Title Warhead Company MPH, Activision, 1990 Game Type 3D Combat Sim Players 1 Compatibility All (With WHDLoad Patch) HD Installable With Patch Submission Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer Review If Elite is the computer game genre's equivalent to George Lucas' "Star Wars" then Warhead must surely represent Ridley Scott's "Alien". I don't mean the plot, I am referring to the atmosphere. Warhead is no glossy fantasy, it is grim and dark, and rather unforgiving, much like space itself. The background story tells us that in the year 2045 Earth is attacked by an unknown enemy and almost defeated. 3 billion people are killed and the aliens' weaponry is so devastating that the planet is plunged into a nuclear winter. In spite of this, the countries of Earth are united by the catastrophe, and for the first time, begin to work together. It is theorised that the insect race responsible believe the aftermath of their attack will soon reduce mankind to barbarism, and that their intention is to return at this point and finish the job. The people of Earth do not despair however, and a new world government known as the Fist of Earth is created with the aim of building a force capable of engaging and eventually defeating the enemy. The first step is to create a space station which orbits the Sun: Solbase. This will be the centre of operations for the FOE-57; the first interstellar fighter Earth has ever produced. It is now twelve years since the attack and pilots are needed for Project Warhead; a pilot enrolment and training program that will finally take the fight to the enemy. Warhead doesn't look or sound as impressive as the latest glossy productions that compete for shelf space at your local software shop. The game was released in 1990 after all, and by today's standards, the graphics are functional and effective, but far from cutting edge. What Warhead has got, however, is atmosphere and character. All the programming and graphics were done by one man, Glyn Williams, and personally, I think it is a shame that we have moved completely away from this approach, instead favouring the team/corporate based method of production where computer games (and indeed popular music) are sanitised and groomed to fit the demographic profile at the cost of originality and character. It seems to me we should always treat the involvement of what Jeff Minter used to call the "men in suits" with the gravest suspicion. Having said that, Glyn was disappointed with his next game, Evasive Action (planned but not released for the Amiga) because he felt it was simply too big a task to complete alone. He later proved that an original and atmospheric game could be produced by a talented and focussed team with the excellent I-War games, which in some respects are the spiritual successors to Warhead. Warhead was Glyn William's only game for the Amiga and his first 16-bit release. Before this he had produced a C64 conversion of Starglider for the prestigious Rainbird label and then coded his own 3D game Cholo for Firebird, again on the C64. As a point of interest there is a cryptic reference to Cholo in Warhead in the form of the mysterious CH-010 system. Before I talk about the game itself, I should mention the introduction sequence. Initially you are confronted with a black screen and the sound of an unearthly wind blowing across barren lands with an occasional bestial howl in the background. Just as you are beginning to wonder if there is a loading problem; a familiar and ominous double drumbeat breaks the silence, and the text, "WARHEAD" appears dramatically before you. Moments later the background story appears in the form of vertically scrolling text with accompanying images set within an elegantly styled display. As the tale of humanity's plight unfolds some eerie but effective music by Michael Powell plays. It is cleverly designed to reflect the story; initially desolate and almost hopeless but growing into a theme that suggests resolve, determination and industry as mankind gradually organizes itself to face the enemy. Pushing the space bar takes you to the game's title screen which shows the FOE-57 on a partially animated background, while the simple but effective drum pattern that will always remind seasoned players of this game rolls ominously in the background. Warhead is comprised of 40 missions; each one starts with a short briefing aboard Solbase, and concludes when you have completed the mission and successfully docked again. Rather than representing everything in the game with filled polygons, the author has taken the unusual approach of using whatever he felt worked most effectively for the specific object or effect. The larger distant stars are therefore sprites, there are some bitmapped explosions, some polygon based, and the ships, missiles, mines etc are filled polygons. Also unusual is the angle of view, which is wide, bordering on fish-eye. You can zoom in to a more common narrow angle view if you like, but the default setting is very useable, especially when trying to quickly locate an attacking ship. The effect also adds to the game's unique identity. Each mission you undertake will require you to travel to a specific place, perhaps in your own solar system, perhaps further a field, many light-years away. The star map, used for assigning your mission area as your destination, certainly deserves a mention. At first sight it appears to be a collection of tiny dots on a dark background, but closer examination reveals that the map is in fact three dimensional. You can zoom in on a given star and in a sometimes unsettling way the neighbouring stars which appeared to be relatively close by, swing away as the magnification changes, revealing their true distances from each other. The effect can be demonstrated more dramatically still by using the rotation controls. Once you have clicked on your chosen destination star, you can bring up the local system which will show any planets the star has, along with their orbital routes. Again, because of the scale, it is useful to use the rotate and zoom controls to navigate to your assigned location, although if you need to you can bring up a dialogue box and type in the name of the star or planet which will then be automatically centred for you. The missions themselves follow a well judged learning curve. In the first mission you are simply asked to exit the station, move some distance away, and then dock again. It sounds trivial, but when you are first attempting to get to grips with Warhead's control system, as well as the initially tricky docking procedure, the task sets an important foundation on which to build your skills. Later you'll be told to visit a planet or star, or to evaluate some new equipment, and the game sets very strict mission parameters. You need to focus clearly on what your briefing tells you to do, if you decide to stop off for some sight-seeing at Jupiter or take a quick joyride to reconnoitre enemy territory you'll find you have failed the mission regardless of how well you performed the requirements themselves; unauthorised quad-jumps are frowned upon. You will find that self-discipline is also vital when you start flying combat missions. Often it is important to make sure all (or almost all) of your ordnance is gainfully employed in striking the hull plating of you opponents and not just expended into the void. This is not easy, and in certain situations it hardly seems possible, but persistence and experience will see you through. Warhead's unfolding, mission-based storyline means that I can't say too much about how the plot develops and what you will encounter without spoiling the suspense, but with that in mind, I will try to give you some flavour of what is involved. A mission that I found particularly memorable was a confrontation with a newly identified enemy ship, around Earth's moon. This actually felt rather like combat in David Braben's Frontier, although because it was a one-off, hand-coded affair, with a feeling of "our best against their best", the atmosphere was much more charged, and it actually felt more like the climactic encounter with the Constrictor ship in Messrs Braben and Bell's earlier classic; Elite. I came away from the mission feeling that I had just managed to survive it, and while it seemed to me I had fought skilfully, I had been outgunned, and was fortunate to see Solbase again. When a game generates feelings like those I think it is clear that it has succeeded in getting the player fully on-board and truly immersed in the story. This is an experience that I have only encountered with a very few games and I can pay Warhead no higher compliment. Don't worry though if one-on-one combat doesn't sound grand enough for your tastes, there are a number of set-piece battles where you will engage a veritable swarm of enemy craft, and failure to defeat them means the end of your species. High enough stakes for you? In one particular mission which is close to the end of the game, you find yourself in "skies" crowded with enemy ships where you must protect an important Fist of Earth asset from a seemingly overwhelming enemy attack. This is where all that training and familiarity with the controls pays off, if you can destroy the hostiles before they have inflicted too much damage on their target, you will have brought the human race through another crucial test and can hold your head high as a master class combat pilot. In my research to write this review I decided to play Warhead through from the beginning again, in order to re-familiarize myself with the game and rekindle the excitement I remember from all those years ago in 1990, when I first played the game. For some reason, my version of the game refused to properly show the end-sequence which should take place after the final mission has been successfully completed. I had been using WHDLoad to run the game from my hard drive, and so contacted Bert Jahn, author of the Warhead specific slave, and indeed of WHDLoad itself. It is with both respect and gratitude to Bert that I can report within a few days of my e-mail he had found the problem in the game's code and adjusted his slave to correct it. Thank you Bert, a small flaw in this jewel of a game has been polished away. That pretty much says how I feel about Warhead. In all likelihood it isn't the type of game you would play very often, in fact I think most people probably have not returned to it after having played it through. It is though, a game that seems to engender very fond memories amongst those who played it. Indeed, perhaps the best indicator of a game's true value is the affection and admiration with which it is regarded years after it has disappeared from the shops. Warhead scores highly in this category, and people's eyes light up at the mention of the game, and you can see that far away look as the memories of key missions come back to them, and don't for heaven's sake even breath the word, "Bezerker". Even now sometimes when I'm in my car, overtaking a row of lorries, especially at night or when its raining, I sometimes remember that rescue mission in the Dark Veil Nebula, flying past those stranded cargo ships..... and some of the more modern combined harvesters you see on the roads around August time bear more than a passing resemblance to the FOE-57, .....but possibly that's just me.