Tek is the first major RISC OS games release
for really quite a long time, which in turn points to the fact that this is quite possibly the last commercial game that RISC OS will ever see. This makes reviewing it slightly harder because there's nothing
else new to compare it against, and it also puts pressure on Artex because
the full weight of the entire market is dependent on the success of this
game, especially after its extended gestation. So it's lucky, then, that Tek turns out
to be rather good!
Tek is a real-time strategy game featuring a large scrolling battlefield viewed from above. You must use your trusty mouse to order your troops around in order to complete various missions into enemy territory (if your mouse isn't trusty then you're going to have difficulty...!). The quality of the graphics is good, signalling a pleasant change relative to many original RISC OS releases but staying true to Artex's previous excellent track record in this area.
The game shows you all areas you have explored but adds on top a rather blocky "fog of war" to indicate which areas your units can and cannot see - this may add to the realism but it does detract from the overall appearance, and it seems that Tek features some extraordinarily short-sighted troops! But overall the game does look good once you've got past the amusingly bad introductory movies (but then again, when was the last time you saw a good in-game movie?).
If you've ever played one of these top-down strategy war games before then you will already have a good idea of what to expect - it's along the lines of Dune 2, Command and Conquer and the ilk, albeit with one or two nice touches all of its own. The game consists of a series of task-based missions, each with their own unique starting and ending conditions. Complete one mission and you can then play the next - fail and you must try again, which is maybe a little harsh since some missions are pretty difficult. Missions are generally based around gaining battlefield supremacy via tasks such as capturing and destroying enemy buildings and eliminating enemy artillery, vehicle and infantry units. You play the game by assigning your mobile units to various tasks, such as exploration, capture and offensive and defensive manoeuvres, and controlling the activities of your fixed buildings, including repairing damage and manufacturing further units. Unit manufacture is based around configurable blueprints, allowing you to fine-tune the reasonable (but not huge) range of vehicles to specific mission requirements. Variety is provided by the range of 12 different missions, whilst the three different landscape types in the game help provide some visual variety. No random map generation or multiplayer support is included with the
game, however, although internet play is promised for the future should the game sell well enough. A map editing tool is also promised. Sound is mostly
limited to a few bits of sampled speech providing aural confirmation of what
your troops are doing.
Tek provides various features to help you keep in charge of what's going on. As well as the large overall view of the map you can open additional windows which follow units or view other areas (although unfortunately you must open a window and then find a unit and then attach it, rather than being to open a window to follow a unit in one single step, which is unnecessarily fiddly). You can also draw patrol routes onto the map and attach units to them, and you can place units into various modes to tell them how to behave if they encounter opposing forces, as well as group them into a unit which responds to the commands of a leader. Your troops and vehicles sometimes behave intelligently and sometimes don't, getting stuck trying to get past each other and occasionally taking unexpectedly different routes from A to B - whilst each unit on its own acts reasonably intelligently they appear to have no knowledge of each other's existence so the overall behaviour can be strangely dim from time to time. Units also seem to have an interesting relationship with the water on the map, being able to wade randomly into some bits but not others, and they can also get lost off the edge of the map if you're not careful! All that said, they basically do what you tell them to without needing constant supervision and you soon get used to the game's little idiosyncrasies, which arguably add to the fun - if they were too intelligent you'd have little to do but watch!
Unit commands are issued via pop-up icon menus, which whilst nice once you get the hang of them are initially rather confusing since help messages are only provided after options have been chosen rather than when the pointer initially moves over a button. There is also
a fixed control panel in the lower right-hand corner of the screen which provides icons for drawing and destroying patrol routes, opening pop-up windows, reconfiguring the game and saving or loading positions. You can save at any time which in theory ought to make the game much nicer to play, but in practice it has an unfortunate tendency to crash when saving so this option is rather risky - progress between missions is sometimes lost for the same reason, so you can find yourself replaying long missions time and time again in the hope the game won't die, which is a rather annoying bug. In fact the reason I took so long to write this review from the initial release is because I gave up trying to play the game because I was unable to progress beyond the early levels due to this problem. Various patches have been released since the game's initial publication, and whilst these have improved stability they have not resolved all outstanding issues - but these problems apparently don't affect all machines. Luckily, however, a new major patch is promised very soon.
A fixed radar provides a miniature view of the battlefield, auto-highlighting any current conflicts and letting you jump to locations in a single click, and you can also extend the window to provide statistical information about any currently selected unit - units have various properties which affect their behaviour, but you can't carry units over from mission to mission so there's no statistic building pseudo-RPG aspect. The units themselves have individual names which you can display if you like, and they are adequately animated although the animation doesn't always synchronise too well with what they're doing.
So that's the play mechanic of Tek - but how well does it all fit together? A fundamental test of a real-time strategy game is as to whether you feel in control when playing it and whether you have any real chance to develop winning tactics or if it all seems basically down to chance. Luckily Tek does make you feel mostly in control. The ability to plot patrol paths and attach units to them is particularly welcome, and the radar map alerts you immediately to skirmishs, whilst being able to attach windows to units helps you keep on top of particular activities. The default behaviour of troops tends to get them distracted too easily and enter suicidal fights against more powerful enemies, but with a bit of patience you can give each unit its own individual orders to overrule this. You can group troops instead and then command the group, although there seem to be some idiosyncracies in their behaviour which I'm not entirely certain are bugs but they don't always do what you might expect. Success at missions does sometimes depend on exploring the map carefully and finding hidden resources or enemy placements, and the balance is not always perfectly set between replay value (where things you find make it easier next time) and a requirement for failing a few times whilst crawling over every inch of the map looking for units (where you must find these things in order to stand any chance). Play incentives are provided by the range of missions and initially by extra unit types in each mission, as well as the basic desire to win!
And so is Tek fun? Yes! Undeniably it's fun. In fact when I first installed it I couldn't stop playing it, and usually that's a sign of a good
game. More remarkably, I was playing it on a Risc PC 700 with a pre-StrongARM processor - whilst the game will run correctly on any Risc PC, it really requires a StrongARM to do it justice - which goes to show just how much of a hook the fundamental gameplay has.
Overall, Tek is one of the better attempts at a real-time strategy game that I've played, and that's on any machine. On RISC OS it clearly ranks as one of the best games ever released for the platform - but then you'd hope so after the length of time it's had spent on it and the pedigree of Artex! So if this is the last major commercial game release, at least RISC OS will go out on a high note!
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...this page last updated: 23/9/02...
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