A watery grave for...

Aquaventura logo

PSYGNOSIS * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick * Out now

Stingray, stingray, diddle der der der dah. Possible the best theme tune of all time, I'm sure you'll agree. And not a bad programme, either, when you think about it. Admittedly, it was just Thunderbirds with a fishy tang, but it was still a right royal stonker of a programme.
The latest game fro the Psygies has a distinctly fishy tang as well. And there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that another of those pesky nuclear holocaust things has devastated the planet, as nuclear holocausts tend to do.
The remnants of mankind have taken to hiding under the sea in colonies, linked by under-sea tunnels, as the sea is too full of radiation for safe transit.
The bad news is that the Spurcians have got their beady eyes on Earth and have taken over all the colonies, infested all the tunnels and stolen all the beer. The last remnants of the human race flee into space and start plotting how they can get rid of the Spurcians. Now, as any great tactician would tell you, the best way to defeat an alien invasion force is to send out a solitary ship with the puniest weapons imaginable. So that's what mankind does.

And in true arcade story-line style, no sooner has our lone hero blasted off than the spacecraft containing the last people alive explodes and leaves him all alone. So, he scowls, sears and sets off on a mission of vengeance. Yowsers.

It's a sort of 3D shoot-'em-up. A bit like Afterburner meets Starglider, but it somehow manages to avoid the good points of both. It's lacking the simplicity of Afterburner, and the depth of Starglider, lurking instead in a no man's land between the two.

"The game of the decade" proclaims the box. Fib Central, kids. Aquaventura has been in development for years. Yonks and yonks! And yet with all that time, the game still manages to be a horribly shallow, disappointingly tiny little thing.

But first, let's look on the bright side and pick up on the good points. Unsurprisingly, it's got all the usual Psygnosis frills and shiny bits. Smooth and fast 3D graphics, great tunes and FX and the best intro since Beast 2. It's just a pity that the game doesn't quite match up to the standards set by the presentation.

For a start, there are only eight main levels and they're all the same. In each level you've got to shoot all the solar panels before you can attack a pyramid which leads on to the next level. The only difference is that the higher the level, the more solar panels you have to shoot.

Each level is linked by the undersea tunnels, which are shown in wireframe 3D and are totally confusing. They're fairly pointless, other than to pad out the game a bit.

At the end of each level, you get re-fueled, your missiles are restocked, you get your energy back and an extra weapon is installed.
Your extra weapons are activated by pressing the space-bar, but I'd advise you not to. For ages, I kept running out of energy, and dying without anything hitting me.
I finally figured out that it was my extra weapon that was draining my energy, a fact mysteriously missing from the manual. Oh, and you only get one life. Much crapola, senor.

Given the amount of time that this game has been in production, it's ridiculously weak. On my fifth go, I reached level four - that's half-way through the game, fact fans - and was getting fairly sick of playing the same level over and over.
And so would you be, especially after paying full price for it. Watch this one sink without a trace. Very poor indeed.


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Since the dawn of the 'Amiga era', Psygnosis have managed to impress time and time again with their innovation and quality game design. We now expect to receive an audio-visual treat whenever we pick up one of their glossy, black boxes. However, too many Psygnosis creations have fallen short of the mark due to poor playability. Shadow of the Beast is a prime example of this 'art-before-gameplay' syndrome; it looks great, but it's just too hard!

Aquaventura

What, though, do we think about Aquaventura? Well it just falls short, not because of the naff graphics and sound, but because of a lack of variety.

Dare to be different
For starters, it's got one of the oldest storylines on record! Yep, it's the 'post-holocaust invasion from space' story again (last man on the planet goes out for revenge, etc, etc): a bunch of nasty extra-terrestrials called the Spurcians have taken advantage of the Earth's predicament to launch an invasion. The eight remaining underwater colonies have been taken over and only a handful of people remain alive, aboard an orbiting freight vessel called Genesite (gosh, what an uncannily appropriate name!). In a last-ditch attempt to liberate the colonies, a lone warrior called Josh Aldrin (that's you, that is) is sent plant-side to send the Spurcian scum to meet their maker. Genesite, however, doesn't survive, making Josh the last human in existence; his mission is now one of revenge!

Polygon without a cause
An incredibly good intro sequence leads up to the action (it fills the whole of disk one as per usual) and a nice, haunting tune begins as you reach the attractive main screen. All OK so far. However, the game itself is a rather odd mixture of game and graphic styles which only just seem to work together.

Aquaventura

You could call Aquaventura a flight sim for the most part, but there is no cockpit view available; you are given an external view from behind your craft at all times. This doesn't work very well at all, because objects can pass between the ship and your viewpoint, blinding you for a few seconds. A cockpit view (with exterior views available) would also have improved update speed because the computer would have had less to manipulate on screen. Anyway, there is so little to see of the craft from behind, that it seems pointless to have made the thing so detailed!

Enemy vehicles meanwhile are made up of bobs, the scenery is made up of polygons, and the end-of-level alien of vectorballs! All movement and combat occurs above a flat, blue-striped surface which is obviously meant to be the sea, but you are in fact left with the impression that you're flying at low level above a twinkling deckchair!

Despite all this however, there is still much in Aquaventura's favor. Movement is, on the whole, very smooth, although sometimes the end-of-level guardian can slow things down a little. And then there's the tunnel section, which you must navigate in order to get from level to level. This is made up of line vectors(!), although your ship still remains a solid 3D image. Clearly, a polygon tunnel would have been impractical, and the mixed idea works very well. Extra weapons and fierce combat (which doesn't slow screen update - you're fighting bobs remember?) also add to the game's playability.

Aquaventura

In the end, though, things just get more and more samey since the only real difference between levels is the amount which needs to be done for their completion. Ultimately there isn't much incentive to complete the game once you've died on level nine and have to start again from the beginning.


Die Wasserschlacht

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Was kommt dabei heraus, wenn man "Stellar 7" mit "Encounter" kreuzt und eine Prise "Mercenary" drüberstreut? Verwässerte Vektor-Action? Vektor stimmt, Action stimmt, und Wasser gibt's hier auch - aber von verwässert kann beim neuen Psygnosis-Game dennoch keine Rede sein!

Die Jungs haben ja mittlerweile schon Erfahrung im dreidimensionalen Vektorraum gesammelt - das unsägliche "Matrix Marauders" haben wir zwischenzeitlich verziehen und "Armour Geddon" sah ja gar nicht übel aus.

Damals wie heute wurzelt die Vorgeschichte im nuklearen Holocaust: Nach dem Atomkrieg gründen die wenigen Überlebenden acht Unterwasserkolonien, aber fiese Außerirdischen machen (mal) wieder all kaputt. Nur ein Rettungsraumer kann entkommen, zu dumm, daß die Besitzer das Stromaggregat auf der Erde vergessen haben! Tja, muß halt ein mutiger Held zurückkehren und die Batterie holen...

In der spielerischen Realität sieht das dann so aus: Man steuert einen Gleiter kreuz und quer über die Meeresoberfläche und röstet Alien-Schiffe bzw. feindliche Energie-Generatoren. Und zwar jeweils solange, bis der Schutzschild der (gut bewachten) Haupt-Pyramide zusammenfällt, wo der Endgegner haust. Nach dem finalen Schlachtfest geht's durch einen rotierenden Tunnel in die nächste Kolonie, vorher wird bloß noch das eigene Schutzschild regeneriert bzw. der Vorrat an Zielsuchraketen ausgefüllt. Außerdem kann die Standard-Plasma-kanone mit einem Zielsuchsystem nachgerüstet oder gleich durch einen Laser ersetzt werden.

Über das aktuelle Feindaufkommen informiert ein Scanner, der zwischen Nah- und Fernbereich unterscheidet; daneben sollte der Aqua-Pilot auch auf seinen Energievorrat achten - denn der schmilzt beständig dahin, und man hat nur ein Leben!

Trotzdem sind die acht teilweise sehr langen Level keine unlösbare Aufgabe, schließlich kann man eine Zeitlang unter Wasser kreuzen und so manchen Geschossen ausweichen. Zu entdecken gibt es jedoch relativ wenig, das Game ist eher was für Ballerpuristen, die sich mal wieder vor einer etwas ungewöhnlichen Kulisse austoben wollen.

Schließlich hält sich die Auswahl an dreidimensionalen Knallereien ja in Grenzen, und mit den eingangs genannten kann Aquaventura allemal mithalten: Die Vektorgrafik ist flott genug und vermittelt ein gutes 3D-Feeling, die schön animierten Alien-Schiffe sind aus Vektor-Bobs aufgebaut und stellen sozusagen eine Premiere dar - bisher gab es solche Grafiktricks höchstens in den Top-Grafikdemos zu sehen! Die Ohren werden derweil mit vielen tollen Soundeffekten verwöhnt, wer mag, kann auch Musikbegleitung dazu schalten.

Ebenfalls gut aber gewöhnungsbedürftig ist die Steuerung, denn obwohl es zwei verschiedene Joystick-Modi gibt, muß man stets auf die Tastatur zurückgreifen, um die verschiedenen Waffensysteme zu aktivieren bzw. abzufeuern. Aber wenn man sich erstmalls zurechtfindet, macht's auch eine Menge Spaß! (rl)


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Hyperbole is a strange old concept: the idea of hyping something up to a totally ridiculous degree. Code Masters were one of the earliest exponents in the world of computer games of course, with their famous inlay cards bearing quotes from the managing director - "this is the best game I have ever played", "this game is totally perfect", "this game can raise the dead" etc.

Psygnosis could well have topped all that here though. According to the Aquaventura box, "for four years computer games players have been awaiting this, the release of the decade". Really? I'll just flick through my diaries for the last four years to see exactly what I have been waiting for over the period. Hmm... well I don't seem to have mentioned a nice-looking but repetitive and shallow 3D shoot-'em-up anywhere. Tsch.

Maybe it's Psygnosis displaying some wacky Scouse humour, saving up a year's supply of blah for one of their weakest releases in ages.

That's not to say that Aquaventura is totally rotten. No, it's actually quite good fun for the first hour or five plays. The graphics are incredibly smooth and the soundtrack is simply beautiful. It's easy to forget the point of the game and just swoop around the 3D landscape as the title tune lulls you into a trance. This soon gets boring though.

Once you've sussed out the radar screen, the confusing gun sights, and the order in which you have to shoot things, the game loses most of its appeal. Enemy craft loiter aimlessly in the firing line till you put them out of their misery, and the end of level guardian can best be avoided using the sophisticated 'hold down Fire whenever you can see the thing' technique, As for your own craft, this seems more at risk from invisible energy zapping forces than anything else. It's simply a case of trying to complete the mission before your craft spontaneously combusts before your eyes.

Complete the level and, a few graphic interludes later, your craft is whizzing down a tunnel, trying not to crash into either walls or enemies. Survive this and you are plonked back on the outside, same scenario, only this time you have two solar panels to destroy. And so on. And so on. And so on. Sigh.

What a shame that such neat sound and graphics were wasted on what amounts to not very much of a game. So little to do, so little reason to keep ding it. 'Scuse me while I slip into a coma...

If you bought last month's AMIGA POWER you'll have a demo of the first level of this game. Since every level is so similar (tunnel bits excepted) this is not too far removed from having the whole game. To add the illusion of increasingly difficult levels, simply play the demo over and over again. Once you've completed it normally, try it again whilst hopping on one leg, then maybe try it with a tea towel wrapped around your face, and so on. Even if you've got the full game you could try this too - it could well boost that long-term appeal no end.


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It has been in development for four years, but Tony Gill wonders whether Aquaventura was worth the wait...

SETTING THE SCENE
Aquaventura features one of the best intro sequences to a game that I've seen for a long time. In deep space, a lone fighter blasts off from a giant starship and narrowly escapes as the mothership is devastated in a nuclear explosion. Unfortunately, Psygnosis didn't have the good sense to quit while they were ahead...

A couple of years ago there was a flood of demo disks showing the fascinating things that could be done with a load of rotating balls - unfortunately, those demos were considerably more playable than this. The game involves flying a spacecraft above the surface of a watery planet in an attempt to destroy the power source which shields a mysterious pyramid. Various space invaders will annoyingly get in your way and you must blast them with your cannon and missiles.

Once the power source has been destroyed, the pyramid can be attacked and forced to disgorge the ferocious wobbly-ball monster which unaccountably lives inside. As the monster twists and turns, firing missiles at your ship, you must hit each one of the balls until it is finally destroyed. At this point you will be sucked down into a wire-frame Channel Tunnel through which you must fly without smashing your ship on the walls. During this manouvre, alien ships are coming the other way and must be dodged as they seem to be driven by French pilots who have failed to notice that we drive on the left. If you emerge safely on the other side you are deemed to have reached safety and your ship is rearmed.

NICE, BUT...
It would be fair to say that all of this is well done. The graphics are smooth, the music is exciting, the controls are responsive. The problem only appears when it becomes apparent that there are only eight levels to the game and, adding insult to injury, they are all virtually identical - the second level is the same as the first with more aliens to avoid! However, with the ship so easy to fly and the enemy easy to hit, the game might give satisfaction to younger players who won't notice that there's no depth to it. Once the purchaser has played the game for an evening and glimpsed the true nature of the beast, though, they'll realise that it is, like the end-of-level snake, just a load of balls...