So far, we've only seen one game that truly uses the capability of the CD32. However, the game in question, Microcosm, may be a fun game and use loads of texture-mapped gobsmacking graphics but, at heart, it is nothing more than a simple shoot 'em up. Liberation on the other hand, may not be able to boast the same depth of graphics quality that Psygnosis' game has, but it is light years ahead when it comes to gameplay.
To my mind the CD32 was designed for adventures: no more disk swopping, stunning graphics, CD sound, digitised speech - it has the potential to contain all these and more. And Liberation very nearly has the lot. 'But enough high-praising waffle; what is it all about?' I hear you cry (bet you did not know my hearing was so good, did you?).
Life in the future must be very bleak. At least that is what virtually every sci-fi writer has told us since the genre came into fashion. And in that respect, Liberation is no different. There is a police state oppressive dictatorial Empire and a worldwide conspiracy where innocent men are being framed for murders they did not commit. As Trill, the hero from the first Captive game (and the man with the world's worst haircut - after our cranially challenged Editor that is), you decide to uncover this plot and set the convicts free.
To complete the game you need to free the convict designated for that particular scenario. That may sound easy but, with over 4,000 possible variations, you will soon realise that Liberation is going to keep you going well into the new year.
Trill is a smart man. I mean, apart from discovering a global conspiracy he is intelligent enough not to get involved personally in any of the dirty work. Instead, he has disappeared into the mountains outside the city and has sent a team of four droids in to sort it out. Controlling them from his laptop computer, Trill (i.e. you) has a first-person perspective on the action.
These head-mounted video cameras allow you to view the light-sourced texture-mapped polygon-filled city in great detail. It is obvious that a lot of thought has gone into the graphic design and, although it is not that particularly lifelike, this stylised view of the world is impressive and, above all, workable.
The downside of all this texture mapping is your robot buddies do amble rather ponderously along and the animation frames are few and far between. Tony Crowther, the coder, has borne this in mind and, if you plug a chip into a droid's head, you can alter the game parameters to your choosing.
This customisation is carried through into all major aspects of the game. You can alter the screen layout, the fonts and colours used, the make-up of your droids - in fact, virtually everything that a reasonably experienced adventurer would want to do.
Being droids, your team members have perfect memories and, boy, do they need them. The gameplay involves you tracking down the location of the prisoner by talking to, bribing, shooting and making contacts with people across a huge city that's set out on three levels. So, every conversation you have, every clue you uncover and every address you find is stored in the droids' huge memory chips and you can review it at any time.
Better still, one of your team has a city mapper, which can be programmed with addresses so there is no need for yards of graph paper here. Besides, trying to manually map a city as big as this would take you forever and you'd still not get it right - imagine trying to do an A-Z of London, from scratch! To make things simpler the city is divided into zones and levels. The graphic sets for each are subtly different so it should not take too long to find your way around.
The drawback about having a realistic city is that people move around freely and do normal, everyday random things. This makes your job doubly difficult: not only do you have to track down the captive's location but you've also got to find the people who are going to give you the clues to do so.
But hey, that is where the fun is. Besides, the game constantly monitors your progress and, if it sees you floundering for too long in one place and not making any headway, it will pop in a useful note or tip to guide you to your destination. The game isn't the only thing that is monitoring you, though.
Your activities have been noted by the corporations which control the city and the police force, so you are being hunted by cop droids who should have been told to take you in dead or alive; unfortunately someone left out the 'alive' bit. Hang around at one location for too long, tap into the wrong police computer or discharge your weapons in the wrong place and you will soon find yourself surrounded by heavily-armed robots out to tap your oil, the hard way.
You are not without defenses, though. You start the game with a pre-set selection of reasonably powerful weapons; if you find an armourer you can buy new cartridges for them, substantially adding to your firepower. If you have got the cash, you can obtain completely new weapons with enough explosive charges to level a small city block. There are even certain weapons that are undetectable by the scanners located in the more important buildings, but they cost a packet.
Try and get hold of them 'cos, believe me, you will need them. To balance for this, the bigger the gun the larger the charge it takes off your robot's battery every time it is fired. Fortunately, there are sockets hidden in specific dwellings which will recharge the batteries.
By now, you ought to have realised that Liberation is a complex game and it will take a good couple of weeks to make any decent progress in it. That is how RPGs should be! This game has a depth to it that I cannot remember having ever seen on an Amiga RPG. It is the first one of its kind to truly challenge the masterpieces you can get on a PC. I took it home with me one weekend and ended up losing two days.
Like a lover I ate dinner with it, went to bed with it and woke to find it beside me the next morning. Unlike a human version though there was none of that bad breath, smudged make-up and 'Oh my God. Why did I do that?' feeling you usually get. I have not got around to proposing marriage just yet but I am almost there.
Virtually every aspect of its construction deserves praise. The graphics, though not as realistic as I would have like, convey the proper atmosphere nonetheless. For instance, the shady characters on the lower levels are shrouded in long cape things so that only their beady eyes show.
The soundtrack, too, is dreamy and changes tempo according to the situation you are in: walk around to a slow-paced mellow tune and fight to an up beat dramatic track - brilliant. Best of all there is a digitised speech that, despite at times being repetitive, makes you feel you are really holding a conversation with the characters.
The storyline will keep you hooked even when you feel you are stuck for what to do next. Even then you won't be stuck for too long - something will turn up, if not a clue then a hulking great cop droid intent on spilling your coolant.
Liberation is a game and a half. It is long, deep and satisfying - a bit like a good cigar (what else did you think I meant?). In fact, the only question left on my mind is 'Will you marry me?'.