It's funny, isn't it, the way that the more things there are to go wrong, the more things do go wrong. And in a spacecraft, there are billions of 'em. So when the Novadrive on your Prestinium space ship cuts out on a routine trip to Gamma 5, you know you're in trouble. And as the planet Targ approaches rather faster than you'd wish. It's inevitable that the controls all fail together and you spiral helplessly into the centre of the main city... ker-splat!
Fortunately you survive. In Mercenary you always survive, no matter how stupid, careless or downright suicidal you are. It's that sort of game. But there's more, much more. In fact. I've never seen a game in which there was so much. Its a staggering achievement.
You've no doubt heard of it. Owners of the despised Commie 64 have already had the best part of two years to hone their skills on the original Mercenary, and I'm sure they've told you about it. And told you about it. And then mentioned it again, just in case you hadn't heard the first 6,549 times. If, like me, you weren't listening, I'd better tell you what it's all about.
Mercenary uses a 3D vector graphics system to display an entire planet, or at least a sensor-scan representation of it. You see, it's not the planet that you see, but what your portable computer, installed in your helmet and known as 'Benson', lets you see.
You start the game with just 9000 credits. Benson and your enormous brain - and your aim is to get off Targ as quickly and lucratively as possible. Well, you are a mercenary! The city's large (about the size of Walsall, by my reckoning) so you'll need to find some transport if you don't fancy slogging about on foot for several months. Fortunately you've crashed at an airport, so there could be an aircraft for sale. But isn't 5000 credits rather expensive? And will it get you up to the space station that revolves high above the city? And what about this missile flying towards you? Wouldn't it be a good idea to shoot it down?
You discover that there are two warring races on the planet, each controlling parts of the city. The Palyars were Targs original inhabitants: while the warring Mechanoids are a particularly nasty bunch of invading robots. Long wars have reduced most of the planet's surface to wasteland. Even the city is relatively barren, and most life is now concentrated in a huge subterranean network of rooms and corridors. accessible from large elevators. As you explore you find objects to take and use. Although you meet people you don't actually see them - Benson just interprets their demands or messages and relays them on-screen. As a rule, people don't fire on you. Most doors are simple rectangles, but other, differently shaped ones need keys before you can get through them, and those with crosses on, hide teleports that whip you off to another part of the labyrinth. Even these are not always what they seem - some only send, others only receive, yet others send and receive, and some transport you to a random destination. Naturally there's a certain amount of mapping to be done. Well, a vast amount, actually.
Of course. you can cheat. Novagen is selling a Targ Survival Kit, which features all sorts of useful maps and some amazingly cryptic clues. But even if this gives you the edge, it by no means ruins the game. What might ruin it is if I tell you too much. It's more fun to start from a condition of total ignorance, and then find things out.
I'll just leave you with a couple of clues for now. There are apparently three ways to complete the game, though at present I know of only one (all to do with acquiring enough credits to hire a Novadrive ship from the local spacecraft hire shop). I'll be interested to hear of any more - indeed, I expect that both Tipshop and Clinic will be bursting with hints and game-snags in the coming months. Yes, Mercenary is that good.