April 1998, Zzap! #101: Mercenary 4 is on the cover! Simone's note

Novagen/Woakes Incorporated for PC

by Paolo Besser


Sex against payment...

Twelve years have passed from the first release of this game, on C64. It made much progress from then and now, in 1998, it finally appears on PC


The joy of the American werewolf in ParisEight years ago, in April 1990, The Games Machine reviewed one of the games that made history: it was Damocles, which brought onto the Amiga all the playability and the feeling of its predecessor, Mercenary. Damocles was an extremely complex space exploration and trading game,Nice city: let's destroy it!and the editors of that period called it "a new Elite". There were many reasons to praise it sky-high, the first being its vectorial/solid graphics (it's incredible what those programmers were able to do with a simple MC68000, or worse, with the 6502 of the C64!!!), without forgetting the good gameplay. Damocles was followed by a third episode, The Dion Crisis, but the use of the same engine made it to be soon forgotten. Unbelievably, such a masterpiece has never been converted for PC, or better, it was in its development stage when the same accident that occurred at Cinemaware, occurred at Novagen too: they ran out of money. It was a very bad thing, because Paul Woakes and his team had to abandon the project, probably forever.
Good means of transport! But nothing is ever lost. There is always a nostalgic part in all creative people, and everyone remains linked to the past. Woakes did not break the rule either, and managed to refound his former software house (even though it is a simple ‘label’), making the Novagen name famous again and bringing the PC Damocles port back to life. Why are all those pyramids complaining???Obvoiusly, times have changed: releasing a game based on vectorial graphics with no hardware acceleration would not be a good strategy, so the new game will be an evolution of what was seen on the Amiga, with full rendering and plenty of textures. Now the game cannot support hardware acceleration yet, but Paul has already let us know that he is going to release a patch soon, maybe even in time for the European release of Mercenary IV that will happen in mid-April (we of Zzap! are reviewing a pre-master beta, the complete game without the serigraph on the CD and other things. If you read the FAQ, you will discover that an accelerated version was not even supposed to be released! But then they must have changed their minds...). Thus we had to play the software version, but we didn't regret it, at least for this time: Paul Woakes has always been a very good programmer, so we can enjoy a good speed (about 20 fps in 1024*768!) even with unaccelerated cards such as the S3 VIRGE, albeit without very smooth textures or other effects. But Mercenary IV is an all-action-and-thought game, and graphics are not so important.
Will there be room in the Cosmic Garage?About the plot, we are in the Gamma system again, discovering that all of the pyramids of the planet Midas are emitting a strange radiofrequency signal towards a specific point of the universe. The Gamma System's equilibrium is gone because Marduk, a planet with an irregular orbit, inhabited by scum with the hobby of intergalactic domination, has entered the system again. Of course, your aim will be to restore the harmony of Gamma, preventing the Nephilim (Marduk's inhabitants) from putting their conquest plans into effect. How will you do it? In the same old way. You'll wander through all the planets of the system with your small spaceship and you'll keep political/commercial relations with all the present populations. Sometimes you'll meet some other rival mercenaries or hostile spaceships and you'll have to shoot them down.
Well folks, we've been waiting for it for many years... Enjoy it!!!

OK, I admit it! When I was a child (because 12 years ago I already felt big, but I was still a child) the Mercenary saga didn't hit me very much: only a year ago I rediscovered it when I played it with the emulators, and my comment was something like "they were good games after all!", so I welcomed the news of the rebirth of the Novagen in late 1997 (there is a faq about it, we found it on the net some months ago, you can read it by clicking HERE). When the official press release arrived in the editorial office with Paul Woakes's signature and the CD-R of Mercenary IV, I subtracted it from other's attention... I like it, even if the graphics detail is not at the top, I really appreciated the depth of all the game, in which I made a "full immersion" with no difficulties to play the main character's role. The soundtrack, made of ambient and new age pieces of music, is fascinating: an experience for many, but not for all.

Uhmmm... I'm sorry, but I must express all my doubts about it: it is a game made only for the people who like the genre. Think about those strange music CDs, containing famous songs ripped during a concert, or never released music experiments, or music completed by someone else? That material would be only interesting for the fans of that artist, and Mercenary IV looks like it's been programmed only for the few players of the very old Mercenary saga: not so detailed graphics (even if this caused a dramatic speed increase... why haven't they used immediately the 3Dfx?); a rather eclectic soundtrack reminiscent of the SF movies of the 1960s, but a game system at least 10 years old: it's a clone of Elite. With better graphics it would have received the medal, but the way it is it seems a proud experiment that few people will consider really important.

One of the most controverse aspects of Mercenary IV: only a starting animation (very well made) lasting few seconds, and few chances to modify it.

It is not very detailed, but it's veeeery fast... And it accomplishes its function!

Very well realized! New-age and ambient musics that remind of the SF masterpieces of the 50s and the 60s (the famous "b-movies"), fitting well into the game environment

The Mercenary saga mede history...

...and if you start to play you will not stop any more. If you like the genre, of course.

A well done revival that will capture your attention for weeks.