Two Views Of Outer Space: S.D.I. And Wanderer
Requirements: S.D.I.: Atari ST (reviewed here), IBM PC, Amiga, Apple IIGs, and Commodore 64. Wanderer: Atari ST.
S.D.I, and Wanderer place you in the captain's seat of a space fighter. In S.D.I., your mission is to defend the United States against KGB rebel fighters and missiles, all for a chance to rescue your own true love, the commander of the Soviet space station. Wanderer presents another rescue mission, but this one is far more obscure. Here, you battle your enemies for the right to bring home your caretaker's cat. It seems she can't live without it, so until she gets it back, your apartment won't get cleaned. (And it's such an awful mess.)
The plots may be contrived, but the fact that the games in fact have plots marks them as something special in the arcade game field. Since the days of Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, arcade games have provided considerable excitement, but few have offered players an interactive story. S.D.I, and Wanderer go a good way toward filling this gap. Both are arcade games, and both use the now-classic cockpit display, but—unlike most arcade games—you can complete them.
Graphically, both games have much to offer. S.D.I., a new offering in Mind-scape's Cinemaware line of interactive fiction, uses some of the best graphics I've seen in any game. The display screens range from a control panel showing several global maps to the interior of the Soviet space station, as well as a silhouetted embrace with the gorgeous Soviet commander (your own true love, remember). The most frequent display, though, is the view from the cockpit of your fighter. You guide the fighter around the world, shooting down rebel KGB fighters, repairing your S.D.I, satellites, and docking with your space station for fuel and repairs. When you shoot down several fighters, the rebels will declare American aggression and start launching missiles from Russia. At this point, you dock with the space station (no mean feat), race into the Missile Defense screen, and prepare to knock the Soviet missiles out of the sky. If you succeed, you do it all over again, until at last you are informed that the Soviet space station has been captured by the KGB rebels. When that happens, you attempt the rescue.
Wanderer's display also places you in the cockpit of a fighter, but the similarities pretty well end there. The reason is simple: Wanderer is in 3-D. Included in the package is a pair of red-blue 3-D glasses, the kind used for such classic 3-D movies as The Creature From the Black Lagoon. When you put them on, the ST's screen appears three-dimensional. After a few minutes of focusing, the stars recede into the background, and the display seems to achieve true perspective. When you enter warp drive, and the stars race past you in a swirling spiral, the effect is quite spectacular.
Surely one of the most unusual games I've seen, Wanderer has you move from planet to planet, offering the ruler of each planet a playing card to strengthen that planet's poker hand. (There's this galactic poker game going on, in progress now for centuries, and if you offer a helping card they will respond by paying you in cats. Yes, cats. If you collect enough cats, or if you manage to get one specific card, you can penetrate to the central sector and try to rescue your caretaker's cat.) It's all very complicated, but it's also a great deal of fun.
More fun, in fact, than S.D.I., which offers superb graphics, but in actual game play suffers from being too repetitive. After shooting down KGB fighter after KGB fighter, repairing damaged satellites, and intercepting KGB missiles with your strategic defense weapons, you are asked to turn around and do the same things over again. By the time you've hit the third round, the excitement begins to pale; once into the fourth, you begin to tire of it. You begin to wonder, in fact, if your own true love is really worth the effort.
What makes this strange is that arcade games, by their very nature, are repetitive. The good old ones, like Asteroids and Missile Command, had no conclusion, your goal being simply to chalk up hundreds of thousands of points. S.D.I., by offering a finish, ironically loses the appeal of racking up the points. The impetus behind shooting down KGB fighters is not acquiring points, but rather reaching the end of the plot. Wanderer, which also has a conclusion, suffers similarly, but Wanderer's conclusion is more difficult to reach. Its game play is somewhat more challenging, and getting killed is far easier.
The Atari ST version of S.D.I. from Mindscape offers outstanding graphics.
But game play itself is extremely enjoyable. S.D.I.'s graphics are so splendid that they more than atone for whatever the game play lacks, and you will find yourself booting up the game simply to see what your ST can do. Wanderer, with its workable 3-D display, is unique, and, like S.D.I., it is an excellent product with which to show off your ST to your friends. Played obsessively to a conclusion, both games will eventually become worn out, but if played as I think they are meant to be played, 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there, they will continue to draw your attention. Were I asked to recommend one over the other, I would suggest S.D.I., because graphically it is one of the best ST products on the market. But both games are worth a look, and both point toward an exciting ST future.
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$34.95 Commodore 64 version
$39.95 IBM PC version
$49.95 Macintosh, Amiga, ST, IIGs
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