AMIGA 1000 owners may well remember Mindwalker, a game from Commodore which was one of the first things to show off the machine, the first game to use the custom chips. Now the same programmer, Bill Williams, has produced Pioneer Plague, the first big game to use HAM. Eat pixels lesser computers!
The human race is overpopulating earth - nothing new in that - so some bright spark has invented the Pioneer Probes. These incredible pieces of human ingenuity have been created to terraform lifeless hunks of space flotsam - asteroids for instance - into habitable planets.
As each new world is completed, the probes build copies of themselves and send them to search out new asteroids to build on. Now here's the snag, with all genetically reproduced systems there's always a chance of random mutation, as Darwin demonstrated in The Origin of Species.
Mutants were something the designers of Pioneer forgot, so now there's a whole bunch of self-
The designers would just like to say they're very, very sorry. Cheers fellas, you're off my Christmas card list.
The game is split into three sections - ground attack, navigation and drone programming, all selected from the main screen which doubles as the interior view of the ship.
At first glance those with long memories might well murmur SDI, especially if you are clued up enough to know that Mr Williams' previous work was Sinbad and the Eye of the Falcon, before collapsing like a heap of cold jelly - I did. Fear not though, while SDI was Cinemaware's (one and only) howler, Mandarin's Pioneer Plague is a veritable feast of arcade delights.
At the start of the game your ship is positioned in geostationary orbit high above the surface of an infected planet. Clicking the navigation window shows the level of infection to be low at this stage.
Click on the launch window and it's down to business. An interim screen shows the planet approach before switching to a ground display, with the LifeStar - you - drifting around. Another click launches the attack ship.
Another little something the designers forgot to mention was the probes have an in-built defence mechanism, provided just in face something got in their way. The mutations have evolved the defence system even further - nobody's quite sure how far. This makes it necessary to shoot and bomb everything that moves until you find out what's what.
Once you clear or retreat from a planet, you have to navigate through sub-Euclidian - attack of the jargon psueds - space to get to the next one. This is used as a poor excuse for a stunning sequence, reminiscent of Star Trek The Motion Picture, where you fly through a worm hole while trying to shoot the image of the planet as it whistles around the hole. Tricky stuff, because the long you spend in space the more the probes spread.
Pioneer Plague is an unusual and well thought out game that refuses to take itself too seriously. HAM mode graphics are used throughout, not just on the loading screens, which adds a touch of class. In play it's fast and challenging, but never too hard.
Definitely one for the Christmas shopping list - every Amiga should have one.