Videogame (1985). Novagen Software (NS). Designed by Paul Woakes. Platforms: Atari8, C64 (1985); Amstrad, Spectrum (1987); Amiga, AtariST (1988).
While it is of primarily historical interest today, Mercenary is notable as an early example of a modular plot structure (see Interactive Narrative) in which the player has considerable freedom of action within clearly defined boundaries, an approach used in such later games as Wasteland (1988) and Fallout (1997). The player adopts the role of an interstellar gun for hire who crashes in a city on the planet of Targ, which is at war with invading aliens. As in Elite (1984), the visuals are three-dimensional but only the outlines of objects are drawn due to technical limitations, an approach that is perhaps less successful when displaying an urban area than in empty space. Gameplay revolves around finding a way off Targ; there are a number of possibilities, including performing missions for either the invasion force or the defenders. The tone is perhaps best described as a somewhat sardonic blend of generic Space Opera and spaghetti Western.
The sequel, Damocles (1990 NS, Amiga, AtariST, vt Mercenary II) designed by Paul Woakes, uses solid coloured graphics to depict the planet of Eris and its solar system, where the main character from Mercenary has again become trapped without a working spacecraft. The gameplay is similar to that of Mercenary, but on a grander scale; the eponymous Comet is due to impact on Eris, and the player must find a way to divert it. Mercenary III (1991 NS, Amiga, AtariST, vt Damocles II) designed by Paul Woakes is set in the same solar system as Damocles, with similar graphics but a more interactive environment. The plot begins with the resignation of Eris' President, and involves the player in preventing the election of a megalomaniac politician as her replacement. References to contemporary UK politics are frequent. The Mercenary series is significant for the freedom afforded to players to explore their environment and follow different paths through the plot, an approach that has become central to the design of many Computer Role Playing Games.
Related works: Some versions of Mercenary included an anonymously penned novella, Mercenary: Interlude on Targ (1985 chap). Mercenary: The Second City (1986 NS, Atari8; 1988 Spectrum) designed by Paul Woakes is an expansion pack for Mercenary which largely repeats the original game's plot in another city on the other side of Targ. Damocles: Mission Disk 1 (1990 NS, Amiga, AtariST) designed by Paul Woakes and Damocles: Mission Disk 2 (1990 NS, Amiga, AtariST) designed by Paul Woakes are expansions for Damocles containing additional missions. MDDClone (2005, Win) is a freely available remake of all three Mercenary games. [NT]
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