The Amiga has begun to get a reputation as a great machine with an awful software base. Things, however, are beginning to look up. Garrison arrived on my desk. The cheaply produced packaging and hand-typed manual may lead potential purchasers to overlook this game, don't. Up until this day, Starglider was the best piece of software for the Amiga, Garrison can now justifiably lay claim to that crown.
Even the package has a clue to what lays within; on the back there is a screenshot of what looks like a rather well-known multiplayer arcade game whose name also begins with G. Yup, you have guessed it, Garrison is the first Gauntlet clone for the Amiga.
Even as the first loading screen appeared I knew I was in for a treat. While the rest of the game loaded, the screen displayed the game's title, and a sampled bass-drum thudded methodically in the background. After swapping the discs around (annoyingly this is necessary both on single and double disc drive systems) and waiting a few seconds, the title screen appeared.
WOWEEE!!! The picture on the screen is fabulously drawn in shades of silver and grey, with the word Garrison displayed at the top in continuously changing colours (just as with the original Gauntlet screen). Most stunning, however, is the music. Using the guitar riff from 'Money for Nothing', and throwing in some Henrix-style improvisation (together with thumping drums and energetic bass), this game has got to have the best sound I have ever heard on a home computer.
The first 20 minutes was therefore spent listening to the music which is programmed by another German team, Sound Creation Studio, and a pretty talented bunch they must be. What is most impressive about the music is that it is not sampled. This team has taken a much slower route, by actually using the Amiga to program the music with, but if this is anything to go by that is the way to do it. The spot effects, too, are lovingly created with some spectacular splurges and crashes.
Once I managed to get over how good the music was, I started to look in awe at the depth of the game. In simple terms you could describe it as a Gauntlet clone, but when you look carefully at this game there is, if possible, more to this game than even the original arcade version of Gauntlet (good - Ed).
The game allows you to play any two of the five available characters simultaneously (yes, that is the major drawback), using joysticks to control the characters. However, you can choose to play all five characters, and then as you get to various levels you can choose a character most suited to each level.
All of the five characters have different names - Wizard, Warrior, Elf, Valkyrie and Dwarf - and not surprisingly they also have different characteristics; more power, speed, magic power, etc. The only new character is the Dwarf, who is an excellent partner for any of the powerful players, due to his excellent speed and manoeuvrability.
In play, the game has all the depth of the arcade game, with 128 levels of frantic action, ranging from short and simple to mind-bendingly soul destroying, and including my most hated levels, the invisible ones, and some in which one wrong move leads to almost a certain death. Most of the enemies appear to be similar to the arcade version with thousands of ghosts, goblins as well as the devilish little blue ones (bit technical - Ed).
The graphics are really remarkable. Each floor has a different pattern on it, and all the characters are detailed beyond belief. This, combined with excellent animation, and the smoothest scrolling yet on the Amiga really reflect the effort and skill that has gone into this game.
The only immediately disappointing aspect of the game is that the characters that you play all look the same (unless you have a machine with 1 Mbyte), but this is a very minor criticism. The score of each character is displayed permanently, as is each player's health and his ability at each of five qualities: Speed, Hand-to-hand combat, Magic, Armour, Shot speed and Fire power. Overall, I have found Valkyrie the best compromise, especially when used in conjunction with Wizard.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, there is actually a plot to this game. Apparently you have to rescue a princess, name of Angelique, but as we all know, this kind of plot is generally thought up by overanxious PR people in a drunken stupor (© Andrew Wright 1987).
Overall, Garrison is quite simply brilliant. It is the most playable game yet for the Amiga, it is the closest thing to an arcade game yet to be produced on a home micro and it should not be missed by any Amiga owner. In the UK it is sold by a company called Simply-Megaware, priced £23 (still too much, but in this case more justified that most).
The one problem I can envisage is a legal one. Garrison is remarkably similar to Gauntlet, and US Gold say they are planning an Amiga version of Gauntlet. Somehow I can see a conflict developing here. This apart, let us hope that the company behind Garrison are busy developing new games, and not just arcade clones.