Tau Ceti is - even today - CRLs finest hour. It not only sold a lot of copies but changed the image of the company considerably. It was instant credibility. Now we have Academy which is, effectively, Tau Ceti II.
Tau Ceti was all 3D Elite style line graphics, skimming across an alien planet's surface blasting things.
Academy is Tau Ceti massively expanded and improved. Instead of one single plot, the game has dozens of separate missions loaded in groups of four. You not only select a mission but also the equipment with which to tackle it - deciding according to what features will be necessary to cope with the planetary conditions and whatever obstacles could be involved.
This time you can build your own skimmer. How you construct it changes the gameplay. It affects the entire screen layout - information displays, position of cockpit 'window' on the outside world etc. It also effects in a noticeable way the handling characteristics of the ship.
Selection of missions and skimmer design are all accomplished by menu. Mission information includes a nifty picture of the planet involved and technical read- outs indicating the task ahead of you and giving practical advice.
Some missions are very specific - one in the first section requires you to shut down a reactor. Other missions are obvious. The one called 'If it Moves' requires nothing more than the complete destruction of everything that isn't you (more or less). You win when you amass an over 90 per cent score - that's a lot of killing. It provides a nice brutally violent first mission to get you going.
Different planets actually look different. 'If it Moves' features a planet with continuous lightening storms flashing across the sky. Other planets have giant suns filling the horizon or other unique touches.
The basic look of the game is similar to Tau Ceti. The same ultra-smooth movement, the same shaded geometric shapes representing buildings and enemy craft presented with one of the most convincing 3D routines I've seen on the Spectrum.
It isn't all shooting - there are places to dock to restore energy levels, make repairs and get new equipment. As with Tau Ceti, you dock just by flying towards a suitable building and lining up with a rectangular hatch. In some missions there are buildings which have to be entered without permission - this involved code breaking.
Flight controls are joystick plus keyboard for height and the launching of missiles, AMMS (anti missile missiles for when somebody else launches something at you) and flares to light the sky. On some planets a Jump command is also available. If you find a jump pad it works as an 'instant transport over large distances - which is really useful.
Academy is utterly astonishing. Not the least astonishing thing is how Pete Cooke has crammed so much into 48K it's Tau Ceti writ large, as though someone had hacked into that game, stolen the movement and graphics routines and some of the plot and added around 200K's worth of extra material, except that somehow it still runs on a normal Spectrum.
It passed the 'everybody in the office stops work to look' test which is always a good sign.
I don't see how, with a whole tapeful of extra missions (20 in all) you could exhaust even half the game by Christmas.
Buy it, buy it, buy it.
Author: Pete Cooke
Reviewer: Graham Taylor
If you liked Tau Ceti, Academy will leave you awestruck. One of the best 3D games on the Spectrum ever.