Get in shape for Armageddon

Millennium 2.2 logo

ONCE I attended a lecture by a well known professor of astronomy who prophesised that hellfire and brimstone will soon be upon us. The Solar System is surrounded by a shell of material known as the Oort Cloud from which comets probably come. Every 30 million years this cloud is perturbed by something massive, with the result that a great hail of debris rains down on the Sun. Some hits Earth, which explains the Ice Age and the extinction of the dinosaurs.

To compound the danger there are no less than 40,000 asteroids whose orbits cross our planet's path. The learned gentleman concluded that Earth was due to be done in within the next 30,000 years and that all nations should forget such trivia as defence spending and the International Monetary Fund and instead club together to build a filthy great laser to zap any lumps of rock that come too close.

And you thought computer games were abstract and had nothing to do with real life.

According to Electric Dreams the end of the world will be rather earlier than expected: 2.200 AD. Some people, including yourself, will have escaped to the Moon where your task will be to colonise the Solar System.

The ultimate aim is re-colonising Earth, using various pieces of equipment to extract useful material from the Moon's crust. With this you will make craft which can be sent to the asteroid belt for more materials with which to build the ships that can colonise worlds.

The main screen shows a grandiose 3D view of the planets moving around the Sun. Clicking on a planet zooms in and shows its moons. Clicking again shows whether the planet is colonised and, if it is not, whether it is worth doing so.

There is a row of icons across the top of the screen, the most important being the Moon base. Here you start with nothing save a small stock of minerals and a little power from a generator. You begin by researching and building a larger generator, which allows you to produce more power and thus turn on your mining equipment, which allows you to dig for the raw materials which you need to produce even bigger generators, which give you enough power to build craft that can leave the Moon's surface and report on other planets, which allows you to build life support systems...

Pretty soon, you have a beehive of activity, with all sorts of things being built and several expeditions to other planets going on at the same time. There is a save option, which is welcome, because a single game can easily take days. Needless to say, everything does not go smoothly. If you build too many generators too quickly they will explode and you will have to start again. You have Martians as enemies and will often have to defend against them. But no two games are the same, and you may well manage to get probes off the ground before threats are sent over the electronic bulletin board.

As a games reviewer you quickly learn to detect an ST port with your eyes close and fur on your tongue. Millennium 2.2 is yet another. Basically, it is an infinitely expanded variant of Kingdom, the golden oldie which had you balancing the books of an ancient dynasty while ensuring that the population did not get too restless and depose you. But the good presentation and huge variety of options brings it band up to date.

Despite the could-do-better graphics and sound, plus the extremely terse instructions, Millennium 2.2 is a surprisingly addictive game. It grows on you, provided you stick with it. It should keep you frustrated for months.

Millennium 2.2 logo

Price: £24.99

This is a game that Activision are not quite sure how to categorise. The fact that it is not easily fitted into a convenient commercial slot is itself a welcome sign that this is a game completely out of the ordinary.

An asteroid has collided with Earth, and the catastrophic damage caused to the planet has made it uninhabitable. Foreseeing such a possibility, Mankind had set up a self-sufficient colony on the moon. Its aim was to seek out useful-looking planets and moons, and using a technique called "terraforming", make them capable of supporting life. Now the race is on to "terraform" the Earth itself. But before operations can commence, much research must be carried out, and supplies of minerals are unavailable on the moon must somehow be obtained.

The player starts out with the moon base at his disposal. A relatively minor affair, the base runs on batteries, mining what minerals it can. The solar system must be explored using unmanned probes, in order to find those planets which require life-giving elements. But before a probe itself can be built, a greater power source must be assembled first, and this too must be researched before manufacture. Once made, the base's energy supplies can be hooked up to it, and work on the probe can be transferred to the flight bay, prior to launch. When it arrives at its pre-set destination and has landed, the player loses direct contact with it. At this stage, research into the destination planet may be initiated.

Later, if thought worthwhile, a craft of a different kind may be sent there, to establish a new colony. The problems in producing them become progressively difficult. More and more power is needed, and worse, a material shortfall of elements not available on the moon shows up.

The mode of play is almost entirely by mouse. A picture of moon base forms a sort of top-level menu, and as the cursor arrow is moved across it, the function of each section is displayed, and can be selected by flicking. Going in deeper, if the research section is selected, a file-type graphic offers research into seven different types of project - energy, transport, weaponry, and so on.

Since research and production take time, not to mention flights, the real-time clock of the game can be advanced by hours or days.

Moving around from function to sub-option is very slick, with the one exception that I found in the controlling of the spacecraft. Exit from the control function is clumsy, and the requirement to intervene and auto-land a craft that has achieved orbit seems unnecessary.

As time progresses, significant events are announced through the automatic display of a bulletin board, which can be accessed at any time for reference.

The instructions in the manual are minimal. This is deliberate, for to give too much detail in them might give away some of the surprises the game has in store for you. Yet it is a little unrealistic to suppose that after researching a project you have no idea how it functions! This is the case for the various types of spacecraft available - it seems you must fly them and learn by experience how to use them.

One thing that certainly was not clear to me at the outset, and is worth bearing in mind if you intend to play this game, is that only one project can be researched, and only one item can be in production, at any one time.

Millenium 2.2., originally written as a text game for the PC by Ian Bird, was picked up by Activision as an ideal for window and mouse interfacing. The resulting graphics are superb without being spectacular, and suit the mood of the game admirably. Similarly, the sound consisting mainly of low-level sound effects, like the background noise of heavy mining machinery accompanying the resource screen, heightens the sense of atmosphere, as well as being an aid to identifying which option you are in.

Arcade? Strategy? Adventure? You must make your own mind up - but be sure of one thing - this is more a long-term project than a game.

Colonize the solar system and save humanity

Millennium 2.2 logo Zzap! Sizzler

Electric Dreams, Amiga £24.99

Millenium 2.2 is a sort of high-tech Adam and Eve. The human race has virtually been annihilated by a massive meteor smashing into the Earth, and the only humans left live in colonies on Mars and the Moon. As Moon Base commander you've got to 'go forth and multiply' to ensure humanity doesn't go the way of the dinosaurs. Sadly the moon is not the sort of place you can go for romantic walks in the countryside, well not yet at east. Instead you must build unromantic 'nodules' - domed buildings to contain more people - and construct spaceships by which to colonize other planets and moons. To complete the game you must re-establish life on Earth, a task which will take vast quantities of raw materials and scientific research.

Decision-making in Millenium is purely by windows-and-icons; Each Moon Base consists of seven domes each of which brings up a window if clicked on. The Life Support dome is obviously important, but the window here simply reports how many people are alive and well. Similarly the vital Energy dome window can only be used to select which solar power generator (Solagen) to use.

To get a more powerful Solagen you must have the raw materials (turn on the Mining Dome) and construction plans from the Research Dome. Once you have these you can set the Production Dome to making it. Other items that can be made include orbital lasers and fighters for the Defence dome, and spaceships and probes for the Hanger dome. The Defence dome is obviously used only when you're under attack. Click on the dome then and radar shows the numbers of enemy ships. Select lasers and defence is handled by computer. Select fighters and one is launched with you in the cockpit. The only arcade section in the game, this has the enemy attacking you one by one, in solid 3-D fighters which zoom in and out blasting away with their lasers.

The main part of the game though, is choosing which items to research and produce. Then when you've got some spaceships where to send them - a voyage to the outer planet takes hundred of days, so it's as well there's an efficient time acceleration feature.

Spaceships are particularly useful for ferrying resources from colonised planets back to the Moon, since the Moon lacks various minerals vital for some items.

Phil King Like the space virus of Apha Centauri XII, Millenium 2.2 began to grow on me very quickly upon first playing it, but it is by far more pleasant to experience than the former. The best graphics yet for this type of game (incorporating many other styles of game - from strategy to arcade - an odd mixture), Millenium oozes quality presentation - a damn shame that sound is limited to little more than spot effects (very effective though!). A little slow to start with Millenium quickly becomes engrossing with interesting problems all the way and is easily the best looking strategy cum adventure game for a long while.
Phil King This strange, and unusual game crosses a relatively simple strategy with an atmospherically presented adventure. The desire to see more of these adventure bits, combined with slick 16-bit (albeit ST) presentation, make this an exceptionally compelling game. The only drawback is the relative ease with which this £25 game might be completed after around 20 hours play. Nevertheless with such a great atmosphere, and high addiction quota. I for one certainly found myself playing into the early hours until I completed it.