Some games are of the "play now, read manual later" genre, while others expect you to read a weighty tome first before putting hand to joystick.
Lander: Special Edition Pack, from the always innovative Psygnosis gang, is at the halfway stage in between arcade-style action and full-scale space flight simulation. The object of the game is to fly a spaceship through a 3D world of hills, valleys, rock faces and tunnels while picking up or destroying valuable objects to earn cash. With these bounties, you can upgrade your craft and weapons. If you take the trouble to read the comprehensive manual and undertake the training missions that can help you conquer the physics problems of inertia and gravity, you'll love this game.
Gameplay zips along, as does your futuristic craft if you've got a 3D graphics card and a Pentium 233 Mhz processor as a minimum specification in your machine. The graphics deserve a special mention -- as well as being superbly textured and the screen being a simple man machine interface and easy to understand, there is a useful wire-frame feature.
When walls, tunnel insides, etc. get in the way of a tricky maneuver, they change automatically into a neat transparent wire-frame of the original obstacle; this allows you to progress unhampered and enables your PC to handle the graphics even faster. No more of those annoying situations where you need to keep up with the action but your machine shudders due to the computer trying to keep up with background and graphic changes.
Lander: Special Edition Pack reminds you of the days when games were fun and addictive to play, even if they didn't look particularly stunning. Compare that with so many of the late 1990s games that are great to look at and full of impressive visuals but just a bore to play.
Graphics: Amazing use of normal 3D graphics and wireframe mapping.
Sound: Good atmospheric sounds.
Enjoyment: Immensely playable.
Replay Value: Tons of gameplay and 29 missions from which to choose.
Much in the style of Activision's Battlezone, Lander is effectively a 3d remake and 'expansion' of ancient vector-based arcade game of the same name (familiar, no?). You take the role of a daredevil pilot out to make a fortune through a series of challenging missions in your trusty planetside lander craft, a small, lightweight, maneuverable machine designed for tight ground-level (or below-ground) maneuvering, controlled through a set of automatically handled maneuvering thrusters on the corners, and a single main engine on the belly of the ship.
The rough plot of the game is fairly simple - you're a mercenary lander pilot for hire, on a trip around the solar system. As you stop at each planet, various companies offer you jobs - sometimes legal, most often not, to do while you're on your various stops. With the money accrued from each successful sortie, you can upgrade (or even replace) your lander craft, buy better weapons, engines, armor and such. However, later in the story, you'll get a whole range of shady figures after you, strange conspiracies and alien technologies - all of which mean very little to the gameplay, but it keeps things interesting.
The gameplay, for the most part, involves tunnel flying and subterranean navigation. This is both aided and made more difficult by your crafts unique control system - the mouse provides tilt, roll and vertical thrust, while the keyboard provides yaw, weapon, item and camera controls. Combat is fairly simple - you just move the enemy into your target sights and press fire a few times until it blows up. Most of the action comes from navigating the treacherous and sometimes unpredictable terrain you'll be seeing in your adventure, rather than blasting at targets.
Psygnosis have done a great job with level design, with effects like rain, lightning and fog very effectively portrayed, and the various structures you're flying around feel very authentic - a mine complex feels like it should, filled with chunky automated machinery, rough rock surfaces, dangerous overhangs and such, whereas a heavily defended prison complex is a clean-cut, sleekly built piece of architecture. Enemy design is fairly basic and weak though, but as combat isn't really a core gameplay element, that doesn't matter too much.
The physics engine is convincing, and things bounce, roll, spin and explode as you'd expect and wish, although sometimes your craft can become 'stuck' - this is usually solved by just bouncing and rolling randomly at the expense of some shield energy. The graphics are also exemplary, allowing much detail tweaking, meaning that it will look okay on an old system, but amazing on a modern top of the range rig. As such, a 3d accelerator is required. However, this does make it one of the best looking games.
While the average review of Lander (at the time) was fairly negative, giving average marks at best, the scant few positive reviews were overwhelmingly so. Why so much difference? Well, it all depends on how much effort you're willing to put in. Fire up Lander for a quick, arcade-y blast and you will be sorely disappointed, and probably find your twitchy little lander craft smeared across a nearby stony outcropping. The game is long and difficult, with a sometimes steep learning curve, but all obstacles can be overcome with some degree of persistence, and a lot of piloting skill.
In summary, this game is beautiful, highly playable, rewarding, challenging, not for the faint of heart, and almost totally unheard of.
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