Embryo logo

It's tough at the top, and Steve McGill even finds Embryo hard going in the middle and bottom bits.

Can you imagine a 3D shoot-em-up which resembles a flight sim, runs silkily smooth and offers you several options that aren't even considered in other games? Imagine also that it's shrouded in a dumb plot which has nothing to do with the mechanics or playability of the game.

But that's enough of the imagining. Embryo fills the above criteria with flying colours. Your aim is to fly a designated mission area, shoot everything you find there and er, that's it.

To make the task easier, you can choose to fly by keyboard, mouse, joystick or analogue joystick control. If things get too difficult, you also link up with another pilot through the serial port - a welcome idea.

Weapons are plentiful too - canon, centre and side machine guns, energy balls, unguided and guided missiles.

Explosions are meaty and meaningful. Direct hits shake the whole screen. Everything is violence and mayhem. And the only thing that stops this game from scoring high marks is the difficulty level. It takes far too many hits to render the rotating gun turrets and other weapon systems inoperative and when you're trying to take out weapons, others bombard you mercilessly. I normally would assume my gameplaying was at fault. But even Kompart's game tester was forever being killed.

I'd like to recommend Embryo, I really would. If it was a little bit easier it would be a great game. But it's far too difficult and that for me makes it totally unplayable.

Die Fehlgeburt

Embryo logo

Vergleicht man Black Legends neuen SF-Flugi mit Genregrößen wie "Wing Commander" oder besser noch der aktuellen CD-schlacht "Guardian", so kommt man zu einem traurigen Ergebnis: Dieses Baby ist eine Totgeburt!

Bereits das Mini-Intro mit der altbackenen Vorgeschichte vermag dem Spieler bloß ein Gähnen ins Gesicht zu zaubern; Die Welt wurde von Aliens besetzt und soll nun von einem Top Gun der letzten freien Rebellenstation in der Wüste Australiens gerettet werden.

Dieser Zwitter aus Asterix und Luke Skywalker erhält drei Bildschirmleben und einen Jet samt Rückwärtsgang, um die Besatzer in 20 Missionen erst vom Planeten und danach aus dem Universum zu pusten.

Bloß röchelt die per Maus, Stick, oder Tastatur zu bedienende Luftschaukel mit ihren zwei Maschinengewehren, zwei Raketensorten und den Energiebällen mehr schlecht als recht gegen den Feind an.

Auf dem Bildschirm erblickt man dabei außer der grobklotzig-drögen 3D-Vektorpampa auch eine Übersichtskarte, einen Radarschirm zwecks Entdeckung sich nährender Feinde sowie ein Abbild des Düsenklippers mit den aktuellen schäden.

Diese lassen auch nicht lange auf sich warten, denn die detailarmen Landschaften scrollen in einem Affenzahn vorüber - ganz schön affig, dabei die Heerscharen angreifender Hubschrauber, Raketentürme und Bodengeschütze überhaupt einmal vor die Flinte zu kriegen!

Das Gameplay ist daher ebenso schwer wie langweilig und krankt zudem an einer schwammigen Steuerung. Da hilft es auch nicht viel, daß sich einige Gimmicks wie Raucheffekte, Wolkenformationen oder Triebwerksgeräusche zuschalten lassen.

Nein, der Titel stimmt schon irgendwie: Embryo befindet sich sozusagen auf der Vorentwicklungsstufe eines zeit-gemäßen Action-Flugis. (md)

Embryo logo

All this talk of babies has been making the art staff nervous.

Look around your workplace or classroom and see if anyone fits this description. There's a type of person, inevitably male, who everybody hates. They say he's sexist, they say he's arrogant and always trying to be the centre of attention. You hear the stories and you wonder how, awful a human being can actually be.

Then when you meet him face to face, he turns out to be okay. You chat about what was on TV last night or how you both fancy that new girl from accounts, and then you go on your separate ways with you wondering why everyone's got it in the poor guy.

Until you meet him in a socal capacity. You're packed ('Youth club or sports hall' - Ed) necking back (''Glasses of orange juice'- Ed) and he starts off, blah, blah, blah, misinformed twaddle, yakkity, yak, biased viewpoint, blahdy-blah. He's got an audience to show his ignorance to, never backing down from an argument or admitting he's wrong, being generally loud and tedious.

Everyone hates him, and after an hour of uninformed, xenophobic waffle, so do you He's hell's co-worker, he's the nice guy who tries his hardest to be a total cretin. Which, by the way of neat introduction, sums up Embryo quite nicely too.

Embryo should be a great game and (given a hearty shakedown) could still be, but this version sucks. The game engine's fast and flowing, the idea's good (so good in fact, it's also used in Guardian, reviewed on page 40) and the control systems (mouse, joystick and keyboard) all work great. You can even serial link two Amigas and fly against a friend, which is always a Good Thing.

It's just that, as a game, it sucks. The 20 game levels are linked by an endless stream of poorly-written drivel cranking out the tired old 'bad aliens vs good humans' story. It's low-quality 1950s SF or the pulpiest form, and not really helped by the programmers hailing from Croatia, and therefore producing crappy pseudo-atmospheric 15th-rate Isaac Asimov stories in a language that clearly isn't their mother tongue. All you need to know is that you've got to shoot thing without getting killed, so why couldn't they just have said that?

Like I said, you can choose your control method. I favour the mouse which lets you control your plane easily while at the same time keeping your guns and speed under control. Holding the right mouse button adjusts your speed whereas a single click toggles through your weapons and the left button fires. Simple, easy to get into, nice.

The game betrays its flight sim origins by having left, right and rear views on the function keys, but I've yet to find a use for them and sadly, there isn't an external view of your ship, so you're never sure what your plane looks like. It might be sleek and cool, it might look like a 2CV. You just don't know.

Twaddle, yakkity yak, biased viewpoint

So. Everything's great so far, and it continues to look rosy as you start the game proper. After a brief zoom over the polygon landscape, you inevitably bump into a few baddies and get shooting. The walkers are the best, not just because they look good, but because when you blast them, they collapse forwards and lie like dead chickens, columns of smoke rising from their shattered frames. (As tends to happen with dead chickens. - Ed). It's ever so satisfying.

The helicopters come apart and release bonuses quite easily too, so after a few minutes' flying around, you've usually picked up quite a few power-ups - reloads, double missiles, better machine-guns, that sort of thing.

Even in these early confrontations, the one thing that stands out is the obvious need for bigger weapons. No, that's not quite right: the obvious need is for weaker opponents. Picking out some stragglers at the edge of the enemy's area of operation, I stopped and tested my weapons against various enemies.

Tanks take 12 seconds of continual machine-gun fire to destroy, bunkers a more credible four. Even accounting for near-misses, gun turrets take around a dozen hits before they blow. (Admittedly, if you use guided missiles which seek out the weak points, you only need four or so, but then of course you run out of your best missiles early on).

Quite clearly, that's far too much to have to do to kill something, and this is the root of Embryo's problems. Problems that combine and interleave to create more problems, which in turn spawn yet more. Join me on my terrifying spiralling descent into gameplay hell. No, I insist.

Because it takes so long to destroy each target, you've got to slow right down to give you time to shoot it over and over again (and that's slow right down - even if you're bumbling alone, you often have to turn around and make a second pass at the target). Unfortunately, since you're going slow, you're basically a sitting target.

Because it takes so long to destroy each target, and the best way of hitting them is to sit there and spray them with bullets which make you a sitting duck, you get hit. And when you get hit, the impact flings you backwards for miles.

Because it takes so long to destroy each target, and the best way of hitting them is to sit there and spray them which makes you a sitting duck, and you get hit and flung backwards for miles, you haven't a hope of getting to the main objective unless you ignore everything and plunge straight in. But if you plunge straight in you get killed, because you need to destroy stragglers in order to get enough power-ups to stand any chance at all. And because it takes so long to destroy each target, your energy levels get pummelled. And you can't plunge straight in anyway, because if you fly fast you pass things before you can shoot them.

Because it takes so long to destroy each target, and the best way of hitting them is to sit there and spray them which makes you a sitting duck, and you get hit and flung backwards for miles, and picking off stragglers to obtain power-ups means your energy levels get pummelled, the main objective is always a hell-storm of enemy activity. You can't pick off the edges of the defence because if you stop, enemy planes will hit you and knock you into the middle.

If you go fast to avoid the fire you can't hit anything but if you go slow you get shot up and die. If by some messianic feat of gameplaying you manage to get all the power-ups you need, getting shot now damages your weapons rather than your ship.

But once your weapons get damaged you have to replace them, because you can't repair them. But you can't replace them, because to replace them you have to destroy a target to collect its powerup, and you can't destroy the target because your weapons are damaged.

The bottom line is that it's TOO HARD, which makes you wonder what sort of games playing demi-gods playtested it. The walkers and helicopters are fun because they drop when you pop them, whereas the turrets are complete duffers because they take forever to smash up. If they just knocked down the hit points on the enemies, it'd be a fast and fun game (that's almost (but not quite) like Guardian), and heading into the enemy base would be frantic and exciting. But they haven't. And it isn't. Which is a great shame.

Embryo: User interfacte explanation
  1. This curious weeny scanner shows which direction the target is. It features a cute effect a bit like swirling coffee.
  2. The map shows your target. Not that you've got a hope in hell of reaching it in one piece.
  3. The short range scanner shows loads of enemy activity. In other words, you're doomed.
  4. This shows your speed, in this case 300mph backwards. That's what happens when missiles strike you head on. Bah.
  5. These helicopter are the cause of your rapid backwardness. Blissfully though, they're one of the few baddies that crash after only a few hits.
  6. Weapon stores are shown in numbers, mild damage in green and severe damage in red. Typically you go green after a few minutes of starting the game. Then red. Then dead.

Embryo logo CU Amiga Screen Star

The world's simplest flight sim? Or the world's most convincing shoot 'em up? Tony Dillon can't decide, but then that's nothing new.

Croteam are a brand new part of Black Legend, and Embryo is their second release (after the superb Football Glory, as seen on our coverdisk this month alongside the review on page 66).

Embryo is a strange game to place. It's perhaps best to look at it as a very simple, mouse-controlled flight simulator. You are dropped in a warzone in an unusual craft that can fly at very high speeds, is amazingly manoeuvrable, can fly backwards and hover, and just about anything else you could want a combat aircraft to do.

On board this mystery hi-tech vehicle are all the weapons you could ever use, ranging from central and side-mounted cannons, guided and unguided missiles and an interesting one that goes by the name of energy balls and fires what I can only describe as 'blobs' at the enemy. They might look silly, but believe you me they can do a lot of damage.

The reason for all this hardware is very simple. Your green and pleasant land has been taken over by an invading force and you are the only one with the skills to go in alone and take out every last unit of enemy infantry. To aid you in your quest is a map, which shows you the main enemy base in the current mission area, and a radar which alerts you if you're having the stuffing shot out of you by an airborne assailant or one on terra firma, and whereabouts in the surrounding area you'll find them.

Each mission is more or less the same. At the start you are shown a very attractive photograph of the area you're going into, and a text description of the kind of thing to look out for as you're out there wreaking havoc. Click past that, and you go into the main game itself, already airborne (for some reason, it's impossible for your craft to touch the ground, so landing and taking off are all done behind the scenes) and from this point on, you have to find as much as possible to kill, and kill it!

The game is very playable indeed. Although you have the choice of playing with mouse, keys or joystick, the game actually works best using the mouse, with a similar control method to Core's Thunderhawk. Moving the mouse left or right banks the plane, while forward and back 'yaw' the craft - moving its nose up and down. Clicking the right mouse button selects a weapon, and clicking the left fires it. If you hold down the right mouse button, then slide the mouse forward or back the motion sets the throttle.

Such an intuitive control method means that you can concentrate on playing what gets to be a very hectic and tricky game, without worrying about dodgy joysticks.

The game graphics are fairly basic as far as polygons go, but this is only because Croteam have concentrated on getting the game speed right, rather than making the mountains look pretty. And believe me it does run fast. With a full 50 Hertz update on an A1200 and pretty close to that on an A500, the game is very smooth indeed, and to my mind this makes the game look a lot better than a more complicated polygon arrangement would.

Embryo is quite a hard game to classify, as you could draw comparisons with everything from Combat Air Patrol to Guardian.

If you want a fast 3D shoot 'em up, a little dogfighting or just the thrill of strafing an airfield at low altitude while dodging tons of incoming fire, then this is the game for you, playmates.