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When a game is a long time in production, the feelings around the time of its release are fairly mixed. On the one hand there's the excitement that it's finally going to arrive, but this is tinged with apprehension and reservations on whether it has been worth the wait. Ocean's long-awaited (over two years in fact) space battle saga, Epic, is a game which fits into the category. Can the incredibly long wait really be worth it in the end? Well... not really.

The story behind the game is basically a reworking of Battlestar Galactica, with the human race fleeing disaster in a massive fleet of ships. After and admittedly impressive introduction sequence - a massive fleet of animated ships flying away from the doomed planet - you have to take on a series of missions as a pilot on the experimental Epic fighter. The fight mission is pretty much a direct steal from Galactica, with the player having to blast a path through a minefield before the fleet can pass. Next it's a series of attack runs on the Rexxon bases, destroying their communication systems, supply lines and defence systems. Later in the game, you must take part in space battles along with other fighters in the human fleet, ending up with a massive attack on the Rexxon Emperor's personal space cruiser.

Elitist?
Originally it was planned to make Epic a wide-ranging, Elite-style 3D space shoot-'em-up, trading and strategy game. What it has actually turned out to be is a pretty bland, simplistic 3D shoot-'em-up with a few fancy polygon spaceships.

The fact is there are so many annoying quirks that leave you screaming at the screen. For example, when you try to lock on to a target using the waypoint computer, it will only guide you to one particular target out of all the ones available, even if you've already destroyed that one!

Some of the missions are a bit of a mystery to begin with, so you have to guess what you're supposed to be doing. Where are the nice animated computer briefings? Left out of the Amiga version, it appears. Added to all this, perhaps the most galling aspect is that the game is incredibly easy to finish. Pretty much everyone who has played the game, to our knowledge, completed all the missions within two hours of first starting the game. Doesn't really seem to be worth the money, does it?

Don't believe the...
So after all the hype, the long delays and the promise of a massive space saga, all we have is a futuristic, toned-down version of F29 with less missions and less than challenging gameplay. Sorry, but adding a few in-between animations (which take a while to plod through, many of them being repeated) doesn't improve things. Digital Image Design started the project so long ago, but have been working on newer (and better) games, leaving little time for finishing Epic. However, Ocean decided they still wanted to release the title, but Digital Image couldn't get it together in time. So we're left with a rushed job to get the thing released. The result is an out-of-date shoot-'em-up.


THE EAGER PUBLIC SPEAKS
Epic managed to enter the charts at number three last month, which shows a lot of people have been looking forward to the game. But has it been worth the wait?
Within three days of the game being initially released, a large number of level codes flooded into Gamebusters (there were 11 just this morning), along with letter describing how disappointed they were on spending £30 for less than two hours entertainment (some even returned the game and asked for a refund). A few letters said they enjoyed the game while it lasted, but they would have liked a bit more of it.
Mr JS Smith from Sheffield had terrible trouble with the game, finding that it wouldn't work on his 1.3 Kickstart machine with 1Mb of chip RAM. Chris Chant's letter is fairly typical: "I bought Epic and completed it the very same day!" and David Rad from Merseyside summed it up: "It's a pity that they gave a cheat for it in the box." Very true!
A case of a lot of presentation, but not enough gameplay.

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Als Microdeal dieses Projekt noch beharkte, sollte es schlicht "Goldrunner 3D" heißen und war als Fortsetzung zu den gleichnamigen Baller-Klassikern konzipiert. Doch dann stieg Ocean ein, und die Sache nahm langsam epische Ausmaße an...

Gemunkelt wird über Epic ja bereits seit Jahren, angekündigt war es auch schon des öfteren. Aber die Designer (Digital Image) hatten im Lauf der Zeit mehr und mehr Ideen in ihren SF-Opus eingebaut die Arbeit zog sich in die Länge. Tatsächlich waren Konzept und Grafik denn auch schon vor Monaten fertig, die Hauptaufgabe harrte jedoch noch der Erledigung - die aufwendige Mixtur aus "Krieg der Sterne", "Enterprise" und "Kampfstern Galaktika" musste irgendwie in den Amiga geschaufelt werden!

Endlich ist nun das geschafft, die Evakuierung der Menschheit kann beginnen. Wie es aussieht, steht uns nämlich in 20 bis 30 Jahren eine Supernova ins Haus, wer da nicht mindestens 260 Lichtjahre weit weg ist, kann sein Testament machen. Nun führt der Weg in die Sicherheit aber leider acht Level lang durch das Hoheitsgebiet der bitterbösen Rexxons, womit auch für Kanonenfutter reichlich gesorgt wäre.

Jede der Stages kann mit 3D-Perspektive, einem Zeitlimit und unterschiedliche Aufgaben aufwarten; während man z.B. im ersten Level seine Flotte sicher durch ein Minenfeld dirigieren muss, bieten die höheren Abschnitte vorwiegend Raumgefechte à la "Elite". Apropos "Elite": Auch Epic wird am besten mit der Maus gesteuert, auch hier kann der eigene Raumer aus (sechs) verschiedenen Perspektiven betrachtet werden.

Darüber hinaus kann man sich auf Tastendruck sein nächstes Primärziel zeigen lassen, was in der Gesamtheit wirklich richtig episches Movie-Feeling aufkommen lässt. Dazu trägt auch die detaillierte und annehmbar flotte 3D-Vektorgrafik bei, genau wie der atmosphärische Sound und die phantastischen Zwischenbilder.

Der Überhammer ist jedoch fraglos das gigantomatische Intro: In traumhaften Zoomeffekten tritt die Flotte ihre Flucht durchs All an, und man kann haarklein beobachten, wie das eigene Schiff, die "Epic" zu ihrem Geleitzschutzauftrag startet. Unterlegt ist das muntere Treiben mit einem Klassik-Soundtrack, wo einem die Violinen derart dramatisch in die Ohren heulen, dass man meinen könnte, direkt im Orchestergraben zu sitzen!

Was soll man noch sagen? Epic ist eine aufwendige Action-Spaceopera, die sich kein Raumpilot entgehen lassen sollte - besonders, da das vergleichbare "Wing Commander" den Sprung vom PC auf den Amiga ja immer noch nicht geschafft hat... (L. Bunder)


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Why is it the games with the biggest amount of hype always seem to be the most useless?
After a string of impressive titles, here Ocean get it wrong in a spectacular way.

Oh dear. And I was so looking forward to this. Epic has taken a long time to arrive, and you'd think that we'd be in for something pretty special considering the months of hype. Oh dear...

At first it looks good though, along Wing Commander (out on the Amiga soon - see Things To Come this issue) in that it links a series of space-bound shoot-'em-up outings together with a fairly linear galaxy-spanning plot. (Talking of which, I get the impression that the game's designers spent an awful lot of time watching Battlestar Galactica. The ships, the missions and all are suspiciously reminiscent of that brave body of actors harried across space by the nasty Cylons.)

The game hangs on a series of missions, each with a specific objective and each with a time limit - I can't say I'm a great fan of the latter idea, as it gives a finite air to what is, after all, supposed to be an epic adventure. To give you some idea of what's in store if you chose to buy the game. I'll go through my first play of it in some detail.

After a series of graphically impressive, but tedious, intro screens - lots of spaceships zipping around Star Wars-style - I'm told to go and clear a path through the mine belt surrounding the Rexxon planet of Amragan Nine and destroy a tracking station that poses a threat to the human fleet. I've a starfighter to play with - and a 3D bunch of space mines to get through/blow up.

It's rather like a shooting gallery here. All you do is squirt laser fire at the mines, dispatch the one enemy fighter that has taken exception to your excursion, and watch the mission percentage figure tot up as you go. Your spaceship is quite easy to control and the quality of animation is impressive, which makes suspension of disbelief quite easy - it's not quite like 'being there', but quite jolly nevertheless.

Assuming that the first part of the mission is there just so I can get to grips with controlling the ship, it's straight then off to the next objective - blowing up the planet-bound transmitter. As I mentioned, there's a time limit on this - the pretext is taht the planet goes through an eclipse during which it is incommunicado from the rest of the Rexxons, and that's when you've got to make your strike.

Hitting [Help] gives you the co-ordinates of the tracking dish, making it very easy to find, and so I park the spaceship by it and pump everything I've got into the damn thing.

'Shoot the generator,' says the on-screen message. "Er, what generator?" says I. There I am, blasting gigatons of fiery death into the target, and I'm told to shoot at something I can't even see.
Scratch one mission - the Rexxons know where the human's fleet is and I'm in the doghouse (A colleague later told me that the generator is some way off to the right of the dish, and no, he couldn't find mention of it in the manual either).

It's not 'Game Over' time, however - this is an awfully forgiving program, in that I'm given a bio-clone of myself with which to attempt the next mission: destroy some space ports and a mining complex. It's all very well, this continual self-regeneration, but it does nothing to build up a relationship between yourself and your game character.

MISSION IMPLAUSIBLE AGAIN
Back to the mission, then, and once again we've got a problem with the navigation data. I'm given co-ordinates for the target (some mines), it's blown to smithereens and 20-odd percent of the mission is complete. New co-ordinates please? No chance. It keeps sending me back to the minehead I've just destroyed.

After a while it dawns that someone hasn't been too clever at programming this bit of the game, so I whizz off willy-nilly and, sure enough, there are more mine heads scattered about the surface of the planet - four in all. And no, that's not in the manual either.

Ah yes, the manual. I'll tell you one thing that is in the manual - a grittily written affair set in an eye-straining typeface, by the way - and that's the definition of an ion as '...a particle of *FILL IN LATER*' (sic). And in the German section, it's: 'Ein Partikel von *FILL IN LATER'. So why do I get the impression that parts of this game are unfinished?

Anyway, back to the game, and after several abortive efforts at this seconds mission it is completed with relative ease once I know where the targets are - even the enemy fighters sent out to stop me cause little concern.

I feel I'm just about getting the hang of things, having learned to use my initiative a bit more than I thought I would, when I hear that the Rexxons have got word from Amragan that humans are about, and the main battle fleet is headed for the Federation's armada.

It's here that the most stupid, idiotic, mind-numbingly, incomprehensibly dumb feature of the game comes in - the cheat. I'm out there, once again in the starfighter, as streams of Rexxons ships fly in with weapons blazing, doing their best to destroy the Federation ships. Fuel is dwindling and I've only got limited weapons; what do I do?

The answer is easy. Hit (Enter) on the keypad - sorry you A600 owners - and I've got them all back again. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Sure, I think it's fine for game designers to put in an obscure cheat that can be leaked out in six months' time - but for heaven's sake, don't put it on the pilot control card!

If you're about to get wiped out in a battle, there's just no way you're not going to hit the cheat button. What's next? Well, according to the messages on-screen, I'm a great hero (yeah, yeah, let's have some action), my name will be revered throughout all eternity and the Rexxons are defeated. Er, game over. Playing time three hours.


It simply fails to deliver

THE EPICENTRE OF A REAL EPIC
Now hold on a minute there, bub. Three missions, the first of which I fouled up, and I've won? I thought this was Epic, 'a sci-fi extravaganza featuring spectacular graphics and stunning gameplay'. Okay, the programmers, DiD, are the folk who did RoboCop 3 - but it's all a bit short and a little too easy once you've figured out that the mission details amount to little more than pointing you in the rough direction of where the action is.

So what went wrong? Well, seems me fluffing the first mission rather mucked up the flow of the whole game. It turns out that I'd hit that tracking station (hey, I tried right?) back at the front end of the game, the Rexxons would never have come out in such force on mission 3, thus dragging the game into further missions.

In the spirit of fair play, I did go back to the beginning and try out some of the missions I'd missed through my pre-emptive, complete and utter destruction of the Rexxon menace - but sooooorry guys, Mission 4 entails flying to a magma cannon and blowing it up, a two-minute job. Mission 6 entails flying to a command centre and blowing it up, another two-minute job. And Mission 7 is to destroy the entire enemy fleet - and we've been here before, haven't we guys?

Summing up is simple: Sorry, but this game is just not up to the mark. It suffers that most typical of failings, great graphics but crop gameplay. I feel disappointed and cheated by a game that promises so much but simply fails to deliver. Wait for Wing Commander or dust off your copy of Elite. I never thought I'd use Wayne-speak, but as far as this game goes it's Epic - not!


EPIC: A GAME IN TROUBLE

What you may not realise from just playing the game is that Epic's had a troubled time reaching us at all. For a start, it's been around a very long time - rumours of its release stretch back over a year, and (indeed) we've been expecting to finally get a finished review copy in for months now.

(Other reviews which you may have read in other magazines - usually glowing, we might add - which appeared up to six or seven months ago were based on fairly early demo versions, and thus are completely invalid. We'll say it now and we'll say it loud - reviewing unfinished games does the reader no service at all, and if you suspect a magazine of doing so, and there are a lot which are guilty in this instance, you should either make their lives hell or simply stop buying their mag. End of preaching.)

On top of these problems, however, comes those the game faced in its first weeks of release. Many copies of the initial version, you see, crashed consistently - apparently a 'duplication error' - and while that's now fixed, an awful lot of keen purchasers had to return their copies to the shops. All Epics on sale now, however, should be okay - at least in that they won't crash. They will, however, feature the bugs, programming mistakes and downright stupidity covered in the main review...


Epic logo CU Amiga Screenstar

With the likely non-appearance of Mindscape's Wing Commander on the Amiga, it looks as if Ocean's long-awaited sci-fi blaster, Epic, will be a more-than-adequate substitute. With a scenario which bears more than a passing resemblance to the 70s cult sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica, the game pits the player against the evil Rexxon Empire as you attempt to escort a massive fleet of Federation starship through deep space to a new safe-haven.

The game begins with a finely-crafted animation sequence which relates the story so far in true 'Star Wars' style. With a sun approaching supernova, a loose alliance of planetary systems are rapidly facing extinction. Their only hope is to construct a vast space fleet capable of transporting the entire populace to Ulysees VII, a habitable planet located on the far side of the galaxy.

To reach their destination, the rag-tag collection of 8,000 interplanetary craft must pass through the Rexxon Empire, a huge expanse of space controlled by a war-like race dedicated to the extermination of the human race.

To help you protect such a large and vulnerable fleet of ships, the Federation has built a large number of battleships including two huge dreadnoughts, the Battleaxe and the Redstorm, and a highly advanced fighter equipped with a fearsome array of weaponry. Made from super-tough Epical metal, only three such fighters could be constructed because of the scarcity of the ore.
As the Federation's top flyboy, it's up to you to take control of the craft and help protect the fleet to the best of your abilities.

Escorting the Federation space fleet to their new homeland is fraught with danger. Not only will the Starfleet need to be protected from hostile Rexxon battle squadrons, but a number of pre-planned missions need to be undertaken to help neutralise the Rexxon threat.
In all, there are eight missions to complete and failure in just one of these will result in the total destruction of the fleet and, consequently, the end of the game.

The main screen features a bitmapped cockpit display of the Epic fighter together with a 3D representation of the area immediately in front of the craft. A combat scanner locates and targets enemy ships while punching the 'Return' key toggles between the various weapons at your disposal.

Each mission requires a different combination of armaments ranging from standard self-regenerating lasers and nuclear-tipped torpedoes to lock-on missiles and a cobalt doomsday device which destroys anything within 200,000 kms.
Best of all is the neutron blaster which throws out a concentrated beam of energy in front of the ship which destroys anything in its limited range.

Toward the left-hand side of the cockpit is a system display which shows how much fuel is left, current speed, and shield status. Fuel consumption is the Achilles' heel of the Epic fighter as most functions eat away at the fuel tanks at an alarming rate. To help compensate for this 'design fault', the Federation has placed fuel pods at strategic points during each mission as well as a number that have been scattered at random throughout the game.

A tractor beam is used to snag the pods which is accessed via the weapons system. The ship's protective shielding uses up the most fuel, so it's best not to use this facility until entering a combat situation. But do remember that when activated, the shielding takes up to six seconds to completely envelop the ship.

Controlling the craft is simplicity itself. Holding down the left mouse button controls the speed while the right button activates the currently-selected weapons system. The ship can be made to bank to the left or right by moving the mouse from side-to-side with a forward motion sending the craft into a dive and a backward movement enabling it to climb rapidly. And that's it. Such simple controls cut out the need for over-complicated displays and allow the player to jump straight into the action.

The eight missions involve both planetary and space warfare and have been designed to test the Epic fighter to the limits of its endurance. Missions include blowing up strategic Rexxon fuel dumps, clearing nuclear mine fields, repelling attacks on the Federation fleet, disrupting communications and neutralising the attack capabilities of the amassed Rexxon battle fleet. Each mission is extremely difficult, and gets progressively harder as the game progresses and all have a knock on effect for subsequence missions.

For instance, failure to blow up a Magma Cannon on the planet Potead before the Federation Battle Fleet is in range will result in the near-total destruction of the convoy and leave you alone in facing the Rexxon Imperial Guard - a task not to be relished!

Another mission involves repelling a Rexxon Attack Legion. Although this is easily done, adequate protection must be given to the Agricultural ships and the Ordnance storage vessels. If either of these should be destroyed, the consequences might not be immediately noticeable, but later on in the game you could find yourself without food of any weapons.

The most amazing thing about the game is the quality and speed of the 3D graphics. The variety of designs, literally 'borrowed' from classic sci-fi TV shows and movies, adds to the overall atmosphere and gives a convincing feel of 'authenticity' to the game.

Some of the ships in the game are gigantic, up to six miles long, and the player can zoom in to take a closer and more detailed look at some of the larger craft. Near-perfect collision detection means that you can fly in between the individual struts and girders that make up each ship's infrastructure without inadvertently trashing your craft due to poor design.

The sheer scale of the game is also impressive. Up to 400 polygons can be on screen per second and multiple battle sequences can involve more than 350 ships, each with their own intelligence routines. For example, predator ships will merely pursue a vessel until either it or its target are destroyed while other craft display attack modes based on real war tactics and theory such as encirclement and dispersal manoeuvres.

More than six man years have gone into developing the game with a good proportion of that time spent on perfecting the battle sequences.
Old timer Dave Whittaker, provided the sound FX. Mars, the Bringer of War, from Holsts' Planet Suite, forms the main in-game music to good effect and there are plenty of sampled sounds to keep things suitably raucous.

With some super-fast polygon routines, and the chance of dogfights aplenty, Epic definitely lives up to its name.


WHO D.I.D. WHAT...

Epic comes from the same team responsible for F29 Retaliator and Robocop 3. Based in Runcorn, Cheshire, Digital Image Design was founded in February 1989 by Martin Kenwright and Phil Allsopp. The 3D engine used in F29 was completely rewritten for Epic and runs around 25-30% faster. More than 6 man years of work have gone into the game and it incorporates a new cacheing loading sytem so that the player doesn't have to wait too long for each part to load. There is also a number of smart animated sequences that cleverly link each mission.

THE LEGEND CONTINUES

The team behind Epic are already hard at work on its sequel, although the game has yet to be taken up by Ocean. It's set 60 years in the future, after the fleet have successfully established a colony on Ulysees VII. Although hailed as a hero after defeating the Rexxon Empire, you've been uncremoniously drummed out of starfleet. The new society has striven to build a more tranquil and peaceful existence than before and has decommissioned its armies and let its stockpile of weapons go to rust

However, a dark and foreboding force/entity is slowly making its way across the vastness of space towards the Federation's new homeland, wreaking havoc along the way. Only your experience as a top wartime pilot can save the day, but can the Federation prepare its defenses in time?! Will you be up to the task? Is this the end of the human race? Stay tuned for further intergalactic action...

BATTLESTAR EX-LAXIA

Battlestar Galactica was hyped as the most expensive science fiction show ever. When it finally made its debut in 1978, it was greeted with indifference from the viewing public and disdain by the critics. 'Narcissistically bland', 'Battlestar Exlaxia', and 'unbelievably cheap and supremely unbelievable' were just some of the comments heaped on the show.

For those of you fortunate to have missed the short-lieved series, the show involved a weekly doese of intergalactic space fights coupled with some of the most excrutiatingly painful and banal dialogie ever to feature on mainstream TV.

The basic premise of the show was interesting enough: In the seventh millennium, a 100-year war between twelve human tribes and an evil robot race ended with the near total destruction of the humans' space feelt as well as the complete obliteration of their home planets. Out of a fleet of hundred of vessels, only one battlestar - Galactica - remained which became the mothership for the remanents of the human race. Faced with the threat of constant Cylon attacks, Galactica and its motly collection of spaceships left their galaxy seeking the legendary thirteenth human tribe, known to inhabit a 'Golden Planet', the planet 'Earth'.

Unfortunately, what could have been a belter of a sci-fi space opera concentrated on using a battery of special effects to the detriment of good scripts and believable characters and the show soon lost its initial appeal and was cancelled after only 17 episodes.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

During the long haul to Ulysees VII, you'll be called upon to fly a number of hazardous missions to protect the Federation Fleet and engage enemy fighters.

  1. The first mission involves clearing a path through a mined asteroid belt marking the edge of the Rexxon Empire. From there, you are to proceed directly to Amragan Nine and destroy a deep space tracking station before they can alert the Rexxon battle fleet to your presence.
  2. The second objective is the total destruction of the mining and processing capabilities of the planet Tarrun and its affiliate moon, Stallica. These installations provide the Rexxons with their only supply of warp-drive fuel and is thus well-protected. Multiple laser turrets, guided missile installations and several crack squadrons of enemy fighters are just some of the firepower at the base's disposal.
  3. A Rexxon Attack group has gathered near Tarrun and is about to launch an assault on your civilian fleet. Although not a strong force, the enemy squadron is capable of inflicting severe damage and must be taken out before they reach your ordnance ships or agricultural vessels.
  4. Mission four's task is to neutralise a gigantic Magma Cannon on the planet of Potead. Situated on a volcanic ridge, the cannon feeds off the energy of the planet's core and can generate a powerful blast calculated to exceed several thousand megatons. The planet's gravitational pull and dense atmosphere make navigation tricky and formidable ground-based defences consist of multiple rocket and laser batteries.
  5. It is anticipated that the enemy will scramble every available star fighter in the vicinity after the Magma gun has been disabled. These will include a very large number of one-man fighters as well as the Rexxon Imperial Guard. At least 60% of enemy craft must be destroyed to guarantee success.
  6. The sixth mission involves knocking out the Imperial Rexxon Command Centre. This will effectively isolate the Rexxon Battle Fleet and create disorder throughout the Rexxon Empire. Expect heavy defense fortifications and well-equipped attack squadrons.
  7. The largest space conflict in recorded history says it all. The arrival of the enemy is imminent. Spearheaded by the two huge Rexxon dreadnoughts, enemy forces are expected to total more than 1,400 battle ships. The overriding aim is to destroy one of the mother ships by getting in close enough to blow up its bridge.
  8. The final mission will involve escorting the fleet to the far side of the Rexxon Empire. Pockets of Rexxon resistance will make sporadic attacks on the fleet in a last ditch attempt to win the day. Once you've landed on Ulysees it's effectively mission over and you can put up your feet and take it easy. Congratulations.