Martech's latest offering is a huge affair featuring two games on the first tape and assorted planetary data on the second. The year is 2007 and, after a series of natural disasters, has changed the Earth's climate into a succession of earthquakes and already a new ice age has begun. Admist the chaos, an alien force makes its presence known. A metal capsule is discovered containing a map showing the whereabouts of eight other capsules on the surrounding planets. A radio signal is decoded as being a computer program but no-one can understand that either. What on Earth (and Mars and Jupiter and Pluto etc) is going on? Guess who has been given the job of finding out?
You are in charge of a type 224 spacecraft and are instructed to fly back to Earth to retrieve the first capsule from where it landed in Switzerland. Once you find it, you must then work out how to open it. Your spaceship is icon-driven and there are six main ones to choose from. Manipulate appears only when you manage to retrieve a capsule. Explore lets you launch either a surface lander or a robot explorer. Travel is for moving to another planet and the appropriate data must then be loaded in. Maps gives you a short and long range scan. Data gives you information on your current planet compared to earth and the database contains lots of really useful information except that you have forgotten how to get into it.
Landing on the surface of the planet involves a lunar landing game variant although considerably more complex. Once safely on the ground (and you only have one attempt) you can send out the robot explorer as you try to retrieve the capsule. The capsule itself is too large to take with you and so its secrets must be discovered whilst still on the surface. Then, if you can leave the planet successfully, it is on to pastures new. All the data for the other planets has been made as realistic as possible. This has been done by consulting with Heather Coupe, president of the British Astronomical Association.
Whilst you are trying to retrieve the capsules, you must also turn your attention to the program "weird". This is the second game on the first tape, and comes with no instructions except that you know that it is deeply significant. The game is designed to be totally incomprehensible (it succeeds admirably!) and appears to be based on the old game of lie where colonies of cells in different patterns try to establish themselves.
If you retrieve all the capsules and solve all the puzzles, then you will know how to save the Earth (and be able to claim your prize if you are the first one to do it). The Planets is a strange game. Some people will love it on sight, whilst others will find it totally unappealing. I don't think that there will be a middle ground. I found that the more I thought about it, the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued to know what was going on. Definitely one to try before you buy.