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1987
Puzzle
£1.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K
Firebird BleepLoad

32
Gwyn Hughes
Chris Bourne

From time to time you come across a game which is so simple they couldn't charge more than £1.99 for it, but which you'll be playing a lot longer than many more spectacular offerings. Spaced Out is just such a budget classic, at least if you're into strategy.

It's the sort of game you feel you could play with pencil and paper if only you didn't need the computer to control your opponent. That's why the blurb rambles on about space cowboys playing this in their spare time on holographic screens.

Unluckily this poetic flight of fancy actually uses up valuable instructions space on the inlay card, with the result that until you've played the game, you're unlikely to understand what it's all about. But no panic - Uncle Gwyn is here to spread the good word.

The field of play for this galactic test of tactics is a squared board, with 'Home' at the top right hand corner. You start at the bottom left - where else? Your moves are governed by the throws of two dice and you can use their scores in any combination, so that a two and a three could be used to move three up and two across, or maybe five down.

The only time when this rule varies is when you throw doubles. Then you have to move four times which may sound ideal but could cause problems, especially for high-rollers. There are two things that can block your move the playing area's border and the aliens, which move around.

Ahh yes, the aliens! Pity you can't blast these diminutive pests as they stomp across the screen, before settling down to occupy the squares that surround you. Instead you can only eliminate them by rolling just the right figure to let you land on top of one. That spaces them out and there's one weeblie less in your way.

But there's another side to this coin, and it's quite possible for the aliens to make your movement impossible. In that case you have to declare yourself spaced out, take a hefty penalty and suffer the arrival of another nasty... and you'd better do it fast because all moves are made against a time limit. This doesn't give you long to think, and once it's passed you gain further penalty points for every second spent in thought.

As if this wasn't bad enough, you only have twenty rolls to reach that top right-hand corner or you start to take even more penalties, which not only detract from your final score they carry on in to the next round of the game!

Every time you win at Spaced Out you're faced with a re-match against a different set of aliens. Now a win is fairly simple to achieve the first time, because all you have to do is rack up fewer penalties than the rather generous initial handicap. But in your next game, your own previous penalties becomes the number you must beat.

This adds a whole new element to the game. Though it would be nice to zoom up, up and away to the right without even having to tread on the toes of an alien, that won't score any penalties for your next attempt, so you'll have to duplicate your feat just to survive. However, as there's a hundred point penalty attached to each alien's head, you can t afford to space out too many if your handicap is low.

So the game becomes a test of balancing the points to obtain a smooth curve, scoring as high as you dare so that you're not faced with an impossible challenge in the re match. And if the dice start to go against you, things can really get tense as you race for the top corner.

All of this probably sounds much more complex than it really is. In fact there's something strangely seductive in trying to outwit the system by a combination of logic and cool courage as you play a game of dare. A brilliant budget buy for brain-gamers.

A subtle puzzle game that pits you against alien obstructions as you cross a dotty board in an addictive brain bender.

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The playing area can be varied in size but smaller isn't necessarily easier as it becomes more crowded with aliens. Use this feature to change the nature of the challenge.

You can alter the number of aliens to decrease difficulty. A nice touch is that as well as being animated as they move around the board, each re-match produces a different type of menace.

Getting boxed in means you're spaced out and you have to tell the program as quickly as possible with this icon, incurring 400 penalties.

Choosing your moves is made with a cursor which you move along the bottom row to illuminate a figure and direction, then select the movie icon at the centre.

Act quickly because there are penalties after the first 15 seconds, or 25 if you throw doubles, and if you run out of time entirely there's a fate worse than death.