THE spaceship Pandora - a generation ship I which colonies grow and produce everything they need - has completed its 200 year mission. Still, after all this time the ship is bound to be empty. Someone has to board it and strip it of the alien artifacts it has collected on its voyage through the galaxies.
That someone is you, but as soon as you beam aboard you realise that something has gone wrong: The 200 year old defence system is still active - move and you will die instantly. But move you must - the ship is going to release poison spores on the Earth unless you can set the self destruct.
This gives you a set of objectives: Find as many alien artifacts as possible and drop them into the eject cute. Find the self destruct and set it, and find the escape ID and get off the ship before it blows.
No-one, including you, can move on the ship without an ID. Fortunately, an entry officer runs up to you and hands you hers, though this means instant death for her. A touching sacrifice. For the record, the entry officer was called Annie in earlier versions but in deference to the Commodore 16 bitter she is likely to be renamed Amy.
Wandering around the 2D game you will encounter a host of aliens, not all of them unfriendly. How you react to one will affect how others will react to you. For example, you may trade with characters, but not very successfully if you have killed other popular characters.
If you have wiped out evil creatures - such as the bank manager - then you are more likely to be trusted. There are clues to how popular the aliens might be in the locations where you meet them.
In your quest to collect artifacts you need to learn how to deal with individual characters. This may mean picking up the right ID. There are four levels of clearance. Alpha, delta, pi and omega. They work in ascending order, so you can go everywhere with an omega pass. However, the exit pass has no clearance.
If you have made yourself unpopular you will have to fight the other characters. With a gun you can attack them from afar, and indeed you have to use this to attack the thief - he will steal your weapon in hand to hand combat.
The fight scenes are great, a cross between a scrap in Tom and Jerry and an old Batman programme, complete with BIFF! And WHACK! Captions. To fight a character and advancing, a power meter helps you time each strike.
Weapons have different strengths and speeds, while the characters also have varying stamina and swiftness. Choosing the right weapon helps, as does having the kryptonite which weakens all foes, though the more scraps you get into the weaker you become. You can recover your strength using the brain, but this only works once.
When the ship reaches Earth you can elect to play on. Your home is destroyed but you can keep on collecting artifacts and picking up points.
Pandora is the first major program from Sahid Ahmad, with wonderful graphics by Terry Greer and games consultancy by David Eastman.
The game's design draws on many sources: Wandering around the ship owes much to Hewson's Paradroid, the fighting owes something to Gauntlet and scoring to Atari Star Raiders.
Film buffs will spot references to Silent Running and the cult film Dark Star. Watch out for the Wackobrain which looks like the Dark Star alien and will tap its toes.
The Amiga conversion is bound to be the best. Shahid uses the blitter extensively, the music is by David Whittaker and the whole thing runs very much faster than on the ST. This will allow Shahid to give some more of the characters shadows and tweak the gameplay.
Oh, and make sure you check out what the musician is carrying.