Until recent video and audio advances in personal computers, it was nearly impossible to depict realistically and convincingly the underwater environment in computer games, as -- unlike outer space -- game players have rather fixed and detailed notions of what the ocean environment looks like. As a result, the principal efforts in this direction had been simple shareware games (such as Scubaman's Quest, In Search of Dr. Riptide, and Diver Dan) with an admittedly cartoon-like depiction of life under the sea. During the last Christmas season, the release of Microsoft's Deadly Tide and Blue Byte's Archimedean Dynasty changed all that, as for the first time gamers could become part of breathtaking undersea scenarios that truly facilitated imagining being in the ocean.
This game has a quite detailed setting, originating in the 21st century when global resource scarcity had become quite severe. As a result, people had begun prospecting for resources on the ocean floor. When war and nuclear weapons destroyed the earth's surface, people fled to the oceans as a refuge. The game plot itself begins in 2661, with the new underwater world -- christened Aqua -- consisting of gigantic cities on the ocean's floor. The primary powers were the democratic and capitalist Atlantic Federation, the oligarchic Arab Clans Union, the monarchic Russo-Japanese Shogunate, and the anarchic Tornado Zone full of mercenaries, pirates, and outlaws. You play the role of Emerald "Deadeye" Flint, a mercenary who is one of the best fighter pilots in all Aqua but whose last mission -- escorting a sulfur transport vessel from the Gulf of Bengal to the Argentine Basin -- had gone terribly wrong. Your goal is to survive, win battles, and earn a living in a world where you can never be sure who your friends and enemies are.
This game contains an extraordinary variety of play options. You may either follow the game plot in the intended sequence or choose an "Instant Action" option to get right into exciting battle. You may command one of 4 different ships, and equip each with an arsenal of over 30 weapons systems, while undertaking one of over 60 deadly missions. In the process, you encounter over 100 characters and advanced artificial intelligence at every turn. While you navigate many game menus with a mouse, a joystick or gamepad and keyboard provide the action control within the game.
The result is that the gameplay is both exciting and diverse -- I have played few games that elicit such a wide range of player skills. Of course, all is not perfect here: there is no multiplayer support, no method of changing default joystick/gamepad button assignments, no means of avoiding a rather linear dialog sequence with most of the people encountered, and no way to customize or introduce randomized elements into the game. Despite these limitations, there is certainly a lot more replay value -- and a lot more opportunity to employ creative strategies -- than in a "rail" shooter like Deadly Tide.
The graphics in Archimedean Dynasty are consistently stunning, making full use of the 640-by-480 pixel 65,000 color resolution. Instead of everything appearing in a variant of blue-green, as has been common in many other underwater games, many object appear in vibrant multicolor shadings. Unlike Deadly Tide, which similarly has spectacular underwater graphics, the objects in Archimedean Dynasty have much more crisp definition and consistently display nice dynamic shadowing effects as they move underwater. Although bubbles are plentiful, the one graphic dimension still missing from these undersea computer games is the appearance of any form of sea life -- plant or animal -- on the ocean bottom.
The music in Archimedean Dynasty is absolutely top notch, containing full orchestral compositions with superb stereo CD-quality sound. This music always seems to match the mood of the game, enhancing the feeling of being in the ocean, and that during battle scenes appears to be particularly rousing. The sound effects, on the other hand, are just average, although the vocal effects seem quite well done.
Unlike most recent games, Blue Byte actually included extensive printed documentation with the game (rather than the skimpy little pamphlet that many include in the CD jewel case). There is a detailed 64-page general manual and 36-page weapons manual filled with beautiful color photographs. The information in these manuals is quite clearly presented, but interestingly some aspects of gameplay are not treated at all.
System Requirements and Comments
Archimedean Dynasty's minimum system requirements are a 486-DX4 100 megahertz CPU, MS-DOS 5.0, a mouse, a double-speed CD-ROM drive, a VESA or PCI 16-bit video card, and a SoundBlaster-compatible sound card. As with many recent DOS games, there is a Windows 95 front-end incorporated for those running the game under that operating system, but there is no separate Windows 95 version of the game.
In the end, Archimedean Dynasty is a carefully conceived and executed game, reflecting well the concerted efforts of the German design team Massive for almost three years. This is really a mixed-genre game, combining the play of a reflex-oriented action shoot-'em-up game, a complex strategic military simulation, and a subtle role-playing adventure: while the synthesis of these styles is quite well done, those who are not enamored with all three may become impatient or frustrated in spots (for example, as an action game aficionado, I kept yearning for a return to the underwater battles). Nonetheless, the production values are so high that one cannot help but be drawn almost hypnotically into the totally absorbing world of Aqua, and thus it rates an overall 88 out of 100.