U.I.M. (The 4th Dimension) Review | A&B Computing - Everygamegoing

A&B Computing

By The 4th Dimension
BBC B/B+/Master 128

Published in A&B Computing 6.12


U.I.M. is the biggest game ever for the BBC Micro. It requires a Master 128/512 or a BBC+ 128 or any machine with compatible sideways RAM. When I say this game is big I really mean it. The programmer, Matthew Atkinson, has taken inspiration from the legendary Elite and expanded many of the ideas to produce an elaborate game. It has taken him 2.5 years to write and sports a multitude of features which I will describe later. The manual is huge with all the information a player will need to make progress in the game.

The setting for the game is an Earth of the distant future where mankind lives in the oceans. They have abandoned the land because the greenhouse effect destroyed the ecology. Machines have become very intelligent and have evolved into a high form of life called replicants (shades of Bladerunner here). These replicants are concerned only with self preservation and will destroy anything it things is a threat. That includes you!

The ultimate objective to the game is to find the Ultra Intelligent Machine. This god-like creation can supposedly provide the solution to all of mankind's problems. To do this, you must search the oceans. During your travels, there is much to do. Earning money is essential and can be done in various ways. The currency is network-dollars. The foremost way to earn is to trade goods as in Elite. You buy goods at a port and then travel to another port and sell them at a profit. You can also manufacture goods but raw materials need to be bought and a processing unit rented.

You can deal in stocks, shares and currency when you can afford a portfolio hexagon. A computer and software can be purchased. This will enable you to select shares wisely and also take on missions which provide big rewards. This is obviously much more involved than the simple buying and selling of goods in Elite.

The goods come in the form of raw materials such as vitamins, salts, keratins, etc, etc. When some have been bought a new port can be selected to travel to. This is done via the network map. There are 256 networks with each network containing 256 ports. It will take a very long time to visit all of the ports. Each has a distinct name and set of characteristics similar to the planet descriptions in Elite. The network map is 3D so you can not only move your cursor vertically and horizontally but also in and out. Information about ports can be displayed so you can tell whether it is worthwhile visiting a port or not. Each port has differing conditions in the waters that surround it. If the condition is green then it is quiet; if it is red then you must expect lots of trouble. Each port has a berthing charge which you must take into consideration.

When you have selected a port to travel to you must launch your submarine into the ocean and get your first view of the outside world. When in the water control is similar to the spaceship in Elite. The top part of the screen shows your view of the outside world. The vector graphics are fast but not nearly as smooth as they are in Elite. The bottom of the screen is in colour. It shows your energy, shield, heatshield, fuel, velocity and sonar display. The sonar helps you locate enemy submarines and works very much like the scanner in Elite.

To manoeuvre your submarine you must be moving forward to dive and climb. Movement is a little too responsive for my liking. I found that as soon as I launched my sub I was under attack from other subs. Unlike in Elite you have very little energy in the shields and batteries so be prepared for very short-lived battles until you know what you are doing. It takes a lot of practice and many consultations with the manual to devise a battle strategy. At first it is best to avoid conflict if at all possible.

When in the ocean, travel to another port is done by pressing H to enter the atmosphere. This is the weakest part of the game as all you are required to do is keep a white marker inside a red outline in the bottom of the screen. It is very fiddly and very boring but you can buy a device which saves you from this tedium. Once you have managed to stay on course, you enter the oceans again. Then comes the hardest part of all.

The name of the game is survival. You have to head for the port which appears on the screen as a rotating diamond shape. You just head straight for it and when you are close enough you will dock automatically. On the way you will almost undoubtedly be beset by submarines which will quickly attack and destroy you. Quick action is required to get the offender in your sights and shoot it. There are various types of submarine. They are all named after butterflies, for example you ship is a Black Satyr. The police ships are Gatekeepers.

To help you survive in battle you have torpedoes which, when launched, go after the greatest threat to your ship. Also you can release chaff and flares to confuse enemy missiles. Sea mines can also be launched to destroy a sub which is following you. Your main weapon is an ion beam generator. While in a port, you can buy new generators which gives more powerful beams. There is a large choice of pieces of equipment which cost varying amounts of money. The cheapest things are deuterium fuel and torpedoes. The most expensive are beam generators. The list is huge and there is not enough room here to go into details. The scope for expansion of your ship's capabilities and power is tremendous.

I found playing the game very enjoyable apart from the flight in the atmosphere. The user interface which you use to buy and sell equipment and goods is very easy to use. Graphics are excellent with mode switching as used in Elite. It is inevitable that comparisons between U.I.M. and Elite will be made. U.I.M. is a much more involved trading and strategy game. It has many more options for equipping the sub than Elite did. The combat aspect of U.I.M. is not as realistic as in Elite and does not capture the atmosphere that Elite did. There are more missions to be completed in U.I.M. than in Elite but they all take the form of carrying something from A to B for a reward.

Overall, this is very much a copy of Elite with the trading aspects much expanded but with inferior combat sequences. It is still very playable and will keep players engrossed for months and months. Highly recommended.

Dave Reeder

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