I enthused over Popeye 2. I dribbled over Driller. But this is it. This is the Megagame amongst Megagames. Crispier than a family pack of Salt Shake. Faster than a speeding bullet with nitro injection. Bigger than gargantuan Tom, the insatiable pie eater of Norfolk town. The smoothest, swankiest, spankiest Speccy happening since the Speccy happened. Yes! it's The Great Space Race! No, hang on, er... it's Mercenary. Yes!
After flying your ultra-expensive ship into the planet of Targ and smashing it to bits, you find yourself stuck in the middle of a war. On one side there are the Palyars (hurrah!) and on the other the Mechanoids (boo! hiss!). As a mercenary you owe allegiance to neither, so although the Palyars offer you "gainful employment" you're free to double-cross whichever side you want (and as many times as you want!).
You view Targ as a 3D vector graphics model (courtesy of Benson, your computer). And here's the surprise. Before you start scoffing and moving onto the next review, let it be known that these graphics are fast. Very fast. In fact, you won't believe it. Walking around the animated landmarks (radars, suspension bridges, hangars, etc) is stunning enough, but when you're buying a ship then it really takes off. Climb to 20,000 metres and see the city laid out beneath you. Dive and strafe the ground installations (which don't explode, but just collapse). Fly upside-down under the bridge at high speed and, erm, crash. It's all pretty amazing really (and you never get to die).
But what about the game itself? Well, as I said, the Palyars want to hire you to stop the Mechanoids and vice versa. How you want to play it is up to you, but in one game I razed half the city, did a spot of gun-running for the Mechanoids, gained their confidence, then kidnapped their leader and sold him to the Palyars. Hurrah! And that's only scratching the surface - there are lots of objects to pick up and find out a use for too.
Although you're free to do as you please, gameplay is effectively split into 3 sections - ground-level and above (bomb/search the city); subterranean (Targ is criss-crossed by a network of corridors, rooms and transporters): and - if you can soup up a ship to reach it - the Palyar Colony Craft that's orbiting the planet. (I once tell off this one and spiralled 65,000 metres to the ground!)
Flit between the 3 'zones', manipulate objects, strike deals and then cheat on them - all the while working towards your ultimate goal, to escape from Targ. (So that save-game option might just come in handy.)
I don't normally go loony over a game but Mercenary is quite simply perfect. It looks wonderful and plays seamlessly. It's got addictive qualities that are probably illegal in certain countries. And it's all wrapped up in a terrific plot with quite a nifty spread of humour. The inlay card says it's "a unique combination of flight simulation, adventure and arcade fun". And it's right. Mercenary is The Best Barg. Ever. Go and buy it at once, you lucky people.
There's the, erm, sky, and there's the, er, ground. Basically.
Okay, so it's not the most exciting looking game this month - but since when did vector graphics ever look good standing still?