The Sentinel (Firebird) Review | Commodore User - Everygamegoing

Commodore User

The Sentinel
By Firebird
Amiga 500

Published in Commodore User #56

The Sentinel

In the two years since the Amiga became something of a household name, there has been very little original software produced for it. A few software houses, like Psygnosis and Cinemaware, deliver the goods, granted. But, on the whole, the Amiga's software base seems to consist generally of conversions from 8-bit games, which are then tarted up a bit.

Geoff Crammond's The Sentinel falls into the latter category. However, it's also undoubtedly one of the most original concepts ever to appear on any computer. The C64 version was praised to the skies when it was released over a year ago, and I'm about to do the same to this latest incarnation. The Sentinel on the Amiga isn't vastly different, but there are a number of nifty enhancements. But just in case you missed out on all the fun the first time around, here's how it works...

There are 10,000 levels to play, with the objective of completing them all. Each level comprises a chequered landscape (a bit like a contoured chess board really) with trees dotted around. You control a being called the Synthoid and start at the lowest point on the landscape, with the aim of overthrowing the Sentinel who occupies the highest point. You move around by creating a new robot shell and transferring to it. However, you can only create a robot if you can see the square on which it is to sit. Meanwhile, having sensed your presence, the Sentinel turns around on her plinth, scanning the landscape. Should her beady sensors fall on your frail form, she will drain you of energy until you die. Obviously, a good strategy is the order of the day.

Extra height is gained by creating a boulder on which to place your new robot shell. Again, you have to be able to see the square in question. The Sentinel is basically centred around energy. You can't create anything and thus move without it, and the Sentinel doesn't like you stealing it from her landscapes. So you have to ensure that, once you've transferred, you absorb the old shell to keep up your energy level. It's worth sucking up any trees while you're at it. The trees are the basic unit of energy. A boulder is equivalent to two trees, and a robot is worth three.

So what of the improvement? Well, for a start, this version is considerably faster than any other and I don't just mean the speed of the graphics; the whole pace is extremely fast and is guaranteed to include sheer panic into even the hardiest player. It's also more colourful than the C64 version, and there's an odd David Whittaker soundtrack playing throughout. I'm not so sure it enhances the edge-of-the-seat atmosphere, but at least you can turn it off and just have the sound effects.

But these enhancements are purely cosmetic. The most innovative improvement is the fact that you can play with the mouse in conjunction with a few keys, rather than just using the keyboard.

Not so neat though is the "Help" function. Pressing the HELP key when the cursor is pointing into the sky results in a map of your surroundings being displayed. This seems detrimental to me, as what makes The Sentinel so absorbing to play is the nail-biting, nerve-wracking tension of not knowing where anything is. Mind you, you don't have to press HELP, but it does seem a shame that the option exists.

The Sentinel is simply a classic concept, and this version is the best yet. I can't praise it highly enough (Heaven knows rating something like this is hard enough), so I'll just say: buy it!

Gary Penn

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