UfoPilot : The Phadt Menace - Special Edition
Curse those Phadt! The Federation are at war with these evil beings, and the Phadt are winning. Countless pilots have been killed or captured, and the Federation is desperately short of pilots. This is where you come in - a mercenary with a fairly battered old ship, the Federation wants you to enter enemy territory, fight off the patrols and rescue the prisoners. Simple! You'll be back in time for tea...
UfoPilot: The Phadt Menace (hereafter simply TPM) is a game reminiscent of the old classic, Thrust. You fly about the screen using your mouse to steer and the right mouse button to thrust, with the left mouse button unleashing a stream of hot death that will swiftly make short work of any enemies. You can also use the WASD keys to thrust in the four standard directions regardless of facing direction (good for landing). Enemy weapons fire and collisions with the landscape will reduce your armour, so fly carefully! Every level features a number of prisons, which can be busted open with a single shot to release the prisoners - try not to shoot them too, as you must rescue three quarters of them to win the level. You pick up prisoners by landing, which means facing upwards while heading down... gently!
Enemy forces include gun emplacements, missile launchers (eep!), tanks (double eep!) and all manner of other nasties, growing in number and variety as you progress through the levels. But don't panic! As well as some helpful pickups - ranging from armour boosts and shields to bombs, bounces and heat seeking missiles - you can also customise your ship before each level. Periodically you'll earn more coins, which can be used to augment your weapons, armour, carrying capacity and movement, and you can rearrange the upgrades you've spent on each level, switching from (say) a large payload to a speedier fighter ship.
The graphics are largely cartoon in appearance, but I am rather fond of the explosions that go off relatively frequently. Be careful with explosives! They can do a lot of damage to you and to the pilots you are rescuing, so you may prefer to clear out the foe before you attempt any evacuations. Each of the four worlds has its own style and the various pickups are big bouncy things that are hard to miss. A minimap in the top right shows where prisons and prisoners are, and a status block in the top left shows useful details like remaining armour, special weapons and current capacity and progress. One neat touch is the way your weapons fire changes colour as you upgrade it! The pilots themselves are tiny, however, and prone to wander off when the prisons are blasted open.
TPM features an excellent soundtrack, with a number of background tunes - they seem randomly chosen, but I'm not entirely sure about that. Your victory motif, however, is always the same. Sound effects are generally excellent with lots of meaty bangs, though some of the "thank yous" from your rescued pilots are downright odd! Music and sound effect volume can be individually adjusted.
This is a very simple game to learn and is (especially initially) very forgiving. Bumps against the landscape do not do serious harm, but do of course accumulate. The special weapons and new enemies are introduced gradually and the earlier levels are filled with armour bonuses - by world three, you'll need to make use of the mothership's automatic repairs when you drop off pilots. There are usually many ways to tackle every level and you can customise your ship to suit your play style, and you can replay any level as often as you like. Even now, as I'm facing hordes of deadly foes and finding things more of a struggle, TPM feels perfectly set for difficulty.
I'm not too sure about the shelf life for TPM, however. The main game features three worlds of ten levels each, plus a fourth world with a single, final encounter. There's a bonus for each level you complete with up to four coins to be won - doing well (e.g. rescuing all the pilots, not just most of them) gives you more of a reward, and these rewards also go towards ship upgrades, so there's a strong incentive to do the best you can. There's also a time trial version - no enemies, no pickups, just a fully upgraded ship and a challenge to rescue those pilots as quickly as you can. There are online score tables, but they are still very empty as I write this and need more players to have a go.
The fixed level layouts work both for and against TPM. On the one hand, they're well designed and provide increasing challenge as you play. On the other hand, their fixed nature limits the longevity of the game. It's also much easier to play when you realise that you can stay out of range of the enemy and snipe them from afar, carefully clearing out the foe before you go in for the pilots. The time trial mode is actually quite dull after a few levels, as without any form of threat (the only risk is shooting the pilots yourself!) it lacks any real challenge beyond "go as fast as you can" (and with no scores yet for many levels, how fast that should be is a mystery).
This has, I have to say, been an absolute hoot to play. I love the little touches, such as the way enemies can blow up themselves and other enemies with careless shooting. I love the strategy available from the special weapons, which you can stockpile and carry between levels (but no more than nine of each) and which can hurt you just as easily as your foes. I particularly love the way pilots can get caught in explosions and then run around on fire, but that's just me being evil. UfoPilot: The Phadt Menace provides the most important element of any game in spades - it's enormous fun.
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