Eric Doyle goes planet-hopping with Martech's latest release
Strategy, puzzles, codewords, laser blasting and prizes. Martech's new game seems to have everything. The keyword to describe it is enigmatic.
Set only 40 years in the future, Earth is a dying planet facing the onset of a second Ice Age. All seems lost until the discovery of a strange alien capsule in Switzerland.
This is where you come in. In the guise of a space explorer on a routine mission around the solar system you are called back to investigate the capsule which has a combination lock. The only clue you are given is that you think the word 'LIFE' is the key. This is a pretty heavy clue as you will soon find when you encounter the capsule, but first you must descend to Earth.
The surface lander is simple to guide but difficult to control. Part of the descent is controlled by the mothership's tractor beam but at 10,000 metres steering becomes a manual operation. This means controlling your descent to land as near to the capsule as possible with a velocity of less than 20 metres per sec. With gravity to fight against this is no mean feat as your fuel dissipates at a frightening rate and you must preserve enough to rejoin your mothership later. Successful pilots are rewarded with an attractive view of the Swiss countryside and then it's icon time.
Messages are displayed across the top of the large, central screen with the bottom panel being reserved for instrument panel readouts. Three icons are arrayed down each side of the screen and some of them open up further icon menus, called sub-icons.
Selecting the "Explore" icon allows access to the lander and its robotic surface explorer. As we have seen the lander is the shuttle between the mothership and the planet surface. The robot is used to locate and examine the capsule. When a capsule is found, the "Manipulate" icon allows you to try various codes in your attempt to break into it. The first capsule has a long range map until inside which is essential if your mission is to continue.
The next challenge is to rendezvous with the tractor beam. Once again, fuel and speed are critical if you are ever to see your mothership again. On returning you are liable to find that an alien transmission has deposited a strange game into your computer's memory bank. This is a game within a game and fully deserves its name: Weird! Part of the mission is to unlock its secrets after loading it from side two of the twin cassette package.
Let's not worry too much about this just yet. Time is short so we go back to the icon menu. Selecting the "Map" icon displays our solar system and a destination can be chosen using a cross hair cursor. If you want to know something about the planet first, the "Database" icon could prove useful. On the other hand, if you can't guess the log-on code, you'll be denied access to all the secrets of the planets. After trying several words I hit on one which briefly has a lot to do with Martian technology. Using the "Help" facility then listed the database's functions.
The information contained within the database gives the vital statistics of all the planets and space phenomena which you're liable to meet on your odyssey. This is very educational because it includes the information provided by Voyager 2's encounter with Uranus. All of the planet data has been supplied by Heather Couper who, as President of the British Astronomical Association, ought to know what she's talking about.
Logging off from the database allows access to the "Travel" option which tells you to load your destination's vital statistics from the second tape in the package and you're off on your adventure.
Orbiting around the planet you can use your "Data" icon to test the gravitational pull of the planet so you can get some idea of the amount of fuel required to effect a safe descent. From now on, you're on your own. The full purpose of the game is not revealed until you have located and opened all of the capsules and a prize awaits the first person to complete the game. For those who like plenty of challenges in a game this comes highly recommended for its physical and mental challenges as well as its superb graphics.