Micro League Multimedia (PC)
|Release date(s)||1988 (Spectrum/C64)
1989 (CPC/Amiga/Atari ST)
Laser Squad is a turn-based tactics video game, originally released for the ZX Spectrum and later for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Amiga and Atari ST and PC computers. It was designed by Julian Gollop and his team at Target Games (later Mythos Games and Codo Technologies) and published by Blade Software, expanding on the ideas applied in their previous Rebelstar series of games.
Laser Squad originally came with five mission scenarios, with an expansion pack released for the 8-bit versions, containing a further two scenarios. Reaction from gaming magazines was positive, gaining it high review rating and several accolades. The legacy of the game can be seen in other titles like the X-COM series, especially the acclaimed UFO: Enemy Unknown which was also created by Julian Gollop and was initially conceived as a sequel to Laser Squad.
Laser Squad is a turn-based tactics war game where the player completes objectives such as rescue or retrieval operations, or simply eliminating all of the enemy by taking advantage of cover, squad level military tactics, and careful use of weaponry. The squad's team members are maneuvering around a map one at a time, taking actions such as move, turn, shoot, pick up and so on that use up the unit's action points. More heavily laden units may tire more easily, and may have to rest to avoid running out of action points more quickly in subsequent turns. Morale also plays a factor; a unit witnessing the deaths of his teammates can panic and run out of the player's control.
Including the expansion pack, there are seven scenarios in total, each one with its own difficulty settings and squad allocation:
- "The Assassins" - The mission's objective is to assassinate Sterner Regnix, the boss of a weapons manufacturer who is using illegal methods to get the best out of his workers. The player will lead a small squad of troops and infiltrate Regnix's hideout and eliminate him by any means, all the while dealing with Regnix's droid squad that patrol the hideout.
- "Moonbase Assault" - A small squad must penetrate the Omni Corporation moon base, via the airlocks, and destroy a great number of their databanks and analyzers that hold sensitive information.
- "Rescue from the Mines" - After a routine mission goes badly wrong, three members of the rebel squad are held prisoner in the Metallix Corp mines. A squad of troops must negotiate the mine complex, free all three prisoners and escape.
- "The Cyber Hordes" - A small squad must defend a rebel station from the attack of an advancing droid squad invasion. The rebel base holds seven stabilizer cores vital to the planet's stability and the droids have focused their efforts on these targets.
- "Paradise Valley" - Following on from "The Cyber Hordes", the destruction of the stabilizer cores has left the colony in ruins and assault ships hover above waiting for the time of attack. To prevent capture of the rebel blueprints for their advanced starfighter the data has been transferred onto a portable security device and a squad is given the task of escaping from the colony with the device.
- "The Stardrive" - A group of mercenaries have captured the stardrive controller for a new rebel fighter. A rebel squad must go to their hidden base and retrieve the device.
- "Laser Platoon" - A free for all deathmatch as equal teams are pitted against each other. Big (ten man) squads, with reinforcements arriving frequently, explore the symmetrical map hunting down or sniping the equally equipped opposition.
The original Target Games 8-bit release came with the first three missions with an expansion pack offered via mail order for the next two. The subsequent Blade Software 8-bit release included these as standard; the mail order expansion pack now offered was for missions six and seven instead. Both offers covered cassette and floppy disk versions. As well as featuring new scenarios, the expansion packs included additional weapons as part of the scenarios.
Computer and Video Games reviewed the ZX Spectrum version and was impressed awarding it with a 97% rating and a 'C+VG HIT!', stating that "Laser Squad is one of the hottest games I've ever played." Other Spectrum reviews included Sinclair User, who gave an 89%  while Your Sinclair gave the game a 9/10, calling it "a sophisticated strategy wargame with endless possibilities. On a par with Elite for thinking warmongers." The game was voted number 16 in the Your Sinclair's Readers' Top 100 Games of All Time.
The Commodore 64 version also fared well with CU Amiga-64 giving a 'CU Screen Star' award with a 92% rating. Zzap!64 gave the game 83%, stating that the game was "an absorbing and very fresh approach to man-to-man combat." Amstrad Action awarded the CPC version with 91%  and an 'AA Mastergame' accolade. The Expansion Pack 2 received an even higher rating of 93% when it became available for review, as "two excellent additions to a game that was already excellent."
The Amiga version also received positive reviews. Amiga Format awarded a 'Gold Award' for a 93% rating explaining that it "is a terrific game that is superbly playable and can definitely be recommended." Other Amiga reviews given by Zero and CU Amiga-64 gave the game 88% and 87%, respectively. It was ranked the 25th best Amiga game by Amiga Power in 1991. In 2004, readers of Retro Gamer voted Laser Squad as the 63rd top retro game.
Rebelstar and Laser Squad are among the earliest examples of turn based unit level wargame video games. In 1990, Mythos Games released a fantasy game Lords of Chaos, which had many similarities to Laser Squad but was a follow-up to Gollop's earlier ZX Spectrum game Chaos: The Battle of Wizards.
Many of the Laser Squad mechanics were re-used in the later X-COM series of games, created also by Gollop and Mythos Games but published by MicroProse. Notably, the first X-COM game, UFO: Enemy Unknown, began its development as Laser Squad II. Some of the name choices for characters and organizations in the games of Mythos and Codo are a thread connecting all the Laser Squad and Rebelstar games. Examples include the recurring character Corporal Jonlan and the arms manufacturer Marsec (Mars Security), which was also featured in X-COM: Apocalypse. The cover art for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis Games' and 2K Games' remake of UFO: Enemy Unknown, pays homage to Laser Squad.
The Laser Squad franchise has been revived by Gollop's Codo Technologies in 2002 with the play-by-email game Laser Squad Nemesis, although this departs from the turn-based action point system and does not have customizable weaponry. There is also a MIDP remake of the original game, designed for mobile phones, although it is not clear if this an officially licensed title.
- Edge Staff (2009-05-15). "The Making of: X-COM: Enemy Unknown". nex-gen.biz. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
- Dillon, Tony. Computer and Video Games, issue 86, December 1988, p 89
- Sinclair User, issue 80, November 1988, p 61
- Shaw, Pete. Your Sinclair, issue 35, November 1988, p 76
- "Readers' Top 100 Games of All Time". Your Sinclair. September 1993.
- Dillon, Tony. CU Amiga-64, March 1989, p 45
- Zzap!64, issue 53, September 1989, p 40
- Webb, Trenton. Amstrad Action, issue 49, October 1989, p 50,51
- Waring, Adam. Amstrad Action, issue 56, May 1990, p 52
- Smith, Andy. Amiga Format, issue 5, December 1989, p 52,53
- McCandless, David. Zero, issue 2, December 1989, p 53,54,55
- Patterson, Mark. CU Amiga-64, November 1989, p 69
- Amiga Power issue 0, Future Publishing, May 1991
- Retro Gamer 8, page 67.
- Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (June 1990). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (158): 47–54.