Eco Phantoms logo

ELECTRONIC ZOO £24.99 * Mouse

Eco Phantoms could be called the world's first zeppelin simulator. On return to earth, after a long space voyage, the planet is found in the hands of a strange race of mineral pirates who are bleeding the earth dry. Having stolen one of their ships you must try and stop them and ultimately reverse the process.

The game is almost a flight sim, nearly an adventure game but most definitely a test of management skills. But effectively it's all three, as you pilot the Eco zeppelin around the gullies left by the Eco Phantom's mining. As well as the flying and fighting, there are a number of tasks that must be completed in conjunction with different parts of the ship. This will keep it running and enable you to fulfill your vengeful cause.

The game is initially off-putting because it is so alien. You've taken over another species ship so all the controls are suited to them and not humans. So the manual must be read, and tentative forays made into the gullies of Africa (the first of the three locations you attack) before you start playing properly.

The whole game is matter of mapping your trail through the ruins of the planet, while swapping back to the various control panels and rooms within the ship to either raid for supplied or fix malfunctions. This means the game is never fast, but is intense.

If there are no ships whizzing all over the screen to dazzle the eyes then there has to be compensation. Here it is the depth and weirdness of the whole game. The ship is truly alien, and instead of the standard black and silver of starships, browns and greens are the norm. This gives the whole affair a Jules Verne flavour which is a welcome change.

Eco Phantoms will not appeal to all games players, only grabbing those with a dedicated, strategic mind. Shoot out specialists will ahte it. There is shooting action with the robots and in the gullies, but that is not its main appeal, that is down to planning, mapping and thoroughness.

Eco Phantoms
This is where the main game is played. The zeppelin is controlled by mouse cursor, while the six sub-bays (robot bay, laser cannon, virus laboratory, passenger hold, collector) are accessed by clicking on the icons found to the left and right of the main panel. You must guide the ship around gullies which are the result of the Phantoms land rape. You will encounter other zeppelins, who think you are one of them, so the code computer - found in the overhead panel - must be used to talk them out of a gunfight.

Eco Phantoms
Flying a giant Eco zeppelin you have to penetrate and destroy three of the Phantoms' bases. These are situated in Africa, the Pacific Ocean and the North Pole. Once these have been totalled then you may proceed to attack the Planet Drainer, where you have to destroy their main computer.

Eco Phantoms
You can keep rescued humans in the passenger hold as well as a stock of supplies. The people have to be continuously fed and watered, so you have to keep slipping back to this screen to give them a snack. They also provide a work force for the various rooms of the ship.

Eco Phantoms
The engine room: the vital source of all your zeppelin's power. If this ain't working nothing will. You have to keep it oiled, fuelled and fully serviced. In the centre of the panel is a display that shows what condition the various components are in.

Eco Phantoms
The total disregard that the Eco Phantoms have for the world which they pillage has led to a strange virus mutation. It attacks metal and your ship will eventually become infected. So you will need to monitor the ships for signs of corrosion and use the lab to try and find a cure. Viruses must be stopped quickly so as not to hinder the ship's functions.

Eco Phantoms
Your interface with the world of the Eco Phantoms via the robots aboard your ship. There are four types all with differing strengths. Armed with shields and lasers they are sent on a mission once you enter an installation. This is a raid to obtain computer access codes and plant explosives. It is also a source of supplies vital to the zeppelin's smooth running.

Eco Phantoms logo

Bei Electronic Zoo hat man herausgefunden, dass die Erde in ferner Zukunft von Aliens angegriffen wird, die sich unter die Krallen reißen wollen, was bis dato von unseren Bodenschätzen noch übrig ist. Also wurde flugs ein wilder Spiele-Mix zusammenprogrammiert, auf daß wir schonmal für den Ernstfall üben können...

In Verfolgung ihrer üblen Absichten haben die Außerirdischen gigantische Techno-Kuppeln aufgestellt; drei davon darf und soll man hier mit einem gekaperten E.T.-Mobil durchforsten. Es gilt, sich in labyrinthischen Gängen zurechtzufinden, Roboter durch fremdartige Gebäude zu steuern, Gefangene zu befreien und schießwütige Wächter zu bekämpfen.

Besonders wichtig ist die Beschaffung von Informationen, ohne die das Happy End ausfallen würde - das komplexe Spektakel gipfelt nämlich in einem großen Showdown, bei dem man den Bordcomputer des Alien-Raumschiffes so umprogrammieren muß, daß er die Beseitigung der angerichteten Schäden in die Wege leitet.

So interessant sich das alles anhören mag, so widerborstig gab sich unser Testmonster, äh Muster: Die Saveoption führte ab und an zum Absturz, nach jedem Scheitern der glorreichen Mission mußte neu geladen werden (was wegen der unglaublich umständlichen Codeabfrage besonders ärgerlich ist), und das lückenhafte englische Manual gefällt sich oft und gern in wenig hilfreichem Geschwafel.

Da nützt die atmosphärische Grafik (teils dreidimensional) ebensowenig wie der ansprechende Titelsound, die netten FX oder die ordentliche Maussteuerung - die Rettung der Erde wird hier wohl schon am Frust des Retters scheitern... (jn)

- Eco Phantoms logo

I wonder how many games begin life as an interesting graphical effect and then slowly evolve into something playable through having controls, weapons and a plot sellotaped onto them. That's what seems to have happened with Eco Phantoms, anyway. At its heart it is a landscape-coming-towards-you effect. Not a particularly good one, mind, but enough to form the basis of some sort of space exploration game.

The landscape in question is a sort of gully, blocked off at each end, which you can move backwards and forwards along and from one side to the other a bit. This is achieved by moving the mouse in the direction you want to go until the appropriate corner of the cursor lights up, then clicking the left button. And, yes, it's as awkward as it sounds. If a little arrow on the dashboard appears you can turn through 90 degrees to find yourself in another gully.

The explanation for all this? Well, you're flying a spaceship which you've hijacked from a bunch of aliens. These aliens have invaded earth and sucked it dry of all life. Your task is to try to reverse the situation by collecting codes (or something like that).

Occasionally baddies appear which need to be shot, and very occasionally indeed you'll encounter a building. At this point, having entered the appropriate access code, you'll need to dispatch a robot to explore it. This means playing a simple sub-game where you move your robot around the screen, shooting things and finding codes.

That's not all though. Various other bits and pieces have been thrown in too, in an attempt to add depth. There's an 'engines' screen which you've got to bring up every so often to add oil to the engines (and so stop them overheating) and a 'passenger' screen where you look after any prisoners rescued. All this takes place in stoney silence, bar the gentle throb of your engines.

Hmm, I'm not probably not making it sound very exciting, am I? And it isn't. I'm doing my best, honest, but this really is pretty dire - as I said, literally a landscape-coming-towards-you effect with a few graphical set pieces tacked on. It takes ages to work out what the blazes is meant to be happening anyway, and when you finally do you're left with a distinct empty feeling. Unless I'm missing out on something fairly major (I've studied the the manual closely and I don't think I am, though).

Eco Phantoms is utterly devoid of any form of playability as we know it.

Eco Phantoms logo

The Earth has been conquered in a bloody invasion, the population enslaved and the planet stripped from its raw materials. The Eco Phantoms, an evil race who plunder resources from other civilisations, are on the rampage and it's your job to stop 'em.

The aliens have set up three bases in prime mineral locations around the globe (desert, sea and polar cap). Each base or dome is made up of a maze of gulleys, with heavily guarded buildings hidden within. The aim is to locate the installations, enter them, rescue all the prisoners, steal all the items and destroy the buildings, effectively destroying the domes. Then it's a fight against the mothership to send the invaders packing once and for all.

The craft you control is a stolen Zeppelin airship. You'd think it would be easy to keep a hot air balloon aloft. Don't you believe it! Flying through a variety of weather conditions such as lightning storms and high winds, or even the odd earthquake, can damage the ships turbines, slowing movement and even cutting out certain facilities, such as the ability to turn left.

Virus balls bombard the zeppelin spreading viruses which eat away at the very fabric of the ship, causing internal systems to shut down or fail. The systems can't be repaired, but shutdowns can be avoided by careful monitoring. For example, you can prevent the turbines stopping by topping them up with oil when necessary.

Of course, keeping check on your ship's performance takes up valuable time in an already busy game. For the first time, at least to my knowledge, the people you rescue from the concentration camps serve a useful purpose. When they come on board your ship, you can assign them work in the turbine room, the virus vaccine laboratory or the passenger lounge, where they will perform essential maintenance tasks, leaving you to pilot the ship through the narrow gulleys in search of danger.

As you travel through the gulleys various objects attack you. First are the virus balls. Like amoebas, they travel in pairs, and you have the option of shooting them or running through them and taking the damage. If you open fire and you're not fast enough, they will multiply, spread out, and take up a larger area of the map giving you an even tougher time.

Then there are the roaming alien attack forces that will sit quietly and let you pass unless you attack them, at which point they'll fight to the death. Some carry special items, such as food and fuel, so sometimes it's worth the risk to obtain much needed supplies. Finally there are minefields which have to be crept past by sliding to the side of the gulley, and then proceeding at low speed.

When you finally do reach a building, an enemy zeppelin appears and asks you for an access code. If you supply the wrong one, the balloon will open and fire. Enter correctly, and you can send a remote control robot into the building, where it will free the prisoners and collect all available objects.

The graphics are the game's high point. Rather than choose bright, garish colours, Eco goes for a subtle, atmospheric look, with dark moody displays and more shadows than Cliff Richard. The entire game is mouse controlled, which for the sake of speed and ease of use can only be a bonus. In fact, looking at the game, it seems that a lot of work has gone into its design, despite Splinter Visions claims of starting 'last Wednesday'.

Although on paper the game is far too complicated to work, in practise it comes together nicely, and you end up with a game that is comfortably taxing.

Splinter Visions originally began life as a graphic art company back in June 1986, working on graphics for a Mirrorsoft title called Terrarium that, sadly, was never published. In December of last year the trio of Alan Miles, Deborah Issac and Mike Jary decided to establish a full blown development house, ropin in the talents of Jeremy Shirlock, Toby Simpson and Nick Snape on coding and Roy Beer and Adam Pracey taking all sound responsibilities.
Eco Phantoms is their first published product. Future titles due to appear next year are The Magic Garden, an arcade adventure with a gardening simulation, and Fatal Strokes, where an artist has to free his paintings from possession by entering their strange, surrealistic worlds.