Megatraveller promised to bring state-of-the-art space role-playing to the Amiga, but it couldn't deliver. Here we have a similar futuristic set-up: a weaving story of mercenaries and conspiracies, which you have to explore and survive. Unfortunately, like MegaTraveller, this fails to deliver.
The future has been messed up real bad. The colonisation of the outer planets was controlled by the free market. A market where hired killers were in short supply but in big demand. All manner of anarchy broke out as the furthest reaches of man's empire became hostile battle grounds, where only the profit margin of your paymaster mattered.
You're a mercenary with a ship, a side-kick and no crew. Using nouse and debating stills you must first find recruits, then find a mission. The mission could be anything from smuggling to exploring, but if you're to pay the rent you'd better do something. Four different star systems await, as do adventures on foot, in your hovercar and in deep space.
As the active participant in the whole show, you're not given a single linear path to follow, but left to your own ends to discover the game's secrets. Controlling the main character - the captain of a smallish space fighter - you must decide whether shooting or asking questions comes first.
Played through windows with icons or keyboard shortcuts, you are shown and told about the worlds you encounter. Hard Nova comes in three flavours: space, land travel and footwork. All three areas will have to be utilised if you are to become one of outer space's less moral - but wealthier - folk.
All possible actions are controlled by the mouse and adhere to the same proximity principal. When something is visible in the display window it can be targeted, when targeted it and either shot, talked or moved to.
In space mode the aim is to negotiate your way to the Stargates - sort of hyper-space M25s - then to the system and planet of your choice. Once you're there, the hovercar comes into play, as it is used for all trans-planetary travel. Once you've reached the chosen location on a planet then you, and your boys/girls/alien things of indeterminate gender, can get busy and start some close-up investigative/destructive/illegal work. The three stages provide a zoom facility, with the scope to cover many different star systems in real detail. With communications and surprise attacks possible on every level the deliberate elements of plot are spiced up with random, and often deadly, encounters.
The parallels between Hard Nova and MegaTraveller are not restricted to plot, they share some annoying graphical problems too. When you wander around a building or planet surface, all you ever see is a head's down view of tiny people on a map. While efficient, this is hardly atmospheric. Life gets a little easier when you shoot or talk to another person as a static picture appears. But these pics aren't that great and they lack animation, so they do little to redress the imagination deficit. Pastel shades dominate the colour scheme, but fit the genre badly, being far more reminiscent of a trip to Laura Ashley's than the outer spiral arm of the galaxy.
The display, constructed of clear and easily-learned icons should make the game a swift player, but once again the visual side of the game mars the show. The icons themselves are obvious, but the sprites that show your team - either racing around a planet in the hovercar or hurtling through deep space - are pitifully small and painfully hard to control. This robs the game of its action element because you have to move pedantically in order to avoid error.
Hard Nova the idea sounds fine, yomp across the stars seeking a few thrills and the occasional fire fight. Hard Nova the reality is sadly different. The graphics present the major problem, shattering illusions of far flung worlds rather than fostering them. If you find these problems of sprite size and control tolerable, then the many plots layered throughout the planets of the four systems would provide enough intrigue to keep you locked in. It would prove hard though to ignore the interface through which these strange new worlds can be explored.
Hard Nova provides the flexibility that MegaTraveller needed, but graphically it fares far worse. Here both atmosphere and action are impeded. Hard Nova could have been a hard-core space tale, if another graphic system has been used; but as it stands all the good design in the galaxy, all the plot twists in the universe, can't balance the scales.