The Sentinel

Publisher: Firebird
Machine: Commodore 64

Published in Zzap #20

The Sentinel

The Sentinel - all seeing, all powerful... almost. No-one is quite sure who or what it is or where it came from, but it's here. It's here and if it isn't stopped it will take control of the whole universe. It will drain the energy from every planet in our solar system, redistributing it as it sees fit. It has already conquered 10,000 worlds, and now it will claim ours. Unless...

A miracle. The creation of a robot. A Synthoid. A lifeless shell powered by thought. An entity with properties similar to those of the Sentinel. Capable of absorbing and shaping energy to its own requirements. Capable of destroying the awesome threat.

And so the Synthoid is transported to the nearest planet ruled by the Sentinel. Its objective is clear: eradicate the presence of the Sentinel and reclaim as many of the 10,000 worlds as possible.

The Sentinel

Each planet dominated by the Sentinel is presented in first person perspective and is fashioned into a landscape comprising of three-dimensional solids arranged to form hills, valleys and chequered plateaus on which trees are planted. The Sentinel always stands atop the highest point on the landscape. The Synthoid always materializes at the lowest point. To dispose of the Sentinel, the Synthoid must absorb it. However, to do this the Synthoid must be able to see the base of the square occupied by the Sentinel. This is the only way an object can be absorbed.

The Synthoid is not part of the landscape or the energy distribution, so its appearance is not detected by the Sentinel until the Synthoid absorbs a tree and affects the planet's energy status. Should the Sentinel detect such a change in the balance of energy, it will slowly turn clockwise or anticlockwise to view its surroundings in an attempt to locate the source of the imbalance, i.e.: the Synthoid. Once located, the Sentinel will slowly drain the Synthoid of all its energy, reverting it to trees which are then replaced at random positions on the landscape.

If the Sentinel can't see the square on which the Synthoid resides, it can't absorb the Synthoid's energy. So, the Sentinel creates a Meanie from a tree near to the Synthoid. A Meanie can't absorb energy, but it can force the Synthoid to hyperspace to a different, possibly more inconvenient part of the landscape. Three units of energy are lost when the Synthoid hyperspaces. (Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it only changes from one form into another). Both Synthoid and Sentinel have the ability to manipulate energy - thus, energy permitting, the Synthoid can change a portion of its energy into another object: either a tree, a boulder or another robot.

The Sentinel

The Synthoid cannot move - physically. However, by creating another robot shell it can transport from one point to another, provided the base of square onto which the Synthoid wishes to move is visible. Once the Synthoid has teleported, the old shell can be absorbed to regain the energy lost.

If the Synthoid places a robot on top of a boulder and then teleports, it can increase its 'height' and see squares which were previously out of view. By continually using this technique, the Synthoid can make its way around the landscape until it can see the base of the square occupied by the Sentinel, whereupon it can absorb the Sentinel.

Once the Sentinel has been absorbed, no other object can be taken. So, the Synthoid must place a robot shell where the Sentinel once stood and hyperspace to another planet. The more energy left after hyperspacing, the further the Synthoid will travel. Thus, by absorbing a sufficient amount of energy it is possible to hyperspace from the first planet to say, the twentieth.

The Sentinel

Each planet has a special security code given after the Synthold has absorbed the Sentinel and hyperspaced. By using these codes, the Synthoid can progress through the 10,000 levels without having to start from the first planet every time.

Higher levels also feature Sentries - creatures which look slightly different to, but behave exactly the same as, the Sentinel. However, the Sentries remain active once the Sentinel is absorbed, so they are best disposed of before the Sentinel.

There can be as many as five Sentries positioned on a landscape along with the Sentinel, each posing a problem of its own.


The Sentinel

As games go on the C64 most of them are based around effect. Presentation is everything and if you slap a passable game on top then you've got a hit. In most cases, that's not so bad, people are usually quite happy. But this game is different, it's all game.

There's no frills, just the game. Nothing is superfluous, the graphics just do their job, the sound just does it - it's all functional. That leaves the game. And it's brilliant, I haven't seen anything this good on any computer. Ever.

How someone can come up with an idea like this is totally beyond me. This is something very special indeed, probably the most innovative thing since Elite. It does take a little perserverance to get into the game but the effort is definitely well spent. The atmosphere can really take you over. The on-screen action doesn't appear to be all that fast, but once things get going you really do have to think and move very quickly indeed.

The Sentinel is near as dammit perfect - mentally demanding, extremely rewarding and technically astounding. Firebird have got something to be proud of, and I'd advise anyone to try the experience.


I can't comprehend how Geoff Crammond conceived this game. It is an immaculate conception. 100% original. It is unique. There has never been a game like it and there never will be. The only valid comparison I can make is that The Sentinel is the computer game equivalent of chess. It's a timeless classic which will spawn many an imitation, none of which will be in the same league. The look of the chess pieces and board can be changed, but the game always remains the same. The nature of the game can be altered, but not improved upon. One word of warning, though: The Sentinel is such an unusual concept it will not be appreciated by everyone who experiences it.

It will only appeal to those who truly appreciate its qualities. And then it grabs you so hard it's frightening to think it might never let go. But then, who cares when you get hooked by something as mindblowing as this...


Oh dear, what have Firebird done? How can they expect to sell an absolutely brilliant game when it depends on your capacity for deduction under pressure? Yes, sad as this must seem, this game makes you think. I know this will come as a shock to some of you who have only ever pressed fire buttons before, but really it's not all that bad. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it can be fun to use the space between your ears to play a game.

Take it easy, now. Play the game after you have had a good rest and it will do you more good than harm. Basically, what you have here is the best game ever written for a computer.

In fact, there is no way the concepts used in this game could ever have been realised without a computer. That is what stretching a computer to its limits is all about. Pure genius.

Larry Niven once envisaged 'wireheads', people who had a soft electrical current sent directly to the pleasure centre of the brain for the ultimate in stimulation. Until then, I guess we can make do with this. But of course, you lot will probably think it's boring. Well, crawl back into the pond with the rest of the amino acids!


Mmmmm... For quite a few days now, there have been arguments over the ratings to this game. I'm in a minority here at Zzap! - I don't think The Sentinel quite deserves the Gold Medal awarded to it; personally I think a Sizzler rating is more fitting.

OK, so it's a good game which I initially really enjoyed playing, but I couldn't quite find that extra something to keep me coming back for another go. Admittedly, The Sentinel is an amazing concept, one of the best a home computer has seen, and there's plenty there for those who like the game. But I couldn't quite get into it.

Perhaps I'm completely wrong. What I strongly recommend you to do is try it out for yourself first - you could either love the program, appreciate its qualities like me or just downright hate it. After all, our reviews are based on a balance of personal opinions -sometimes unanimous, sometimes not...


The Sentinel is, without doubt, an exceptional piece of software. It deserves credit - hence the Gold Medal award - but it defies rating since it is in a class of its own. The four critical appraisals are intended as a guideline. The decision to indulge in this unique experience is entirely in your hands...