Zarch Has Landed
When Zarch, the much heralded Archimedes game, arrived in the office, Sam Greenhill won the battle to be the first to try it out
Lander was the game supplied with the Archimedes. It was acclaimed as a revolution in software. Now Superior Software has released the full version: Zarch.
Both Zarch and Lander were written by Elite's co-author David Braben, but Lander includes only the basic features of the game. Zarch still has the three-dimensional scrolling landscape which Lander uses, but has other features such as an enemy, homing missiles and smart bombs.
At the start of the game, you are provided with your Zarch hovercraft equipped with three homing missiles, two smart bombs, and a laser-cannon. The general objective of the game is to destroy the enemy craft, who are contaminating the landscape with a deadly red virus. In flying saucers called 'seeders' they patrol the land spraying out the virus which gently floats down and turns the land red. Another alien spacecraft called a bomber cruises along dropping small bombs in the form of parachutes, which sway as they fall, but explode spreading the red virus in all directions on impact.
Blasting these out of the sky would not be difficult if it wasnt for various alien craft that attempt to shorten your life. These come in all shapes and forms, and vary according to the current level. They also have unoriginal names such as mutant, drone and bomber. They either take a kamikaze role, or simply fire using a gun similar to your own. One, the pest, is a particularly annoying device.
Zarch's graphics greatly resemble those of Lander, as one might expect, but with some nice extra touches like stars and rotating shrapnel during explosions. It also incorporates sound - explosions, firing and so on. Unlike Lander, shooting trees and houses does nothing to aid your score; you get points solely through the destruction of enemy aircraft. You gain an extra smart bomb and life after every 5,000 points, but there are no extra missiles.
Along the top of the screen is a panel which indicates your hovercraft's current condition. It shows spare lives, missiles, smart bombs, your score and the high score plus fuel level and altitude.
Zarch also has a map, something that Lander lacked, which is constantly updated by radar scanners around the landscape. If one of these is accidentally destroyed, the area on the map that the scanner covered is replaced by a black square in which nothing is picked up. The map, which has two states, normal or zoom, shows up your hovercraft, the launch pad, the alien squadron and the landscape which is filled-in red where it is infected.
After my first game, I had scored... 45, and was informed a fossilised snail court have done better, but the highest high score ranked only as 'acceptable'.
The demonstration mode starts off in a similar way to Elite, with the Zarch hovership rapidly spinning, but then goes on to play the game. It's not the same as a normal demo, where somebody has played the game and the computer recorded the movements. This one actually plays the game differently each time, thinking about reactions. It decides how to manoeuvre and when to fire, which I find fascinating.
Zarch handles in exactly the same way as Lander, which will allow players to get some practice in on Zarch's predecessor before graduating to the game itself. The fire and thrust buttons remain the same but the hover is replaced by a smart bomb.
Once again, David Braben has created a classic. Zarch collects top marks from me; I cannot find a single thing to criticise. Its performance is outstanding, and the graphics are stunning. The only question is whether there will be a market for Arc games in general. The people who are likely to buy the Archimedes may not be the sort that are going to want to spend large sums of money on games. Having seen and played it, I strongly recommended it to anybody who possesses an Archimedes, as Zarch is remarkable.