After more than nine months of waiting, Synapse Software has finally given birth to a game that its advertisements led me to believe was going to be the game of the century. The ad read, "What has immeasurable fire power -- attacking Rigillians -- altered perspective scrolling -- and no mercy?" Dimension X is finally here, but it is not exactly what I expected.
The game does feature an altered perspective scrolling floor in the playfield, which is very attractive, but that's where the fun ends. Nowhere to be found are the tanks, missile-launching silos or the beautifully depicted spaceships seen on the package illustration. Instead, the only attacking forces, known as Rigillians, are small, pink, cigar-shaped objects which are unusually easy to shoot down. Gone is the separate-screen 64 sector map showing what type of enemy is where, and how much fuel it takes to get there. We now have a 25 sector grid showing how many enemies are in each sector that is combined with an omnipresent screen displaying a limited number of vital functions. In fact, neither of the two screen photographs shown on the packaging ever made it to the game intact.
The game opens with you viewing a mountainous horizon, with what appears to be a checkerboard field between you and the mountains. You are looking through the window of a cockpit that has the aforementioned desert map, a display showing shield and fuel status, a readout showing the distance between you and the Rigillians, a radar screen, and a communications window which gives you various messages throughout the game. A push of the joystick starts the field scrolling, and, by manipulating the stick, you realize that you are in a bowl (or pie tin) with mountains forming the perimeter. The object of the game is to rid this sector of Rigillians by blasting them, and then moving via one of eight passageways through the mountains to another sector for resumed Rigillian blasting. The eight passageways correspond to the basic compass points, and the desert map reveals which sectors you will arrive at by travelling through the various passageways.
Upon entering a passageway, you realize that a great deal of imagination is required to understand what is happening. What you are supposed to visualize is yourself flying through a narrow corridor with gates strapped from wall to wall across your path. You must stay in the center of the corridor without touching the walls while maneuvering above and below the gates. This concept is tough to grasp from the graphics provided, and, to make matters worse, the documentation tells you that you can pass through the gates. My games kept ending here until I realized that I had to avoid the gates.
If all of this sounds vaguely like Star Raiders, you're right. Based on the Blue Max/Zaxxon and Encounter/Battlezone conversions Synapse is famous for, I fully expected a souped-up, hot-rod version of Star Raiders. Synapse, however, has fallen short with Dimension X. What is missing is the element of skill that Star Raiders requires. Dimension X can be completed very successfully by anyone who understands the game and can connect the rules to the screen graphics. I've made it through the game every time at the highest difficulty settings without having to re-fuel, repair or retreat. The Rigillians never even got close to surrounding my capital. Sounds pretty merciful to me.
To wrap things up, I'd like to talk about something that disk drive users must be made aware of. When booting Dimension X, a foolish protection scheme built into the program causes the game disk to try to write to itself If it can't complete the task the program boots fine. However if you, like several thousand disk drive owners (myself included), have installed a switch to disable the write-protect mechanism, and the switch is engaged, Dimension X will write to itself and reformat the entire disk, wiping out the program! That's right, you lose everything. There is no mention of this on either the box or the documentation. Synapse must assume that anyone capable of writing to a disk with no write-enable notch is out to copy their software. I spoke with Synapse, and they are currently charging $5 to replace the contents of the disk if they are lost in the above manner. They also stated that they are re-evaluating this protection scheme, and that their marketing people might look into putting a warning on the game. I hope they do something soon, because many people like myself will find themselves with an empty disk the first time they try to use it. Boy, was I depressed.
In conclusion, Dimension X is disappointing. It doesn't fulfill the promises of the artwork, and isn't nearly as much fun as some of Synapse's other games, such as The Encounter (a hot-rod version of Battlezone) or Blue Max (a souped-up version of Zaxxon). Both of these surpass the originals and are a must for the collection of any game enthusiast. Sadly, Dimension X doesn't fall into this latter category.