With the likely nonappearance of Mindscape's Wing Commander on the Amiga, it looks as if Ocean's long-awaited sci-fi blaster, Epic, will be a more-than-adequate substitute. With a scenario which bears more than a passing resemblance to the 70s cult sci-fi show. Battlestar Galactica, the game pits the player against the evil Rexxon Empire as you attempt to escort a massive fleet of Federation starships through deep space to a new safe-haven.
The game begins with a finely-crafted animation sequence which relates the story so far in true Star Wars' style. With a sun approaching supernova, a loose alliance of planetary systems are rapidly facing extinction. Their only hope is to construct a vast space fleet capable of transporting the entire populace to Ulysees VII, a habitable planet located on the far side of the galaxy. To reach their destination, the rag-tag collection of 8.000 interplanetary craft must pass through the Rexxon Empire, a huge expanse of space controlled by a war-like race dedicated to the extermination of the human race.
To help protect such a large and vulnerable fleet of ships, the Federation has built a large number of battleships including two huge dreadnoughts, the Battleaxe and the Redstorm, and a highly advanced fighter equipped with a fearsome array of weaponry. Made from super-tough Epical metal, only three such fighters could be constructed because of the scarcity of the ore. As the Federation's top flyboy, it's up to you to take control of the craft and help protect the fleet to the best of your abilities.
Escorting the Federation space fleet to their new homeland is fraught with danger. Not only will the starfleet need to be protected from hostile Rexxon battle squadrons, but a number of pre-planned missions need to be undertaken to help neutralise the Rexxon threat. In all, there are eight missions to complete and failure in just one of these will result in the total destruction of the fleet and, consequently, the end of the game.
The main screen features a bitmapped cockpit display of the Epic fighter together with a 3D representation of the area immediately in front of the craft. A combat scanner locates and targets enemy ships while punching the 'Return' key toggles between the various weapons at your disposal.
Each mission requires a different combination of armaments ranging from standard self-regenerating lasers and nuclear-tipped torpedoes to lock-on missiles and a cobalt doomsday device which destroys anything within 200.000 kms. Best of all is the neutron blaster which throws out a concentrated beam of energy in front of the ship which destroys anything in its limited range.
Toward the left-hand side of the cockpit is a system display which shows how much fuel is left, current speed, and shield status. Fuel consumption is the Achilles' heel of the Epic fighter as most functions eat away at the fuel tanks at an alarming rate. To help compensate for this 'design fault', the Federation has placed fuel pods at strategic points during each mission as well as a number that have been scattered at random throughout the game. A tractor beam is used to snag the pods which is accessed via the weapons system. The ship's protective shielding uses up the most fuel, so it's best not to use this facility until entering a combat situation. But do remember that, when activated, the shielding takes up to six seconds to completely envelop the ship.
Controlling the craft is simplicity itself. Holding down the left mouse button controls the speed while the right button activates the currently-selected weapons system. The ship can be made to bank to the left or right by moving the mouse from side to-side with a forward motion sending the craft into a dive and a backward movement enabling it to climb rapidly. And that's it. Such simple controls cut out the need for over-complicated displays and allow the player to jump straight into the action.
The eight missions involve both planetary and space warfare and have been designed to test the Epic fighter to the limits of its endurance. Missions include blowing up strategic Rexxon fuel dumps, clearing nuclear mine fields, repelling attacks on the Federation fleet, disrupting communications and neutralising the attack capabilities of the amassed Rexxon battle fleet. Each mission is extremely difficult, and get progressively harder as the game progresses and all have a knock on effect for subsequent missions. For instance, failure to blow up a Magma Cannon on the planet Potead before the Federation Battle Fleet is in range will result in the near-total destruction of the convoy and leave you alone in facing the Rexxon Imperial Guard - a task not to be relished! Another mission involves repelling a Rexxon Attack Legion. Although this is easily done, adequate protection must be given to the Agricultural ships and the Ordnance storage vessels. If either of these should be destroyed, the consequences might not be immediately noticeable, but later on in the game you could find yourself without food or any weapons.
The most amazing thing about the game is the quality and speed of the 3D graphics. The variety of designs, liberally 'borrowed' from classic sci-fi TV shows and movies, adds to the overall atmosphere and gives a convincing feel of 'authenticity' to the game. Some of the ships in the game are gigantic, up to six miles long, and the player can zoom in to take a closer and more detailed look at some of the larger craft. Near-perfect collision detection means that you can fly in between the individual struts and girders that make up each ship's infrastructure without inadvertently trashing your craft due to poor design.
The sheer scale of the game is also impressive. Up to 400 polygons can be on screen per second and multiple battle sequences can involve more than 350 ships, each with their own intelligence routines. For example, predator ships will merely pursue a vessel until either it or its target are destroyed while other craft display attack modes based on real war tactics and theory such as encirclement and dispersal manoeuvres. More than six man years have gone into developing the game with a good proportion of that time spent on perfecting the battle sequences.
Old timer, Dave Whittaker, provided the sound FX, Mars, the Bringer of War, from Holsts' Planet Suite, forms the main in-game music to good effect and there are plenty of sampled sounds to keep things suitably raucous.
With some super-fast polygon routines, and the chance of dogfights aplenty. Epic definitely lives up to its name.
During the long haul to Ulysees VII, you'll be called upon to fly a number of hazardous missions to protect the Federation Fleet and engage enemy fighters.
1. The first mission involves clearing a path through a mined asteroid belt marking the edge of the Rexxon Empire. From there, you are to proceed directly to Amragan Nine and destroy a deep space tracking station before they can alert the Rexxon battle fleet to your presence.
2. The second objective is the total destruction of the mining and processing capabilities of the planet Tarrun and its affiliate moon, Stallica. These installations provide the Rexxons with their only supply of warp-drive fuel and is thus well-protected. Multiple laser turrets, guided missile installations and several crack squadrons of enemy fighters are just some of the firepower at the base's disposal.
3. A Rexxon Attack group has gathered near Tarrun and is about to launch an assault on your civilian fleet. Although not a strong force, the enemy squadron is capable of inflicting severe damage and must be taken out before they reach your ordnance ships or agricultural vessels.
4. Mission four's task is to neutralise a gigantic Magma Cannon on the planet of Potead. Situated on a volcanic ridge, the cannon feeds off the energy of the planet's core and can generate a powerful blast calculated to exceed several thousand megatons. The planet's gravitational pull and dense atmosphere make navigation tricky and formidable groud-based defenses consist of multiple rocket and laser batteries.
5. It is anticipated that the enemy will scramble every available star fighter in the vicinity after the Magma gun has been disabled. These will include a very large number of one-man fighters as well as the Rexxon Imperial Guard. At least 60% of enemy craft must be destroyed to guarantee success.
6. The sixth mission involves knocking out the Imperial Rexxon Command Centre. This will effectively isolate the Rexxon Battle Fleet and create disorder throughout the Rexxon Empire. Expect heavy defense fortifications and well-equipped attack squadrons.
7. The largest space conflict in recorded his- tory says it all. The arrival of the enemy is imminent. Spearheaded by the two huge Rexxon dreadnoughts, enemy forces are expected to total more than 1,400 battle ships. The over-riding aim is to destroy one of the mother ships by getting in close enough to blow up its bridge.
8. The final mission will involve escorting the fleet to the far side of the Rexxon Empire. Pockets of Rexxon resistance will make sporadic attacks on the fleet in a last ditch attempt to win the day. Once you've landed on Ulysees it's effectively mission over and you can put up your feet and take it easy. Congratulations.
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