Two years is a long time in anyone's life, let alone a software publisher's. You can do a lot of things in two years... things which were illegal then could be perfectly legitimate now, for example. Or you could start to write a sequel to your best-selling classic, stop half-way through to produce a pseudo sequel to another one of your classics, and then carry on from where you left off.
Which is exactly what Novagen's Paul Woakes did. It's been a long time coming, but Damocles - the follow-up to what was the ultimate arcade game, Mercenary - is here, bigger, better and considerably meaner.
Damocles carries on from where you left off in Mercenary. Remember? You were heading for the Gamma system when you were forced to crash-land on Targ and subsequently had to acquire an interstellar craft and escape with up to ten objects and as much money as possible.
Arriving in the Gamma system and landing on the planet Eris, you find that the comet Damocles is due to collide here in a few hours' time - and you are the only one capable of stopping it.
Damocles' gameplay is similar to its predecessor's, only this time around the hundreds of objects dotted around not only have financial value, but a use - for example, an assortment of tools lying around could have suitable repair qualities. Then there's a camera, complete with film, which can be used to record events to show to your mates at your leisure. Explosives also play a major part. One obvious solution to your plight would be to blow up the comet, and no doubt a few buildings or planets along the way.
Your only help 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 straightforward enough, allowing you to concentrate on the task in hand. There are no flaps, no undercarriage and no complicated instrumentation to worry about. The panel below the play area shows, to the left: temperature, speed, altitude and coordinates for navigation purposes, while on the right there's time remaining, cash obtained and a text inventory 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 the window in the centre of the panel, so you know what you are dealing with.
The Gamma system is similar to our own, comprising a sun, nine planets, eighteen moons and thousands of stars - all "mapped" onto a heavenly backdrop (this consistency means you can use the more obvious star constellations for navigation purposes). Each planet has its own day and night cycles, and even years pass - only you don't have time to sit around and watch! That said, it's easy to get engrossed in the planetary movement, and you can begin to appreciate what the breath-taking view from Voyager must be like. Landing on a planet, you can watch planet-falls and sun rises, or - getting back to the task in hand - explore building complexes, road networks (complete with junctions!) and underground mazes found in most of the cities. Most objects are found in rooms in the buildings or mazes, but some are only available from the trading post.
The more energetic player may enjoy walking or running around, but for the armchair athletes among us there are twenty different vehicles to be discovered. Not all craft are capable of space flight - the helicopter and tank for example... oh, and the skateoard, which is only worth using when you get *really* desperate!
Anyone familiar with Novagen's Mercenary will appreciate the virtual total freedom available to the player in Damocles as the two play very similarly, only Damocles is considerably larger and no less absorbing because of it. Fluid solid 3D graphics generate a wholly believable environment which is a joy to explore, and the unique feeling of being there is exemplary. There are dozens of "neat bits" to discover along the way and plenty of Benson's dry quips to bring a smile to even the most jaded adventurer's face.
It's not surprising Damocles has taken two years to produce. It will probably take at least another two years to complete it... every which way possible!
If you thought flying around in Starglider II was good, just wait 'til you get a load of this! Damocles is an experience to behold... and one not to be missed.