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Uridium (Commodore 64) artwork

Uridium (Commodore 64) review

"Uridium /juridiem/. n. 1. Fictional metallic element. "

Uridium /juridiem/. n. 1. Fictional metallic element.
2. The light-speed Commodore 64 space shoot-em-up from 1985 named for this element.

Uridium, from Commodore 64 legend Andrew Braybrook, is as terrifyingly fast as computer games have ever been.

I don't always buy that 'Games aren't as challenging as they used to be' line, but Uridium is the most powerful argument the case ever had, because today a game like this would not get off the ground. The average player session on one life in Uridium is somewhere between three and ten seconds. Viewed from overhead, your spinning wedge of a spaceship slingshots up and down the length of alien bases (called Dreadnoughts) which scroll horizontally at blinding speed. The base surfaces are covered in deadly structures which you must pilot around in microseconds. You have to be able to continually line yourself up with series of openings in the time it takes to blink.

While your brain maintains Warp Factor Nine and the flesh is streaming off the back of your head, endless alien waves heralded by warning screams swarm past in succession. Of course they're shooting salvos at you as well. You must destroy as much of the base and as many aliens as you can, surviving until the defences are pacified enough for you to be able to land and set the base computer to self-destruct.

Uridium is dauntingly, spectacularly hard, but it can be bested. Controls are tight enough, and your craft can and will react to everything in time when your reflexes and dexterity both peak at once. Thus, just trying to play Uridium, even upon those occasions when you crash and burn in seconds, invites god-like feelings. Because you're daring to be insanely masterful! To dream the impossible dream!

In those moments where you do pull it all together, the experience is a true rush. You've shot across twelve screens of terrain, weaved amongst numerous obstacles and survived three complete dogfights with spiralling aliens in the space of ten seconds. The thrill of such Jedi-like prowess is untouchable.

Am I advocating mastery of Uridium as a way to stun and impress that girl or boy you like? No, but I am telling you that Uridium is one of the zeniths of reaction-speed gaming, and that it inspires you to be amazing. You'll now understand why this game was the epitome of cool back in the day. Every time you went to a friend's house, everyone would have to play Uridium - it was just the done thing. Heck, you'd barely ever survive past level four, but you'd always come away stunned and feeling like you could see things no-one else could see and do things no-one else could do.

The first level of Uridium has the unprepossessing title of 'Zinc'. Level titles progress through elements and metals (Silver, Gold) to alloys (Platinum), and finally to alien alloys (Kallisto, Quadmium) and the deadly nirvana that is 'Uridium'. There's an addictive formal quality about this design concept, and the delicious metallic sheen and strident colour scheme of each Dreadnought sparkles off the screen. Beneath each Dreadnought too are boldly styled atmospheric backgrounds; black star-studded space, lakes, lava or gassy nebulae.

I remember how awed I was by the appearance of the player's ship in Uridium when I first laid eyes on it. The almost hexagonal craft tumbles, spins and folds itself through G-Force turns in an artful aerobatic style which I don't think I've seen duplicated in a game since.

The ship moves in all directions but only ever faces or fires left or right, and it never comes to a halt. Even your slowest cruising speed sets a mean pace when you consider the large scale of the graphics. They reveal relatively little of the terrain ahead, and give you the scary and thrilling sensation that you're within breathing distance of everything, almost scraping the Dreadnought hulls. The bad guys don't look as amazing as you do (they're various spheroids and pointy craft) but the bases themselves more than make up for that. The semi-3D industrial hulks are covered in bleak future-military structures and ominous shadows which mark out the sites of your doom.

In Uridium you can fly up and down the length of each level as you choose, fighting aliens and blowing support structures off the surface. The levels don't end until they're good and ready, thus placing you at the mercy of their exacting deadliness. When you get the alarm screaming 'LAND NOW!' you will be able to put your ship down on the marked out landing strip somewhere on the Dreadnought. And the more of everything you destroy, the sooner this happens, but until it goes happen, you are forced to keep flying around. 'Let me land!' cries the Uridium player pushed to the brink, staving off alien onslaughts, zipping around mazes of walls and towers at Ludicrous Speed, or just circling madly above the prow of the Dreadnought in hopes of evading everything with all the logic of an Ostrich jamming its head into the sand. Waiting for the all-clear to escape a Uridium level is pretty scary.

Alas, when you do manage to land you will encounter the only moment of disappointment in Uridium: It turns out that initiating the destruct sequence is essentially a timing game, one in which you must hit the button in rhythm as a series of point values light up. At least you can't fail to detonate the base, but you can miss out on a lot of points. You then get to fly back over the Dreadnought's entire length as it detonates, spinning out of control all the way and seeing and hearing the surface vaporise beneath you.

Then it's on to the next world and the next Dreadnought. The base layouts and alien formations become more diabolic and artfully arranged each time, especially the structures you must dodge between, and each world has a unique feel. Yet all of the game elements you will ever encounter in Uridium are present in its first level. This is some classic old-school design, pitting you against increasingly vicious configurations of the core elements. Uridium is one of the finest C64 games ever, and a great action title for all time.

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Community review by bloomer (February 06, 2004)

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