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Monday, 16 February 2009

The Sentinel (Commodore 64)

The Commodore 64 is my machine. I grew up with it, it's probably mostly responsible for my schoolwork suffering, and I loved it to death. I've played a lot of Commodore 64 games over time, but there are so many of the things that there are loads I've never managed to get round to. I like to think I've played most of the classics, but there are still some glaring omissions. The Sentinel is one such omission.

The Sentinel was quite a controversial release at the time... ZZAP! 64 basically said it was so good that it didn't need ratings. That might have been a bit of a pretentious way to look at it; it might have been a cop-out. But you could see where they were coming from... The Sentinel was a unique concept, one that was (and still is) hard to grasp the emormity of.

Imagine, if you will, a board game, but the board has 10,000 different layouts. Your objective is not just to take the "king" (The Sentinel), but to do so as many times as possible in order to reach and defeat the 10,000th level. And imagine a difficulty level that starts on "medium", and increases with each win. That's something like what we're looking at with The Sentinel.

I have a confession to make. I find The Sentinel to be incredibly difficult. Comparisons were made with chess at the time, and they're good ones - it takes a hell of a lot of thinking to get anywhere in this game. You have to plan your moves, but you also have to be quick about it, because once you make your first move, The Sentinel grinds into life and starts to turn his gaze towards you...

The Sentinel is packed with atmosphere and dread. It's a cat-and-mouse game, where you have to stay one step ahead at all times, or you're dead. It's certainly one of the more interesting games I've played in a long while. The feeling of satisfaction when you finally beat your first level is massive... although mine was tempered the first time I absorbed The Sentinel and found I didn't have enough energy left to escape the level - curses!

It has to be said, this is a phenomenal concept, executed as well as could possibly be expected for the time. I've only played it for an hour and a half, and I've only just managed to escape the first level. But I feel like I'm starting to get to grips with the game, and I can feel the hook. I'm learning to like it. This might, or might not be a good thing. I may be trapped here...

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