In the depths of space the abandoned earth colony, Tau Ceti, has been taken over by its once obedient robot defence systems. In order to retake control of the planet and re-colonise it you have to shut down the main fusion reactor that supplies the planet's power.
At first sight the game appears to be just another space shoot-em-up on a planet surface, much like Dark Star. Further exploration reveals a far more complicated side to the game that brings in puzzling and strategy, creating a challenge of great depth and difficulty.
The screen view is of the instrument panel of your skimmer craft from which the whole operation is performed. There are three main areas to the display: a view of the landscape outside, an update area for in-formation from the computer and a readout section from many instruments. The window view is mostly of a desolate landscape with futuristic buildings and craft. This view can also show the insides of buildings when the skimmer is docked and information menus when required.
There are many cities on the planet, each consisting of a variety of structures. The cities can be shown on a planetary map that shows them connected by lines like Percival Lowell's canals on Mars. These lines indicate "jump pads" between cities for rapid movement but finding the pads on the surface may prove hard.
Buildings can be docked with and this is where the puzzling part of the game comes in. Reactor cooling rods are found in some and these have to collected and fitted tog-ether so that the main reactor can be shut down. These puzzles take a similar form to the codeword ones in Impossible Mission but the difficulty lies less in putting them together than in finding them in the first place.
When docked there are a number of text input commands that provide information or facilities. There is the planetary map, rod assembly, a status report, equipment replacement, note pad, sights, save game and current score. Most of these are only available when docked but there are other commands when in flight that are accessed by single keys. These include four weapons systems: lasers, missiles, flares and anti-missile missiles. Apart from the flight controls, there is also a status report, view change and infra-red.
The infra-red is needed because the game takes place in real Cetan time and at night it is impossible to recognise installations without it. The flares can also be used as an alternative for lighting up the view but they only last for a short while. The IR display is wonderfully done, distorting when you move, but providing adequate night sight. The combat action can be difficult with some cities extremely heavily defended by a variety of robots, some static, others moving but all dangerous when in range. Your lasers and missiles deal death quite efficiently resulting in delightful explosions but they can overheat or run out respectively and the enemy can rapidly damage your shields when close in.
You can't beat a bit of deep space mega-blasting, I always say. When it comes as smoothly presented as this, with a good close of clever puzzling, you can't really grumble. So I won't.
The cockpit view may be small, but the bright, well-handled graphics make Tau Ceti III convincingly solid. The skimmer steers like a cow and the speeds aren't exactly breath-taking, but the combat is challenging and the long-term task enormous. The flares are a nice touch, and the IR is beautifully done.
As a shoot-'em-up, Tau Ceti would be on the slow side, but with the strategy element to handle, you'll be glad of the thinking time. Action, great graphics and real staying power - it's a winner.
Infra Red makes it difficult to see - but not unplayably so.
P. Excellent graphics and menu handling make it a pleasure to see.
P. Tough combat action against a variety of craft.
P. Very difficult long term task with the rods.
P. Puzzling and strategy add a demanding dimension.
P. Lots of options, information and game area.
N. No score given at the end of a game.
N. Not much in the way of speed.