Title           Damocles (Mercenary II)
Publisher       Novagen
Game Type       3D Adventure
Players         1
HD Installable  HD-patch: from Bert Jahn's WHDLoad page
Compatability   68000 Amigas only (All Amigas with patch)
Game data/utils Spoilers - aminet:game/hint/damocles.txt
Submission      Dennis Smith Profiled Reviewer

This sequel to Mercenary is an extremely ambitious piece of work. In
Mercenary you had a very small planet to explore, in Damocles a whole star
system is represented, complete with relativistic travel between the
planets.  Damocles is the system's most famous comet, named after the
courtier of Greek legend who supposedly praised the king, Dionysius I,
praising his happiness. To demonstrate how precarious that happiness was,
the king seated Damocles at an extravagant banquet with a sword suspended
above his head by a single hair.

In the game, the sword of Damocles is about to fall - you arrive at the
system's main planet, Eris, just before the massive comet is due to make a
catastrophic impact on Eris itself. Instead of sending for Bruce Willis
and an unlikely bunch of oil-riggers, the inhabitants chose to send for you,
and then, clearly not entirely convinced of your skill at diverting massive
lumps of ice (and probably just as well), evacuated their planet.
Unfortunately, probably as a consequence of the problems you had getting
off the planet of Targ in 'Mercenary' (and, hey, if you had the Second City
data disk you had to escape twice), you touch down on Eris with about three
and a quarter hours before impact, with only a Citroen 2CV to travel around

Fortunately, that's not the whole story. Drive to the president's house and
you can barter over your fee for saving the system (you are a bit of a
heartless mercenary). Agree on a price and you'll get the key to a craft
capable of space-flight, and then you're off to save the planet. Fail to
reach an agreement and, well, you've got just over three hours to get
yourself off the planet, otherwise you're in for a spectacular death. Well,
maybe not. The game is pretty open-ended. Any 'fatal' actions will just
cause you to restart somewhere in the system (in space) - but they won't
reset the clock - Damocles gets ever closer. Winning the game doesn't end
it, either; once Eris is saved - or even destroyed - you can spend as long
as you like exploring the rest of the system - useful in the latter case
so that you can figure out the locations of objects that will be useful to
you on your next game. Saving and loading can be used very much to your
advantage in this case.

Solving the puzzle appears to a fairly simple matter. Somewhere in the
system, large quantities of explosives are scattered. Find the explosives
and a detonator, get them on to the comet before it hits the planet, and
you'll get your reward. There are a couple of ways of doing this - if the
explosives aren't your thing, perhaps you can find the legendary Novabomb
and its hidden triggers. But that's not the only way to win - there are a
couple of more bizarre solutions involving the author's computer (very
self-referential, positively surreal) or the riddle of the pyramids (not
for the faint hearted). Even more interesting - Lloyd's have offered an
even larger reward if you can save Eris and Damocles - think you're up to
it? This is one of the most ingenious puzzles in any adventure game.
Unfortunately, it does mean that the physics of the game fall down at one
point, but it's necessary to keep the time-limit challenging.

The system is convincingly rendered, and flight between planets takes a
long time - only do it if you really have to - though relativity is
shamelessly exploited to ensure that you aren't really waiting around for
half an hour to get from one planet to another - your perception of time at
speeds approaching the speed of light is slowed down so that half an hour
whizzes by in seconds. Very nicely done. And there are plenty of planets to
explore. Teleport booths allow instantaneous travel between planets - which
is necessary to completing the game, given the dimensions of a real system.
You can even drive vehicles through these teleporters - though the number
of destinations is then limited to those teleporters which are outside
buildings. Not all are. And not all the planets are especially hospitable
to life - you may need to find a pressure suit to visit all locations.

Most of the action comes in visiting buildings in the cities. To keep
processor time down on an A500, buildings in the cities are all very well
spread out, so you can only see one at a time. This seems very artificial
at first, and it is a very bare system - you'll hardly meet any real
inhabitants, they've been left out to keep the game simple - but it works
well in practice. The game still crawls along in parts - even on a faster
processor (though no doubt because WHDLoad has to degrade the system so
it's not working at its peak). You may need some patience in some of the
more complicated sections. The majority of buildings are unimportant, and
the whole task can seem incredibly daunting at first, but you are given
clues where to look from the start (using your on-line grid references),
and if you can find the A-Z, you can quickly identify the important
buildings as you travel around.

All in all, it's quite a mammoth challenge - even if you've completed it
once, there are other means to find out, and as I say, saving both Eris and
Damocles makes for an impressive puzzle. There's a lot to explore, although
it can get very samey - and there are some in-jokes, if you can get the
Novagen files out of the safe in the Novagen building. It's a real shame
Paul Woakes left the computer gaming world after Legends Of Valour. It would
be great to see what he'd do with today's computer technology. Mercenary III
is set in the same system so lacks Damocles' innovative freshness; Damocles
is undoubtedly the best of the Mercenary series and to this day remains an
original experience.

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