Far back in the mists of time Julian Gollop wrote a superb strategy game called Rebelstar Raiders. Published by a small company it remained fairly obscure until Firebird released it on budget as Rebelstar. Now the game has resurfaced as the centrepiece of Gollop's new software - Target Games. Updated and thoroughly redesigned as Laser Squad the obvious question is, has Gollop produced another classic?
First impressions are sadly disappointing due to lack of background detail. The Laser Squad of the title seem to be a freelance rebel sharpshooting team, here involved in three scenarios simulating individual scenarios for one or two players. It's a pity more work wasn't put into characterizing the squad members as this would obviously add to the atmosphere. Another drawback is that some of features described in the manual aren't used by the scenarios included, but are instead promised for expansion kits. In my experience expansion kits are almost invariably exercises in wishful thinking on the part of the software house.
Nevertheless the game seems well equipped for such kits, with the scenarios provided being loaded individually after the main program. The scenarios are The Assassins, Moonbase Assault and Rescue From The Mines. The first scenario is the smallest and shortest, and is the one that most players will begin with. But not necessarily the easiest.
In each scenario the player controls a team of six or so individual units. Each trooper has his own set of characteristics which, although not listed in the rulebook, can be examined once into the game itself. A pool of credits is available to be spent equipping each trooper.
Equipment includes four types of armour, offering varying protection for the front, back and sides at a proportionately greater cost - obviously reducing credit points for weaponry. In practice I found that even level four armour offers scant resistance to the enemy lasers, with troopers almost always perishing after a second hit.
Economizing on armour leaves more money for the far more interesting, and effective task of weapons selection. Included here are a rocket launcher, dagger, grenade, explosive and six different types of gun. The characteristics of each type of weapon are set out in a rulebook table complex enough to be bewildering. In addition to the predictable damage factor, weapons have a different percentage chance of hitting the target at a distance and at close combat, a weight (and therefore an encumbrance value), and a skill factor to determine how well an inexperienced user will handle it. The weapons vary in cost too, in rough proportion to their firepower - but this should by no means be the only consideration when matching weapons with individual. For example someone with a high firing skill could make excellent use of a sniper rifle, whereas a novice is probably better off with a costly heavy laser. The most deadly weapon on the list is the explosive, closely followed by the rocket launcher.
Having suitably kitted out your squad you can the deploy them via some nicely presented, idiot-proof selection screens. Ingame graphics are similarly attractive, complete with building, trees and so on. These are shown in a kind of squashed overhead view 3-D which scrolls a character block at a time. A panel beside this main display identifies everything under the cursor in case there should be any doubt about it. 'Scanner screen - 'potted plant' - comfy chair' - even 'loo'. These items are merely for decoration, and occasionally for blowing up. It would add an arcade adventure element to the game if the player's units could interact with the landscape in some more positive way.
The player can deploy his six(ish) units on a selection of squares specified by the computer. Although a fairly wide area is offered it invariably makes sense to station the men as near to the entrance of the target building as possible.
In the first scenario, The Assassins, this is the private home of a mad scientist, Sterner Regnix, who has been treating his research team to mind-manipulating drugs in an effort to make them work better. The Laser Squad, supposedly a group of ex-employees, have taken it upon themselves to stop this by assassinating the mad scientist. The player's task is to use his units to do this, first finding Sterner and disposing of any robotic bodyguards encountered on the way.
Play is menu-driven, with a series of options available in different modes. From an uncommitted map position the player can call up a strategic version of the map, which shows the whole landscape in diagrammatic form and the position of friendly and visible enemy units. This facility becomes very useful in the later, larger scenarios, when it is quite difficult to keep track of the branching corridors.
Units can be selected in turn, triggering another menu. (This is where, for the first time, the player has the opportunity to examine the individual characteristics of the men.) Some, like weapon skill, are constant. Others, like morale and stamina, decrease with time and circumstance.
Every action a unit performs, whether moving, opening a door or firing a weapon, uses up action points. How many depends on the type of action, and also how much weight the trooper is burdened with. In fact, even turning to face in another direction costs an AP, and it is irritatingly easy to waste points by spinning around in the wrong direction. Unfortunately there's no facility to take back such moves. When the unit is facing the right direction, it can be moved forward in a reasonably simple manner. Closed doors have to be opened - occasionally, they have to be unlocked. In the case of the third scenario, Rescue From The Mines, they have to be blasted away with a rocket launcher.
Nothing exciting happens until a unit runs into the line-of-sight of an enemy, and by the time this happens it is often too low in action points to fire. This system tends to put the attacker at an inherent disadvantage - which is my excuse for getting massacred with consistency on the easiest level.
Combat is elaborate but slick. Most fighting is done long-range. Depending on the weapon, a unit can choose between three types of fire - auto, snap-shot and aim - arid can even use the weapon as a missile. Autofire is inaccurate and therefore generally ineffective, but it doesn't cost many action points. Aim fire has a far greater chance of hitting its target, but it takes precious time. Such firepower can be aimed at anything, including walls, doors and items of furniture. The results can be spectacular. In the second scenario, one corridor was blocked by a gas canister. I fired at it and duly destroyed it. Unfortunately, the firing unit was standing too close, and the explosion blew up everything within a medium radius.
This is all made visually exciting by flashing fire-beams, colourful explosions and crumpled pieces of scenery when the beam goes wide of its intended target. It is satisfying to watch, but in my case the outcome was all too often settled by a couple of shots by a robot sprung from hiding.
The second scenario, Moonbase Assault, presents the player with a more elaborate map, a larger team, and a greater number of opponents to destroy. Rescue from the Mines has a different flavour, for the [task involves] releasing three prisoners from their cells in a labyrinthine mine complex and escaping with them to the lift shaft rather than killing the enemy.
The rulebook explains the basics of play well, then goes into full details of the working of the game's system. It's a pity there isn't any attempt to link the scenarios together with a more detailed background, but maybe you could write your own.
After a few turns of practice, play is swift and smooth. The menu system works very well. There is a one- or two-player option, though no choice of sides in the one-player version, and the three scenarios offer several levels of play and a sufficient variety of setting and tactics to be genuinely worthwhile. The original concept of Rebelstar was elegant and addictive, and Laser Squad takes it much further without losing any of its playability. Definitely recommended.
Who could resist going WOWEEE! at the thought of a strategy war game which you could understand in less than a day! VVOWEEE! Found one!
Laser Squad is typical of a strategy combat game in its 'concept'. Y'know the sort of thing, given a limited amount of resources you can arm your troops, playing off expense and weight against firepower. But where Laser Squad scores its Brownie points is in its ease of use and understandability. You only need to use five keys or a joystick for the whole game!
Now let me overload your brain with some more mind-boggling facts. Laser Squad is simply a host program for countless individual wars. All games operate on the same basic principle, meaning you move in the same way, and pick up and fire your weapons in the same way, via a simple, but comprehensive menu system. This appears in the right hand side of the screen while the 'real' action takes up the majority of the left and middle part of the screen. It's uncluttered, easy to understand and perfect for this game.
Control over which character you want to address is via a cursor, which not only tells you who you are dealing with when positioned over a player, but also what you are dealing with as far as computer terminals and the like are concerned. What you can get done in any one turn is limited by 'action points'. It takes action points to turn round, action points to move forward and backward and action points to pick up weapons and use them. So if, f'rinstance, on your last turn you used up all a certain players action points in moving around, although by the next turn he'll have plenty more to play with, if he encounters an enemy betwen goes then he cannot fight back. There's something to be learnt there!
Provided with the cassette come three ready made scenarios. First is a game called The Assassins. This is quite a simple game where you have to scrub out a bloke called Sterner Regnix in his private home. Obviously he has a number of guards protecting the place, and, more often than not, they're armed to the dentures. Pass the heavy laser, Doris...
Scenario two, Moonbase Assault, takes place on the lunar landscape (ver nice graphics, too), where you play the rebel forces who are trying to smash the Omni Corp databank 'cos it holds all sorts of incriminating evidence against you. Moving onto game three, Rescue From The Mines, you find a completely different sort of game. Rather than blow up somebody or something else, you have to rescue three of your compatriates from within deep dungeons.
The first thing that strikes you about all of these games is how arcade-like they are rather than the normal 'for-strategy-read-boring-blue-blocks'. Each landscape has been carefully drawn in detail (down to recognisable tables and swiveling chairs), and the fast scrolling takes you back to the heady days of TLL and other arcade classics. Not that this is any megashake by todays standards, but for a strategy game, well...
If you're wondering whether I would recommend this game, then I suggest you never waste your money on a Mensa Test. I think Laser Squad is mega fab, and I'm looking forward already to the expansions that Target Software has promised. And that's the opinion of someone who has never been interested in strategy wargaming before.
I don't know how many of you can remember back this far, but a few years ago a game by the name of Rebelstar Raiders was released. At the time I thought it was the ultimate in gaming. It had everything, nice graphics, great gameplay, a large strategy content and bags of addictiveness. Since then I have been proven wrong time and time again as the Spectrum is pushed further and further to it's absolute limits. And now it's back! Rebelstar Raiders has been given a massive facelift and a complete rewrite and even a different title, but I know RR when I see it, and I see it now. (Careful Tony, we can't afford to be sued - GT. I wouldn't mind being Sued, or Pamelaed, or Claired, or any other girly for that matter - JD)
Laser Squad is, in a very small space, a two player tactical wargame set in a variety of locations and scenarios. For example, the first escapade is set in and around the home of one Sterner Regnix. the rather nasty boss of a weapon dealing firm who probably also deal with drugs and don't wash behind their ears. In two player mode, one person takes control of a band of five members of the Laser Squad given the task of assassinating Mr Regnix. The other person takes control of Regnix himself and a small army of Robot guards. In one player mode, the computer takes the role of the second player. Other scenarios include the regular Moonbase story and a lovable little rescue type affair from an alien mining colony. Expansion packs will soon be available, offering more scenarios, should you ever get bored with those three.
Viewed in pseudo-3D the game reminds me of nothing so much than Gauntlet. Right down to the way the main characters move. All the graphics are incredibly well defined, right down to little background details, like the toilets, for example. What kind of man is Mr Regnix, to have so many toilets in his house?
Sound ain't bad either. There are some really nice laser type effects when you shoot and some terrific selection sounds on the menus.
It plays well too. For the most part the game is menu controlled, the game displaying only the choices that are appropriate to your character's state and weapon. For example, the option FIRE wouldn't come up if your character was only holding a knife. Same as the option UNLOCK, which wouldn't come up if your character wasn't standing by anything that was locked, or didn't have the appropriate key. The menus are all well thought out and with some logical thought it's really easy to find your way around.
Thumbs up to Target Games on that one. If you're after a good alternative to wiping out another line of kamikaze aliens in a bout of mindless joystick thrashing, you could do a lot worse than buy this. You couldn't do much better, in fact.
Label: Target Games
Author: Julian Gollop
Reviewer: Tony Dillon
Hitting the Target.
Highlighting the increasing popularity of strategy/wargame software is this tactical warfare simulation from Target Games.
Laser Squad comes complete with the main program and three separate scenarios, with other scenarios to be released later. Once you've loaded the main program you're asked which scenario you'd like to play. The first game takes place on the planet CX-1, at the home of the evil Sterner Regnix - boss of the Marsec corporation. He's being naughty and using mind control drugs and cybernetic implants on his scientists. You take control of a group of ex-employees who are out to assassinate Sterner.
In the second scenario you control another group of Rebels, coming to devastate a moon base owned by the Omni corporation (who aren't too keen on what the Rebels have been up to lately). In the third scenario you're trying to rescue three Rebels held captive in a mine complex. You have to break them out of their cells and ensure they reach the elevators safely.
The game plays in the same way for each scenario. You first decide on how much armour your Rebels should wear, and what weapons they should carry. You buy equipment by exchanging a limited amount of credits for goods. Generally, the better the weapon, the more expensive it is, so you have to juggle things occasionally.
Then you get into the game proper. You control each member of your team in turn, and each character has a limited number of Action Points for that turn. Points are used up by moving, loading weapons, firing etc. When you're playing in one-player mode - each scenario can handle either one or two players, with several difficulty levels incorporated for the one-player games - the computer uses hidden movement of its forces to keep you guessing.
When in combat in the game, you can only fire at targets that you can see - that is, they have to be within your field of vision and not behind closed doors etc. Once you've spotted a target, and depending on your weapon, you get the chance of several types of shot. An aimed shot at an enemy costs the most Action Points, but you're more likely to hit your target, whereas a snap shot costs less and is less accurate. Beware of what shots you're using in certain places, as you may be unlucky enough to miss the target and destroy certain scenery that could prove disastrous to anyone in the vicinity (like gas cannisters in scenario two!).
A nice feature of the weapons side of the game is the inclusion of time-based weapons, i.e. you can prime explosives to go off several turns ahead (when you've got your team clear and the enemy look likely to be right on top of your booby trap).
Each game is limited to a number of turns, this number depending on the scenario, and the game is won by accumulating 100 victory points. You may get awarded points for destroying certain pieces of equipment or by destroying enemy characters, or a combination of the two.
Target Games have not only managed to produce a great game in Laser Squad, but the whole game system and the ability to play further scenarios when they're released makes this almost indispensable for 8-bit tactical wargame fans.
Reviewer: Andy Smith
Spec, £9.95cs, Out Now
C64/128, £9.95cs, £14.95dk, Imminent
Ams, £9.95cs, £14.95dk, Imminent
Atari ST, £24.95dk, Imminent
Amiga, £24.95dk, Imminent
Predicted Interest Curve
1 min: 60/100
1 hour: 80/100
1 day: 90/100
1 week: 85/100
1 month: 60/100
1 year: 50/100
MACHINES: Spec, C64, Amstrad
SUPPLIER: Target Games
PRICE: Spec,/C64/Amstrad £9.95 cass
VERSION TESTED: Spec
Aside from the rather naff packaging, Laser Squad is one of the best games I have ever played on any computer. It's one or two-player tactical warfare situation on a small scale with great graphics, sound, playability and hookability to boot. One-player it's great, two-player it's unbeatable.
You are put in command of a group of around half a dozen characters, each with different statistics concerning weaponry and basic strength (both manually and characteristically). The groups role depends on which player you are and which of the three basic scenarios that you can choose to play.
The first is the Assassination.
Player one plays the Laser Squad, a band of Rebels given the job of assassinating Sterner Regix, one of the biggest crime bosses. Player two takes the role of Sterner and his house security droids, each armed with high powered lasers. Player one wins if he manages to kill Sterner within 20 game turns (cycles). Player two wins if he manages to wipe out the Laser Squad.
Second comes Moonbase Assault.
As before, player one takes the part of the Laser Squad, who this time have to attack a moonbase from inside, wiping out all the databanks and computer analysers in the base. Player two has to defend it. Player one wins if he manages to wipe out all the computers. Player two wins if he manages to wipe out the laser squad.
Third is Rescue from the mines.
The Laser Squad has to go down into on alien mining colony and rescue the three humans imprisoned there. The aliens hove to stop them. Player one wins if the humans are rescued. Player two wins if he manages to wipe out five humans, laser squad or not.
Before a scenario, each player has to select armour and weapons for their respective teams. You are presented with cash and have to buy the best armour and most powerful weapon you can, which is a painstaking process. You have a lot of weapons to choose from, which one you choose depends on where you are going to fight. It's no good having a mega destructive rocket launcher if you're going to be fighting in an enclosed area. You have to deploy your characters. For the uninitiated, deployment is a merely positioning your characters in there start positions. The areas you can deploy in are highlighted, and the computer won't let you deploy anywhere else. Once all this is done, you can get into the game.
A plan of the map can be called up by selecting Scanner on the pop-up menu. On it you con see the positions of all your men, plus the positions of the enemy in any of your men's field of vision, which extends 45' either side of the direction a man is facing.
It's this 'line of sight' rule that governs the combat rules. If you have your back to an opponent, you won't be able to shoot at him, basically because it won't register on your scanner, or even on the main display. You can scroll the main display around, but you won't find any enemy units, which is far more realistic than some previous efforts.
Each man has a number of Action points and it's these that govern how much that character can do during a turn (it costs one action point (AP) to turn through 45', four to walk forward over level ground etc) and once his supply has worn out, he can't do anything else until the next turn. To move him about rotate him using the left and right keys, and push forward for him to move in the direction he's facing, and pull back to make him walk backward.
Graphics are large, colourful, full of character and instantly recognisable. The attention to detail is amazing.
Sound is fab. It's actually quite amazing the sounds Mr Gollop has managed to get out of the little rubber keyed thing.
Laser Squad is one of hottest games I've ever played. If that isn't enough, Target is releasing expansion packs for the game, with more scenarios and more ideas. Me, I want to see a construction set.
In the mansion in the first scenario there are a couple of bathrooms, each complete with a loo and a sink, as well as lots of other rooms, all fully furnished and some even have some pretty attractive carpet.
Spectrum 48/128 Cassette: £9.95
Laser Squad follows in the tradition of Rebel Star with action viewed through a window displaying a scrolling combat zone. Nothing new, but Laser Squad moves away from conventional strategy games with its arcade style appearance and joystick control.
You take command of a unit of future soldiers in three different scenarios, all requiring your men to enter enemy territory on a door-die mission.
Laser Squad features three scenarios and provision for equipping each soldier with any of four makes of armour, nine types of weapon and seven accompanying types of ammunition. With a limitation of 200 creds to purchase equipment and weight/burden factors to take into consideration, make sure you get a squad equipped with everything before going in.
To begin, you deploy five soldiers at selected points around the battle zone. Each has a finite amount of action points which he uses up performing various actions. Different tasks require a different amount of action points and, once reduced to zero, your soldier's turn is over.
This may sound simple but many factors upset the equation. Morale, equipment weight, the complexity of tasks, firing different weapons and the general health, status, agility and weapon skills of your soldiers all affect the number of action points available.
Spot an enemy using the line-of-sight rule and you have the chance to fire everything you've got at him. Aimed, snap and automatic fire is possible together with the throw option for grenades and explosives. The graphic result of firing the weapon is shown as a laser bolt as it flies through each screen towards its target. This Star Wars style of combat, with laser bolts flying everywhere, is one of the best parts of the game. When the enemy starts firing, nerves must be steeled as laser bolts miss by inches.
Incorporating hidden movement and opportunity fire, the enemy can prove devastating on higher levels, using artificial intelligence and sheer firepower to win through. The first player to reach 100 victory points wins the game.
Through the combination of tactical play and arcade graphics, Laser Squad certainly stands out from the rest. Graphics bring a new sense of realism to the game without sacrificing the strategy/ tactical elements. Play is satisfyingly complex across all levels and despite the limited scope of the three missions, future scenarios are catered for through an expansion facility.
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