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Damocles: Mercenary II (Atari ST)

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3.6
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Written by  :  Ashley Pomeroy (233)
Written on  :  Jul 31, 2005
Platform  :  Atari ST
Rating  :  2.8 Stars2.8 Stars2.8 Stars2.8 Stars2.8 Stars

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Summary

Take these broken wings

The Good

Damocles is one of the greatest computer games of all time; it is quite obscure nowadays, but everyone who played it back in 1990 remembers it fondly. It was years ahead of its time, and has recently been unofficially remade for the PC (a google search for 'Damocles novagen' will find an excellent website which hosts this).

It's the sequel to Novagen's earlier game, 'Mercenary'. Like that game it plonks you down on an alien world, gives you a goal - in this case, you have to prevent the titular comet from destroying the world of Eris - and lets you go about your business. There is a rough plot, and five different ways to win the game, ranging from the sensible (blow up the comet) to the surreal (find the author's computer, on which the game is running, and magic the comet away). But you are generally free to explore the environment, albeit that you have a time limit.

And the environment. Damocles is rendered in simple filled polygons. It takes place in a solar system, consisting of nine planets and sundry moons. Apart from a pair of gas giants, you can land on and explore all of them, and this is seamless; like 'Starglider II' from a couple of years before and 'Frontier' from five years later, you take off from one planet, fly through space to the next, and land, all without a skip or a cut-scene. Night comes and goes, time passes, and although the environment is devoid of other people, it is haunting.

As far as I am aware there hasn't been anything like it since. There was a sequel, Mercenary III, which did not set the world on fire, but in general there haven't been any free-form visiting-lots-of-planets games since then. Imagine a cross between 'Frontier' and 'Outcast', and you have Damocles, but it was better than either of those and, in 1990, it was mind-blowing.

The Bad

It takes a while for the effect to wear off, but even today Damocles is more a thing to look at and marvel at than a game to play. The plot leads you along for a while before dumping you in a tedious round of collecting detonators and fuses and so forth, and the time limit prevents you from fully exploring the place in one go. There's almost no sound at all. The game evokes vast, empty spaces by consisting mostly of vast, empty spaces.

The ST and Amiga versions were released at the same time; in common with many, many other games of the period, there is no difference between the two, as far as I can tell, although as with most vector graphics games, Damocles did not play to the Amiga's strengths.

The Bottom Line

A fascinating, ambient experience, with a game thrown in. Rather like the solid-3D game 'Driller', which was an impressive feat on 8-bit machines, Damocles is more an experience than a game, but it's an impressive experience. The graphics seem very crude today, but they have a bleak, spartan style. I still remember standing on the fifth floor of a skyscraper, looking out of the window - this was one of the first vector graphics games to have windows allowing you to look out of buildings - at a road disappearing off into the distance, with the stars above.