Programmers are constantly looking at games from new angles. Hard Drivin' brough classic 3D routines to the jaded car genre and Space Ace looks set to bring sophisticated animation onto the ST. Now we have Dark Century boasting ray-traced graphics that add a startlingly realistic reflective surface to 3D objects.
It's the year 2250 and you're in Outer Space heading for a planetary prison. Unfortunately, the convicts imprisoned there have assembled sopisticated tanks to break free. Your job is to go after the fugitives and prevent them from invading Earth. You have your own tank to track them down and a radar screen to tell you roughly where the enemy tanks are located.
The more you play Dark Century, the faster you realise that "catch" and "blast" are mere buzzwords. Tanks hurtle towards you at such great speeds that it's impossible to keep on their tail without switching onto auto-pilot mode.
At the start, you're given the option of programming your tanks to go off in all directions. A series of icons guide the tank's movement and firing mechanisms. Simple programming instructions can send a robot scouring space in search of enemies or even track down special energy bubbles. there are also provisions for emergency action allowing you to issue commands to self-destruct the tank when it's under fire, killing any nearby fugitives kamikaze-style.
Instructions can be issued during play and once the game gets going, the best way to keep on top of the action is to program one or two tanks and despatch emergency tanks only when the situation warrants it.
The ray-tracing graphics are Dark Century's boldest boast, but unfortunately the tanks used in the game are so small and move so quickly that it's impossible to appreciated the ray-tracing effect. Only the title screen, enhanced by two massive revolving tanks, really grabs your attention.
Take away the tanks and you don't have much left. The display is a featureless expanse of Outer Space; a boring vista of stars, more stars, and even more stars, more stars, and even more stars. The only hint of colour is in the control panel. During two-player mode even this is replaced by another view of space, taken from the second player's viewpoint.
Sound effects are limited, unexciting and no compensation for the boring visuals.
This is the first game to incorporate ray-traced graphics, and if they were up to the standard set by ray-traced demos, there's little doubt Dark Century would have won some major prizes.
You're left instead with unflattering visuals and no in-depth gameplay or action to compensate. Although there's the opportunity to program tanks and send them out after the opposition, it's never a very exciting challenge. The tanks move too quickly to play the game as a straight shoot-'em-up and you'll spend a sizeable chunk of your time cynically considering if it might just not be more fun to stick all the tanks on auto-destruction mode and send them out into the great black yonder.