Paul Woakes‘ classic open-world cockpit exploration game, Mercenary, was ported to the 48K ZX Spectrum by David Aubrey-Jones and published by Novagen Software in 1987.
The Spectrum was always proficient at wireframe polygonal 3D games and Mercenary is one of the best examples of its type on the diminutive 8-bit machine. From the dramatic opening sequence, where you crash-land on a planet called Targ, to flying around in a variety of different spacecraft, Mercenary is as innovative as it is compelling, and the game’s original designer managed to create something easy to play, but with great depth.
When you land on Targ you’re told that two opposing factions – the Palyars and the Mechanoids – are at war with each other, and both will contact you and ask you to meet with them (they give you coordinates to where you can find them, in their respective underground bases). Once you’ve heard them out, it’s then up to you where your loyalties lie.
Mercenary contains a variety of different missions that you can complete, and you can attempt these in any order you like. Although siding with one of the warring factions is not without its consequences.
If you can’t be bothered getting involved in a war, you can just fly (or drive) around and explore the various underground facilities. You can buy (or steal) craft, and some even have weapons that allow you to shoot, although shooting isn’t a major part of the game. It’s handy to be able to protect yourself, though.
Mercenary is a brilliant game and plays fantastically well on the Spectrum. It’s on-par with the Atari 8-Bit original, and the more famous Commodore 64 version, although the main game window is smaller than in both of those releases. It doesn’t affect the overall experience, though.
An add-on stroke sequel, called Mercenary: The Second City, was also released for the Spectrum in 1988.