Preview - Absolute Zero (DOS, 1995)

Originality is fairly rare. That's why some people get paid grotesque amounts of money for thinking original thoughts and doing original things. Unfortunately, many more people get paid decent money for re-thinking other people's ideas, which may or may not have been original when they thought them. Pretty much all forms of entertainment suffer from this lack of originality, and the computer gaming industry is certainly no exception. (If you've played some of the dozens of "kill the foozle" games out there you know exactly what I'm talking about.) If you buy a new game – even if it's good and you have fun – you've probably played it before.

Absolute Zero from Domark is a game that promises to be something a little different. It's a war-based game in which there is no good vs. evil, no black and white division of right and wrong. It's a war based on misunderstanding, not galactic borders threatened by aggressively expansionist species. Somewhere along the line an accident became war, and Domark has an interesting and – dare I say – original method of showing you both sides of the conflict.

Absolute Zero takes place in the year 2374. In the 380 years between now and then terrans have advanced scientifically to the point where we have begun to establish off-world colonies within our solar system. Domark promises that the scientific advances present in the game will be fairly realistic. No transmogrifying or beaming hither and yon, just a logical advancement of technology. Far from being glamorous, most of the off-world colonies are mining stations working to provide the resources we've already depleted from earth.

One of the largest of these colonies is on Jupiter's moon Europa. In addition to mining operations, the Europa colony serves as a major refueling base for ships en route to more distant colonies, a sort of galactic gas station. Everything appears to be normal, until an attack from a previously unknown alien race obliterates the Europa colony, along with its 2000 or so citizens. In the blink of an eye, the Terrans are thrown into a bloody war with a mysterious species whose biology, technology, and motives are totally unknown.

The resulting conflict is a short but action-packed war, lasting about three to four weeks. Since little is known about the alien attackers guerrilla tactics will be used extensively. Information about this new species must be gathered and, if possible, their own technology must be used against them.

The game unfolds as a series of scenarios, each with its own main objective. Since you're not playing the part of a Rambo type one man army, you'll have to coordinate your efforts with the rest of the military. To this end, each scenario has a number of sub-scenarios, smaller steps toward accomplishing the main goal. Each of these sub-scenarios lets you take part in an action that brings the overall mission closer to completion. For example, say you're playing a mission with the main objective of capturing some alien technology. Progressing through the sub-scenarios, you might pilot a ship into the sector to drop a probe to locate the alien artifacts, then control a cargo ship as it retrieves the artifacts, and finally pilot an armed escort to guard the cargo ship until it reaches friendly territory.

Once you win the war for the Terrans, Absolute Zero does something truly original – it restarts the game and lets you play from the aliens' point of view. When you do this, you discover that the aliens are not the murderous aggressors you originally took them to be. The aliens were hiding beneath the Terran base on Europa. They'd been there for millions of years, hiding from a malicious entity from outside our solar system by burying themselves in the core of the ice-locked moon. As the Terran probes dug further and further into Europa, they decided that it was time to find a different hiding place. To escape the aliens blasted out of the moon through its crust. Unfortunately, they happened to be directly under the Terran city when they did this, and the unintended result was the death of 2000 human colonists. The aliens didn't want a war either, but they're forced to fight one as the Terrans launch a counter attack.

The design team of Absolute Zero have some very interesting ideas to play around with here. It'll be interesting to see where the project goes in the months to come. Although still in the very early development stage, Absolute Zero should be shipping some time in March of 1995. Look for additional information on the game in upcoming episodes of IE.