|Playstation > Whats New > PlayStation Reviews > Staff Review|
|A.P.I Review:||SENTINEL RETURNS|
No.1 No.2 No.3
|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.
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.