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Following the success of Apidya and Sim Ant, insect-related games are back in vogue, or so it would seem. And Palace's release is no exception, pitching you against hordes of insect-nasties in a deep-space moonbase, but it has a few other elements which make it something more than just another blast-em-up.

Hostile Breed combines all the excitement and action of a shoot-em-up with the strategy elements you'd expect to find in a simulation. The chief element of strategy centres on the base complex where you find yourself on the receiving end of a massive invasion. The whole complex requires careful controlling and programming or it just becomes a liability.

The eight-legged moonbase has just been through an earthquake which has cracked the walls. Insect aliens are pouring through these breaches by the dozen, heading towards the control room. If they get there, all hell will break loose, and your game will be over.

Shuttle service
You're provided with a nifty shuttle craft which you fly down the wings of the moonbase. You can attach it to a special monorail in the ceiling and whiz off down the corridor at high speed. The shuttle is armed, but at first it's not exactly bristling with hardware. You need to build this up later using the base's production facilities.

In the central command centre you have five departments under your control: the reactor, the production line, the hangar, the base-defense system and the computer terminal. The most important is the reactor, because it demands careful handling to prevent it exploding. It's down to you to balance the levels of power required around the base complex. If you overload it, you're history.

The production line is your only hope of restoring order. It creates a supply of robots which trundle along fixing holes, mending cables and putting new rails in the ceiling. You've got to decide how many robots to put in each wing, and sort out what jobs need doing most urgently. But it doesn't end there; robots get attacked by aliens, so you have to fly in and protect them.

In short, Hostile Breed is an eight level shoot-em-up, but it's laid out in such a way that you can get to any level whenever you like. The control centre is a vital piece of the jigsaw, and devoted shoot-em-up fans might at first find this a bit too much for them to handle. But the principle is pretty simple and it only takes a few minutes to suss out what you need to be doing.

A Breed apart
Apart from the redeveloped shoot-em-up idea there's not really much that sets Hostile Breed apart from hundreds of other shoot-em-ups. The 'in-between' scenes and the death-screen are pleasing, but not great, while the in-game sprites are vaguely cartoon-like.

The sound effects are raunchy enough, but there are quite as many as you'd probably like to give you the real atmosphere. This isn't quite made up for by the powerful intro music, which is a good deal better, but still not quite enough.

You have to hand it to Palace, Hostile Breed is not your ordinary shoot-em-up. However, it is questionable whether you'll get that much more out of it. If you want a bit of 'think' and your 'shoot' and you're opposed to mind violence (but not plain ol' everyday violence), go for it. You'll enjoy it.


TAKE CONTROL IN A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT
Hostile Breed
  1. Breach Damage Level: Number of robots needed to block up the holes.
  2. Communications Window: Warnings appear here, informing you that robots are being attacked, or the reactor is overloaded.
  3. Number of batteries: Batteries are used on special landing pads where you may find extra guns and grenades.
  4. Control Centre Bulkhead: The yellow lines show the barrier between the central complex and the wing.
  5. Alien Position Indicators: A blue line equals a screen-width of aliens. The more lines, the more aliens in the wing. The longer the line, the more aliens there are in the screen-width.
  6. Breach Detector:Radar cross-hairs zoom around the base, showing you were the holes are. Block the holes: less aliens.
  1. Reactor: Click here to move to the Reactor Control screen.
  2. Lives: You start with five. Score: Each alien is worth a few points.
  3. Robot Production: Click here to move to the Robot Production line where you build the repair robots.
  4. Shuttle Hangar: Click here to move to the shuttle deck where you can fit extra weapons to your craft.
  5. Wings 1-8: Click on one of these to move on to the shoot-em-up, and fly your craft down the moonbase.
  6. Defence Systems: Click here to move to the Defence control room where you operate the base's in-built insect-repellent systems.
  7. Computer Info System: Click to access the moonbase's database. You need to make sure all the electrical cables are all right.


Die etwas andere Knallerei

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Als das "anspruchsvollste Ballerspiel aller Zeiten" preist Palace diese Genremixtur an, bei der speziell Flinkfinger mit Hang zum strategischen ihren Spaß haben sollen. Große Worte...

... und nichts dahinter? Doch, die Synthese aus Knallerei und Strategical ist gar nicht übel. Von der Vorgeschichte kann man das allerdings weniger behaupten, sie kam uns seltsam bekannt vor: Auf einem weit entfernten Planeten wird eine Forschungsstation durch ein Erdbeben so stark beschädigt, daß fremde Kreaturen in die acht Sektoren eindringen können. Von einem Höflichkeitsbesuch kann freilich keine Rede sein - die Biester rücken in Richtung Kernreaktor vor, um ihn zur Explosion zu bringen!

Normalerweise würde man sofort zum Stick greifen und das Pack einfach zu Hölle pusten, Hostile Breed verlangt aber nach einer etwas subtileren Vorgehensweise. Der Strategeteil bietet fünf Untermenüs: Einmal können Roboter mit der Reparatur der Station beauftragt werden, um den Alien Vormarsch etwas abzubremsen.

Dann läßt sich die Stromversorgung abschalten; mangels Licht gerät die Ballersequenz so zwar fast zum Blindflug, dafür vermehren sich manche der Außerirdischen nicht mehr so schnell. Im Hangar werden die Extrawaffen anmontiert, daneben stehen dem Spieler noch stationäre Alien-Röster zur Verfügung - allerdings führt exzessiver Einsatz zur tödlichen Überbelastung des Reaktors. Schließlich wären da noch Stations-Terminals, wo es wertvolle Information gibt: Für welchen Gegner brauche ich welche Waffe, und wo finde ich sie?

Klaro, die liegen in der Station verstreut. Also steigt man in der Raumer, wählt einen der Sektoren und knallt sich von links nach rechts (oder umgekehrt) durch die Alienschwärme.

An den Extrawaffendepots darf sich nur bedienen, wer vorher einen kleinen Grübeltest besteht; schafft man's nicht, stehen die Chancen schlecht: 590 verschiedene Gegnerarten gibt es (Insekten, Pflanzenwesen, Oberbosse etc.), eine Rasse ist widerstandsfähiger als die andere, und mit der Standardbewaffnung ist ihnen kaum beizukommen.

Schön, daß der Raumer wenigstens ein paar Zustammenstöße verkraftet, weniger schön, daß die Angriffsformationen recht wirr und trotz der Alienvielfalt nicht gerade abwechslungsreich sind.

Darum zockt man zunächst etwas gelangweilt vor sich hin, das gibt sich aber, sobald der Feind in verschiedenen Sektoren kurz vor dem Reaktorkern steht - jetzt muß nämlich ebenso oft wie hektisch von einem Sektor in den nächsten gewechselt werden.

Besonders Eilige dürfen ihr Gefährt daher mittels Gleitschienen zusätzlich beschleunigen.

Das Gameplay geht also soweit in Ordnung, technisch ist das Spiel leider weniger berauschend: Die Grafik, ohnehin schon ziemlich blaß und gewöhnungsbedürftig gezeichnet, scrollt nicht ganz ruckelfrei, zudem sind die Sprites recht klein und kaum animiert. Für die Lauscher gibt's ein paar FX, Musik und Sprachausgabe, Soundorgien darf man sich dennoch nicht erwarten.

Fazit: Hostile Breed ist bestimmt nicht nach jedermanns Geschmack, aber doch eine willkommene Baller-Abwechslung.



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Is Palace's bug-fest a new kind of blaster, or just too clever for its own good?

Ahh, the joy of bugs. Not those of the programming variety. Oh no, I'm talking about the kind which have more than their fare share of legs, eyes and wings. The kind which flap around, wait until you're asleep, crawl up your nostrils, and lay eggs in your brain. You know.

Hostile Breed certainly has bugs in, lots of them, and they do some rather nastier things than that too. The plot is your usual Doctor Who scenario - we've got an eight-spoked research base located on the mysterious planet Genario, we've got a team of scientists happily ensconced inside, and we've got several thousand bio-mechanoid superbugs and horror-weeds lounging around outside, cursing their lack of welding equipment, and just waiting for their big break.

Said break comes with a handy dandy earthquake which smashes the research station's outer defenses to smithereens. Soon all eight spokes are overrun, with only the central control room located at the hub, remaining bug free. But the creatures are advancing down all eight corridors, and time is running out.

If you were one of those scientists, what would you do in this situation? That's right, one of you would get aboard the last remaining spacecraft left in dock, cockily announce to the rest of the crew that they should 'Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast, and jet off around the eight spokes, blasting the scummy space bugs. (Okay, okay, so I made the kippers bit up, but you get the gist).

So that's the customary silly (though for once, actually relevant) plot over with - now onto game mechanics. It's interesting to note that programmer Rob Stevens' original inspiration for this was Defender. Armed with the idea of updating the Williams classic, his first (and arguably most important) task was to create the hundreds of different alien types needed, each of which follows astoundingly realistic behavioural patterns.

Larvae hatch, fly off and lay eggs, the eggs hatch, and so the cycle continues, inexorably (I love that word) getting closer and closer to the control centre. Even the alien plants (including hero - as opposed to fly traps) follow a logical growth and reproduction model, and it all serves to complicate the game beyond the obvious shoot-'em-up basis.

In play then, it operates on several levels. First is the blaster - it's possible to venture down any of the eight space station spokes, blasting all and sundry, while stopping off at the landing pads littered around the corridors. Landing on one of these brings up a sub-game however - complication number one - where a security lock must be re-aligned.

Achieve this and a piece of cargo could the the prize. This could be some sort of extra armament (maybe napalm bombs, missiles and the like) or upgrades for the control centre (which I'll come back to in a moment).

While they may not be levels exactly, each of the eight spokes has its own individual look, and (just for added fun) it's own breeds of aggressor. And of course, because they're spokes, if any particular lot proves too tough to you, you can always turn around and fly back down the corridor towards the control centre again.

It's here, back at the base, we come across complications number two to 259. You see, in addition to jetting around and blasting stuff, the player must also control the reactor, the remaining robot production line, and the weapon systems. There are computer terminals littered around the place which can give you quite a lot of helpful information too, but that's already quite enough to worry about for the first time player.


A do-everything-at-once concept

I guess at this point it's about time for a few quick words on robot manufacturing. The first (and most essential) robots will patch up holes in the corridor walls (thus preventing any more aliens invading, though the existing ones will, of course, continue to breed), while other, hardly less essential types, repair wiring, landing pads (and other structural damage) and the rail system.

The weapons screen gives control of all auto-defences in each corridor (which unfortunately consume power faster than a two bar electric fire) and access to the cannon (heh heh). Requiring half the battery charge (otherwise your reactor goes critical), the cannon can be directed down any corridor and will blast the front line of aliens, giving you just that little bit extra time to play with.

So what do I make of it? Well, okay, it sounds like an impossibly complex hybrid of game styles, but surprisingly enough, I found the constant to-ing and fro-ing the most enjoyable aspect of the game (once I'd worked out what the hell I was doing). My main criticisms actually lie with the shoot-'em-up side of things.

The player's craft is too large and sluggish, the playing area too small and the speed of the bugs makes flying around a bit of a pain. It's incredibly hard to avoid crashing into the bugs half the time, while for a game based on Defender, Hostile Breed lacks fluid craft control.

An agile, slightly inertia-prone little space-ship would have worked a treat, but instead we get a leviathan of a thing which trundles around (thank goodness they included the speed rail!) picking off the bad guys in a ponderous, unenthusiastic kind of way.

However, when I say that the complications make the game, that's not to simply that they're all a good thing. The terminals are useful, for instance, but I can't see too many people bothering with them, while the inclusion of landing pad and electricity cable-eating bugs (and robots to repair them) is perhaps taking things just a bit too far. The fact remains though, it's the fight-and-flight stuff which lets the side down.

In the end then, this is something of a damn fine game - and a very addictive one - if flawed. Certainly, the core of the thing is fabulous (the doing-everything-at once concept recalls the Spectrum classics Worse Things Happen At Sea and Psytron), while the graphics are wonderfully atmospheric (full marks too for the intro and end sequence) and the sound surprisingly effective. And it makes such a refreshing change to play an action game which actually requires a modicum of intelligence.

It's just that I feel a little more attention should have been given to the arcade side of things. As it stands, Hostile Breed is a 'buy on the proviso that you want an utterly complex hybrid' kind of affair. Okay?


A COMPLEX COMPLEX
Hostile Breed

Hostile Breed
1. Taking a quick stroll round the most important bits of the control centre, it's obvious that there's a lot to be taken care of (usually all at the same time). On the top there you can see the main reactor. Dangerous stuff.

Hostile Breed
2. Next along, we come to the robot production line. Provided with enough energy (courtesy of the main reactor), it will churn out little droids until the end of time. Of course, it's not the fastest production line in the world, and the demand usually outstrips supply by tenfold, but you can't have everything.

Hostile Breed
3. This evil looking screen houses the defence system - including that there whopping great gun. Remember to charge the batteries to halfway first - otherwise the reactor will go critical.

Hostile Breed
4. The fish-like object pictured above is actually the player's craft. This screen gives access to all the various weapons and power-ups collected from landing pads. (Quite why the space ship looks completely different in the main bit, I've no idea.)

Hostile Breed
Reaching an active landing pad brings up this wonderfully devious little sub-game. Two bars are highlighted, and as one is raised the other will lower. The important thing is to get all the gaps lined up in the middle before the time limit runs out. A lock will then slide from left to right, and if it slides all the way, the cargo can be taken.



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A game full of bugs? Surely not! Steve Keen is here to investigate...

DIVERSE CREATIONS
A lone research station set deep in the sulphurous swamps of the planet Genaro is totally unaware of the seething metamorphosing plant and insect life-forms outside. Completely sealed off from the hostile environment, the last thing the research crew needed was an earthquake - but that's exactly what they got.

Now, with the aliens breaking in and progressing through the eight-legged base's wings, the surviving scientists have shut themselves in the control centre and set about repelling the unwanted guests and filling the cracks in the bases's hull. However, there's only one attack craft left, so the task of expelling the mutants is left to you.

At its most base level, Hostile Breed is a shoot 'em up. As in countless others, you must pilot the craft along each of the eight wings until you encounter the point at which the aliens have broken in and blast them. This is not as easy as it sounds, though, as the assorted aliens have individual life cycles consisting of roughly five evolutionary stages.

The strategic manoeuvres are performed from the control centre, and this is where Hostile Breed raises itself above other shoot 'em ups. The earthquake has weakened the complex's nuclear reactor which is responsible for powering the whole station. Each wing consumes a certain amount of energy and you can't make use of their special features without shutting down key areas to provide the extra power. Your ship is extremely slow, too, so it's necessary to connect yourself to the overhead electric rail to get anywhere fast.

This, plus the corridor's lighting, is all the basic supply provides. More extravagant uses of power include the corridor defences, complete with guns and electrical barriers.

Due to the lack of power, a happy medium must be found between using the base's armaments and the attack craft's arsenal. In addition, there are useful items to be retrieved from landing docks throughout the station, but entry to these necessitates a power battery and the completion of a sliding puzzle. Following this, you then return to the weapons bay to fit your new goodies.

PRODUCTION LINE
The different bays on the main screen are vital to winning the game, which is going to take some time. Probably the most important is the Robot Manufacturing Bay which produces and dispatches the four different types of droids needed to make repairs.

From time to time, the overhead rail will be broken an you'll need to send the specific robot to go and fix it - whilst others mend electrical wires or structural damage. However, these droids may be attacked whilst you're busy on another level - but a handy light indicates when this is happening. The robot under attack will automatically put up a shield for two minutes before its battery runs out and it's destroyed.

Frustratingly exciting is the best way to describe Hostile Breed. Its innovation and adaptation of an old theme helps sustain the game's appeal. Admittedly, the main sprite's appearance is a little off-putting and its control leaves much to be desired. People may also be put off by the game's difficulty level which is quite hard, but then you wouldn't want to complete the game in under a week, would you?!

There are lots of nice touches throughout the game, such as the Defender-like hyper-rail for fast movement along the corridors, and a lot of thought has gone into the design. Nice one!



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HOSTILE BREED: out now from Palace on Amiga, £25.99.

MARTIN POND has seen ET 400 times and he still cries every time he watches it. We decided to get him to review HOSTILE BREED from Palace in a bid to toughen him up a bit.

AmigaThe action takes place in a research station locted on a distant planet. Your base comprises of a control centre with eight wings radiating out from the control centre, housing labs, stores, living quarters, a bowling alley, etc.

An earthquake strikes, leaving dirty great holes ripped in the walls, in pour swarms of marauding aliens, vandalising the bases's systems as they go. The crew are besieged in the control centre, as the aliens advance down all the wings simultaneously. Somehow the phrase "Alien invasion! What on earth are we going to do?" springs to mind. It's up to you to fly the last remaining shuttle craft and repel the invaders.

ALIENATING
The aliens move along by propagating their own filthy kind as they go. Each species has a number of different stages in its life cycle. For instance, that putrid-looking egg might hatch into a revolting, slimy slug before developing into a bu-eyed insectoid.

Some of the aliens even form unholy symbiotic relationships with one another. So the presence of one species may be vital for the successful development of another. Yuck - it makes you itch all over just thinking about their disgusting little habits, doesn't it?

Hostile Breed is a good attempt at breaking away from the linear gameplay of most mindless shoot 'em ups. Veteran devotees of the genre may find the actual flying 'n' shooting action a bit on the turgid side. But when things get really frenetic and you're beating off aliens from every direction, you just can't help but have an amusing and rewarding time!Z


This is the main screen from which you can access all of the control centre's systems or enter the wings. It also shows you how close the baddies are to crashing your party.
Hostile Breed

REACTOR CONTROL
Hostile Breed
The nuclear reactor powers the base. Careful now - if you overheat it, there'll be radioactive fragments of humans and aliens raining down all over the planet. Don't bother fixing draught excluders to all the airlocks - if you want to economise on power, you can do so from this screen. Just disconnect the power to non-essential services (e.g. the circuits for the lightning, computers and drink dispensers).

DEFENCE SYSTEMS
Hostile Breed
Activate each of the wing's four automatic weapon systems from here. There's also a central supergun which can be used to send a blast down a wing, clearing out invaders.

ROBOT PRODUCTION LINE
Hostile Breed
Here you can manufacture the droids which repair damage to the walls and the base's systems. As the robots are stockpiled, you can despatch them down each of the wings as required, to get everything ship shape and Bristol fashion.