I felt I had to feature this game as it was one I used to enjoy as a kid. It was one of the later Spectrum releases I played, before I drifted off into 'Amiga town' in the 1990s.
A combination of Target Games and Blade Software ultimately spawned the base game (which included THREE scenarios to play), followed by TWO expansion packs each containing TWO more scenarios. Until recent years I was oblivious to the existence of the second expansion pack. So suddenly I had a couple of brand new scenarios to play.
Incidentally, if you're thinking of playing (or re-playing) Laser Squad I'd recommend the 128k remix version, which includes all the expansion scenarios in one package. It'll save you a lot of faffing about with your emulator.
The game built on the success of Rebelstar, and is a similar turn-based space-y strategy game. You can play it one- or two-player; I have fond memories of playing both back in the day.
I play plenty of old-and-new games nowadays, and had recently been playing X-Com 2 on the PS4 (one of the newer ones). I was finding it absurdly difficult. It got me wondering "Were the early Gollop games really as difficult as this?". So let's find out...
Laser Squad uses a lot of the game mechanics found in Rebelstar, along with a bunch of extras, such as:
Once you've picked the scenario you'd like to play, the tactics begin immediately with the purchase of armour and guns. Being able to tailor your equipment for each member of your squad gives you different ways to approach each mission.
After that, there's the expected 'deployment' phase (or 'put yer troops on the map' for non-military types). Finally you're into the turn-based action.
Each scenario's map is large, varied, and contains an assortment of colourful equipment, machinery, walls, furniture and other objects (I'm told the graphic style is referred to as 'two-and-a-half D').
There's a turn limit for each scenario. This varies based on the scenario's objectives, how big the map is, etc. I tended to find this was quite generous, at least compared to Rebelstar (and X-Com 2, for a modern comparison).
Because of the variety of scenarios and accompanying objectives, I thought I'd look at each individually, including the expansion pack scenarios. And as these game articles are sort of 'reviews', I've given each an "entertainment rating", based on how much I enjoyed playing it, in the single-player game.
Possibly the most played, and most memorable mission. Your squad is charged with the assassination of Sterner Regnix, the out-of-favour mind control drug lord, who has a set of droid bodyguards patrolling his small mansion complex.
The map for this scenario is pretty small. Despite there being plenty of outdoor space, the action mainly takes place inside the building. There are two obvious entry points, front and back doors - strangely unlocked - but the ability to shoot through the windows adds an extra angle of attack.
There's an entertaining alternative to the sneaky approach - grab yourself a rocket launcher and attempt a full-on building demolition job. Being able to take out doors, walls and pretty much everything else can be very satisfying. Until you run out of rockets.
I recall that when I used to play this scenario two-player, the safest place for the defending team to put Mr Regnix seemed to be in the toilet in the centre of the building. However, for the one-player game he always seemed to end up in the room in the top left of the building.
I always had lots of fun with this scenario. Partly because it's a short one - there aren't many turns, and you have a simple objective. I'd say it's possibly one of the easier missions to complete, and I always enjoyed trying to replay it with different tactics. Great stuff.
Entertainment rating: 10/10
This one's Laser Squad (attack/infiltrate) vs Omni Corporation (defend). For the rebels (from Rebelstar, no less) you need to enter the moonbase and destroy enemy electronic equipment that holds important data about the rebels. As much as possible - around 100 victory points worth in fact (that'll teach Omni Corporation for not going with a cloud storage solution, right?).
You deploy the squad outside the base. There are quite a few entry points for this one. Hint - use the bottom two entrances. The top two areas are cluttered with rather hazardous explosive canisters. The largest collection - and best guarded - of the databanks and analysers is at the centre of the complex, but there are plenty of others to destroy along the way. You get a few victory points for each item destroyed.
This scenario is also jolly good fun. The fairly cramped areas of the base mean you're probably better off avoiding the more explosive guns and grenades (unless you're desperate for self-sustained casualties). But the variety of entry points give you a few options on how to approach the task.
Entertainment rating: 8/10
A mission has gone a bit wrong. Some (three, to be precise) rebels are being held captive in the mines owned by the Metallix corporation. Your squad's job is to break them out, and take them to the escape elevator in the centre of the mine complex.
This is surely the most involved mission the player has encountered so far. Firstly, you'll probably need to equip your team with some sort of explosives to break the captives out. Secondly, your choice of weaponry and shot type (aimed, snap or auto) is quite important. The long, straight corridors of the mine amplify firing inaccuracies, so you need to balance the risk of missing vs action point investment (particularly for aimed shots).
Once you break the captives out, they bolster your squad, but you'll have to think about either carrying some extra weapons for them, or letting them pick up a gun or two from downed enemies.
This is probably one of my least favourite scenarios to play. Alright, I accept it's based in a mine, but for that reason it has the least enthralling scenery of all the scenarios.
Additionally, I found it frustrating how inaccurate my long shots always seemed to be - even more so when you use aimed shots (at great action point cost). After a while I reverted to the inaccurate-but-cheap 'shoot and hope' laser gun auto-fire. Breaking the prisoners out is fiddly, and I found it a slog trying to get them to the lifts.
Fine, so maybe I was just plain bad at this one - I'll accept that...
Entertainment rating: 6/10
The first of the new expansion scenarios, this one's a bit like Moonbase Assault (scenario 2) but with reversed roles. The squad has to stop the attackers destroying its stabiliser cores (which look similar to the ones in Rebelstar, y'know, the square flashy things).
"Fine", you say, "no problem, let's just dig in and crush 'em with opportunity fire.". What you quickly realise is that the enemy has brought along some serious firepower...
To be fair, if you can (and that's a big 'if') take down the battle droids, the rest of the enemy forces are reasonably wimpy. I still find this a tough scenario to play. Just because of the battle droids' explosive gunfire you have to be careful to spread your team out a bit, or you can sustain heavy losses in one turn - or even one shot.
Entertainment rating: 7/10
The second scenario from the first expansion pack, Paradise Valley has an interesting vibe, including areas above and below ground. The denizens here include Sectoids, a sentient race who have acquired human weaponry, and Venemous (sic) Splurges, large frog-like creatures with deadly acidic spit.
The objective for this one is simple - you carry a security device which you have to carry from the left of the map, to the right. It's the first mainly-outdoors scenario and has a different feel to the other ones.
The jungle fever intensifies on the surface, as you find yourself needing to destroy a lot of plant life to make progress. Venemous Splurges are able to move hidden in the bushes, and you'll start finding more of them popping up once you get over to the right of the map.
A nice aspect of the game is that you can make progress via the underground tunnels instead. However, remember it's the security device that needs protecting - so it's a good idea to fully protect its bearer, whatever your route.
I really loved this scenario. The whole thing has a Predator vibe to it, and it can be difficult to anticipate where the local wildlife will appear. As you reach the right side of the map, more Splurges seem to materialise, and it often ends up with the device-bearer making a tense dash to the exit as your squad succumbs to deadly Splurge spit (eww).
Entertainment rating: 10/10
In this one, you control a troop called the '7th Brigade', and you need to retrieve an item called a 'stardrive controller' from a group of mercenaries known as 'The Engineers' (that's a lot of 'single quote marks' for one sentence).
It's one of the more involved scenarios. The first (leftmost) part of the level is sewers - lots of areas of water, patrolled by robot sentries. Over on the right is your target, a small complex where The Engineers reside.
This bunch are more security conscious than previous adversaries, and lock the doors to their hideout - you'll need to equip a laser cutter to get in. Once you find the stardrive, you need to return back through the sewers to the left of the map.
There's limited cover in the first part - you'll have to use the corridors and walkways provided (don't even think about wading through the water areas). Much of the shooting, against the robot sentires, is long range.
The next step is to break into one of the entrances to the compound. I suppose you could break into more than one, though you'll have to invest valuable credits in more than one laser cutter, which let's face it, isn't going to happen.
I have to admit that I struggled with this mission. It's probably because I was unfamiliar with it - this is the first mission from the second expansion pack, which I don't think I'd played before. The Engineers kept getting the drop on me - perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security after the easier sewer section.
Additionally, the sentry droids continue to spawn throughout the game, so even if you retrieve the stardrive, it's a slightly perilous trip back through the sewers.
Like the previous scenario, I quite liked the variety of environments contained within it - the first an expansive area, and the second more claustrophobic. I never played this mission two-player, but I can picture the defending team having a slight advantage.
Entertainment rating: 7/10
The one and only time in my life I've tried paintballing (stag do - standard), the last battle of the day, rather than having structured objectives, was an opportunity to use up the rest of your ammo. Basically it's just mayhem, paint flying everywhere, no tactics, no teams, just every man for himself.
This scenario reminded me of that. The first thing that hits you is the number of turns (255). You are fighting against another team, but you constantly get reinforcements. You can win if you are the only team on the map at the end of any turn - otherwise your victory points tick up VERY slowly.
The map is pretty simple, and symmetrical - it feels as if enemy units are respawning all over the place. One of the handier aspects of the reinforcements is that you don't get massively disadvantaged if you lose a unit or two, so going gung-ho is the order of the day.
I do get the idea of this scenario - more chaos, less structure gives it a different feel from the others (particularly the previous one). I didn't really get the hang of dispatching the opponent quickly, so it turns out to be a war of attrition/preservation. The insane number of turns makes it a bit of a slog - perhaps a slightly shorter turn limit might have helped? Not sure.
Entertainment rating: 6/10
It's obvious that I rate this game - it's one of the few games I come back to and still play, normally one of the 'classic' scenarios (1-3). The Assassins and Paradise Valley stand out for me, just for their quirkiness and high replay value. They're also both fairly short, and conducive to a 'quick bash'.
There's a depth of tactical detail to Laser Squad, but it still has a pick-up-and-play feel to it. If you haven't played Rebelstar it might take a go or two to get the feel of the movement, action points, and opportunity fire, but after a couple of goes you can usually get one over on your computer opponent. And if you're a strategy genius, there's a range of difficulty levels.
By the time of its release, I think the magazines were aware of Julian Gollop's talent in creating nice-looking and easy to play turn-based strategy games. Reception was universally positive, with repeated remarks about how 'arcade-y' the game felt, for a strategy game.
So there we go. JG does it again... If you haven't played it, try firing it up and having a crack at the first scenario, "The Assassins". You won't regret it...