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Tau Ceti (1986)            

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Action Adventure
John Twiddy
Yes, optional
Audio cassette or 5.25" floppy disk
UK (£9.95 cassette, £14.95 disk)

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Commodore 64
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A Zzap! Sizzler

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Issue 16, July 1986 (Zzap! 64)   19th Mar 2013 04:52
Tau Ceti is a game set in the future, not just any future, but a future whose destiny was set in 2047 by the discovery of the Interstellar Drive. Using hydrogen scoops, spaceships could now collect the hydrogen constantly drifting on the flowing solar tides and use it as fuel, allowing them to travel deep into space. Three years later the first wave of Colonists left Earth and headed for four G type stars; Alpha Centauri, Tau Ceti, Van Maanen's Star and Beta Hydri. Mankind's colonisation of the stars had at last begun.

The planet of Tau Ceti was the most inhospitable of the quartet and for ninety years the colonials battled adverse conditions, eventually building thirty cities and a strong trade in mining, robot technology and hydroponics. Everything had just started to tick smoothly when disaster struck -- a vicious plague known as Encke's Syndrome swept across the planet all but wiping out the population. The few who survived fled, leaving the planet to the robot maintenance systems.

The doctors and bacteriologists on Earth immediately began researching the deadly virus and after two years discovered the cure, and links between the other colonies were resumed. It was decided by the League of Planets that Tau Ceti should be recolonised, and a few months later a craft set off to the barren planet. When it arrived it reported that a meteor had crashed into the planet but none of the buildings and installations in the various cities seemed to be damaged, so the landing procedure went ahead. Back on Earth mission control monitored the landing as usual, but picked up huge static interference. It was too late to warn the occupants of the colony craft of any danger because whatever was going to happen had already happened -- the great distance between Earth and Tau Ceti meant that any radio transmissions took hours to reach mission control. All they could do was watch helplessly as the static cloud enveloped the ship . . . no further transmissions were received.

A remote satellite probe was sent down to the planet's surface and it became apparent that the radiation burst emitted by the impact of the meteor had caused the automatic robot systems to run amok, destroying anything they considered to be hostile. Plans were drawn up and it was decided that the only way to bring the robot systems back to manual control was to send in an armed skimmer to shut down the massive fusion reactor in the planet's capital city, Centralis. Seven years later, after much research, discussion and training, a solo ship entered the atmosphere, with you as its pilot.

The survival and success of your mission depends entirety on your ability to control the ground skimmer. This useful little armoured craft has been especially customised for your mission and has many useful features. Nodding dog, furry dice and rear window tail lights have tastefully added to the craft to give you that certain hero credibility. Other offensive gear includes eight heat seeking missiles, eight anti-missile missiles, eight flares and a ruby single mounted laser. For information during your mission a standard JCN computer has been fully debugged and mounted to the side of the main viewscreen. The craft travels low along the ground, although the actual height of its transit can be changed slightly. Getting from one city to the other is done by flying over a jump pad and pressing the J key -- this transports you to another city elsewhere on the planet.

The screen is split into three main areas: The view screen, the computer readout area and the information display area (which is split into five sub areas). The view screen displays whatever is on the outside of the craft and the computer area is text readout which also allows text input so you can interact with the computer. The information section displays a radar map of the locality along with game time elapsed, direction bearing, current location and status. There are also two direction finders, one which points towards the centre of the city you're currently trundling around and the other which paints towards the nearest jump pad.

The computer has several functions which can only be accessed while the skimmer is docked. Typing MAP gives a picture of the planet which appears in the review screen. You can zoom into the planet's surface and using arrow icons to scroll the map you can see were all the cities (there are 32) lie. Pressing the fire button produces the prompt 'which city' and typing in the name of one of the cities gives information on the chosen subject. If PAD is typed, a notepad springs into view on which notes can be jotted dawn (highly useful is this). The game can also be SAVEd, an old game LOADed, the KEYS redefined, the ship repaired and re-equipped with more fuel and ammo, and the sights switched on or off.

The game starts with the skimmer docked with the Gal-Corp landing craft. Typing LAUNCH into the JCN computer ejects the skimmer from the warmth of the landing craft into the barren desert city of Reema. The planet of Tau Ceti has one sun which gently moves across the heavens, causing the shadows on the different buildings to change. When it sets, though, you are plunged into complete darkness, requiring the skimmer's infra red system to be switched on.

Some of the cities have automatic robot drone ships guarding them, others are heavily fortified by laser towers. When you encounter an offensive object it's best to destroy it as quickly as possible -- if you don't and it starts firing at you, the skimmer's defensive shield becomes diminished and if you're not careful the ship could be destroyed.

The actual idea of the game is to locate the forty pieces of reactor rods, assemble them into twenty full rods and plonk them in the central reactor at Centralis, done by flying around and docking with the various dockable buildings. When docked you're told whether there are any rods present, if so they're automatically picked up and taken along with you. Assembling can only be done when docked. Typing RODS results in the Rods screen being displayed. The process of fixing the rods together is done with the aid of a cursor which can be moved over a piece, picked up and placed in one of the six windows. You can then flick through the other pieces to look for one that fits the other half. When a likely piece comes into view it can be picked up and placed on the other half. Pressing the fire button puts it into place and it's automatically assembled if it does fit. By the way, a piece might need to be flipped horizontally or vertically before it fits and there are icons on the screen to allow you to do so.

When all the pieces have been assembled you have to make your way to the heavily guarded Centralis reactor and dock with it Typing REACTOR puts you in the reactor room and you can put all the rods in place. Simple eh? You're forgetting that the place is irradiated and too much time there spells certain doom . . .

I've been hooked on this game from the day the original version appeared. Every subsequent version has improved on the high standards set by the previous one. John Twiddy has achieved what would have appeared to be impossible, by making the Commodore version the best. The game flows beautifully and the game's good features seem to stand out more than before. The infra red, the explosions, the animation and shading all catch the eye in what amounts to a fascinating and exciting game. Tau Ceti oozes with imagination and style devoid of many a game in this price bracket. It's the best game of its kind since Mercenary. Now what are you waiting for? Go and get it.

Presentation 99%
Immaculate, slick and impressive in every way: story in the border, beautiful in-game info and demo.

Graphics 95%
Highly imaginative graphics with very effective and fast solid 3D shapes.

Sound 68%
Meaty sound effects enhance the game.

Hookability 93%
Easy enough to fly around and generally get the hang of things.

Lastability 94%
But getting the rods and assembling them is highly difficult.

Value For Money 90%
Average price for a first rate game.

Overall 93%
A brilliant and polished program that will appeal to strategenarians, adventurists, arcade zappers and just about any self-respecting Commodore owner.

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This title was first added on 5th October 2011
This title was most recently updated on 19th March 2013

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