I praised Mastertronic for its originality last month and I hate to get stuck in a rut but the big M has done it again. It really is quite amazing to see games of this class being sold as budget. Mastertronic is the most long established of the budget houses and if it keeps giving this sort of value for money it'll be known as the People's Software House.
The game is a 3D battle against a horde of insects that have invaded 25 areas of your home city, Amaurote. The aim is to eradicate all traces of insect life in the city so that the inhabitants can return.
The first thing that strikes you is the quite superb on-screen presentation of the game. You might be fooled into thinking you were looking at an Atari ST or an Amiga if it weren't that there are only a couple of colours. You begin by viewing a map of the 25 districts and choosing one using a four-legged, spider-like vehicle.
This vehicle is the Arachnus and it's delightfully animated, crawling about looking like a relative of Toot. It has a hole in its top from which you can lob bombs in the direction you're moving. The bombs will bounce across the ground, Barnes Wallis-style, until they hit something.
Once you arrive in one of the districts there's no turning back: you'll have to clear it of insects before returning to the city map. The scenery is stunning. It's all the same colour, but colours vary from one district to another, and the detail of the buildings and other ground objects is excellent.
The only other thing that moves in the game is the insects, which are all the same and look like wasps. They exhibit different behaviour patterns depending on the state of events. In each district there's a queen who controls the other insects; she also has to be destroyed.
The insects can be destroyed with the ordinary bombs but the queen needs something stronger, a "supabomb". While the queen is alive some of the insects will home in on you, making them easier to kill but also making damage to your craft more likely. Others will go about their business and ignore you.
Once the queen is destroyed any remaining insects go into aimless wandering patterns, making them very hard to destroy with your unwieldy bombs. However, if you leave the queen alive she can create more insects and make the task harder that way. A real dilemma.
If a bomb misses its target it will bounce until hitting the district perimeter or a building. This will not be popular, and you should try to minimize damage to the city.
If you run low on bombs, need a supa-bomb or receive a lot of damage to the Arachnus, you can use the radio to whistle up some help. Bombs will be dropped in by parachute, and repairs will be quickly carried out, but all this costs money and there's a lot of city to de-infest. To find bombs once they've been airlifted in. you use a scanner - which can also be used to locate the queen and other insects.
The gameplay is a bit slow but it presents a mammoth challenge. The graphics are superb and there's a soundtrack in the Aliens mould that really sets up a great atmosphere. Don't expect fast action, but those with a little patience will be getting excellent value for their money.
Undoubtedly the most graphically spectacular budget game to date. The detail is unbelievable, the animation is a treat and stereo sound-effects are better than those from Aliens. Unfortunately gameplay is a trifle slow, but that's a minor point when the visual and sonic aspects are taken into account. Amaurote shows what can be done on the Amstrad - come on, software houses, follow this example.
Much of the game is mono-coloured, and on many levels things are impossible to see. This makes the game unplayable.
Clear one city.
P. Detailed city graphics.
P. Good animation on Arachnus and insects.
P. Atmospheric soundtrack.
Grab Factor 87%
P. Excellent on-screen presentation.
P. Fun exploring and killing first insects.
Staying Power 78%
P. 25 districts and a limited budget mean it's tough.
N. Gameplay gets a bit slow and repetitive.
Stunning originality for a budget game.