Solar Winds

System: MS-DOS
Publisher: Epic Megagames, Inc.
Developer: Epic Megagames, Inc.
Release Date: 1993
ESRB rating: none found
Locations found: As this is a Shareware game, it's easiest to find on CD compilations with large numbers on the front, e.g. '250 Action Games'. The full version, including episodes 1 and 2, can be found on abandonware sites, or ordered from the Epic Classics webpage.

WARNING: Spoilers below!

You are Jake Stone, a bounty hunter who - through several missions - uncovers a secret coalition between the government of your home solar system and a race of unidentified aliens. Upon further investigation, you find out that, in fact, there is more than one solar system involved... And what is really happening is that three easily-provoked races are being held by a more technologically advanced race in a small cluster of solar systems, and kept there by a force field around them. Hyperdrive technology has been sabotaged, and the 'keys' - jump points between galaxies - kept secret. It's rather like an intergalactic version of Survivor...

Of course, you don't learn all this until a lot later, but it rather sets the tone for the game. Right at the game's opening, however, you're hailed by an alien being... So you at least know you're not alone.

The game plays entirely from a top-down perspective on two dimensions, and against all common sense, plays more like a driving game without roads than like Asteroids. Turning changes your direction of travel immediately instead of requiring thrust to change your vector of travel. You can select different types of beams for your ship's cannon, and fire from multiple cannons at a slower rate if so desired, or fire one of your limited number of missiles. You can also change your shield's frequency, though I can't remember if certain freqs are more effective than others. You have a limited amount of power available, and you divide it between your weapons, your life support, your shields, etc. If you run out of shields, you die pretty quickly, and you don't recharge your energy automatically. However, if you blow up pirates or other ships, you gain power from the explosion, thanks to an item you earn on your first mission.

The gameplay is fairly repetitive, and once you learn to stick behind a ship and blast away without worry of retaliation, it's incredibly easy as long as you aren't faced with multiple enemies. Any seasoned gamer will have little difficulty.

I've heard that the music score is pretty rockin', but personally, I don't really know what they mean. Sure, it's pretty good, but only compared to similar games. Nowadays it's downright pitiful, and personally, I found Alpha Waves to have neater music overall. The sound effects are pretty good, provided you can get them to work without the game hard-locking. I could only manage that occasionally, and I can't remember how. The graphics are good, and I especially found the characters' faces to be well done. The cutscenes are pretty, even though they're still images. For its time, it's quite decent. From what I played of the second game, the cutscenes were a bit uglier, though the gameplay was still the same - I only hope the plot was as good as the first installment.

Overall, Solar Winds is a fairly entertaining trip to the past of gaming, despite its faults. It doesn't take long to complete, but it's paced well despite the long amounts of travel between systems. You never quite have long enough to get bored - or at least, I didn't. And of course, there's the sequel which you are obliged to pay for, after the gigantic cliffhanger at the end of the game. I love cliffhangers, don't you?

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