My God, it's full of stars! Novagen's long-overdue sequel to Mercenary is out of this world... and this solar system for that matter. But that doesn't stop Brian Nesbitt boldly going where no man has gone before.
The comet Damocles is due to collide with the planet Eris in a few hours time - and the prevention of impending doom is entirely up to you! But how do you go about it - especially as there's more than one way to skin this catastrophe?
Damocles' opening sequence carries on from where you left off in Mercenary (you remember, you were heading for the Gamma system when you were rudely interrupted before crash-landing on Targ and subsequently escaping in an inter-stellar craft with a little money and up to ten objects - phew!). The object taken are catered for in Damocles (unless of course you only completed one for the 8-bit versions), although which items are most useful and to what avail has to be discovered.
The gameplay is similar in style to that of its predecessor, but this time around objects don't only have financial value, but uses too - for example, the assorted of tools dotted around could have suitable repair qualities. Explosives also play a part - one obvious solution for your plight would be to blow up Damocles, and no doubt a few buildings or planets along the way - but are you sure that that will work?
Your only definite aid is your ship's computer, a ninth generation PC by the name of Benson. He's a guide and mentor who's not averse to the occasional dry quip amidst his helpful banter which scrolls across the top of the panel below the play area.
Moving around the Gamma System is fairly straightforward, allowing you to concentrate on the task in hand. There are no flaps, no undercarriage and hardly any instrumentation to worry about. The panel below the play area shows, to the left: temperature, speed, altitude, and co-ordinates for navigational purposes, while on the right there's time remaining, cash obtained and a text inventory display which corresponds to the window in the centre. Whereas in Mercenary you could only drop the last object taken, here you can select the object you wish to drop or use, and it's shown in a window so you know what you are dealing with.
Oh, and Mercenary players will be pleased to hear that the Palyar Commander's brother-in-law is back. And he's still not pleased!
Anyone familiar with Mercenary will appreciate the almost total freedome avaiable to the player in Damocles, as the two games play very similarly.
It's a unique feel, a feeling of 'being there' which incentive tried to capture with its Freescape (TM) series. However Incentive's alternative universe isn't as credible as Novagen's - perhaps in trying to be too realistic Incentive reproduced characteristics of the real world which you'd rather avoid.
Whatever the reason, Damocles is highly believable and totally engrossing as a result. It's all too easy to forget that you are supposed to be doing something about the enormous comet hurtling towards Eris. As with Mercenary, the range of sounds is more functional than exceptional; pings let you know that you have picked something up or put it down, or left your craft and so on, while whirrs and fizzles and buzzes provide adequate accompaniment to other events.
But the solidity and fluidity of the graphics overshadow this. There's always something to discover, with dozens of 'neat bits' and dry Benson humour to bring a smile to even the most jaded explorer's face. It's cast but not vacuous, and difficult without being frustrating or tedious.
Damocles offers a level of escapism seldom experienced with computer games. It's brilliant. Get it and get lost.