The game of Xeno developed on the frozen moon of Io, where bored miners used to bash lumps of frozen methane around a flattened patch of ground. The computer version pits you against the computer or a friend. The screen shows a rostrum camera view of the pitch which flips between five overlapping sections, depending where the puck is. Each player controls one skimmer, and the idea is to knock the puck over the opposing players' goal line. The puck and the skimmers all float over the surface of the arena and bounce off each other and the sides of the pitch.
The players take it in turn to attempt to hit the puck. At the start of the game, a 'time out' is set and this time - from one to nine seconds - is the time a player has to set up a shot. When it's your turn, you position a cursor on the pitch. An 'elastic' line stretches between the skimmer and the cursor ... useful, because the screen always displays the segment of pitch containing the puck, so if your skimmer is some distance away, it occupies another segment and doesn't appear on screen. Then, either when the time out ends, or when fire is pressed, the skimmer speeds towards the cursor. Then it's the other player's chance to have a go. Obviously, with longer time out times, both players can position the cursor meticulously, and have time to work out all the angles. With quick time outs, it becomes a fast and furious game. The idea is, predictably, to hit the puck through the opposing goal. When you do, the crowd roars, the electronic scoreboards around the stadium flash, and it's back to the centre for a kick off. The game is divided up into four quarters which can last from one to nine minutes each. At the beginning of each quarter and after every goal, the puck is kicked off again from the centre. The pitch is shaped like a squared off oval, with goals placed at either end and the trick in the game is to try to keep the puck between you and your opponent's goal. Once it gets behind you, unless you can work out some fancy angles, it's best just to zip down to your own goal area.
There are no holds barred in this game, and in the true spirit of that ancient game soccer, it sometimes pays to play the man rather than the ball, as this can knock the opposing skimmer out of a favourable shooting position. This is particularly effective if you are the wrong side of the ball: if you can knock your opponent past the puck, he's going to find it difficult to score, giving you time to get beck behind the puck. After four quarters of frantic bouncing around, the winner is the player to score the most goals (natch). There's no extra time if the scores are level...
Control keys: redefinable: left, right, up, down, fire
Joystick: Kempston, Cursor, Interface 2
Keyboard play: joystick play is better
Use of colour: monochrome play area
Graphics: good shadows, smooth animation
Sound: you hardly get time to listen to it!
Skill levels: one
Screens: segmented pitch
'Wow! It's not that often that we get future sport simulations in, but when we do they are often excellent. Xeno is the best yet. From the word go there is nothing but fast and furious action - the two skimmers whizz around the arena at tremendous speed and you really need to have your wits about you if you want to win. The game is extremely compelling to play and, due to its simplicity, very easy to get into. The graphics are very good, if a little sparse, and the characters are all excellently drawn, shaded and animated. The sound is not bad with stacks of spot effects during the game as well as a sort of tune thing. On the whole I strongly recommend this game - it is exceptionally playable.'
'Xeno is a strange but excellent game. The game plays and looks like Ballblazer from above, but all the action is very smooth. I found Xeno quite hard to get used to at first, but after a few goes the basic idea of the game becomes very clear - move fast, and think even faster. Every move in the game has to be planned well in advance, as taking time to figure things out gives your opponent valuable seconds. The flickscreen technique is well used. All in all Xeno is a very playable and addictive game.'
'Ballblazer was the only thing I could think of when I first loaded this Xeno, but after a bit of serious play, I decided that it was an excellent game in its own right. The graphics move smoothly and quickly, and the game bounces about at a rate which makes it both fun to play and addictive. The crowd around the stadium are a pretty well behaved bunch: no riots or anything in the future! Generally, I think that Xeno is the sort of game that I could play for an infinite length of time: great!!'
You can play a lot of outdoor, action-packed, downright bloodthirsty sports from the safety and warmth of your overheating Spectrum power supply... and that includes some that haven't yet been invented.
It's bad enough that every time you turn on the telly there's some double jointed aerobics freak in a leotard throwing darts with their toes while knocking crown green bowls across the mud with a snooker cue. Now they're predicting the telly sports of the future on the micros of today.
But I confess - I might give Xeno a look in. And I'd definitely play it! After all, any game that was devised by bored miners on the frozen planet of to can be expected to have a certain sort of rugged charm.
Xeno comes with a reproduction of the programme notes from the 2386 Championships, which briefly recall the game's history.
It isn't overburdened with rules. In fact, it boils down to one old favourite - get the puck between your opponents posts. Yes, it's disk versus disk duelling, with no holds barred.
Rather strangely, play alternates between the opponents at intervals of a few seconds. It forces you to react very, very fast if you're going to make an effective move.
Controlling the disks is also strange. Instead of just skimming across the surface, you project a cursor, which is joined to the disk by a dotted line. When you've set your target, you press fire and hey Presto - you shoot off as if the line was extra-high grade knicker elastic!
It takes a lot of skill to get this just right, because your momentum carries you on, and if you hit the wall of the diamond shaped field you'll rebound. But, rather like snooker, you can put this to your advantage to get behind the puck or obstruct your opponent from an otherwise impossible position.
Xeno plays fast and frantic. So much so that you'd be advised to use the two player option just to practice controlling your skimmer and judging where to hit the puck to get it to shoot off at the angle you want. But once you're into it, it will really grab you.
My only real grumble is with the control. The pitch, seen in perspective 3D, complete with shading, centres on the puck. If you zoom down to one end, or get left behind at the other, you can't see where you are. This makes guiding your cursor near impossible, and valuable seconds are lost while you regain control.
Xeno is one of the best of the future sports games. It somehow feels right, and that should keep you coming back for more.
Xeno is a simple game very stylishly presented. Imagine a sort of futuristic ice hockey meets shove ha'penny and that's it, the whole game.
Xeno has supposedly developed from a pastime improvised by miners on Io - basically involving drunken men pushing ice blocks at a puck. Somehow the puck has to be shoved between two poles to score a goal. The modern version features the puck and two skimmers which, despite featuring the latest technology are about as hard to control as the original blocks of ice.
The chief feature of the game the first few times you play it is the large number of different ways it is possible to score own goals by whizzing helplessly out of control and accidentally striking the puck a glancing blow. I lost 30:1 with 25 being own goals, the first time I played.
There is a technique of course. You gradually learn how to carefully control the amount of energy you put into each push and how not to spend your time hurtling from one side of the pitch to the other.
It's particularly dispiriting when you aren't even in sight. The pitch extends over several screens and the computer 'camera' follows the action around the puck. If you aren't near the puck you aren't in the picture at all.
It looks pretty wonderful though. The illusion of perspective is well achieved as you seem to be looking over the heads of the crowd at the action. The scrolling is extremely smooth and the sense of frictionless movement adds to the feeling of movement across the ice.
Xeno has the marks of a classic game - you can develop different strategies to win. One you might find useful is going for the enemy skimmer rather than the puck. It's unsporting of course but I was able to live with myself.
Yep. I liked it very much. It's very well programmed and should last a bit longer than the usual four weeks.
Author: A 'n' F
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
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