Mitral is a distant moon, once mined by exiled criminals. The mining has caused a build-up of gas beneath the moon’s surface, and the gas must be drawn off to prevent Mitral exploding with disastrous consequences for its mother planet. In Driller you explore the deserted moon, finding gas pockets and placing drilling rigs in each of 18 sectors — using the solid-3-D, all-round-view system Freescape, which is used for the first time in Driller and is being promoted as ‘the new dimension’.
The topography of Mitral is seen through a large window with controls beneath it. The Freescape system can be likened to a large transparent bubble with the player pinned at the centre. This ‘bubble’ can rotate in all directions, allowing you to look out and examine objects at any angle, even from behind and below. In Driller think of the excavation probe you drive as the bubble.
14 months’ work by Incentive’s in-house design team has produced an environment of over 20,000 billion possible window views (though many of these are virtually identical, the result of only a small shift in the angle of view). Information is priority-sorted, so one object can obscure another in true 3-D perspective.
Your excavation probe has controllable speed and turn angle (that means you can set how far each move will take you, whether it’s a backward/forward step or a left or right turn), The main body of the probe can be tilted left or right, elevated or lowered to gain more visual information.
Mitral is made up of large open squares surrounded by walls, block buildings, steps, trenches and acid rivers. It is deserted. Laser beacons fire on you when they detect you; your probe’s defensive shield gives some protection, but it’s diminished by repeated hits.
To survive the probe can retreat out of range, get behind the beacon, or fire upon it with your own targetable lasers. Some beacons can be neutralised by severing their power supplies.
Orbital scanners also fire at you, appearing with an audible warning — but there’s little that can be done other than evade their attack.
For more mobile exploration the probe can dock with a reconnaissance jet, if it can be found. To be allowed into the. hanger which houses this vehicle, you have to enter a building and there solve a puzzle (other puzzles in Driller when solved allow the use of a teleporter or provide other options). The jet is activated by docking the probe into its underside.
In the jet, as in the probe, you can look all round, and have even more versatile movement: the jet can go up and down and fly above all but the tallest of Mitral’s constructions. The craft can also land at will, and hover. But though its onboard lasers afford it some protection, the jet’s limited shield strength makes it vulnerable to attack.
Throughout Driller the controls beneath the main view screen give your probe’s present position in x- and y-coordinates, as well as altitude if you’re in the jet. Using these coordinates you can pinpoint a drilling position and go back to it game after game; they also help in mapping the huge area of Mitral, and a 3-D blank cardboard model comes with the game to help mappers.
Plan and side-view screens give further navigational support.
Laser firing, craft movement and shield strength all depend on an energy supply, which can be restored by firing on two types of rubicon crystal found all over Mitral.
But the object throughout is drilling. When a potential gas pocket is located, a drilling rig can be teleported down to Mitral’s surface and positioned. (You can’t drill from the jet, though.)
Once the rig has penetrated the gas pocket, a read-out indicates how much of the gas has been released; if that’s more than 50%, the sector is safe. Points are awarded for successful gas extractions, and you can call up information on the total amount of gas tapped and sectors made safe.
Even if a drill is placed inaccurately, it can be teleported away again, though this eats heavily into the probe’s energy reserves.
Once a sector has been made safe the next can be reached by travelling through doorways in walls, blasting obstructions, or using a teleport.
And all the time, as you explore Driller’s universe of screens, time is running out for Mitral — an approaching meteor threatens the volatile gas-filled moon. You have just four hours and eight seconds (don’t ask us why) to complete Driller.
A 32-page booklet explaining Driller and Freescape comes with the game.
“It’s probably getting a bit boring, all this praise, but here goes: Driller is one of the best Spectrum games ever. The graphics are amazing; for once the claims made by the publisher are surpassed, and Freescape really IS the new dimension! After a couple of hours you don’t notice the jerkiness of the graphics, either. And Incentive’s Major Developments team hasn’t relied on the graphics — Driller is a compulsive game. Once you’ve learned the basic, read the (extensive!) literature, and sorted out the first few drilling rigs, Driller opens up and you really can’t put it down. Just trying to position a rig accurately is a game in itself, and Driller offers so much it’s a must for any Spectrum-owner.”
MIKE ... 97%
“There’s just so much manoeuvrability and playability packed into Driller you can find something different every time you play. And it’s an amazing achievement, considering that whenever you move all the graphics have to be recalculated and filled in again. Once you’re in the get the game turns into an equally brilliant flight simulation as you zip over walls and into complexes. The elaborate control system can be a bit of a nuisance at times — once I ended up upside down and the wrong way round in the middle of a shed somewhere and had to abort the game! But there’s nothing to fault in Driller. It’s the game of the year.”
NICK ... 98%
“‘Freescape is the new dimension’ — you’d better believe it. If you miss out on this you’ll suffer. Judging from Driller, Freescape is going to have more success on the Spectrum than Ultimate’s Filmation (the isometric 3-D technique first used in Knight Lore in 1984) could ever have had. And Driller is more than just a demo of a new technique (though it would be a brilliant one); it creates the strongest, most addictive atmosphere you can imagine. Driller: written now, but conceived for the future.”
PAUL ... 97%
Joysticks: Cursor, Kempston, Sinclair
Graphics: a series of simple, monochromatic, static pictures — with realistic 3-D and a ‘looking around’ effect that comes closer to being there than any more detailed screens
Sound: spot effects
General rating: with a stunning use of 3-D graphics, very challenging gameplay and the fascination of exploring the Freescape world, Driller is one of the best games CRASH has seen