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February 1998

The Tone Rebellion

Developed by: The Logic Factory, 1997

Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification rating:

Renaldo surveyed the pastel hued terrain from his elevated vantage point, a light breeze gently caressed his woollen coat. Below him and across the valley was a multitude of active buildings and machinery, among them Tone Spreaders, Solidifiers and Crystal Generators; some Floater workers hovered and busied themselves about their assigned tasks. Iridescent Tone pools shimmered in the daylight and looming In the distance arched the newly opened Bridge, reaching skywards, connecting this Island to the next. At the foot of the Bridge, the Brotherhood of the Tentacle Dojo was training another Floater squadron for the impending assault. A hard, decisive battle had been won here this day and the final Dark Mass that had taken root on this Island had at last succumbed to the onslaught of Floater Troops and Magicians. Soon the Island of The Leviathan itself would become the target of the Awakened One. Renaldo was pleased with the progress..

The Logic Factory's first foray into PC games was a competent and well received space strategy game by the title of Ascendency. While it was considered by many to be an average effort it also contained elements that made it stand out on its own but still firmly placed it comfortably amongst other space strategy titles of a similar nature: Master of Orion, Outpost, et al. With their second title being an entry into the ever burgeoning strategy war game genre, The Logic Factory have created something completely unique and comparison to any other game title is nigh on impossible - the closest being Bullfrog Productions' Gene Wars presented as a graphic adventure. This alone makes The Tone Rebellion worthy of some scrutiny in a period when games developers are riding on Westwood Studio's coat tails and producing umpteen dozens of banal Command & Conquer rip off wannabes.

The first thing the player notices is how The Tone Rebellion's presentation differs from most strategy games. Rather than opting for the traditional top down map view or isometric layout the developers have utilised a profile elevation in which all the action takes place - the type of viewing area usually afforded by graphic adventures of the Lucasarts and Sierra variety. Of course that's only the beginning of the deviation from the norm. The player's various units bare no resemblance to anything I've seen in any other PC strategy game and are certainly neither humanoid, mechanical or military hardware like in their nature. The troops and special class characters resemble airborne tentacled marine molluscs resplendent in primary colours with the innate ability to levitate over the terrain. Toss in some arcane and ethereal elements, stir in a liberal dose of sumptuous visual delights and indulge in a bizarre tactical experience of a virtual terrarium on LSD.

While the freshness of the overall game is a joy to behold and it's rewarding to see developers take the plunge away from familiar waters, this is also the game's major drawback. The goings on are truly such a foreign experience the player is initially confused as to what to do. There really is no familiar frame of reference for the player to latch onto. Just try and tell a jellyfish to go and construct a complex building with a purpose you're uncertain of and you'll have some idea of what I mean. Thankfully the interface is clear and after some experimenting with the mouse and repeated consultation of the manual you'll pick up the game and continually wonder what kind of chemical substances the design team were taking at the time of this title's development.

The object of the game is to reunite a world which has become physically shattered by a nasty, horrible and bad mannered hive minded beastie called The Leviathan. The splintered pieces of the world have become Islands floating freely about a central large Island fragment in space. It is the player's task to defeat the Leviathan which has manifested itself on the Islands in various forms of Spawners, unpleasant growths and other aggressive nasties. Then it's off to defeat the Leviathan itself. Firstly you choose which of the four tribes of coloured levitating jellyfish you wish to command. Then have your worker mollusc Floaters construct various buildings to aid your cause and have your fighter jellyfish Floaters conduct battles that will enable you take control of an area. The units themselves are not controlled directly as is often the case with games of the Command and Conquer variety but rather are controlled by clicking on the various buildings you have constructed and then instructing your batallion of airborne squid warrior Floaters to do battle or guard territory or help defend other vulnerable worker jellyfish Floaters. The construction of Tone Spreaders reveals greater territory, while other mechanised buildings perform other important duties; all the while having worker cephalopoda collecting spheres of Tone - a mystical commodity akin to 'The Force' - and distributing other equally important Tone Crystals to various locations. Bridge apertures will allow your aerial aquamorphic units access to other Islands (levels) and so the game progresses defeating The Leviathan along the way. Simple - once you've cracked through the initial barrier of confusion, weirdness and the sense of 'Oh God, What on Earth is going on here?' factor.

Cunningly tucked away on the CD ROM is a subtle strategy game with the weird quotient bumped up well into double figures. It combines in it's unique fashion a genuine feeling of search and discovery - an exploration game that continuously reveals something new to the player on each level - and a challenge that makes many other strategy games look like the blatant and shameless C&C derivatives that they really are. One of the great features of The Tone rebellion is the player's ability to traverse back and forth to various locations and revisit previous levels to reorganise your strategies and teleport your buildings between a secure level and one which is currently in the process of being taken over.

The Tone Rebellion is an immersive experience with a sound track of a psychedelic New Age ambience. You can further crank up the confusion factor of the game by playing in the most difficult mode which enables the 4 Realms states of awareness (Supernatural, Physical, Natural and Ethereal) at maximum. This is not the kind of game that will appeal to gamers who like to dabble with variations on the familiar and overly cosy C&C theme which has been truly done to death. The originality of the whole package will certainly appeal to strategy gamers who've become jaded with that form of gameplay. It's the kind of game that will either appeal to you or you'll hate it depending on your demeanour towards the unusual.

Having played The Tone Rebellion rather late at night I would recommend indulging in this game at about 2am. Your sleep deprived and weary mind can then truly wrap itself appropriately around the crisp graphics and trippy elements of this spun out title to the fullest. Then reap the reward of a good night's sleep with your dreams enhanced by the afterimages of levitating molluscs and jellyfish combatting unlovely spiny black things.

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Phillip Wlodarczyk
A modified version of this review appears in the Melbourne Science Fiction Club publication: Ethel the Aardvark #77

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Filed: 4-Feb-1998 : Last updated: : Last tested: : Last compiled: 10-Aug-2014: Deleted: Sep-2000
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