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Written by  :  Ashley Pomeroy (233)
Written on  :  Jul 22, 2005
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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The Future of 1998

The Good

Hardwar came and went, and is mostly forgotten now. There was a lot of promise, and the game looked fantastic in the magazines, but it is gone. I am surprised to learn that it was released outside the UK, but it certainly wasn't a big hit. Both Gremlin and the Software Refinery, who published and developed the game respectively, have subsequently bitten the dust, so good luck finding a copy on sale. The game was another go at recreating the open-ended gameplay of classic mid-80s vector graphic space trading game 'Elite', but this time set in a series of 'G-Police'-esque cities on a moon of Saturn. Amusingly, Hardwar is actually the name of a real city, in India, although it's pronounced "hadwah", I think. The game still seems to have an online following, who should really be introduced to the online following of 'Falcon 4.0', 'Trespasser' and other prematurely-abandoned eccentricities; they would get along well with each other.

The graphics were very nice, in their day. The feeling of moving through a large, functioning city is well done, and the atmosphere - literally, the fog and clouds, and the night-time with its oil refinery lights - added to the effect and made sense, rather than seeming like the standard fogging used to reduce the rendering time of distant objects. It was, for a time, great fun to just fly around aimlessly, watching things happen; far better than the empty, sterile 'X: Beyond the Frontier', which emerged a couple of years later. The decals and so forth were designed by the Designer's Republic, and the game was at the height of trendy graphic fashion circa 1998; the game is faintly nostalgic of the boom. I don't know if the Designer's Republic is still going. The game's soundtrack was composed of tracks by artists on Warp records, and I can envisage the producers of the game eyeing the success of 'Wipeout'.

The cut-scenes are decent, too. Remember them, remember cut-scenes? Back in the past, games used to have bits whereby the game would stop, and there would be a video sequence with cheap actors such as Clive Owen or Mark Hamill, or simply computer-generated mannequin people, and you would press the spacebar several times and the cutscene would go "LOADING..... It's good to see you Capt- ... LOADING" and then the game would carry on. Ah, back in the past.

The Bad

Ah, well. The game was reminiscent of 'Privateer 2' in this respect, but with a much more obtuse and hard-to-follow plot. And there were elements of what would become 'X: Beyond etc' etc later on. Simply put, after a day or two it became clear that, although it was briefly interesting to watch the outside world move of its own accord, to look at ships flying past and so forth, it quickly became as dull as... real life, in fact. As with 'Privateer', the environment is surprisingly small and limited, in that it is restricted to a series of domed cities, in which there are only a limited number of buildings with which you can interact (shades of the ancient 8-bit number 'Tau Ceti', which had large outdoors environments which were nonetheless mostly empty and ornate). There was potential for long-term trading and ownership of garages, from what I recall, but it would have required hours and weeks and months of hoarding money and, as with most other 'Trader'-style games - the genre goes back to the 1970s - the gameplay ultimately devolves into flying backwards and fowards between two or three locations, watching your money increase with each trip. There weren't enough ships or weapons or things to justify the effort, and ultimately it's like watching the odometer on a car; the numbers go up, slowly. A certain personality type might enjoy this empty feeling of achievement, but then again some people like to memorise the telephone book.

And really, you are fighting an AI which is masquerading as humanity, and after a while you think to yourself "what is the point of all this, all this time I have invested? I'm pretending to fly an imaginary aircraft against imaginary opponents, in a generally tedious imaginary environment in which I earn imaginary money which I can spend on imaginary equipment which will help me fight imaginary opponents and so forth". At least a game such as 'Doom' gives the player a charge of adrenalin, and a feeling of satisfaction at having defeated overwhelming numbers of tough enemies and a series of clever puzzles set by a human being.

Unlike 'Elite', the combat isn't much fun; it's not detailed enough to pass as a flight simulator nor is it kinetic and exciting enough to work as a thrill. Until you have a powerful ship, which takes ages, there's not much point anyway.

The plot is tortuous. I can barely remember it, but it ends with the whole place blowing up, and there was something about radiation experiments on people, and you have to find a nuclear missile. And shoot something with it, probably.

The Bottom Line

I may seem harsh. At the time I found the game enthralling, for a week or two, and then I put it away and didn't play it ever again. The plot isn't really immersive enough to bring you along with it, the combat is unexciting, the trading aspect is tedious and the environment isn't large enough to sustain interest. It has all the strengths and flaws of 'Frontier', but it is smaller and less ambitious.

With extra development it might have been a monster - if the game had been huge, with locked-off areas, dozens of ships, free cocaine, free meals at Weatherspoons etc - and I admit to never having played it online, in which case it might take off (although it would quickly become very crowded). The game is essentially unavailable today.