Amstrad Action


Echelon

Author: Gary Barrett
Publisher: U. S. Gold
Machine: Amstrad CPC464

 
Published in Amstrad Action #41

Echelon

For many years, astronomers had been looking for the tenth planet. In 1996, it was found. It was named Isis after the Egyptian goddess of the moon, and exploration craft were sent out to study it. Isis turned out to be a rather unusual planet, since it appeared at one stage to have housed an advanced civilization. Now however it's just a cold rock sitting 6.5 billion kilometers from the sun. The only logical explanation is that it had been captured by the sun's gravity when it passed by the solar system.

In 2054, a prison colony was set up on Isis and the inmates forced to work in mines. 32 years after its opening there was a major prison break with 350 prisonners escaping. The prison was closed and, in the following year, pirates began raiding ISF (International Space Federation) Facilities (the ISF being a Nations run organisation). Eventually things got a little out of hand and Echelon was set up on Isis - which appeared to be a centre of pirate activities. You're a pilot of the C-104 Tomahawk combat/exploration craft and have been posted on Isis as part of Echelon. Your mission is to find and destroy the pirate base.

The playing area is made up of 36 areas which are further sub-divided into 196 sectors, giving a total of 7,056 sectors to explore. Somewhere among them is the pirate base. Nine areas are mapped out for you on the patrol zone map supplied with the game, with the other 25 to be filled in by you as your exploration continues. There are several difficulty levels which range from simple scientific explorations through patrol to military. More and more enemy craft are encountered on the patrol and military levels.

Echelon

Isis is viewed in 3D through any of the six cameras positioned around your C-104. A grid is overlayed on the map to give you some idea of how far away something is and how fast you're going. If you switch it off, however, things move a little faster.

There are a multitude of controls - 33 in all. These control the ship, launch remote-controlled vehicles, select and fire weapons and allow communication between you and ISF computers. This latter 'datalink' is the cause of the most serious objection to this game. Pressing ESC is supposed to present you with four options: docking; game options; pirate maps; and terminate. In practice, it frequently caused our copy of the game to crash!

You can play Echelon as an arcade or as a strategy game. As far as the arcade action goes, it's all slow paced and looks dated. The strategy style of game should take a very long time to complete with such a huge playing area. The problems and puzzles that you'll have to solve require some lateral thinking, but at least your brain gets a bit of exercise instead of just your fingers.

Echelon

Graphically it's fairly boring with simple vector graphics to represent everything. Text on the datalink screens seemed to be easier to read in mono than colour, but you should be able to work things out after a couple of squints. Sound effects are almost non-existent, just the firing of your weapons.

Echelon reminds me in some ways of Elite with its long term objectives and vector graphics. It also bears some resemblence to Driller with its problem solving aspects, but truth be told it's not as good as either. The major problem though is the datalink bug which is likely to put many people off - and rightly so.

First Day Target

Crack half of the pirate cipher.

Second Opinion

Echelon

Call me old-fashioned (you're old-fashioned - Gary), but I really don't like a game that threatens to crash when I try to save it. It just made me nervous.

On the other hand, if you get into this game you're going to be hooked for months. It's massive!

The Screen In Green

Text easier to read, but some vector graphics indistinguishable.

The Verdict

Graphics 61% P. Well designed control panel. N. Slow moving vectors and poor colour choice.

Sonics 19% N. Feeble effects.

Grab Factor 64% P. Simple to control after a while anyway. N. Program sometimes crashes in the datalink.

Staying Power 72% P. Huge area to explore. N. Very little action to keep your interest.

Overall 67% A good effort spoilt by a disastrous bug.

Gary Barrett

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