It might have been only three-and-a-half years since the first Turrican game appeared on the Amiga, but it sure as hell feels like a lot longer. At the time of its release, it was hailed as one of the Amiga's top shoot em ups - even if it was a fairly derivative blast.
The idea was to guide an armour-suited soldier around a series of platformed levels, taking out as many alien nasties as possible. To do this, you were armed with an unfeasibly large gun which could be transformed into a variety of weapons depending on which of the game's many power ups you opted to pick up on your travels. The arcade-quality feel to the game, coupled with some gob-smacking graphics, explosive sound effects and excellently designed levels, made for a frantic and incredibly addictive blast.
The following year, Turrican 2 hit our screens. Adhering to the same formula as the first game, the action was even more fast 'n' furious than its predecessor, with more varied enemy sprites, better attack waves, gigantic end-of-level guardians, and even bigger levels to blast your way through. Then, with the advent of console mania, the team behind the games, Factor 5, turned their attention to pastures new and the long-awaited third game in the series was quietly shelved.
Now, after realising the error of their ways, the German-based developers have unveiled the third Turrican outing. Even better, although they have kept the basic gameplay traits of the first two blasts, the team have radically revamped the new game and given it fresh vitality by significantly tweaking the level design, upping the number of alien nasties to slaughter, and making things even more frantic than before.
On booting up, the first thing you are treated to is an animated intro, which fills you in on what has happened since the end of Turrican 2. The evil bio-mechanical monstrosity known only as The Machine has embarked, once more, on a course of galactic domination, ruthlessly destroying entire solar systems in the pursuit of power. Unfortunately, as the United Planets' most decorated war hero, it is up to you to save the day and give the alien ruffian a jolly good seeing to. After 'volunteering' for such a deadly mission (i.e. everyone else took a step backwards when you were not paying attention), it is off to the intergalactic equivalent of a 'phone booth to don the famous Turrican armoured exo-skeleton and kick some alien ass.
The action is set across five increasingly difficult levels, each made up of three separate zones. Infesting each one is a battalion of The Machine's robotic minions, plus some bizarre biologically-engineered life forms, each one capable of soaking up a number of shots before they keel over and die. Most are eight way scrolling affairs, set over huge expanses, although some involve single screen encounters with some of the game's large adversaries. Luckily, your assault suit comes equipped with enough fire power to level a small city single-handedly, but you must make sure you constantly replenish your supplies as the game progresses.
Once you have located one of the game's many ammo dumps, you can take your pick from multi-shot guns, lasers, homing missiles, rebound shots and a useful body shield. Along with these goodies come extra lives and a heart-shaped icon which boosts your suit's energy levels to maximum power.
As well as all this firepower at your disposal, you also have access to three smart bombs per level - these spew out a concentric circle of bombs that clear the screen of all but the largest enemies.
Each level adopts a particular item. The first involves exploring the corridors of an alien hatchery, killing the baby face-huggers, and collecting as many point-scoring gems as possible. If this level looks familiar, that is because much of it is based on Sega's Mega Turrican game from last year.
The best bit here is when you have blasted through the first zone and then have to contend with a swarm of alien nasties which dive down from above. There is nowhere to run, so you have got to polish off each enemy sprite as it flies in. Miss one and they block your path, so it is possible to get in very quickly and become a sitting duck. Once you have destroyed the end-of-level guardian, which looks suspiciously like a wobbly marshmallow, it is on to level two. Here the mood and music changes to reflect the dark and damp environment. We are deep into one of The Machine's research stations now, and much of the stage actually takes place beneath the waterline. This is not much of a problem for our hero, however, as his assault suit comes with a built-in oxygen supply.
Unfortunately, the place is absolutely crawling with all manner of mutated beasties, ranging from huge crab-like creatures to deadly manta rays. There is also a series of electrical storms hitting the area which come down like sheet lightening, zapping your suit's energy reserves. Lose too much energy and you eventually explode, causing you to lose one of your five lives.
The third level uses a graphical style akin to the Terminator coin-op in that most of the colours are silvers and greys, giving the battle-scarred alien landscape a bleak and foreboding look. Set against a backdrop of a ruined city, birds of prey hover in the air waiting to swoop down and tear you to bits with their talons. There are even sky-borne assault craft which sweep the area with their searchlights, and which then unleash a volley of shots once they have located their targets.
More than any other level, this one is absolutely packed with huge enemy sprites, and they are also the most difficult to overcome, so expect to lose plenty of lives in this section.
The fourth level is a typical Giger-inspired Alien pastiche (how original), with body huggers that attach themselves to your face mask and suck the energy out of you. The only way to defeat these is by using up your precious smart bombs, or blasting them before they can leap up at you. There is also a tricky wagon train section in which you have to leap from section to section.
This does not sound too difficult until you realise that the screen is constantly scrolling, so if you take your time you will be pushed along, and pressured into making an untimely leap to your death. Of course, while you are trying to do all this, a whole host of alien uglies are after your skin, too. The end of level guardian in this section is a huge Alien Mother who is out to revenge the deaths of her siblings, so watch out.
By the fifth level, the pace has been cranked up another notch or two. Your super soldier is now deep into The Machine's futuristic lair, and the bad guys come thick and fast. Huge Walker-like sentries fill almost the entire screen and you will need maximum fire power to overcome this lot. After wading through screen after screen of complete and utter mayhem, it is then on to a final encounter with The Machine, a huge bio-mechanical monstrosity that fires laser bolts from its eyes and bristles with all sorts of deadly armaments.
HIGH WIRE ACT
Apart from the new weapons under your control, one of the best innovations is the use of a grappling hook to reach previously inaccessible areas. This is fire from a separate gun and once it has become attached to a solid object, it is simply a matter of swinging from side to side to build up enough momentum to reach a much higher platform by climbing up the wire and then leaping to safety. It is an effective new tool in Turrican's armoury, but because it is triggered by holding down the joystick fire button, it can be triggered inadvertently.
Each stage is set against the clock. You might think that you have ample time to finish a level, but you would be surprised at how quickly the clock counts down. Leave everything too late and you will witness your man crumpling to the ground as his body armour explodes. Luckily, there are lots of extra life tokens littered about each level - too many in fact, as I found I was rarely in danger of having to quit the game and start again. There are also a number of level restart points and three sets of continues, so they have really given you every chance of completing it. Admittedly, things get a little hectic when you choose the 'maniac' difficulty level, but on normal play it is possible to complete the game in under an hour if you are any good.
That is not a major criticism, though. The harder difficulty levels increase the resilience of the aliens as well as their intelligence, so you get more of a game for your money. Overall, Turrican 3 is a quality blast with inventive levels, a good arsenal of weapons at your disposal, and some excellent graphical touches. The first two games suffered from rather mechanical Lego-like level design whereas this new offering provides five distinct levels, all of which are highly imaginative in their layout and the challenges they set.
There are not many Amiga shoot em ups this good on the market.