Sinclair User28th February 1987
Published in Sinclair User #62
Sentinel is very, very strange. It has won trillions of awards on other formats just for being extraordinarily peculiar.
The fact that it was technically brilliant and astonishingly addictive as well may have helped.#
Imagine a cross between chess, What's the Time Mr Wolf?, recent developments in quantum physics and fractal landscape techniques. Bet that helps a lot doesn't it?
You're set down in this landscape. Actually it's one of around 16,000 possible landscapes! It's sort of craggy rocky affair not unlike the mountains of the moon or Herne Bay. Each craggy landscape consists of distinct levels - plateaux divided into a checkerboard of different squares at different levels. The only thing it reminded me of - and that not a lot - is Marble Madness, but with a worm's eye view.
Somewhere on one of the higher peaks in this landscape stands the Sentinel - a giant statue-like figure which slowly turns through 360 degrees. If you should get in a position where the Sentinel can 'see' you your energy instantly begins to drain. On harder levels the Sentinel has a bunch of sentrys that are also standing around looking for you. The game is this. If they see you and your energy drains to zero you get absorbed. If you sneak up on the Sentinel - get on a level higher than it and absorb it, you've 'won' that landscape.
The quantum physics comes in with the general principle that operates in the game that matter cannot be destroyed and there is a finite amount of energy in each universe. You use energy to move, you use energy to create. You can create trees, boulders or other selves. The opposite of creating energy is absorbing energy and this works in exactly the reverse way, ie. If you spot a tree or a boulder you can absorb it and gain energy. Movement is a matter of scanning around for a robot in that square and then transporting yourself to that square. Having transported yourself you can absorb your old body.
All this cosmic stuff shouldn't hide the fact that what you are really playing is a sort of hide and seek. You carefully move around the landscape looking for trees or boulders to absorb but without moving to a square from which you can be seen by the Sentinel or its Guardians.
The problem is where to move to that will both get you higher - nearer the Sentinel - yet not leave you exposed.
The game looks extrodinary, a little like those fractal, landscape games with clever use of shading and lines to give the impression of some alien but 'real' looking landscape. The Sentinel, guardians, trees and boulders are equally well, if simply, realised. Whatever else, you've never seen another game that looks like this one.
I managed to beat the first few levels relatively easily but the game soon becomes unbelievably difficult. Paranoia sets in as you start to wonder if there is a single place you can move to without being seen.
Your tactics get more subtle (well more subtle than just pressing the Hyperspace 'run away' button anyway). If you get close to the Sentinel you can tell which way it is turning (it must turn before it sees you) and plan your movements accordingly. You can also create some objects in squares to 'test' whether they can be seen or not - Sentinels will always absorb energy from any object they can.
Win through a landscape and you get a code for your next level. The more energy you have left means the higher the level you get the code for - so the better you did the faster you jump up the levels scale.
So it goes on. And so you'll go on. Rather than becoming repetitive this is an astoundingly addictive game.
Unlike any other game, this is completely original. Technically staggering and frighteningly addictive.