The Sentinel

"Highly recommended for many absorbing hours", says Computer Gaming World

Source // YouTube

The 1001 entry for The Sentinel describes it as 'Chess with added paranoia'. Its Wikipedia entry calls it both 'the first virtual reality game', as well as an 'energy management game'. Just what on Earth is this thing?

Fun Times

The aim of the game is to find and absorb the Sentinel, a... thing... that has roamed many worlds and devoured many things. Something along those lines. You do so by navigating the world through the view of a Synthoid.

Your only movement is the ability to look around you. In order to physically move, you need to create another Synthoid and then transfer your consciousness to it. You're essentially teleporting around the level via telepathy.

However, nothing is that easy when you are trying to defeat world devouring Sentinels. It is always above you and you can't move to anywhere higher than your current height, unless you happen to make a Synthoid on top of a boulder, in which case you need the ability to make boulders.

How do you make boulders? You absorb trees. It is an energy management game after all, and energy must be conserved and all that malarky.

So, gameplay takes the form of absorb trees, place boulder, place Synthoid, transfer consciousness to Snythoid, absorb previous Synthoid and boulder, rinse and repeat until you are higher than the Sentinel, absorb him, take his place, warp to the next level.

Firstly, that sounds pretty complicated. Secondly, it sounds pretty cool, no? For a bit of a brain workout, you could do a lot worse than The Sentinel.


Unfortunately, I can't say any of that for sure. Despite a few ports, I've not yet been able to play The Sentinel beyond a little Flash play around. It shows off the concept of absorbing and building, but not the Sentinel watching over you and absorbing energy for himself, as well as mechanics involving the creation of Sentries and converting trees into Meanies, and even a sort of line of sight/cover system kind of thing.

The Sentinel won't just ignore you, and has many tricks of his own, meaning you'll have to deal with both the environment and the obstacles the Sentinel creates within it.

All of that must be where the paranoia comes in. It's one thing to get the hang of absorbing and creating and transferring and absorbing, but another to do it around the sweeping gaze of the enemy without him noticing.

I've seen a couple of versions on YouTube, and I think that were I to have dove head first into some of them rather than the 'friendlier' Flash demonstration I found, I would have had different views on The Sentinel.

Final Word

I don't want to be definitive when I'm not in a position to be definitive, but I can say that The Sentinel definitely is a must play game. For a puzzler like this to have come out in the mid 1980s says so much for what gaming could be - that games don't have to be obvious, like a conversion of a sport or a film, but that they could be their own things, with their own rules.

I still want to be able to see what it's like to play under pressure, and like I say I might end up having different views afterwards, but until then - based on a bit of writing, some visuals and a test demo - I can recommend The Sentinel, no problem.

Fun Facts

If you finished a level with excess unused energy, you were able to skip a few levels as reward for your skill. If you landed in a level that was too difficult, just go back to your last level and perform a bit worse. Brilliant.

The Sentinel, developed by Geoff Crammond, first released in 1986.
Version played: Sentinel Redux, 2005, via Adobe Flash.
Version watched: Atari ST, 1988 (golob13)
BBC Micro, 1986 (Willowbob)