Driller (Incentive) Review | Commodore User - Everygamegoing

Commodore User

By Incentive
Commodore 64

Published in Commodore User #52


Incentive have been producing software almost since the industry's inception, and are one of the few software houses which have managed to remain independent and survive with a mere handful of releases - most notably Splat!, Confuzion and the Graphic Adventure Creator. Other than a trickle of GAC-produced software, the Berkshire-based software house has been fairly quiet of late, the reason being Driller - or, more accurately, Freescape (TM). The Solid Three Dimensional Environment Simulator has been under development for over a year, and Driller is the first product to feature this system.

Driller is set on Mitral - one of two moons orbiting the recently colonised planet of Evath. Following a disastrous attempt to mine energy crystals, a vast amount of gas has built up under Mitral's surface. A meteor is due to strike Mitral in three hours, and the impact will be enough to cause the moon to explode, throwing Evath out of orbit and eradicating its population in the process.

Taking control of a tank-like excavation probe, your objective is to explore the mining platforms on Mitral, locate the gas pockets and tap the gas in each of its eighteen sectors before the meteor strikes. Drilling rigs are beamed down to Mitral and activated on request, and a report is given detailing whether any gas was found, and if so, the success of its extraction.

The first few sectors are easily explored, but further progress is only possible by solving 'puzzles', the solutions to which invariably involve shooting switches or objects. For example, shooting a small block in the first sector opens a previously invisible doorway. Mitral's security system also presents a problem - skanners (sic) and laser beacons shoot on sight and never miss. The laser beacons can be shot, but with differing results - some disappear and some turn away, while others are seemingly unaffected.

The excavation probe isn't the only mode of transport - at least one reconnaissance jet has been left in a hangar on Mitral. Docking the probe with the underside of the jet transfers control, allowing you to fly around. However, the jet's capabilities are limited - it can't fly over Mitral's highest structures, and it isn't capable of summoning a drilling rig.

Apart from a cassette or disk, the package comprises a Federation briefing novella - including informative instruction and an uninteresting scenario - plus a controls summary sheet and a cardboard polyhedral Driller map to assemble.

Sadly, Driller isn't as interesting as it sounds - the reality is nowhere near as exciting as the concept. The 3D is ineffective, not only because it's painfully slow to update, but because almost everything is cross-hatched, destroying the illusion of solidity. It's more like a slide-show than a believable interactive three-dimensional environment. Response to either joystick or keyboard is sluggish, and it's far too easy to move too far while you wait for your surroundings to update.

True, for the first time you can explore a solid, three-dimensional environment, although complete freedom of movement is a slight exaggeration. But the overall effect is simply unimpressive, and the excellent sound effects do nothing to generate an atmosphere to compensate for the slow pace. Puzzles are few and far between, and the gameplay is more laborious than complex. Furthermore, I wouldn't agree with Incentive's claim that Driller is massive, and that the landscape is vastly detailed - the eighteen sectors are effectively little more than relatively small 'rooms' featuring a few simplistic, geometric shapes.

Freescape (TM) may well represented thousands of man hours of development, but the end result fails to reflect this. It's unfortunate that so much time, money and effort has gone into producing something so unremarkable. After a plethora of pre-release publicity (cynics may well call it hype) proclaiming Freescape (TM) as the greatest thing since sliced bread, I was expecting something more than a stale loaf.

Gary Penn

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