by David Aubrey-Jones, Paul Woakes, Peter Gudynas
Novagen Software Ltd
Crash Issue 44, Sep 1987   page(s) 16,17

Producer: Novagen
Retail Price: £9.95
Author: David Aubrey-Jones

Somewhere in the distant future a war-weary mercenary is returning to his home planet in his Prestinium Falcon spaceship. Suddenly his onboard computer, Benson, reports a damage alert. Further investigation reveals severe damage to the navigation CPU, and the consequent miscalculated course has a potentially deadly result: the Prestinium Falcon is heading directly toward the planet Targ.

The only course of action is to switch in reverse thrusters, and hope the craft slows enough for a crash landing.

As thrusters reach their maximum, the mercenary blacks out under the severe G force and later comes to in the remains of the impacted craft. Only Benson's portable module is working, and the mercenary takes it before walking off into the sunset of an alien planet...

Most of Targ is a barren wasteland, but the surface is deceptive and hides a huge subterranean city - the only major centre of population in the complex of intersecting tunnel highways and caverns.

According to Benson, the original occupants of the planet were the Palyars, a peaceful, sensitive people who led a contented existence till the arrival of the Mechanoids, a race evolved from organic robots.

Though the warlike Mechanoids soon defeated the Palyars and became the dominant race, the Palyars have not been completely defeated. The Palyar War Council and the majority of their population live in a colony craft that hovers high above the city.

Since the Prestinium Falcon is damaged beyond repair, a new ship powerful enough to leave Targ must be found, a task which requires exploration of the entire first-person 3-D world of Targ and interaction with its inhabitants. There are three ways of achieving this objective, the most obvious being to act as a freelance fighter for either Mechanoids or Palyars and to reap the financial reward.

First, however, a means of transport is essential. Fortunately the Prestinium Falcon has crashed near an airfield, where a craft can be bought - or stolen, risking the retaliation of its owner. The manoeuvrable craft handles like a plane; it can fly backwards as well as forwards - very disconcerting! - and can also travel along the ground at a reduced speed. The mercenary's location on the planet is given by coordinates. At location 9,6 is a hangar giving access to the underground city, which is explored on foot. Most of the doors to the interconnected rooms and corridors are oblongs, but a few are differently shaped - and locked. They can be unlocked with keys of the same shape.

Reaching the Palyar colony craft isn't that easy, as most of the craft found on the surface are unable to climb to its high altitude. The ship that can reach it is carefully hidden, and the only alternative is to find some way of boosting your own ship's power with the correct equipment.

Mercenary was conceived in 1984 when CRASH was young and rubber keys roamed the earth; it appeared on the Commodore later that year (ZZAP! 64 gave it 98%) and has since materialised format by format.

Now the CRASH reviewers think the Spectrum Mercenary is a masterpiece, and at 96% it's just one point short of the highest CRASH rating ever.


Joysticks: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: excellent, fast and smooth
Sound: atmospheric

At last! Live the legend as it bursts into Spectrum life. Mercenary is a concept and a half. An entire alien environment has been crammed into 48K, with a huge overground planet and subterranean city to explore. What is most impressive, though, is the way the game is structured. Taking an object to the Palyars can infuriate the Mechanoids to the point where they won't negotiate with you, and vice versa. Consequently, correct diplomacy is essential to get the best out of both factions. The sheer depth and involvement on offer is second to none, and the satisfaction gained from progressing is paramount. Mercenary has a great past and now, thanks to David Aubrey-Jones, Spectrum owners have the opportunity to give it a great future.
PAUL [97%]

I doubt very much if I'll be able to finish such a complex game as Mercenary for a few months - but what I have seen of it so far has kept me enthralled. Mercenary is relatively unusual for the Spectrum: it's very deep, involving and creating a substantial amount of atmosphere that is guaranteed to keep you up into the early hours of the morning. The vector graphics work well and retain their scale from whichever angle and at whatever speed you view them. Even on finishing Mercenary you'll be coming back for more - there are many solutions to the deceptively simple conclusion. Packed with hundreds of locations and functional objects, you haven't seen innovation till you've seen Mercenary.
RICKY [95%]

After two years it's arrived! Was Mercenary worth the wait? Well, the game is immensely playable, and contains enough variety to appeal to fans of all genres. Exploring the city of Targ is an experience in the true sense of the word, and actually attempting to escape is a consistent challenge from start to finish - but it'll be weeks before you've discovered all the game's mysteries. The vector graphics are exceptional - very fast, extremely smooth and uncannily realistic. They more than adequately convey the feeling that this strange, 3-D world actually exists. Everything is there: all you have to do is explore... In a word, the answer to my first question is a resounding 'yes!'. Mercenary is a triumph of programming and aspires to new heights in Spectrum gaming.
MIKE [97%]

REVIEW BY: Paul Sumner, Richard Eddy, Mike Dunn

Addictive Qualities97%
Summary: General Rating: An excellent and innovative flight/exploration/action game.

Award: Crash Smash

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Crash Issue 89, Jun 1991   page(s) 47

Novagen Software
£2.99 re-release

In the last eight years or so there have been very few original games but one stands out in my mind as the best. That game is Mercenary, a speedy vetor graphics 'future sim'. No-one who's played this game could have failed to be pulled into it. When I first bought it, many aeons ago, I played it for months, very often for ten or 12 hours a day.

For those who need a reminder of the plot: you're a 21st century mercenary who, through battle damage, has been forced to land on the planet Targ. Most of the planet's inhabitants have wiped themselves out in a massive war, but the Mechanoids and the Palyars are still at each others throats - and you're in the middle of the conflict. All you want to do is go home, but you can't do that until you find a spaceworthy ship. But it doesn't hurt to do a bit of freelance work while you are stranded, and you're offered cash to carry out certain tasks.

Your only companion is Benson, a computer that goes everywhere with you and fills you in on the locations that you visit and is a communicator between you and the Palyar and Mechanoids.

It's a difficult game to complete - but the lastability's high because every minute is enthralling. Many people have escaped from Targ but I never quite made it. I got very close to finding the interstellar craft but couldn't pin-point it.

Playing Mercenary again brought back a lot of memories. Five or six years have passed since I first tried to escape from Targ and the game is as brilliant now as it was then. A Smash and no mistake.

REVIEW BY: Mark Caswell

Award: Crash Smash

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 23, Nov 1987   page(s) 68,69

Two whole years after Commie owners bent our ears off about it, Novagen's classic Mercenary finally makes it to the Spectrum. And what a ripper! Marcus Berkmann foams at the mouth, as per usual!

Game: Mercenary
Publisher: Novagen
Original Program By: Paul Woakes
Conversion By: David Aubrey-Jones
Price: £9.95

It's funny, isn't it, the way that the more things there are to go wrong, the more things do go wrong. And in a spacecraft, there are billions of 'em. So when the Novadrive on your Prestinium space ship cuts out on a routine trip to Gamma 5, you know you're in trouble. And as the planet Targ approaches rather faster than you'd wish. It's inevitable that the controls all fail together and you spiral helplessly into the centre of the main city... ker-SPLAT!

Fortunately you survive. In Mercenary you always survive, no matter how stupid, careless or downright suicidal you are. It's that sort of game. But there's more, much more. In fact. I've never seen a game in which there was so much. It's a staggering achievement.

You've no doubt heard of it. Owners of the despised Commie 64 have already had the best part of two years to hone their skills on the original Mercenary, and I'm sure they've told you about it. And told you about it. And then mentioned it again, just in case you hadn't heard the first 6549 times. If, like me, you weren't listening, I'd better tell you what it's all about.

Mercenary uses a 3D vector graphics system to display an entire planet, or at least a sensor-scan representation of it. You see, it's not the planet that you see, but what your portable computer, installed in your helmet and known as 'Benson', lets you see.

You start the game with just 9000 credits. Benson and your enormous brain - and your aim is to get off Targ as quickly and lucratively as possible. Well, you are a mercenary! The city's large (about the size of Walsall, by my reckoning) so you'll need to find some transport if you don't fancy slogging about on foot for several months. Fortunately you've crashed at an airport, so there could be an aircraft for sale. But isn't 5000 credits rather expensive? And will it get you up to the space station that revolves high above the city? And what about this missile flying towards you? Wouldn't it be a good idea to shoot it down?

You discover that there are two warring races on the planet, each controlling parts of the city. The Palyars were Targs original inhabitants: while the warring Mechanoids are a particularly nasty bunch of invading robots. Long wars have reduced most of the planet's surface to wasteland. Even the city is relatively barren, and most life is now concentrated in a huge subterranean network of rooms and corridors. accessible from large elevators. As you explore you find objects to take and use. Although you meet people you don't actually see them - Benson just interprets their demands or messages and relays them on-screen. As a rule, people don't fire on you. Most doors are simple rectangles, but other, differently shaped ones need keys before you can get through them, and those with crosses on, hide teleports that whip you off to another part of the labyrinth. Even these are not always what they seem - some only send, others only receive, yet others send and receive, and some transport you to a random destination. Naturally there's a certain amount of mapping to be done. Well, a vast amount, actually.

Of course, you can cheat. Novagen is selling a Targ Survival Kit, which features all sorts of useful maps and some amazingly cryptic clues. But even if this gives you the edge, it by no means ruins the game. What might ruin it is if I tell you too much. It's more fun to start from a condition of total ignorance, and then find things out.

I'll just leave you with a couple of clues for now (study the captions). There are apparently three ways to complete the game, though at present I know of only one (all to do with acquiring enough credits to hire a Novadrive ship from the local spacecraft hire shop). I'll be interested to hear of any more - indeed, I expect that both Tipshop and Clinic will be bursting with hints and game-snags in the coming months. Yes, Mercenary is that good.

REVIEW BY: Marcus Berkmann

Blurb: APPROACHING JORDAN AIRPORT Named after Novagen's boss Bruce Jordan, curiously enough (other places in the game are named after far less reputable people - Takoushu Drive????). When you land, do it gently. There's no rush, and you'll regret it if you smash the craft into a heap of useless rubble. It's from this airport that all flight traffic leaves for the Second City (of which more later...). Part trading game, part strategy, part arcade-adventure, Mercenary also works on the level of flight simulator. Controls are easily mastered, and you can even hover motionless for as long as you want, idly surveying the cityscape. Heav-ee! Irritating, isn't it, the way that certain craft will only go up so far and then no further. Unless of course you find a gadget that'll power them up a bit! There are always perspective problems, even with such clear two-tone graphics, so use the elevation window regularly. Particularly useful when flying up to the space station - otherwise you could be upside down without knowing it! A useful window this - the city is divided into a 15 by 15 grid, so this helps you get around and see where you are. Try 09-06 if you need a lift and 15-02 for liquid refreshment. Or see the Walton Monument at 06-00 a fine slab of modern architecture (yuk!). Learn to use the compass - it's invaluable when making maps and especially when identifying where you are after a teleport. Red and yellow indicate direction, in this case virtually due north. This is where Benson pipes up with all his various comments and snippets of info. Pay attention, as he won't give you much time to respond, and if you don't, he won't ask again!

Value For Money9/10
Award: Your Sinclair Megagame

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 67, Jul 1991   page(s) 59


Torch? Check. Helmet? Check. Ability to write incredibly informative and witty reviews? Check. (Sort of.) Say hello to RICH PELLEY & JON PILLAR.

Reviewer: Jon Pillar

I enthused over Popeye 2. I dribbled over Driller. But this is it. This is the Megagame amongst Megagames. Crispier than a family pack of Salt Shake. Faster than a speeding bullet with nitro injection. Bigger than gargantuan Tom, the insatiable pie eater of Norfolk town. The smoothest, swankiest, spankiest Speccy happening since the Speccy happened. Yes! it's The Great Space Race! No, hang on, er... it's Mercenary. Yes!

After flying your ultra-expensive ship into the planet of Targ and smashing it to bits, you find yourself stuck in the middle of a war. On one side there are the Palyars (hurrah!) and on the other the Mechanoids (boo! hiss!). As a mercenary you owe allegiance to neither, so although the Palyars offer you "gainful employment" you're free to double-cross whichever side you want (and as many times as you want!).

You view Targ as a 3D vector graphics model (courtesy of Benson, your computer). And here's the surprise. Before you start scoffing and moving onto the next review, let it be known that these graphics are fast. Very fast. In fact, you won't believe it. Walking around the animated landmarks (radars, suspension bridges, hangars, etc) is stunning enough, but when you're buying a ship then it really takes off. Climb to 20,000 metres and see the city laid out beneath you. Dive and strafe the ground installations (which don't explode, but just collapse). Fly upside-down under the bridge at high speed and, erm, crash. It's all pretty amazing really (and you never get to die).

But what about the game itself? Well, as I said, the Palyars want to hire you to stop the Mechanoids and vice versa. How you want to play it is up to you, but in one game I razed half the city, did a spot of gun-running for the Mechanoids, gained their confidence, then kidnapped their leader and sold him to the Palyars. Hurrah! And that's only scratching the surface - there are lots of objects to pick up and find out a use for too.

Although you're free to do as you please, gameplay is effectively split into 3 sections - ground-level and above (bomb/search the city); subterranean (Targ is criss-crossed by a network of corridors, rooms and transporters): and - if you can soup up a ship to reach it - the Palyar Colony Craft that's orbiting the planet. (I once tell off this one and spiralled 65,000 metres to the ground!)

Flit between the 3 'zones', manipulate objects, strike deals and then cheat on them - all the while working towards your ultimate goal, to escape from Targ. (So that save-game option might just come in handy.)

I don't normally go loony over a game but Mercenary is quite simply perfect. It looks wonderful and plays seamlessly. It's got addictive qualities that are probably illegal in certain countries. And it's all wrapped up in a terrific plot with quite a nifty spread of humour. The inlay card says it's "a unique combination of flight simulation, adventure and arcade fun". And it's right. Mercenary is The Best Barg. Ever. Go and buy it at once, you lucky people.

REVIEW BY: Jon Pillar

Award: Your Sinclair Megagame

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Your Sinclair Issue 78, Jun 1992   page(s) 55


Summertime, summertime, summer, summer, summertime! Hurrah - summer is here! And what better way to celebrate the advent of sunny, carefree days than by locking yourself in your bedroom and playing a load of Speccy games? With the seemingly unstoppable spread of budget software, we here at YS thought it would be quite a wheeze to sort out the brass from the dross. So take your seats and upset your neighbour's popcorn as JON PILLAR whisks you with shameless bias through a roundup of the best £3.99ers around.


1. Mercenary
Novagen/Issue 67
Reviewer: Jon Pillar

Mercenary is just about as perfect as any Spec release can hope to be. It's a 3D vector trade/explore/shoot-'em-up that plays over a whole world. With thinky bits, shooty bits and hundreds of other bits, it's less a game, more a staying-up-all-night-even-though-it's-Tuesday experience.

REVIEW BY: Jon Pillar

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 67, Oct 1987   page(s) 61

Label: Novagen
Author: David Aubrey Jones
Price: £9.95
Memory: 48K/128K
Joystick: various
Reviewer: Jim Douglas

It's 3D city this month, isn't it? What with Gunship finally arriving from the Microprose people and all.

Mercenary, too, has been a long time in the making. A couple of years ago, there was a right old commotion kicked up about the C64 version, with people saying it was the best game ever and other such nonsense. Well, I say nonsense, but I can't think of another game, even Elite, which has maintained its reputation and notoriety with quite the same success as Mercenary.

You are a soldier-for-hire, who'll do anything if the price is right - used to screwing people every which-way and running like crazy once you've got the cash in your pocket.

To cut a long story short, you find yourself stranded on Targ with no money and a written-off space-ship. To escape, you have to buy yourself a ship big enough to break out of Targ's unusually strong gravitational pull. Such ships don't come cheap.

Information about Targ can be obtained by listening to Benson, your mini-computer assistant who lives in your helmet. Benson is a bit like a cut-down Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, except he doesn't have Don't Panic written on him, and he doesn't have much of a sense of humour. Anyway, Benson informs you that the Palyars were the original and rightful inhabitants of Targ, and that they were moved out and oppressed and generally mistreated by a bunch of bullies from another galaxy called the Mechanoids. So. Why not see if you can sell your combat skills to the Playars? Kick out the Mechanoids, and give them back their planet. They're bound to reward you.

Off you go, then, into the vector line-graphic landscape. Walking around is very tedious, so you should try and pinch or buy someone's hopper-craft to speed up travel a little. The graphics are astoundingly fast. Much quicker than on the C64, coming close to the speed of the ST version.

Targa isn't a small place. The Central City is the most interesting place to explore. You can enter all of the buildings and have a good old nose around in search of, well. I'm not quite sure what you're in search of. Clues. Yes, that's it. You're in search of clues to help you to investigate all the buildings and initially try to make contact with the Palyars. From then on, you're very much on your own.

Around the city are points of interest such as the Science Museum, where information can be gleaned as to the previous developments in Targ's engineering and electronic history. Benson's memory banks can be investigated to see if any particular item or place holds valuable properties/information.

During play, you can progress through various ships, each having their own advantages or disadvantages. All of the craft, though, have to be abandoned when venturing underground. This is where the game really comes into its own, and you realise that, as well as being a very competent space-flight simulator, it's a great 3D maze game. You wander through corridors, trying to pass through locked doors etc. Some of the rooms act as teleport zones and you can use them to beam around the planet.

Mercenary is a rather amazing game. It crams so much in strategy-wise and still manages to incorporate more speed than you would imagine possible. It's a very polished chunk of programming.

REVIEW BY: Jim Douglas

Blurb: PROGRAMMER David Aubrey Jones ha been commercially programming on the Spectrum for around three years. Having successfully converted Mercenary to the Amstrad, he was set to work on the Spectrum version. (The program's original author Paul Woakes is so reclusive, no-one knows anything about him.) Softography: Galaxian (Atari, 1984), Hero (Atari, 1985), Deathstar Interceptor (System 3, 1986), Tornado Low Level (Vortex, 1986 - Amstrad version)

Summary: Strategic futuristic graphic adventure. Mix of vector graphic simulator and 3D maze game. Well worth the wait.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

Sinclair User Issue 112, Jun 1991   page(s) 32

Label: Novagen Software
Memory: 48K
Price: £3.99
Reviewer: Alan Dykes

Welcome to the fly, drive, walkabout tour of Darg folks!. If you've never been stranded on an alien planet at war before now, then check this game out before you go on your hols to some of the popular pleasure planets of Sirus 6.

This is an enormous game, with full 3D vector graphics moving against a rather flat background with a wide variety of vehicles to travel in, structures to shoot at, objects to collect, and war machines to do combat with. There is also a super computer called "Benson" fitted in your head gear to help you along.

The planet Darg is largely desert wasteland due to a long war between the Mechanoids and the Palyars, which I suppose is a convenient excuse for the lack of any real landscape.

You can start the mission in a combat aircraft, which is purchased when your original spaceship has been mangled and this can be crashed as often as you like but try not to get shot down or you will, like me, end up wandering around the desert like Mad Max, but without a camel. The final goal is to escape from Darg, having created as much havoc as possible but it is not easy.

REVIEW BY: Alan Dykes

Summary: A classic full price C64 game, now finally adapted for the Spectrum and not soon enough if you ask me!

Transcript by Chris Bourne

ACE (Advanced Computer Entertainment) Issue 3, Dec 1987   page(s) 81

Novagen, £9.95cs

Finally the old Atari and C64 classic hits the Spectrum. The game delivers no surprises but still has all the fast, smooth wire-frame graphic action that made the original such a winner.

This game will have you glued to the screen as you fly around the city or explore the maze of passages underground and would form a worthy addition to any Spectrum owner's software collection.

Ace Rating870/1000
Transcript by Chris Bourne

The Games Machine Issue 1, Oct 1987   page(s) 51


Novagen's timeless classic Mercenary hits the Spectrum, nearly two years after Paul Woakes completed work on the original Atari 800 version. Paul went on to write Mercenary for the Commodore 64 and Atari ST, but wasn't responsible for the Spectrum conversion - this monumental task was undertaken by Speedlock programmer David Aubrey-Jones, who also translated it to the Amstrad. The Spectrum offers what is potentially the best 8-bit version available - it's not particularly smooth, but it is very fast and all the more playable for the increase in speed. What makes Mercenary such an innovative game is that the player is essentially free do what he likes on the planet of Targ, with almost endless interaction possible.

Mercenary II, or Damocles as it is now known, is also in the pipeline and should appear on the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit around the beginning of next year. Also due to appear from Novagen in the not too distant future is an ST-only game entitled Backlash. We have more details tucked away elsewhere in this issue.

Transcript by Chris Bourne

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