Richard Price unearths a devious detective puzzle
THE RAIN dribbled down the grimy windows as I sat at my VDU, listlessly dabbling in some computer saga of wizards and dark castles. The day had been empty of excitement. Suddenly the post boy appeared and threw a package onto my littered desk.
I felt a thrill of apprehension as I took the buff folder from the envelope and saw 'Confidential' stamped in red across it. Could this be it, I thought - had some disgruntled civil servant decided to leak the secrets of the nation's war games computer to me?
Not quite. The folder held a map of a seaside town called Fox Bay, a detective's notebook and a cassette. After playing for a short time I found I had one of the most entertaining Quilled programs since Hampstead.
Confidential is a detective adventure. One of Fox Bay's prominent citizens has disappeared and his wife decides to hire you, Craig Adams, to track him down. From your seedy office you must seek out the man's associates and contacts to build a coherent picture of the facts surrounding the disappearance. This is not a simple matter. Besides gathering information, often from reluctant characters, there are the hazards of day to day life in the town.
Holiday caravans moulder on sites which are veritable labyrinths. Your car will run out of petrol if you are not careful. You will leave some office in the town centre smugly thinking how good your interview was only to find a pair of yellow lines where the car had been. All right, stroll up to the local nick to get it back. Have you got your cheque book? You will have to find it then, won't you?
Radar Games has used the Quill with some originality and has developed a flair for making you think you're doing well and then bringing you up short with a new twist in the plot.
The screen presentation is attractive and makes full use of the various attributes on the Quill. There are small user-defined graphics which add to the professional feel of the game.
Movement is based on the road map provided and you are expected to pay close attention to it if you want to get around town successfully. This feature adds considerably to the atmosphere of the game. After a while you will begin to feel like a true, harassed, gumshoe - someone who no-one particularly likes or enjoys talking to.
Your problems begin the moment you start playing and there is no real let up. Some of the puzzles are relatively easy but they get tougher as you go along. What's really a change is that the game has continuity in its story line and doesn't simply expect you to be satisfied with just collecting objects or treasure.
As far as I know Confidential is only available by mail order - but do not let that put you off. It is far better than a lot of the pap in the chain stores now. Write to: Radar Games, Dudley.
The Bermuda Triangle is a far call from the more prosaic charms of an English holiday resort. In Emerald Isle by Level 9 you find yourself hanging by your parachute cords after your plane has been destroyed by the strange forces at work in that part of the world.
Around you is the tropical forest of the island. Only one person may ever leave this place the ruler of the land - and your aim is to amass the treasures needed to attain this pinnacle of social status. When you've collected them you must work out the correct method to become king.
The program is another graphic adventure in Level 9's new style and boasts 200 pictures with a similar number of locations. To be frank, many of the pictures add precious little to the game and I could quite happily have done without graphics showing the bare walls of a room or an expanse of sand.
Despite the graphic overload there are still the kind of descriptions and complexities which adventure veterans expect from the company. Even though Level 9 state specifically that Emerald Isle is an easier game than usual - and costs correspondingly less - the clue sheet still runs to over 500 items.
After extricating yourself from the parachute you make your way to the royal palace in Tree City. There you will begin to get some idea of the way the island operates and should find the railway which can transport you to other parts.
I was quickly befuddled by the vast amount of detail - this initial sense of bewilderment seems to be one of Level 9's hallmarks. There is never a simple progression from one easily solved puzzle to another. You never know whether an item you find will have one or many uses, and the wealth of information helps develop involvement and atmosphere.
The island setting is becoming a classic scenario for adventures but it is not often that you get quite so much for your money. As well as the mandatory volcano, natives, cannibals and coconuts to deal with, you will have to know what to do with carbide granules, ticket machines and lots more.
At £6.95 Emerald Isle is competitively priced and offers a style and sophistication hard to beat. If you're already a committed Level 9 fan you're unlikely to be disappointed, even if it is easier than usual. I'm still trying to read those damned foreign inscriptions.
I loaded up Heroes of Karn from Interceptor with trepidation. I found the earlier program Jewels of Babylon about as exciting as Eastbourne on a Sunday night. Fortunately, the new adventure is a different kettle of fish, though with some reservations.
The setting is pretty typical - the mighty heroes of the title have been overwhelmed by the dark forces of chaos and magically imprisoned in various forms. You, a stranger from a world of thinking machines and the like, must rescue them from the thrall of darkness and restore them to their true likenesses. I'm unsure about the thinking machine bit but we all accept a modicum of poetic licence now and again, I suppose.
The game is a graphic adventure and there are some very smart pictures sprinkled around the locations - probably not as many as in the original CBM 64 version but beautifully drawn nevertheless. However, pictures still do not make an adventure.
You start in a field in a deserted landscape. Problems appear quickly and it is not too long before you run into what is undoubtedly the first of the metamorphosed heroes - a frog no less, who can be transformed in the time-honoured way after you have disposed of a particularly irritating swamp lizard. Within a score of moves you meet barrowights, venal castle guards, a pirate and even a giant clam.
Like its bejewelled predecessor the program's general style can be aggravating. The description will scroll up, up and away as soon as you make an entry, making for a lot of retyping of 'Look' if you are of vaguely amnesiac dispositions. On the positive side, you can use prepositions such as 'with' enabling you to choose a weapon for a fight or offer items of bribery to creatures of all species.
Allies can also be spoken to in an easier way than in truly 'interactive' games though the characters do not lead fully independent lives. I must admit that this is a bonus as I find the behaviour of characters in games like The Hobbit to be desperately unpredictable and annoying.
As far as action and events are concerned Heroes of Karn is an improvement on Interceptor's earlier offerings. It does not compare in complexity with the Level 9 style but should be quite appealing to adventurers in their novitiate.
Games Workshop define The Talisman as an interactive multi-player arcade adventure. Up to four players can take part, each one choosing a role from a set of 10 stock dungeons-and-dragons cast members - elf, assassin, sorceress, thief and so on. If you play on your own you can nominate up to three other computer-run characters or just go solo.
There are three playing speeds - laid back, moderate or speedy. In the speedy mode computer-run characters will zoom about like demented silent film stars and only experts should enter this fast motion world.
Although the cassette blurb likens the game to Valhalla there is no proper text input and most decisions and actions are performed by single key-presses.
The screen is split into two major sections. Up top is the location picture and the path on which the characters move about. Below are the various status indicators - strength, wealth, spells - an hourglass to time your wove, along with the occasional reports and details of 'followers' - non-player characters who can be enlisted into your band.
You move your character, a small black silhouette, by a simple left/right cursor with the occasional choice of compass points if you reach an edge. There are about 50 locations, though some seem rather similar. They are not all labelled.
You do not have to stop in a location but if you do you may be able to pick up objects which are strewn about. By stopping you also open yourself to attacks from the multitude of monsters who dominate the land. Spells can be used as well as brute force. Spells seem a bit surer - when I chose to be a mighty warrior I was defeated by a farmer, of all things!
Although it is not as big and does not have the crowds of characters who mill about in Valhalla it has a similar feel but with faster action. The graphics are limited and you should not expect something along the lines of Knight Lore.
What the game does provide is a relatively complete translation of D&D motifs to computer. If you have ever played board games like Sorcerer's Cave you will find this to be very similar. Learning to play properly will take practice as there is real-time action which needs fast responses. If you dither you are lost. Even with four players it is unlikely that anyone will be bored as the action can be quite entertaining, even to watch. This gives The Talisman an edge over text-based multiple player games. Very much for those who prefer arcade-style stimulation as there is no time for reflection once it is your turn.
Finally, let us get back to text adventure and institutionalised burglary with Underworld: The Village produced by Orpheus. The approach is straightforward - you read a report of treasure being found in a sleepy village, drive out there and start getting as much of it as you can.
The game is in traditional format - you will win if you get 20 items. You will run into puzzles quickly and will find deep holes, mine shafts and fading batteries within a few moves.
The screen presentation is dull black and white - and the response from the interpreter to valid 'Exam' queries is too limited. 'Can you be more specific?' flashed up far too often for my liking, and I would have appreciated more versatility to enliven my explorations. The writers have not really used the Quill to its full potential and I found that Underworld compared poorly with Confidential. It is not a bad game but neither is it desperately addictive or compelling.
|CONFIDENTIAL 48K Spectrum
Publisher Radar Games Price £6.95
|EMERALD ISLE 48K Spectrum|
Publisher Level 9 Price £6.95
|HEROES OF KARN 48K Spectrum
Publisher Interceptor Price £5.50
|TALISMAN 48K Spectrum|
Publisher Games Workshop Price £7.95
|UNDERWORLD: THE VILLAGE 48K Spectrum|
Publisher Orpheus Price £4.95