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Publisher: CodeBlender Software    Genre: Simulation
Min OS X: 10.1    CPU: G3 @ 400 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 120 MB

Epsilon Tahari: Reign of the Machines
July 2, 2003 | Galen Wiley

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Flight simulators have always been a big hit with Mac gamers. There was something about taking off on the runway, flying over seas, and making the perfect landing, that instilled a natural high (no pun intended) of sorts in all kinds of gamers, be they future pilots or not.

Nowadays, however, new flight sims for Mac are scarce. In June, however, shareware developer Code Blender made an announcement that surprised the Mac flight sim community. A new game was on the horizon, Epsilon Tahari, with the intent of bringing the flight sim back to the Mac.

Flash forward one month. Epsilon Tahari is finally out. But the question remains: is it the game you've all been waiting for?

A powerful alien race bent on total galactic domination has foolishly abandoned Epsilon Tahari, a planet known for its mysterious anti-gravity technology. Fearing that the aliens could return to the planet's surface and harness such power to their own advantage, UCN has sent you, a lone pilot, to capture the technology from the aliens and return to Earth for much celebration. Oh, and of course, expect plenty resistance.

Epsilon Tahari's storyline can be described as imaginative at best. It's not the greatest premise I've ever heard, but it really doesn't matter; once you get into the game, you'll forget why the hell you're doing any of this in the first place. After all, the real important part of the game, above anything else, is gameplay.

ET can be described as your classic flight sim with a dash of arcade action, so says the developer. In reality, ET is very little action, and much more flight sim than one would think. Because of this, the game's learning curve is extremely steep, but in the end, ultimately rewarding.

While your aircraft automates certain parts during flight, primary controls and gauges are left in your hands to harness/pay attention to. These include fuel levels, pitch, ammo levels, throttle (speed, in layman's terms) and more. While it may seem like a burden at first, this is how actual aircrafts are flown, and once you get down the basics, you'll feel just like the Red Baron, only without the abnormally bald children and the incoherent instructors.

The only problem is, there's no real way to learn how to pilot the craft other than previous experience, or the more likely route: trial and error. The game features no real tutorial, but instead a more misleading "practice area" that allows you to do your own thing, i.e. crashing your plane on take off, restarting the practice level, and repeating steps 1-2 several times.

If the lack of a proper tutorial is hard enough, the game itself is even more unforgiving. Combat, as intense as it is, is complicated and difficult for those unfamiliar with these types of games. The game has a targeting system, but only for a very limited supply a missiles, and there is no way to tell if an enemy is on the verge of destruction or not, you simply have to just keep pounding the fire key until you think it's gone. Targets seem to be everywhere, and thanks to the super realistic controls, you'll spend a good 10 minutes or so sweeping out an area before you're clear to land, that is, if you don't run out of fuel by then. Maybe I'm just not good at flight sims, but regardless, a good game should be easy to play for anyone, not just seasoned veterans of the genre.

The game, however, still has its more appealing parts, and one is the mission set up. There are no real "missions" per-se. After the first one or two missions, the player is actually given complete control of what to do, with the eventual goal of escaping with the gravity technology. This adds yet another element of gameplay to the mix, strategy: do you rush for the enemy base with low fuel, or do you make a pit stop at the station and not risk it? Little questions like this will be the determining factor in your survival. While I still found Epsilon Tahari a tad difficult for my taste, the nonlinear elements made me feel like I was in complete control. And I liked it.

The last part of gameplay to look at is control, and thankfully Epsilon Tahari offers full customization for all devices (including joysticks and gamepads), I plugged my old GamePad Pro USB in (although the game is clearly meant for a more traditional flight stick), and was ready to play after a few button setups. Unfortunately, if you do not have enough buttons for all the available commands, you won't be able to use them, which is something that I thought was a little harsh, especially for those who only need to control certain elements of their plane. One problem I encountered was while in keyboard mode, the laser button simply would not work, even after setting it to different keys.

Epsilon Tahari is an excellent homage to your classic flight sim with sci-fi like undertones. The learning curve is extremely steep, and the game is clearly not meant for newcomers to the genre. Still, there's something undeniably cool about piloting a futuristic aircraft through a barren landscape, fighting giant robot missile launchers and making the perfect landing down the run way.


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