What's got 10,000 screens, hordes of vicious robots out for your blood, and a zillion complex puzzles for you to solve? We drop Phil South into Firebird's Sentinel to see if he's king of the castle!
It's dark. All you con see is the wall of a high computer-generated cliff. As you rotate on the spot, you can see a small clump of trees, which you quickly absorb for their energy. You can't see any more without tilting your head... then as you look up you can see it, its slowly rotating body towering over you. All too soon its malevolent eye turns on you, and you start to feel the energy being sucked from your body. Finally, as your consciousness blinks out, you see the face of your destroyer... the evil Sentinel. Oh well, better luck next life.
It's rare than an original game concept comes out, so when one appears it takes you completely by surprise. Sentinel is just such a game. It's a new kind of strategy/arcade idea, which draws from elements common in a range of traditional strategy formats. It takes place in stunning 3D renderings of 10,000 different landscapes through which the player moves, (or more precisely, teleports) in his quest to destroy the evil Sentinel. Yes, you must destroy him... but the catch is that if he sees you, he'll absorb your energy and you're dead!
On each landscape there's a finite amount of energy to be had, in the form of trees which are dotted around the computer generated hills and valleys in a more or less random way. You have to absorb the trees to get any goodness out of them. Having gained a bit of energy, you can then project it out of your robot body, by creating something tangible, like another tree, a boulder or a fresh robot. Now, and here comes the clever bit, you can teleport yourself (accompanied by a digitised riff from a synthesiser, a sort of Whaaanggg!) into that new robot body and absorb the one you just left, and in this way you move across the landscape. The reason you absorb the robot you just left is because the amount of energy remains constant in the landscape - so if you expend energy to make a new robot, you must gain some of that energy back by absorbing your old robot. As to why you need as much energy as possible, we'll go into that in a minute.
Your view of the computerised landscapes appears as if you're looking out of the head of the robot. You're able to pan round to look for the Sentinel and, using the crosshaired sight, orient on and absorb trees. This may all sound a bit easy-peasy to you, but there's one major point to the gameplay which prevents you from just scooting around, teleporting wherever you please and eating every tree you can see. You can't absorb anything unless you can look down on the square the object stands on, and that goes for boulders, trees, your robots and even the Sentinel itself. If you can't see it, you can't eat it! This can be very frustrating if you can see the top of a tree but can't see the square it's standing on. (The secret is to always go for extra height, but we'll get to that later!) Once you've managed to absorb the Sentinel and climbed up to where he was standing you can hyperspace to the next level. Here's another clever bit - depending on the number of points you have left when you've absorbed the Sentinel, you go on to a higher level. The more points, the higher the level. The entry code for the level you've achieved is displayed across the sccreen and you type this in when asked for it. And if you write it down on a bit of paper, you can go straight to that level next time you play and so save yourself the worry of going through from level one again.
The graphics are totally brilliant, being by far the best 3D effect I've seen on the Speccy, and the digitised or sampled music is great. It sounds like that spooky synth music you used to get in Dr Who. (Daaann dannn dannnnnn! Ooooooo!) Soo-parb!
If you find this all a bit hard to grasp, and who could blame you, don't worry. We've constructed a little Sentinel universe in microcosm, from which you should be able to draw all the conclusions you could possibly want. So sit back, and we'll take you forth into the dangerous realm of ... (deep voice) The Sentinel!
Er, um, so okay - it's not really that much of a puzzle game, but I'm desperately running out of the things. So just pretend it's not here or something.
Anyway, The Sentinal, eh? I'm pretty sure (I wouldn't take my word for it, though) that it was the first solid 3D game on the Spec. And what happens is that you're this robot thingy, and there's this sentinal thingy way above you who turns around slowly. If he looks at you then you start dying, so you must climb up to his level by creating rocks and trees and things. and eventually absorb him. This may all sound very complicated, but once you've got into it, it really is lemon peasy and very enjoyable into the bargain, despite the large pauses during play which do tend to hinder things a bit.
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