Review by Sashanan
"Gives a whole new definition to 'argh!'"
Lazarian is yet another in a seemingly endless series of space-based action games for the Commodore 64, and frankly, it's not among the better ones. While composed of a few different levels and blessed with pretty good background music, Lazarian fails to deliver in the gameplay department. A combination of sluggish control, a very primitive look and a gameplay that depends on 90% luck and 10% skill is enough to turn what could have been a good title into a major disappointment.
The objective of Lazarian is allegedly to rescue stranded space ships. What it comes down to is that you move your ship through five different levels (actually three, but two of them consist of two parts), trying to stay alive as long as you can. And that, as you will see, is easier said than done.
As I usually do with this kind of game, I'll describe the different levels one by one.
In the first level of Lazarian, the middle of the screen is a big circle in which meteors float around. One of these will light up, and you are supposed to shoot it. When you do, it pops out and begins to circle around the edges of the screen. Your objective here is to shoot all the asteroids one at a time, while avoiding the ones you have already shot and which are now happily floating around. When you manage to shoot the last one, you can pass into the circle (previously you bounced off it if you attempted to move into it), and you are supposed to shoot the meteors floating around while you are stuck in the circle. The meteors also fire back. No, I know that doesn't make sense, wasn't my idea. They just do. And since you have very little room to maneuver in the circle, avoiding their shots is like trying to hold your hand still when you've had too much coffee. You'll manage it, but not for long.
If you manage to get rid of all the meteors, the second (or third, depending on how you look at it) level comes up, the so-called Tunnel of Fear. Starting in the bottom left corner of the screen, you have to work your way up through four corridors with various obstacles. The first has little flying aliens chasing you. The second forces you to break your way through a barricade by destroying bunkers and shooting aliens hiding behind them. The third tunnel has you navigate over a set of cannons, timing your movement between their shots, once again chased by the little flying aliens you met before. The final part forces you to worm your way past comets shooting their way past you. Does it make sense yet?
The next level pits you against a big monster, and the first time you'll see it you'll definitely lose a life while you are rolling on the floor with hysteric laughter at its appearance. What you are supposed to do is punch a hole through its rapidly regenerating skin with your shots, until you get up all the way to its head, where you must shoot it in its single eye. While you do this, two of the now-familiar flying aliens float around firing shots at you, and the eye opens fire on you too. Naturally. Ever seen an unarmed eye?
Once the eye has been hit, the entire monster explodes, the little flying aliens mercifully leave the screen, and only the eye remains. You are now forced to stick to the bottom of the screen, no longer allowed to move all the way around it, and the eye bounces up and down along the edges of the screen. The objective here is to hit it four times, after which the eye explodes into a hundred (actually, four) different pieces and you get to start over at level 1 again, though the difficulty level has been increased.
A major down point of the game. Your craft can be moved in all four directions with the joystick (except in the last level where you are forced to hug the bottom of the screen), and you can fire by holding the fire button and indicating a direction. The game is sloppy in detecting the fire button, though, and often refuses to fire when it should. The potential for losing lives to this is enormous. Also, your craft has a nasty tendency to get stuck into obstacles rather than bouncing off them. In the Tunnel of Fear, you have a good chance of crashing into a wall, then being unable to get out of it for a couple of seconds. If those seconds aren't enough to get you killed by a stray enemy or shot, they will still be deadly in another way: you have a limited amount of fuel to complete each level with, and that amount becomes very limited when you have completed all levels once. From that point on you're expected to move through every level swiftly and flawlessly, and with the joystick being as unresponsive as it is, that is a daunting task indeed.
Lazarian looks painfully primitive. The only good graphic is that of your craft, which consists of a cockpit and three long engine exhaust shafts. The little flying aliens look like uninspired insects, meteors are simple blue or red circles with a black line in the middle, shots are little white points (if fired by the enemy) or thin purple lines (if fired by you). The monster in level 4, however, takes the cake. He's not even an actual bitmapped sprite - he's composed of the Commodore 64 equivalent of ASCII art. What should have been a fearful end-of-game boss is reduced to a hilarious creation that wasn't intended to be hilarious whatsoever. Once you've seen him, you'll never complain about poor looking end-of-game bosses ever again, be they in RPGs, fighting games or shooters.
Lazarian has very few sound effects. Most things move silently. The sounds of your ship firing shots and things exploding are rather uninspired, and the floating eye in the final level makes a very, very annoying ringing noise when you hit it. The redeeming factor is the game's music, which includes two well-known classic pieces (don't ask me for their names, I'm a barbarian when it comes to classic music). Both have been done rather well, but they feel a little out of place. It's almost as if they were used to try and make the game look like more than it is, but that won't fool a gamer for an instant. Still, the music is a good point of the game and deserves to be mentioned as such.
Lazarian is a very difficult game, but for all the wrong reasons, I'm afraid. First off, the unresponsive controls really hamper your ability to move as smoothly and quickly as your limited fuel supply expects you to (especially once you've completed the cycle of levels once and your fuel consumption is doubled). Also, many levels have a significant luck factor involved. Some examples include:
- Meteors in level 2 can fire at such an angle and distance that the shot is impossible to avoid;
- Those same meteors can stay out of your fire range long enough to make you run out of fuel and lose a life;
- The floating eye in level 5 can bounce at you at an unavoidable angle without warning, making either evasion or destruction impossible.
These are just a few examples, but you get the idea. For an experienced player, most of his deaths are through no fault of his own. To make matters worse, whenever you die, you get to start at the beginning of that level again. Now thankfully, if you lose all your craft, the game allows you to continue at the level you lost your last life at - until you complete the cycle at least one time. From there on, you have to make do with the lives you get, and the only way to get a bonus life is to complete the entire cycle. Odds are you'll lose at least two lives every cycle due to simple bad luck, and since you have three lives to start with, simple statistics show us that you cannot complete the cycle more than three times, regardless of how good you may be. That is unforgivable as far as I'm concerned.
Lazarian's only redeeming points are:
- Good music in most of the levels;
- A fair bit of variety in the different levels.
Lazarian's potential is completed undermined by:
- Unresponsive controls;
- Very crude graphics;
- Far too much luck involved.
Lazarian can be somewhat entertaining at times, but overall, it is a poor title. Good music cannot hide the fact that your results in Lazarian will have little to do with your actual efforts. This is not blackjack: in a shooter game, luck may not be a significant factor, and it certainly shouldn't dominate the game. In Lazarian it does, and in the end that is what breaks the game. Stay away from this one.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 08/12/01, Updated 02/05/02
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