Phrase of the Week

PHRASE OF THE WEEK: DIE JOB DEATH CAR? (Daijobu desu ka - Are you OK?) (C) Sodom

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

[ZX] Nether Earth

Image Hosted by
Nether Earth
Genre: real-time strategy, indirect control
ZX/developer: Icon Design LTD
ZX/publisher: Argus Press Software
Year of release: 1987
Players: 1
Media: casette tape
Additional peripherals supported: Kempston joystick, Interface 2

Let me tell you something. For a gamer, who rocks it on since the year 2005, ZX Spectrum doesn't ring a bell. But, let me tell you, it had something that would make you shout something like 'Wow, and that was made in 80s? Cool...' Of course, the hardware specs didn't made Spectrum save from various platform games, but. It had the first real-time strategy ever, Stonkers, released in a mileage before Dune II. It also had a first adventure FPS game, Total Eclipse, shown to the world long ago before Half-Life. 3D billiards? There sure will be one. ZX Spectrum has it too. A music tracker? Thanks to the fans, it's present as well. Point'n'click adventure? Say hello to Vera. And so on, and so on, and so on...
No hardware limitations stop entusiasts from making ZX Spectrum's fanbase even bigger than the one that exists on the NES. They'll sure create something that will make Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril like your poor kid's I Wanna Be The Guy. Look at them remaking old-skool FPS games and you'll ask yourselves if NES is really superior to ZX Spectrum. Of course, the reason of why the ZX scene is more active than NES is still a mystery, even to me. Well, maybe because you were unable to create your own games on our Best Beloved Console (Dezaemon doesn't count. It was a standalone cart and had no saving feature.) while with the magic of BASIC, you could create everything limited with your imagination, knowledge of BASIC itself and the free space on the tape. At least I think so...
But ZX had something kinda revolutionary even in its' early ages... Meet Nether Earth, an RTS whose game mechanics were later used in Herzog, in Herzog Zwei, in Tanktics, in Uprising, in Battlezone...
Damn those who think that Modem Wars really was the closest predcessor to Herzog Zwei... Nether Earth was! If you've played this, you'll know why.


Right off when you run the game, you have an excellent one-time possibility to listen a gorgeous techno intro track... And it's the 48K version. I swear, if there would be the 128K version of this, this tune would lose everything it had before. Why do I think so? Well, was Robin of the Wood's 48K music great, despite it sounded like 'DRRRRRR' if you had no musical hearing? Yesh. Had the 128K version of the same game same celtic spirit as the original? No. Was Lode Runner 128K version music REALLY ANNOYING despite it was a cover of a classical piano tune? Certainly, considering that it's the only tune in the game which will, sadly, repeat even ingame. And that the loop is no bigger than 20 seconds. And that the only way to keep your ears save was muting the TV set or put the headphones off, because YOU ARE UNABLE TO TURN THIS FREAKING ANNOYANCE OFF IN OPTIONS!!! Ahem, never mind, that's the wrong game. Back on topic...
So, in Nether Earth, you're thrown into the first and, at the same time, the final battle against an alien race known only as isignians. Okay, you already guessed that this game has only one mission. And let me warn you: THIS MISSION ALONE IS INCREDIBLY LONG! And kinda hard for the beginners, because these extraterresial bastards start with three warbases, while you're obliged to mess up with the remaining one! That sucks, but hey, I have overwent more hellish obstacles, and that is a strategy game, after all, so why not? Also, thank godness we would be able to save the progress on the tape if we would play it on real ZX...
The concept. In here, you control the, ehrm... 'device'. So, with this device, you'll be able to fly across the map, request the production of battle robots, give orders and control the robots directly. Pretty much like it, but even this is enough to rush through the game. What's also important, the device is invicible all the time, which means that it may even resist nuclear attacks! It sure gives a WTF face expression, but it helps and PERIOD.
Now, the robots. These are, perhaps, the only units in this game (aside from the device), but these may be fully configurable! Before he sees the light (or rather the light sees him), you need to equip him with a chassis, bunch of weapons (starting from a lame cannon and ending with the implanted nuclear bomb) and electronics, if you want the robots to have their own, even lame, almost identical to Battle City, AI.
Now, with what you pay to create these iron dummies. As I said, from the start you get one warbase, which will equip you with a plenty of 'General' points every day. 'General' points (no, not army ranking ones) are basically universal: with them, you will be able to pay for every add-on for your robots... But no matter what, no matter how, you need to capture factories that produce separate credits for each add-on. You can't capture them. But, your suite can! So, that's where you have to pay attention the most: resource management. Luckily, the map is just one long straight line, which means that the 'domination factor' will be more than obvious. Yes, you guessed it, the enemies capture factories too. But, in case of the emergency, you may destroy them, no problem.
Oh. Have I already mentioned you can control robots directly? Ah yeah, I have. But let me explain the process with more details. So, after you sit on robot's head (you start to lay eggs. Kidding.), you may either give him a capture/destroy/retreat order, or... Choose 'Direct Control' and dispose of that stupid pathfinding mechanism: you will ride him yourself. In fact, if you need a faster ride (because these dummies are VERY slow), always take the tanks with antigrav chassis. Not only they are the fastest, but they can also get through many ground obstacles (holes, humpy roads) in a second. There will be a trouble if you meet an enemy robot, however, because the direct control and battle mode are separated from each other. And the 'Move Robot' option makes 'Direct Control' completely obsolete. Also, thanks to the sucky control responce time in the orders menu, your robot will be ashed before you fire any of your guns. Well, the menu and the robots are a bitch to control, but, weirdly enough, the device controls as slight as like nothing happened!! How do you call that?!
How it plays... Slow tempo yet kinda high replayability. Paradoxally, because since Red Alert, we know RTSses usually being fast-paced and dynamic. NE, however, didn't even broke the rule, because it came earlier, obviously. At least it's faster than the above mentioned Stonkers... Still not sure that the gameplay will be fine? It once eaten all my PDA's battery when I was emulating it on UnrealSpeccy. Not because it was a complicated game to emulate, but because I was messing with the damn aliens for so much time. That's how exciting it is.
Since I've told you pretty much about the game itself, lemmie describe the graphics. Well, the 'working area' uses only two colors (forget about the bevel on the bottom-right side), but everything is recognizable: buildings, factories, robots, stuff... The view is isometrical, but no worries, that didn't inflicted the control scheme (contrary to Snake Rattle 'n Roll). Everything moves at the same side as you want. If only they would fix the buttons' response time...


Nether Earth was a pretty popular ZX game in muddahrussah, if you will forget that its' popularity has been shadowed by Dune II. Really, really shadowed. Right, once again I'm sorry that the press didn't care about everything that helped Dune to become a success. But even with that, Nether Earth got a simple 3D remake (yet with lots of custom maps), a mobile game adaptation (known as Wasteland), an unofficial translation to Russian and even Nether Earth Editor. But will I EVER know how to enable the editor mode, hah?!!
Oh, and this gamie has also been available on Commodore 64. But, only due to one reason, you should refer to ZX Spectrum version rather than this... The interface placement sucks there! Short but you get the idea.

If you've just discovered ZX Spectrum for yourself, this thingie is one of the must-haves for your collection. Slow yet goddamn exciting gameplay, only one but awesome tune, only one mission that will take hours to complete. Okay, that may sound weird... but, think of exciting gameplay again. After all, it was really innovative, wasn't it?


Image Hosted by
Image Hosted by
Lemmie see your brains...
Image Hosted by
That's when you have to dispose of annoying pathfinding.
Image Hosted by
Making a bomb on a floating platform, seriously.
Image Hosted by
Battle between ours and theirs.
Image Hosted by
No, that's not a bug. That's a nuclear bomb explosion shot at the wrong time.

1 comment:

  1. Gotta, say this game looks pretty awesome for ZX Spectrum. Would benefit from multiple missions though.