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Laser Squad

Laser Squad - in-game screen
Laser Squad - an involving and addictive turn-based strategy game set in space

  • Release year: 1988
  • Publisher: Blade Software Ltd/Target Games Ltd
  • Author: Julian Gollop
  • ZXDB archive entry at Spectrum Computing


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.

Laser Squad loading screen
"Dude, we're getting the band back together..!" Laser Squad is a natural progression from Rebelstar

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.

Target Games Laser Squad magazine advert
The initial magazine adverts from Target Games were a bit low-key for 1988

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...

The Game

Laser Squad - in-game screen
Leave enough action points (APs) - the cyan number - at the end of your turn, if you want opportunity fire during the enemy movement phase. Private Turner only has 2 AP left, which isn't enough, so he's a sitting duck. I'm going to call him "Private Mallard"

Laser Squad uses a lot of the game mechanics found in Rebelstar, along with a bunch of extras, such as:

  • You've got credits to spend on your squaddies - for weapons and armour
  • You can equip your troop with a diverse armoury of guns, rifles, grenades and some rather heavy artillery
  • 'Opportunity fire' temporarily switches control over to you to select your shot types
  • In the one-player game, the computer's troop movement is hidden (to an extent), unless a unit moves into the line of sight of one of your squad
  • Your squaddies have individual stats, such as weapon skill
  • There are timed grenades and flammable/explosive map items
  • ....err... probably lots of other stuff

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.

Laser Squad - equipment screen
Take care to choose your equipment to fit the scenario. This choice looks a bit haphazard, but troopers Zephyr and Connoly gain 'cool' points with their light sabres.

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').

Laser Squad - scanner screen
The scanner screen shows where each of your units is on the map. Handy for getting your bearings

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).

Laser Squad - victory points screen
Big up the Laser Squad! Victory points for each side are shown after each turn, and at the end of the game after one side has won

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.

Scenario 1 - The Assassins

Laser Squad - assassins scenario screenshot
The first scenario is an assassination mission, giving newbies a great intro to the 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.

Laser Squad - assassins scenario - Sterner Regnix
There he is..! The slightly chubby Sterner Regnix. He's not particularly tough, a few Marsec rounds should do the trick. Sterner is/was head of Marsec. Oh, the irony

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

Scenario 2 - Moonbase Assault

Laser Squad - moonbase assault scenario screenshot
The second mission involves you infiltrating a base and shooting a lot of the scenery. Something you tend to do naturally with your squad's Stroomtrooper-like aim

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?).

Laser Squad - moonbase assault scenario screenshot
"One day, you'll be able to fit those databanks and analysers in your pocket". The aiming screen makes it easy to pick out your targets - whether human or scenery-based.

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.

Laser Squad - moonbase assault scenario screenshot
Laser Squad looks to be wreaking absolute havok in the base. Already gained 71 victory points and it's only turn 18

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

Scenario 3 - Rescue from the Mines

Laser Squad - rescue from the mines screenshot
Oh no, not an escort mission... At least you get to control your escortees I s'pose

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.

Laser Squad - rescue from the mines screenshot
I'm not going to ask why an imprisoned android is sitting on a slop bucket. Actually, I am

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

Scenario 4 - The Cyber Hordes

Laser Squad - cyber hoards screenshot
Laser Squad are on the deeeeefense this time. Deploy your squad in defensive positions in the base.

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...

Laser Squad - cyber hoards screenshot
"They have a Battle Droid..." These fellas are practically impregnable and carry devastating and accurate weaponry. In the words of John Barnes, "There's only one way to beat them, get round the back"

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

Scenario 5 - Paradise Valley

Laser Squad - paradise valley scenario screenshot
Paradise Valley is set in heavy jungle. Creep through the bushes keeping your eye out for the local fauna

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.

Laser Squad - paradise valley scenario screenshot
Hidden entrances to tunnels give you an alternative route from hacking through the scenery. But you're likely to encounter a Sectoid or two down here

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.

Laser Squad - paradise valley scenario screenshot
"Watch out for snak... errr... Splurges." The jungle terrain, combined with festering Splurge bodies, means getting over to the right side of the map is slow going, but we're nearly there now

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

Scenario 6 - The Stardrive

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to retrieve the stardrive we go..." - this one's a fetch-and-return mission

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.

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
Not the best start - right at the beginning of the sewers and I've lost one of the brigade already. Careless

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.

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
Time to whip out the laser cutter and enter the complex. Deep breaths everyone...

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.

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
Fighting these Engineers can be a tricky business

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

Scenario 7 - Laser Platoon

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
Laser Platoon - a free-for-all war of attrition

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.

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
With plenty of units around it means you'll probably encounter an opponent just about every turn

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.

Laser Squad - stardrive scenario screenshot
It doesn't take long for the bodies to start piling up in this scenario

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


Laser Squad box cover - small
Here's my copy of Blade's Laser Squad release. Nice art and a bit smaller than the Ultimate-style boxes. Click image for a larger version

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'.

Laser Squad box contents - small
The game comes with a fairly comprehensive manual, telling you how to play the game. I do like a good manual, a rare item in this day and age. Click image for a larger version

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.

Laser Squad - Crash review
Not quite a Crash Smash, but an impressive offering nonetheless
Laser Squad - Sinclair User review
One of the few occasions where Sinclair User have agreed with Crash. 89%
Laser Squad - Your Sinclair review
Yep, Your Sinclair agree as well. Great 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...