless and very powerful. I found that the best method of attack was to create three or four robots - you can have up to 24 - hide three of them and go in pursuit of enemy robots with the fourth.
Stay at a distance when you sight the enemy and fire off a salvo, then hide before your next burst. If you get too close to an enemy robot you're liable to be destroyed. Every one of them was more powerful than anything I could muster, I just had no chance. Obviously I was using the wrong armaments.
As your robots get wasted you hit a snag. You can't always build and deploy a new one just when you want to.
Robot parts are not infinitely available - this is real life after all. You start off with 20 resource units split up between the parts so that, for instance, there may be four cannons, three electrical shields and four lasers. Eventually you'll exhaust the day's units and not be able to build another robot until a new day dawns, when one of your factories produces two brand new resource units. The bad news is you won't have any control over where those units are assigned but at least you'll be able to start building again.
Nether Earth is a first class mix of strategy into a well-worn formula that really works.
Reviewer: John Gilbert
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