Readers not so whacked out on brandy infested Christmas pudding will recall that TFX, the flight simulator we gave away with our October issue, was originally slated for release back during the Amiga's heyday, but was dropped when DID realised that it was never going to run as fast as they wanted on an unaccelerated A1200.
Now that a reasonably good accelerator such as 68030/50MHz is commonplace, TFX offers no problems. Similarly, most gamers will have the minimum spec. machine to run The Shadow of the Third Moon - indeed, on a fast '030, it runs very smoothly.
It's a pity TFX wasn't released way back, because it might have been instrumental in encouraging people into buying accelerators, and the Amiga might have advanced technologically to match the demands of games players.
It is perhaps even more of a pity that TSOTTM wasn't released a few years ago, because it is damn playable on the kind of hardware which was easily available, if expensive, in the Commodore era. Perhaps if people had seen what an accelerated Amiga was capable of, the Amiga games scene would be a lot healthier than it is now.
I realised that the Amiga was going to lose its dominance as the home computer for gamers when I aw Novalogic's Commanche on the PC. Using a system called Voxelspace, this helicopter sim sported proper 3D landscapes, with hills to hide behind and canyons to fly down.
It showed for the first time that more powerful processors would open the gates to entirely new types of game engine, not just the same things running more smoothly. TSOTTM uses 3Dtis, Black Blade's own voxelspace like system, to generate similar landscapes, but with a smoothness and realism beyond Commanche.
What's more it does this on a machine less powerful than the type you needed for Commanche. Let's hope that this is an sign that modern specced Amigas can make their way back onto the gaming map.
The Shadow of the Third Moon is a member of that oddly rare species, the futuristic flight sim. I suspect that this decision may have been made because the game engine's dreamlike landscapes suit Science Fiction well, lending the scenario a great atmosphere.
TSOTTM is set during an alien war. You have the misfortune of serving in the air force during the one of the occasions when your ancient foe, the Keeir, turn up at the gate with a rather unpleasantly large army.
You play through a series of 6 campaigns, taking you through various different stages of the war. The first 2 campaigns involve training on the Saxxrat and the Kerjit, the two aircraft you'll have at your disposal.
The third level takes you to the start of the war. Through the fourth and the fifth campaigns, the war rages around you and your side is having a tough time of it. Finally you fight your way through to Quinrasia and the large sea, and the final battle to retain freedom for your people and the underground city of Salder. With each of the campaigns divided up into between 6 and 10 missions, you'll have to play very hard for war to be over by Christmas.
At the beginning of each mission you get to choose your armaments. Your aircraft has provision for a laser, bombs and missiles. Each of these types of weapon comes in a few shades, so selecting the right combination if an important part of the tactics.
Choosing between the fast firing low powered laser is mostly a matter of taste, but getting the right combination of missiles, with their varying degrees of power, number and accuracy, is vital. Once your first mission is under way, you'll very quickly pick up on the fact that this is a flight sim with the emphasis on arcade action rather than simulation. There is none of that taking off and landing lark, here you're dropped right into the action.
Various control options are available, but using a mouse for steering and firing with a hand on the keyboard for control thrust, weapon selection and so on seemed much the most satisfying approach. On the control panel a radar keeps track of the relative positions of your enemies, and a small message window displays information about your mission. A small VDU displays data about your weapons and targeted foes. Get into the melee and you'll soon be battling with enemy aircraft, ground batteries and tanks, while trying to knock out enemy buildings.
A well-planned learning curve means that in the earlier levels you will find a few well spaced enemies, while in the later levels you can rapidly find yourself in the middle of a hectic battle against multiple enemy aircraft while ground batteries fill the air around you with laser blasts.
The speed of the game engine, even on relatively slow '030s, keeps the action going beautifully. You can bank and swoop with great manoeuvrability, and soon you'll find yourself in epic dog-fights. The fact that the landscape wraps around may detract from any sense of realism, but it has the effect of keeping the action quite concentrated, and you are never very far from a fight.
Bit of a bodge?
The graphics for the aircraft are a bit of a bodge, using pre-rendered images, but the bodge is well judged, and you don't really notice it in the hear of the battle. Clever fog effects give th game not only its glorious parallax cloudy skies, but lovely smoke trails and fire effects which add a lot to the sense of solidity.
Bodge or not, watching your guided missiles streaking into the distance as they track an enemy aircraft is satisfyingly convincing. It doesn't hold up so well at close quarters, however, so the external view mode is rather disappointing, stick to through the cockpit. You can use the numeric pad to look around and even zoom in and out with the plus and minus keys, so you still have plenty to see.
The really pleasant thing about The Shadow of the Third Moon is that once the initial distraction of the excellent game engine wears off, you've got a very involving and enjoyable game. The structure is well considered, with new challenges being added as the game progresses, and a nice feeling of the sweep of the narrative.
You'll find that it's not just the number and type of enemy that changes, it's also the landscapes. The first campaigns are played out in the green landscapes of home, while the more desperate later levels take you to the grim wastelands of the fogs of Kal Atl, and the final level takes you to Quinrasia and the large sea, where the small islands and large open seascapes make for a very different and deadlier environment to fly in.
As the war progresses, you'll even find yourself flying missions as part of a squadron, with a wingman who you can order to distract the enemy fighters while you attack the land installations.
Nothing is perfect, and TSOTTM is no exception. There are niggles with the engine, collisions with the ground are unconvincing, and the view of yourself exploding when you die just work, but these take away more from the game's polish than its playability.
The levels strangely don't end until you hit the f10 key to end the mission, annoying as it can mean that you fly around a while making absolutely sure you've finished before you quit. The slow passage through the (admittedly beautifully rendered) high resolution men screens can be a hassle too. Set-up can be tricky, particularly the CDDA support, requiring a bit of basic technical knowledge.
On the other hand the range of options is impressive, with CyberGraphX, AGA and general RTG screens supported, a choice of chunky to planar routines, and two sets of object graphics, one for low memory systems and one for those with a bit more RAM to spare.
In-game options allow you to trade off speed for rendering quality of the landscape, as well as switching off some of the graphics tricks such as fog effects and tweaking the window size. If the missions are too easy or too hard, there are even four difficulty levels to choose from.
The Amiga has traditionally seen games with lots of gameplay but has not until recently seen this kind of realistic graphics. Sadly, it has often been the case of late that games which look very nice fail to deliver on the traditional gameplay. I am glad to say that TSOTTM manages to deliver both. It is said to have sold about 750 copies during the three days of its debut at the Cologne show, and I can heartily recommend you add to that number.