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Developer: Hookstone OPTIONS: S.SHOT
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Psygnosis 1 Player
Game Type: Strategy Memory Card
Review Date: August 1998 Standard Joypad

Setting the Scene

During the mid-1980's, when most gamers were content to zap aliens in Defender 
or gobble up Munchkins in Pac-Man, Geoff Crammond introduced a strategy game 
that captured the imagination.  The Sentinel first appeared on the BBC Micro 
but became so popular that it was soon converted onto most formats including 
the Amiga, Spectrum, Atari and Commodore 64.  It was to become a classic.    

Over a decade later Psygnosis have unveiled the sequel that combines the same 
intensely compelling gameplay with stunning visual and sound enhancements.  
Sentinel Returns was produced by No Name Games, developed by Hookstone and 
includes a musical score by John Carpenter, who directed and wrote the 
soundtrack for Halloween, Escape from New York and Assault on Precinct 13.


A sequel to the classic strategy game Sentinel that features the same addictive, 
chilling gameplay with advanced graphic redesign and a chilling musical score.  
The object of the game is to move across a chessboard terrain with undulating 
surfaces and destroy the guardian situated at the highest point of each level.


The opening sequence could easily be an excerpt from one of those cult science 
fiction series that graced our TV screens many years ago.  A very suspicious 
looking character wanders into an official building and begins tampering 
with a computer.  As he begins to type in the data the blood red screen 
hypnotically flashes between images of embryos and a well-guarded Sentinel.  
It's all very mysterious and reminded me of the trailers used to promote 
forthcoming episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. 

Each of the six hundred plus levels are remarkably similar in appearance 
although they are set in five different environments: Earth, Wind, Fire, 
Water and Void.  The main difference being the color and shading of the 3D 
textured landscape.  

All flat surfaces are divided into equal size squares in a similar style to 
a chessboard.  These are the areas on which you may build platforms from.  
Large pointed purple objects sprout out from several of these squares which 
represent the trees that provide energy and a certain amount of protection 
from the glare of the Sentinel.  The surrounding mountains and valleys that 
must be crossed over are constructed from large blocks of smooth polygons 
while the stormy clouds passing overhead match the color of the scenery.  
It's all very dark and gloomy which only adds to the tension of the gameplay.  

The game is viewed from the first person perspective and features some 
tremendous lighting effects.  As you move the cursor across the mountains 
each point of contact is lit up as if a searchlight was scanning the area 
for an escaped convict.  Sadly the same cannot be said about the effects 
when you eventually move right up close to the Sentinel to destroy it.  
The guardian itself looks like an abstract model of a candelabra while the 
resulting explosion is extremely blocky and poorly animated.

Sounds and Effects

Although there are very few sound effects within the game, the musical score 
is superb.  Anyone who has witnessed a John Carpenter movie will instantly 
recognize his style of music which is responsible for creating 95% of the 
in game atmosphere.  Sentinel Returns also features vastly improved sound, 
with Q-Sound technology that adds to the player's feeling of being 
surrounded and trapped. 


Before the game begins you are treated to an option screen that could just 
as easily be the dashboard from H.G. Wells' time machine.  Within this area 
you can adjust the sound and vision settings and configure your joy pad to 
accept the eight actions or commands required to play the game.
The idea behind Sentinel Returns is that you are a presence, rather than an 
object or being, who moves across the landscapes by transferring from one 
robot body to another.  By absorbing and expanding energy you must rise from 
the lowest to the highest point of a level and destroy the Sentinel.  When 
moving across the terrain you must also avoid the invisible energy-draining 
beam of the guardian.  This may all sound rather confusing in theory, but in 
practice is quite a simple game to play.   

When the first level eventually loaded, after some 50 seconds waiting time, 
I was initially confused to my whereabouts.  I glanced around the scenery 
only to be confronted by huge blocks of rust colored smooth polygons.  I 
seemed to be inside a large crater.  Looking down towards the ground I 
noticed occasional green squares which lit up when my cursor passed over 
them.  One of them had a tree growing from it so I highlighted the square 
from where it was rooted and pressed my 'absorb' button.  The tree promptly 
evaporated and its energy was added to mine.  

On the opposite side of the crater was a slightly higher platform.  I aimed 
my cursor towards the ledge and pressed the 'boulder' button.  A glowing 
rock appeared.  Pressing the same button again resulted in a second rock 
appearing on top of the first.  By creating a new robot on top of these 
rocks allowed me to transfer my presence into the new built home from 
where I could see much more of the surrounding landscape.  My original 
robot body was highlighted and absorbed to replenish my energy level. 

Once out into the open I scanned the terrain for items that may be absorbed.  
For every tree absorbed you gain one point of energy.  Boulders are valued 
at two points and robot hosts three points.  Thus, after every three trees 
absorbed you will have the energy to create another robot body.  

Climbing to a higher point I glanced around the mountainous terrain and 
spotted the Sentinel Guard towering on the highest point.  By constantly 
moving around, the Sentinel will have great trouble tracking your presence, 
but remaining in the same position for too long will only alert it.  

Once the draining process begins your energy will be quickly sapped 
therefore immediate action is required.  This would involve retreating 
onto a lower level or hiding behind a mountain that blocks the Sentinels 
gaze.  Only when in the grip of the Sentinel's beams do you notice that 
it seems to take an age to move the cursor across the screen and reach 
a safe haven.  The Psygnosis press release that previewed this game 
stated that the cursor speed had been deliberately slowed down to create 
the 'sense of claustrophobia and panic'.  If that is so then it really 
does work a treat.  If not, then it's a damn good excuse.  

Once you reach a platform at a similar height as the Sentinel, it may be 
absorbed of it's power and the level is over.

Value for Money

With over 600 levels to plough through you would think that Sentinel 
Returns offers great value for money, but in reality there is very little 
difference from one to the next and boredom soon sets in.

If you were hooked on the original Sentinel game then I dare say that you 
have already picked up a copy of this sequel and most likely to be well 
into it by now.  However, if you are a Sentinel virgin then I suggest a 
short rental period before purchase.
GRAPHICS: 14/20 The first few levels have an excellent learning curve allowing you to very quickly get to grips with the gameplay. You can strategically move around the mountains avoiding the Sentinels gaze taking up to half an hour to complete a level.

Unfortunately you also quickly realize that by heading directly towards the Sentinel seems just as effective and the level is over within a matter of minutes. This meant that the loading times sometimes lasted longer than the level itself.

After 40 levels the difficulty increases because you must first destroy several sentries before you can get your hands on the Sentinel. However, all this seems to do is prolong the inevitable and after one evenings play in which I ploughed through over 60 levels, I gave up due to boredom.
SOUND: 9/10
VALUE: 14/20


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