£9.95 cass/£14.95 disk
Reviewer: Sean Kelly
Eek, it's the spooky Captain Blood, brave explorer of the galaxy, setting out on a mission which would make even T'zer cry. There's a huge galaxy ahead of you (you're Cp'n Blood you see) and your task is to destroy five 'Numbers', (clones of yourself) from which you'll suck enough body fluid to continue your life without dying. Yuk!
You begin the game near to an inhabited planet, which is lucky. Cos most of the planets in the game are merely a set of co-ordinates with randomly generated terrain and no life forms at all. Anyway, having found this planet you're now faced with three options. You can either send an OORX to photograph the planet surface, (this will show you if the planet has any defence systems), destroy the planet (kaboom!). or send an OORX baby to the planet surface to seek out any lifeforms.
Seeing as it's in your own interest to find a 'number', it's best not to destroy the planet, but to send your OORX into check it out. Besides, if you don't you'll miss out on one of the best bits of the game, the 'Flying Over The Planet's Terrain' sequence.
This is one of the most impressive sequences in the game, and screenshots cannot do justice to the visual impact of the terrain moving towards you, rising and falling as you swoop and soar over the surface in search of either a defence system or life form.
Once your OORX is under way, if the planet has a defence system, lines will emerge from both sides of the screen, which means that you have been detected. When these lines meet in the middle, your OORX will be destroyed. So if you're detected, flying low and slow will give protection, but it does take time to get anywhere, and I found the best policy was to zoom along until the detection lines got close to each other, and then to dive low and stop for a moment or two while they 'lose' you.
On reaching the end of a valley, you will be presented with a 'photograph' of the surface. If the planet is uninhabited, this is all you'll get, and it's time to find another. But if, joy of joys, you have stumbled on an inhabited planet, the occupant appears in a box on screen, and you can now engage it in 'conversation'.
You do this by using a Planetary Phrase Book which contains such useful phrases as 'Where is the Post Office?' No, actually you use a set of around 120 icons each representing one word, which are translated from Iconese into English when you point to them. But it proves to be an unrewarding and cumbersome exercise for several reasons.
Firstly, only about a quarter of the icons can be seen on screen at one time, and with so many to grasp, it's kind of impossible to remember what words you can use to communicate with, and after several hours play, I still couldn't get to grips with it. The aim of conversation is, I suppose, to get lots of useful information which will point you to the right planets to begin your search for the 'numbers. But as communication proved difficult, the playability of the game was dramatically reduced.
This is a very difficult game to accurately review. In a sense, it's an adventure disguised as a pseudo-Elite strategy style game, and consequently seems to defy pigeon-holing. The graphics (and sound on the biggie versions) are excellent, and the presentation of the game is straightforward and easy to use. Though if you've got to spend several hours communicating to get anywhere, you only get to appreciate the quality of programming intermittently!
Once the icon communication system is grasped, then I expect that real progress could be made in the game, and zapping round the galaxy in search of the clones could have the campaigning appeal of, say, trying to reach Elite status, or solving a massive adventure.
I doubt, however, that there are many gamesters', zappers, strategists or adventurers who are willing to put the long preliminary hours in, simply to get properly involved. This is reflected in my mark, but those who chose to persevere might find an intelligent strategy game lurking here.
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