Isn't this a tune by Michael Jackson? But seriously folks, Driller is actually the first release from Incentive Software based on its Freescape™ system. Freescape™, and yes it IS trademarked, is a new concept in 3D games, where every object in the game can be viewed from any direction. The effect of the graphics is quite stunning, and surprisingly playable in spite of a slight delay between 'screens', as the picture updates itself for a change of view.
The gameplay is actually a sort of arcade adventure, although there are a couple of other levels you can play it on. You are on the mining moon of Mitral, a small meteorite-pitted satellite of the planet Evath. Over the surface of the moon 18 drilling platforms have been raised which join together to form a polyhedral surface. On each surface, buildings have been erected, hangers for the various scout ships and excavators, vehicles used by the miners, and sheds for storing the Rubicon energy crystals. The moon has been evacuated, due to a build-up of gas under the surface, and you have been charged with the task of releasing it. You do this by roaming around the surface, and signalling for drilling rigs to be teleported down to your current position. Then the amount of gas you've released is then shown as a percentage, and your score relative to your performance.
There's a lot in Driller, and the most fun you get out of it is just exploring around the Freescaped™ environment, peeking under, over and around things that present themselves, manipulating switches by firing at them, activating lifts, docking with other vehicles, and seeking out and using Rubicon crystals to replenish your energy. You can just play it as an arcade game, going around shooting things and picking up points, but the best way to enjoy Driller is on all levels at once, as a shoot'em up, as an adventure and as a strategy game.
The graphics are really brilliantly rendered, and the buildings and walls all work in perspective from wherever you view them. The two vehicles you get to drive, the excavator and skimmer, are quite fast considering how much the computer is doing between screens, and the problems you have to solve are quite hard unless you do lots of experimentation.
The game took a year to build, and it shows in the quality of the workmanship and the gameplay. I can tell that people are going to be sending in tips for this for months to come. Superb!
Who needs the chunky headsets and funny gloves of Virtual Reality? Strap a pair of binoculars to your eyes, slip on a mitten and for the sell-your-grandmother price of £2.99 you can experience Freescape and explore a whole world. The game that received more praise than most Roman gods, Driller drops you onto a small, gas-bloated moon that is doomed to be hit by a meteor in mere hours, and which will destroy your home planet in the ensuing explosion. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (as if you had any choice), is to seek out and relieve the gas build-ups with your trusty drilling rig (and not a giant packet of liver salts as you might expect).
As with the other Freescape releases, it's not a question of the game becoming dated - when you get frustrated by those tricky puzzles (and those damn laser beacons) you can just wander around the planet and be amazed. (Although after a 5-hour session you do get the urge to see what your furniture looks like upside down and from the back.) What else can I say? Driller has been a Megagame, is a Megagame and will always be a Megagame. So stump up those 3 shiny coins and grab yourself a piece of Speccy history (and get a penny change to boot).
Price: £14.95 tape, £17.95 disc
Machine: Spectrum, CBM 64 and Amstrad CPC
A handsome price but a handsome package, too, for the first Incentive game featuring its new Freescape landscaping technique. The large box contains not only the tape or disc - and a Spectrum Plus-3 disc version is available - but also a glossy 32-page Federation Briefing Instruction manual, a reference card of loading insi ructions and control keys and, finally, a 3D mapping model of the moon Mitral where the game takes place.
I recommend that you construct the model as it helps you navigate round Mitral and, more important, know where you are when you lose your bearings after plunging over the edge of a cliff.
In the world of Driller, the earth is a dying planet and a colony has settled in the further reaches of the galaxy on the planet called Earth. Mitral is one of Evath's moons and it is soon to be goodbye Evath, too, as a meteor is heading for the moon, which unfortunately suffers from a build-up of gases beneath the surface of its 18 sectors.
You have been sent to relieve the gas pressure by locating the most suitable drilling places and planting rigs to siphon the gas and reduce the effect of the meteor collision. This is due in four hours' time, and Driller works in real-time, although if you do not have four hours to spare there is a SAVE feature.
What the game is really about, though, is Freescape. It is more than just a filled-in version of the wireframe graphics which have been used in the past to simulate a three-dimensional landscape; it is a way of creating a total and convincing environment. In Freescape you can look left and right, move forward and back, and you can also look up and down so that when you are passing through a tunnel or a door you can tilt back your head and look up to see the roof passing over your head.
You can move behind and even over objects and, as you move, your perspective changes constantly and reasonably quickly, given the amount of data manipulation which must be happening. Walls loom towards you as you approach and there is a 'thunk' if you approach too close and try to walk through them.
There is plenty of humour about Driller. Mitral is defended by various scanners and lasers and you fire at them as you try to find the places to sink your rigs, though you never know how a laser will respond. One just turns its back on you until you look away, when it turns round again and you can hear the lasers smacking into you. Also amusing is the way you plunge off a wall if you are trying to walk along the top and happen to miss your step. It gives a real feeling of falling, making the game and Mitral very real indeed.
Even with a joystick the number of control keys needed is large and it takes a time to get used to them. A keyboard overlay would not have been amiss. Generally the game is well-thought-out, though. You can adjust some of the controls, such as the step-size for when you are moving round. Increase this to help you speed across an empty landscape to the more interesting pieces, then reduce it again as you manoeuvre in the tight corners. You can also alter the angle by which your view changes as you look to left or right.
You can do U-turns, rise or fall vertically to enable you to look over walls and see what is beyond. In short, Freescape is brilliant. The game is not bad, either.
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