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by Robert Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Free (included with Jaguar unit)
To counter the numerical superiority of the Pernitia Empire and win the war, the Federation perfects "living steel" weapons, quickly shipping them to the besieged front. Unfortunately, a Pernitian raid has stolen the security pods, and only their recovery can stop the fall of the Federation. Operation Cybermorph is activated; you must fly the Transmogriffon prototype ship into enemy territory, searching for pods while fighting Pernitian forces. Skylar the computer and the T-Griffon's shape-changing ability are on your side, but ultimately a weapon is only as good as its wielder...
Thus begins CYBERMORPH, the first game for the Atari Jaguar game console (it's included in the package). The T-Griffon flies over a landscape of polygon graphics, navigating canyons and securing pods while avoiding numerous hazards. The game gives total freedom of movement; you can pass a target, turn around, and strafe it from another side. Pernitia defenses include hostile attack craft, traps, and planetary dangers, and the T-Griffon can find more powerful weapons. You start with four ships, each capable of taking a certain amount of damage, and extra ships are rewarded at regular intervals. There are five sectors, each with nine planets and a bonus world, for a total of 50 levels in all. A four-digit password allows starting on later sectors.
CYBERMORPH is a game that's not easy to categorize; it is at the same time a simulator, a shooter, and a puzzle, requiring a variety of skills. While the idea is to retrieve pods, each planet's layout is an enigma to be unraveled. Some can be conquered with mere firepower, while others feature mazes, red herrings, and traps. The overall feel is a blend of prudence and action, cautious exploration spiced with sudden firefights. Further, the free-moving nature of the game encourages exploration and wandering. Unfortunately, this pace won't appeal to everyone, especially those who prefer nonstop action.
A few of the controls can be set, but there is no way to change the game difficulty. Fortunately, the first sector's planets are straightforward, which helps beginners learn the game. While this also gives the misleading impression that CYBERMORPH lacks depth, later sectors prove this wrong, with a wide variety of foes whose diverse tactics add to the game.
On-screen displays provide ship, weapon, and mission information at a glance, though some text is hard to read on a TV. Skylar, the ship's computer, appears regularly with warnings and comments, but most of them are useless. Every button on the controller is used; while basic flight is not a problem, other features like selecting weapons and changing view can be somewhat awkward. With a little practice, however, the player can pull off sharp turns and high-speed maneuvers easily.
While CYBERMORPH is distinctive for its unusual gameplay, its graphics and sound do nothing to entice the player. The polygon graphics are fast and fairly complex, and Gouraud shading provides subtle coloring effects. On the other hand, many of the colors are muddled, and the lack of any backgrounds means the game often looks desolate. The horizon depth is also rather short, which proves distracting at times.
Sounds fare a bit worse. The title theme is well done, but it's the only music in the game, and sound effects are mostly simple chimes and explosions. On the up side, Skylar's voice is crisp and clear, and her quotes are diverse enough to avoid being irritating. Still, sounds overall are lacking, and the game is often silent.
CYBERMORPH lies somewhere between several video-gaming genres, and has a distinctive flavor that will not work for everyone. Some people may dismiss its cautious pacing and lackluster effects for faster, flashier games, but for those looking for something truly different, CYBERMORPH can be a satisfying experience.
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