The Acorn Archimedes : A Gamer’s Retrospective
The sequel to the iconic BBC Micro; the Acorn Archimedes is arguably one of the most overlooked of gaming machines. A relative powerhouse for its time, the Archimedes was aimed squarely at the education sector – a target it hit with aplomb.
Yet quite aside from its academic credentials, a number of notable developers leveraged the machine’s power to produce some of the most intriguing and engaging games of the era – many of which were ground-breaking in the brave new world of 3D.
Here, VoxelArcade looks back at some of the best games that the Acorn Archimedes had to offer.
School is, as they say, out for summer!
In an era when the flight simulator was king, Chocks Away’s light shone brighter than most. A WW1-inspired biplane affair, Chocks Away was a challenging, strategic and yet thoroughly ‘arcade’ experience that was the epitome of ‘easy to learn; hard to master’. Your Tiger Moth had a unlimited ammo but limited fuel and could take only six hits. This mix lead to daring attacks tinged with real suspense as you watched the fuel-gauge drop ever lower and the bullets rip through your wings. Landing at a friendly base would refuel and repair your plane mid-mission, with skilled players being able to string-out their turn for what seemed like an eternity.
Once the Archimedes finest achievements.
A basic shoot-em-up on many levels, Apocalypse was notable for its smooth 3D graphics and thumping audio. A very Battlezone-esque affair, Apocalypse saw you ‘cleansing’ planets of the Rakonans – sentient computer life-forms that had grown out of control and taken over the galaxy. The atmosphere was stark and haunting; the action was brutal and rewarding. This was very much the dark yin to Chocks Away’s lighter yang.
Consisting of a two-hundred-scene, interconnected open-world, Pandora’s Box was a sprawling adventure themed on its namesake. Playing as a wandering wizard, your job was to collect four gems that would seal the box once again by speaking to NPCs, completing quests and fighting-off the horde of evil monster that the box released when opened. The game was deceptively tough as you started out completely unable to defend yourself – only receiving a weapon after several quests. As a kid, it felt huge – and more than a little daunting! A genuine adventure.
A primitive driving experience by modern measures; Powerband featured mouse-based controls like most Archimedes titles, which made handling the car a bloody nightmare. Nonetheless, it proved to be more realistic than keyboard and joystick controls of old and, if you persisted, you could actually manage to string a lap or two together without hitting anything. In a many respects a precursor to the deeply challenging Grand Prix Legends on PC; Powerband felt like a true simulator at the time.
An Out Run clone, E-Type replaced Italian Ferraris with good-old British E-Type Jaguars. Controlled, like Powerband, using the mouse, this was a difficult and challenging arcade experience that would swing from being thrilling to frustrating at the drop of a hat. The visuals were arcade-quality for the time though, and the levels and scenery were more varied than most – so it was well worth persisting with. The game was followed-up with a generous and capable track-designer and a sumptuous sequel, featuring even more wild and wacky levels than the first. A much-loved experience by both gamer and developer.
Stunt Racer 2000
Part Stunt Car Racer and part Hard Drivin’; Stunt Racer 2000 had all the crazy track design of the two but, crucially, lacked the stellar handling and gravity that featured in Stunt Car Racer. Still, it was an exciting game for its time and to a kid who’d grown up playing toy cars to death, making ramps and courses using everything from rugs to coffee tables and couches, it was an absolute blast. It did at least feature some relatively powerful car set-up mechanics for its time, including gear-ratios – not that I even understood what those were at the time …
Built using the exact same landscape engine as Zarch, Conqueror swapped spaceships and aliens for WWII tanks and villages. Being able to play as either the British, American or German forces added extra layers of pleasure and strategy to what was a tense and challenging experience – a fact hammered home by the limited scope of view that was afforded. The map-view gave you control over your entire squadron and a broader view of the battlefield, which when combined with the claustrophobia of the 3D view made for a highly engaging and realistic affair. An absolute belter!
Arguably the Archimedes most iconic title, Zarch was developed by the legendary David Braben (co-author of Elite) and built upon Lander – the demo that shipped with almost every new Archimedes machine. Essentially a Defender clone, Zarch was truly ground-breaking for its time, featuring x, y and z-axis controls in a fully 3D landscape – in an era that was completely dominated by 2D graphics. Hard as nails and totally unforgiving; I could never get very far into Zarch, but that never stopped me from loving every minute of it.
A genuine classic – like the Archimedes itself!
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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.