Version tested: Retro
Although Geoff Crammond’s name is mostly associated with a series of splendid driving simulations, one of his titles stands apart. Alone. On a hilltop. Watching. Its name: The Sentinel. A unique experience, even for an era where that term could be liberally applied, and one which divided players on its release--a sure sign of something a bit different.
Explaining the game's mechanics in limited space is a tricky business. Sentinel veterans are already familiar with them, and for any interested novices I'd highly recommend learning through play. However, here's my fumbling summary: The Sentinel is an Eye of Sauron simulator. As a would-be "Frodo," you must plot your way around multiple semi-3d, chess-board landscapes, avoiding the deadly gaze of the lofty Eye/Sentinel. Movement is achieved through a series of short-to-medium hops, which require energy to activate. This life-source is topped up by absorbing pieces of the landscape (trees, avatar-husks and, your ultimate goal on each level, the Sentinel itself).
Clear on that? No, thought not. Enlightenment in this title is properly gained through a kind of experimental osmosis. Eventually, it clicks. Then, suddenly, you're hooked; brow furrowed as you tensely plan a way to dodge the rotating guardian and his energy-draining gaze. Your manoeuvres are completely unrestricted, bowing only to the internal rules of the game. Glorious freedom awaits.
Later, extra sentries are thrown in to slow your steady progress through the 10,000 (yikes!) levels. Happily though, a password system allows you to pick up where you left off each time. Scrolling and movement can be overly sedate on the C64, so being caught in a deadly glare leaves little room for escape--but the game is hardly designed for high-octane action. Clever, original and fascinating, The Sentinel stands tall as a supreme strategy-puzzle creation.
9 / 10