This is a review covering a game from ST/Amiga Format Issue 2 – the August 1988 issue (so actually out in July).
Sentinel is a very strange game. To explain it as simply as I can, you are on a 3D island, and there is a sentinel which if it sees you will drain your energy until you die. Your goal is to get some height so you can drain the sentinel and defeat it (you need the height to see the sentinel’s square). You do this for 10,000 islands (though I doubt anyone bothered). You move the mouse to the edges of the screen to slowly rotate the view (the Atari ST is capable of smooth movement but that’s not something this game has gone for being so early in the ST’s life). If you see a tree you can click on it to absorb one unit of energy, or a rock for 2 or a ‘synthoid’ for 3. You can right click a synthoid to transfer to it, then click on your old synthoid to absorb its energy and that’s how you move. You have no other means of moving about the landscape. Rocks serve to give you elevation as you can jump on top of a pile of rocks without seeing the top surface, while trees serve to block the sentinel’s view of you and thus stop it draining your energy. To place items you point the mouse at the square and press T to create a tree, B for a boulder and R for a synthoid.
This video (not mine) shows you what it all looks like. I won’t do screenshots for this one as there’s not much to be gained from them.
So let’s talk about the first island. I start with a tree in front of me so I absorb it, and build some boulders to get some height (given I can’t move to surfaces higher up because I can’t see the ground) and place a synthoid atop. Moving to the synthoid I absorb my old self and look for the next place… and the sentinel kills me. This is going to take some figuring out. Another go, dead again. This game is fucking hard. I’ll be honest, I did have to have a look at a couple of videos to figure out some of it, though the manual was actually quite helpful in figuring out how to do things. What neither of those told me was how to beat the god damn sentinel. There is no way in hell anyone would release this game in the modern era!
I eventually got the sentinel on the first island, getting enough height to see his square and click on it, which felt strangely anti-climactic. What now? A quick look at the manual told me to go to his square – ok, done. Now what? Press the hyperspace key. Which sodding key is the hyperspace key? The manual doesn’t tell you. I’ll tell you. The hyperspace key is H. Having completed the level I get a code for the next level, so I can come back to it.
Ok so I lied about screenshots. Why level 6? No idea. In other annoying news, when you enter the level and code, you can’t fucking press delete if you cock up the typing. Ah 80s user interfaces.
After some real confusion where I couldn’t see anywhere to go I finally fucking twigged that I needed to build a boulder tower and climb it so I could transfer to a nearby ledge. Above you can see my boulder tower, with my old synthoid atop it.
That’s the prick I want to kill. What an absolute prick. He’s currently looking away from me so I’m safe. As soon as he turns my way I’m fucked. I need to get some height so I can absorb and kill him. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
Well this is a bold strategy cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.
It did not.
So, in what is rapidly turning into Hari Seldon Fails At ST games, I accept my defeat (I’ll be back later to beat the son of a bitch but I want to keep these short enough to be interesting and have half a chance of making some bloody progress on these). I’d never played Sentinel before and actually, despite being the strangest game, it’s weirdly absorbing and while it took a bit of work to get into, once I was there I enjoyed it – a game I have no nostalgia for as this is the first time I’ve ever played it. I suspect with a proper tutorial and maybe a bit more signposting of what the sentinel is doing you could make a decent game out of this.
Next up – Corruption.