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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sundog: Frozen Legacy

A game that I'd never heard of until recently, though after reading an interview in which Richard Garriott named it his favorite game of all time and seeing it listed as an inspiration for Bethesda's upcoming Starfield, I decided to give it a go.  After playing it I can certainly see why two major names in gaming cited it as such a big influence, as it's got quite a lot going on for a 1984 release.  Built on a similar premise to Elite (released the same year), you start with only a beat-up spaceship and a pocketful of cash, and set out to fulfill your late uncle's final contract.  To that end, you must buy and sell commodities to make money, gradually fix up your ship and its many broken parts, and seek out a number of would-be colonists in cryogenic stasis on numerous planets in order to help them form a new colony for their religious order.  Of course, it's never as simple as it sounds - in addition to fluctuating market prices, you constantly deal with ne'er-do-wells from street muggers to space pirates who want to rob or outright kill you.  Sometimes you can bluff your way out of a fight, but more often than not you'll have to resort to good old gunplay to neutralize the threat.  And of course, you have to manage your own health and replace or repair broken parts to keep your ship running, or your mission is all for naught.  Sundog has a surprisingly simple interface in spite of its complexities, using only a two-button joystick or mouse; in fact, it's one of the first games I'm aware of to be entirely mouse/joystick driven with no option to use the keyboard, so it's relatively easy to pick up and play, especially for an '80s computer game.  An influential and very ambitious game with some elements that haven't been replicated in any other game to date, but it also falls prey to hardware limitations of the era - the overall gameplay is very slow-paced and repetitious, and the end goal boils down to little more than a very long game of tedious searching, clue chasing and trial-and-error.  Two more sequels were also planned to expand on the game's story and universe, though owing to Bruce Webster's departure from FTL and the runaway success they experienced only a couple years later with Dungeon Master, they ultimately never materialized.  A game worth a look as a historical curio for serious RPG fans, though fans of these type of in-depth market and spaceship sims have plenty of more sophisticated modern alternatives these days.

Developer: FTL Games
Publisher: FTL Games, Accolade
Platform: Apple II, Atari ST
Released: 1984, 1985