Can Firebird follow Elite? Mike Roberts looks at Empire, a game of space fighting, trading, special missions, etc, etc...
Empire is the latest offering from Firebird Gold. Trading basic commodities, fighting off the alien invasion, and avoiding the plague, are all parts of this game.
The game is based around a galaxy full of star systems. Each system will have at least one starbase, but can have a number of planets.
Planets can be landed on to retrieve the commodities or special pods. Starbases can be docked with to trade or communicate with, and aliens (as always) are shot at!
Empire starts up with the wire graphics "Empire" logo in the centre of a circular action window. On the outside of this window is the status indicators and directional instruments. There is also a communications window that enables your on-board computer to talk to you.
After being wished good luck by that computer, you are thrust into a 'Starship Commander'-type environment. For those games players too young to remember what game that was, it's a bit like Asteroids - except that the whole screen swings around you. Instead of you spinning and the rest of the universe standing still.
As you materialise, you notice many aliens swarming around you. Shoot at these with your missile launcher, which shoots little dots in the same way that the ship does in Asteroids.
After ten units click away on the clock, a message comes through on your computer saying that the local starbase needs more fighters. As all you've been dong for the last few minutes has been shooting aliens, that looks like a good thing.
First you have to find your starbase. This is done by a detector on the left of the screen that shows direction with an arrow and distance by the brightness of the indicator. Finding the space station (two circles orbiting a planet) means that you have to dock. This is accomplished by sliding in between them and stopping in the appropriate point.
Once in the starbase, you have access to all the starbase functions such as trading, getting pods (more later), enquiring about mission information, and saving the game. All information is rattled out on the screen with a small figure of a starbase person whose mouth moves in tune with the words.
When you have selected your pods or whatever you can de-dock from the starbase and fly out into the wide world. Pods (the standard unit of cargo is the pod - a small circular object), are deposited just outside of the space station for you to pick up. You do this by extending your tractor rope, you then use this to hook up the cargo by careful manoeuvring.
Pods can carry cargo or special additions for your ship - such as shield generators, better manoeuvring ability, intersystem hyperspace, gravity drive, etc, etc. In facct, there is a large number of additions that you can get for your ship. Indeed, you can even change your ship for a bigger one.
As the game unfolds, you get different missions to do things, some of them are rather weird - such as recovering the emperor's aftershave! Other missins are more straightforward - such as investigating a stolen pod in an alien star system.
Star systems are ruled by either the Empire, the Aliens, or you. I don't know about this last option, but it looks interesting for galactic conquest possibilities. Alien-ruled systems mean the aliens which attack you are more numerous than normal and also a bit more vicious. Systems can be got back to empire rule by killing lots of aliens, you get well rewarded.
Plague systems infect you as soon as you enter them, and you will infect any system that you visit. There is a cute - but like everything in this game, you have to find it.
The graphics are reasonable at best, and gaudy at worst. The best bits are inside the starbase, where the little animated figure talks to you. Other graphic bits include the galaxy map which is functional, and the star system map which is very good. All the orbits of the planets are marked out along with the position of aliens, pods, and any other objects that might be useful.
You can even zoom in to the area of the map that you're in to get a better look. A pointer can be manoeuvred around the system and your navigational pointer altered to guide you towards it.
This is useful for finding things like the warp gate that lets you into the planet. These are rectangles that appear in orbit around planets. Enter one of these and you get a nice animated tunnel to fly down; through this with no problems and you apear on the planet's surface. This bit features a great animated 3D bit where your ship rotates around for level flight. If the 3D routines are there - why weren't they used more?
On the planet's surface you are greeted by a gaudy landscape with 'trees' flashing towards you. How many trees is dependent on how accurately you flew down the orbit tunnel earlier. If you were a bit sloppy then you come down further from your target site.
Once at the site, the scene gets even more gaudy and lots of nasties start to flash towards you. You must use your navigation system to find the supply centres or the exit ramps. These look like different coloured pyramids that you ram to pick up pods with some of the usual goodies in.
There is no adequate explanation for why the planets in friendly systems are full of beligerent nasties, but I supposed it would be a bit boring otherwise.
Note: Tip for entering the warp gate, the faster you hit it the faster the ground sequence will play... so go slowly!
After you exit, the pods are found floating around the warp gate and can be picked up in the usual manner with your tow ropes. If any pods need to be returned to the starbase then retracting your ropes within easy reach of the space station this causes a tractor beam to go out and slowly pull them back in. This is one of the most impressive graphical sights in the whole game, despite its relative simplicity.
On the whole, this is a game that will take a long time to get into. The save function will be very useful here!
Empire is desperately trying to be an Elite-type game, but with some changes. In Elite you get few missions. In Empire, all you get is missions! This improves the game as it makes it more playable.
Certainly the large number of ship additions that are available and objects to be found will make the game more interesting as you will never know what is coming up next, in direct contrast to Elite where you sometimes just have to take on 15 police Vipers with a single pulse laser and no missiles to relieve the tedium.