Hard Nova. (computer adventure game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Bootlegger, gunrunner, and assassin for hire--let's face it; you never claimed to be a role model. You're not in the business to make friends, only money, and for the right price, you'll do just about anything.
Welcome to Hard Nova, a gritty scifi adventure that makes no apologies for its nasty disposition. The game casts players as interstellar soldiers of fortune, part of a covert organization known as the Starkillers. The more dangerous and dirty the job, the more you like it.
One of the more refreshing aspects of the story line is its sometimes brutal honesty. There may be no honor among thieves, but there's also less pretense. Consequently, the game doesn't hide your tattered moral fiber with false intent. In this dog-eat-mutant galaxy, saints and sinners can know no limits if they want to survive.
Unfortunately, in this crowded spiral arm of the Triangulum Galaxy, the competition can prove fatal. Rival mercenary groups such as the Delta Coros and Zero-L vie for a piece of the action, if not a piece of your hide.
Players assume the role either of Nova, a plucky female freelancer, or Stark, her male counterpart. This commendable attempt at nonsexist role-playing, however, is simply window dressing. No discernible difference between the leading characters' actions, reactions, or talents exists.
Hard Nova was designed as open-endedly as possible, and gameplay involves many odd jobs: galactic bounty hunting, starship repossession, and liquidation of world leaders. Along the way, your handpicked crew will earn valuable experience and a little pocket change. Learn well, because, as you might expect, something wicked this way comes--a threat more challenging than anything you've ever imagined.
Designer Karl Buiter (Earth Orbit Stations) creates a richly detailed, multi-layered adventure on a par with the best in the genre. It features a small but tangible universe of four solar systems connected by "star gates." Players engage in numerous shipboard activities while navigating the void and then dock at orbiting space stations and shuttle down to explore intricate planetside colonies.
Success requires a satisfying combination of quick wits and sheer firepower. Conversations with "sentients" (non-player characters) are menu-driven multiple choice that lead in diverse directions. Scriptwriters Eric Lindstrom and Jeff Haas fill the tale with surprisingly blunt dialogue. Their humor ranges from astutely clever to utterly disgusting, but never bores. The story builds convincingly to a heart-pounding final payoff.
Realtime tactical battles occur in space and on the planet surface. Space combat requires a coordinated effort among all crew members, while planetside brawls are often a matter of brute force. As the game wears on, shootouts become too common and tedious. True to its role-playing origins, enemies outnumber allies at least ten to one, and everyone wants to pick a fight. Auxiliary points of interest include the opportunity to compete against robot gladiators in a televised combat simulator. Most taverns also feature Zero-G Roulette, an easy way to win spending money at the local weapons store.
A weak conversion in some respects, Hard Nova loses most of its 3D effects thanks to poor use of the Amiga's graphic capabilities. Sound effects, an important aspect of the MSDOS version, have also been curtailed, for no apparent reason. Although neither failing detracts much from the game's inevitable appeal, Amiga owners shouldn't have to put up with second-class efforts from major game publishers like EA.
Life's rough as a mercenary in Hard Nova, but you wouldn't have it any other way. Ready for the rough-and-tumble action? Make the spaceways your second home.