I distinctly remember Epic as one of the first games I bought: it was 1992, and my computer was an Amiga 500 with 512 KB RAM and no hard disk. Boy, was the game fast! I had envied my friends with a PC who could fly around with Wing Commander, but now the envying was over -- alas, just for a short time. The game consists only of 8 missions, and no mission pack was ever made. (Digital Image Design must have heard the cries of all the gamers, because the successor, called Inferno, had over 700 missions: a number I learned from press releases, no one that I know of has ever played them all.)
The game was made for the Amiga, but was published for Atari and PC as well. Now let me turn to the PC version. The story was as simple as any in this genre of space fighter simulation -- funny how the fate of all people always rests on one person's shoulders. The sun is about to turn into supernova and huge spaceships are evacuating the whole population of your home planet. Unfortunately the best escape route from the disaster leads straight through the heart of the Rexxon Empire: and they won’t like a gigantic starship fleet crossing their space. Even the violation of the „neutral zone“, as the intro states, is an act of war. So let there be war! You are the best fighter the humans have, and you are to fly a new kind of small ship, a golden one.
After the intro you can enter a name and a call sign, both used for the high score. The screen also offers the possibility to enter an “entrycode”: if you are missing in action you get this code to start at the last part of the last attempted mission. As I said earlier, there are only eight of them, some with several parts. A mission begins with a detailed briefing that lists the mission goals. There’s no save option, but if you die you are awarded with a cut scene showing the havoc your failure brought to the human civilization … and the shortcut “entrycode”.
Missions mostly consist of flying around and destroying things or enemy vessels. Each mission has a time limit and shows you a percentage of how much you have already achieved. The first mission, for example, has two parts:
1. shoot some mines
2. destroy enemy radar tower
Buildings that get you points in destroying are shown as yellow dots on your radar while enemy defending units are red dots. Blue dots are friendly or not dangerous. – It’s usually a good tactic to follow the roads on the ground, they will lead to buildings.
The cockpit holds no secrets if you played similar games. The upper part is your cockpit view with a little red three digit box that is your compass. In the lower part there are your instruments: on the left you see three bars marked S (shield) F (fuel) and V (velocity), below them your earned points. In the middle is a radar in space or a mini map of a planet, on the right there is another radar, above it T (time) in seconds counting backwards, and C (completed).
Now to gameplay: there are certain letdowns. I should mention the four main ones:
1. Orientation in space is difficult. The radar in the cockpit is designed to help you find enemy fighters, but it is in 2D which greatly reduces its usability. Occasionally you get text messages via HUD as „Go to xxx“, the three digits meaning a grad number and showing you the right direction indicated by your HUD compass. However, this does not tell you if you are too high or too low. If you lose the battle plane while fleeing from the enemy only luck (or experience) will help you back. Obviously this is no problem on a planet surface.
2. Controls are simple but difficult to manage. I played it with a mouse (it is also possible to play with the keys). You hold the left mouse button to give speed: there are only two speed modes: either press button and fly fast or leave button and fly slow. Use the right mouse button to fire your lasers (autofire when continually pressed). Left and right, up and down are controlled with the directions of the mouse (up and down are inverted). The mouse is very sensitive: a slight over adjustment and you find yourself spinning through space, so be careful. There are different lasers (and plasma guns) in your ship but I found no possibility to choose: you simply empty the energy of one and continue with the next. That’s bad because you begin with a single shot laser, leaving double and triple shot for later. There’s no aiming device so the aiming experience matches that of a WWI fighter. With F1 to F6 you can choose different camera views including right, left and rear view from cockpit.
3. There is only rudimentary enemy AI. If you are in danger of losing your shield the best tactic is to leave the area of battle. The enemy ships will continue to fly around in formation, waiting for you to come back and destroy them.
4. Every mission has a time limit but if you get the hang of the game there should be no difficulty in fulfilling it. Your shield and fuel are also limited and the shield doesn’t recharge. I didn’t manage the fourth mission (that has a time limit of 600 seconds) because in every attempt my fuel was gone after only half the time!
The sound is average: midi orchestra playing heroic music to the intro, and always the same explosion noise in the battle. Really astounding for that time are the graphics. Wing Commander had bitmap graphics and was slow to unplayable, but Epic has vector graphics. Digital Image Design showed their mastering of the technique with F 29 Retaliator. Epic allowed gigantic space battles with hundreds of ships at immense speeds! Of course there are no textures, I think they hadn’t been invented yet at that time, but you will soon forget that while whizzing through space. The story is told in animated painted screens that look good enough. The storyline? Well, no hindrance to the fun.
How about the overall rating then? You will get used to the difficulties of the controls, and the graphics are great, but the fuel problem is serious, and there is no real dogfight with an enemy craft because of the unusual on/off speed control and poor AI. I give it a four – in remembrance of the sheer speed and mass of enemy vessels it brought to the screen.
The game is cracked, start with the "Epic.bat" in Dos and hit Return until the intro begins. There must be a mistake because it took ages for the second mission to load, so be patient.
I tried the game with VDM Sound and with Dosbox (in D-Fend). VDM Sound was too fast for me. DOSbox worked quite well; I reduced the mouse sensitivity to 70 percent. Run the sound setup first and choose soundblaster.