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!