C64 Review of Mercenary from Issue 11

ZzapTest Logo by Biggest Jim


After many news stories, previews and much press hype, a copy of the legendary and until now mythical Mercenary has wended it's way onto the ZZAP! office desk. The delay was due to a few complications in getting the program off an Atari and into a Commodore along with certain code modifications to increase and enhance the general speed of the program. Now all that's done it's just up to us to review it, well here we go:

The main play area of Mercenary is centred on the planet Targ, a world containing two races at war. The original inhabitants of Targ were the Palyars, a peaceful sentient species who led a contented existence until the arrival of the Mechanoids. Mechanoids are strange creatures in that they are not organically based and are an alien race of robots. Because of their warlike nature, the Mechanoids soon defeated the Palyars and are currently the dominant race on Targ.

Most of the planet is a barren wasteland, the only major centre of population being a huge metropolis that at first appearance looks very sparse indeed. There are highways and roads linking the odd interesting structures but most of the actual city is housed underground forming a complicated subterranean complex of tunnels and caverns. This city is now in Mechanoid control.

The Palyars are not completely defeated though. The Palyar War Council and the majority of their population live in a colony craft that hovers high above the city. Though a few pockets of resistance still exist on the planet they are easily controlled by the Mechanoids.

You enter the scenario when, through a mechanical fault, your ship Prestinium crashes on Targ. The role to be played is that of a 21st century soldier of fortune, a mercenary through and through. Since the Prestinium is damaged beyond repair a new ship powerful enough to leave Targ must be found. The trouble is acquiring such a transport -- ships like that cost money and your pockets aren't exactly jingling. What you do have though is Benson, a ninth generation personal computer. He acts as your interface with the outside world, providing a 3D vector interpretation of the scene around you plus navigational information. Once on Targ, Benson relays the minimal amount of information in his data banks.

The main appeal of Mercenary is that there are various ways of achieving the end goal. The most obvious is to act as a freelance fighter for either Mechanoid or Palyar. Reaping the rewards of such a role it should be quite simple to get enough money for a ship to take you off planet. If this is the role you want to play then you'll need a craft of some sort to get around the planet. Such a ship is located close to the crash site. Benson relays a message asking if you'd like to buy the ship. Mercenary plays just like the real world and instead of buying the ship you may choose to steal it, risking any retaliation from the vendor.

On screen there's the head up display fed to the monitor from Benson. When the program boots up, the game has you sitting in space with a starfield in front of you. Benson activates the ship's Novadrive but after a few seconds thrusting, a malfunction develops. The Prestinium still has considerable forward momentum and when a planet looms into view even maximum reverse thrust isn't enough to stop the ship from crash landing. Once crashed you are given full manual control. Everything is shown in vector graphics, with the ground and sky filled in green and blue respectively. Along the screen's base is a control panel that shows your compass bearing plus elevation. A small window is also present for relaying any of Benson's comments to you Using the joystick it's possible to move around in the fundamental eight directions (the keyboard is used to quite a large extent as well). The outside view updates as you move in true perspective.

To steal the ship just walk over to it and press B for 'Board'. Once in control of a craft the joystick function changes considerably.Left and right rotate the craft around its centre while up and down tip or dip the ship's stern.

The keys one to zero along the top of the keyboard control the machine's engines with zero delivering the greatest thrust. Once inside an aircraft just thrust of in the direction you wish to travel then pull up. Landing requires a small angle of approach and a relatively slow velocity. Once on the ground and not moving, L for 'Leave' puts you back onto the ground to walk around once more. Pressing shift in conjunction with one of the thrust keys, a negative power boost is supplied.To steal the ship just walk over to it and press B for 'Board'. Once in control of a craft the joystick function changes considerably. Left and right rotate the craft around its centre while up and down tip or dip the ship's stern. The keys one to zero along the top of the keyboard control the machine's engines with zero delivering the greatest thrust. Once inside an aircraft just thrust of in the direction you wish to travel then pull up. Landing requires a small angle of approach and a relatively slow velocity. Once on the ground and not moving, L for 'Leave' puts you back onto the ground to walk around once more. Pressing shift in conjunction with one of the thrust keys, a negative power boost is supplied.

On the bottom control panel is also a grid counter showing your position on the planet. The first message received instructs you to make your way to location 9,6 and then get to the conference room. At 9,6 there's a hanger (these allow you to enter the subterranean city through an elevator contained in them). The whole ship can be brought through the elevator, all you have to do is position yourself in the middle of the hangar and press E to activate the lift ('Elevator')?

Once inside the city it's necessary to walk about rather than use the ship. From the main hangar a number of corridors branch off into the metropolis. Each corridor has a door at either end and to walk through one just walk headfirst into it. Most doors are oblongs but a few are differently shaped. Trying to bump your way through one of those doors results in the message LOCKED flipping across your scanner. A key takes the form of a large three dimensional object in the same basic shape as the door it opens. When collecting a key P is used to pick up and D for dropping. This applies to all the objects that may be found around the place. Mind you, only ten objects can be carried at once.

Once you get to the conference room a message from the Palyars is relayed via Benson. They say that the delivery of certain Mechanoid items to the Palyar colony craft will result in a hefty cash reward from them. Also they say that a 'very special gratitude' will be awarded if all traces of Mechanoid occupation is removed from the planet.

Getting up to the colony craft isn't that easy as most of the craft found on the surface aren't powerful enough to reach the Palyar's fortress in the sky. The ship that can reach it is carefully hidden. An alternative route to the city is by finding some way of boosting your own ship's power with the correct piece of equipment. Getting to the colony craft is only half the problem since a key is also needed to enter. Various items when placed in certain rooms result in financial gain. The most rewarding act is to deliver the leader of the Mechanoids to the Palyar debriefing room. If enough credits are accumulated then a Novadrive ship can be hired from Hertz spaceship hire but it's still a case of being in the right place at the right time. This isn't the only way of completing Mercenary, there are three in total, but the other two are a bit of a mystery.

Throughout the game there are a number of amusing aspects including a Commodore sign and an Atari one. A congratulatory message appears on shooting the Atari sign but Benson calls you a traitor for knocking out the Commodore sign. Also in the city is a huge billboard with Encounter written on it: 'You have just destroyed.. .the authors advert...from now on ... things will be... even tougher', you are informed on its destruction. Mercenary does seem to include everything, even a kitchen sink, which can be found in the colony craft.

This review was typed in/OCRed by Brigadon - Zzap!64 Online

ZzapBack Logo by Biggest Jim
In the spirit of ZzapBack, you can have your say about how the game reviewed above, stands up in the cold light of today. Has it aged badly or is it still worth a few plays? Read other peoples thoughts and post your own.

The current ZzapBack rating is : 89%

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Roger - 30 Nov 2008
This game was wonderful. I played it for hours and hours - and have still yet to complete it. Thanks to MDDclone I'm going to have another go. Does anyone know of a similar style of game for xbox/playstation??? send suggestions to cubemusic@yahoo.com

Rating : 97%
iqcumber - 25 Nov 2005
i got lost in this world for days and days. i could spend hours wandering around the underground passages searching for new areas and items. the fact that you could actually fly to a space station in orbit around the planet just about blew my mind - it seemed anything was possible. damocles was also good.

Rating : 92%
Barney Rubble - 17 Sep 2004
All I can say is its a classic!!!

Rating : 100%
Unc - 14 Sep 2004
A total masterpiece of gaming that in its own way can put most of todays modern games to utter shame. I was surprised to see just how well this still played after trying MDDclone and certainly plan to try completing it again. Although many things about this game are ugly by todays standards the gameplay itself still shines through.
I have yet to meet a (sane) person who has played this game and doesnt/didnt like it (obviously neilb up there is a 12 year old Xbox gamer who doesnt understand what having 64k memory with ultra low res means).

If this game was a painting it would be the Mona Lisa of the art world, Go grab yourself a copy of MDDclone and get nostalgic!

(Real rating is 92% but I submitted 100% to fix the 15% that the 12 year old rated it, the rating before pressing submit was 85%)

Rating : 100%
Rick - 10 Jul 2004
Today we take games like this for granted. Huge environments to explore, lots of missions and gameplay depth. It's just the norm on PS2 and Xbox. But it had to start somewhere. And it started with Mercenary, the first game I ever played which dragged me into a whole world of exploration and genuine experience. This game deserves to be recognised as the Neil Armstrong of videogames, a pioneering first, a classic in the truest sense of the word. And it all went into a 64k machine in one single load. Amazing!

Rating : 97%
neilb - 17 May 2004
The worst type of C64 game. Billing itself as an all encompassing experience but delivered just tedium.

Yes, it was a whole world on a C64 - it was just unfortunate that every part of the world looked exactly the same.

A huge let down back then and even worse today.

Rating : 15%
Vosla - 2 May 2004
I played it on the C64, I bought it for the Amiga and I still play it on PC(mddclone.exe).
Except for Elite (that I also bought for Amiga), Mercenary is the only game I played again and again for almost 2 decades!

Rating : 100%
dean shepherd - 1 May 2004
i remember this big time,played it at a mates house over the school holidays constantly.good graphics with solid playability when i get the time i am going to have a go again as i have forgotten the plot but hey thats what classics are all about

Rating : 95%
CraigGrannell - 29 Apr 2004
One of the truly inspirational games of the 1980s, Mercenary really gave you the freedom to explore and become embroiled in the conflict.

I always thought the compass a bit odd, and some of the puzzles a little obscure, but other than that, this is a fine game.

Rating : 95%
essential12939 - 22 Apr 2004
I couldn't recommend this game highly enough. Looking back on the C64 days nothing had me so engrossed, frustrated and fascinated as Mercenary and it's equal the Second City. Many many hours of my life were wasted on this triumph of design in the face of such limited resource, Paul, you are a genious. And I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to the Palyar Commander's brother-in-law for any distress I may have caused...

Rating : 100%
Mort - 19 Apr 2004
Still rate this as a masterpiece of programming a whole world in 64k, to be honest I prefer to use the PC version for speed now but the gameplay is the same. Check out the sequel Damocles on the Amiga absolutely superb follow up!

Rating : 97%
Sean Masterson
Elite never really spawned that many look-alikes because its reputation was so hard to match. However, Novagen have managed to release a game based on a similar approach, yet have introduced so many original elements that the resulting game surpasses its successful predecessor in terms of excitement and playability. The plot is well handled and the graphics are faster than any others of this type. It's easy to get into but hard to play well classic game formula. The detail and rapid pace lend a tense atmosphere that sets it apart from the rest. Mercenary is a game that will get you hooked quickly and keep you interested for a long time to come. I have absolutely no criticism to make of it.
Julian Rignall
Mercenary has certainly taken its time in appearing on the 64, but it's definitely been worth the wait. Seldom has a game kept everyone at ZZAP! glued to a monitor for so long, but Mercenary deserves every second devoted to it. The game has incredible depth, and even if it is solved it is always possible to return to Targ and escape with even more credits and better equipment (remember the saved data disk tape).. ( The graphics are exceptional, the vectors make Elite seem like a BASIC program and Starion like, well Starion! The depth of the game is incredible -- Mercenary has massive potential which is only realised through playing it. It's relatively easy to solve, but there is still an immense game waiting beyond that point, it'll certainly take a long, long time before anyone escapes Targ with the maximum credits and equipment if there is one game which is worth buying then it is this Mercenary is about the best computer game ever to be written.
Gary Penn
Paul Woakes previous offering, in fact his first: Encounter, was a simple, but exceptional shoot em up which unfortunately failed to make any impact due to a distinct lack of coverage. Thankfully, Mercenary has been received with far greater interest and it certainly deserves the acclaim, since it is one of the most exciting releases ever to appear on the 64.

Mercenary is thoroughly enjoyable to both play and map (useful) and is incredibly easy to get into -- addiction is almost guaranteed. It has enough depth to maintain the initial interest, with three ways of finishing the game and the constant challenge of your final score. There is also plenty to explore and the many amusing and generally neat little touches throughout the game, make it all that more fun to play. The high quality of the graphics Is evident from the comments made by my colleagues, so I shan't say anything more on the matter other than they are brilliant (the graphics, not Sean and Julian) as is the game itself. .
Presentation 95%
No options as such, but features such as Benson and the excellent, atmospheric title sequence that gets you straight into the game -- literally, make up amply for this apparent difficulty.

Graphics 98%
Fast effective, 3D vector graphics.

Sound 67%
Some very good sound effects but little else.

Lastability 99%
Lots to explore, three ways off completing the game and the ever present urge to improve that final score.

Value for Money 97%
Just under ten pounds for an alternative way of life.

Overall 97%
A classic.