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Although this game is somewhat old (about two years) it has some wonderful effects which have only started to appear regularly in games today. The scenario is rather an old one but it's nicely implemented and the game is highly playable and very challenging (especially on the high levels). The graphics are nicely done with some fine little touches, although some of the sprites are a bit unimaginative. At first glance this doesn't look much, but it's well worth persevering with and is a steal for three quid.

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Not being particularly fond of
Star Raiders type games, I wasn't enthused by the thought of playing yet another variation on the theme. However, Sentinel had me hooked from the very start -- the atmosphere and pace certainly get the adrenalin flowing, and the many neat touches throughout add to the feeling of 'being there'. I'm not quite sure why I like this particular Star Raiders variant, but I do and I reckon it's the best of the genre.

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Welcome to Game of the Week! Each week there will be a new featured game on this page. The game may be good, average or diabolically bad, it really doesn't matter! Just look at the pics, read the text and enjoy the nostalgia! :-) Game of the Week! is open to contributions so if you would like to contribute a game article for this page you're more than welcome to! Every article we receive will be considered!
Sentinel
1984 Synapse Software
Programmed by Bryan Brandenburg
 
Most text of the present article comes from the review published in the fifteenth issue of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (street date: June 12th, 1986).
 

SENTINEL
Americana, 2.99 cass, joystick with keys


On a clear night go outside and look low, close to the horizon, just below Orion's sword. Depending on how clear the sky is you may see a very dim star standing alone, the star of Jaraloba. Circling this lonesome heavenly body are three planets, one hot, one cold and the other enshrouded in a poisonous gas unable to support life of any kind.

In this system, many years ago when mankind was but little scuttling rodents hiding in the crevices of a still turbulent Earth, lived two alien races. On the hot planet the Jaralobians, a harmonious reptilian race who had lived for centuries without conflict, while the cold planet supported a race of mammalian descent who spent their time locked in bloody planetwide wars, fought with powerful and destructive nuclear weapons. Largely ignored by the Jaralobians they fought until only one tribe, the Gorganitors, remained.

Unopposed, the Gorganitors spent the next century channelling their nuclear power into developing new types of fighting machines, space fighters, to enable them to shed their gravitational chains and conquer the planet of their peaceful neighbours. This happened unbeknownst to the Jaralobians, who had assumed that the stupid race were eventually going to destroy themselves. Imagine their surprise when the skies suddenly became black with many Gorganitor fighters!

The Sector Map. The globe in the centre of the screen
is Jaraloba which is surrounded by Gorganitor craft
(the small diamonds). Unfortunately your Motherships
(the blue oblongs) are also in dire trouble...

Being a peaceful race, the Jaralobians had done away with weapons and only one space tighter, a museum display piece, remained. This was hastily refitted and the planet scoured to find a volunteer to take on the might of the Gorganitor army single handed, but from this search only one fruit was borne, a young Jaralobian called Robert Reptile. Naturally he'd had no training in space combat but had spent most of his youth in the arcades knocking up immense snores on battle simulators and it was he who slid into the seat of the space fighter and took to the spaceways on a desperate and suicidal mission...

Sentinel is a 3D point-of-view Star Raiders type game which puts you in the position of Robert, in the seat of Jaraloba's last starfighter. The spacecraft, although ancient, is still a pretty neat affair and is equipped with a scanner, twin lasers, Proton Helix Missiles, auto tracking, hyperdrive and layers of Ybbitium Shielding for the ship's defence. When an enemy missile or asteroid hits home, one layer of shielding is knocked off, and when there are none left the next collision destroys the ship.

The craft is controlled in flight simulator style and a cursor is used to shoot offensive laser bursts in similar fashion to the arcade game Star Wars. You're not completely alone when fighting and there are four passive motherships you can return to every so often to get repaired and gather new supplies. These have to be defended though; if they're destroyed by the Gorganitor craft then you'll have to ride out the rest of the attack with what you have on board your ship. When a mothership is completely surrounded by enemy craft you'll be alerted via an on-screen message and if the enemy in question isn't swiftly disposed of, the mothership is destroyed.

Whizzing through hyperspace, watching the
asteroids go by.

The Gorganitors are very determined to destroy the Jaralobians and are using three types of enemy ships in their invasion task force: swift, stealthy and unshielded gamma fighters, Xanthallian shielded cruisers, and four huge warships armed with the latest in Neo-Sophoric Demi-Shields. The two smaller classes of ship fly around in packs of three while the warships are content to sit on the edge of the Jaralobian system, launch sets of fighters and orchestrate new attacks.

When the game starts you're asked to select one of five difficulty levels (skirmish, attack, battle, invasion, armageddon). After being given a message of encouragement from the hastily formed Jaralobian Cabinet of War, Starfleet Command, then the battle begins. Immediately a 6 x 10 grid with the planet of Jaraloba in the centre is overlaid on the screen, showing the sixty sectors of space immediately around the home planet. Any alien intruders are shown on the grid as pixels so you know their current location. During this period you can move a cursor anywhere on the grid. Move it over a sector and press the fire button and the ship automatically goes into hyperspace and heads towards the selected area. During hyperspacing you have to negotiate a tricky asteroid field for a certain period of time (depending on how long the journey is from one sector to the other).

If you jump into a sector occupied by renegade craft, you are alerted to their presence by an audio warning and auto tracking comes into effect -- your on-board computer selects a craft or group of craft and tracks them for you. The selected craft are highlighted on your scanner with a cross and you can steer your way towards the target using the cursor. Other on-screen information includes a distance-from-target figure shown under the cursor and an enemy heading/bearing/speed indicator, displayed under the main scanner. An audio signal warns you just before you reach the craft and your ship automatically goes into combat mode, a dogfight situation where you must blast the craft to kingdom come while avoiding their offensive fire. When the sector is cleared, the stellar grid map is printed up on screen again allowing you to proceed to another sector.

Approaching an enemy warship through its shields.
Watch out for that mine!

The primary targets are the four warships, shown distinctively on the stellar grid. A sector occupied by one of these overweight hulks is complexly filled by its shielding system, consequently when you warp into such a sector you immediately run into the shield, which is similar to flying between two horizontal planes. In between these planes is a congested minefield which you have to fly through to reach the target. Hitting a mine depletes your shield but the mines can be shot with well aimed missiles. The distance from the mothership is displayed underneath the aiming cursor and using this you have to guide your ship through the minefield to the target. When you get near the mothership the shield disappears to show the warship, its exposed exit/entrance cycling in colours. When white, press the space bar to launch one of the ship's limited Proton Helix Charges -- if this deadly missile is successfully guided into the portal during the white period, it destroys the warship.

Getting back to one of the four motherships involves a similar process of dodging shields and minefields (although why a friendly mothership has a stonking great minefield around it is a complete mystery). When you reach the mothership it extends a tractor beam, draws your ship into its warm and comfortable interior and repairs any battle damage received during your galaxy-saving quest, along with replenishing your shields.

When the game finishes you're given a rating depending on your performance and if you manage to successfully boot the Gorganitors from whence they came you are treated to a complete breakdown of the mission, amount of shots fired, shields used etc.

     

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Though a real rave from the grave, I was really surprised at how much fun Sentinel could provide. The main attribute that keeps the action exciting is the very well created atmosphere. It's very easy indeed to get well involved and quite heat up. The whole game is technically polished and has some excellent effects to keep the player goggling at the box for as long as possible. Graphically it's very good, especially the starfield which twists and turns in 3D quite convincingly. Overall Sentinel is a fine game indeed and more than worth the paltry sum asked for it by Americana.
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Presentation 95%

Informative instructions and brilliant on-screen presentation during the game.

Graphics 87%
Clever use of raster interrupts, some great effects but some sprites are rather dodgy.

Sound 69%
Atmospheric sound effects which really enhance the game
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Hookability 92%
Helpful instructions and in-game messages makes this easy to get into.

Lastability 92%
Five difficulty levels and the fifth one really tough going.

Value For Money 98%
A great and challenging game for only three quid.

Overall 93%
A superb Star Raiders type game and THE best on the Commodore.
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Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas (4 Mar 2006)

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